Hidden away in Port Everglades, in a very green space carefully decorated as if for a special post-Sunday Mass occasion, Manila Shangrila churns out some of the best -- and most unusual -- dinner dishes ever to emerge from the Philippine islands. Lumpia (spring rolls) are chock full of hearty ingredients like potatoes, shrimp or various meats, and vegetables, served with a garlic-vinegar sauce, and sure to please both first-time tasters and folks who consider this home-style comfort food. Another tasty use of garlic and vinegar is adobong, a stew made with either perfectly fricasseed chicken or marinated cubes of pork. The eatery also puts out variations of sinigang (a tamarind-based soup), pancit (noodles with various meats or veggies), and fried whole tilapia, among many entrées. The adventurous can try meals flavored with bagaoong, a fermented shrimp paste recommended only for those with iron palates. During the week (the restaurant is closed Mondays), business is pretty slow. Fridays and Saturdays, the joint is jumpin' (and smokin', in case you're picky about that sort of thing) -- especially with the giant karaoke machine smack-dab in front, where merchant marines and whole families strive to entertain one another.

3030 Ocean
Fact is this new, stylish eatery could have made the list in just about any topic: Best Seafood Restaurant for its selection of items like wahoo sashimi with citrus-soy sauce or king prawns with yams and garlic-lime butter, Best Contemporary Restaurant for its influences that range from French (Anjou pear salad with spicy pecans and blue cheese) to local (sautéed Gulf snapper with crushed boniato), or Best Local Boy Made Good for executive chef Dean James Max, who is a native of Stuart, Florida, and whose food has been featured in publications ranging from Gourmet to The Los Angeles Times. But we chose it instead for what we consider one of our highest honors for some very simple reasons: (1) The restaurant is located in a resort hotel, which means that little tykes have plenty of company; (2) when you make a reservation with a high chair, you are not automatically stuck at the worst table near the din of the kitchen; and (3) the young'uns just love the décor of seaside murals with abstract starfish and wave motifs running throughout. Pair those motivations with a nicely refined list of single-malt Scotches and port wines for the adults, and you have a restaurant that makes everybody happy.
We're not stupid. We're well aware that this upscale chain has built its rep on high-end Italian. We're not oblivious. We see that the menu lists such prized items as jumbo shrimp and saffron risotto or veal sautéed in Barolo wine sauce. We're not indifferent. We know plenty of steak houses, burger joints, hot dog stands, and a variety of other contenders have some truly good French fries out there competing for this honor. But we simply can't help ourselves. The pommes frites that accompany the sautéed filet mignon, which is topped with foie gras and a Madeira truffle-veal reduction, rate almost as high as that luxurious main course. Salted just right, nearly as skinny as Pick-Up Stix, and served in a huge disordered pile, the fries make braving the cashmere-clad and surgically enhanced crowd that frequents Mezzanotte a whole lot easier.
We love a restaurant that says what it means and means what it says. Bistro Provence is just such a place: no pretension, no allusion, no illusion. Just honest, warm, French country fare inspired by one of the greatest culinary regions in the world. To wit: Lace curtains, an herb garden, and pungent, back-to-the-earth fare such as tapénade, duck-liver mousse terrine, escargot cuddled in garlic butter. Sure, you can get some more modern stuff, too, such as roasted duck with winter-fruit glace or blackened ahi tuna with truffle oil and almonds. But these slightly spunkier dishes don't detract from the tradition that Bistro Provence tastefully maintains.
You can skip Publix or the local gourmet poissonnerie. Go right to the source. Twice a day, generally at noon and 5 p.m., charter boats cruise in and offer the savvy a chance to buy slabs of fresh fish like dolphin, kingfish, and tuna, often for as little as six bucks a pound. If you want to captain your own expedition, you can usually book a half-day charter for about $200. But why bother when you can just drive up and pick your own tender entrée, still gaping-mouthed and flopping, and have someone else deal with all those pesky entrails?
Chefs cringe when food writers use the word fusion these days to describe their innovative fare, and no doubt corporate chef Mennen Tekeli and executive chef Doug Barnhill are wincing as we write. But there's little other way to describe the meld of Italian-Asian flavors at this relatively new, high-end restaurant without resorting to the cutesie -- Asialian? Italasian? -- which merely wind up looking like a new word for Russian cuisine. So bear up, boys. Like you, we're sure dishes such as shrimp firecrackers with chili dipping sauce, smoked salmon with lemon-mascarpone risotto, rigatoni with grilled pork loin and roasted baby eggplant-tomato ragout and herbed ricotta, or miso-glazed sea bass with wasabi mashed potatoes and preserved lemon-basil nage deserve a better label than fusion. But as long as we also tag Prezzo Affair the best, is that really so bad?

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Gay restaurants are a dime a dozen in South Florida, and most of them have a life expectancy measured in months. But for more than six years now, the Hi-Life has been an oasis of stability and consistency. Transplanted New Yorkers Chuck Smith and Carlos Fernandez started out with an atmosphere-drenched, one-room eatery that quickly gained a devoted following. Fernandez worked the kitchen (pretty much by himself), while Smith worked the dining room. That hasn't changed. It's not unusual to find Chef Carlos busing tables; Smith still plays the ever-gracious host, circulating to make sure everything runs smoothly. But the restaurant has more than doubled in size to include a second room with a well-stocked wine bar, and the staff of good-looking, highly competent men has likewise expanded. The menu, meanwhile, has been honed to near-perfection, a small but versatile lineup that includes such standouts as Belgian endive topped with blue cheese, chopped pecans, and tomatoes and drizzled with champagne vinaigrette; searing jalapeños stuffed with cheese and shrimp and wrapped in bacon; chicken and penne pasta mingled with olives, capers, red peppers, onions, and tomatoes and tinged with balsamic vinegar; and a pan-grilled slab of salmon atop sautéed spinach, finished with a light Dutch Dijon cream sauce. It's the kind of place where same-sex couples can relax and be discreetly affectionate but also the kind of place you'd feel perfectly comfortable taking Mom and Dad.

If, like Virgil, you "fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts," then Yissou is not the place for you. Every item here is practically a present, from the complimentary skordalia (garlic mashed potatoes) to the rice and ground meat gift-wrapped with grape leaves and beribboned with a froth of lemon sauce. But if, like Thucydides, you "are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in [y]our tastes and cultivate the mind without loss of manliness," then you will no doubt appreciate the hearty avgolemono soup, rich in egg-and-chicken protein. And if, like Sir Henry James Main, you agree that "except the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin," then you will run to Yissou for the more organic dishes on its menu, including moussaka, pastitsio, and skewered swordfish -- because after all, you gotta love those Grecians.
Yes, it's a mad, mad, mad cow world. But don't let that stop you from digging into the juiciest burger you've had in years. The "inside-out" burger is a cheeseburger in reverse -- an assortment of cheeses melts inside the beef, then oozes out dramatically when you sink your teeth into it. Indeed we like this sandwich so much we respectfully suggest proprietor Paul Dias change the eatery's name. Gotrocks? Hardly. Gotcheese? Oh, yeah.
When you have a taste for some authentic Jamaican fare, do what the Jamaican locals do: Stop by Aunt I's for some tasty jerk chicken, ackee and codfish, or oxtail. Don't be put off by the location, in the middle of a nondescript strip mall; Aunt I's may not have the fanciest digs (maybe that's why it does a brisk takeout business), but it has dibs on down-home island cooking, served up in generous portions with a warm smile. And it's a safe bet Jamaican native Aunt I is busy in the kitchen preparing your food.

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