An outstanding barista possesses all the skills you'd expect in a top-notch bartender: sense of humor, gift of gab, willing ear, and flair for mixology. But a barista does so while manning a scalding espresso machine. Shaven-headed and occasionally goateed, Franklin can quickly turn the first-time patron into a regular by recalling a drink or a name or some other personal minutiae on a follow-up visit. He has a knack for drawing together strangers in line awaiting drinks by handing them a topic to kick around. He can regale you with the tales behind the dozen-or-so concussions he's received in his life, a few of which are certainly worth the price of a cappuccino. Eventually, he might tell you about how he once cajoled a Two Street regular into brewing up a pot of Scandinavian "egg coffee" on the premises. Of course, let's not forget Franklin's commission behind the counter in the first place: to deliver caffeine treats. In this, he's scrupulous, so don't be surprised if he dumps out a shot of espresso that he judges to have come out not quite right.
Lindburgers
Christina Mendenhall
It's hard for a place that offers 50-plus burgers to displease. After all, if a customer doesn't like the taco, teriyaki, or turkey burger, he or she can always go further afield and sample something like the sea burger (barnaise and seafood salad). But even more important than not going wrong is going raw, which is the easiest way to prove the quality of the product here. Indeed, only a supremely confident burger joint would offer a tartare burger -- seven ounces of raw sirloin mixed with raw egg and served with toast points. Match a burger, raw or cooked, with a basket filled with deep-fried onion rings or sweet potato fries and you'll see why Lindburgers does the lindy around the competition.
Age-old question: What makes a hot dog great: the meat, the bun, or the toppings? Those of us who won't settle say you need all three to be truly satisfied. That's why we don't hesitate and aim right for the "Big Italian." A half-pound of all-beef dog is grilled, slapped on a ten-inch-long ciabattini (grinder bun), then smothered with sauted potatoes, peppers, and onions. The counterpoint of textures, from crisp skin to toothy potatoes, the medley of flavors from spiced beef to bell pepper, the lingering indigestion that brings a warm feeling to your heart all night long -- you couldn't score better from a pushcart on the streets of Little Italy during the San Gennaro festival while quoting Moonstruck and waving an Italian flag. You prefer the dogs somewhere else? Snap out of it!
Argentango Grill
Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson ruined this category for us recently when he proposed punishing the homeland of Balzac, Renoir, and Moliere by renaming the fried potato. Responding to the French preference for conversation over ammunition in Iraq, this loon actually suggested terming spuds "freedom fries." In an effort to punish the frogophobe, we disqualified all Palm Beach restaurants from this category. Instead, we looked to Hollywood, where ragtag antiwar demonstrations were a staple of the spring. Argentango, the best of the bunch there, offers two kinds: regular and Provençal. The regular ones are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and go for $3.50. The Provençal types cost $4 and are sauted with garlic, parsley, and olive oil. The true epicure can skip the ketchup and add chimichurri, an Argentine steak sauce that includes lemon and garlic. Sure, the cost is steep compared to street-corner fast-food shacks, but Argentango's insistence on providing a full place setting for a mere side order of fries makes the extra couple of bucks a worthwhile investment. And though it can take 15 minutes to get the little papitas out of the kitchen, you won't regret visiting. At McDonald's, you can't drink Bud Lite while watching Jennifer Lopez dance half-naked on television.
T-Mex Cantina
Call it the college fix if you have to. But there's really no better remedy for anything ranging from depression to overindulgence -- except the freshman 15, of course -- than the San Loco taco. Whether you go for soft or hard, request chicken or beef, ask for it vegetarian or lacto-ovo, it doesn't really matter. The secrets are in the freshly made ingredients and the assembly, which is darn near perfect every time. And that's just the basic versions. Slap a soft shell filled with guacamole around a hard corn shell taco and you've got yourself a guaco loco -- Prozac, Pepto, and pure gustatory pleasure, all folded up in one.
It's easy to forget that fast-food-created image of a hand-held burrito filled with some greasy attempt at meat when you sit down to the ones at La Bamba. Here, they're swimming in sauces, including the earthy ranchera or the slightly sweet green tomatillo. They're stuffed with carefully marinated beef, chicken, or hearty chunks of crab meat. And most noticeably different, the five burritos on La Bamba's massive Spanish and Mexican menu are the size of a small Chihuahua (the dog, not the state). They're served with refried beans and yellow rice -- which, here, is packed with the flavor of garlic and onions. The lunch burrito special (imagine the size of a Chihuahua pup) rings in at just $6.50 -- and should make those fast-food varieties obsolete.
Yeah, we know his products are everywhere, from airport terminals to frozen food sections in supermarkets. But truth is, Wolfgang Puck is the granddaddy of the designer pizza, and his signature, wood-fired pies -- those made in his restaurants and cafs, that is -- never disappoint. That's because, from a global perspective, there's something for everyone: Thai chicken pizza with sauted bok choy, chili-peanut sauce, and cilantro; a "BLTA" version with applewood bacon, romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, and avocado; and the famed smoked salmon-dill-creme fraiche combo. Traditionalists looking for New York-style pizza can be just as satisfied with the classic Margherita, pepperoni, or the "mushroom-mushroom" pie. Given his worldwide success, no doubt we're not the only ones to appreciate Puck's well-rounded talents.
Primanti Brothers Pizza
Two ways to enjoy a slice of New York-style pizza -- fresh out of the oven the first time around, and fresh out of the oven the second time. Many of us who grew up near that venerable town prefer it the latter way, as reheating tends to give the crust a firmer edge and bottom and the tomato sauce more chance to meld with the cheese. The Primantis have the method as down-pat as a Soprano frisking a rival Mafia gang member. Any time of day or night, bunches of pies hang out in the shop, waiting for customers to point out the perfectly aged piece for another embrace of wood-fired heat. And if you don't believe the results are as good as we say, we've got blisters on the roofs of our mouths that prove it.
Let's list the individual ingredients in the roasted chicken sandwich: chicken (of course), pesto, roasted peppers, sliced tomato, and arugula. Sounds pretty tasty. You could assemble all those ingredients on two slices of bread and have a pretty good sandwich yourself. At Gran Forno, though, the sandwiches vault somehow from pretty good to great. Partly it's the bread onto which these ingredients are layered -- fresh-baked ciabatta, one of many breads Gran Forno bakes daily. Ciabatta offers a satisfying combination of good crunch on the outside and a feathery-soft interior. But it's also the proportion -- of chicken to tomato to pesto to roasted peppers. There's none of that gargantuan piling-on that Americans savor, not so much for the flavor as for the feeling that they possess more sandwich than they can eat comfortably. There's a sense of rightness, of pleasure in limits at work here that causes the ingredients to meld together into a greater oneness of sandwich than any ordinary mortal can obtain. That's why people line up to buy them on the weekends.
Sushi Blues Café and Blue Monk Lounge
Surrounded by water that's chock-full of fishies, South Florida has basically two kinds of restaurants: seafood and other. So it stands to reason that we eat a lot of sushi. Once the bastion of the brave, sushi bars are now nearly as American as hamburger stands -- only wimps and wussies are afraid of chowing down on a little raw fish sittin' on a ball of vinegared rice. So, we've selected Sushi Blues because it's not for the ramen rookie, gari greenhorn, nigiri neophyte, nori novice, or temaki tenderfoot. Once you've mastered the beginning levels of the sushi/sashimi maze, the nothing-if-not eclectic Sushi Blues is ready to take you higher. Kenny Millions, the jazz trumpeter who also runs Sushi Jazz down the street, has messed with the menu here, adding odd items like filet mignon tataki in chardonnay wasabi, weird rolls (barbecued eel with... papaya?) that you won't even hear of anywhere else, plus wonderful (and hard-to-find!) unfiltered sake -- slightly sweet and milky-white, with a faint ester of banana -- the perfect accompaniment to Sushi Blues' slightly adventurous fare. So raise the bar, raise your chopsticks, and accept Sushi Blues' challenge.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®