Sure, the baloney sandwiches in prison offer more nutritional value, but this menu item could come in handy when your wallet's thin: "The Inflation Beater: two stale heels of bread wrapped around a freshly frozen ice cube." Cost: 2612 cents.

If your palate craves strong flavors and your belly demands a hearty meal, head to H&E Marina Deli. The mouthwatering food and no-nonsense service merit the sometimes difficult search for the deli, which is tucked away in the back of the Southport Shopping Center. The first two meals of the day come easy to these folks, who serve an array of breakfasts ranging from $2 to $5.25 and including a pastrami omelet and a crabmeat omelet (both $5.25). For lunch, there's a hot corned beef sandwich for $7.25, a veggie Reuben for $5.45, or a tuna, chicken, or whitefish salad sandwich for $6.75. The drink selection in the fridge is equally stacked with everything from chocolate milk and a variety of juices to Dr. Brown's sodas. It's a real New York kind of place. On your way out, throw a tip in the jar reading "Subway" and the crowd behind the counter will yell "Thank you" without looking up. But don't be upset at the lack of eye contact. As you'll know by then, they have important work to do. Open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Howley's
C. Stiles

You've complained for years that the major thing wrong with most diners is you can't get a vodka gimlet straight-up with your eggs over easy at 3:30 in the old a.m. Well, quit your bellyaching, you hopeless lush; the oldest diner in Palm Beach County not only hops around the clock on weekends but will gladly shake you up a creamsicle martini (if you must) or pop open a magnum of bubbly until exactly 3:59 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. So you can have your pancake and drink it too. And, dig it, you might just get those hotcakes bussed to your table by some freaky little slip of a nymphet with a bar through her tongue and bangs tinted blue. Thank nightclub entrepreneur Rodney Mayo for bringing civilization to the madlands of Dixie Highway, along with easy-on-the-wallet Howley's egg-with-French-fries-on-top sandwiches, steak frites, crab cakes Benedict, grilled Black Angus burgers, homemade apple pie à la mode, cups of espresso as black as the night is long, and a Pied Piper parade of babelicious artsy types who drape themselves around the retro-chrome chairs, dissolve into fits of giggles over the Jackalope heads hung on the bathroom doors, and swerve from counter to patio in their go-go boots, waving clove cigarettes. What with that filtered lighting and the Cure on the sound system, you might say it's just like heaven.

Oh Cyrille, Cyrille, how we adore you, you big rouille-making brute you, with your leek tarts, your duck confits, your chicken pot pies, your soufflés au fromage! Our hearts simply break in two over your mystical lentil soups ($4.50) and surreal espresso milkshakes, your plates of assorted cheeses ($15.50), not to mention the BLT that is like a reinvention of the BLT ($11.50), a sandwich that somehow both confounds and enchants. It's as if you dreamed of mayonnaise, awoke, went to your kitchen, and in a moment of tortured genius conceived a sauce so tender and sad that it would suffice as the last meal -- with a simple boiled egg, perhaps -- for your dying beloved. All this we divine in you, Cyrille, and yet -- we are less than nothing to you, and you once told us (admittedly, you were a bit in your cups at the time, and we had been perhaps overlavish with our praise, embarrassing you) that you "didn't give a damn" whether we liked your cooking. You are so French in that slightly haughty but magnetic way that it makes us swoon, Cyrille. But most of all, how thrilled we are that this bright and lovely little café is now yours entirely, since you have bought it outright, and that you serve a prix fixe dinner (which is very expensive but no doubt worth every blesséd franc) from Thursday to Saturday, but only for four persons or more, and only for two tables per night, and only if reserved in advance. We wouldn't expect any less, Cyrille, from a man of your qualities.

Waffleworks

Robin: "Holy car collection, Batman!"

Batman: "Uh, yeah, Robin. That's what Daddy keeps around the restaurant for all the little kiddies."

There's generally nothing unique about a Waffleworks franchise, but the one in Hollywood is extraordinary. It's decorated with about 500 scale-model cars on the walls. You can imagine there's plenty to look at while your little angels wait for their Mickey Mouse-shaped chocolate chip pancakes ($1.99) or their M&M Waffle, Oreo Waffle, or Crunch Waffle (made with the Nestlé's stuff that Shaq claims to eat), all of which are $4.99. Visit on Halloween, when owner Sergio Goldvarg arrives dressed in his authentic Bat costume (often with his son, dressed as Robin, in tow); the kids go wild angling for photos. Parents don't have to feign interest either, since the Batmobile he arrives in is one of the actual cars used by Adam West and is an admirable collector's piece.

Oy! Murray! Take a look at those stoy-gen! Congrat-u-lations, Murray, you and your lovely wife have found smoked fish paradise, and, believe it or not, you aren't in New York anymore. Sure, it looks a little like a Manhattan deli, what with the Hebrew National salamis hanging and the signs announcing a sale on chicken cutlets, but this place is truly a Florida-style testament to the fish that sacrificed themselves. Granted, all the swimmers had to travel a distance to get here -- the whitefish and chub are from Lake Michigan, the salmon is from Norway, and others arrived from Chile -- but the flavors are so rich that you'd think they had jumped out of the tank and into the smokers mere moments before they were served. If you've never tried smoked fish, take a taste of nova (nonsalty salmon) or sable for starters. If you are a connoisseur of the stuff, be adventurous and go for the smoked butterfish. Bet you can't find that in your local deli.

Mr. Fish Seafood
You can eat fish in a train,

You will like fish in the rain,

You will like it from a box,

You will eat it with a fox

(if you're lucky enough to be dining with one).

Owner Mike Montella, who started out as a charter-boat captain and is now nearly three decades into running this gourmet seafood market, knows a thing or two about our scaly and shell-covered friends. His fish is delivered fresh from Florida's West Coast, and he even has a local lobster diver who has been going down for about seven years to catch those local, clawless langostas. This squeaky-clean, stacked-to-the-gills place has just about every type of local fish you can imagine (pompano, snapper, grouper, mahi, stone crab claws, shrimp, lobster); it also carries cooked meals, spreads, sauces, soups, and even desserts. Rich butters are also available for dipping, flavored with everything from champagne to wasabi, and the prices are competitive. But here's the best part: You can have everything shipped overnight via the "Fish-in-a-Flash" program. Hah! Flying fish! That's something Dr. Seuss would appreciate.

If you believe in reincarnation, you probably think you'll come back in the next life as a sky princess or a space wizard. But odds are just as good you'll eke out your latter days as a skink. Dramatic transformations are the stuff of the afterlife. Hell, even restaurants undergo major shape-shifting in their reincarnations. Thus did the Armadillo Café, a gargantuan and popular Southwestern food palace, bite the dust in the summer of 2004 and reappear six months later as KM at the Grapevine. The new place is a tiny neighborhood fooderie wedged into a gourmet shop, open on Wednesday through Saturday nights only and offering a drastically pared-down menu. But there's no net loss of flavor, imagination, and personality in these scaled-back digs. Among our favorites were a $27 lobster quesadilla and a special: the "wild" Tasmanian salmon, which went for $26 and was simply poached in white wine and butter, nestled in a bed of sautéed spinach, and served with slim, crunchy green beans and broccolini. Kevin McCarthy, one of the partners from the old Armadillo, now has breathing space to come out of the kitchen and gab with customers, to change the menu weekly, and to experiment with exotic fish from around the globe. Favorite 'dillo standbys join new creations, the atmosphere is cozy and congenial, and the plain-Jane looks of the place can't conceal a heart of purest gastronomic gold.

Zona Fresca

Somehow, the folks who own Zona Fresca, a clean, bright little taqueria serving Cal-Mex style burritos, chiles relleños, and quesadillas, have managed to achieve a feat that has stumped many a local superchef: How to turn out a delicious piece of fish, consistently, honestly, and cheaply. For their fish taco, a fresh white filet is dipped in beer batter, deep fried in canola oil, then wrapped in a double corn tortilla stuffed with marinated cabbage and sour cream dressing. You pay $2.50 for this perfect minimeal, carry it over to Zona Fresca's salsa bar, which offers an array of mild to fiery sauces (we're partial to the tart, green tomatillo), squeeze on a bit of lime, eat your taco in a half-dozen bites, then head back to the counter for round two. You can spend the good part of a day engaged in this ritual, several times a week, for months or even years before you'll think of looking elsewhere for your fish sandwich. Crunchy on the outside, moist, light, and steaming inside, the fish is perfectly foiled by the bright salsa and crunchy cabbage. Zona Fresca looks like a fast-food joint with its walk-up counter and plastic utensils. It also acts like a fast-food joint -- you can get in and out in a quarter of an hour if you have to. But the strong flavors and freshness of their vegetables, lean meats, and beans cooked without lard are healthy enough to make lunch a guilt-free zone.

Brush up on your American Sign Language before heading to this stylish Fort Lauderdale eatery... because the torturous clamor prevents any meaningful conversation. What with the metal chairs and concrete floors, the tables on rollers, and the exposed ceilings, you can hear every barked order, every dropped spoon, resonate. Still, you're in sublime South Florida, darling, and you'll know it from the gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce ($14), the flat-screen TV, and the hot -- if sometimes unpunctilious -- waiters. Who needs talk, anyway, when you can just make goo-goo eyes and blow kisses across the table? Sometimes what's left unsaid is what really counts in matters of the heart... and, perhaps, of the stomach.

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