OK, so tons of fresh tuna are going through restaurants in seafood-heavy South Florida, and some of the more expensive, elegant spots surely make it as well as it can be done. And some truly great caesar salads are being made out there as well. But both for nine bucks? Uh-uh. Try to get a big, fresh, medium-rare steak of tuna sitting atop a huge pile of fresh romaine lettuce, chopped bacon, and croutons at most places, and they'll charge you at least that and half again. And this is no kiddie salad -- it's a Jethro Bodine bowl. It filled us up, and we're among the manliest men you'll ever see in Broward County. We have big round bellies, hairy backs, thick and furry wrists, knuckles callused from dragging along the ground, and slabs of Angus-like beef stuck to our ribs (well, some of us do, anyway), and that salad beat the hunger out of us. If you feel like a beer and some first-rate seafood at a cut-rate price, go to Flanigan's. Yes, it is a chain and we rarely recommend cookie-cutter restaurants, but Flanigan's warrants an exception, at least the one in Deerfield Beach. (We can't honestly laud all 19 Flanigan's restaurants around South Florida, because we haven't eaten in all of them.) The place, which is located on A1A just a stone's throw from the beach, has an old seafarer's ambiance and great service from people who genuinely seem to like working there. We had two wonderful dinners, an order of conch fritters (also among the best we've ever had), and three or four drafts for about $25. And the tuna, nice and red in the center, virtually melted in our mouths. We're hooked.
Islands in the Pines
Curry goat. Jerk pork. Brown stew chicken. The name Islands in the Pines suggests pan-Caribbean fare, but from the cocktail patties to the bammy to the escovitched kingfish, this unexpectedly wonderful joint speaks deliciously of just one island: Jamaica. Live music adds emphasis, as do brightly colored walls, friendly servers, and an ever-changing array of daily soups. (Watch for the pepper pot.) And while you may want to serve them the tropical punch rather than the rumrunner smoothies, note that pickneys (kids) are welcome here as well and that prices are so affordable you could feed, well, an entire island.
Correct bean-to-meat ratio? Check. Trace amounts of cayenne? Roger. Chunks of ground beef, not minuscule scraps? Oh yeah. Not too tomatoey? But of course. Le Tub is one of those last remaining bastions of true funkiness left in Broward and Palm Beach counties -- rough wood tables, checks and credit cards not accepted, no tap beer -- and the victuals are just as singularly entertaining as the bathroom fixtures used as seats and tables. The chunkified chili is what you're paying for, not the surrounding substrate. (The stuff comes in a Styrofoam container with a plastic spoon.) Order by the cup, bowl, or five-gallon pail and love every bite.
Chinatopia
Downtown Hollywood is far from a perfect world, but it offers at least one culinary ideal. Chinatopia indeed aspires to a vision of perfection; its execution of multiregional Chinese fare comes damn near close to it. Mild Cantonese favorites, including tender steak kew or boneless crispy duck, vie with zestier dishes such as eggplant Szechuan flavor with shredded pork or Hunan triple delight. But no matter the origin of the recipe, you can count on Chinatopia to reproduce it faithfully. In terms of innovation, there are few surprises here, but when you look for the ideal restaurant, consistency is usually the key, and Chinatopia has that in Utopian abundance.
Coffeehouse mania swept much of the country during the 1990s, but, alas, it didn't make much of a dent in South Florida. (No, Starbucks doesn't count.) So local brew hounds found reason to rejoice when Meredith Huhn and Jay Motley opened Barefoot Coffee in November. It has the bona fides caffeine junkies expect. Start with some eclectic furniture: a crescent-moon sofa, brown Naugahyde recliner, and assorted hardwood chairs. Then add monthly rotating displays by local artists, which are also for sale. The recent Knarley Harley's Beach Whimsies exhibit included landscape paintings and fish sculptures made from driftwood, fishing gear, and hammered copper. For further diversion, one can go online at Barefoot for $8 an hour. Huhn or Motley will help electronic novices set up an e-mail account. And of course at the center of it all is that nectar of the java gods -- espresso, latte, cappuccino, and brewed. Barefoot has sidestepped the deli route -- and the interminable lines that ensue -- in favor of a respectable selection of bagels, muffins, brownies, and pastries. And its evening hours make the joint a handy stop before or after taking in a movie at the next-door Gateway Cinema.
Frankly this local restaurateur, who at one time owned 15-plus eateries in the South Florida area, was in something of a slump for a couple of years there. He separated from his wife of almost two decades, broke up with partner Burt Rapoport, and sold off his empire -- Prezzo, Max's Grille, even his flagship Maxaluna -- piece by piece. The boy looked down. But he's taught us never, ever to count him out. Now he's back with Max's Place in Bal Harbour in Miami-Dade County and a brand new place in Manalapan in Palm Beach County called Max's WatersEdge. He even has one of his old executive chefs, Pierre Viau, back behind the stove at latter locale. So keep your pity to yourself. All Max is interested in these days is your appetite.
Sunfish Grill
It's probably no secret that we've been fans of chef-co-proprietor Tony Sindaco since he opened this cool little joint a couple of years ago. What may surprise you is our loyalty -- we still think he's tops. Check out some recent menu offerings: barbecued mahi-mahi and wild-mushroom torta with Jack cheese, mango salsa, and jalapeño sour cream; black grouper with roasted cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, and a coulis of vine tomatoes; seared Maine scallops with Savoy cabbage, warm garlic-bacon potato salad, and cider sauce. You'll note several uniform things about the dishes at Sunfish Grill: Almost every main ingredient is fish or seafood, and without fail all are consistently modern without descending into fusion confusion.
If Cohiba can be considered the Queen Mother of Cuban comfort food, then we're clasped to her big, warm, soft bosom. From her we get our basic nourishment: black beans and rice, fried yuca, chicken noodle soup. From her we draw strength: pounded palomilla steaks, roast pork so tender it brings a quiver to our lips. From her we gain confidence -- or is it sugar? -- along with coconut flan. She gives it to us straight when we need it (just a plain ol' Cuban sandwich) and dresses things up with a flourish when we deserve it (shrimp with mushrooms and brandy). Call us mama's boys and girls if you must. But we're never going to leave her, so you might as well get used to it.

Steak Shop & Deli
If you think, given the name, that this corner delicatessen must serve some awesome steak sandwiches, you're right. Some of the tastiest Philly cheesesteaks originate here, along with other grilled sandwiches such as the steak-and-egg special, chicken Parmesan, or even a Cuban sandwich pressed as beautifully as a shirt. But if you think, given the name, that there's no way you could get a real New York deli sandwich filled with just-fatty-enough corned beef or spicy pastrami, you'd be wrong. The Steak Shop carries those items as well and even has a full Greek complement of gyros and souvlaki, as well as chili-cheese fries, Chicago-style hot dogs, and sausage and peppers. In the end the only assumption you really can make about this deli is that, while it may be all over the map, any direction you go will be correct.
Jack's Hollywood Diner
The stainless steel restaurant is a true classic, having been manufactured in 1953 by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company that was one of the nation's premier eatery makers. Father-and-son team Denis and Steve Grenier bought the place back in 1989 and have steadfastly maintained the diner's throwback vibe. Their main ingredient: a 73-year-old chef named Louie, whose specials include two stuffed mushrooms and two stuffed shrimp for the bargain-basement cost of $8.95. Prices for other victuals range from 94 cents for coffee to $9.95 for fried, broiled, or stuffed jumbo shrimp in four different combination platters. Now Denis is pondering retirement, and Steve is considering a career in law enforcement. Though Jack's is on the market, along with a building next door, that doesn't stop a multitude of coaches, cops, and Québecois from filling this place almost around the clock. (Restaurant hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.) Indeed, even on a weekend morning, you can find five or ten people lighting up cigarettes in true French-Canadian style while they down their eggs and coffee. If you don't smoke, heck, head for the back room, where such unhealthy behavior is prohibited.

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