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.

Ceviche by the Sea

In Peru, ceviche is typically consumed on the beach; in fact, it's not uncommon to find sand in the bottom of its serving dish. If you're looking to get a legit Peruvian experience, you really should be near the shore (even if you're not actually in the sand). You really should try Ceviche by the Sea. The atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated than what you'll find at an oceanfront picnic — or most Broward Peruvian restaurants, for that matter. The modern décor is comfortable yet somewhat elegant. And the fare is considered Peruvian fusion; presentation is a big part of the experience. Causas ($11 to $17), cold mashed potato cakes topped with sauce and protein, are elevated with ingredients like avocado mousse, sweet potato, and spicy aioli. Ceviche ($15 to $29) is offered with all the spicy dressings, from traditional to aji amarillo to Asian-inspired Nikkei. All the old reliables are served here but prepared with the restaurant's own take: aji de gallina ($11 for lunch), a spicy and creamy chicken dish; chaufa ($11 for lunch), Chinese-style fried rice; and papa a la huancaina ($7), a spicy potato salad made with the national favorite yellow chili.

Coconut's Bahama Grill
Photo by Laiacona Photography & Design courtesy of Coconuts.

Some restaurants are known for great service, others are recognized for outstanding food, and some, well, some just have a great view. Hitting one nail on the head is good, but when it comes to an enjoyable dining experience, it's nice to have it all. This place most certainly does. Located directly on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Coconuts boasts a stunning yet laid-back atmosphere with food that's just as good. The menu is heavy on seafood, but it's a bit more upscale than your average shack on the water; most of the boats tied up to its docks are nicer than your run-of-the-mill dinghy. Think fish tacos ($14), New England-style  lobster rolls ($16), and crab cakes ($26) rather than buckets of things that have been deep-fried in old grease. Options for landlubbers are also present, with tropical-inspired takes on classic American dishes. Danish baby back barbecue ribs are slathered in a chipotle-pineapple barbecue sauce ($22) for a very Floribbean twist.

New York Grilled Cheese

Nothing will take you back to childhood as quickly as a grilled cheese sandwich. Between the greasy Wonder bread and plasticized cheese, it's like pure comfort in one convenient handheld package. As an adult, there are times when you'll wish you could go back to being a kid; you had no responsibility, plenty of fun, and someone to take care of you when your tummy was upset (possibly from the processed ingredients in that sandwich). While they can't help you with most of the above, the friendly staff of New York Grilled Cheese is here to provide warm and fuzzy feelings way into the wee hours of the morning. Open until 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 3 and 4 a.m. the rest of the week, this Wilton Manors spot takes the humble (and kind of boring) grilled cheese sandwich to a whole new level. The Manhattan Grilled Mac 'n' Cheese ($8.50) takes American cheddar cheese and homemade mac 'n' cheese melted between a toasted country loaf for a combination that childhood dreams are made of. The Soho Sweet Cheeses! ($8.50) combines Brie, caramelized onions, crunchy bacon, and berry marmalade on toasted oatmeal wheat bread for an adult version most gourmands only wish they could have conjured on their own. Whether you're just looking for something to cheer you up after a long night or you're in need of some carbs and grease to soak up copious amounts of booze in your belly, this is the ideal place to stuff your face late at night.

Say what you want about the little buggers, but kids know how to have a good time. As you get older, you may develop stronger social skills — you at least learn how to ensure snot isn't hanging from your nose upon leaving the house — but you rarely have an exhilarating time anymore. If you're looking to entertain some little folks or you just want to partake in a little fun yourself, you need to come to this place. Deli Inn offers a classic selection of diner fare, like buttermilk pancakes ($1.99 apiece), ham and cheese omelets ($7.49), country fried steak ($7.79), and a self-proclaimed famous Reuben ($8.39). Kid-friendly enough. But what sets this place apart is the service. Newbies get a free giant muffin their first time in the door, as well as songs, pranks, and a squirt to the face with a pretend camera that's really a water gun. Beat that, Chuck E. Cheese.

Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle
Michael McElroy

"Does Fido want a bowl of water?"

"That would be great, thanks."

"How about a treat?"

"He'd love that."

Your server walks away and comes back with a massive plate of fries. No, it's not good for the dog's digestive system, but how could you deny that happy slobbering face? Don't be surprised if this scene plays out at Tarpon Bend. The restaurant is one of the most animal-friendly you can find — as long as your dog is well-behaved — and many of the servers are just as excited to see your furry friend as they are to receive your tip when you leave. When you're headed out to dinner, no need to leave Fido by his lonesome after you've already left him to his own devices for the workday. Get your four-legged guest a big bowl of water while you sip a beer, nosh on a burger, and watch the happy-hour crowd get its drink on. Who knows? Your little icebreaker might even help you pick up a dinner date.

Hullabaloo

The word "gastropub" was added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in August 2012, nearly a decade after the phenomenon left the shores of Great Britain to take root in the U.S. Hullabaloo is the latest concept from South Florida restaurateur Rodney Mayo. The concept is "craft" everything, from well-picked microbrews, artisanal fare, and boutique wines to handcrafted cocktails. Even the coffee is sourced from Mayo's next-door small-batch roaster, Subculture Coffee. Try some charcuterie, wood-oven fired pizzas, and handmade pastas in the minimalist and clean setting — think New York City loft meets Little Italy. A wood stove is also the heart of the menu. Be sure to snag a spot across from the exposed prep area, which doubles as an intimate chef's tasting area and offers an excellent view of the kitchen at work. The food is best complemented with a handcrafted cocktail, named after a music legend like Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, or Kurt Cobain. Small-batch bourbons, rum, tequila, and gin are paired with house-made bitters, fresh herbs, fruit purée, and exotic spices.

Fresh First
Photo courtesy of Fresh First.

Gluten seems to be in just about everything these days: beer, whiskey, processed food, soy sauce, sausages, deli meat, tea, freaking envelopes... the list goes on. Going gluten-free while eating out is even harder — if you don't stick to plain, undressed salad, you have no idea what you're getting. But here, not one single morsel of gluten is allowed to enter (employees are not even allowed to bring packed lunches for fear of contamination). This is the first place in Fort Lauderdale to earn the recognition of "Great Kitchen" by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and it caters to dietary ailments and restrictions of all kinds; peanuts, corn, and GMOs are also prohibited from entering the premises. Vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians (those who still eat some animal proteins) are all welcome. The mostly organic fare is just as delicious as it is healthy. From raw, vegan zucchini puttanesca ($13.95) to a grilled chicken sandwich ($13.95) to quinoa cupcakes with seasonal fruit jam and goat cheese frosting ($5.25), this gluten-free place is sure to satiate your cravings and keep you safe. Suck it, gluten!

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