Padrino's

In 1930s Cuba, the Padrino family opened its first establishment, a small food market and winery with a storefront that doubled as a meeting spot for locals to visit and catch up on the latest news. Family members relocated to the U.S. in the late 1960s and opened their first restaurant in Hialeah in 1976, offering the neighborhood a taste of the same recipes they cooked in Cuba. Since then, they've opened Padrino's locations in Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Boca Raton, and, most recently, Orlando. Today, the family's son Mario, alongside his wife, Nayade, continues to serve treats like spicy beef-stuffed picadillo empanadas with fresh guava chutney, pulled pork and grilled onion lechon asado sandwiches, and higados de pollo, chicken livers seasoned in spices. Keep an eye out for the pig roast the second weekend of every month — a nod to Cuban tradition.

Donna's Restaurant

One of the best things about living in Florida is "Floribbean" fare, brought to us by a wide variety of hole-in-the-wall spots where bargain-deal dishes are influenced by immigrants from all over the Caribbean — Haitians, Bahamians, Jamaicans, and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. No matter the island, traditional dishes share some common ingredients, most notably goat, chicken, conch, and shrimp paired with cassava, okra, mango, rice, pea, bell pepper, coconut, and plantains. If you love akee fruit and salt fish, okra-heavy callaloo, or jerk-spiced meats, there is no place better to try them all than at Donna's Restaurant and Lounge. Owner Karl Gordon opened this establishment — one of several Caribbean-themed restaurants of the same name — six years ago in Lauderhill, an area known today for its heavy concentration of Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine. The prices are good, and portions are large. And if you're craving a taste of some truly amazing jerk chicken or an authentic curry goat, here both are served as a daily lunch special Monday through Friday for just $4.99. That includes rice and peas and salad.

Ambry Restaurant

The Ambry is a charming little gem located along the stretch of Commercial Boulevard leading up to the Intracoastal Waterway. Opened in 1981, it harkens back to a time when South Florida truly catered to retirees — because there wasn't anyone else to cater to. This is not to suggest that the Ambry is in any way outdated or past its prime. From the outside, the Ambry looks like a tiny brick castle squeezed between two office buildings. Inside, smells of sauerbraten, red cabbage, and goulash perfume the air. This is certainly no place to take a vegetarian on a first date, but if your sweetie is a carnivore, she will be impressed. The staff is busy but friendly, like your mom running around trying to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table. There are steins and other bits of Bavarian nostalgia on every wall and surface. And the aforementioned food is outstanding. They offer a decent selection of German beers, with Tucher the star of the menu. Desserts include black forest cake and apfelkuecherl (kind of like apple strudel). The menu certainly holds no surprises — it's traditional German fare all the way — but there is nothing to be disappointed by, either.

You know those scenes in western movies — the outsider steps through the doors of the saloon and music comes to a screeching halt? That's almost the sensation when you walk into Lauderhill's Blue Mountain Restaurant. If you're not a regular, the old Jamaican guys at the bar might turn around and give you a curious look. With poker machines, a stage, a DJ booth, and just a few tables, the spot has the air of a secret meeting place. There's no printed menu, but eight bucks gets you a small plate of curry goat, brown stew chicken, curry chicken, jerk chicken, jerk pork, or oxtail with peas and rice and a salad. And trust us, this jerk's for real.

Cielito Lindo

Authentic Mexican? Maybe not, but Tex-Mex, or Florida-Mex, for that matter, has a legitimate place in the Hall of Foodie Fame for its undeniable deliciousness. Cielito Lindo's got those eats down, from guacamole and spinach queso dip to sizzling steak fajitas and cheese-smothered enchiladas. Colorful sombreros and Mexican blankets adorn the walls. It's folksy with a side of charming. The menu offers Spanish selections too, but let's face it — South Floridians need more Mexican food in their lives. Try the massive El Grande Burro ($14) — beef or chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese all bundled up in a flour tortilla and topped with cheese and guac and slathered in sauce. Or opt for the ropa viejo, shredded beef simmered with peppers, tomatoes, onions, wine, and savory spices ($11). So roll on up, sip a margarita with salt, nosh on chips and salsa, and bemoan the fact that there aren't more local places like this to add a little extra padding to your waistline.

Korean food is so much more than just barbecue, the common gateway into the cuisine. Adventurous eaters who want to try as broad a sampling as possible have to get to Myung Ga. The crispy rice at the bottom of the hot stone bowl in the dolsot bibimbap, with beef, bean sprouts, cucumber, and dried seaweed, will become your new standard for the simple grain. The house-made tofu appears in ten kinds of bubbling stews, including the kimchi soondubu ($16.95). The pickled fermented cabbage, along with a generous helping of red chili paste, gives the broth its fire-red color and eye-watering spice. The big chunks of creamy tofu provide a cooling respite in each mouthful. Myung Ga also has the barbecue — huge portions that arrive on sizzling cast-iron platters, just in case you have an uncontrollable desire for meat.

Peruvian is in. From farm-to-tables to neighborhood cafés, you can find a ceviche or Peruvian-inspired dish on almost any menu. That's certainly not a bad thing. But if you're looking for the best example of the omnipresent cuisine, you want to go authentic. You want Gordo's Grill. Situated in one of the many strip malls that line Sample Road in Margate, Gordo's does simple, traditional Peruvian cuisine. All of the favorites can be found here: causas, chilled layers of creamy mashed potato, avocados, choice of meat, and olive or golf sauce; anticuchos, skewers of chicken, beef, or beef heart; eight ceviches ($11.50 to $18); tiraditos, the Peruvian equivalent of sashimi ($11.50 to $19); aji de gallina, chicken served in a creamy, spicy yellow sauce made with the ever-present aji amarillo chili... You get the drift.

It's been said that you should never judge a book by its cover. Likewise, you should never judge a shop by the strip mall in which it sits. Situated in a rundown building on Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach is an average-looking Asian market. Step inside and you'll find your usual array of Asian ingredients, a large communal table, and a counter for takeout. This spot sells some of the most authentic Thai food South Florida has to offer. Curries — masaman, red, green, and panang — have flavors so intense that you'll picture yourself overlooking the streets of Chang Mai. Pad Thai so convincing, it's like you're eating in a Thai roadside shack. All of these go for around nine bucks, but according to the handwritten, dry-erase sign, "Prices are subject to change." This cover is not fancy, but the contents are delightful.

Though most people lump all Italian food into the same category, ingredients and preparations across Italy's 20 regions are crazy varied. Italian Red Sauce's specialty is right there in the name, and it's all about the heavily sauced Italian-American classics, inspired by southern Italy. This is the food most Americans think about when they say "Let's do Italian." This restaurant is as much about family as it is the food. All plates come in larger sizes for sharing, even though single orders are more than enough for one person. It's the kind of place to go with a large group of people, a thirst for wine, and several hours to laugh and eat. Even if you order the short ribs and gnocchi special for one ($19.95), you'll have plenty left over for a late-night snack.

China Pavilion Restaurant

To assess whether a great Chinese hole in the wall is truly great, ask yourself: Is it hard to find? Are there lots of actual Chinese people there? Are there authentic dishes Americans might shy away from? China Pavilion is tucked into an inside corner of a sprawling Miramar strip mall and is full of Chinese people and curious Chinese dishes. Yet what really sets Miramar's China Pavilion above the rest is the bounty of fresh seafood. Tanks stacked two high and three wide nearly cover an entire wall toward the back of the restaurant and hold tilapia, lobster, and golden crab. Watch as cooks pluck a one-and-a-quarter-pound lobster out of the tank and toss it into a wok with a punchy rich ginger scallion sauce ($32.95 for two). Whole tilapia goes for $8.95 a pound. The silver and red fish is steamed whole, drenched in a soy sauce and Chinkiang vinegar mixture. Oh, and the dim sum is pretty good too.

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