Johnnie Brown's
Christina Mendenhall
Chicken wings are sort of like political candidates: What the people really want is choice! Good thing Johnnie Brown's in Delray Beach recognizes that. The bar-food haven rose from the ashes of Elwood's just this past December. Since then, it's picked up where the old joint left off, offering good tunes and stick-to-your-ribs eats to go with its wide selection of draft beer. The wings are crisp and well-fried and come in 12 varieties, ranging from mild to hot. For a slower ride, try coating them in garlicky Parmesan or Asian citrus. The more daring can up the ante with ancho-bourbon, Cajun dry rub, or the baddest of the bad, mango-habanero. Unlike the goopy, corn syrup-based sauces at chain wingeries, each of Johnnie Brown's concoctions taste freshly made and big on flavor. And you can even mix them, if you're so inclined. Now that's some real choice.
LOLA Restaurant and Ultra Lounge
This west Delray hot spot entertains throngs of hungry revelers with live music emanating from its bar-side dance floor on Friday nights a week. While the music — mostly contemporary R&B covers — is delivered expertly and with plenty of soul, it serves only as backdrop to the really entertaining part: people-watching. The plush, low-back seats by the bar are prime real estate for cozying up with small plates of wood-fired chicken wings, crisp-crusted pizzas, and light Mediterranean fare, watching the parade as it shuffles by. And what a parade it is: There are well-to-do socialites mingling with Bocahontases on the prowl, cougar hunters looking for a hookup, and captains of industry just surveying the field. Whether acting as voyeur or relishing in being an object of attention, the scene at LOLA is a crazy good time. Just bring your best pair of dancing shoes and some sunglasses to hide behind.
At's-A-Pizza
Pizza is one of dining's great pleasures. Unfortunately, its traditional form is built on a foundation of gluten as its crust. For those who can't eat wheat, At's-A-Pizza provides a tasty and remarkably chewy alternative built with a rice flour crust. For the same price as a gluten-based pie, the wheat-averse can enjoy a pizza crust that has ne'er a hint of the metallic flavor that plagues so many products for the celiac-afflicted. Be it delivery, takeout or eating in, there's no reason for gluten-intolerant folks to hold back from satisfying a normal, human craving for pizza.
Pho Saigon Cuisine
John Linn
No other Vietnamese joint around has mastered the art of banh mi like Saigon Cuisine. That's because, in its previous life, Saigon Cuisine was a humble deli, serving those Vietnamese-style submarine sandwiches by the rickshaw load. But even after upgrading to an expansive, modern dining room replete with a well-equipped stage, Saigon Cuisine still serves the finest banh mi around. Flaky and crisp baguettes are stuffed with carrot, daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeños, and plenty of house-made Asian charcuterie, plus whatever combo of sambal and lemongrass-garlic sauces you deem necessary. In addition to the subs, the place whips out more than 150 authentic Viet dishes. There are shimmering bowls of pho, fragrant with ginger and anise, and bubbling, cauldron-sized hot pots that elicit oohs and aahs when served. Wash it all down with one of the fab smoothies made from soursop, papaya, mango, and more, each studded with chewy tapioca balls ripe for sucking through a fat straw. Yep, Saigon Cuisine lives up to its name and then some.
Tropics
Gustavo Rojas
There is no such thing as stability in the restaurant biz , especially among those restaurants unwilling to change with the times. That's a big part of what makes the three-decade run at Tropics so special. If they've updated their menu, décor, or clientele since the '70s, there's no sign of it. What may be Wilton Manors' eldest gay establishment soldiers on, filling nearly full houses' plates with relatively inexpensive and really excellent steaks, fine cuts of salmon, delicately seared burgers (available only at the bar — try with Gouda), and a classic preparation of osso buco. Tropics' waiters pride themselves on serving the cheapest, strongest drinks on Wilton Drive and on possessing maybe the most dedicated customer base in Broward County. They're probably right on both counts. Tropics brings in the same old queens, night after night, for years and years. They figure: Why go anywhere else?
Fort Lauderdale ain't what it used to be. Take it from us: It used to be funky. There were more diners than fine dining establishments back in the day, and the enclaves of the ancien riche were few and far between. None was lovelier than the lounge atop Pier 66, which rotated every 66 minutes, giving the assembled a panoramic view of Broward County, from downtown Fort La-di-da to downtown Hollywood. Nowadays, the lounge is closed to all but private events, except on Sundays. On Sundays, you can pay $65 for a brunch with unlimited champagne and bloody marys and munch on sushi, foie gras, crab cakes, mushroom tortes, and other utterly unrelated delicacies while taking in a view of "the Venice of America" that gives the title more credence than a street-level view could ever provide. This is what "class" used to look like in Fort Lauderdale. Would that it did, still.
Blue Moon Fish Co. Lauderdale by the Sea
It's no secret that Blue Moon Fish Co. is a more-or-less perfect seafood restaurant with a more-or-less perfect location on the Intracoastal. What's harder to understand is how there is any gainfully employed Floridian who doesn't spend every Sunday morning sitting on Blue Moon's deck for brunch. They serve unlimited entrées! We're talking about salmon strudel! Mahi in vanilla-rum butter! All you can eat! Plus an all-you-can-eat oyster bar with fresh-shucked shrimp and clams. Plus an omelet bar. Plus a bloody mary. This is all for less than $30. Where the hell else can you sit on the water and eat infinite crab cakes for $30? Nowhere.
Mustard Seed Bistro
As far as boutique bistros go, the Mustard Seed is definitely a romantic spot. The dim lights, muted walls, and high-back leather benches ensure as much, as do the hushed service and tinny 1940s jazz tunes buzzing softly from the speakers. But the real love affair is between the owners — handsome power couple Timothy and Lara Boyd — and their customers — a largely female clientele that is thoroughly enraptured with the pair. It's easy to see why. Lara plays the part of elegant host, courting diners from the front of the house with grace and charm. Tim, meanwhile, lets his food do the romancing. He (with help from chef Ernesto Rado) revamps bistro classics and delivers them with a sexy spin, as with his mussels bathed in piquant curry broth or his slow-cooked duck with cherry gastrique. Even at lunch, when the place dresses down for the luncheon crowd, those crisp white plates of tuna niçoise and pressed sandwiches are arranged so smartly as to have those housewives, businesswomen, and cougars alike all moaning in glee.
Tryst
A well-designed restaurant should mean something to everyone who eats there, and that's just what happens at Tryst. The bistro and bar is laid out as mercurially as its menu of eclectic small plates, inexpensive wines, and intriguing craft beer. Inside, the space runs from cool and comforting to chic and sultry. The winding, dark-wood bar glows with candlelight, slipping from the hip checkered foyer to the rustic brick walls in back. There, if you're lucky, you can dine at an ornate marble table with hand-carved, high-back chairs that overlook the whole restaurant. If the weather's good, slip out to Tryst's lush patio. The cool, breezy area is like vanilla to the dining room's chocolate. Out there, wall-mounted fans blow dewy air over white tables framed by tropical palms and tall wooden trellises. It's the perfect spot to sip a cocktail and nosh on olives or charcuterie. Yep, whether you're going for a summer lunch, after-work drinks, or a late-night rendezvous, Tryst is one meeting spot you'll feel comfortable in at any time.
Brew Urban Cafe
It's a majestic coffee shop that also serves wine and beer — perhaps that's why Brew Urban Café is appropriately nestled in the slew of bars of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Tucked behind Tarpon Bend off Second Avenue, silver tables and chairs are planted on the sidewalk — usually filled with folks who can carry conversations. Inside, among the plush chairs and half-moon booths, there's a great mosaic of a coffee-drinking goddess. Indie, local art hangs on the walls courtesy of the art/DJ event Brew hosts each month called Dialect. Be ballsy and try the godzilla: That's 40 grams of protein and four shots of espresso. Or go for the electric shock: That's a vanilla-and-cinnamon-infused espresso, complete with a caramel glaze. Every coffee-shop-goer's dream is fulfilled: free wi-fi and friendly baristas. The microbeer selection includes Dogfish Punk, Stoudt American Pale Ale, and Rogue Dead Guy. Just try to find a Bolshevic Revolution anywhere else. Or, really, just try to stroll into a bar in downtown Fort Lauderdale and get served coffee.

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