Lobster Bar Sea Grille
Courtesy Photo

Some cultures take seafood more seriously than others. The Japanese are best-known for their love of fresh, raw sushi. Peruvians are all about  citric-acid-marinated ceviche. Spaniards love their paella. And Greeks are recognized for their simple grilled fish. The newest concept from Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, this high-end seafood spot on Las Olas takes cues from CEO Pano Karatassos' heritage. While it offers a wide array of composed dishes, its signature is its diverse selection of whole fish cooked in a Greek skara. Fresh local and imported fish (Buckhead Life also owns a seafood import business, so its fish is served within 48 hours of being plucked from the sea) are cooked in the traditional basket, which sits atop a charcoal grill, and are served with customary Greek ingredients: olive oil, lemon, oregano, and Santorini capers. From rarer selections like dorade royale (a Greek fish similar to red snapper) and Dover sole to local snapper, the options here are about as fresh as you can find — even if they required a flight over from the Mediterranean.

La Cocina Puertorriquena

Sure, we're surrounded by beaches and water, but there's something about the Caribbean that is way more exotic and interesting. Maybe it's the crystal-clear waters, the lush green foliage, the mountains and hilltops with panoramas that seem to never end, or the bass-thumping music. Or maybe it's the fiery foods. While it's easy to find Jamaican jerk, Cuban ropa vieja, or Dominican sancocho in South Florida, Puerto Rican cuisine is limited. La Cocina Puertorriqueña makes up for the lack. The Miramar restaurant offers a taste of the island through its weekly live salsa and flavorful authentic fare. The spot serves mofongo ($5.95 to $16.95), the national dish of Puerto Rico, which consists of fried green plantains mashed together with garlic and spices served with savory sauce and proteins ranging from shrimp in red sauce to masitas fritas (pork chunks).  If that's not your thing, try the plato boricua ($13.95), a dish traditionally served around Christmas that's composed of shredded pork topped with strips of lightly sautéed onion, rice, pigeon peas, and a pastel (stewed shredded pork encased in adobo- and cumin-seasoned plantain dough cooked in a banana leaf). The only other way you'll find Puerto Rican food this good is a trip to the island itself.

Woodlands Indian Cuisine
Eric Barton

There are many fine Indian restaurants in South Florida that offer an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in the afternoon and entrées served with rices and the oven-baked flatbread known as naan. Woodlands follows this template exceptionally well, but what makes this Indian restaurant in an unassuming minimall extraordinary are its rarer delicacies from the South of India. Chief among the savory treats are the dosas: crepes made of lentil and rice flour stuffed with potatoes, spinach or 19 variations that range in price from $7.95 to 11.95. Folded into a triangle that outsizes the plate it is served on, a dosa will appear large enough to feed a battalion, but you should save room for dessert, as the place offers halwa (a sweet confection of almond or carrot) as well as ice creams of mango, pistachio, and more. The entirely vegetarian restaurant marks the menus with V for any item that can be prepared vegan, including the apple ice cream.

Cafe La Buca
Candace West

Italian fare in the United States tends to be dominated by meatballs and the ubiquitous red sauce. It's delicious, yes, but not necessarily the most authentic. Italian-American is a thing in and of itself. For the most part, legitimate Italian cuisine comes only from ridiculously expensive, fancy-pants spots. Such food is exquisite but pricey. Only, like, 1 percent of the population can do high-end Italian regularly. For everyone else, there's Cafe la Buca. Owned by Napoli native Marco Spina and his family, this casual Pompano Beach eatery specializes in rustic Southern Italian cuisine at affordable price points: Dinner for two will run you around 80 bucks. The menu changes every day based upon what's around and what looks good to Spina. (You can call in the morning to find out the specials for the night.) It offers classics like papardelle Bolognese, fresh gnocchi, and linguini with clams. Pizza is made from an oven brought over from Naples. Although the pizza and pasta are main parts of the draw, simply prepared seafood and meats are also available on a nightly basis. Expect to see items like grilled filet mignon and lamb chops with spinach and balsamic rosemary sauce. Be sure to call ahead for a reservation, as these seats fill up days (if not weeks) in advance. It truly is that good.

Old Heidelberg
Candace West

Food always tastes best in its country of origin. Baguettes are crisper and loftier in France. Curries are hotter in Thailand. Pastas are more toothsome in Italy. Schnitzel is more, well, schnitzely in Germany — you get the point. When the craving for wursts and dunkel hits, you need to find a place that honors its German heritage. Cue Old Heidelberg. Step through the doors and you'll be transported to another world; it feels like you've been transplanted in an Oktoberfest hall. The space is dimly lit with dark wood walls, stained-glass light fixtures, and German knickknacks all around. Female servers and bartenders don traditional dirndls, and some have German accents as well. As kitschy as it may be, the place is legit. The fare is about as authentic as you can find in South Florida. Selections range from common weisswurst ($12.95) and wiener schnitzel ($8.95) to specialties like rouladen ($17.95), a dish of thinly sliced, seasoned, and stuffed beef served with mashed potatoes, dumpling, and cabbage. All of which is easily washed down Deutschland-style with a nice big beer. The restaurant boasts a nice selection of imported German brews ranging from refreshing Weissbier to light lager to full-bodied dopplebock — and yes, you can drink it out of a boot. Save yourself the airfare; come here.

Pine Court Chinese Bistro

In South Florida, there are several signs that indicate you've found a good Chinese restaurant. One: The majority of the customers appear to be Chinese. Two: Said customers are not speaking English. Three: There's neither too much nor too little Oriental gaud. Four: Chicken feet are on the menu. If you find three out of four, you've discovered a good Chinese restaurant. If you've hit all four nails on the head, chances are you've landed at Pine Court Chinese Bistro. This push-cart-style dim sum spot is not for the faint of heart. With an array of unidentifiable delicacies and a language barrier between you and many of the servers, it's not always easy to surmise what exotic ingredients are finding themselves in your mouth — just go with it. From chicken feet ($3.95) to beef tendon ($3.95) to bao ($3.25) to shrimp dumplings ($4.50), everything here is an adventure for your taste buds. Don't worry, though, if you have a picky-pants on your excursion — it offers an à la carte menu, with pictures, in English.

"I, T — — — , an adult residing at — — — — — , being of sound mind, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I revoke all wills and codicils previously made by me. As most of my close friends and associates will already know, my life has been consumed in recent years by one overwhelming passion: Carl's Seafood and Jamaican Cuisine. Many have scoffed at my enthusiasm for this Tamarac eatery. Many have grown distant due to the all-consuming need to ingest Carl's as often as possible. These people are all low fools. My worst moments — Missy leaving me for Alejandro; the death of Snuggles; Election Day 2008 — have been balmed by Carl's curry goat with white rice. My most wonderful achievements — the Yalies topping Harvard in overtime; Election Day 2000 — have been made all the better with the restaurant's oxtail. Yes, it's not much to look at, just a stand in Tamarac with no seating and a slow line out the door. But it is my life. Therefore, when I have passed on to my just rewards, I request that my body be burned and my ashes be scattered in Carl's brown stew and that the container be placed in the family crypt. Then I will marinate in the deliciousness forever."

Moon Thai & Japanese Restaurant
CandaceWest.com

Moon Thai & Japanese was established in Coral Gables in 2000 but quickly expanded to five locations, with the location in Coral Springs, situated next to the Magnolia movie theater, having just undergone a huge expansion. Now you can satisfy your need for delicious comfort food before seeing a movie with your sweetie. And make no mistake: Thai curry is comfort food at its finest. Sure, it's spicy, but spice is what gets all your feel-good endorphins rushing. Then the spice is immediately soothed by the sweet creaminess of the coconut milk. That combination of exciting and soothing will leave you feeling calm and happy.

Las Colinas Restaurant
Eric Barton

Las Colinas is the spot where la familia orders from every time they're in town. Like so many SoFla gems, it sits in an unassuming strip mall, but a large mural of el país de origen and a second landscape with macaws and toucans set it apart. The ropa vieja ($6.95) melts on your fork, soaked in a sharp but sweet tomato base. Churrasco ($11.95) will blow your gringo friends' minds: tender, pink, and so much juicier than anything they could try to cook up (Q: "What's this green stuff?" A: chimichurri). The sweet plantains ($2.50) come no-strings-attached, meaning the fruit is perfectly ripened and leaves nothing to pick out of your teeth. Black beans are made with silky poblano peppers and onions and pair perfectly on a cloud of white rice. Score a Cubano especial ($5.79) — a Cuban sandwich plus side — and you'll make out with lunch for under ten bucks. The tip is to call ahead so you can let the concentrated smell of your diet-breaking lunch whisper sweet nothings into your mouth before you find somewhere private to have your way with it. Trust us, nobody in public needs to see what you're about to do.

Chapultepec
Zachary Fagenson

Mexico's food and drinks (tequila and mezcal namely) may be trending among hipsters, making the simple, honest cuisine just as pretentious as suspenders and mustachios. But that's not how it's supposed to be; real Mexican fare is freaking delicious and laid-back, with not even the slightest hint of irony. That's exactly what you'll find at Chapultepec. The no-frills restaurant serves authentic Mexican breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night tacos in a come-as-you-are setting. Whether dining in for huevos rancheros ($4.99) at 10 a.m., tortas ($5) for lunch, chicken mole ($8.99) at 7 o'clock in the evening, or $2 tacos al pastor from the late-night taco stand in the parking lot after the restaurant closes, you'll find piquant, authentic fare without all the trendy accoutrements — no reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, or über-expensive urban industrial ornaments decorate this place. Expect to find yourself surrounded by a hodgepodge of patrons. No matter what time you arrive, you can expect to see whole Spanish-speaking families, leathery sunburnt locals, on-duty cops, and construction workers straight off a job site stuffing spicy foods into their faces. This place is about as real as you get — even if it, somewhat ironically, looks like a scene from the Village People's YMCA.

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