Hot Dog Heaven
Courtesy of Hot Dog Heaven

Say it with me now: Vienna beef hot dog on a bun, yellow mustard, onions, tomatoes, bright-green relish, pickle spear, sport peppers, and a dusting of celery salt. And absolutely no friggin' ketchup. This is a mantra known dearly to every Chicagoan, and it should be yours too: There's no better way to eat your tube meat than with this eclectic garden of condiments. Of course, if you're feeling heretical, get the truly fine folks in Heaven to slather your dog with chili and cheese or even cook up a hamburger patty. But you'll soon find that the real magic here is the French fries: There's almost always a small batch cooking up fresh in the deep fryer. Every fry is the simple epitome of what a fry should be: light and golden, just crispy and greasy enough, holding its shape, well-salted. Get the combo of a large dog, fries, and a Pepsi and appreciate the simple pleasures of American melting-pot innovation as you munch and stare across the street at a Honda dealership. The hot dog is a commodity food, and it's often overrated or eaten simply as a matter of convenience. But ritual and tradition — and, for Chicagoans, a little taste of home — really can make all the difference.

Georgia Pig
C. Stiles

This dingy but lovable hole in the wall is known for thick-cut bacon and mouthwatering barbecue. But once a week, around 11 a.m., construction workers, cops, students, and retirees line up outside the doors. Why? Fried chicken Fridays. Crisp, double-fried skin sheaths juicy chicken inside. Ask for a side of white vinegar to douse on the chicken and make a delicious bite transcendent. Eight bucks buys light and dark meat, rice, gravy, and black-eyed peas, which can be swapped for potato salad or slaw.

Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House

Let's get one thing straight: This isn't diner food. At this nook in the Himmarshee district, crisp home fries nestle beside deep-green, sautéed spinach, creating a bed for eggs so fresh that their yolks are orange. This Technicolor breakfast is made decadent by an oversized slice of bread from Gran Forno bakery, lovingly slathered with plenty of butter. OB-House offers exceptional ingredients, creative dishes, and a skillet pancake that will satiate even the biggest carb lover. The tone is set by clean and bright décor, fresh flowers on each table, and a soundtrack of Johnny Cash and Simon and Garfunkel. Attentive service is a bonus. What an indulgent way to start the day.

Woodlands Indian Cuisine
Eric Barton

The buffet is not typically a hallmark of quality restaurants, but here you have it. With a menu that can lead down so many intriguing paths — do you go with a spicy curry? A basmati rice with potatoes? An uthappam Indian-style pancake? — the buffet allows you to survey one interesting creation after another. The dinner hour also is perfectly suited for exploration, with nearly every entrée priced lower than $10 and dinner specials that are less than $20 and provide bites of everything from a savory lentil stew to palate-cleansing yogurt cream. Service is beyond gracious, and while the strip-mall environs are less-than-stimulating, the food wouldn't dare to put you to sleep. Word to the wise — don't miss the mango lassi; it will come in handy with all of those spices at play.

Silver Pond
Chelsea Scholler

Silver Pond is as close to an authentic Chinese culinary experience as you'll find in South Florida. The menu is an epic of Cantonese dishes, differentiated by mellow spices, savory sauces, seafood — such as sea cucumber, abalone, and conch — and a smattering of preserved meats and fish. That is, if you order from the green restaurant menu (the full one) as opposed to the white one (which is an abbreviated list of Chinese takeout's greatest hits). The highlight of that authentic green menu is the flash-fried one-pound lobster, a savory dish to share, garnished with piles of pulverized black beans, garlic, and pork. Once you've emptied the shells, you'll be tempted to fork the remaining sauce. One caveat: It's a messy dish. Don't be ashamed if you end up wearing it.

Don't be fooled by appearances. Chen's is just a hole in the wall; paint peels off the walls, and the tabletop is sticky. But you're not here to stay, and the food is from another world. The hot-and-sour soup is light and spiked with heat — not oily in the least. Ho fun noodles are wide, rice strips of slippery sweetness. Even the most basic lunch special, chicken with broccoli, is an eye-opener. The chicken looks and tastes like slices of meat — not the strange, chewy, clover-shaped things too often found in takeout Chinese. The broccoli is bright green and healthy, mixed with big chunks of carrots. The white sauce is light and subtle, like a savory chicken broth. Who knew cheap Chinese could taste so fresh, even when you're not drunk, hungover, or itching for an egg roll?

Gabose Restaurant
Chelsea Scholler

Dinner on a rainy evening begins with warm cups of rice barley tea, which tastes like toasted almonds and brings an immediate, earthy comfort. Next up is bulgogi, the classic barbecued beef dish that will make your mouth water for hours afterward. Gabose is one of the few Korean spots in South Florida where the thinly sliced beef is grilled at the table and accompanied by a cornucopia of side dishes essential to the meal. There's spicy kimchi cabbage and zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, perfectly pickled cabbage slaw. Mixed with the savory marinated beef and a bowl of rice, the vegetables create an addictive blend of flavors unlike anything else in the Asian food oeuvre. Then there's dolsot bibimbap, Korea's version of paella. In a sizzling cast-iron bowl, white rice and vegetables are topped with a sunny-side egg and chili pepper paste. The rice gets slightly burnt and crunchy on the bottom; the egg holds the mix together. It's impossible to stop eating, so instead you stay, listening to the laughter of kids at the next table and sipping that warm, toasty tea.

La Molienda

The pupusas, man. It's all about the pupusas. They might look like pancakes, but they're full of pork and cheese and beans, and if you put a takeout container of them on your passenger seat, it'll make your car go crooked. You'll never eat a Crunchwrap Supreme again — La Molienda's pupusas are $2.75 each and come with all the fixings you'll ever need; if your server doesn't speak very much English, just point at those bad boys on the menu, hold up two fingers, and try not to hug any of the staff when the meal is over. The service is great, and the food is inexpensive without sacrificing quality. Also check out the chicharróns and sugary plantain empanadas.

Sushi Bon

Sushi Bon is known for having the freshest sushi around, and there's a reason for that: Because of its location near a marina, it is one of the few restaurants legally allowed to buy fish fresh and straight off the boat from fishermen. (A weird Florida law stipulates that unless an eatery is next to a marina, fish must be bought from a distributor.) Sushi junkies stick to blackboard specials: often triggerfish, grouper, wahoo, or tilefish. But no matter what you order, the artful presentations will wow you. Chef Ebi Hana assembles simple, beautiful dishes in a traditional Japanese setting. No wonder this place is a destination for foodies and chefs off work. If you have not been, you must go.

El Jefe Luchador

Perhaps as a testament to the strength of the offerings at El Jefe Luchador, one can order an item sans a seemingly crucial ingredient and still fall madly in love with the result. Such was the case with a recent experiment with the namesake "quesadilla champion" at El Jefe Luchador. Though it arrives with al pastor (split roasted pork loin), the quesadilla with grilled pineapple, fried sweet potato, queso blanco, and salsa verde remains compellingly addictive when ordered minus meat. The combo of savory and sweet is a can't-lose proposition whether you have to go slightly "off menu" to order it without the swine or you choose to order it as written. Either way, spring for the chips and an order of guacamole as your sidecar and prepare to obsess over these.

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