Best Fish Taco 2013 | Salt Life Food Shack | Food & Drink | South Florida

Fish tacos are best enjoyed in a beach shack. If, however, you find yourself stuck out west with no way to get to the beach, you do have an option. And a damned good one at that. Beachy décor, tropical drinks, a fish tank, and surfing videos aside, Salt Life Food Shack in Coral Springs knows a thing or two about the "Salt Life." The ocean-inspired restaurant takes recipes and dishes from coastal areas around the world and brings them to the western suburbs. So it comes as no surprise that the spot would have the best fish tacos in town: grilled fish on warm flour tortillas lightly topped with cabbage slaw, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, and a super-refreshing cilantro and lime cream sauce. Not a bad deal for $9.99.

Christina Mendenhall

When an establishment changes hands, small (and sometimes ridiculously large) tweaks can be expected. Your favorite appetizer is removed, replaced with something boring. That side sauce you loved so much is altered just enough to make you melancholy for a condiment. Even your go-to bartender is no longer there, the result of a staff makeover. But Shelly Jent and Ben Earhart were former employees so devoted to Havana Hideout that they bought it when founder Chrissy Benoit moved her focus to Little House last November. And it seems they've made only improvements. Today, the new system of daily prep work means almost everything on the menu is "now made fresh daily," which includes the guacamole. The guac also comes made-to-order using all farm-fresh local ingredients (with the exception of the Hass avocados). Light seasoning, tomato, onion, and cilantro make it flavorful without too much spice. The kicker? The black bean tortilla chips made by local Boynton Beach-based artisan tortilla maker WrapOlé.

Congrats! You've just won the lottery. OK, it was the scratch-off, but hey! You're still ten bucks richer than when you started. Take that sawbuck over to Diner-by-the-Sea and get a good, hot meal. This teeny hole-in-the-wall is a time machine out of a Twilight Zone episode. Pop in one of the cheery yellow vinyl counter stools or cozy up in a booth and order lunch. The menu? Strictly out of Mel's Diner — tuna melts ($7.89), Reubens ($8.29), chili dogs ($4.99), or a quarter-pound burger with fries for $6.99. All made fresh by a real, live, short-order cook. Eavesdrop on a dozen conversations. Locals will bitch about taxes and the fish that got away as you bite into your tuna melt, savoring the crunch of the toast and the creaminess of the cheddar cheese, feeling like the winner you are.

The French take their food seriously. Years of tradition, strict accreditation programs, and general food snobbery all go hand in hand with the quality of the nation's famous baked goods. You're certainly not going to find any premixed cookie dough over there. Arrogant? Yes. Worth it? Definitely. That's why it should come as no surprise that our favorite provider of confectionery delights would be French. Croissan'time in Fort Lauderdale has been churning out the tastiest, butteriest, most decadent pâtisserie since 1986. Plain croissants ($2.95 for large) and chocolate or almond filled are the closest to any Parisian croissant you can possibly find within the confines of South Florida. Specialty cakes are stunning. Baguettes to die for. Counting carbs? Just forget about it. Croissan'time is open Tuesday through Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Alex Broadwell

No, Slow Food Truck does not necessarily mean you can outrace these guys when you see them on the highway. The truck is named after the slow-food movement, which strives to use as much locally sourced product as possible. SFT's owners, Oren Bass and Zachary Schwartz, both graduates of Johnson & Wales University's culinary program, use local tomatoes, proteins from small ranches, and bread from a Fort Lauderdale bakery. Don't confuse fresh and local ingredients with bland "health" food, though. Well, not unless you think a slow-braised short rib sandwich with cheese and crispy shallots ($9) is your idea of a diet. Or truffle fries ($7) are the key to eternal youth. But really, who the hell cares about a diet when a buttery lobster roll ($15, in season), filled with chunks of sweet, pink crustacean meat, is being placed in front of you? It's not necessarily good for your arteries — but it is good for local farmers, and that, combined with a pulled pork sandwich, feeds the soul.

The Green Owl, one of the oldest restaurants in Delray Beach, sits on some prime real estate. But while the city has gentrified around it, the Owl remains a classic diner in the most basic sense of the word. It serves breakfast and lunch. It is open only until 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends. The décor is delightfully shabby (not the artificial, look-at-how-we-sandpapered-the-edge-of-this-table shabby — but actually shabby!), with fake wood wallboard like you'd find in your grandma's basement, and lots and lots of owls. You might ask yourself why an establishment on hip Atlantic Avenue would function this way, why it would not work to step up its game. The answer is: It doesn't have to. On weekends, there is a line around the corner of people trying to get a table before the kitchen closes. The dishes are simple, and you can even create your own order. You want three eggs and four pieces of bacon and that's it? Done. There is zero pretension here, and customers range from blue collars covered in tattoos to yoga moms with babies in Bjorns to well-heeled retirees in their Sunday best. It accepts only cash, but that's OK, because the food is cheap!

Chris Bellus

They say friends don't let friends drink Starbucks — and Starbucks this isn't. Though Java Boys does offer coffee, pastries, and free Wi-Fi (And frappes! Don't miss the frappes!), it differs in every other way from the evil coffee empire. The couches are soft, the raspberry scones are fresh, and rather than bury your nose in a laptop, you'll likely get roped into a jokey conversation with guys from the gayborhood or lose yourself in a Bette Midler film showing on the big-screen TV. Located in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, Java Boys has become a mainstay in town, holding charity events and anti-Valentine's Day parties. Be sure to try its special dish — the Java scrambler — an egg-and-Canadian-bacon-with-cheese-on-a-bagel (or croissant or English muffin): kick-to-the-taste-buds goodness for just $3.25.

Owners and mother-daughter team Marie and Thamye Junis recently opened this versatile establishment that courts meat eaters, vegans, and vegetarians alike. A former health-care professional, Marie spent much of her career teaching others about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle. She teamed up with her daughter, a former Pembroke Pines middle school teacher who needed a place to exercise her vegan lifestyle. Because they specialize in Haitian-Caribbean fare emblematic of their cultural roots, the vegan food here is unlike stereotypical tofu rice bowls. Instead, you'll find homemade specialties bursting with unique flavors, like the house favorite pikliz sauce, a spicy Creole cabbage slaw that is used to flavor everything from rice to sandwiches. Or pumpkin soup, typically served only on Sundays in Haiti. A traditional celebration dish, it was so popular with her regulars that Marie decided to go against tradition and serve it all week.

When sisters Penny Sanfilippo and Jonny Altobell opened 11th Street Annex in Fort Lauderdale a little more than ten years ago, they wanted a tea house/lunch spot/catering company that served up stuff right — no imitations. The scones are classic "English" scones, the butter is imported from Europe, the jams are all-fruit fresh, and the lemon curd and clotted cream are made in-house. Tea sandwiches are made on a variety of fresh breads, always with crusts cut off. Tarts, tea cakes, and real shortbread cookies are perfect complements during both "high" and "low" tea times, when tea is served properly: No tea bags. Darjeeling, Oolong, and green teas are all brewed with fresh tea leaves and steeped before being served with proper cups and saucers. And don't tell anyone, because we wouldn't want our favorite spot rushed, but the sisters change the lunch menu daily, offering about six fresh, gourmet choices like quiches or homemade pot pies. One option is always vegetarian (vegan on Wednesdays), and herbs are often plucked from the garden out back.

It happened. You've found yourself alone, starving, and your iPhone's battery is dying, which means you can't hide behind checking Facebook and pretending you're waiting for someone. Forget the electronic crutch and muster up enough nerve to walk over to the gigantic bar at Bimini Boatyard. Located on the 17th Street Causeway, the bar attracts a mélange of people — cruise ship passengers from the Midwest, off-duty oil tanker "masters," recreational boaters, and locals. Order a loaf of Bimini bread ($4) and a classic Bahama Mama ($14) for starters and strike up a conversation with any of the good and interesting people sitting beside you. That verbal discourse between you and a stranger? That's called "human interaction." It's what our ancestors did long before the iPad. Feels good to unplug the phone and plug into life, doesn't it?

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