Coconut's Bahama Grill
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.

New York Grilled Cheese

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.

Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle
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.

Hullabaloo

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.

Fresh First
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!

Green Bar & Kitchen
CandaceWest.com

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.

Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House

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.

Ninja Spinning Sushi Bar

First, being comfortable eating alone in a public space should be on everyone's personal to-do list. Second, we're not saying you can't take a friend or two along to Ninja Spinning Sushi; we're just saying that if you really want to get the most out of the experience, you should try it alone. Also, if you're not eating alone by choice, Ninja — run by the same group that owns Yakitori Sake House in Royal Palm Place — is the perfect spot, because there's none of that dead, stare-off-into-space or pretend-to-play-with-my-phone-so-I'm-not-awkwardly-sitting-here-alone time. That's because, at a spinning sushi bar, your participation is required. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, "kaiten zushi" is a revolving sushi bar where different-colored small plates run past you on a conveyor belt or — as in the case of Ninja in Boca Raton — on little boats in a stream. The different colors of the plates indicate the cost of the item you are grabbing. Each plate is like Japanese tapas, containing a few pieces of sashimi or a roll or a little pile of seaweed or squid salad. At the end of the meal, your stack of empty plates is tallied up and you pay your bill. Since this requires some attention and a lot of facing forward at a bar, you can see why it would lend itself to solo dining. And since you're dining alone anyway, might as well stuff your face by taking advantage of the nightly happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and after 10 when select drinks are priced two-for-one and all the plates cost $3.

Egg N You Diner

In 1956, things were different. You could smoke in hospitals, seat belts were merely a suggestion, and the world was always just minutes from nuclear annihilation. I said "different," not "better." But you could also always count on service. It meant something back then. Food came out in eight minutes, your coffee stayed full the entire meal (without any sneaky up-charge), and your servers didn't work for you; they worked with you. You and your server were a team. Something else happened in 1956. Egg N' You opened on the corner of North Federal Highway and NE 26th Street. And for the past 58 years, the team here has been upholding the standard of old-school service. Even on Sunday mornings, when the postchurch crowd comes rushing in with the holy spirit in their stomachs, you won't wait more than ten minutes for a table. Your waitress has the menu memorized like the pledge of allegiance and won't ever let you see the bottom of your coffee mug. The food comes out quickly and hot, and each table is equipped with its own castle of jellies to choose from. 1956 still exists at Egg N' You. Minus all the terrible stuff.

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