Mai-Kai
CandaceWest.com

One day many, many years ago, two brothers set out for a vacation in the Polynesian Islands, where they found a small tiki idol and decided to take it back home as a souvenir. Once back in Fort Lauderdale, the tiki idol spoke to them. It said it missed its homeland — especially the fantastic rum-based cocktails. The idol told the brothers that if they built him a fabulous bar, he would share his drink recipes with them. The brothers agreed and named the palace after the god. And so Mai-Kai was born. Every day, the tiki god is celebrated by a ritual called "happy hour," wherein 57 of the tiki god's own recipes are half-priced before 7 p.m. Who doesn't love a menu where the cocktails are divided into mild, medium, and strong? The Mara-Amu ($13.50) is a blend of rums and fresh fruit juices served in your own tiki that you can take home. Try the Black Magic ($14), a potent concoction of dark rums, tropical fruit, and coffee. All are served by pretty girls in sarongs and bikini tops. If you haven't been to Mai-Kai in a while, it's time to go back. If you've never been — for shame. It's time to pay homage to the tiki gods... and a slice of living history.

The Seafood Bar at the Breakers Hotel

Like a smooth, potent piña colada dream, the Seafood Bar's pineapple-infused martini ($12.50) is a tropical delight. The oceanfront establishment is known for fruity vodka infusions — and it's a well-deserved reputation. While bartenders marry kiwi, strawberry, oranges, and other sweet treats with the clear spirit, it's the pineapple that packs a punch in this cocktail. First, fresh-cut pineapple steeps slowly (two to two-and-a-half weeks) in a vodka bath; then it's paired with coconutty Malibu rum and pineapple juice. The icing on this tropical cake is the drunken pineapple pieces. So sit under the open-beam ceilings and sip your fruity concoction. Gaze out at the water. Watch as brightly colored fish weave their way through coral right underneath your cocktail napkin (yes, the bar top is also an aquarium). This is a little piece of South Florida heaven. It's what millionaires' dreams are made of, at a price your average joe can afford — every once in a while.

The Coffee District

Some local purveyors of craft beer may offer more draft selections; others may offer more bottles than the 150 microbrews here; but what this bar/coffee shop/café offers is a well-curated mix. The tap list changes often and may include anything from Ballast Point's Victory at Sea barrel-aged imperial porter to Dogfish Head's potent 120 Minute IPA to any number of Florida-born-and-bred brews. The beer geeks at this watering hole have friends in high places, often getting their hoppy little mitts on kegs that escape the grasps of dozens of other well-connected crafthounds in the region. Oh, and they like to share.

Wine Watch
Tabatha Mudra

Wine. It's both the nectar of the gods and a royal pain in the neck. If your idea of a good wine is whatever's the supermarket twofer, then you need gentle education. Wine Watch gives you just that. Sure, the selection is intimidating at first — look at all the labels! Some of them aren't even in English! Plus what the hell's the difference between a Cabernet and a Rioja, anyway? With thousands of wines to choose from, how are you going to know which goes with the leftover pizza in the fridge and which pairs nicely with a pint of Ben & Jerry's and half a tuna sandwich? Let the staff at Wine Watch choose for you. They'll help without a hint of snobbiness. Better yet? Take one of a few weekly tastings and for about $35, you'll be a wine expert by the end of the evening. Wine is easy when you get the hang of it.

The Wine Dive
Courtesy Photo

Is it a dive? Not at all. Is there wine? Plenty — 40 reds and 20 whites by the glass, dispensed by the ounce from a sophisticated Enomatic dispenser system where argon — a noble gas — keeps open bottles good for more than 30 days. The result is an impressive array of vino in a casual-chic setting from nearby Roxy's Pub owner John Webb. The slogan "Not So Snooty" is proudly proclaimed on servers' T-shirts. That means you'll never feel out of place, underdressed, or pressured to order an expensive wine. The technology keeps bottles fresh, meaning you can sample just a two-ounce tasting until you find the perfect mate for your plate. Also be prepared for what comes out of the kitchen — "American tapas" like the fried chicken for two served with a Tabasco-honey mustard slaw. There's live jazz on Thursday and Friday, and brunch Saturday and Sunday offers bottomless bloody marys for $10.

Padrino's

In 1930s Cuba, the Padrino family opened its first establishment, a small food market and winery with a storefront that doubled as a meeting spot for locals to visit and catch up on the latest news. Family members relocated to the U.S. in the late 1960s and opened their first restaurant in Hialeah in 1976, offering the neighborhood a taste of the same recipes they cooked in Cuba. Since then, they've opened Padrino's locations in Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Boca Raton, and, most recently, Orlando. Today, the family's son Mario, alongside his wife, Nayade, continues to serve treats like spicy beef-stuffed picadillo empanadas with fresh guava chutney, pulled pork and grilled onion lechon asado sandwiches, and higados de pollo, chicken livers seasoned in spices. Keep an eye out for the pig roast the second weekend of every month — a nod to Cuban tradition.

Donna's Restaurant

One of the best things about living in Florida is "Floribbean" fare, brought to us by a wide variety of hole-in-the-wall spots where bargain-deal dishes are influenced by immigrants from all over the Caribbean — Haitians, Bahamians, Jamaicans, and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. No matter the island, traditional dishes share some common ingredients, most notably goat, chicken, conch, and shrimp paired with cassava, okra, mango, rice, pea, bell pepper, coconut, and plantains. If you love akee fruit and salt fish, okra-heavy callaloo, or jerk-spiced meats, there is no place better to try them all than at Donna's Restaurant and Lounge. Owner Karl Gordon opened this establishment — one of several Caribbean-themed restaurants of the same name — six years ago in Lauderhill, an area known today for its heavy concentration of Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine. The prices are good, and portions are large. And if you're craving a taste of some truly amazing jerk chicken or an authentic curry goat, here both are served as a daily lunch special Monday through Friday for just $4.99. That includes rice and peas and salad.

Ambry Restaurant

The Ambry is a charming little gem located along the stretch of Commercial Boulevard leading up to the Intracoastal Waterway. Opened in 1981, it harkens back to a time when South Florida truly catered to retirees — because there wasn't anyone else to cater to. This is not to suggest that the Ambry is in any way outdated or past its prime. From the outside, the Ambry looks like a tiny brick castle squeezed between two office buildings. Inside, smells of sauerbraten, red cabbage, and goulash perfume the air. This is certainly no place to take a vegetarian on a first date, but if your sweetie is a carnivore, she will be impressed. The staff is busy but friendly, like your mom running around trying to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table. There are steins and other bits of Bavarian nostalgia on every wall and surface. And the aforementioned food is outstanding. They offer a decent selection of German beers, with Tucher the star of the menu. Desserts include black forest cake and apfelkuecherl (kind of like apple strudel). The menu certainly holds no surprises — it's traditional German fare all the way — but there is nothing to be disappointed by, either.

You know those scenes in western movies — the outsider steps through the doors of the saloon and music comes to a screeching halt? That's almost the sensation when you walk into Lauderhill's Blue Mountain Restaurant. If you're not a regular, the old Jamaican guys at the bar might turn around and give you a curious look. With poker machines, a stage, a DJ booth, and just a few tables, the spot has the air of a secret meeting place. There's no printed menu, but eight bucks gets you a small plate of curry goat, brown stew chicken, curry chicken, jerk chicken, jerk pork, or oxtail with peas and rice and a salad. And trust us, this jerk's for real.

Cielito Lindo

Authentic Mexican? Maybe not, but Tex-Mex, or Florida-Mex, for that matter, has a legitimate place in the Hall of Foodie Fame for its undeniable deliciousness. Cielito Lindo's got those eats down, from guacamole and spinach queso dip to sizzling steak fajitas and cheese-smothered enchiladas. Colorful sombreros and Mexican blankets adorn the walls. It's folksy with a side of charming. The menu offers Spanish selections too, but let's face it — South Floridians need more Mexican food in their lives. Try the massive El Grande Burro ($14) — beef or chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese all bundled up in a flour tortilla and topped with cheese and guac and slathered in sauce. Or opt for the ropa viejo, shredded beef simmered with peppers, tomatoes, onions, wine, and savory spices ($11). So roll on up, sip a margarita with salt, nosh on chips and salsa, and bemoan the fact that there aren't more local places like this to add a little extra padding to your waistline.

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