Best Vegetarian Restaurant 2013 | J's Garden Cafe | Food & Drink | South Florida

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?

Down an unremarkable street, beside a row of unremarkable storefronts, is a remarkable restaurant. From the unassuming street that runs beside the Gateway Plaza, peer into the window of Serafina Waterfront Trattoria and see a working kitchen. Tuck down a narrow path and you'll enter a warm candlelit room with just a few seats that leads to a patio perched beside sailboats on the Middle River. The view is only the beginning. Attentive, Italian-speaking staff will help you navigate the menu while Michael Bublé croons through the speakers and owner/chef Michele Viscosi (from Napoli) works magic on the stoves. Reasonably priced bottles of wine (most $30 to $50) harmonize with Serafina's Mediterranean selection of pastas, soups, fish, veal, and lamb. Top off a lovely night with a shared slice of ricotta cheesecake or shots of limoncello. Or both.

For some reason, steak houses have been the domain of the stuffy businessperson. These houses of bovine flesh fail to realize that real men — and women — want to masticate some cow without having sawdust stick to their shoes. And that there are other color palates besides dark green. Like... red. Such is the name, and the color scheme, of this South Beach steak house that opened a Boca branch. Feast on aged certified Angus Beef USDA Prime steaks, starting at $36, or go all out and dine on certified Kobe from cows that have a better pedigree than you (sorry, Muffy from the Mayflower Society — but that cow still has a better bloodline). Steak not your thing? This would be the time to ask, "Why the hell are you in a steak house?" But it's all good at Red, since the restaurant flies in giant king crab that could star in a monster movie and has connections directly with the best fishmongers in the world. All in a setting that happens to be both romantic and elegant. That means you can take your clients on Thursday to seal the deal and come back to celebrate with your date on Friday.

Bedner's Farm Fresh Market is a real, honest-to-God, old-school farmers' market remade for the modern consumer. Located way out west on 441, at the outermost edge of the actual Bedner's Farm, the "market" itself is a country-style grocery store located inside a barn house — but with air-conditioning. Here, you'll find a wide selection of produce at decent prices, a cooler full of Florida-raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef, local raw honey, and locally grown and ground spices. But what makes this place so special are the wholesome activities: hayrides and u-picks, a stand selling fresh-squeezed lemonade and sweet tea; and Porky and Beth's BBQ truck. In the fall, you can wander through the pumpkin patch taking pictures and picking your own orange squash. In the spring and summer, pluck strawberries, tomatoes, and sunflowers. Despite the old-fashioned vibe, staff are quite interactive on Facebook and respond to most customers' questions. What's more, unlike your weekend markets, Bedner's is open seven days a week, so you never have to go without your fresh produce.

While strolling casually through this wonderful new market, the combination of nice environment, nice product, and nice prices delights the senses like a colorful bowl of perfect fruit. In fact, the equivalent of a bowl of fruit might be consumed by the time a customer's incredibly low total is announced by a friendly clerk at checkout, as the free samples are always varied and plentiful. A BOGO baguette deal may even be offered if it's near closing time, since there will be a fresh delivery of bread the following morning. The freebies almost spoil the shopper who is scoring 12 oranges for a buck and eggplant for 89 cents a pound in a store as clean and classy as any Whole Foods, like a cherry on top of a bowl of delicious and affordable... cherries.

New York Mart's cavernous, warehouse space should be the first thing that tells you it's different. You're used to yellowing tiles in the low drop ceiling at your regular Asian market. You've even come to pine for them when you find your pantry devoid of rice noodles, miso paste, or dried shrimp. New York Mart offers row after row of bright-green vegetables. Bunches of Chinese broccoli, bok choy, and chive flowers are neatly arranged, each with a thin film of water thanks to constant misting. The meat and fish counters offer an endless variety of the cuts and fish most Americans are used to as well as more obscure Asian treats. Pig ears? Got 'em. Live hairy crab? Take a half-dozen. Don't forget to stop at the barbecue counter on the way out, where a half-pound of char siu — sticky-sweet, roasted pork shoulder — can be had for $4.

Get a good home-cooked meal from a guy who grew up eating some of the area's best home-cooked meals. This restaurant is clean and comfortable with friendly service and a relaxed vibe. Just one year ago, the place reopened after a fire at its old location forced chef and owner Donnie Dobson to shut his doors. When he reopened, his devoted crowd was waiting, ready for more. Come hungry, because the place specializes in hearty meals like oxtail, chicken gizzards and souse, fried pork chops, and chicken, and the ribs are guaranteed to be fall-off-the-bone tender. The best of both worlds comes with the ribs and chicken combo. Sides include mac and cheese, fried okra, pigeon peas and rice, collard greens, corn bread, and lima beans. Wash it all down with Donnie's own version of Kool-Aid, the "Parker's Special" fruit punch made with real fruit and flavored naturally. End it with a slice of homestyle sweet potato pie, red velvet cake, or peach cobbler.

Children are wonderful, except when you have to take them out in public. Scratch that — they're still wonderful, but constantly ignoring the sighs and reproachful stares of child-haters in a restaurant can get old. It's best to find places that are kid friendly — or at least so loud that no one notices Junior jumping up and down and pounding his sippy cup on the table. At the legendary Rustic Inn, no one is going to notice a little extra pounding, as most eaters will be gleefully smashing through crab claws with wooden hammers. Diners won't notice your kids' impromptu food fight because they are accidentally flinging bits of crab meat into their own hair. In fact, everyone in the place looks like an overgrown 2-year-old pulling crab legs from metal pails while wearing plastic bibs and dripping melted butter off their chins. While everyone here has reverted to childhood, Rustic Inn still takes special note of the little guys, offering a menu of kids' specials, including chicken fingers and hamburgers, so you don't have to convince a cringing toddler to eat a spiny water animal that looks like a giant bug. A delicious giant bug, but still.

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