Marcello's La Sirena
If Daddy's buying, baby, make him take you to La Sirena. But remind him to make the reservation two weeks in advance, because securing a table here at a reasonable dinner hour is impossible. Easier to persuade a Palm Beach socialite to give up her Lilly pedal-pushers or a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven! (But Daddy loves challenges, doesn't he? That's why he's got the moolah.) Marcello's is older than God, it's the size of a matchbox, it's stuffed to the rafters with polo players and Mafiosi, with golf pros and minor celebrities, with helmet-haired ladies who regularly appear in the columns of the Shiny Sheet for the size of their settlements. Everybody is shouting at the top of his lungs; it's a madhouse! But the food is often excellent, and the wine list is a tome as formidable as a volume on divorce law. Recommended: a perfectly executed caesar salad with chopped anchovies and chunks of fried bread. Fat escargots perched on a croute sodden with butter and wine. Homemade ravioli stuffed with chunks of fresh lobster. A superbly sautéed yellowtail snapper for two. The giant scampi Marcello. And of course, since money is no object, the impossibly alcoholic and ethereal zabaglione with raspberries, and a plate of biscotti with Vin Santo. Here's to living large.
Egg N You Diner
Fifty years is a good age for a diner. That's about the time it takes to burnish the plastic of the booths to a gentle glow and for the waitresses' "honeys" and "What'll y'all haves" to attain a practiced verbal caress. At that age, the menu contains delightful fossils like liverwurst and forgets itself only in fits of trendiness with one or two items such as the "Mexican" burger, which, thankfully, is nothing more exotic than a chilidog. Nobody is ever in a rush. The walls have had time to collect the bric-a-brac of half a century, from photographs of the owners' epic hunt for a black marlin to a collection of ceramic roosters. The regulars have had time to perfect their routines, some sidling up to the long counter for a meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, others staking out small fiefdoms in corner booths with newspapers. The hum of Federal Highway long ago became more lullaby than annoyance. And the name -- well, only a diner that was christened in 1956 could get away with a name like the Egg 'N' You, which even the waitstaff doesn't know the meaning behind. "I don't know," they say when asked about it. "It's been around for 50 years -- that's what it's always been called."
La Granja
The problem with your raw food diet is that you have to eat many pounds of shredded carrots and arugula patties per day to meet your caloric needs. You find yourself pretty much giving up your hobbies, your social life, your volunteer work, so you can spend the bulk of your time foraging for tubers and poring over the instruction manual on your state-of-the-art nut grinder. You begin to wonder if perhaps life might be passing you by. Meanwhile, everybody over at La Granja is having one great big party. There are mountains of Peruvian-style spit-roasted chicken on every table -- $12 for a whole bird -- tender and scrumptious, fragrant with spices, crisp of skin, and melting of meat. There are also big plates of roast pork (with black beans and plantains) and onion and jalapeño salads and salsas and many different bottles of hot sauce to shake all over everything. There are Latin beers and cheap bottles of wine and fruit shake batidas and many kinds of juices and homemade ice cream and tres leches. People are laughing; they're fooling around; young couples are making out a little; they're getting a day's worth of nutrition in a single meal. And the furthest thing from their thoughts is whether they just got fleeced on the price of that fancy juicer.
St. Bart's Coffee Company
St. Bart's Coffee Co. is kind of like the bar in the TV show Cheers... where everybody knows your name, if you're one of the regulars. This joint, however, gets going at sunrise, when cooks start turning the day sunny-side-up inside the cozy spot on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Crowds jam in here to check their e-mail for free or spill out onto the sidewalk tables to do the newspaper crossword puzzle over a cup of fresh coffee. (The fact that you have to get up and pour it yourself makes you feel at home; besides, you then get to choose from ten flavors.) The Farmers Favorite -- two eggs, bacon, potato, fruit cup, and a bagel -- is a lot of grub for $4.95, and most other dishes -- like French toast or a piping-hot egg sandwich on a fresh croissant -- come with sides of ultrafresh, melt-in-your-mouth fruit (strawberries, oranges, pineapple). Healthy alternatives include smoothies or granola with bananas and yogurt. The store owes much of its success to former owner Jill, who got it off the ground and greeted all her customers with a huge smile. But Rote Hamburger, who took it over in March, says that the only thing he plans to change is an upgrade for the Internet connection. Stop by, and tell him we sent you. And call him by his nickname. As everybody knows, it's "Totti."
Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlor Restaurant
Christina Mendenhall
At the risk of repeating ourselves, have you been to Jaxson's? Like about 20 million times since it opened 50 years ago? As a toddler, as a teen, as a dad, as a grandpa, and now as a great granpadoodle? Such is the life cycle of South Florida Man: centered around visits to the oldest, most authentic, and still the greatest homemade, hand-batched ice cream parlor on this sun-blasted peninsula, where, God knows, we need 80 flavors of ice cream! To say nothing of several tons of antique memorabilia and license plates! Most of us can chart the major transitions of our existence by the way our favorite frozen dessert has changed over the years. At 2, we were mashing our mugs into the Jr. Sampler (three scoops, whipped cream, and a cherry); in youth, we spooned up banana fudge sundaes with the only girl we'd ever love; returning with our own tots in tow, we were ready for -- in fact, we required for our mental health -- the whole Kitchen Sink; now old age has sharpened our palate so we finally appreciate a good peach melba goblet. We look forward to moving on to a Chocolate Suicide (chocolate ice cream, brownie, fudge, chocolate chips) in our waning years -- what a way to go! Our eyesight may fade, our wallets may grow thin, but Jaxson's never changes. Octogenarian owner Monroe Udell's still churning out the sweetest deal in town.
No one should ever feel guilty about eating dessert. What's the point of ordering a hot fudge sundae if you're worried what'll happen to your waist? So if you want to pile on the cookie crumbs and caramel without worry, you'd better skip Baskin-Robbins and head over to Nonna's Café for some of its fresh-made gelato. Yeah, that's right -- fresh-made, as in churned out on a daily basis, not stored in a freezer. Ditto for the fresh fruit that goes into (or on top of) all that creamy goodness. Nonna's 36 flavors range from strawberry, mango, and passion fruit to the really desserty stuff like peanut butter cup. The four sizes of cups ($2.95 to $5.65) and three sizes of cones ($1.85 to $5.10) are good for straight-up, topping-free helpings. But for $6.95, you can get one of the three combination dishes: Passion (three fruit flavors topped with fresh fruit and fruit toppings), Paradise (three milk flavors with cookies, coffee, or caramel toppings), or Amore (a Passion-Paradise hybrid). Afterward, you can ruminate on the age-old philosophical debate: tastes great or less filling?
If you'd rather cook your own spam 'n' eggs than have to queue at an omelet station at some overrated brunch emporium, make a reservation at Victoria Park, where you can sit down like a civilized person and let Gary Boylan serve you his Benedict di Parma. Or his potato pancakes with poached eggs, sour cream, and a side of applewood bacon. But make that reservation early (say, by Wednesday or Thursday), because the luscious cuisine of Boylan and his wife, Patricia McDonnell, is guaranteed to fill all the tables in this tiny restaurant during brunch hours on any given Sunday. Their French toast has by now become a local legend: Tuscan bread dipped in egg batter and baked in a sweet, gooey custard. Order it served simply with confectioners' sugar and syrup ($5.95), or push the envelope with a topping of Granny Smith apple compote, toasty walnuts, and cinnamon sugar ($6.95), or go all the way with bananas, strawberries, and Grand Marnier sauce ($8.95). If you savor the savory, an alluring potato pancake topped with smoked Norwegian salmon, poached eggs, mustard sauce, caviar, and chives will keep you happy until dinner -- even, maybe, until next Sunday.
You know when you're in high school and you're taking a quiz and the teacher has put three really simple questions at the beginning so that even the dumbest kid gets some points? That's how we feel about this category. It's like... duh. Where else would you find the best burger? Although we're partial to Mary's modest offerings like the avocado burger or the Big Kahuna (pineapple, teriyaki, sautéed onions, Jack cheese), this place also serves up "Buffy the Hamburger Slayer" (marinated in red wine and caramelized garlic and topped with Swiss cheese), the Queen Mary (cheddar, grilled onions, bacon), and the QM2, which is a Queen Mary with "a split of hoity-toity French champagne and a mint for your pillow... but you have to tuck yourself in!" as the menu puts it. Mary's uses only certified Angus beef, and only the top 8 percent of all beef qualifies. It's never frozen, and you can order medium-rare. You can also sub out the meat for a turkey burger or Gardenburger. When you get your check, it comes in a high-heeled shoe, and best of all, the fine-lookin' wait staff will sweet-talk you throughout the meal. When you're sitting at the bar or on the patio of Mary's, you just somehow feel better. So whenever you need a quick pick-me-up, you have a choice: Drugs? Therapy? Or Mary's? The answer is easy, friends.
Biddy Early's Irish Pub
They want to go to McDonald's for lunch. Or Burger King. Or some pizza arcade with jet-engine-like decibel levels of noise. But the choice ain't theirs. They're going to sit and listen to the withered old men at the bar riffle The Mail and call out to the flatscreens showing English Premier League: "Tha's how we yoost to play football, lads!" They can get a burger for about eight bucks or some chicken fingers for six. Pretty soon, though, they're going to graduate to the bangers and mash or the fish and chips. And you're going to nurse your pint of Kronenberg 1664 and tell them about a land where pubs are a meeting place for an entire town, where strangers mingle and learn about people from other walks of life. You'll show them that the world isn't a scary place. Then, when they cross their knees, you'll show them to the refreshingly clean restrooms, to prove it.
Texas Hold 'Em BBQ
Although there's a delicious new high-end barbecue emporium in Broward out west of 441, there's something about the shack-on-the-side-of-the-road feel of Texas Hold 'Em that gives it the edge. This year-old spot is the kind of place where you can watch the dude out front manning the massive, oak-fired smoker, and when he walks inside to hand-chop your half chicken or pulled pork, the tiny dining room takes on the primal scent of slow-cooked meat. It's the kind of place where someone will be sure to stop by your high top to ask if you need more of that "good ole souse" or secret-recipe lemonade, and you'll have a hard time answering with your mouth full of savory, succulent collard greens or tangy baked beans. This stuff is all ridiculously tasty, especially that near-perfect homemade sauce, which balances spice and sweetness in the rich, tomato-y Texas tradition. It's kinda kitschy, but the theme décor -- all sorts of gambling memorabilia lining the walls -- is kinda fun too. Grab a slab of baby backs at Texas Hold 'Em and you're guaranteed to come up with a winning hand.

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