Note scribbled on a bar napkin while researching this category: "There's something beautifully poetic about drinking martinis in the middle of the afternoon at Mark's." Sinatra would agree, and isn't that really what a good martini is all about? We think so. Mark's mixes a mean one, with a rack of gins and vodkas from which to choose, a knowledgeable bar staff to help you do so, and the right atmosphere in which to swill. Straight up or dirty, they always come shaken, not stirred, accented with three fat olives on the swizzle stick. Poetry in a glass. If you're lucky the lovely Martha will be your mixologist. Stir in the tastefully hip surroundings and the passing parade on Las Olas Boulevard, and we can't think of a better way to wile away a South Florida afternoon. But remember to bring your plastic -- premium martinis at Mark's will set you back $9 each.
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Michael++McElroy
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Whether it's a snowbird paying you back for lodging or the boss treating you on the company's plastic, it's always a delight to be taken to dinner. When this rare occurrence materializes, you want elegance and a worthy wine list. At the Grill Room, you also get quality cocktails, multiple servers, and an appropriately pricey menu, all accompanied by live piano music. And the Grill Room has the feel of a club, not some trendy eatery with a noisy, bustling atmosphere. Indeed, its stated intention is to "transport you to a gentler time when British officers enjoyed all the splendors of exotic locations under Colonial rule." Well, we don't know if it's all that, but it's close. Disregard the prices and start with a dram of smoky, single-malt Scotch, then move on to a robust cabernet. Once you're past the appetizer, try the rack of lamb, and polish things off with an adequately aged brandy. And then, when the bill arrives, it's tallyho, old chum!
So the décor's not much to look at -- a couple of tables in a plain eatery stuck in a strip mall. But what do you care? You're here for the take-out, which is a good thing, because that's what this place specializes in. Choose your region: classic Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechuan. The woks here spew forth all manner and style of noodle dishes and stir-fry items, from chow fun to savory tofu. In addition the cooks are fast and the staff is efficient, so your order is finished, packed up, and ready to go within minutes of your call. Plus, Henry's caters to any diner, be it in-house or at-home. Special dietary requests? Not a problem. Vegetarian in your midst? Plenty of options. Allergic to MSG? Henry's doesn't use it. All in all, Henry's exceeds typical take-out expectations, because when you get home, your food is hot and savory rather than a soggy mess. And that's a point in your favor.
If you're honest about it, Acquario is a mall restaurant. OK, so that mall is the Esplanade, on chichi Worth Avenue, the aptly named street of commerce in Palm Beach, where real estate is mogul territory. And yes, the complex is hardly Jersey mallrat quality, since all the stores are both genteel and pricey. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that Acquario, located in the back of the structure on the top floor, is a sedate, plush dining experience. Check loud voices at the door and sink into plush carpeting. Traditional décor, including oil paintings and crystal light fixtures, evoke the charm of European drawing rooms. But it's chef Theo Schoenegger's contemporary Mediterranean cuisine -- quail grilled with so many herbs it's a veritable Simon and Garfunkel song or lobster risotto with asparagus -- that clinches the deal with the decisiveness of a CEO. Of course, you might need your friendly CEO to pick up the bill, which like everything else in the area can be, um, a little high. But then what's pleasure that you don't somehow pay for?
Southport Raw Bar
Photo by Glenn Govot, courtesy of Southport Raw Bar & Restaurant
If Fort Lauderdale's known for anything, it's raw bars. In addition to the old guard, avant-garde clam shacks pop up all the time. That makes the competition in this category especially fierce. But sometimes it takes an old-timer to show the young'uns how it should be done. Southport doesn't have fancy bloody Marys garnished with oysters, or tequila-oyster shooters, or oysters flown in from other places around the country. It just has good, honest seafood, served raw or cooked, according to your preference. No matter how you like your clams and oysters, be sure to get the smallest ones, which are often the sweetest. Those who forgo raw fare aren't neglected, either -- they can order fried shrimp, steamed oysters, or stuffed clams, to name a few alternatives. And the prices? They haven't changed much since the place opened about 27 years ago, which can't help but soothe the saltiest patron.
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Preston
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The name of this upscale sushi and sake bar may sound rock-hard (or rok-hard), but the sushi itself is nothing less than supple. Not soft, because that would imply textureless. Not pliable, because that would denote elasticity. And not flexible, because that might be stringy. No, we're talking fresh raw fish, cut thick enough to give your teeth just the tiniest moment of resistance before yielding. If there's one thing you can count on here, aside from the sake cocktails (or coktails), it's the reliability of the sushi chefs. Fish, after all, is only as good as the hands that cut it, and these are caring hands. You could even call them, well, supple.
If the place first strikes you as a nightclub, that's because it is, at least on weekends. But this Jamaican-Chinese restaurant is also an unpretentious but sophisticated example of island cuisine. The curried goat is meaty, not bony. The brown stew fish is rich and flavorful, not greasy. And chicken sautéed with peanuts and coconut cream is priceless. Make that reasonably priceless. The fare here is affordable enough to allow patrons to partner everything with fried rice and finish it all off with banana bread pudding, so you can partake of the plentitude, mon, and not sweat the check. Best of all, the service makes T.G.I. Friday's look unfriendly; in fact the staff pretty much treats everyone here like… well, like a native.
Hollywood's struggling downtown is either in or out, depending on the year. This year: in, with new eateries such as Red Thai Room and Burt's on the Beach drawing customers from counties to the north and south. Last year: out, with noteworthy restaurants such as Revolution 2029, Tac "O" the Town, and Impromptu all biting the ghost town dust. Le Pastis, a quaint Provençal restaurant with owners hailing from Bordeaux and Marseilles, promised to persevere despite the sudden dearth of customers roaming the Harrison Street area. But despite such delicious dishes as frogs' legs in white wine sauce and traditional lamb chops crusted in herbes de Provence, Le Pastis couldn't hang on and took down its shingle. So much for the sunny skies of southern France in southeastern Broward County.
La Brochette Bistro
Here's the neighborhood part: La Brochette is located in a typical suburban strip mall in southwest Broward County. Here's the restaurant part: an interior crammed with culinary collectibles, a professional staff, and a well-chosen wine list. Now, here's the best part: conch fillet schnitzel with caper-lime sauce, roast duck with ginger-orange sauce, and homemade milk chocolate crème brûlée. Chef-proprietor Aboud Kobaitri makes everything from French onion soup to hazelnut mousse, and his dedication to his eight-year-old eatery shows. Even more apparent is Kobaitri's commitment to the area -- for the past 16 years, the Lebanese native has made his home in Davie and Pembroke Pines. If you go by the credo that only locals know what locals want, then Kobaitri has everything we need.
The absence of antelope chops notwithstanding, this cheetah-spotted steak house fulfills the hearty beef-eater's expectations: luxe décor, high-end meats, and seriously good martinis. You couldn't ask for more in an American steak house, even one that's named for a trek across the savanna. Steaks aren't the only items to stake a meal on, either. Jumbo lump crab-and-avocado cocktails, iceberg salad with homemade blue cheese rich enough to tempt a politician, and swordfish with hollandaise satisfy the beef embargoists. Otherwise it's a carnival for carnivores, with steaks and chops seared on a grill that heats up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot stuff indeed.

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