Courtesy of Gou Lou Cheong BBQ

Forget Americanized fried rice, orange chicken, and wonton soup. Instead, steer yourself to Gou Lou Cheong BBQ for authentic Chinese dishes like roast duck ($14.95). The founding owner of this small, decade-old takeout spot was once the proprietor and chef for Hong Kong City BBQ in Tamarac, considered one of the area's best dim sum restaurants. Despite Gou Lou Cheong's diminutive size (standing room only), dining here is akin to walking into one of the best spots in New York's Chinatown—or perhaps an eatery in China itself—complete with whole ducks and slabs of pork hanging from the ceiling. Order the Xa Xiu Mat (honey roasted pork, $6.50), and you'll get a styrofoam container filled with slabs of freshly roasted meat served over a bed of rice. A mixture of honey, a five-spice powder, hóngfuru (red fermented bean curd), dark soy sauce, hoisin, and a touch of rice wine stain the meat's exterior layer a deep red, while a touch of malt sugar gives the chasiu its characteristic shiny glaze. A note: The restaurant is closed on Wednesday, and only accepts cash.

Readers' choice: Temple Street Eatery

Finding proper Vietnamese food is a win-lose situation. On one hand, once you've found yourself Vietnamese cuisine done right, sans shortcuts, it's amazing. On the other hand, now you can never have it any other way. Pho Brandon in Sunrise is the one joint that has graciously ruined us forever. Maybe it's their broken rice pork chop platters (which awesomely come with two chicken wings on the side). Maybe it's their top notch pho. Maybe it's their lovely family-style atmosphere. Whatever it is, it works, and it leaves us wanting more. And to boot, Pho Brandon has somehow mastered serving dishes in a speedy fashion, exactly like in Vietnam. Once you order, it feels like just a few minutes before you hear the kitchen bell ring, and there's your food!

Most Westerners don't know real Thai food. We think we're adventurous for ordering papaya salad (often made stateside without the nose-turning salty dried shrimp paste known as going haeng) or pad thai (what should be salty and spicy, not sweet, as it usually is here). But Moon Thai will make you forget all those safe Thai joints as it spirits you off to the streets of Bangkok in all its tongue-burning, sinus-clearing glory. Chef-owner Jack Punma has been offering his homeland's staples in a way that is neither fusion-style nor copycat. Take the larp ($12), a dish of finely minced meat or seafood seasoned with lime juice, fish sauce, chili peppers, and Thai basil served with a finely ground toasted rice—a traditional dish Punma had often as a child growing up in Phitsanulok. Likewise, the tom yum goong ($4.50)—a traditional hot-and-sour soup—is a generously herbed broth with the right balance of lemongrass, chili, fish sauce, and kaffir lime, the steaming stock dotted with whole prawns, straw mushrooms, and chopped green onion. It's mouth-puckeringly tart with a powerful, spicy kick, a downright cold-killing concoction. Perhaps the most traditional of all, however, is the mango sticky rice, Thailand's ode to the denouement of mango season. A glutinous, short-grained rice is cooked until it attains a gooey, opaque consistency. Still steaming, it's packed into a dense globe and drenched in a thick layer of coconut milk, then decorated with a rash of toasted sesame seeds.

Agave Taco Bar owner Ivan Alarcon has a beautiful way of sharing his memories of his native Monterrey, Mexico, through food. Start with the section of the menu dubbed "botanas," Alarcon's version of Mexican small plates, each made to order. It includes the alitas asadas ($10), grilled chicken wings the size of your fist smothered in a tangy sauce Alarcon created from scratch at home. Next, try his "favorites," three dishes he's customized to represent the flavors of his culture. The star here is the sopes del jefe ($7.49), two handcrafted corn cake cups cradling salsa-verde-smothered chicharron mixed with a velvety tuft of refried pinto beans, chopped cilantro, sautéed white onion, crema, and melted queso. In Mexico, however, you won't find menudo available all day, every day. It's typically served on Sundays or as a post-New Year's celebration dish, but you can order it anytime you like here. The blood-red broth is based on Alarcon's grandmother's recipe: beef tripe cut into small pieces and cured in lime for 24 hours before it's cooked for several hours in a three-pepper marinade. The best dish, however, is the signature tacos de trompo ($7.99): slabs of pork seasoned with spices and a blend of chilis that stains the meat a bright, near-fluorescent red. The outer layer, crackling and crispy, is shaved from the spit and often served with a handful of finely chopped onion, cilantro, and a slice or two of fresh pineapple.

Readers' choice: La Bamba

Claudia Dawson

When you think of good Cuban food, the first thing that comes to mind usually isn't the parking. However, at the perennially packed 925 Nuevo's Cubano's, it's the first sign of a great meal. The Cuban restaurant only offers four or five parking spots behind the building. That's because the food is literally homemade—the restaurant is actually the front part of the house owner Luis Valdes, Jr. lived in when he was a child. With no other parking on this busy road, you may need to break the law to enjoy an incredible meal. Several cars (including the occasional law enforcement officer's cruiser) usually litter the sidewalk, parked illegally in the quest for a thick café cubano or flaky, spicy beef and chicken empanadas that are made every morning from scratch. Dining in means snagging a barstool out in front of the small kitchen, usually next to a Cuban-American looking for humongous sandwiches loaded with meats on freshly baked Cuban bread that cost about $8. Platters like the Puerco al Horno (Cuban-style roast pork, $10.50) come with traditional salty black beans, rice, and sweet plantains on the side. End your meal with cheesecake flan—rich, New York-style cheesecake topped with the sweet, spongy Cuban dessert.

You could call Captain Charlie's Reef Grill a white whale. Many people will say they've heard about the restaurant and its great seafood. But have they actually been there? Do they know where it is? That's another story. Located in a strip mall on U.S. 1, Captain Charlie's is decorated with a lot of wood; fishing pictures hang on the walls. It's loud, yet friendly. The lines usually stretch out the door to the sister establishment Three Doors Up, where the restaurant offers lunch during the daytime and drinks at night while guests wait for a proper table. The menu, a handwritten photocopy penned anew daily, reads like a glossary of sea creatures: grouper cheeks, pompano, wahoo, and hog snapper. Pasta dishes like the ultrarich Rock Shrimp in a gorgonzola cream sauce or simple, fresh squid ink linguine satisfy any Italian seafood lover. You can watch everything made right behind the bar, where you can usually find owner Ross Matheson chatting with regulars. Prices range from $11 to $30, but Matheson's stories are free.

Born on the streets of Miami, over the past five years this cool-kid restaurant has expanded rapidly with locations in Miami Beach, in Wynwood, and now, on Las Olas Boulevard. Co-owners Aliosha and Andrei Stern wanted to offer patrons an approachable Peruvian eatery. A clever play on words, "Su" denotes the sushi portion of the menu, and "Viche" is a nod to the restaurant's many takes on the raw fish dish, ceviche ($7-$13.95). Start with the SuViche ceviche, diced whitefish marinated in lime juice and one of consulting chef Jaime Pesaque's original sauces, sweetened with coconut milk. Flip the menu for sushi. Rolls are presented with atypical ingredients like creamy lomo or vibrant cilantro sauce. The ultimate cultural climax: the La Cruda Verdad ($12.50), a sushi roll that marries salmon, mango, and avocado for a refreshingly light bite inspired by local ingredients. Topped with ceviche-style marinated whitefish, it's the equivalent of a culinary love child between Peru and South Florida. Wash it all down with a perfect pisco sour or one of the dozens of fruit-forward macerados (infused pisco) from the city's only pisco bar.

Some believe that Germans only eat four things: pretzels with mustard, sauerkraut, sausage with mustard, and beer. Well, Cypress Nook in Pompano Beach is where that myth goes to die a flavorful, succulent death. Walking into the 38-year-old restaurant feels like entering a small family cottage in Bavaria. The smell conjures up images of an old woman in the kitchen whipping up Deutschland's delights. The best of the wurst comes on the Deutsche Wurst platter, a German trio of bratwurst, weisswurst, and frankfurter. The breaded Wiener Schnitzel is tender and crispy. Top it with the Jager-style mushroom gravy (with bacon, shallots, and onions). The menu — with everything under $20 — features other traditional delights like Sauerbraten, a German pot roast, and spaetzle, an egg noodle. And while sauerkraut usually hogs the cabbage limelight, Oma's rich, creamy red cabbage could change your life.

Chef-owner Ryan "Curly" Golaub's 9-year-old restaurant has no sign and can be difficult to spot between the Duds 'n' Suds Laundromat and a barbershop. Come lunchtime, however, a revolving door of patrons place to-go orders or scarf down goodies at a counter by the window. The most popular items here are standard Jamaican dishes, all about $10: jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, curry goat, and a stellar fried chicken—Goulab's own recipe. Hot soups ($4/$8) are on rotation: chicken flavored with pumpkin; beef; or a chowder-like conch. But on Friday, it's a traditional mannish water, or goat's head soup. And no Caribbean culinary escapade is complete without coconut water or fruit juice, here made locally by Fort Lauderdale's Da Jus Mon. Don't leave without a taste of the restaurant's rum cake, which is the consistency of fudgy brownies with a spicy, mellow flavor.

Jamaica's official motto—"Out of many, one people"—works equally well to describe the nation's melting-pot cuisine. You can truly taste the country's history in its food, from jerk chicken and curry goat to stew peas and rum cake. Luckily, Jamaican expats looking for tastes of home have plenty to keep them satiated at Kersmon Cuisine in Greenacres. Here, chef-owner Althea Drummond, a Negril native, prepares everything that leaves her small kitchen daily. Regulars know to call ahead for larger orders or specialty dishes, as many take as long as two hours to prepare from scratch. The menu offers everything from poached snapper escovitch ($24) bathed in a heady citrus marinade to a yellow curry-spiced goat served with chunks of a sweet, homemade bread made with coconut milk. Harder-to-find traditional dishes include cow foot and a Rastafarian vegetable dish known as Ital stew. Drummond's jerk chicken ($12) is the best dish here—tender pieces of whole chicken submerged in a rich, gravy-like brown sauce with enough heat to flush your cheeks, each bite redolent of pimento, clove, cinnamon, garlic, and a fresh-grated ginger base.

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