Best Mexican Restaurant 2014 | Chapultepec | Food & Drink | South Florida
Zachary Fagenson

Mexico's food and drinks (tequila and mezcal namely) may be trending among hipsters, making the simple, honest cuisine just as pretentious as suspenders and mustachios. But that's not how it's supposed to be; real Mexican fare is freaking delicious and laid-back, with not even the slightest hint of irony. That's exactly what you'll find at Chapultepec. The no-frills restaurant serves authentic Mexican breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night tacos in a come-as-you-are setting. Whether dining in for huevos rancheros ($4.99) at 10 a.m., tortas ($5) for lunch, chicken mole ($8.99) at 7 o'clock in the evening, or $2 tacos al pastor from the late-night taco stand in the parking lot after the restaurant closes, you'll find piquant, authentic fare without all the trendy accoutrements — no reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, or über-expensive urban industrial ornaments decorate this place. Expect to find yourself surrounded by a hodgepodge of patrons. No matter what time you arrive, you can expect to see whole Spanish-speaking families, leathery sunburnt locals, on-duty cops, and construction workers straight off a job site stuffing spicy foods into their faces. This place is about as real as you get — even if it, somewhat ironically, looks like a scene from the Village People's YMCA.

In Peru, ceviche is typically consumed on the beach; in fact, it's not uncommon to find sand in the bottom of its serving dish. If you're looking to get a legit Peruvian experience, you really should be near the shore (even if you're not actually in the sand). You really should try Ceviche by the Sea. The atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated than what you'll find at an oceanfront picnic — or most Broward Peruvian restaurants, for that matter. The modern décor is comfortable yet somewhat elegant. And the fare is considered Peruvian fusion; presentation is a big part of the experience. Causas ($11 to $17), cold mashed potato cakes topped with sauce and protein, are elevated with ingredients like avocado mousse, sweet potato, and spicy aioli. Ceviche ($15 to $29) is offered with all the spicy dressings, from traditional to aji amarillo to Asian-inspired Nikkei. All the old reliables are served here but prepared with the restaurant's own take: aji de gallina ($11 for lunch), a spicy and creamy chicken dish; chaufa ($11 for lunch), Chinese-style fried rice; and papa a la huancaina ($7), a spicy potato salad made with the national favorite yellow chili.

Photo by Laiacona Photography & Design courtesy of Coconuts.

Some restaurants are known for great service, others are recognized for outstanding food, and some, well, some just have a great view. Hitting one nail on the head is good, but when it comes to an enjoyable dining experience, it's nice to have it all. This place most certainly does. Located directly on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Coconuts boasts a stunning yet laid-back atmosphere with food that's just as good. The menu is heavy on seafood, but it's a bit more upscale than your average shack on the water; most of the boats tied up to its docks are nicer than your run-of-the-mill dinghy. Think fish tacos ($14), New England-style  lobster rolls ($16), and crab cakes ($26) rather than buckets of things that have been deep-fried in old grease. Options for landlubbers are also present, with tropical-inspired takes on classic American dishes. Danish baby back barbecue ribs are slathered in a chipotle-pineapple barbecue sauce ($22) for a very Floribbean twist.

Nothing will take you back to childhood as quickly as a grilled cheese sandwich. Between the greasy Wonder bread and plasticized cheese, it's like pure comfort in one convenient handheld package. As an adult, there are times when you'll wish you could go back to being a kid; you had no responsibility, plenty of fun, and someone to take care of you when your tummy was upset (possibly from the processed ingredients in that sandwich). While they can't help you with most of the above, the friendly staff of New York Grilled Cheese is here to provide warm and fuzzy feelings way into the wee hours of the morning. Open until 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 3 and 4 a.m. the rest of the week, this Wilton Manors spot takes the humble (and kind of boring) grilled cheese sandwich to a whole new level. The Manhattan Grilled Mac 'n' Cheese ($8.50) takes American cheddar cheese and homemade mac 'n' cheese melted between a toasted country loaf for a combination that childhood dreams are made of. The Soho Sweet Cheeses! ($8.50) combines Brie, caramelized onions, crunchy bacon, and berry marmalade on toasted oatmeal wheat bread for an adult version most gourmands only wish they could have conjured on their own. Whether you're just looking for something to cheer you up after a long night or you're in need of some carbs and grease to soak up copious amounts of booze in your belly, this is the ideal place to stuff your face late at night.

Say what you want about the little buggers, but kids know how to have a good time. As you get older, you may develop stronger social skills — you at least learn how to ensure snot isn't hanging from your nose upon leaving the house — but you rarely have an exhilarating time anymore. If you're looking to entertain some little folks or you just want to partake in a little fun yourself, you need to come to this place. Deli Inn offers a classic selection of diner fare, like buttermilk pancakes ($1.99 apiece), ham and cheese omelets ($7.49), country fried steak ($7.79), and a self-proclaimed famous Reuben ($8.39). Kid-friendly enough. But what sets this place apart is the service. Newbies get a free giant muffin their first time in the door, as well as songs, pranks, and a squirt to the face with a pretend camera that's really a water gun. Beat that, Chuck E. Cheese.

Michael McElroy

"Does Fido want a bowl of water?"

"That would be great, thanks."

"How about a treat?"

"He'd love that."

Your server walks away and comes back with a massive plate of fries. No, it's not good for the dog's digestive system, but how could you deny that happy slobbering face? Don't be surprised if this scene plays out at Tarpon Bend. The restaurant is one of the most animal-friendly you can find — as long as your dog is well-behaved — and many of the servers are just as excited to see your furry friend as they are to receive your tip when you leave. When you're headed out to dinner, no need to leave Fido by his lonesome after you've already left him to his own devices for the workday. Get your four-legged guest a big bowl of water while you sip a beer, nosh on a burger, and watch the happy-hour crowd get its drink on. Who knows? Your little icebreaker might even help you pick up a dinner date.

The word "gastropub" was added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in August 2012, nearly a decade after the phenomenon left the shores of Great Britain to take root in the U.S. Hullabaloo is the latest concept from South Florida restaurateur Rodney Mayo. The concept is "craft" everything, from well-picked microbrews, artisanal fare, and boutique wines to handcrafted cocktails. Even the coffee is sourced from Mayo's next-door small-batch roaster, Subculture Coffee. Try some charcuterie, wood-oven fired pizzas, and handmade pastas in the minimalist and clean setting — think New York City loft meets Little Italy. A wood stove is also the heart of the menu. Be sure to snag a spot across from the exposed prep area, which doubles as an intimate chef's tasting area and offers an excellent view of the kitchen at work. The food is best complemented with a handcrafted cocktail, named after a music legend like Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, or Kurt Cobain. Small-batch bourbons, rum, tequila, and gin are paired with house-made bitters, fresh herbs, fruit purée, and exotic spices.

Photo courtesy of Fresh First.

Gluten seems to be in just about everything these days: beer, whiskey, processed food, soy sauce, sausages, deli meat, tea, freaking envelopes... the list goes on. Going gluten-free while eating out is even harder — if you don't stick to plain, undressed salad, you have no idea what you're getting. But here, not one single morsel of gluten is allowed to enter (employees are not even allowed to bring packed lunches for fear of contamination). This is the first place in Fort Lauderdale to earn the recognition of "Great Kitchen" by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and it caters to dietary ailments and restrictions of all kinds; peanuts, corn, and GMOs are also prohibited from entering the premises. Vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians (those who still eat some animal proteins) are all welcome. The mostly organic fare is just as delicious as it is healthy. From raw, vegan zucchini puttanesca ($13.95) to a grilled chicken sandwich ($13.95) to quinoa cupcakes with seasonal fruit jam and goat cheese frosting ($5.25), this gluten-free place is sure to satiate your cravings and keep you safe. Suck it, gluten!

The real test of a vegetarian restaurant is not how many plant-based-dieters it can get through the door; it's about bringing in the carnivores. If a vegan spot can get your average meat and potato lovers coming back for more, you know it's worth your while. This vegan/gluten-free hot spot fills with people from all walks of life, from Lululemon-suited local yoga instructors to salty-dog yacht captains — and that's exactly the goal. Owners and life partners Elena Pezzo and Charles Grippo aim to serve nutritious fare to the masses; it's not about preaching to the healthy choir. Dishes like the Buffalo tempeh sandwich ($8) and the GBK burger ($10) were developed to please even the most veggie-averse. At the same time, "crunchier" options are just as pleasant. The kale salad ($7.99 to $13.99) with cubed tofu, bell pepper, cabbage, carrot, sprouts, and sesame is tossed in a firecracker dressing that is like fireworks in your mouth; even the most die-hard roughage resistors can't help but love it. Judging by the diverse patrons — and the lines to the door — we'd say they're succeeding in expanding the vegan repertoire of Fort Lauderdalians, one animal-free meal at a time.

Let's face it. Your son's little league team sucks. The outfield won't stop picking their butts long enough to catch a pop fly, and your pitcher throws like a tired vegetarian. It's OK. Not everyone is meant to be an athlete. But just because they can't win like champions doesn't mean they can't eat like them. Every kid deserves a hamburger after a baseball game, even if that kid spent the entire game befriending ants at shortstop. And there's no better place to eat away the sorrows of loss than Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House. Since 1972, Jack's has been providing milk shakes to the athletically challenged and turning their heads when frustrated coaches slip a little vodka into their own shakes. And at $5.65 for a half-pound burger, you'll still have money left over for the end-of-season pity trophies. You know, those really generic ones that say things like "Best Use of Lungs" and "Most Enthusiastic"? And, like all good "sad food," it's delicious and greasy. Just about good enough to make you forget that your son is never going to be Derek Jeter.

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