Sunfish Grill
It's probably no secret that we've been fans of chef-co-proprietor Tony Sindaco since he opened this cool little joint a couple of years ago. What may surprise you is our loyalty -- we still think he's tops. Check out some recent menu offerings: barbecued mahi-mahi and wild-mushroom torta with Jack cheese, mango salsa, and jalapeño sour cream; black grouper with roasted cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, and a coulis of vine tomatoes; seared Maine scallops with Savoy cabbage, warm garlic-bacon potato salad, and cider sauce. You'll note several uniform things about the dishes at Sunfish Grill: Almost every main ingredient is fish or seafood, and without fail all are consistently modern without descending into fusion confusion.
If Cohiba can be considered the Queen Mother of Cuban comfort food, then we're clasped to her big, warm, soft bosom. From her we get our basic nourishment: black beans and rice, fried yuca, chicken noodle soup. From her we draw strength: pounded palomilla steaks, roast pork so tender it brings a quiver to our lips. From her we gain confidence -- or is it sugar? -- along with coconut flan. She gives it to us straight when we need it (just a plain ol' Cuban sandwich) and dresses things up with a flourish when we deserve it (shrimp with mushrooms and brandy). Call us mama's boys and girls if you must. But we're never going to leave her, so you might as well get used to it.

Steak Shop & Deli
If you think, given the name, that this corner delicatessen must serve some awesome steak sandwiches, you're right. Some of the tastiest Philly cheesesteaks originate here, along with other grilled sandwiches such as the steak-and-egg special, chicken Parmesan, or even a Cuban sandwich pressed as beautifully as a shirt. But if you think, given the name, that there's no way you could get a real New York deli sandwich filled with just-fatty-enough corned beef or spicy pastrami, you'd be wrong. The Steak Shop carries those items as well and even has a full Greek complement of gyros and souvlaki, as well as chili-cheese fries, Chicago-style hot dogs, and sausage and peppers. In the end the only assumption you really can make about this deli is that, while it may be all over the map, any direction you go will be correct.
Jack's Hollywood Diner
The stainless steel restaurant is a true classic, having been manufactured in 1953 by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company that was one of the nation's premier eatery makers. Father-and-son team Denis and Steve Grenier bought the place back in 1989 and have steadfastly maintained the diner's throwback vibe. Their main ingredient: a 73-year-old chef named Louie, whose specials include two stuffed mushrooms and two stuffed shrimp for the bargain-basement cost of $8.95. Prices for other victuals range from 94 cents for coffee to $9.95 for fried, broiled, or stuffed jumbo shrimp in four different combination platters. Now Denis is pondering retirement, and Steve is considering a career in law enforcement. Though Jack's is on the market, along with a building next door, that doesn't stop a multitude of coaches, cops, and Québecois from filling this place almost around the clock. (Restaurant hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.) Indeed, even on a weekend morning, you can find five or ten people lighting up cigarettes in true French-Canadian style while they down their eggs and coffee. If you don't smoke, heck, head for the back room, where such unhealthy behavior is prohibited.

Owners Suzie Ludlow and Jon Robichaud have been serving cranky drivers from this charming little stand for seven years. They peddle edible chocolate and almond cigars, which are delivered every morning from Protano's Bakery in Hollywood, as well as low-fat muffins, apple turnovers, and coffeecakes from local distributors. But it's the coffee that makes drivers line up around the block every morning. Ludlow and Robichaud purchase 42 varieties of the stuff from a local roaster whose beans are picked up fresh from the docks of the Miami River. They have one huge espresso maker, one huge American coffee machine, and two smaller devices for regular and decaf. Their most popular item is a 12-ounce cuppa joe called Morning Express: a Viennese roast Colombian blend with a bit of cinnamon for $1. "Coffee and driving go together," Susie comments. "We don't cater to the Starbucks clan. We serve just straight coffee, no foo-foo stuff." That formula seems to be working just fine.
Michael Gadaleta, a former car salesman who describes himself as an "American-Italian-Argentinean from Brooklyn," opened Empanada Only in 1997. "Once I was the best car salesman in the nation, I'm not bullshittin' you," he declares. "But here I don't have to worry about managers or lawyers. I'm my own man." Indeed he owns and operates the shop by himself; he makes his own dough; chops the onions, peppers, and olives; grinds the beef; bakes the empanadas; and sells them from behind the counter. Articles about the one-man wonder and his store wallpaper the tiny shop just off Hollywood Boulevard. The empanadas are available about every way imaginable: frozen or baked, by the dozen or one at a time. His specialties include a whole-wheat variety stuffed with pineapple or pumpkin and less-unusual ones with guava and cheese, apple slices, or broccoli and cheese. He declines to explain the process: "I can't tell you how I make them, because then everybody will do it," he says. "Who knows, maybe I'll sell a franchise and have 20,000 of these, like Colonel Sanders."

Careless falafel fabrication can result in a deadly dry, throat-clogging orb -- asphyxiation by ground chickpea. But at the improbably named Tuti Fruti, Shehab Breish and Jamal Masoud whip up before your eyes falafel that is crunchy, moist, and beyond palatable. The Palestinian duo took over the Health Food Cafe earlier this year and introduced Middle Eastern fare at reasonable prices. The falafel sandwich costs $2.99, the platter with salad and tabbouleh only another buck and a half. If you're a hard-core falafel freak, you can bypass the accouterments and order a bucketful at 50 cents apiece. The falafel is made from scratch, fried in vegetable oil, and filled with just enough spice to let you know you've taken a bite. Oh, and the joint's name? It comes from the lengthy list of fruit smoothies on the menu.

Most farmers' markets in South Florida don't have much "farm" in them, eschewing the raw in favor of the processed. The West Palm Beach GreenMarket is no exception. Not to imply an utter lack of fresh produce, but the quality of the prepared foodstuffs available every Saturday morning from mid-October through April makes this farmers' market truly superior. More than 50 vendors offer dense grainy breads; nuts and candied fruit; teas and coffees; and spices, herbs, and rubs. Mama Duke's vends only homemade banana bread, Turtle Creek Dairy sells goat cheese fresh from its Loxahatchee herd, and the Olde Pickle Barrel ships its puckery pleasures in from New York. This being Palm Beach after all, one can also purchase elegant blooms by the stem from Extra Touch Flowers. There's even free parking in the Banyan Street garage for GreenMarketgoers.
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.

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