Sonny's Famous Steak Hogies
Gustavo Rojas

Sonny's is what you might call an institution — by the time its birthday rolls around on May 29, it will have been sitting in the same quaint spot just north of Taft Street for 50 years. It's a family joint, with papa Sonny having passed down his legacy to his sonny, John Nigro, who's continued the fine tradition of honest, blue-collar food prepared exactingly. And although Sonny's is best known for its Philadelphia-style steak hogies (not "hoagies"), cut from rib eye beef and wedged into a housemade roll, they also serve one mean hamburger. They call it a hogie burger: An oblong, griddle-cooked patty of freshly ground beef that fits nicely on one of Sonny's famous hogie rolls. And it's nearly perfect. The burger is immensely beefy and charred on an age-old griddle. When you bite into it, the thing drips with a slurry of rendered fat, most of which gets soaked up by the luscious, cornmeal-studded roll. A 6-ounce burger will set you back only $3.75, and it's a meal on its own. Slather it with sweet, pickled peppers provided at every table, or add cheese for just $.50. Either way, it's a beef sandwich worth returning for, be it tomorrow or 50 years from now.

The Ritz-Carlton

If you've ever wondered how the other half lives — the kind of folks who vacation in beachside luxury resorts and the marketing ladies who lure them there — there's no better place to decode the riddle than the silk-, mirror-, and crystal-bedecked lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan. Here everything is bigger than life, from the Daimler-sized chandeliers hanging overhead to the Chinese lamps that wouldn't look out of place in the Giant of Nod's sitting room. For a mere $33 per person from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays, you'll ogle young parents with more money and children than they quite know what to do with (tykes in expensive frocks zoom through these lobbies like Eloise at the Plaza); you'll thrill to the bright red soles on the PR maven's $900 Christian Louboutin pumps; you'll wonder exactly what went wrong with the plastic surgery on that one, and how this one managed to pour herself into that pair of Gucci jeans; you'll marvel over the chutzpah of the guy yakking into his diamond-encrusted Tiffany cell phone even as his toddler tips headfirst into a plate of Devonshire cream. And all the while you'll be sipping your tea, flavored with chocolate or orange essence, and nibbling on your salmon and crème fraiche sandwiches or smearing raspberry jelly on your scone — all the better to fortify yourself for your own very different existence, which is looking sweeter by the minute. A 24-hour advance reservation is required.

Big City Hot Dog Stand
Photo by Eric Barton

There are few rules in gastronomy as immutable as this: Everything tastes better wrapped in bacon. It's a fact that has not eluded the fine folks who flip, fry, dunk, and top the huge array of tubular beef under the yellow awning of Big City Dogs. Their signature frank, the ripper, is a testament to the beauty of excess: An all-beef dog dressed with a drape of fatty bacon and tossed in the fryer to cook till crisp. To finish it, Big City loads the puppy onto an airy bun and spoons on an orange blanket of nacho cheese sauce. The dog is actually an intersection of New Jersey's classic deep-fried ripper and a bacon-covered Los Angeles dog that's griddle-fried. The result is a crunchy, juicy, creamy mess — a meal with the prime objective of befriending your inner fatty. If that's not enough to entice you, Big City also makes about a dozen other regional dogs, including authentically topped Chicago dogs and spicy Polish franks split down the middle; Philly and Chicago-style steak sammiches, and some very capable, fresh-ground burgers.

Sloan's
Christina Mendenhall

In the bestselling children's book Madeline, our dear protagonist lived in a Paris boarding house covered in vines. In her world — full of adventures and classmates and nuns — nothing was ever really so bad, although she might encounter a case of appendicitis here, a roving band of gypsies there, and perhaps have a standoff with a misbehaving tiger at the zoo. We like to think — nay, we are certain — that if Madeline lived in West Palm Beach circa 2008, Sloan's Ice Cream is the place she would eat. It's mint-green on the outside, pink on the in, and packed with feather boas, toys, and an operational choo-choo train. The pink brick walls and polka-dotted booths are whimsical; the bathroom, legendary. (Featuring see-through doors which fog up when you enter, the loo's been the subject of a Travel Channel show.) Since opening about a decade ago, Sloan's has spawned three satellite locations. Decadent flavors on tap have included Apple Pie and Circus (cotton candy flavor with gummy bears), and the last time we popped in, our sundae was served in a flower pot with crumbled-up Oreo "soil." Honestly, though, Sloan's could make its ice cream out of cod liver oil and we're sure it would taste delicious. Nothing could ever be bad here.

The India Palace

A memorable New Yorker cartoon: Couple sitting at a restaurant table. Woman says to her companion, "If I go for the bread, stab my hand." There's no denying the stuff at India Palace — it comes straight out of the tandoor, steaming and fragrant with ginger, cumin, and coriander, or as puffs of warm air bounded by gossamer crusts, and goes into a "mixed basket" ($5.99) — puri, roti, chapati, naan, all glistening with ghee. Or as aloo paratha, a pillow stuffed with potatoes, as if one heavenly starch alone would be too stingy. Hello, and welcome to Carb-land! Given enough of such bread, you'd be hard-pressed not to mop up every smear of creamy lamb korma or palak paneer, served in beautiful copper chafing dishes. It's enough to make you forget that spinach is good for you — but then, anything doused in cream, loaded with cashews and almonds, and finished with clarified butter would have to be, wouldn't it? At this family-run restaurant, a pleasant, long room filled with Indian families divvying up the dosas, you'll find yourself eating across a menu that ranges from coast to coast of the Indian subcontinent: flaky samosas, idlis and vadas, potato croquettes, skillets of tandoori shrimp with vegetables emitting clouds of sizzle, fish moli, and much more at very bearable prices.

Il Bellagio

Longevity isn't always a test of quality, but in a locale where so many restaurants have tried and failed to cash in on the mysterious allure of CityPlace, Il Bellagio has hunkered down, guarding its fountain view in the central plaza and sucking up customers who stroll over to watch jazz singers, acrobats, and boy bands on the main stage. What those customers find, as they drift inevitably toward the breezy outdoor tables, the other 250 or so happy diners, and the phalanxes of servers calling for wine, water, and bread, is that not only can you get an excellent plate of homemade pasta for around 15 bucks (agnolotti, tortellini stuffed with veal, spaghetti Bolognese), but a full dinner can be had for under $40 — say, a bowl of fantastic lentil soup, a fine, tart salad of mixed greens with pear and honey dressing, and a bone-in double pork chop cooked perfectly pink in the center. Owner Tom Billante has pulled off an economy of scale (plus a level of culinary talent) that any Milanese mama cooking Sunday supper for an extended family would appreciate.

Takeyama Japanese Cuisine

The unassuming Takeyama, hidden behind a plain door in a Plantation strip mall like one of those exclusive New York clubs that deliberately fly under the radar, has retained its sense of mystery and drama for almost 30 years. This is the semi-private purview of a regular group of sushi fanatics willing to put themselves in chef Kenny's hands and pay the price. You'll find them arrayed on stools at the sushi bar, moaning gently as Kenny passes them plate after plate. With its sallow lighting, ancient carpet, and worn woods, the place has the underground feel of a seedy spot for fetishists. Indeed, this isn't sushi for lightweights: You've got to take a few risks with your palate, to be willing to consume things that squish, ooze, and crackle in ways not at all familiar, to allow tastes and textures you've never experienced settle into your mind and find a niche. Try the syrupy-dry, high-octane sake imported from Kenny's hometown, or the braised black cod just arrived by plane that day with all the pomp of a celebrity. Oily mackerel, fluke, three varieties of toro, kingfish, halibut, sea eel, stone crab — you're never sure exactly what you'll find on the slightly dingy specials board at the entrance, depending on the season and Kenny's resources. Keep going back and you'll develop a dangerous hankering for giant orange clam, live sea scallop, sweet jellylike shrimp, raw quail egg, strange pudding-like uni, and other bizarre delicacies the chef and his enthusiastic waitress will inevitably foist on you.

We Take the Cake

It's Oprah-endorsed. For many, no more information is needed. But there are folks that work while Oprah airs, which is why, even though they've been churning out the best cakes in the area for over a decade, We Take the Cake has been a secret kept from most South Floridians. This Fort Lauderdale-based boutique bakery specializes in nothing but baking cakes, all made from scratch using fresh ingredients. They wanted their cornerstone to be a bundt cake that had the tropical flavor of Key lime and succeeded when it was chosen as one of Oprah's favorite things in 2004. While it cools, the cake's showered with key lime juice and finished with a cheese glaze. It's the perfect departure from the classic key lime pie, and they'll ship it to you wherever you live in the states. The bundt cakes retail for $28 and come packaged in a beautiful gold cake tin. Presents for snow-trapped family members, anyone?

New Seoul Korean Restaurant

What's better than tasty grub cooked by expert chefs? Tasty grub cooked by expert chefs in front of you. The same philosophy that makes sitting around the campfire watching the flames lick the end of a pokin' stick so appealing is the one at work at New Seoul Korean Restaurant. At the cute Lake Avenue bistro, you can watch in wonder as chefs cook your galbi (sweetly marinated, bone-in short ribs) on a smokeless grill in the middle of your table. Other gui (that's grilled meat to you Westerners): spicy thin pork slathered in fermented chili paste, shreds of juicy chicken breast, and paperized brisket that melts on the tongue. What happens next is also like a distant cousin to the s'mores concept: Take a piece of snappy lettuce, dot it with a smear of miso paste, some grilled onions and mushrooms, roasted garlic cloves, and a slodge of that tasty meat. New Seoul also sports a deep menu full of instant classics like pan-fried goon mandu (pork dumplings), fresh pajun (vege and seafood pancakes), boiling cauldrons of jjigae (soups made with miso or meat stocks and filled with fresh ingredients), and cast-iron pots of bibimbap (a sort of table-made fried rice).

Peter Pan Diner

If Tinkerbell hovered above Gay Lauderdale and sprinkled you with pixie dust in the wee hours of the morning, you'd probably be transported to Peter Pan Diner. It's a Neverland like no other, with leather men, drag queens, butch biker babes, and — if you're lucky — folks dressed like honest-to-God pirates. The huge portions of classic diner fare are merely a side dish to the amazing people-watching that this 24/7 greasy spoon offers. Late-night dining, for some, is all about lowering intoxication levels so that your liver hates you less after the sun comes up. But if Peter Pan is just a pit stop on a long evening of debauchery, lushes will be happy to see that alcohol is served until 1:30 a.m.

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