Woodlands Indian Cuisine
Eric Barton

Lauderhill's Woodlands has long been a favorite among Broward's western set for its authentic flavors, wide-reaching menu, and low prices. But a change in ownership last year has transformed this vegetarian haven from neighborhood joint to Indian food destination. Admittedly, this quaint strip-mall eatery has a pretty plain vibe inside. But what the décor lacks in finery, the kitchen more than makes up for in intense flavor. Take the baingan bartha: Woodland's version is made from fire-roasted eggplant, which translates into a smooth and delicate texture that's neither too light nor too thick. Or the dal tadka, a new addition to the menu that sounds deceptively simple (just curried lentils and kidney beans) but tastes creamy and refined. And no trip to Woodlands is complete without an order of chana bhatura, a sweet stew of rustic chickpeas paired with a globe of fried dough the size (and sheen) of a disco ball. Yep, there's so much to discover at this West Broward gem, from meter-long dosai (crisp crepes stuffed with curries) to fried Indian pancakes and fragrant pilafs.

El Original Baja Cafe
Liz Dzuro

The dingy-looking yet delicious Mexican restaurants that pepper South Florida put off some people. There's something about a grimy exterior and peeling paint that don't scream "Eat here!" That's why Baja Café was onto something when it seemingly decided that bright colors would be the theme. It slapped some bright green on the exterior of the restaurant and made the interior no less inviting with vibrant walls and painted ceramic-tile tables. The food is equally colorful and much more delicious. The cheese accosts your mouth — in a good way — the moment you bite into the hunk of burrito. The margaritas don't skimp on the tequila, and there's a whole tequila bar for you to choose from.

Sheila's Famous BBQ, Conch and More

For over a year, New Times has praised the slow-smoked barbecue found at Sheila's, a yellow, roadside food shack in Lake Worth. But the real draw at this casual eatery is the conch: a meaty shellfish as integral to the Caribbean as steel drums and sunshine. Sheila's gets down on the mollusc in a variety of ways: as an impeccably fresh salad mixed with tomato, bell pepper, and lime; in baseball-sized conch fritters studded with luxurious chunks of meat. But our favorite? That would be the cracked conch, done up in true Bahamian fashion — which is to say, pounded into tender morsels and lightly dredged in flour, then deep-fried until beautifully brown and crisp. Squirt it with some fresh lime juice and give it a dunk in Sheila's zesty dipping sauce and that conch is practically flawless. A little pigeon peas and rice, some slow-stewed collard greens, and a seat on the stone benches underneath Sheila's outdoor awning and your trip to the Caribbean is complete.

New Hong Kong Chinese Foods

Experienced Chinese food consumers can get soy sauce stains out of their undershirts, and they never let the faded photos of Hunan beef above the counter of a takeout eatery deter them. If the grub is going to be consumed elsewhere anyhow, atmosphere doesn't matter; the truth is in the General Tso's sauce. Leave it to the fine, fast, and affordable New Hong Kong Chinese Food to minimize the MSG hangover and coat every surface of the inside of your mouth with more than 100 variations of savory happiness. Even a risky item like cornstarch-battered crispy orange flavor beef leaves a wealth of East Asian spots in their greasy tracks. Do it for lunch, do it in large quantities, and do it late-night (till at least 10:30 daily) and these chefs with New York City experience have you covered.

Kubo Asiatic Cuisine
Candace West

It's only fitting that the chef whose restaurant earned Best of Palm Beach honors for 2011 should also take the crown as Best Chef. There are certainly better-known and more celebrated chefs in South Florida, but few are cooking with the disciplined abandon and uncompromising vision of Roy Villacrusis, who seemingly came out of nowhere to give the often-unadventurous Palm Beach County restaurant scene a giant kick in the ass. Actually, it wasn't out of nowhere but out of Mark Militello's now-shuttered CityPlace eatery, where Villacrusis ran the sushi bar. Before that, though, the self-taught chef cooked his way through restaurants from the Philippines to Las Vegas, especially drawn to the glistening freshness and aesthetic artistry of sushi. That artist's touch is evident in every plate that comes out of Kubo's exhibition kitchen. But although it's said that you first eat with your eyes, you taste with your palate, and Villacrusis never lets his arrangements or creativity get in the way of his food tasting really, really good. That alone is worthy of an award.

The Breakers Palm Beach
Courtesy of the Breakers Palm Beach

When fantasizing about the magnificent things you'll obtain once you win the Florida Lotto, images of flashy cars, massive castle-esque homes, and fabulous hats may come to mind. But if your lucky numbers haven't come up yet, you might be forced to simply bask alongside those privy to such financial glory. Inside a massive cream-colored resort that resembles a Roman palace, a brunch most opulent exists — a utopia where bubbly flows freely and dapper dressed debutantes nosh on caviar. A bevy of doormen waits to valet your sleek sports car (or Ford Taurus), and corridors are painted with images of the Renaissance. Stroll past tubs of lobster tail, carving stations, and various regal fare spanning two food-filled rooms. Drink, feast, and converse with the elite. A brunch at the Breakers in any case is cause for celebration, but if someone else is handing over his MasterCard, it might feel as if you hit the jackpot after all.

Buccan
Candace West

Clay Conley's 15 minutes are almost here. The successor at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental to local fave Michelle Bernstein — who parlayed her 15 minutes of fame into multiple restaurants, TV appearances, and endorsements — his first big task was to put his own stamp on the überposh Brickell Key restaurant while ensuring that Bernstein wasn't really missed. He knocked that one out of the park, so far that he got his own restaurant deal, moving north to "The Island" and opening Buccan, where he's applying the rigorous culinary technique and finely honed creative chops he displayed at Azul to food that's less expensive and less handled but even more flavorful. One taste of his lusty steak tartare with black truffle and "crispy" egg yolk or barbecued quail with creamed corn, bacon, and onion strings and you'll be celebrating his 15 minutes too.

Big Bear Brewing Co.
C. Stiles

Why is this restaurant here, and if it's here, why's it so good? Way the hell out in the suburban wilds, occupying a space that looks like a barely warmed-over TGIF, the proprietors of Big Bear Brewing Co. are serving up serious pizza — the kind of thin-but-heartily crusted pies that in certain places, the cheese articulates with the crust in such a way that you can't tell where one ends and the other begins. You could nosh on these things all day and forget to even sample Big Bear's rich, naughtily fruity Kodiak Belgian Dubbel or outrageous seasonal dark beers — and even the best of 'em, with blackened chicken and onions and goat's cheese and mozzarella, can't hold a candle to Big Bear's Bistro Burger. As special as it is alliterative, this is a big, juicy sammich topped with something called "Bistro Sauce," slathered with great glops of Brie cheese, onions, and lots of bacon. Gourmet for gourmands.

Michelle Bernstein's at the Omphoy

Sad-but-true story: For its first year in business, the Omphoy had the honest-to-goodness best cocktail in the universe. Top-shelf gin mixed with grapefruit juice into which fresh basil leaves had been thoroughly muddled and the whole thing topped with a splash of Prosecco. De-freaking-lishus. You could tell the Omphoy took pleasure in the beverage, cuz it called it "The Omphoy." Then, one day, a reporter walked up to the bar, ordered an Omphoy, and was handed some kind of champagne-based thing that tasted like a girl drink. The menu'd changed — but a sweet and sympathetic bartender ran upstairs to the kitchen at Michelle Bern­stein's brilliant restaurant to assemble the necessary ingredients, and the evening was salvaged. You can still usually persuade a bartender to make an Omphoy the right way, but if you can't, no sweat: A diverse and inspired cocktail menu rewards the bold imbiber, with an unusually potent "Dark & Stormy," featuring dark Gosling's rum and intense house-made ginger beer; and a singularly decadent cocktail called "Blood and Sand," which combines Johnny Walker Black with cherry brandy, vermouth, and orange bitters into a drink packing more flavor per milliliter than just about any liquid known to humankind.

Il Mercato Cafe & Wine Shop

If you're looking for all-the-usual-suspects sort of wines at prices that make armed robbery seem reasonable, don't bother with Mike Lynch's sweet little Hallandale Beach wine bar and café. On the other hand, if you've got a taste for oenological adventure or you just can't stomach one more overoaked California Chardonnay or overpriced Cabernet Sauvignon, then Il Mercato is your kind of place. Owner and wine maestro Lynch looks for "B-side varietals, oddball wines" that partner well with the café's first-rate food and offer Lynch the kind of savings he can pass on to his customers. What that means in your wallet are markups about twice wholesale instead of the typical three to five times those of most SoFla restaurants. With about 140 different bottles on a list that changes constantly (including two dozen or so available in full and half-glasses), you've got plenty of good wines and good deals to choose from. Unless, that is, you're hunting one of those usual suspects.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

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