Mr. Nick's Sub Shoppe

Cheese steaks are one of those foods that incite furious debate, turning friends into enemies and enemies into nemeses. Folks hailing from Philadelphia claim that only sandwiches adhering to a strict code of ethics even earn the right to be labeled as such. And shouldn't they have the right? Cheese steaks have been bastardized throughout the years, turned into crappy dive-bar food made from frozen strips of unknown origin. Let Mr. Nick's forever settle the debate: Good cheese steaks can be made even if they hail from a Fort Lauderdale street corner, where Mr. Nick's has crafted them for more than 30 years. The bread is just right — slightly elastic, cushy, and yeasty — while the meat has all the hallmarks of great cheese-steakery: quality beef cooked to order on a searing hot griddle. Mr. Nick's also employs a secret strategy — using a garlicky spice mixture that, along with the gooey cheese, melts right into the meat. The result is a juicy, cheesy, beefy jumble that hits all the right notes — even if there is no can of Cheez Whiz in sight.

3030 Ocean

Dean Max plunges into his projects like a surfer making for epic waters. Now in his 40s, he still looks like the farm kid and Treasure Coast wave hound who hauled vegetable crates for his father's produce business. Max moved into the kitchens at 3030 Ocean in 2000 and did something nobody thought possible: He persuaded his corporate overlords at the Marriott to let him source local and seasonal ingredients and put together a menu that celebrates our sandy soils and aquamarine waters in every line. He was so far ahead of the curve that his contemporaries are still flailing to catch up — he shot through our culinary scene like he was riding a big blue wave. Since then, Max has been an unflagging advocate for all things that creep and swim in the ocean, a dedicated member of South Florida's slow food movement. Appearing on the Food Network and at national festivals, flying off to the Bahamas for a day of fishing, showing up at panel discussions and running culinary camps for kids, he's constantly in motion. And yet, stop by 3030 and you'll likely catch him expounding on the assets of a piece of fluke or wahoo to some open-mouthed customer. It goes without saying that the man is a brilliant cook. What makes him a great chef is that he's engineered a gentle shift in the way we look at the sea that surrounds us.

Hurricane Grill and Wings

Chicken wings want to be taken seriously. They want the opportunity to be dressed in 30 varieties of flavor. Hot, medium, or mild is so blasé. There's nothing like putting on a new suit: teriyaki glaze and raspberry sauce when you're feeling mild and sweet, mango BBQ and lemon pepper glaze when you want to step it up a notch, ancho chile lime sauce and Thai ginger and garlic glaze when it's time to get serious about heat, and extra-hot hurricane sauce or volcanic lava glaze when you're ready to feel the burn shoot out of your eyeballs. The wings at Hurricane Grill deserve to dine with big drafts — like Holy Mackerel and Woodchuck Cider. Or sophisticated micro bottles like Left Hand Milk Stout or Dogfish 60 Minute IPA. The chicken wing wants to be honored, and Hurricane Grill does just that.

Grand Lake Chinese Restaurant

Think "small plates" are the latest hot topic? A food fad in China can span a millennium: That's roughly how long the Cantonese have been doing the miniature bites and shared morsels that American restaurateurs are all lathered up about lately. Hong Kong trendies call it dim sum, a snack best enjoyed with tea and friends, and based on observations of a typical Sunday afternoon at Grand Lake, the craze is in no danger of fizzling out. Wheeled over on a cart or made to order and delivered chuffing clouds of steam, the delicacies that Cloe and Eric Poon serve daily are sound evidence, in microcosm, that Chinese cuisine is the richest and most diverse on the planet. Test your cultural I.Q. with exotic chive dumplings and chewy turnip cakes, opt for classic comforts like barbecued pork-stuffed dumplings, or contemplate the inscrutable: congee (imagine fish-flavored pudding). The Chinese families who make up the bulk of the clientele here don't stop at dim sum. At night, they move on to Grand Lake's salted fish casseroles with tofu, fresh squid in black bean sauce, and imperial duck. Follow these Asian arbiters of fashion and head for the cutting edge.

The Coffee District

What's that sound coming from the Coffee District? It's customers arguing like a couple of guys from a classic Reese's commercial: "Hey! You got your wine bar in my coffee shop!" Despite being touted as a coffee joint, the district is a hybrid hangout that actually offers more kinds of beer than coffee — though there are plenty flavors of that too. In addition to 100-plus microbrews and a boutique wine list, the venue offers a line of signature lattes (mmm... toffee) as well as standard espressos and cappuccinos. It draws a mixed crowd, but generally speaking, early birds flock in the morning, laptop jockeys gather midday to suck off the free wi-fi, and hipsters come late and linger until midnight — especially during monthly beer brewing classes and twice-weekly poker nights. With sleek, hardback chairs, shiny leather couches, and chic décor, the place seems to actively reject a folk-hippie aesthetic... until open-mic night comes along or they throw an acoustic music fest.

Lola's on Harrison

Chef Michael Wagner knows there's more to American classics than chicken wings and turkey dinners. There are potatoes, for instance. And Coke. But what he does with corn dogs and hamburger meat goes well beyond anything your mama would recognize from her recipe-card file: Potato skins at Lola's come in hues of purple, topped with crème fraîche, bacon bits, and a luxurious sprinkling of sturgeon caviar; a corn dog employs Wagyu beef, porcini mushrooms, and homemade sweet bell pepper ketchup; Coca-Cola appears in barbecued beef ribs with buttermilk-battered onion rings and creamed corn. Wagner's turkey dinner is calculated to soothe any metaphysical ache you might have dragged through the door with you, substituting creamy polenta for the usual mashed potatoes, beautifully glazed Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate-sundried cherry gravy that floats the idea of cranberry sauce without that tired trope. Where other chefs offer a less-than-comforting pat on the head with their meatloaf and fried chicken, Wagner's New American cooking feels like a sweeping embrace from some beloved, half-crazy Auntie Mame: Life's a banquet, baby!

La Bonne Crepe

Some people might consider crepes to be glorified pancakes or quesadillas, but at La Bonne Crepe on Las Olas, flat circles of batter are transformed into light and fluffy packaging for cheese, meat, seafood, scrambled eggs, vegetables, and fruit — all cooked to savory or sweet perfection. The restaurant's signature vegetarian crepe includes broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, and ratatouille, all cooked like a stew with garlic, olive oil, and tomato sauce, then wrapped in a warm, crepe blanket. Despite being stuffed with a pile of succulent vegetables and sauce, the crepe magically doesn't get mushy. Same for the crepe hambourgeois with ground sirloin, grilled onion, and Gruyère. If cheese is your thing, La Bonne Crepe has 17 options of crepes with Gruyère. One comes with garlic, butter, escargots, and mushrooms, another with ham and apple compote. A half-dozen options of crepes with chicken, seafood, and scrambled eggs round out the menu. The dessert menu is just as extensive with various fillings of strawberries, bananas, ice cream, sugar, and chocolate. For something with a punch of liqueur, try the crêpes suzettes with orange sauce and Grand Marnier.

My Market & Deli

When people spend too long in South Florida, they get sandwich spoiled. They have no idea how sandwich rich this region is, how good most of the little delis really are. The crowds that pack into the back of this unassuming corner store are never ungrateful, though. The sandwiches are just too good, too loaded with delicious cheeses and meats, piled too high with veggies and sauces. Get the Sicilian sub Rosa: a thick stack of prosciutto, mortadella, capicola, and provolone, topped with fresh basil, sweet peppers, and Italian seasonings. Or the Neilly, a blend of turkey, warm roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing on a poppy seed bun. For something different, the French Quarter has roast beef topped with Brie, "want mo!" sauce, and fresh rosemary on toasted French bread. Even if you go every day (and plenty of people do), the variety and sheer quality of the fresh, fluffy sandwiches will keep you more than thankful.

By Word of Mouth
Tabatha Mudra

"Let them eat cake." Marie Antoinette never actually said it, but the phrase was a convenient summation of her aristocratic distance from the fray; she was a lady as pathetically out of touch as a tycoon redecorating his office in the midst of financial implosion. The servers at By Word of Mouth are down with Marie about the substance if not the style; they gesture with queenly pride at display cases filled with swirls and poufs, with meringues, curds, butter creams, and ganaches — those multilayered wonders long out of fashion but so fervently longed-for. There's the Lady Baltimore stuffed with figs and raisins; the Baby Jane sandwiching strawberries and génoise in a picket fence of ladyfingers; the dreamsicle drooling Grand Marnier mousse between dense yellow layers; the coconut with its glazed oranges and snowy landscapes; the booze-soaked Italian rum cake, leaning dizzily under a load of pastry cream, chocolate chips, and a crowning blanket of fresh fruit. Lemon meringue, raspberry rhapsody, stained glass oblivion, Kahlua crunch, and King Louis cakes are in constant rotation at BWOM. After 28 years in business at the same over-the-tracks location, owner Ellen Cirillo really knows how to wield a frosting knife.

At Starbucks, customers have to learn another language just to order a large cup of coffee ("You mean a venti?"). To escape the cold, annoying state of the corporate coffee­house, run in the opposite direction — toward Expresso. This funky little drive-through joint is not so much a coffee shop as a coffee shack, a tiny wooden house-like building where a handwritten menu takes up most of a wall. When the friendly staff members approach your window (they come out to your car if the line is even three cars long), they speak your language: asking whether you want your café con leche with a double or single shot of espresso; your American coffee with a little or a lot of milk. Apparently, the proprietors of this family-owned business have learned some crowd-pleasing tricks in their 17 years of operation. They scribble a trivia question on a chalkboard each morning. They sell cigarettes both by the pack and individually (50 cents per). They round out the menu with a lovely assortment of bagels, croissant sandwiches, fresh fruit (for just $1.50!), and a mean lentil soup. Now that's downright bellissimo.

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