Just a stuffed grape leaf's throw from the county courthouse, Adib Salloum's little gem of a store would be worth the trip for the fresh pita alone -- earthy, chewy, and delicate all at once. The fresh hummus and tabbouleh are terrific; big barrels of imported olives from all over the Mediterranean take up the shop's center stage. The cooler case to the rear holds feta and kasseri cheeses from a similar broad selection of lands. A shelf of tapes by the register is stacked with a nice selection of Middle Eastern music. But the best entertainment is Adib's younger brother Tony: This good-natured kibitzer would sell you your own rug off your floor if he got the chance -- and make you think you got a bargain in the process. Check the parking lot for signs of the Palm Beach ladies who venture over the bridge to do some grocery shopping here. If those people deign to cross the Intracoastal for Middle East Bakery, the place must be something truly special.

Yes, it's a classic, this link of a very popular, worldwide chain of high-end Italian restaurants. And yes, some of the menu items -- carpaccio, for example -- tend toward the tried-and-true. The restaurant is also loud, crowded, and filled with socialites. But really, when you're talking about receiving such delicacies as squid-ink ravioli filled with minced fish and seafood, or air-dried beef with black olives and cherry mozzarella, or veal chop in port wine sauce, it's hard to argue that this isn't some of the finest Italian fare around. Plus it's certainly expensive enough to qualify: Appetizers alone range from $16 to $80.
Careless falafel fabrication can result in a deadly dry, throat-clogging orb -- asphyxiation by ground chickpea. But at the improbably named Tuti Fruti, Shehab Breish and Jamal Masoud whip up before your eyes falafel that is crunchy, moist, and beyond palatable. The Palestinian duo took over the Health Food Cafe earlier this year and introduced Middle Eastern fare at reasonable prices. The falafel sandwich costs $2.99, the platter with salad and tabbouleh only another buck and a half. If you're a hard-core falafel freak, you can bypass the accouterments and order a bucketful at 50 cents apiece. The falafel is made from scratch, fried in vegetable oil, and filled with just enough spice to let you know you've taken a bite. Oh, and the joint's name? It comes from the lengthy list of fruit smoothies on the menu.

Most farmers' markets in South Florida don't have much "farm" in them, eschewing the raw in favor of the processed. The West Palm Beach GreenMarket is no exception. Not to imply an utter lack of fresh produce, but the quality of the prepared foodstuffs available every Saturday morning from mid-October through April makes this farmers' market truly superior. More than 50 vendors offer dense grainy breads; nuts and candied fruit; teas and coffees; and spices, herbs, and rubs. Mama Duke's vends only homemade banana bread, Turtle Creek Dairy sells goat cheese fresh from its Loxahatchee herd, and the Olde Pickle Barrel ships its puckery pleasures in from New York. This being Palm Beach after all, one can also purchase elegant blooms by the stem from Extra Touch Flowers. There's even free parking in the Banyan Street garage for GreenMarketgoers.
Hidden away in Port Everglades, in a very green space carefully decorated as if for a special post-Sunday Mass occasion, Manila Shangrila churns out some of the best -- and most unusual -- dinner dishes ever to emerge from the Philippine islands. Lumpia (spring rolls) are chock full of hearty ingredients like potatoes, shrimp or various meats, and vegetables, served with a garlic-vinegar sauce, and sure to please both first-time tasters and folks who consider this home-style comfort food. Another tasty use of garlic and vinegar is adobong, a stew made with either perfectly fricasseed chicken or marinated cubes of pork. The eatery also puts out variations of sinigang (a tamarind-based soup), pancit (noodles with various meats or veggies), and fried whole tilapia, among many entrées. The adventurous can try meals flavored with bagaoong, a fermented shrimp paste recommended only for those with iron palates. During the week (the restaurant is closed Mondays), business is pretty slow. Fridays and Saturdays, the joint is jumpin' (and smokin', in case you're picky about that sort of thing) -- especially with the giant karaoke machine smack-dab in front, where merchant marines and whole families strive to entertain one another.

Fact is this new, stylish eatery could have made the list in just about any topic: Best Seafood Restaurant for its selection of items like wahoo sashimi with citrus-soy sauce or king prawns with yams and garlic-lime butter, Best Contemporary Restaurant for its influences that range from French (Anjou pear salad with spicy pecans and blue cheese) to local (sautéed Gulf snapper with crushed boniato), or Best Local Boy Made Good for executive chef Dean James Max, who is a native of Stuart, Florida, and whose food has been featured in publications ranging from Gourmet to The Los Angeles Times. But we chose it instead for what we consider one of our highest honors for some very simple reasons: (1) The restaurant is located in a resort hotel, which means that little tykes have plenty of company; (2) when you make a reservation with a high chair, you are not automatically stuck at the worst table near the din of the kitchen; and (3) the young'uns just love the décor of seaside murals with abstract starfish and wave motifs running throughout. Pair those motivations with a nicely refined list of single-malt Scotches and port wines for the adults, and you have a restaurant that makes everybody happy.
We're not stupid. We're well aware that this upscale chain has built its rep on high-end Italian. We're not oblivious. We see that the menu lists such prized items as jumbo shrimp and saffron risotto or veal sautéed in Barolo wine sauce. We're not indifferent. We know plenty of steak houses, burger joints, hot dog stands, and a variety of other contenders have some truly good French fries out there competing for this honor. But we simply can't help ourselves. The pommes frites that accompany the sautéed filet mignon, which is topped with foie gras and a Madeira truffle-veal reduction, rate almost as high as that luxurious main course. Salted just right, nearly as skinny as Pick-Up Stix, and served in a huge disordered pile, the fries make braving the cashmere-clad and surgically enhanced crowd that frequents Mezzanotte a whole lot easier.
We love a restaurant that says what it means and means what it says. Bistro Provence is just such a place: no pretension, no allusion, no illusion. Just honest, warm, French country fare inspired by one of the greatest culinary regions in the world. To wit: Lace curtains, an herb garden, and pungent, back-to-the-earth fare such as tapénade, duck-liver mousse terrine, escargot cuddled in garlic butter. Sure, you can get some more modern stuff, too, such as roasted duck with winter-fruit glace or blackened ahi tuna with truffle oil and almonds. But these slightly spunkier dishes don't detract from the tradition that Bistro Provence tastefully maintains.
You can skip Publix or the local gourmet poissonnerie. Go right to the source. Twice a day, generally at noon and 5 p.m., charter boats cruise in and offer the savvy a chance to buy slabs of fresh fish like dolphin, kingfish, and tuna, often for as little as six bucks a pound. If you want to captain your own expedition, you can usually book a half-day charter for about $200. But why bother when you can just drive up and pick your own tender entrée, still gaping-mouthed and flopping, and have someone else deal with all those pesky entrails?
Chefs cringe when food writers use the word fusion these days to describe their innovative fare, and no doubt corporate chef Mennen Tekeli and executive chef Doug Barnhill are wincing as we write. But there's little other way to describe the meld of Italian-Asian flavors at this relatively new, high-end restaurant without resorting to the cutesie -- Asialian? Italasian? -- which merely wind up looking like a new word for Russian cuisine. So bear up, boys. Like you, we're sure dishes such as shrimp firecrackers with chili dipping sauce, smoked salmon with lemon-mascarpone risotto, rigatoni with grilled pork loin and roasted baby eggplant-tomato ragout and herbed ricotta, or miso-glazed sea bass with wasabi mashed potatoes and preserved lemon-basil nage deserve a better label than fusion. But as long as we also tag Prezzo Affair the best, is that really so bad?

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of