Best Of :: Food & Drink
Italian fare in the United States tends to be dominated by meatballs and the ubiquitous red sauce. It's delicious, yes, but not necessarily the most authentic. Italian-American is a thing in and of itself. For the most part, legitimate Italian cuisine comes only from ridiculously expensive, fancy-pants spots. Such food is exquisite but pricey. Only, like, 1 percent of the population can do high-end Italian regularly. For everyone else, there's Cafe la Buca. Owned by Napoli native Marco Spina and his family, this casual Pompano Beach eatery specializes in rustic Southern Italian cuisine at affordable price points: Dinner for two will run you around 80 bucks. The menu changes every day based upon what's around and what looks good to Spina. (You can call in the morning to find out the specials for the night.) It offers classics like papardelle Bolognese, fresh gnocchi, and linguini with clams. Pizza is made from an oven brought over from Naples. Although the pizza and pasta are main parts of the draw, simply prepared seafood and meats are also available on a nightly basis. Expect to see items like grilled filet mignon and lamb chops with spinach and balsamic rosemary sauce. Be sure to call ahead for a reservation, as these seats fill up days (if not weeks) in advance. It truly is that good.
The terms "deco glam" and "chill" sound like night and day; however, at this place, the contradictions seem to work. The window-encased space is filled with modern retro furniture, chrome accents, trendy lighting fixtures, and stunning terrazzo floors, all of which are illuminated by a soft purple glow at night. It's trendy and inviting at the same time. While the décor is definitely notable, the wine and location are the real draws here. Located next to the Classic Gateway Theater, it's the ideal solution to any date night. Indoor and outdoor tables offer a prime view for people-watching couples heading to dinner and theater-going types on the way to catch an indie flick. With more than 50 wines available by the tasting, glass, or bottle, it's the perfect place to catch a buzz before heading into your movie or to wind down at the end of the night.
Size does matter — in the wine department. When it comes to securing the perfect vino to pair with that steak, one page is just not going to cut the muster. Sorry. While most dining establishments offer page after page of the same mass-produced vino, there are restaurants that really do pump up their wine lists. Hollywood Prime has one of the biggest. The AAA Four Diamond-rated steak house was awarded the Wine Spectator 2013 Best of Award of Excellence. (Only a few thousand restaurants receive such a designation by the esteemed publication.) Sommelier Laura Romano has compiled a selection of more than 600 vinos from around the world. Although the choices are extensive, the magazine hails the restaurant's strengths as moderately priced bottles from California and Bordeaux. It has bottles ranging from a $39 2010 Hess Select Chardonnay from Monterey to a $3,000 1999 Château Lafite Rothschild shipped over from Pauillac. With an inventory of more than 6,000 bottles, the offerings spread across 17 pages. If you're looking to geek out over some nice wines, try this place on for size.
Fort Lauderdalians have been slowly sprawling away from tourist-ridden strips of bars and eateries and making their way to residential and industrial parts of town. Hey, nothing against spring breakers and flocks of lobsteresque Midwestern tourists — they contribute heavily to the local economy. It's just it's nice to have a secret every now and then, a place that lies way off the beaten track, a spot that caters to locals, a hangout with a cool vibe and good eats. Set among the warehouses and lumberyards south of State Road 84, the Keg on Sixth is hard to find, unless you know where you're going. But it's well worth the search on the GPS. With an urban industrial vibe complete with graffiti murals by local artists, the spot is like a cool underground escape from the pomp and pretension of much of South Florida — and the fist-pumping, beer-pong crowds that like to overtake our town from time to time. The bar offers a wide selection of craft and commercial beer as well as wine on draft. The kitchen churns out a creative array of affordable global comfort fare all day long. For breakfast, you can grab a sausage sandwich ($6) or pork belly biscuits and gravy ($5) with coffee for less than ten bucks. Lunch and dinner includes divergent options. Fritto misto ($12) with shrimp cauliflower, pickles, and shallots with mustard vinegar are on the lighter spectrum. The old reliables are found with creative takes; the Keg Burger ($11) is glazed with stout and topped with Muenster, roasted tomato, and bacon pepper jam. What more could you want from an escape? It's totally comfortable and completely out of the way.
For years, Bistro Mezzaluna sat in a small shopping center, quietly wowing customers with its Italian-American classics. After moving from its long-term locale to a space four times its size just a couple of years back, the place has increased its romance potential tenfold. A palatial piano bar is the perfect place to prep for the impending amore over a martini (or three). Two dining rooms boast pristinely set tables. Its outdoor patio offers a mood-setting cascading water fountain. With 14,000 square feet total, this place does love in epic proportions. However, even with the massive space, a meal here is an intimate experience. The secluded tables and booths are ideal for indulging in simple yet spectacular fare like shrimp and scallop ravioli ($27), 20-ounce bone-in rib eye ($48), and Maryland crab cakes ($29). Throw in a list of 300 wines and you and your sweetie are going to have one heck of an amorous night. Just hope it continues.
The 500 block of Clematis Street is paradise. Rodney Mayo has done his due diligence in transforming the tiny piece of downtown into an indie oasis, with his restaurants and bars over the years having included Respectable Street, the Lounge, Lost Weekend, and Hullabaloo (to say nothing of his establishments like Howley's diner and Dada in other hoods). It's a stretch of street for those unwilling to accept dress codes but in need of a guaranteed good time. There are good eats aplenty on the 500 block, but one rises to the top. LongBoards is the physical embodiment of South Florida in restaurant form. The vibe is straight chill, with surf videos running constantly. A giant bar looks like one big surfboard. Heck, there are even surfboard chairs. The choices measure up to the ambiance with a small, rotating beer tap, a worthy bottle selection, and a tropical cocktail menu. But it's the happy hour that takes the cake... crab cake, that is. Five-dollar food bits include crab cakes, clams, a special tropical twist on chicken wings, and more goodies like $1 Gulf oysters and half off anything in your wildest imagination from behind the bar. These three hours of escape take place every day from 4 to 7 p.m., but if you don't make it, you can still score a solid fish dinner or slick lobster Benedict at brunch. It's the go-to spot that hits the spot. Take everyone you know.
In contrast to the dark wooden caverns that serve sports bar food items in the majority of Beach Place, Atlantic Surf Club emerges like a cool ocean breeze. With varying shades of blue, pops of orange, and accents of stainless steel, this place is the perfect frame for the stunning panoramas of the beach. Nautical light fixtures, eclectic barstools, and fashionable rustic woods are just as on point, creating a stylish yet laid-back beachy vibe. As on-trend as the décor may be, that's not going to be the first thing you or anyone else will see; everything points to the view of the sea. The high-top tables, large open bar, and open window countertop seating are all about giving you what you went there to see: a perfect outpost for watching the waves gently rolling onto the beach — and all the good-looking, half-naked people running around in board shorts and bikinis.
Sure, the wheel is cool, but the burrito has to be the best invention in the history of the universe. Can you eat the wheel? No. Is the wheel warm and soft? Quite the opposite. Is the wheel filled with delicious meats, rice, guacamole, and salsa? Wait a minute... I'll be right back. Never mind, that wouldn't work. Back to my point: the burrito! Oh, it's lovely. But beware: Not all burritos are created equal. All burrito lovers have been betrayed at some point, biting into a fat tortilla only to discover cold meat, hard rice, and beans that taste like toes. It's not fun. But now you can let your guard down. It's safe to love again, burrito lovers, because the Whole Enchilada is never going to hurt you like that. No, you'll only ever find soft tortillas, warm queso, fresh guacamole, and happy burritos stuffed with everything from black tiger shrimp to mahi-mahi to the good old steak and chicken. And with both an Oakland Park and Fort Lauderdale location, you'll never be too far apart. Love is alive and well. And it lives inside a tortilla.
All right. Here's what you can't do. You can't double-dip. You can't scoot it closer to you. The bowl has to stay equidistant from all dippers. You can't mix salsa into it. You can't use more than 60 percent of the chip to dip. You can't talk about how it's not as good as the kind you make. We've tasted yours. This is better. You can't dip more than once while I'm in the bathroom. You can't refuse to pay for it if you've had more than 10 percent. You can't waste chips; they are a precious resource. You can't dip twice unless at least one other person has dipped in between your dips. You can't take the last bit without the table's consent. And you can't complain about how full you are if you're still eating. You can, however, enjoy it. Because guacamole is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to your mouth.
Street food should be easy to eat, straightforward to make, packed with flavor, and in close proximity to copious amounts of alcohol. Tacos are the epitome of said food group. And while not strictly Mexican, this global comfort fare spot has some of the tastiest around. Several fillings are offered, but the steak tacos ($10) are the clear winner of them all. Warm house-made flour tortillas are filled with skirt steak, queso fresco, grilled onions, salsa fresca, and crema for a handheld dish that hits all the right spots; it's savory, dripping with juice, and it soaks up the booze in an instant. Yeah, this place might be a bit fancier than your average roadside shack or cart. But it's freaking delicious — and right smack dab in the middle of downtown Lauderdale.
No one wants to eat subpar food. Some items, however, are bearable. Crappy pizza is doable. An uninspiring burger is perfectly consumable. A bland chicken sandwich: You probably had one this week. But mediocre fish is the absolute pits. No matter the preparation, there's no overcoming shoddy seafood. And when it comes to a fish taco, it's serious business. It combines the best of the food world in one easy-to-eat package. When it's good, it's an enlightening experience — if it's bad, you're probably getting sick. Jojo's Tacos' Cathy's Catch ($5.50) hits every taste receptor with a bang. Fresh fish is flash-fried to create the perfect crisp exterior without the grease. It's topped with a heaping portion of sweet and zesty cilantro honey lime slaw and crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The heat is added with a bright and creamy serrano tartar. It all sits atop a perfectly toasted soft-shell corn tortilla; this thing is so chock-full of flavor and toppings, one could constitute an entire meal by itself. Just try finding such a well-thought-out taco on the side of the road.
This mobile venture started nearly two years ago in Fort Lauderdale and has picked up so much steam that owner/founder Christopher Lee is expanding and taking applications for would-be dog slingers. Now, that's packin' some meat, bro. What is it about these darling dogs that made the list? Well, first off, hottie Lee wears an adorable '50s-era uniform, a nostalgic hat and a tie, and chats up customers while he tops off each dog. His cart is decorated with a nod to bygone days and offers a romantic throwback to a more innocent time. Now, let's talk menu. Creativity is a must. Items like the Swanky Frankie ($5), loaded with caramelized onions, cheese, and barbecue sauce, is served up oh so nicely. The "Claaassic" ($5) is dressed up with avocado, chili, potato sticks, French-fried onions, and a secret sauce. Oh, and if that doesn't make your mouth water, pick your own toppings, from pineapple to sriracha to hummus. Beef, vegan, and vegetarian options are available, so bite in, baby. Follow @FrankieDogs on Twitter and Facebook to track 'em down.