T-Mex Cantina
Call it the college fix if you have to. But there's really no better remedy for anything ranging from depression to overindulgence -- except the freshman 15, of course -- than the San Loco taco. Whether you go for soft or hard, request chicken or beef, ask for it vegetarian or lacto-ovo, it doesn't really matter. The secrets are in the freshly made ingredients and the assembly, which is darn near perfect every time. And that's just the basic versions. Slap a soft shell filled with guacamole around a hard corn shell taco and you've got yourself a guaco loco -- Prozac, Pepto, and pure gustatory pleasure, all folded up in one.
La Bamba Mexican & Spanish Restaurant
Courtesy photo
It's easy to forget that fast-food-created image of a hand-held burrito filled with some greasy attempt at meat when you sit down to the ones at La Bamba. Here, they're swimming in sauces, including the earthy ranchera or the slightly sweet green tomatillo. They're stuffed with carefully marinated beef, chicken, or hearty chunks of crab meat. And most noticeably different, the five burritos on La Bamba's massive Spanish and Mexican menu are the size of a small Chihuahua (the dog, not the state). They're served with refried beans and yellow rice -- which, here, is packed with the flavor of garlic and onions. The lunch burrito special (imagine the size of a Chihuahua pup) rings in at just $6.50 -- and should make those fast-food varieties obsolete.
Yeah, we know his products are everywhere, from airport terminals to frozen food sections in supermarkets. But truth is, Wolfgang Puck is the granddaddy of the designer pizza, and his signature, wood-fired pies -- those made in his restaurants and cafs, that is -- never disappoint. That's because, from a global perspective, there's something for everyone: Thai chicken pizza with sauted bok choy, chili-peanut sauce, and cilantro; a "BLTA" version with applewood bacon, romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, and avocado; and the famed smoked salmon-dill-creme fraiche combo. Traditionalists looking for New York-style pizza can be just as satisfied with the classic Margherita, pepperoni, or the "mushroom-mushroom" pie. Given his worldwide success, no doubt we're not the only ones to appreciate Puck's well-rounded talents.
Primanti Brothers Pizza
Two ways to enjoy a slice of New York-style pizza -- fresh out of the oven the first time around, and fresh out of the oven the second time. Many of us who grew up near that venerable town prefer it the latter way, as reheating tends to give the crust a firmer edge and bottom and the tomato sauce more chance to meld with the cheese. The Primantis have the method as down-pat as a Soprano frisking a rival Mafia gang member. Any time of day or night, bunches of pies hang out in the shop, waiting for customers to point out the perfectly aged piece for another embrace of wood-fired heat. And if you don't believe the results are as good as we say, we've got blisters on the roofs of our mouths that prove it.
Gran Forno Bakery
C. Stiles
Let's list the individual ingredients in the roasted chicken sandwich: chicken (of course), pesto, roasted peppers, sliced tomato, and arugula. Sounds pretty tasty. You could assemble all those ingredients on two slices of bread and have a pretty good sandwich yourself. At Gran Forno, though, the sandwiches vault somehow from pretty good to great. Partly it's the bread onto which these ingredients are layered -- fresh-baked ciabatta, one of many breads Gran Forno bakes daily. Ciabatta offers a satisfying combination of good crunch on the outside and a feathery-soft interior. But it's also the proportion -- of chicken to tomato to pesto to roasted peppers. There's none of that gargantuan piling-on that Americans savor, not so much for the flavor as for the feeling that they possess more sandwich than they can eat comfortably. There's a sense of rightness, of pleasure in limits at work here that causes the ingredients to meld together into a greater oneness of sandwich than any ordinary mortal can obtain. That's why people line up to buy them on the weekends.
Sushi Blues Café and Blue Monk Lounge
Surrounded by water that's chock-full of fishies, South Florida has basically two kinds of restaurants: seafood and other. So it stands to reason that we eat a lot of sushi. Once the bastion of the brave, sushi bars are now nearly as American as hamburger stands -- only wimps and wussies are afraid of chowing down on a little raw fish sittin' on a ball of vinegared rice. So, we've selected Sushi Blues because it's not for the ramen rookie, gari greenhorn, nigiri neophyte, nori novice, or temaki tenderfoot. Once you've mastered the beginning levels of the sushi/sashimi maze, the nothing-if-not eclectic Sushi Blues is ready to take you higher. Kenny Millions, the jazz trumpeter who also runs Sushi Jazz down the street, has messed with the menu here, adding odd items like filet mignon tataki in chardonnay wasabi, weird rolls (barbecued eel with... papaya?) that you won't even hear of anywhere else, plus wonderful (and hard-to-find!) unfiltered sake -- slightly sweet and milky-white, with a faint ester of banana -- the perfect accompaniment to Sushi Blues' slightly adventurous fare. So raise the bar, raise your chopsticks, and accept Sushi Blues' challenge.
Shuckums Raw Bar and Grill
Certainly the best raw bar in Broward County's second-largest city on the strength of its raw seafood alone, Shuckums takes a step up into the pantheon of raw-bar gods this year by offering a 4 a.m. closing time, live bands, and a three-hour happy hour every weekday from 4 to 7 p.m. Got nothing prepared for dinner? Then a heap of shrimp with a couple bottles of suds at Shuckums should be in your future. The beachside location is ideal -- there's just something about being near the ocean when you're sucking on a shrimp.
The Frog and Toad
Given the recent political alliance between the U.S. and Great Britain, we'd say the year-old Frog & Toad has excellent philosophical timing: Each of the two amphibians, pictured in the logo arm-in-arm wearing flags as shirts and hoisting mugs of beer, clearly represent the individual countries, joining together in brewski compatriotism. Our question is this: Just who is the frog, and who is the toad? OK, that's not really the query, especially when you consider the competitive trivia games that take place here every Wednesday evening. Then the questions get a little tougher, some even hard or obscure enough to baffle aging Ivy Leaguers whose formal education was, well, a long, long time ago. Fortunately, for the fish-and-chips aficionado, the fried cod remains tender, as do items like mussels in curry sauce and steak-and-mushroom pie, and just as hard to forget as the answers to such questions as "What is the best pub in Fort Lauderdale?"

Barbecue devotees, bow down. Proprietors Tom and Helen Wright claim, via the restaurant's motto, that they "give the glory to God." We of the less-celestial stance lay the credit for their long-running success at a couple of secular doors: the plate-glass portal through which lovers of ribs, baked beans, collard greens, and rice with gravy surge on a nightly basis. Kosher worshipers can indulge in the moist and juicy chicken, smeared and seared with the eatery's signature secret sauce; the not-quite-so-strict can head straight for sliced pork, pork chops, and fried shrimp. Regardless of religious leanings, however, Tom's fans have one thing in common -- they're all true believers of the barbecue.
Originated by the slaves in the American South, "soul food" has become canonized, standing in for everything these days from the glue that holds a family together to a dieter's guilty pleasure. Let's not put too romantic a point on it. Truth is, the dishes were born out of a need for tasty sustenance -- to make palatable meals out of remnants of bones, poor cuts of meat, and vegetables that were more like weeds. They were also meant to supply people who were forced to work way too hard with enough energy to keep them going. Fortunately, we have places like Soul Food 2 Go that keep it real -- as in really good collard greens, highly caloric mac 'n' cheese, barbecue you don't need to chew, beans you don't need to fear. No icons here, just slow-cooked fare served quickly enough to be eaten at your own pace. And while soul food itself has unpalatable origins, the modern version of it proffered here is nothing but savory sustenance.

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