Grilled Cheese Gallery

Back in the day, moms made grilled cheese sandwiches as a simple treat: butter slathered on white bread with a couple of Kraft singles. Did you bite right in, pulling it apart to see the cheese stretch, or dunk it in a piping hot bowl of tomato soup? Nowadays, restaurants like the Grilled Cheese Gallery serve up cheesy goodness with a modern twist. Grab a seat at this 5-month-old Northwood diner and listen to Motown while chowing down on 13 comfort food creations. Order the Chesterfield for a traditional cheddar-on-white with tangy BBQ pulled pork and sweet caramelized onions. The Mac Daddy includes macaroni. Other gourmet grillers include lobster, sterling hanger steak, prosciutto, and even tofu. But there's always the Classic, a simple cheddar on hearty white. For you dippers out there, feel free to add a side of tomato basil soup.

Spanky's Cheesesteak Factory

Spanky's Cheesesteak Factory is a little rough around the edges. There's a bit of a hole-in-the-wall vibe. Two booths sport Pittsburgh Steelers black-and-yellow pleather seats with rips and tears in them. NFL ceiling fans spin above to circulate the smell of meat sizzling on the grill. The staff is friendly but straightforward, with notable accents. And all of this wondrousness is what makes Spanky's so popular. Of course, the Philly cheesesteak is the real draw here. The classic Philly comes with finely chopped steak, onions, mushrooms, hot peppers, and creamy, melted American cheese. You can also try it with chicken or sausage. Want to change it up? Try the Reuben Philly loaded with lean corned beef, Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut. Or substitute the Philadelphia hoagie bread for Texas toast. There are plenty of items on the menu for under $11, so getting your Philly fix is cheaper than buying a plane ticket.

The strip mall location is simple and unassuming, and memorabilia from Chicago sports teams fills the wall space. No frills. Nothing fancy. Just good, old-fashioned dogs—with spicy mustard, onions, pickled tomatoes, sport peppers, celery salt, and neon-green dill relish, the signature toppings for any Chicago street dog. The dogs are usually cooked up by Howie himself, a man who grew up on the north side of Chicago and knew since seventh grade that he wanted to serve hot dogs as a career. He offers a few variations: the $3.49 New York(-ish) dog, which the menu admits is "not a real NY Dog; we are a Chicago place." The Chicago Italian beef ($6.49) can be topped with either sweet or hot giardiniera (Italian pickled veggies). The Just Make Me Something ($9.99) comes with a side and a drink, but no special requests. Howie will also officiate your nuptials for a mere $36. Yes, that's actually on the menu.

Readers' choice: Hot Dog Heaven

Burgers & Suds
Nicole Danna

Some restaurants specialize in giant patties. Others prize fancy meat blends. And some source buns that can stand up to all that fatty, juicy, meaty glory. You'll find all of the above and more at Burgers & Suds in Pompano Beach. Here, owner Curtis Deckman has composed an impressive menu of half-pound, charbroiled burgers. A special blend of meat is ground fresh each day by a local butcher, and brioche-based buns from a nearby baker are dense and doughy. The menu offers more than 20 specialty selections, most named for either notorious criminals or Deckman's friends and family members. There's the Escobar, a patty topped with blue cheese crumbles, hot sauce, and blue cheese dressing, a nod to drug lord Pablo Escobar. Or there's the Ponzi scheme-inspired (Scott) Rothstein burger, a satisfying combo of Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. Not everyone is a bad guy, however. One of Deckman's first menu items—the mac-and-cheese- and bacon-topped Wilson burger—is named after his landlord. And Ray's Rodeo Burger—a patty layered with barbecue sauce, pepper jack cheese, bacon, and an oversized hand battered onion ring—is his dad's favorite combination. A longtime favorite, however, is the Smuggler, a breakfast-style take with American cheese, hash browns, maple syrup, and a single perfectly fried egg. Each of the bar's 24 gourmet burger creations is fantastically priced for less than $10 and can be washed down with a cold pint of one of the bar's 20 craft beers on tap.

Readers' choice: Farmer's Table

Green Bar & Kitchen
CandaceWest.com

Forget best veggie burger, singular. This Fort Lauderdale vegan restaurant might have the five best veggie burgers in town, all ranging from $10 to $12. The GBK Deluxe is the most traditional, made of mashed brown rice, quinoa, chickpea, roasted vegetables, sunflower seeds, and garlic. The coconut burger is the most exotic, with a base of coconut, barley, lentils, lemon juice, and porcini mushrooms. The Smokehouse Burger has a little kick, and the Seattle Burger is satisfying, but the gold medal winner has to be the Rustic Burger. This gluten-free concoction is made up of roasted sweet potato, garlic, onion, pecans, and kale, topped with lettuce, tomato, and vegan chipotle mayo.

Pincho Factory
CandaceWest.com

The Pincho Factory is best-known for its Latin-inspired burgers, but it is also a bastion for any self-respecting, fry-loving foodie. Orange-golden tater tots ($4.49)—nuggets of creamy mashed sweet potato—arrive with a side of gooey homemade apple butter. Fried discs of golden tostones ($3.49) are sprinkled with salt and served with a garlic aioli. There are even chocolate-covered fries drowned in a liquid milk chocolate glaze with a halo of powdered sugar. Most popular, though, are the plain shoestring fries ($2.99), each batch rolled in the chef's own ranch seasoning before they're fried to order in peanut oil. Chef and co-owner Nedal Ahmad has added new creations over the years, including the now-popular Cajun fries: shoestrings loaded with grilled onions, a robust Cajun seasoning, and a hefty dose of the restaurant's own mayo-ketchup combo dubbed "pink flamingo sauce." It just doesn't get more Florida than that.

Readers' choice: BurgerFi

El Guanaco Taqueria y Antojitos
John Linn

Americans love their Mexican fare, but many are no longer satisfied with Americanized Tex-Mex, so the search is on for something better. How about a little Salvadoran flair? El Guanaco in Oakland Park offers just such a blending. On this meat-centric menu you'll find plenty of classic street tacos, but you'll also find papusas—thick corn tortillas handmade in the Salvadoran style. The toppings here are familiar to Mexican lovers, but with twists, like fried yucca, sweet corn, and Salvadoran sour cream. Go for the carnitas, made with juicy, succulent meat, slow cooked in its own fat before being grilled for a crispy finish. And don't leave without trying the housemade horchata.

Readers' choice: Rocco's Tacos & Tequila Bar

Chini's Burritos
John Linn

There are plenty of places serving burritos these days, from big chains to local Mexican restaurants with professionally trained chefs who use the word "authentic" a lot. But for most Americans, a burrito should be an indulgence—and it should be big. Try Chini's Burritos. This family-run spot serves monster-sized burritos to the hungry people of Coral Springs, and it does so without any pretensions of authenticity and, ironically, plenty of actual authenticity. You will most likely be greeted by Mama as you walk in. The menu is not vast, but it is simple and straightforward. We recommend you go for the wet burrito. It's all the belly bomb massive glory of the Chini's original, stuffed with your choice of a half pound of steak, shredded chicken, or ground beef and pinto beans, yellow rice, sour cream, and cheese—and then smothered in your choice of salsa. You will need napkins, many of them, and then a nap.

Readers' choice: Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar

Carlos & Pepe's

Avocado, that art from heaven,

Hallowed be thy paste.

Guacamole, yum!

I will have some.

But only at Carlos & Pepe's.

Give us a small ($7.75)—no, large ($10) instead —

and deliver it in a tortilla.

As we indulge those blessed enough to eat with us.

For thine is the freshest,

And the holiest

Guacamole.

Dig in.

The combination of crunchy romaine, tomatoes, and salty Kalamata olives, all bound together with the bite of a vinaigrette and the smoothness of feta cheese crumbles, just seems to go with our tropical surroundings. There are plenty of spots doing justice to such a salad, but Sazio in downtown Delray has got one up on them all with its Mediterranean salad. For a lot of spots, the often optional piece of chicken you can order to top almost any salad is pretty much an afterthought. Bland and tasteless, it flops on top of the otherwise coherent salad with no relevance other than providing protein. But at Sazio, the chicken is just as well-thought-out and expertly prepared as every other dish. On the Mediterranean salad, it's specifically served blackened so as not to get lost among the many other strong elements competing for your attention. And make no mistake—with or without the chicken, this salad is a meal. At the end you will be full and pleasantly overwhelmed by the zing of vinegar and peppers.

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