Smoke BBQ

You can separate a good barbecue restaurant from the bad by its ribs. The meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender and have the perfect mix of smoky flavor and charred goodness. A newcomer to the South Florida scene but boasting a chef with decades' worth of competitive barbecue under his belt, Smoke in Delray Beach serves some of the tastiest ribs around. Pork spare ribs and beef ribs are smoked over low heat for hours, permeating the meat with a soft smoky essence and melting away fat for a rich flavor and unforgettable char crust. The key to rib heaven, says executive chef Bryan Tyrell, begins with good product. Tyrell sources the same thick slabs of pork and beef he once cooked at Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City. Next, the product must be prepped and seasoned just right, trimmed properly, and given the Smoke house blend of sugar and spices that imparts each rib with a sweet-tart tang. Last, the ribs are smoked low and slow for up to four hours over oak logs in a custom-order pit made in Missouri. You probably won't need them, but the restaurant offers several sauces to dip into, including a thick Kansas City-style red; tangy, vinegar-based Carolina BBQ; and a mild golden mustard sauce. When you're done, there won't be anything left but a pile of bones — and the need for a few dozen wet wipes.

Hailing from Mexico City, Los Tacos chef-owner Omar Covarrubias was once hailed as an "ambassador of Mexican cuisine" by the New York Times, has served as executive chef for the Mexican president, received the National Award as Latino Chef of the Year at Flavors of Passion in 2011, and hosts a weekly cooking show on the Spanish-American network Univisión. Guess you could say he's "authentic." He brings his passion, expertise, and personal cultural background to every dish that emerges from his kitchen. A far cry from the Tex-Mex/Northern Mexican fare most Americans know, Covarrubias' food is influenced by dishes and spices he grew up with in Mexico City. The house-made guacamole has a bit of heat from jalapeño and serrano chilies, diced tomato and sweet white onion, fresh cilantro, and lime juice. And the chips are fried fresh to order from house-made tortillas. If you are seeking authenticity, look no further than this big green bowl of guac.

Taquerias are popping up all over South Florida, prepping handmade soft corn tortillas with pulled pork that's been slow-cooked for hours. It's a wonderful movement that hopefully builds in momentum. That does not mean, however, that the more familiar Americanized Tex-Mex cuisine is bereft of culinary value. Sometimes, just you want a danged giant burrito. You will get this at Señor Burrito, especially if you order the mole verde. Only slightly smaller than a newborn baby, the mole verde is a soft, perfect flour tortilla filled with shredded white chicken breast, and that's it. No, seriously. That's it. It is absolutely smothered in mole verde — literally green mole, rather than the more common black mole, which involves chocolate and cumin and other darker-colored spices. Mole verde is made from tomatillos, herbs like cilantro, and green peppers like jalapeño. It's not particularly spicy here, however. As you cut open the burrito — yes, you will use a knife and fork — it oozes down into the pulled chicken along with the melted cheddar cheese on top. Drag the whole bite through the refried beans before you shovel it into your mouth. It's burrito heaven, and you will need a siesta afterward.

Readers' Choice: La Bamba

Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar
CandaceWest.com

On any given night, the line is out the door at Rok:Brgr, there are more than 100 reservations on OpenTable for Public House, and the newly opened Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar has a two-hour wait. You could say Marc Falsetto, whose JEY Hospitality runs these joints, is a busy man these days. His latest concept to hit SW Second Street in Himmarshee Village is a remake of the district's longtime T-Mex Cantina, which closed its doors last year. Already, the tiny, 1,200-square-foot space is a hit, revamped with a custom mural by Florida graffiti artist Ruben Ubiera and featuring tacos that everyone is talking about. These come as house-made, hand-formed masa tortillas prepared daily and stuffed with prime meats and specially sourced cheeses, $3 to $5 each. Our favorite is the chorizo, house-made Mexican sausage paired with a fried egg in all its runny-yolk glory smothering a pile of potato hash, a garlic aioli, and delicate crumbles of cotija cheese. The crispy shredded pork is the most popular, however: adobe- and chili-rubbed and smothered with the same imported cow's-milk cotija, a thick house crema, vibrant salsa verde, and diced, charred pineapple.

Readers' Choice: Rocco's Tacos

Papa's Raw Bar

Let New Orleans have its gumbo, Kansas City its barbecue, and Los Angeles and New York City their trend-setting concepts. Here in South Florida, we have our own invention: Floribbean, a fusion of island-inspired fare mixed with locally grown tropical fruits and fresh-caught fish. At Papa's Raw Bar in Lighthouse Point, it's what's on the clipboard menu. It was originally intended to be nothing more than a wine and raw bar, but Papa's — run by the same owners as longtime restaurant and fish market Seafood World next door — has transformed into a sort of seafood gastropub. Through nothing more than word of mouth, it has rapidly became a popular hangout for the Lighthouse locals who come for the fresh fish, craft beer, sushi, and creative small plates. But it's the "Most Interesting Tacos" that will catch your eye. Choose from the fresh catch of the day, shrimp, conch, or lobster, and get any of them blackened, grilled, or panko-crusted. What you decide determines the toppings, either a fresh pico de gallo or ripened peach salsa slathered over a bed of raw savoy cabbage and topped off with the chef's chipotle mayo. The fish tacos are the most interesting, of course — moist beer-battered slabs of white flesh tucked into corn tortillas delivered fresh from the Mexican market down the street.

Sukhothai
Tabatha Mudra

Although the name of the green papaya salad ($8.95) might conjure images of a sweet fruit salad, the southeastern Asian delicacy really has more in common with the coleslaw you might find at a good deli or the cabbage salad you might find at a Central American restaurant. Known as som tum in Thailand, the green papaya salad is made of julienned unripened papayas and carrots. At Sukhohai, it is stirred with lime juice, tomato, and ground peanuts. Always refreshing, it is generally spicy but can be made mild and can also, upon request, be prepared vegetarian, without the fish sauce the recipe traditionally calls for.

Buccan
Candace West

Chef-owner Clay Conley, who last year announced he'll be opening a new Italian restaurant in West Palm Beach, recently brought life to yet another lifelong dream, offering hand-crafted baguette sandwiches for a hungry lunch crowd. Dubbed simply the Sandwich Shop at Buccan, the small eatery has become a huge hit, with lines out the door and people ready to scarf down anything coming out of Conley's modest prep area. The 300-square-foot space is nothing more than a storage closet turned four-seat lunch counter in what was once a back room at Buccan, Conley's upscale-casual Palm Beach eatery. The chef goes from wrapping sandwiches by day to prepping for the night at Buccan, all in the span of a few steps. The process begins each night, when staff preps dough for the 130 or so baguettes for the next day's orders. These are baked fresh early each morning and are gone by late afternoon. Many of the ingredients for the menu's two dozen or so hot and cold sandwiches are sourced from Buccan and Conley's other restaurant, Imoto, and are prepared especially for the sandwich shop. For instance: a whole roasted turkey for the turkey club and a homemade pork pâté for the banh mi. Service starts at 11 a.m., and by 3 p.m., they close up shop. Of all the selections, the 48-hour sous-vide short rib ranks among the best, brushed with an apple-based glaze and topped with two-year-aged cheddar and a homemade horseradish sauce. The whole thing is pressed to a melty, hot mess and wrapped in white deli paper. To. Die. For.

Blue Willy's Barbecue
Sara Ventiera

When it comes to slowly smoked meats, few South Floridians know more than Will Banks, owner of Blue Willy's Barbecue in Pompano Beach. Banks learned to cook barbecue from his grandfather, who owned and operated a Texas barbecue shop that opened in the 1950s. At 15, Banks' family moved to New York, but he never stopped barbecuing — first in homemade pits, then a food truck, and now at a permanent restaurant where the scent of smoked meats hangs heavy in the air and leaves you with a delicious fragrance. Wooden picnic benches are set with rolls of paper towels and a trio of sauces. Here, Banks roasts, smokes, and cuts everything right before your eyes, from tender roast chicken to spare ribs and pulled pork and a juicy peppercorn-crusted brisket. The same cut of beef is used to make the best pastrami sandwich in Broward County, via a three-week brining and smoking process.

Readers' Choice: Tom Jenkins BBQ

HotDog-Opolis
Liz Dzuro

Here, you'll get more than a basic, boring wiener. A chalkboard on the wall advertises a dozen or so specialty dogs, everything from the Korean (with homemade kimchi, red onion, and Asian mustard) to the Reuben (with Swiss cheese, kraut, and Thousand Island dressing). Of course, you'll still be able to find all the regular hot-dog toppings like relish, ketchup, and good ol' yellow mustard. But it's the more adventurous options like char-grilled salami sandwiches, smokehouse beef brisket, and gourmet sausages that make this place truly original. Daily specials are always exciting, like the gyro — a lamb hot dog topped with tzatziki and feta cheese. There's even a well-stocked variety of specialty sausages, from duck and pheasant to wild boar, venison, elk, and buffalo — all for less than $6 each. For more familiar options, we still love the classic Chi-town dog, a Vienna footlong that's been dragged through the garden with a slathering of mustard, onion, emerald-green relish, dill pickle, tomato wedges, sport pepper, and a sprinkling of celery salt.

Readers' Choice: Hot Dog Heaven

M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room in Boca Raton is all about doing everything in-house. As at its sister establishment in Islamorada, the restaurant staff smokes and grinds its own meats onsite, cuts and cures its own bacon, and offers house-made sausage and chorizo. Even the condiments — including a mango chipotle ketchup and caraway and beer mustard — are made fresh and from scratch. The menu is a carnivore's dream, offering everything from duck and pickled blueberry sausage to an eight-hour, house-smoked, pulled-pork sandwich. A crowd favorite is the Inside-Out Juicy Lucy Burger, a six-ounce pimento-cheese-and-bacon-stuffed Angus patty topped with cheese, lettuce, and tomato, but we always opt for the "Patti" sandwich, a five-ounce chorizo burger made fresh and ground in-house. It's a monster, topped with American cheese and a lime cilantro aioli. All it needs is a solid side act. We suggest pairing it with the bistro fries, here fried in duck fat for an extra level of flavor.

Readers' Choice: Bull Market

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