Best Of :: Food & Drink
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
Husband-and-wife team Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy dreamt of building a cozy, from-scratch kitchen serving internationally inspired soul food. Let's just say their dream came true. Every day Hampton heads to the market to garner inspiration for the day's eight or so special menu items. From there, a pair of talented chefs work alongside him to create epic collaborations, often with an Asian or Indian flair. Since opening three years ago, the 54-seat restaurant has also offered a rotation of "hit singles"—dishes that were once specials, but became so popular the couple had no choice but to keep them on the standard menu for fear of disgruntled regulars. Case in point: the mushroom manchego toast ($6/$12), a popular appetizer of toasted French bread points layered with a decadent combination of melted manchego cheese atop a pile of onion- and brown cream sherry sauce-smothered mushrooms. There's also the gnocchi with oxtail ($12/$22), a signature entree Hampton has been preparing since day one. The first thing the kitchen is tasked with preparing each day, an entire oxtail is braised for six hours in a rich vegetable stock until the meat falls from the bone, served with a basic San Marzano tomato sauce flavored with garlic, onion, and basil over a bed of pillowy soft homemade gnocchi. A rotating selection of boutique wines and craft beers completes the multicultural vibe.
Readers' choice: The Rusty Hook Tavern
They say the best things come in small packages. That's certainly true of Jimmy's Bistro in Delray Beach, a pint-sized eatery serving up an innovative New American-Italian menu. Despite its location in the heart of downtown Delray Beach, the six-table boutique establishment and wine bar has so far managed to fly under the tourist-trap radar thanks to its clandestine location off Swinton Avenue—but locals sure have found it. Even in the height of summer, regulars flock to chef-owner Jimmy Mills' eponymous eatery. A well-traveled, classically trained chef, Mills has done well over the years with a handwritten chalkboard in place of a handheld menu. Homemade pastas ($24) and a roasted half duck ($36) have become locals' favorites, and fish entrees change depending on what's supplied by Captain Clay and Sons Fish Market a few blocks north. Favorites include the housemade mozzarella ($12) served with locally grown tomatoes or glutinous ribbons of handmade fettuccine smothered beneath a rich tomato and meat ragu. All you need to complete the evening: a bottle of wine and some good company. And, of course, a reservation.
Readers' choice: Kapow! Noodle Bar
Ritz-Carlton is reinventing the typical hotel restaurant. The oceanfront Burlock Coast is a café, market, restaurant, and bar all rolled into one, and it entices locals as well as tourists. It offers a marketplace for artisanal goods, grab-and-go lunches, retail bottles of small-batch rums, and a formal restaurant. The emphasis here is on locally sourced ingredients, from raw bar offerings like king crab cocktails to mains like New York Strip steaks ($46), plus a tomato bruschetta made with Little Pond Farm heirloom tomatoes. In the restaurant's carefully curated marketplace, patrons can find breads made by revered Miami baker Zak Stern (aka Zak the Baker), a hot cup of Panther Coffee, or charcuterie from Miami Smokers. And on top of all the local goodness, cocktail lovers can build their own drinks using a selection of Caribbean, French, and Spanish rums.
Readers' choice: Boatyard
At Grato, which opened in January, chef-owner Clay Conley (owner of Buccan) is going rustic Italian for the first time just a few miles away from his familiar Palm Beach stomping grounds. Conley calls the area around the Norton Museum of Art "an underserved market" into which he hopes to breathe some life. The restaurant is already attracting huge crowds; any night of the week, a troop of valets must manage the flood of patrons who swarm for happy hour. Dinner service seems as though all of Palm Beach has shown up, packing Grato's industrial-sized room wall to wall with a handsome crowd of guests. The focal point is the exposed wood-fueled oven painted Ferrari red. Patrons can sit at the kitchen bar to watch chefs shuffle pies and meats in and out from open to close. The best part of Grato, however, is devouring any of Conley's handmade extruded pastas. True bliss is twirling a forkful of fat paccheri smothered in a pork-riddled Sunday gravy, stabbing a single bucatini smothered in pasty-thick carbonara sauce seasoned with a heavy dose of fresh-cracked black pepper; or piling a spoonful of tender, dumpling-like ricotta gnocchi that seem to be held together by nothing more than the force of the Palm Beach pasta prince's will. It makes for a restaurant that is equal parts social hotspot and culinary tour de force.
Readers' choice: Boca's Best BBQ and Smokehouse
Fort Lauderdale is not a city lacking in restaurant options, so proclaiming a certain establishment the best is a tall task. Thankfully, Cafe Martorano—brought to us by a South Philly export, the big-mouthed and bigger-muscled Steve Martorano—makes it a little easier to call. Linguine and clams ($28), chicken cutlet broccoli rabe ($34), and veal parmesan ($42) are just a few of the Italian classics that keep loyal Martorano customers (and celebs like Dwyane Wade) coming back to this mainstay for more. Martorano's "gravy" (don't call it sauce!) is to die for, and his meatballs are so renowned that Jimmy Kimmel once booked Martorano on his show to demonstrate how to make them. The open kitchen provides a front row seat to the action, while mafia movies showing on TV provide a welcome tongue-in-cheek respite from the oh-so-serious farm-to-table joints around these days.
Readers' choice: Scolapasta Bistro
The Hollywood restaurant scene is a beast that is always changing, especially since Margaritaville flung open its doors. The Tipsy Boar stands out among the rest as one of the restaurants that doesn't need to change too often, because what it is doing is already as good as it gets. Looking for a quick martini and bite to eat after work? Tipsy's menu includes a delectable goat cheese croquettes dish ($7) that pairs perfectly with a stiff after-five drink. Looking for something a little lighter on a hot South Florida day? Grab an IPA and some lobster BLT tacos ($15). Whatever mood you're in, if you're in Hollywood, the Tipsy Boar is your surest bet.
Readers' choice: Le Tub
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in 1999, Alex Becker jetted off on a globetrotting adventure that would bring him from Michelin-starred Ristorante Gardenia in Turin, Italy, to Japan for a seven-year career at world-renowned Nobu, where he acted as executive chef for restaurants in New York, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. Later, he served as corporate executive chef for equally well-respected Katsuya in Los Angeles. Today, he's Kuro's executive chef as well as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's creative culinary director. The chef sources exotic items for the restaurant's new-style Japanese creations—dishes grounded in tradition and executed via a unique kaiseki (carefully prepared multicourse experience). The idea: Offer a menu where no two dining experiences are alike, each tailored to a patron's specific preferences. Fish for sushi is delivered three times a week and stored in a subzero freezer. The bar is stocked with several Japanese whiskeys, shochu, and more than 20 different sakes. Dishes feature four varieties of miso, several types of wasabi, and several types of soy sauce, and exotic produce including yuzu, mushrooms, and lotus root comes from overseas. If it's a taste trip you're looking for, Becker is the man to give it to you.
Readers' choice: Angelo Elia of Casa D'Angelo
As soon as you arrive, your table is ready, napkin neatly folded into a half-moon and ready to be draped across your lap. Minutes after you order your tom kha gai ($6.95), it spins out of the kitchen, piping hot and closely followed by a tray of spices with flavors ranging from "Sweet Odin's Raven!" to "Honey, Why Are You Sweating?" With a menu so extensive (more than 30 entrees!), it helps to have a knowledgable staff who can assist you when deciding between the Chicken Cashew Nut Thai Style ($15.95) or the Choo Chee Chicken ($18.95). And let's be honest: Even if the food is stellar, bad service can ruin your appetite for coming back. Since Siam House has been around since 1981, you know they're doing something right.
Sunny days, warm waters, beautiful views... and eats under $10. At Giorgio's Bistro & Market, dine with a waterfront view of Florida's Intracoastal Waterway without breaking the bank. The restaurant—open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—offers everything from French toast ($6.50) and omelets ($5.95), to Mediterranean cheese platters ($9.95) with feta and brie, to chicken crepes ($9.50). It's known for its freshly baked breads and pastries, and it also offers an extensive wine list with glasses starting at $4.95. The restaurant's motto is, "You'll never have to cook again." With Giorgio's nearby, why would you?
Broward County's shorelines are no Miami Beach. But the opening of Hyde Beach Kitchen + Cocktails in Hallandale suggests that the all-night, over-the-top soirees typically found 20 miles south might just be coming our way. The two-story chic building oozes a 305 vibe. Neon lights, swank design, eclectic food, and occasional DJs fill the SBE Hospitality Group's newest eatery. But the real draw is the location: situated on the sand overlooking the ocean without an obstruction in sight, making guests feel like they're dining (and partying) on a private island. The contemporary-American restaurant draws influence from Asia, India, Italy, Greece, and Latin America, resulting in a 30-dish menu. Nosh on freshly baked pumpkin butter rolls ($7), Niman Ranch short rib with Yukon mashed potatoes ($26), and mushroom gnocchi ($15) as you gaze into the sea. Hyde guests can legally drink on the sand, so once you finish dinner, grab that cocktail and dip your feet into the water.
It's not exactly the easiest thing to find a family-friendly restaurant these days. Either an eatery is packed full of people slamming down happy hour drinks or so quiet that any sound your kids might make will cause the other, uptight guests to scoff. Bru's Room is a good compromise: Kids won't stare at their iPhones or want to leave the entire time. Games and TVs provide some entertainment, and for Mom and Dad, if it's been a long day, hey, the bar is right around the corner. Ex-Miami Dolphin Bob "Bru" Brudzinski has grown the Bru's Room brand in South Florida to the point where we've dropped the "Room" from the title and just ask the family if they want to go to Bru's—that's how you know this place has arrived.