Lord, what foods these morsels be! At Joe Bel-Air's, conventioneers, Port Everglades dock workers, art students, and Fort Lauderdale's common folk (what's left of 'em, anyway) converge at this retrofitted '50s-era diner for no-nonsense grub. The plates of breakfast fare, lunch items, meat loaf, and baked desserts originate, ostensibly, from the kitchen. However, it's worth noting that Joe Bel-Air's kitchen backs up directly against the Culinary Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Judging by the quality of some of Joe Bel-Air's late-night pies (such as the yummy Boston cream), one of those broom closets must have a false panel through which baked goods of extraordinary power and energy are surreptitiously passed into the realm of mortals. Asking the pink-clad waitresses at Joe's to confirm or deny these rumors will win you a quizzical stare -- further proof that we're right.

Moon Thai & Japanese Restaurant
If you want your plate to be served from the left and picked up from the right, don't go here. If you want your water glass to be aligned with the tip of your knife and all other beverages to be placed to the right cater-corner of your agua, see ya later. If you want tuxedo jackets with seams as straight and narrow as W.'s unreadable lips, then bye-bye now. But if you like it when the waiters and waitresses, garbed in traditional Thai uniforms, not only know your name and face but remember what you ordered last time, then this is the place. At Moon you can actually utter those famous, longed-for words: "I'll have the usual."
Canyon
We wish we looked as good in black leather pants as Canyon's cool wait staff or got seated as quickly as its high-profile regulars. But most of all, we'd like to be the prickly pear. The key ingredient in Canyon's famed margarita, it spends its whole life swimming in top-shelf tequila. Sip this pale pink drink, and everything seems Southwestern, including the tasty tuna tartare with wasabi cream. So what they ain't got tuna in Albuquerque? Canyon's inventive menu is inspired by the Southwest, and after eating here, you will be too. Consider growing cacti or naming your new puppy "Adobe." Hang a dream catcher -- just don't start a conversation with, "Chipotle lately?"

Toa Toa Chinese Restaurant
When the takeout menu features the phone number in letters as big and scarlet as the proverbial A and includes numerous full-color photos of the dim sum for which this place is legendary, you can rightly assume that these folks do to-go in style. You can order anything for pickup, even the most tricky dishes, such as shrimp fried in shredded taro or smashed red-bean pancakes. The dim sum, made to order, offers the most authentically Hong Kong tastes, while the regular menu advertises a host of Cantonese, Mandarin, Hunan, and Szechuan specialties. But whatever you choose, you can rest assured it's going to tumble out of those cartons steaming hot and sizzling with flavor. Our only regret? That there isn't a Toa Toa Two Two.

Best Thing to Come from Albania Since John Belushi

Tony's Pasta & Pizza

The high point of Lake Worth's Albanian archipelago of pizzerias is Tony's, where head chef Muharrem (founding brother Tony went on to work for a food distributor) turns out superb, crusty, New York- style pizza and homemade pasta with sauces of surprising delicacy. So good is his product that for some five years Palm Beach's five-star Four Seasons Resort made Tony's the bespoken pasta maker to the smart set. The ravioli -- pumpkin, spinach, or mushroom-saffron with pine nuts -- aren't part of the menu at his retail joint, but you can still order them for the home. It's an unadorned storefront, so don't expect any ambiance. In fact bring your own cutlery or suffer the cheap plasticware. It's worth it.

It's the eternal Zen question: How many links makes a chain? In chef-proprietor Mark Militello's case, we think the answer is several, all located in South Florida. With the recent addition of Mark's CityPlace in West Palm Beach, "Trade-Mark" Militello has expanded the empire he began in North Miami, then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and South Beach. Many chefs of his James Beard Award-winning caliber think a namesake restaurant is sufficient, but we know that, when it comes to talent, a single venue is only one hand clapping. But four -- now there's some real regional noise in the making.

City Oyster
Is it a good sign when a restaurant's wine list offers too many vintages to count? We think so, especially when at least one third of those bottles are from lesser-known international vineyards and priced less than 30 bucks. With this policy the folks at City Oyster declare that they're not out to screw us with triple the retail. Rather they're here to educate our palates with sips of such diverse wines as the Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or the King Estate pinot noir from Oregon. Sure, you can invest $180 for a bottle of full and luxurious Opus One here, but you can also spend as little as $21 for a bright and pleasant E. Guigal Côte du Rhône red. The kicker, of course, is what you can also get by the glass, ranging from a Chateau Souverain zinfandel to a froth of Taittinger Champagne. Good-bye house wine, hello bubbly.
Gran Forno Bakery
C. Stiles
To find Gran Forno, you could look for the storefront window that displays bakers at work, or you could simply close your eyes (mind your step) and follow your nose. The smell of bread, savory with rosemary, wafts to the street. On weekends Gran Forno is crowded and clubby. Regulars gather in tennis togs to consult maps for their upcoming trip to Tuscany while the owners chime in with advice. Not surprisingly the focaccia, pastries, and biscotti are all excellent, but the best thing about this authentic, family-owned bakery is the way it continually pulls off the unexpected. At Thanksgiving, for example, Gran Forno's beautiful pumpkin pies no doubt upstage many a turkey. And this being Florida, the bakery also makes a key lime tartlet that, while generous, might still be a tad too small (and too delicious) to share.
Charlie's Bar-B-Q
The takeout menu notes that Charlie's is located between Pizza Hut and McDonald's. The astute observer might also realize that the exterior of the joint looks like an extant fast-food restaurant. And the truly brilliant eye will notice that Charlie's is a self-service, cafeteria-style place, where you kind of point to what you want and everything is plated for you by the worker behind the counter. So what does all this mean? Only that Charlie's is fast, not that it's fast food. In fact it's slow food, if you consider that the Texas-style beef brisket and pulled pork loin have simmered for hours to get them to their juiciest and ripest. Or that the chicken and baby-back ribs have been basted repeatedly with a caramelized layer of Charlie's secret sauce. Add the homemade baked beans, pinto beans, and Spanish rice, and it's fairly obvious to even the most ignorant palate that good ol' Chuck knows how, better than anyone else, to do the Q.
Tacos Al Carbon
"Autenticamente Mexicano" reads the sign above this roadside eatery, a tiny little place surrounded by the Guatemalan and Mexican districts of central Palm Beach County. There's hardly a gringo in sight within. (They probably wouldn't know how to mix and match the pineapple, guava, and tamarind sodas with the rich selections from the cooks' steam table, anyway.) But even the monolingual really need to know only one word here: burrito. The fresh flour tortillas are unbeatable -- supple, delicate, faintly sweet -- folded around fillings of chicken or wonderful grilled steak topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a piquant and subtle salsa verde. The lunch special of one burrito, one taco, and rice and beans is a steal at $4.99; a cellophane four-pack of gum -- spearmint, peppermint, cinnamon, and tutti-frutti -- makes dessert for two bits.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of