Spoto's Oyster Bar
Let's be honest. You're cheap, and you always will be. So you might as well put on the plaid pants and baby-blue blazer and go for the early-bird special at Spoto's. Between 5 and 6 p.m., the upscale raw bar in downtown West Palm Beach throws in a salad, dessert, and drink for the price of your entrée. That's a value of about $20, which, you might as well admit, is more than you spent on your mother's last birthday present. The deal includes a spicy tomato, mozzarella, and red onion salad with a well-aged vinaigrette. It's a good complement to the onion-crusted yellowtail snapper at $21.75. Or pair the house salad, with its wheat-beer vinaigrette, with the bouillabaisse, which includes a half-pound lobster, clams, mussels, and nearly still-swimming chunks of fish. Eat quick and you can be in bed by 8.
The Floridian
The Floridian's popularity could be due to the free Tootsie Rolls at the cashier's counter. Or the politicos and wannabe politicos strutting around as if they own the place. Or maybe it's the establishment's willingness to give the back room and a highly experienced waiter to nonprofit groups for their meetings. Or it could even be the after-club boys mixing with the men in suits early in the a.m. Or maybe what fills the restaurant's seats is the fact that one can order breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert 24 hours a day in a room with a whole lot more atmosphere than any Denny's. While the rest of Las Olas is filled with high-priced haute cuisine and your waiter may have more attitude than the haughtiest diva, the Floridian is basic food, without too much grease, and a comfortable atmosphere where no one will rush you to vacate your table. Customers know to tip well; the servers treat them accordingly. You won't find anything with kiwi on the menu; instead, you'll recognize every item: omelets, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads made with iceberg lettuce, though you can also get a veggie burger on a toasted bun. No one will try to take the French out of the fries in this establishment, but if you listen carefully, you'll hear about the next crazy idea some local politician is hatching weeks before you read about it in the Sun-Sentinel.
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You might not think so come summer, but for at least three seasons of the year, this venue has the fresh, sea-air edge. Or, at least, the dock. Located just a tad northeast of the Swimming Hall of Fame, Forté couldn't be set more in the Atlantic than Atlantis. Though elegant and ritzy enough inside to appeal during 95 percent humidity, it's the oceanside tables and generous tiki hut-style bar that attract customers for a night of eavesdropping on lapping waves and fish thumping against unyielding hulls. It doesn't hurt, naturally, that there are also plenty of martini-lapping and fish-thumping-against-plate options. After all, there's more to outdoor dining than sweating. There's being tremendously satisfied by all four measures -- location, fare, service, and price -- whether you want a vibrant, loud experience for a group or a pianissimo night for two.
You've got the music factor -- live blues, funk, groove, tribal, rock, and jazz bands nearly every night of the week. Not teeny-bopper local acts either but nationally acclaimed artists such as Pat Travers and Rosco Martinez, who no doubt agree to play here in exchange for bowls of the award-winning gumbo. 'Cause that's the other part of the equation for a sum of popular outcome -- the truly high-end bar food like Kilmo's killer chili, oyster po' boys, and sautéed or deep-fried gator bites. But then AA goes a step further toward customer satisfaction by also purveying a wide range of microbrewed beers, and damn if that doesn't help lubricate the awards process as smoothly as a warm hand on a trombone slide. UPDATED: This location is now closed.
"Shake your booty" takes on a whole new meaning here. Namely, wiggle those hips, gyrate that middle, raise some arms, snap your fingers, and love that jiggle. The belly dancer who performs nightly in this North African restaurant-nightclub is neither shy nor modest, as befits a woman who is an expert with the navel maneuver -- and we're not talking the armed forces here. And after she's done performing, it's your turn. Who cares if you look like a scene from Aladdin gone wrong? Not the old ladies playing their finger cymbals in the corner. But don't worry -- if anyone does jeer, the music is simply too loud for you to hear them.
Morton's The Steakhouse
Yes, it's a chain, and of course, this publication often takes shots at such bastions of the Establishment. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge that, to do things right, one needs a certain amount of money and booze. See, it takes the right number of dead presidents to hire a food-and-beverage director or sommelier who has trained his or her palate for years, teetering on the edge of poverty, just to be able to tell us if that Bordeaux has aromatics of glove leather or tobacco and flavors of menthol or tar. It behooves a corporation to court, by sponsoring winemakers' events and fundraisers, the savviest purveyors and distributors, who can maybe come up with that last case of limited-production cult Cabernet that was purportedly sold out. Most of all, an excellent wine list requires the capital that is needed to lay down an extensive cellar, a good third of which needs to bottle-age before it is even sellable to the dining public. Judging by its 175-bottle list, ranging from New World Sauvignon Blancs to Old World Burgundies, Morton's got not just the bucks but the props.

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If your two key words when it comes to steak houses are cheap and good, then Beef Eater is for you. This Argentine meatery distinguishes itself in a variety of traditional ways, from steak empanadas to steak Milanesa to sirloin, all of which console the carnivore's palate with terrific beef flavors and textures. But if you're a skirt-steak cheapskate, then you're just as pleased with the price: No dish over ten dollars. Even the specials, "tango's sirloin" (a strip draped with a pair of fried eggs) and the assorted "gaucho's grill," come in at $9.95. Which is why we're happy to provide Beef Eater with a new slogan, free of charge: "Beef Eater, the Short Rib Stop for a Ten Spot -- Not Including Tax and Tip."
Yup, it's true. We're biased. We've been fans of the Gourmet Diner since it was located in a wooden shack in North Miami so close to the railroad tracks that it shook every time a train roared by. We followed it across the street to a shinier outfit, then stayed with it when the original owner sold it to Sia and Nicole Hemmati, and we started frequenting the Gourmet sibling when it opened in Weston. And still we dine. That's because they took the Gallic diner concept and kept it alive and so far haven't renamed anything to include the word freedom. Which means we can still get classic Dijon vinaigrette for the vine-ripe tomatoes and shallots; onion soup gratinée, snapper française, and steak au poivre, among other items, just the way we like them -- à la française.

The Little Mermaid Bar & Restaurant
It doesn't advertise. It doesn't have an outside phone number. Its entrance is literally hidden at the back of the gifts department on the second floor of the Neiman Marcus store in the Galleria Mall. And yet, every day at lunchtime, every seat at the twin curved counters of the Little Mermaid is occupied, and more eager patrons are queuing up in front of the cash register, waiting to pounce on any vacancy in this cramped, wood-paneled nook. How to describe these patrons? Well, to overgeneralize, they are mostly women of a certain age (50s and up -- sometimes way up), a certain income level (likely big, big fans of eliminating dividend and estate taxes), and a certain social station (their day planners are full of words like foundation, fundraiser, and gala). Their fashion sense can best be described as expensive casual: Yes, many are wearing slacks or even jeans, but the crisp blouses, tailored jackets, gleaming purses, and the glint of a brooch make it clear that these ladies like to shop at... well, Neiman Marcus. And what could be better to fuel yourself for an intense afternoon of shopping than a smoked turkey Reuben with homemade Thousand Island dressing? Or a ham-and-hogwash sandwich (hogwash being a tangy-sweet, horseradishy sauce) on grilled egg bread? Or perhaps one of the Mermaid's salads: Niçoise, cobb, or caesar -- the latter available with grilled chicken or shrimp? The homemade soups are always excellent, so one can't go wrong with the Mermaid Sampler: a cup of soup, half a sandwich, and fresh fruit. Ladies who really know their lunch always order a side of the orange soufflé; it may look like a Jell-O mold, but trust us, it's much, much more. And if a lady just wants tea -- including a warm scone with crème fraîche and those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off -- does she have to wait until 4 p.m.? Hell, no! Says right there on the menu: "Tea Time Anytime." The cakes certainly look tempting, but a full slice is huge. That's why these ladies almost always travel in pairs: the better to split a slice of deliciously moist carrot cake, my dear! Now, let's have a look at those new hats that just came in.
Although Ferdos bills itself as "the home of the kabob," the restaurant could crow about nearly anything else on the menu, plus a few side items that aren't. Everything from the hummus to those aforementioned kabobs is cooked up just like Mom used to make -- assuming your mom hails from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Plus, Ferdos is one of the only places north of Tantra in South Beach where you can get a hookah delivered to your table. Nothing beats a nice, long drag off a hookah after a hearty Middle Eastern meal. Choose from a variety of fruity flavors -- rather like smoking a pack of Skittles.

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