Nino's Restaurant & Pizzeria
Christina Mendenhall
The secret is in the sauce. Real herbs, fresh tomatoes, a hint of spice. Warm, melting cheese that will burn the roof of your mouth in the most pleasing way. Thin, crunchy, hand-tossed crust. And you never have to mop pools of grease off the top. Unlike the average slice — baked under a warming lamp until it's a mass of congealed cheese and tomato paste — Nino's makes every piece of pizza taste as if it just came out of the oven. You can order by the slice at lunchtime, in a dark dining room with brick-lined walls and cans of homemade tomato sauce displayed near the kitchen. It's a family joint, with veal marsala and penne a la vodka on the menu. Don't come here expecting a midnight grease fix. But if you're still hung over on a Monday at noon, it's the perfect place to find a cure.
The Soma Center Cafe
Strands of zucchini decorated with "meatballs" made from portobello mushrooms. Quinoa topped with bananas and almond butter. A raw pâté coaxed from soaked, dehydrated walnuts. The menu items at Soma require a slight suspension of disbelief. But once you muster the courage to order them, you will be rewarded. The walnut pâté, for example, turns out to be creamy, garlicky, and nutty. Spread on a wrap, and topped with a crunchy abundance of spinach, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and onions, it's so hearty and full of nutrients that you can feel your whole body beaming in gratitude. Sit outside beneath a trellis of magenta flowers and enjoy this meal surrounded by trilling birds and a light breeze. There's a small yoga studio hidden behind the cobblestone courtyard and an inspirational message scrawled on the chalkboard. "Explore your inner paradise," the menu urges, and so you do.
Lovey's Roti
Roti, that West Indian flatbread served with island-style curry, can be tricky to order. But here are some tips for getting it done at Lovey's Roti, West Broward's roti haven: First, decide what type of curry you want. Lovey's makes spicy, cilantro-flecked chicken, conch, goat, veggie, and even beef. Next, choose your roti. Dhalpourie roti has cumin-forward lentil flour laced between its paper-thin layers, while "buss up shut" is like a nest of freshly griddled flatbread. From there, you can either have the curry on the side or stuffed inside the roti like a giant burrito bigger than your head. Or add tangy mango kuchela or super hot "peppa," a fiery sauce made from Scotch bonnet peppers. Last, eat up. It takes a helluva appetite to get through an order of curry and roti. But after a whiff of Lovey's freshly made flatbread and those fragrant spices, having a big appetite won't be a problem.
Rita's
Most days, the sweat begins to prickle your neck as soon as you open the front door. The four steps to the car feel like a jaunt in a swampy Sahara. By 2 p.m., the only escape is inside a freezing ice cream parlor, preferably one with quaint wooden benches and vehemently Italian décor. Unlike the tin-can-flavored, nonfat frozen crap that usually comes out of ice cream machines, at Rita's, the creamy vanilla custard is smooth and startling rich. After a few bites, you start to remember summers that were not so punishing — lazy, chlorine-scented days, eating microwave pizza and choreographing dances to Paula Abdul. A few more spoonfuls, and you might be willing to brave the sunshine again.
Havana Hideout
Christina Mendenhall
Let's be honest: There's no good reason to eat a fat-ass fish taco at 1 o'clock in the morning. The human body doesn't physiologically need beef empanadas or chocolate chili pepper ice cream before it's content to go to sleep. So if you're eating hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches or ceviche with avocado around the same time Craig Ferguson signs off for the evening, it's probably because you've indulged in more than your fair share of alcohol. And that's what makes Havana Hideout so great. Not only does the divey Lake Worth bar and restaurant serve the booze needed to induce hunger pangs after midnight but it politely offers a way to alleviate them as well. Now that's one-stop shopping. As for what happens afterward, while we can't officially endorse passing out in the Hideout's tropical patio garden (that would be wrong), those chairs sure do look comfy after a late-night snack.
Sicilian Oven
C. Stiles
It's all about the wood here. In a marketplace dominated by coal-fired pizza, Sicilian Oven bakes its gourmet pies in an oven heated with smooth-burning, sweet-smelling wood. Coal heats to over 1,000 degrees and can leave a scorched, acrid-tasting char around the crust. Wood, though, cooks slightly slower and more consistently, giving Sicilian's pizzas a golden crust with just a touch of caramelized char along the edge. Atop the thin crust, you'll find waves of silky cheese, fresh vegetables, bits of barely cooked crushed tomato, and perhaps the savory fat of Italian sausage. The specialty pies are the best. There's the cervellata and broccoli rabe: bitter vegetal rabe and thick, dime-sized pieces of Italian rope sausage. Or the calabrese margherita: gooey mozzarella, roasted red peppers, strands of licoricey basil, green pesto, and juicy grilled chicken. And pizza aficionados will love "The Hit Man": a mix of roasted peppers and cherry peppers, thinly sliced sausage, and soft bits of fresh garlic. The look of contentment on your face as you leave will give new meaning to the term "get wood."
La Bonne Bouche
Butter folded into dough begins life as manna from heaven. Baked into a pastry that's light and flaky, with a hint of crispiness, it's enough to make a person swoon. The man who creates these delectable treats every morning is undeniably French — gruff, impatient, always breaking a sweat. But that only adds to the café's street cred. Everything on the menu, from the baguette to the tomato soup, is divinely fresh. Sitting in the courtyard, soaking up the scent of flowers in the speckled sunlight, you can almost imagine you're in Paris. A croissant may lead to a salad niçoise or perhaps an éclair. You'll sit there for hours, never missing home.
Green Wave Cafe
The Green Wave Cafe makes raw food fun. The restaurant and market prepares all of its daily specials without ever putting food to fire, which means that its sustainable, organic ingredients have the maximum health benefit. But healthful doesn't mean flavorless here. Chef Lisa Valle creates a wide range of raw dishes that actually satisfy. She whips up crisp lettuce-leaf tacos with walnut and sun-dried tomato pâté, spreads house-made hummus atop healthful onion bread, and even makes amazingly creamy chocolate ice cream you'd swear is the real thing. Since they know no diet should be a rigid rule book, Valle and crew even cheat a bit and serve some warm and comforting vegan soups that change daily. Best of all, Green Wave is a one-stop shop to raw food heaven. Show up at night for free classes on the whys and hows of raw food as well as "cooking" demos that teach you how to eat raw in style every day of the week.
Bamboo Fire Cafe
Visit a typical Caribbean restaurant in South Florida and you'll find oceans of aluminum warming trays holding wrinkly jerk chicken and greasy curry. But not at Bamboo Fire, where every island specialty is made to order. Owners Beverly and Donald Jacobs bring a personal touch to Caribbean cookery, crafting home-cooked meals that speak to their passion for food. Within minutes of sitting down, you'll feel as though you're dining in the couple's home. You'll fork up cumin- and garlic-laced chickpeas from a tiny blue bowl as Jacobs regales you with stories of her homeland of Guyana. And you'll skewer curried meatballs on toothpicks as you cool off with bottles of frosty lager. The Jacobses make maximum use of local rarities like golden crab, turning the sweet shellfish into spicy curry. And then there are those plates made solely for the adventurous like local wild hog, which gets barbecued slow and low until the flesh is tender and succulent. After your meal, you can linger for bites of zingy rum cake and Blue Bell ice cream, or just sit and chat with Beverly and Donald as you slip quietly from this off-the-boulevard eatery into a homey restaurant in the islands.
101 Ocean
You're likely to see the same endearing grin across the face of Jared Kearney whether he's zipping down A1A on his scooter or flying through the often-packed 101 Ocean in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Kearney is a cool cat who's masterful at what he does. The New York transplant has been down here for nine or ten years (he can't really remember), has been waiting tables for more than a decade, and has been at 101 since it opened its doors in 2008. The experience shows. The orders are always on point, customers are never left waiting, and he creates an experience that is more "hang out" than theatrical.

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