Tipico Cafe
Tabatha Mudra
Smack in the middle of what may be the hippest little shopping center in South Florida (if we need to tell you the name, you're over), Tipico boasts a menu that says it all: "American Style -- Mexican Flavor -- Spanish Flair," with selections that jitterbug from Mexico to Cuba and on to Kansas City (cheeseburgers, caesar salads?), flaunting a catholic sense of cuisine as confidently as do all the other local Mexican-and-more places. Milton has his version of paradise. This is ours, with a $9.95 chili relleño in place of an apple. The light streams through the lace café curtains onto the polished wooden floor; the white-shirted staff smiles at you with something other than dollars in their eyes. There's hep-cat '80s rock on the sound system, and you're scarfing down a Veracruzana combo (chicken tostada, cheese enchilada, beef taco for $10.95) so spunky and fresh, you'll swear the Central American chef knew you were writing this. Churrasco steaks ($11.95), carnitas ($9.95), arroz con pollo ($9.95), and the wonderful campeche burro ($8.95) are highlights. Open most days from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the $10-average prices don't make you feel like you're paying by the square foot, but during peak hours (7 to 8 p.m.), you may want to trade in your Navigator for an Escort when wrangling for a parking place (try the street behind the shopping center). Don't be discouraged. La comida es perfecta!
Ages: 36; 35

Hometown: College Park, Maryland; Weymouth, Massachusetts

Claim to fame: Co-owners of Hamburger Mary's Fort Lauderdale, a premier hangout in Wilton Manors for the gay community.

What they've done for us lately: The restaurant, which opened in 2002, seats 225 but regularly has a wait.

What it takes: "A tremendous amount of teamwork, all different backgrounds and age groups. We have a great mix of gay and straight, old, and young. We both work 60 to 70 hours a week. We try to make a lot of changes. It takes a lot of patience. The most fun thing we've done was a Hamburger Mary look-alike contest... She really is a trashier Dolly Parton... Dolly out of a trailer park."

Within the pink walls of this 1950s-style diner, it's not just about the French fries themselves (although those are available in straight-cut or crinkle-cut and get sliced up in the kitchen from fresh potatoes). It's also about what you can get on them. Gravy! Chili! Cheese! Chili and cheese! Cheese and gravy! Prices begin at $2.95 for plain fries and are a bit more with chili and cheese. The waitresses -- costumed in old-fashioned pink dresses -- can also serve you fries in a waffle cut or cut from a sweet potato (those types arrive frozen but get cooked to crispy perfection). The staff also whips up a mean mashed potato, for which there's a secret recipe. So, settle onto a stool at the old-fashioned ice cream counter, put some doo-wop on the jukebox, and hope the buttons don't pop off your poodle skirt as you scarf down fries beneath the omnipresent pictures of Elvis and James Dean.
Our mission ultimately led to this unassuming little eatery in a nondescript strip mall in Lauderdale Lakes. Its references were good, and it lived up to the reputation. There's not much in the way of atmosphere; there are only a dozen or so tables, and the service is friendly. But you'll immediately notice that a sizable segment of the clientele is Asian, always a good sign, and that most are having a noodle soup as part of their meal, another good sign for a place that bills itself as a "noodle house." Our party of five had so much trouble deciding among the menu's 40 or so offerings (not including beverages) that we ended up sharing all of the first seven items (appetizers and house specialties) and then another three (noodle soups and a grilled shrimp rice plate). The emphasis here is on fairly basic Vietnamese food, although it's easy to pick up on the other cuisines that have influenced the country's turbulent culture, including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, and French. There's a bewildering array of beef noodle soups with various combinations of rare beef, well-done beef, beef tendon, beef tripe, and beef balls. A less intimidating handful of soups features noodles combined with beef, seafood, chicken, pork, and other ingredients. Condiments include the classic Vietnamese nuoc mam dipping sauce (based on fermented fish), a Thai-style peanut sauce, a chili sauce, and a hot pepper paste, all of which work well with just about any dish. There's no bar. Our grand total for ten dishes: $64 and change.

Georgia Pig
C. Stiles
Georgia Pig has been around for more than half a century, which says a lot in restaurant-fickle South Florida. And not much seems to have changed except the jukebox, which now runs on CDs, and the parking lot, which was expanded a few years ago at this always-busy little eatery. The Pig still doesn't accept credit cards, and it retains its '50s-style atmosphere, which relies heavily on what can only be described as retro swine chic: ceramic pigs, carved-wood pigs, plastic pigs, etc. There's still a big heap of oak piled out back, and as you make your way to the restaurant, you can smell the smokiness provided by that wood. You get the picture. But the best thing that hasn't changed is the barbecue that dominates the small menu (in the form of a paper placemat). Sure, you can get breakfast and even burgers, shrimp, Brunswick stew, and daily $5.75 specials. But why would you want to when you can have some of the most succulent Deep South barbecue in South Florida? It comes in almost every imaginable variety: sliced pork and beef platters, spare-rib and chicken combos, even "small fry" portions. The standout, however, is the good, old-fashioned chopped pork (or beef) sandwich, which comes overstuffed with lean, tender meat you can enhance with a house barbecue sauce or hot sauce. There are a dozen or so tables and booths, but treat yourself and sit at the counter, where you can watch as the guy at the pit digs in deep to shuffle big chunks of meat around as they slowly cook, occasionally pulling one out to chop... and chop... and chop. Try not to drool.
Daril and Denizio Corti's 12-year-old Brazilian restaurant isn't big on being big. There is no ostentatious décor, no room-length salad bar, no rodizio wherein men carve large pieces of meat at your table. Panorama concentrates instead on cooking up genuine Brazilian specialties that you just can't find elsewhere, all flavorfully prepared and simply presented at an affordable price. Try a picaha skewer of juicy red hunks of beef or salt cod simmered with potatoes, onions, and pepper or shrimp stuffed with yucca or mugueca, which is fresh fish poached in coconut milk. With its authentic cuisine, live Brazilian music Thursday through Sunday, and satellite feeds of Brazilian soccer games and soap operas, you're bound to be a bit disappointed when you leave Panorama and realize that the beach in front of you is Pompano, not Ipanema.

Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House
Chelsea Scholler
This place, Jughead's idea of heaven, is so good that you'll overlook the missing "ed" after "fashion" in its name. The atmosphere is starker than Ellsworth Kelly's tomb. Sink your teeth into a half pound's worth of ground-fresh-daily-from-whole-briskets-of-USDA-inspected-beef burgers. Why not? They're individually pattied on the premises, grilled to order, and traditionally seasoned. Then they're stuck between buns large enough to soak up some of the drippings but small enough that you don't feel like you've put your mouth around Hawaii. Jack's offers no nostalgia besides what you'll find in the get-real menu, which is happily bereft of fad-burgers and silly dressings. This place offers homemade relishes and keeps the prices regular ($3 to $4 for burgers) and stays focused on the beef (though a few sandwiches and hot dogs are offered). Cute capper: You can get a Cherry Coke here. Now, what about a Green River?
Runyon's Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Runyon's Restaurant.
With its high ceilings, graceful archways, large wooden tables, upholstered chairs, and rustic fireplace, Coral Springs' landmark Runyon's Restaurant looks more like a country inn than your typical steak house. It is only when you dig into giant, succulent meat like the famous prime rib with puffy popover of Yorkshire pudding or Texas-cut rib eye that you can be certain you are indeed in an honest-to-goodness, all-American house of prime meat -- and a dandy one at that. Other steak-house favorites are also on hand, like hefty beefsteak tomato salads and oversized Idaho potatoes, but, in another note of distinction, side dishes are included with the meal. Which isn't to say Runyon's is a bargain. In true steak-house fashion, prices here are as big as the outlandishly rewarding cuisine.
Yes, there's a lot of local competition in this category -- from specialty spots to chains that play with your memories of ballpark dogs of yore. But forget those ghosts of ballpark 'furters past -- and the circle-of-hell crowds in the parking lot. Right here, right now, you can have it all -- if all means a mouthful of a quarter-pound, plump, steaming beef-a-plenty kosher dog that is juicier than the young Sophia Loren in a peasant blouse. And -- natch -- it's cheaper than the competition: $1.59 for a dog, a 20-ounce drink, and your choice of trimmings, including mustard, deli mustard, onions, sauerkraut, and ketchup. You don't even need to be a Costco member to sit down at one of the tables and chow down. Sound implausible? Believe Millie Goldstein of Davie, who sat next to us on our last visit. Says Millie: "Dad was from Coney Island. He knew from hot dogs and said these were the best." Go know.

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Oh sure, the Knife has a salad bar, vegetables, pasta, and the like. They got pork too, along with chicken, if you're in a fowl mood. But this place is all about the beef. We're talking brisket, roast beef, flank steaks, T-bones, ribs... all things bovine. The place has got dead cow aplenty. Hell, you can feel Clara Peller's ghost hanging in the room. And best of all, it's all you can eat. That's right. For dinner, plunk down $20.85 (Monday through Thursday -- weekends, two dollars more) and eat meat until your arteries crystallize, your heart palpitates, and your digestive system grinds to an oh-so-satisfying halt. Mainline the grease, if you like, though the place is BYOIV. Our only regret is we don't have four stomachs like our big, dumb, delicious friends. We cavemen; watch us eat.

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