Finding the latest foodie hole in the wall can be a point of pride; the more rustic the location, the more accomplished you feel for having found it. Fish Shack in Pompano Beach is well-hidden in a strip of shops just one block east of Federal Highway. The tiny spot is owned and operated by a local family that has been in the seafood business for more than 20 years. This 600-square-foot eatery seats no more than 30, and on a busy afternoon, patrons will cram in elbow to elbow. The drink menu is simple: only iced tea, lemonade, soda, house wines by the glass, Budweiser, and Bud Light. Walls are adorned with fishing net, buoys, and a giant marlin hung between a mahi and a mackerel. The menu will have you salivating: conch fritters and smoked fish dip, cracked conch, oysters, and middleneck clams on the half-shell. Larger plates include First Mate sandwiches that come on soft, oversized kaiser rolls. Choose from grouper and mahi, both of which can be ordered grilled, blackened, or with Cajun spice. The fish and chips entrée is the most popular dish here, but you may never go back after discovering the conch salad, hidden on the back of the menu alongside the caesar and garden salad selections: a large serving chock-full of bite-sized diced conch, pepper, and onion dressed in a sugar-sweetened lime bath that gives it an appealing zing.

Mai-Kai
CandaceWest.com

When you were a kid, you longed for adventure, novelty, and mango ice cream. Mai-Kai Restaurant serves all of that. Built in 1956 and now listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Mai-Kai is like visiting our very own Jungle Island without having to pay its exorbitant prices. This Polynesian restaurant prides itself on waterfalls and tiki sculptures that reflect regions of Polynesia. A kids' menu comes with a lei and a coloring book, most of the fruity drinks can be made virgin, and kids 12 and under even get to watch the twice-nightly dance and fire-spinning show for free.

Casa D'Angelo
Courtesy of Casa D'Angelo

This upscale Italian ristorante, with dual locations in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, has been described as "the closest to dining in Florence anyone will get in Florida." And with more than 30 pages of Italian and American wines, this Wine Spectator-award-winning restaurant is sure to get your lover's juices flowing. Although wine is the aphrodisiac, the food is just as seductive. Beautifully prepared dishes include bistecca alla fiorentina (oak-grilled, dry-aged New York strip steak marinated in olive oil, rosemary, and garlic with sweet Vidalia onions and wild mushrooms) and tuna carpaccio (with arugula, lemon, and olive oil). Chef-owner Angelo Elia offers an array of classy dishes, with courteous service offered in a dimly lit, white-tablecloth setting.

The Breakers Palm Beach
Courtesy of the Breakers Palm Beach

The Breakers is a legendary beachfront resort in Palm Beach. Also legendary is its Sunday brunch at the onsite restaurant the Circle — an opulent affair that's been wowing guests for a quarter of a century. The brunch is less of a meal than a glimpse into what was likely a Wednesday snack for, oh, say France's Sun King. There are mountains of stone crabs, a bounty of pastries still warm from the oven, and rows of carving stations with chefs serving turkey, lamb, and tender pink slices of beef. Salads, pâtés, waffles, omelets — they're all here. This brunch, though, offers refinement to go with your eggs Benedict. Look outward to see the gleaming ocean in all her splendor. Look up and admire the hand-painted ceilings. Listen to the heavenly tones of a harpist as you sip on your fourth mimosa. Of course, nirvana comes at a price: 100 bucks, to be exact. Luckily, the Breakers is special enough that when Mumsy and Pupsy come down for their visit, it's the perfect place to take them for a quintessential taste of elegance. They'll think you're thoughtful... when you're just being really, really clever.

Sure, there are a lot of restaurants that are dog-friendly. Sit on a terrace and your dog will get a pat on the head, a dish of water, maybe even a Milk Bone. But the Nauti Dawg Café is truly dog-obsessed. The restaurant, located at the Lighthouse Point Marina, goes above and beyond to treat Muffy and Chopper like the furry royalty they are. Dogs have their own menu filled with delights — much healthier than having you sneak people food to your pooch. Offerings are grilled without spices, cut into bite-sized pieces, and served tableside in a doggy bowl. Fido can choose four strips of bacon ($3), a six-ounce skirt steak ($6), a chicken breast ($7), or a hot dawg ($4). Take Binky out on the town for Monday's Yappy Hour, when all K9 entrées are half-priced all day. As you and Fido bond over burgers at the quaint waterfront café, know that the only drawback to interspecies dining is the fact that when the check comes, Rover always seems to have left his money in his other collar.

Sublime
Michele Sandberg

Finally, Subway and Burger King offer veggie burgers. But more encouraging is that Sublime exists — a place where you can have a three-course gourmet meal coupled with a cocktail that is entirely vegan. It serves lasagnas, mojitos, pizzas, and mac 'n' cheese all made of plant-based ingredients. The prices aren't cheap, with entrées ranging from $15 for the black bean burger to $21 for the mushroom ravioli, but the ambiance is great. Save room for dessert: No cocoa beans were harmed in the making of that chocolate nirvana cake.

Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar
Candace West

If you pull up to Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar on a Saturday evening, the parking lot will be empty. The lights will be off. And there will be no one waiting for a table. This is not a bad sign, however. The longtime Pompano Beach restaurant hasn't held weekend hours for close to a decade. After 25 years in business, the owners like it that way; the restaurant has garnered such a devout local following that it doesn't need to cash in on a weekend swell. Inside, everything just feels right, from the gaudily bright parrot curtains to the tiki-style thatching hanging over the bar and the nautical bric-a-brac that brands it an official Florida hole in the wall. The seafoodcentric menu hasn't changed much since opening day, featuring a list of starters like cutters (island-speak for sandwich), roti, and specials created by the founding Bahamian owners. The heart of the menu remains conch, which, for the past two decades, is delivered straight from local waters and prepared in the same laborious, time-consuming manner: a rhythmic pounding by large wooden mallets, rendering each pink tongue-like strip of conch meat into tender tidbits. You can order it frittered, fried, or cooked over an open flame, served with a lime wedge and a cup of drawn butter.

Bamboo Fire Cafe

Eating here is like eating at someone's home, where conversation and company are half of the experience. The heart and soul of the place is proprietor Beverly Jacobs, a charismatic woman known for her home-cooked dishes: escovitched tilapia, jerk chicken and pork, and curry golden crab, its sweet legs basking in a pool of spicy brown sauce. (Vegetarians will be psyched to know many of the dishes are vegetable- and fruit-based.) Take your time, soak in the place, and finish with a slice of rum cake so infused with spirits, you'll be breathing fire after each bite.

The Dutch Pot
Photos courtesy of The Dutch Pot Jamaican Restaurant.

According to the restaurant's owners, a Dutch pot is the only way to produce authentic Jamaican cooking. The pot heats up at an even temperature, making the food consistent — and here, consistently awesome. What started in 1998 as a single-burner oven in the backyard has morphed into one of the best — and most inexpensive — eateries around. Here and at the two other locations, lunch specials cost less than $10. That includes a platter of spicy jerk chicken or pork served alongside a pile of rice, peas, and plantains. If jerk isn't your thing, there's also curry goat, akee, catfish, liver and onions, and callaloo. Caribbean-style sides offer a taste of something different, from fritters and boiled bananas to "bammy" — a traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread.

Mario's Catalina Restaurant

Co-owner and chef Mario Flores went to great lengths to create a menu with dishes that combine the best of Spanish and Cuban fare, selections that work to complement each other and highlight both cultures. The restaurant is best-known for its potent mojitos, homemade sangria, tender roast pork, ground-beef empanadas, and hefty corn-scented tamales. The crowd here is lively, and the air is heavy with the scent of garlic, grilled onion, and pepper. Main plates worth traveling for include the red snapper, rolled in ground plantain and topped with a handful of fresh shrimp; an Argentine-style skirt steak; and seafood-stuffed paella. The staff at this Fort Lauderdale spot is as sweet as the grilled plantains, the tres leches dessert, or the tiny cup of Cuban coffee at the end of your meal.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of