This South Indian restaurant in a strip mall off Oakland Park is 100 percent vegetarian—and also 100 percent delicious. The $9.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is packed with value. Fill up with vegetable medleys, soups, salads, and chutneys. To really explore the variety of the kitchen, it's best to order off the a la carte menu. Dosas (crepes made of rice and lentil batter) are exceptional, with fillings like fresh vegetables, flavorful chutneys, and cottage cheese. Indo-Chinese dishes meld Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques with Indian tastes, as with the baby corn chili and Tofu Manchurian—both standouts. Save room for dessert: homemade mango or pistachio ice cream, or a banana split.

Ravioli? Check. Lasagna? Check. Caprese salad? Check. You can find all the typical Italian-American dishes at Sosta Caffe, but what sets this place apart are the more authentic eats. The family-owned and operated restaurant prepares all of its breads and pastas fresh daily. In the mornings, this rustic and homey café serves homemade pastries and Italian bagels known as taralli—savory bread seasoned with black pepper, hot red pepper, fennel, or anise seeds. Come lunch, try a panini or piadini (Italian flatbread) sandwich like the Toscano, a blend of herb-flecked chicken oreganato with fontina cheese, arugula, tomato, and a freshly whipped olive mayonnaise. For dinner, try the Ravioli Duo ($16.99): a few homemade three-cheese ravioli in a rich Alfredo sauce served beneath a braised beef bolognese sauce. And then there's always chef Maria's Italian meatloaf, her mother's recipe. Known in Italian as polpettone ($15.99)—a mixture of meats stuffed with a blend of herbs, spinach, cheese, and mortadella—it's delectable hot or cold. The recipe also makes for a stellar ciabatta de polpettone which, with a layer of melted provolone between two freshly baked ciabatta rolls, is perhaps the most flavorful meatball sub you'll ever get your hands on. For dessert, the homemade tiramisu arrives fluffy and decadent, but the Nutella cheesecake steals the show.

Readers' choice: Casa D'Angelo

It's becoming harder and harder to find good Asian food these days, with everyone trying to pull off some French-Filipino fusion nonsense. Luckily, Red Ginger in Coral Springs is still doing its (mostly Chinese) cuisine right. From sushi to comforting traditional entrees (garlic shrimp, $13.50) and perfectly spiced soups ($5), Red Ginger checks all the boxes—and then some. Dishes like the Chirashi Deluxe (bowl of rice mixed with fish, vegetables, and additional ingredients of your choice) make even the pickiest patron feel like they made the right choice. The Japanese wontons and Asian spice spare ribs are favorites of regulars.

For the uninitiated, eating at a Korean restaurant can be overwhelming. There are the barbecue restaurants where you're expected to cook your own meats and fish right at the table, or hot-pot spots where you do the same with a heated bowl of broth. Often the only drink besides water and beer is soju. And then all those tiny dishes come out at once, like tapas gone crazy. One might think, "Oh, I didn't order these!" or "These free appetizers are awesome!" Try Korean Bistro in Hollywood next time. Here, you aren't required to do anything but sit back, relax, and eat. Foods are prepared by a mother and daughter duo and served by a soft-spoken Korean server dressed in a whimsical printed apron. Everything is casual, from the simple décor and K-Pop on the TV to the mismatched plates. Each meal at U-Know begins with the usual arsenal of side dishes—AKA banchan—chosen to balance one another with taste, texture, and color. Try Korean-style steamed eggs and chap chae (long rice noodles and thinly sliced, stir-fried vegetables) or the popular dolt bibimbap (cooked rice with an assortment of vegetables, meat, or tofu topped with an egg and a dollop of hot red pepper paste). Crisp and spicy kimchi will offset anything oily or bland. At the end of your meal, the waitress will arrive with the check and a small, plastic container of sweetened probiotic yogurt known as Yakult for each guest. Don't ask; just drink it.

Gou Lou Cheong Chinese BBQ
Courtesy of Gou Lou Cheong BBQ

Forget Americanized fried rice, orange chicken, and wonton soup. Instead, steer yourself to Gou Lou Cheong BBQ for authentic Chinese dishes like roast duck ($14.95). The founding owner of this small, decade-old takeout spot was once the proprietor and chef for Hong Kong City BBQ in Tamarac, considered one of the area's best dim sum restaurants. Despite Gou Lou Cheong's diminutive size (standing room only), dining here is akin to walking into one of the best spots in New York's Chinatown—or perhaps an eatery in China itself—complete with whole ducks and slabs of pork hanging from the ceiling. Order the Xa Xiu Mat (honey roasted pork, $6.50), and you'll get a styrofoam container filled with slabs of freshly roasted meat served over a bed of rice. A mixture of honey, a five-spice powder, hóngfuru (red fermented bean curd), dark soy sauce, hoisin, and a touch of rice wine stain the meat's exterior layer a deep red, while a touch of malt sugar gives the chasiu its characteristic shiny glaze. A note: The restaurant is closed on Wednesday, and only accepts cash.

Readers' choice: Temple Street Eatery

Finding proper Vietnamese food is a win-lose situation. On one hand, once you've found yourself Vietnamese cuisine done right, sans shortcuts, it's amazing. On the other hand, now you can never have it any other way. Pho Brandon in Sunrise is the one joint that has graciously ruined us forever. Maybe it's their broken rice pork chop platters (which awesomely come with two chicken wings on the side). Maybe it's their top notch pho. Maybe it's their lovely family-style atmosphere. Whatever it is, it works, and it leaves us wanting more. And to boot, Pho Brandon has somehow mastered serving dishes in a speedy fashion, exactly like in Vietnam. Once you order, it feels like just a few minutes before you hear the kitchen bell ring, and there's your food!

Moon Thai & Japanese Restaurant
CandaceWest.com

Most Westerners don't know real Thai food. We think we're adventurous for ordering papaya salad (often made stateside without the nose-turning salty dried shrimp paste known as going haeng) or pad thai (what should be salty and spicy, not sweet, as it usually is here). But Moon Thai will make you forget all those safe Thai joints as it spirits you off to the streets of Bangkok in all its tongue-burning, sinus-clearing glory. Chef-owner Jack Punma has been offering his homeland's staples in a way that is neither fusion-style nor copycat. Take the larp ($12), a dish of finely minced meat or seafood seasoned with lime juice, fish sauce, chili peppers, and Thai basil served with a finely ground toasted rice—a traditional dish Punma had often as a child growing up in Phitsanulok. Likewise, the tom yum goong ($4.50)—a traditional hot-and-sour soup—is a generously herbed broth with the right balance of lemongrass, chili, fish sauce, and kaffir lime, the steaming stock dotted with whole prawns, straw mushrooms, and chopped green onion. It's mouth-puckeringly tart with a powerful, spicy kick, a downright cold-killing concoction. Perhaps the most traditional of all, however, is the mango sticky rice, Thailand's ode to the denouement of mango season. A glutinous, short-grained rice is cooked until it attains a gooey, opaque consistency. Still steaming, it's packed into a dense globe and drenched in a thick layer of coconut milk, then decorated with a rash of toasted sesame seeds.

Agave Taco Bar
CandaceWest.com

Agave Taco Bar owner Ivan Alarcon has a beautiful way of sharing his memories of his native Monterrey, Mexico, through food. Start with the section of the menu dubbed "botanas," Alarcon's version of Mexican small plates, each made to order. It includes the alitas asadas ($10), grilled chicken wings the size of your fist smothered in a tangy sauce Alarcon created from scratch at home. Next, try his "favorites," three dishes he's customized to represent the flavors of his culture. The star here is the sopes del jefe ($7.49), two handcrafted corn cake cups cradling salsa-verde-smothered chicharron mixed with a velvety tuft of refried pinto beans, chopped cilantro, sautéed white onion, crema, and melted queso. In Mexico, however, you won't find menudo available all day, every day. It's typically served on Sundays or as a post-New Year's celebration dish, but you can order it anytime you like here. The blood-red broth is based on Alarcon's grandmother's recipe: beef tripe cut into small pieces and cured in lime for 24 hours before it's cooked for several hours in a three-pepper marinade. The best dish, however, is the signature tacos de trompo ($7.99): slabs of pork seasoned with spices and a blend of chilis that stains the meat a bright, near-fluorescent red. The outer layer, crackling and crispy, is shaved from the spit and often served with a handful of finely chopped onion, cilantro, and a slice or two of fresh pineapple.

Readers' choice: La Bamba

925 Nuevo's Cubano's
Claudia Dawson

When you think of good Cuban food, the first thing that comes to mind usually isn't the parking. However, at the perennially packed 925 Nuevo's Cubano's, it's the first sign of a great meal. The Cuban restaurant only offers four or five parking spots behind the building. That's because the food is literally homemade—the restaurant is actually the front part of the house owner Luis Valdes, Jr. lived in when he was a child. With no other parking on this busy road, you may need to break the law to enjoy an incredible meal. Several cars (including the occasional law enforcement officer's cruiser) usually litter the sidewalk, parked illegally in the quest for a thick café cubano or flaky, spicy beef and chicken empanadas that are made every morning from scratch. Dining in means snagging a barstool out in front of the small kitchen, usually next to a Cuban-American looking for humongous sandwiches loaded with meats on freshly baked Cuban bread that cost about $8. Platters like the Puerco al Horno (Cuban-style roast pork, $10.50) come with traditional salty black beans, rice, and sweet plantains on the side. End your meal with cheesecake flan—rich, New York-style cheesecake topped with the sweet, spongy Cuban dessert.

You could call Captain Charlie's Reef Grill a white whale. Many people will say they've heard about the restaurant and its great seafood. But have they actually been there? Do they know where it is? That's another story. Located in a strip mall on U.S. 1, Captain Charlie's is decorated with a lot of wood; fishing pictures hang on the walls. It's loud, yet friendly. The lines usually stretch out the door to the sister establishment Three Doors Up, where the restaurant offers lunch during the daytime and drinks at night while guests wait for a proper table. The menu, a handwritten photocopy penned anew daily, reads like a glossary of sea creatures: grouper cheeks, pompano, wahoo, and hog snapper. Pasta dishes like the ultrarich Rock Shrimp in a gorgonzola cream sauce or simple, fresh squid ink linguine satisfy any Italian seafood lover. You can watch everything made right behind the bar, where you can usually find owner Ross Matheson chatting with regulars. Prices range from $11 to $30, but Matheson's stories are free.

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