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.
King Palace
It wouldn't be dim sum without shrimp and pork playing leading roles. And in this otherwise nondescript strip-mall Chinese eatery, the little crustaceans and the "other white meat" combine to steal the show -- which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. (The restaurant is open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.) Whether steamed whole with leeks inside a dumpling; minced and blended with dough, then fried into a fluffy ball; or chopped and wrapped with a won ton skin in a siu mai, the shrimp here is uniformly delicate and tasty. The pork siu mai also bursts with delicious meat, peppers, and ginger, while the sweet barbecued-pork pastry is somehow both comforting and sophisticated. Top it all off with a few squares of pan-fried turnip pudding and some sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and Hong Kong won't feel quite so far away anymore. Prices aren't bad, either. They run from $2.15 to $3.95 per plate.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
Yes, we named this place last year, too. But when something is the best, it's the best, and that's all there is to it. Krispy Kreme rules the donut world; all else is just fat-fried dough. Arrive when these deliciously soft, airy treats are fresh out of the oven, and you'll finally understand why the good Lord gave you taste buds.
Michael's Sonoma Grille
The restaurant prefers to call them "sunset specials," which made more sense before the end of daylight savings caused the sun to set at, oh, 8 p.m. or so. But why quibble? The fact remains that this eatery, which opens daily at 4 p.m., offers a great gourmet deal: soup or salad, main course, potato and vegetable of the day, nonalcoholic beverage, and dessert. Prices range from $11.95 for a perfectly roasted chicken in lemon-thyme broth to $16.95 for herb-marinated lamb chops. Then there's the Wiener schnitzel, the potato-crusted salmon, and the duck in wild berry sauce, all of which are freshly prepared and served with an extra dose of friendliness -- and plenty of sunshine.

Middle East Bakery & Grocery
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.

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