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.

VIVO Partenza
Candace West

Restaurant wine lists are often described as "encyclopedic," but no encyclopedia offers the kind of pleasure that perusing the 300-plus-label list at Tony Bova's elegant Vivo Partenza does. Assembled by Bova and director of operations Sande Weinstein, it focuses almost exclusively on the wines of Italy and California, but within those areas is an encyclopedic roster of the best vintages and finest producers. Super Tuscans like Solaia, Tignanello, and Sassicaia are well-represented, as are Barolos, Brunellos, and Amarones and multiple bottlings from Angelo Gaja. Fans of California Cabernets will drool over vintages of Silver Oak from 1995 on, as well as wines from Harlan Estate, Opus One, and Joseph Phelps (Insignia). There's also an impressive list of magnums, from Antinori to ZD. Of course, all this oenological pleasure isn't exactly cheap, with bottle prices starting around $200 and zooming up to almost a grand. But the other half of what Weinstein calls his "bipolar" list, where most of the restaurant's seafood-friendly white wines reside, serves up dozens of excellent choices for under $50, which is more in the neighborhood of those of us whose bank accounts aren't quite so encyclopedic.

La Cigale

If you're going to abandon the One True Faith, be excommunicated from the First Church of the Holy Eggplant of the Blessed Legume, and exchange the heavenly rewards of seitan for the earthly pleasures of Satan, you may as well get as much joy and flavor out of it as possible. And there is no more joyous or flavorful bit of gastronomic apostasy than the thymus glands of a calf, gently poached and carefully picked over, then pressed, lightly floured, sautéed, and bathed in a luxurious chanterelle cream sauce richer than Bill Gates but ever so much more exciting. Most restaurants would barely dare to even offer it as a special, but at suave, elegant La Cigale, this devilishly seductive number sits proudly on the regular menu. Truly, a blessed event. Can I get an amen?

Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar
Courtesy of Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar

The margaritas at Rocco's, where there's a menu dedicated exclusively to tequila, are so good that you might just quit your job and join a mariachi band. But eating here is awkward — you can't talk to the person across the table without screaming over the Top 40 hits. It's fine if you don't particularly care for your company, but if that's not the case, beeline to the bar. It's usually slammed with a civilized cross section of people. The bartenders are friendly, and most important, the 12 varieties of margaritas come in huge glasses (note: The Cadillac is incredible — El Mayor Anejo, Gran Marnier, and Rocco's house-made sour mix). Frequently, Rocco Mangel, the owner, jumps up on the bar wearing his signature white patent-leather shoes, and pours shots of Patrón into patrons' mouths. You can't get that lip service during dinner.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of