Fast, casual, and delicious — J28 Sandwich Bar is a hot spot to get a bite by the beach and sample some Peruvian fare with American flair. Most South Floridians are familiar with Cuban food, but if you haven't tried a home-cooked meal from Peru, a trip to J28 is an easy way to get your taste buds wet. Established by two friendly brothers, Marco and Javier, this small but inviting restaurant offers pork, beef, and chicken prepared Peruvian style and served on a freshly baked bun. Most popular on the menu is the chicharrón — thick slices of pork belly with pickled onion, mayo, and boiled sweet potato. Munch on the sandwich with a side of roasted corn or potato salad, and wash it down with chicha — a purple maize drink with a touch of pineapple juice and hints of clove and cinnamon. Sure you could go to a Publix or Subway, but why?

Madras Cafe

Indian food is becoming increasingly easy to find. Recently, the first outpost of California-based KASI Indian Food opened in Boca Raton — fast-casual dining à la Chipotle but with a helluva lot more curry. Still, most of the Indian food sold in South Florida — like masalas and tandoori — comes from the country's northern region. Madras Café, however, specializes in southern Indian cuisine like dosa, papdi chaat, and biryani. Recipes from the south use more exotic spices — amchoor (dried mango), saunth (dried ginger), and anardana (crushed pomegranate seeds) — as well as hotter chilies. They also lean vegetarian, with lentils factoring into sambar (a dish tempered with whole spices and chilies), rasam (a hot-sour soup dish), and poppadoms (deep-fried, crispy pancakes). Round out your meal with some sweetness, the most popular dessert being dahi vada (lentil cakes dipped in a mild coriander- and cumin-spiced yogurt) fried into dense doughnuts and paired with the restaurant's syrupy-thick chutneys.

Cafe Martorano
Cafe Martorano

Cafe Martorano is a picture of Staten Island meets New Jersey cool. A black, horseshoe-shaped bar is the focal point of the room, flanked by an open kitchen on one side and a DJ booth on the other. Both booth and stove are the domain of owner Steve Martorano, who likes to spin tunes as much as he likes to make Sunday gravy. The burly cook (he doesn't like to be called "chef") specializes in Italian-American classics: eggplant stack ($23), chicken cacciatore ($34), and bucatini carbonara ($26), all served in oversized portions. The food is tasty and the portions generous, and if you're a transplant from New York or New Jersey, it tastes like home. But it's Martorano who sets this restaurant apart from other Italian joints. The chef's personality is as big as his biceps, and when he's in the room, all eyes are on him. As the evening progresses, so does the decibel level, until you're not sure whether you're in a restaurant or a club in Bensonhurst. You might even get a glimpse of some of Martorano's celebrity friends like Mario Lopez, Tom Jones, and Shaq, who drive and fly in to see the king of the meatball.

Readers' Choice: Casa D' Angelo

Checkers Old Munchen

Sausage, wiener, pretzels with mustard, and beer. Lots and lots of beer. You'll get all this and more at Checkers Old Munchen. The restaurant looks as though you've arrived in the Bavarian capital and serves platters of meat and German beer in giant glass mugs and boots. The small restaurant is lined with beer bottles and decorative steins and anchored by a worn, copper-topped bar. A friendly staff will be eager to pour you a pint of the good stuff, be it hoppy Spaten Pilsner or dark Franziskaner Dunkel. What the place lacks in terms of modernity, it makes up for with plenty of sauerkraut, bratwurst, and spaetzle. With a beer selection that runs more than 60 deep and a kitchen turning out authentic grub, Checkers succeeds in transporting you back to Old Munchen any day of the week.

Toa Toa Chinese Restaurant

This longtime Sunrise eatery has been serving dim sum to Asian and American families in West Broward for more than 25 years. Here, there's no pushcart from which to cull your options. Instead, mark off choices on a small checklist. Your food will arrive a little later — hot and freshly made. Start with pork-filled sticky buns or steamed dumplings stuffed with juicy shrimp. Then move on to shareable platters like steamed mustard greens finished with a squirt of plummy hoisin sauce. Exotic options like chicken feet, duck tongues, and jellyfish salad are available for more adventurous diners. A favorite is the Singapore Noodles, stir-fried, curry-infused rice noodles that arrive in a heaping platter with fat shrimp and strips of red-rimmed pork, stir-fried along with bean sprouts, egg, and onion. The dish pairs perfectly with the restaurant's other dim sum, a collection of dumplings, sautéed greens, and skewered beef. The selection and quality guarantees a packed house on weekends, when the neon "Hong Kong Style Dim Sum" sign lights up in front.

Readers' Choice: Kapow! Noodle Bar

All hibachi restaurants are not created equal. That's incredibly apparent when you step into the Saito's Japanese Steakhouse Coconut Creek location. Nestled inside the rapidly growing Promenade shopping plaza, this Saito's sits in a festive spot surrounded by lots of postmeal entertainment choices. Saito's offers the traditional live hibachi experience, a children's hibachi, and a vibrant bar with top-shelf choices that would make a South Beach restaurant jealous. Amazing chefs put on performances that go beyond the average hibachi routine. Saito's is known for tender steak cuts and sushi options that are out of this world.

Gabose Pocha

In one mile-long stretch of University Drive, you can sample some of South Florida's best banchan, cook your own eats on a tabletop grill, and score a giant jar of kimchi. Best-known among the cluster of Korean eateries here is Gabose, a 14-year-old landmark and the final foray in a series of establishments opened by James Soonkuk Hong and Eunsuk Hong. Today, the restaurant is run by their daughter and her husband, Susan and Fred Kim, who recently opened Gabose Pocha next door. Pocha is Susan's interpretation of a Korean pojangmacha — dubbed pocha for short — a reference to makeshift tents that serve nothing but grilled meats and the country's popular rice liquor, soju. Today, the pocha is a sort of Korean gastropub. Servers converse softly in Korean; a fish tank housing live sea snails gurgles near the exposed kitchen; and Hyuna, a spunky Korean pop singer, croons from the speakers. Start with a shrub, a Korean cocktail made from fermented fruit, vinegar, and soju — a distilled rice liquor more reminiscent of vodka than sake. Specials sometimes include fresh catches straight from Korea, like nakji (octopus), abalone, and sea cucumber. The rest of the menu is known as anju — a series of small plates meant to be eaten with plenty of liquor. Each is exotic and unfamiliar and requires some explaining. If you're feeling adventurous, beef intestine and chicken gizzard are racy options. Or try the gol bangee, a spicy escargot salad with carrot, cucumber, and cabbage slaw dressed in a pasty-thick sriracha-style sauce.

Tamarind Asian Grill and Sushi Bar
Liz Dzuro

From Chiangmai special noodle soup to spice-packed curries, Thai food is a complicated choreography of ingredients like fish sauce, dried shrimp paste, and lemongrass combined with seemingly incongruous spices such as coriander and cinnamon. The best chefs tame the full spectrum of flavors into a single, harmonious finish. At Tamarind Asian Grill and Sushi Bar, that balance has been achieved by owner Khruawan Russmetes, a Thailand native well-versed in her country's cuisine. The tamarind at the front of the property — the flowering fruit tree used in cooking across southeast Asia — she planted herself after opening in 2001. Enormous fish-based platters include a crispy whole snapper, served at market price. The sushi menu offers more than 20 specialty rolls, including the house favorite, Tom's Dream Roll, named for longtime sushi chef Tom Nanongkhai. A few dishes vie for the title of most original, including Russmetes' Thai fries: cuts of boniato (a type of sweet potato) rolled in coconut flour and flash-fried.

We do miss the intrigue of this spot's first incarnation, tucked away in a little warren of commercial spaces in an anonymous office building on Federal Highway, around the corner from its current home. But while the atmosphere is less exotic, the service remains lovely, and the food has lost no flair. The pho — baseline marker in the evaluation of any Vietnamese kitchen — is impeccable, a glistening and delicate herbal broth rich with fine noodles and meats. The banh mi is first-rate, a crispy baguette piled with veggies and roast meats. The lemongrass dishes are peppery and pungent. The wide-ranging menu includes gluten-free and vegetarian dishes. Finish it off with bracing/sweet/syrupy Vietnamese iced coffee or bubble tea.

Can you afford to eat sushi every day? At Kevin's Sushi & Thai in Deerfield Beach, you can. Named for chef-owner Kevin Ongtua, this spot is tucked into yet another aging South Florida strip mall. Regulars have done a good job of keeping quiet about this sleeper sushi spot. They don't want you taking their seat at the sushi bar, ordering all the uni, or drinking up the last of the house pineapple-infused sake. Behind the sushi bar, the chef-owner prepares the restaurant's most impressive menu items: enormous sushi rolls the size of sand dollars. A rainbow roll that could probably feed a family of four is only ten bucks; a godzilla roll, $16. A whiteboard advertises specials, in Ongtua's handwriting, like frog legs, uni, and bluefin toro. The small kitchen also cranks out the standards, like homemade tom kha gai soup, or platters of seared wahoo tataki, thick cuts of fresh-sliced fish. Ongtua also makes his own pineapple-infused sake.

Readers' Choice: Tee Jay Thai Sushi

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of