Madras Cafe

The cuisine of India is perhaps the only in the world whose aftertaste is more seductive than its taste. Infused with cumin, cardamom, turmeric, chili powder, coriander, and jaggery, the menu at Madras Café, a quaint restaurant in an unassuming strip mall in Pompano Beach, features some of the most authentic South Indian dishes this side of the Atlantic Ocean. For carnivores, the clay oven-baked Tandoori chicken ($11.95) blends spices with equal kick and zing to accentuate tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken; then there's the traditional lamb vindaloo ($12.95), which uses a spicy sauce to complement chunks of lamb served over a bed of rice. Additionally, Indian cuisine is known for its vegetarian dishes, and here Madras Café does not disappoint. Among the highlight veggie dishes are the Navratan Korma ($9.95), a delicious blend of vegetables in a creamy cashew-and-almond sauce; saag panner ($9.95), a mixture of fresh spinach and homemade cottage cheese; and the time-honored aloo gobi ($9.95), a combination of cauliflower and potatoes cooked with ginger and tomatoes. What's more, for those wanting to sample a variety of Indian dishes, try the lunch buffet ($7.95 Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., $9.95 Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or the $11.95 dinner buffet Wednesday and Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m.

Cuban food is not complicated, nor is it generally gourmet fare. But it's spare, delicious in its simplicity, and, most important, fresh. Well, for all this you couldn't pick a better location than next door to a grocery store. And Senor Café, an ultraclean, well-lighted joint next to President Supermarket just south of downtown Hollywood, fits the bill perfectly. Our favorite dish here is boliche, Cuban pot roast ($6.95), a juicy cut of meat that will make you immediately forget that dried-up shoe leather your mom used to serve. It comes with two side dishes. For these, we recommend the moros y cristianos (white rice and black beans) and tostones (fried green plantains.) Indeed, the plantains here are some of the best on the planet -- pounded, then dumped into superhot oil so that the outside is crispy and the inside tender and moist. But the best way to eat at Señor Café if you're hungry is the lunch buffet ($6.99), which is served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. The menu changes every day, but a few things are for sure. Wednesdays, there will be lechon, perfect Cuban pork, and Friday is seafood day. It's all you can eat not only of the main dish but also of plantains, yucca, rice, and soup. To end your meal, what else but a perfect cup of coffee? Try the cafecito, a tiny sweetened cup that goes for a measly 53 cents. The place is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

Muddy Waters

If you like yours with lettuce and tomato, onions, Heinz 57, pickles, and French fries, Muddy Waters could be your gastronomical paradise, especially on Tuesday nights, when the restaurant sells the Jimmy Buffett burger for a discounted price (reduced from $7.99 to $5.95). More adventurous aficionados with a little more to spend should order one of the $8.99 selections topped with any of Chef Adam's homemade sauces: The Portobello burger is topped with grilled, sliced you-know-whats, fresh mozzarella, and a red wine sauce; the Cayman is swimming in homemade chili and cheddar cheese sauce; and the Sunset is smothered in zippy, tropical barbeque sauce, cheddar, and bacon. The Yak, another unique find at just under nine bucks, is topped with melted cheddar, onions, jalapeños, and Conch Turbo Sauce, which isn't homemade but is a zesty, peppery product of the Keys. While all these toppings are fine and good, the bottom line here is the meat: Owner Jay Arney says each burger is made with a half pound of Black Angus, fresh ground that day. Yeah, these babies are worth every damned bit of sacrifice.

Don't bother looking for menus in this down-to-earth neighborhood place. All its offerings are up on a mirrored wall, each dish spelled out in blue tape. But then, that might not even help you. "Do you speak French?" the owner recently queried a first-timer at Chez Moy. No, came the reply. "Well, then I'll just tell you what we have," she said with a thick Creole accent, listing off lunch items: chicken ($7), fish ($10), or goat ($8) in spicy sauces. Each comes with salad and rice. For those uninitiated in Haitian ways, the menus for lunch and dinner, which also include lamb and fried pork entrées, are identical in fare and price. Breakfasts are cheaper ($6 each), but don't expect eggs and toast. Haitians like to start their morning off with the likes of meat stew and salt fish. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Roger Dean Stadium

Tim Martin is a New Yorker who travels to Florida to ingest a week's worth of spring training games every year. "Eating a hot dog is the thing to do when you go to a baseball game," he says. "Even though they charge you as much as it would normally be for a whole package of hot dogs, for some reason, it just tastes better at a game." At Roger Dean Stadium, where both the Florida Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals send their major-league teams for spring training and where their minor-league teams play all summer, hot dog-eating is a complex experience; buyers need to be choosy. At any concession window, you can get a regular hot dog, which is steamed, for $3 (prices increase during spring training). Certain windows also offer the "jumbo hot dog" ($4), also steamed, which is like a regular hot dog, only fatter. Both are made by National Deli, a Miami-based company and "the official hot dog of Roger Dean stadium." Now you could satisfy your weenie jones by doing up either of those dogs with sauerkraut, relish, mustard, and ketchup from the freestanding condiment bar. But the discerning diner goes for the Dean Dog, a $5, 1/3-pound frank that is grilled until it sweats, has the black grill marks to prove it, is served with sautéed onions and peppers, and is available at only two windows: the St. Louis Grill and the Florida Grill. Volunteers run the concession stands -- and then take home 12 percent of the day's proceeds for the charity they support. (The Shriners made about $40,000 last season this way.) Nick Barbera, who mans the grill every Saturday to raise money for Kelly's Powerhouse dance school, says you should definitely spring for the Dean Dog: "It's like a hot dog on steroids. It fits right in with baseball."

Audrey Hope doesn't have to fish for compliments. Her customers offer them generously enough, most likely through a mouthful of fried snapper or over a bowl of tilapia stew. Hope and daughters Lucretia and Jessica, who hail from British Guyana, serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner Caribbean-style in this tiny, eight-table restaurant that's in an area never known for its culinary highlights. Don't let the handmade curtains in the windows or the building façade fool you: You don't have to be a fancypants to turn out a mouthwatering chicken curry with a side of mac and cheese -- or to enjoy them either. The cooking skills Hope learned from her mother are put to excellent use on recipes ranging from Bahamian to Jamaican. A chalkboard printed with the day's specials usually advertises a lineup of items including tomato-based fish stew, a whole fresh-caught battered fish, a plate of crab, shrimp, or lobster tail ($8.99 to $14.99). Sides include enough red beans and rice to feed a battalion, a double dollop of potato salad, and a half head of iceberg with bottled dressing. After you polish off that last slice of clove-, cinnamon-, and nutmeg-flavored shortcake, don't mind if Audrey and her girls, chattering happily, walk you to your car. Where there's Hope, there's lots of life.

Pho Saigon Cuisine
John Linn

When the Vietnamese boat people abandoned their war-torn country in the late '70s, hopping aboard rickety vessels for the trek to Dallas, San Diego, New York, and Fort Lauderdale, they brought along some indispensable knowledge: how to make a damned near perfect sandwich. Why it's taken Americans so long to pick up the trail of the Vietnamese bánh mí sub is an unanswerable mystery. Although you can probably find bánh mí at dozens of mom-and-pop groceries in South Florida (hint: Start anywhere on 441 and work your way south), the cheerful and friendly Saigon Deli is a terrific introduction to the genre, a delicacy incorporating French influence (a baguette, mayonnaise, pâté) and Vietnamese staples (roast pork, daikon radish, cilantro, fish sauce). At Saigon Deli, the subs come in eight variations, all for $3, starting with house-cured meats like ham, shredded pork, barbecue pork, and roti chicken. A combo sub of ham, Vietnamese bologna, and silky pâté topped with crunchy pickled vegetables and served on a warm sweet roll, when paired with a glass of salty lemonade or sweet bubble tea, is bliss on Earth. This charming restaurant also serves a full complement of Vietnamese soups, salads, and noodle dishes.

Give a French cook an egg, a couple of slices of bread, a stick of butter, and five minutes and most likely he'll return the favor by creating something so exquisite it'll haunt you for life. When a croque monsieur is done properly, it is, indeed, the most fantastic concoction in the universe. And, mes amis, the sandwich is made just right at La Vie en Rose (true for almost everything on the menu, but that's another story). This long-running French restaurant in Margate produces a crisp, elegant croque with slivers of country ham and Gruyère cheese melted between two slices of feather-light toasted French country bread. It's gooey and savory with a scrumptious custardy interior. For a real jolt, order the croque madame, with two poached eggs on top. They're available at $7.25 and $8.25 respectively for Sunday brunch, with a complimentary glass of champagne. You might want to refrain from mentioning your skyrocketing croque consumption to your cardiologist, though. She probably won't understand that anything that tastes this good has to be good for you -- existentially speaking.

We hate chain restaurants. Can't stand 'em. Not even Pollo Tropical escapes our wrath. But there's an exception to every rule, and it must be said that the septet of Jerk Machines not only breaks the mold; it chops it into teeny, tiny pieces. Founded in Lauderhill 16 years ago by islanders Desmond and Catherine Malcolm, Jerk Machine does several things so righteously that it'd be a shame to ignore its achievements. First and foremost, it gives scaredy-cat Anglos an opportunity to sample real Jamaican cooking without alienating its core constituency of native folks -- those who depend on the restaurants for fast, consistently excellent food that reminds them of home. Secondly, it remains a centerpiece of the downtown restaurant rows of Lauderhill, Miramar, and central Fort Lauderdale. Sit down, or get it to go. You can't deny that the Machine serves some superb pork jerk ($7.99 for a large plate with fixings) and chicken ($5.99 to $7.69). There's also succulent curry goat and oxtail, brown stew chicken that'll have you running back for more, escoviched fish, and crispy snapper. Plus, there are patties ($1.25 to $1.50), those hand-held pastries full of spicy goodness. Oh, and don't forget breakfast -- ackee and saltfish, of course; liver an' onions; calaloo; and mackerel. Authentic enough to run Kingston's own Island Grill out of Lauderhill in less than a year, this well-oiled Machine will jerk forever, Jah willing.

Funky as an old Parliament album, Le Tub's commode-themed outdoor eatery looks more rustic and weather-beaten each year. But the place stays packed with happy locals vying for a waterside table (best way to catch those superb sunsets glittering off the Intracoastal) and waiting for the molasses-slow servers to bring another round of drinks. Still, even Tub fans can get put off by the less-than-antiseptic surroundings and opt for liquid refreshment only -- an elitist error, to be sure. Yeah, there might be a fresh ketchup wet spot on your driftwood bench, or a palmetto bug may scurry across the floor... so what? Everything on Le Tub's handwritten, Xeroxed menu tastes fantastic -- its chili, burgers, and key lime pie win regular accolades. But the fries -- ye gods! These lovingly hand-cut shards of spudly goodness are fried to crispy perfection in peanut oil, rendering McDonald's flash-frozen abominations utterly pathetic. Blistered brown with shreds of skin attached, a basket ($3.50 to $5) of these hot 'n' tasty little items split between a pair of happy diners is a sure-fire entry point to the rest of Le Tub's delicious, overlooked selection of victuals.

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