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.

Buca Di Beppo
Is awarding a restaurant "best chain" a backhanded compliment? We doubt Buca di Beppo would think so. A cavernous Italian dinner house where portions are prodigious -- two-pound meatballs make this place a contender for the "Best Restaurant for Gluttons" category as well -- Buca di Beppo is one of the fastest-growing and most profitable chain restaurants in the nation, next to Cheesecake Factory. That's quite an accomplishment for an eatery whose name translates as Joe's Basement. The food here is way over the top: focaccia-style garlic bread, feet-long pizzas, and family-size platters of fried calamari or veal limone. The décor evinces even less restraint, with thousands upon thousands of photos and posters featuring Italian and Italian-American idols such as Sophia Loren and Joe DiMaggio. Try sitting in the Cardinal Room or at the Pope Table for a truly religious experience.
Tropical Cafe
Why such passion for a sandwich that's not even good for you? Because it tastes so good, that's why. And the sandwich at Tropical Café is an exemplar of the genre. A huge, pressed Cuban roll stuffed with ham, Swiss cheese, and home-cooked pork (roasted to tenderness for four and a half hours) can easily get you through the day and only set you back $4.99, including a small bag of potato chips and a soda. But if you're especially hungry, there's a special or even a supremo, each a third again as large. If you'd rather not take all your daily cholesterol in one shot, a medianoche is a smaller version on a sweet roll with honeyed ham substituted. And if you're just not in the mood for the Earl of Sandwich's clever device to enable him to stay at the gaming tables during meals, Tropical Café boasts a diverse menu of Cuban specialties such as shredded beef, carne con papas, or lechón asado (that's roast pork to you, gringo) -- each served with rice and black beans, plantains, and that ubiquitous soda. Tropical Café is owned and operated by Humberto Fajardo and his wife, Sol Maria. While the operation on Andrews Avenue is an open-air experience where patrons perch on high stools lined along a sidewalk counter, the Searstown café is an indoor 50-seater. Maybe the latter is not as picturesque, says Berto, who came to Miami from Havana at age 19 and has worked in Cuban restaurants since, but it is air-conditioned!

Stork's Cafe and Bakery
This elegant little café offers a wide range of happy endings -- from a simple ginger cookie to a sinful Chocolate Decadence. It's all good. In addition to classic cakes, this neighborhood favorite mixes things up with trendy chocolate bread pudding or an upscale rendition of carnival fare. "It's all air and sugar," laughed one recent customer after happily biting into an elephant ear. A fitting description: The main ingredients at Stork's are sweetness and light.

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