Mustard Seed Bistro
As far as boutique bistros go, the Mustard Seed is definitely a romantic spot. The dim lights, muted walls, and high-back leather benches ensure as much, as do the hushed service and tinny 1940s jazz tunes buzzing softly from the speakers. But the real love affair is between the owners — handsome power couple Timothy and Lara Boyd — and their customers — a largely female clientele that is thoroughly enraptured with the pair. It's easy to see why. Lara plays the part of elegant host, courting diners from the front of the house with grace and charm. Tim, meanwhile, lets his food do the romancing. He (with help from chef Ernesto Rado) revamps bistro classics and delivers them with a sexy spin, as with his mussels bathed in piquant curry broth or his slow-cooked duck with cherry gastrique. Even at lunch, when the place dresses down for the luncheon crowd, those crisp white plates of tuna niçoise and pressed sandwiches are arranged so smartly as to have those housewives, businesswomen, and cougars alike all moaning in glee.
Tryst
A well-designed restaurant should mean something to everyone who eats there, and that's just what happens at Tryst. The bistro and bar is laid out as mercurially as its menu of eclectic small plates, inexpensive wines, and intriguing craft beer. Inside, the space runs from cool and comforting to chic and sultry. The winding, dark-wood bar glows with candlelight, slipping from the hip checkered foyer to the rustic brick walls in back. There, if you're lucky, you can dine at an ornate marble table with hand-carved, high-back chairs that overlook the whole restaurant. If the weather's good, slip out to Tryst's lush patio. The cool, breezy area is like vanilla to the dining room's chocolate. Out there, wall-mounted fans blow dewy air over white tables framed by tropical palms and tall wooden trellises. It's the perfect spot to sip a cocktail and nosh on olives or charcuterie. Yep, whether you're going for a summer lunch, after-work drinks, or a late-night rendezvous, Tryst is one meeting spot you'll feel comfortable in at any time.
Brew Urban Cafe
It's a majestic coffee shop that also serves wine and beer — perhaps that's why Brew Urban Café is appropriately nestled in the slew of bars of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Tucked behind Tarpon Bend off Second Avenue, silver tables and chairs are planted on the sidewalk — usually filled with folks who can carry conversations. Inside, among the plush chairs and half-moon booths, there's a great mosaic of a coffee-drinking goddess. Indie, local art hangs on the walls courtesy of the art/DJ event Brew hosts each month called Dialect. Be ballsy and try the godzilla: That's 40 grams of protein and four shots of espresso. Or go for the electric shock: That's a vanilla-and-cinnamon-infused espresso, complete with a caramel glaze. Every coffee-shop-goer's dream is fulfilled: free wi-fi and friendly baristas. The microbeer selection includes Dogfish Punk, Stoudt American Pale Ale, and Rogue Dead Guy. Just try to find a Bolshevic Revolution anywhere else. Or, really, just try to stroll into a bar in downtown Fort Lauderdale and get served coffee.
E.R. Bradley's Saloon
Christina Mendenhall
An outfit that truly understands how to get you hammered ought to be able to manage the aftereffects. Bradley's does: No sooner have they cleaned up from their raucous late-night blowouts than a new shift arrives to serve gargantuan breakfasts and brunches. Seven days a week from the crack of dawn, this is food calculated to soak up whatever booze you have left in your system — heavy-duty sponges like the "BLT breakfast" stack of eggs, bacon, and tomato; shrimp and grits; roast chicken burritos; Philly cheese steaks; and blue cheese bacon burgers. Named for Colonel E.R. Bradley, the hard-drinking, gambling, horseracing Irishman who opened a casino on Palm Beach (he raised four Kentucky Derby winners and undoubtedly nursed many a julep-flavored hangover), the saloon has six fully stocked bars — one with plashing fountain, others with screens tuned to the ball game — all open to waterfront breezes good for soothing jangled nerves. A Sunday brunch buffet dishes waffles and hair-of-the-dog mimosas, but it's those tranquil Monday-morning breakfasts when the place is mostly empty — eaten to contemplative views of the Intracoastal — that really shore you up to get past humpday.
Brother Tuckers
Thanks to great strides in the craft beer revolution, finding quality brews at restaurants all across South Florida has been a lot easier this past year. But one place in particular makes seeking out rare and unique beers a way of life. That would be Brother Tuckers, a Belgian-style beer hall hidden away in Pompano Beach. The place is somehow still as much a secret as the crazy list of little-known beers it trucks in on a weekly basis. Scan the handwritten chalkboard by the bar and you'll find brews like Wild Devil, a naturally fermented IPA/Belgian variant from Victory, and Gemini, an unfiltered imperial ale from Southern Tier. They stock obscure saisons from the likes of California's Bruery and even local selections from Inlet and Native. The staff are all total beer geeks too, always game to wax poetic over the candy-like quality of a good quadrupel or to make sure that every beer you order ends up in the perfect glass — chalice, snifter, or otherwise.
Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar
Christina Mendenhall
Simplicity is the key to avocados, and Rocco's understands this. They don't mess with mayo or blenders or any such absurdity. A waiter wheels out a cart loaded with fresh avocados and a mortar and pestle. He throws in some cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and a dash of Rocco's secret spice mix, which includes paprika and other goodies. Everything is mashed together in front of your salivating stare. The result is addictive. Scoop this stuff up with crunchy, fresh tortilla chips — also dusted with secret spices — and you won't be able to stop.
The Ritz-Carlton
Ignore for a moment that the Ritz-Carlton is arguably the best place in Manalapan to experience how the other half lives — though it's hard, what with that dark, Mediterranean patio just beyond the gleaming bar, where you can see soft tropical winds rolling off the ocean and through the gauzy white curtains that hang there, for no other reason than to look lovely — and ignore too the exquisite care the bartenders put into their beverages. Your martini doesn't just come with olives; it comes with a tray of assorted olives.
Sette Bello
The dapper servers at Sette Bello know the importance of empathy. That's because they aren't just glorified food runners trucking out your linguine with clam sauce or slow-braised osso buco. They're professionals who can feel the ebb and flow of a meal and somehow know your every whim almost before you do. Sit in that romantic dining room with blush walls and sheer curtains and the wait staff will go to work on you like maestros conducting an orchestra. They'll answer any questions you have with care and concern and make sure you know exactly what you're getting. Plates arrive the moment they are supposed to and are delivered and removed with careful efficiency. Your glass will never hit bottom, whether it's in need of another pour of crisp Italian Greco di Tufo or just sparkling water. And you'll never have to ask for silverware or salt or even more sauce to go with your entrée — your waiter will have it spotted and delivered to your table before you've even raised your hand. Most of all, the servers here are a direct link to the kitchen — a conduit between you and chef/owner Franco Filippone. They're his lips gently whispering the praises of local snapper Livornese and Dover sole and his ears receiving your messages and acting upon them with care and alarm. And you can't ask for better service than that.
Art's BBQ
The walls at Art's BBQ in Coral Springs are covered with posters of blues artists like B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker. You gotta figure even legends like them are happy to have a place at Art's, a suburban smokehouse with deep reverence to tradition. The emphasis is on Southern barbecue — slowly smoked ribs, pork, and chicken smothered in a sweet and spicy homemade sauce. Texas-inspired hot links and slow-cooked chicken wings appear alongside pulled pork sandwiches with lots of bark and mac and cheese done creamy and rich. But the ribs are the real star here. Tender and smoky with a toothy bite, these St. Louis-cut bad boys are served over two pieces of plain white bread — a telltale sign of great 'cue, whether in Florida or the Gateway City.
California Burgers and Shakes
For four weeks in 2003, the blissful concoction we call a milk shake got a bad rap. The simple partnering of milk and ice cream became synonymous with Kelis' ubiquitous song about boys flocking to a yard — for her "Milkshake." Whatever that means, we gather it's not the creamy heaven we're celebrating with this category. And despite how many times she claims all the boys say her milk shake is better than all of our milk shakes, it's highly unlikely that it delights the senses like the shakes at California Burgers & Shakes, an inconspicuous surf-themed burger joint across the street from the Galleria Mall. Delicious and big-strawed — this is key; sizable straws mean you don't have to be a Hoover to get a taste — California Burgers & Shakes crafts the perfect milk shake. Its flawlessly thick consistency needs no spoon. They use real fruit for flavoring. And if your taste buds are up for a little adventure, you can get creative with peanut butter, cookies, or caramel. Feel limited by the standard chocolate, strawberry, vanilla trifecta? Try mint, peppermint, coffee, or pineapple. We don't know about Kelis, but this is the best milk shake of 2010.

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