Lola's on Harrison

Chef Michael Wagner knows there's more to American classics than chicken wings and turkey dinners. There are potatoes, for instance. And Coke. But what he does with corn dogs and hamburger meat goes well beyond anything your mama would recognize from her recipe-card file: Potato skins at Lola's come in hues of purple, topped with crème fraîche, bacon bits, and a luxurious sprinkling of sturgeon caviar; a corn dog employs Wagyu beef, porcini mushrooms, and homemade sweet bell pepper ketchup; Coca-Cola appears in barbecued beef ribs with buttermilk-battered onion rings and creamed corn. Wagner's turkey dinner is calculated to soothe any metaphysical ache you might have dragged through the door with you, substituting creamy polenta for the usual mashed potatoes, beautifully glazed Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate-sundried cherry gravy that floats the idea of cranberry sauce without that tired trope. Where other chefs offer a less-than-comforting pat on the head with their meatloaf and fried chicken, Wagner's New American cooking feels like a sweeping embrace from some beloved, half-crazy Auntie Mame: Life's a banquet, baby!

La Bonne Crepe

Some people might consider crepes to be glorified pancakes or quesadillas, but at La Bonne Crepe on Las Olas, flat circles of batter are transformed into light and fluffy packaging for cheese, meat, seafood, scrambled eggs, vegetables, and fruit — all cooked to savory or sweet perfection. The restaurant's signature vegetarian crepe includes broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, and ratatouille, all cooked like a stew with garlic, olive oil, and tomato sauce, then wrapped in a warm, crepe blanket. Despite being stuffed with a pile of succulent vegetables and sauce, the crepe magically doesn't get mushy. Same for the crepe hambourgeois with ground sirloin, grilled onion, and Gruyère. If cheese is your thing, La Bonne Crepe has 17 options of crepes with Gruyère. One comes with garlic, butter, escargots, and mushrooms, another with ham and apple compote. A half-dozen options of crepes with chicken, seafood, and scrambled eggs round out the menu. The dessert menu is just as extensive with various fillings of strawberries, bananas, ice cream, sugar, and chocolate. For something with a punch of liqueur, try the crêpes suzettes with orange sauce and Grand Marnier.

My Market & Deli

When people spend too long in South Florida, they get sandwich spoiled. They have no idea how sandwich rich this region is, how good most of the little delis really are. The crowds that pack into the back of this unassuming corner store are never ungrateful, though. The sandwiches are just too good, too loaded with delicious cheeses and meats, piled too high with veggies and sauces. Get the Sicilian sub Rosa: a thick stack of prosciutto, mortadella, capicola, and provolone, topped with fresh basil, sweet peppers, and Italian seasonings. Or the Neilly, a blend of turkey, warm roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing on a poppy seed bun. For something different, the French Quarter has roast beef topped with Brie, "want mo!" sauce, and fresh rosemary on toasted French bread. Even if you go every day (and plenty of people do), the variety and sheer quality of the fresh, fluffy sandwiches will keep you more than thankful.

By Word of Mouth
Tabatha Mudra

"Let them eat cake." Marie Antoinette never actually said it, but the phrase was a convenient summation of her aristocratic distance from the fray; she was a lady as pathetically out of touch as a tycoon redecorating his office in the midst of financial implosion. The servers at By Word of Mouth are down with Marie about the substance if not the style; they gesture with queenly pride at display cases filled with swirls and poufs, with meringues, curds, butter creams, and ganaches — those multilayered wonders long out of fashion but so fervently longed-for. There's the Lady Baltimore stuffed with figs and raisins; the Baby Jane sandwiching strawberries and génoise in a picket fence of ladyfingers; the dreamsicle drooling Grand Marnier mousse between dense yellow layers; the coconut with its glazed oranges and snowy landscapes; the booze-soaked Italian rum cake, leaning dizzily under a load of pastry cream, chocolate chips, and a crowning blanket of fresh fruit. Lemon meringue, raspberry rhapsody, stained glass oblivion, Kahlua crunch, and King Louis cakes are in constant rotation at BWOM. After 28 years in business at the same over-the-tracks location, owner Ellen Cirillo really knows how to wield a frosting knife.

At Starbucks, customers have to learn another language just to order a large cup of coffee ("You mean a venti?"). To escape the cold, annoying state of the corporate coffee­house, run in the opposite direction — toward Expresso. This funky little drive-through joint is not so much a coffee shop as a coffee shack, a tiny wooden house-like building where a handwritten menu takes up most of a wall. When the friendly staff members approach your window (they come out to your car if the line is even three cars long), they speak your language: asking whether you want your café con leche with a double or single shot of espresso; your American coffee with a little or a lot of milk. Apparently, the proprietors of this family-owned business have learned some crowd-pleasing tricks in their 17 years of operation. They scribble a trivia question on a chalkboard each morning. They sell cigarettes both by the pack and individually (50 cents per). They round out the menu with a lovely assortment of bagels, croissant sandwiches, fresh fruit (for just $1.50!), and a mean lentil soup. Now that's downright bellissimo.

Valentino's Cucina Italiana

When Giovanni Rocchio cooks, everybody listens: There's the slap of fresh pasta dough, the susurrations of corn being sliced from the cob and of herbs torn by hand, the crackle of sparks from a wood oven, and the harmonies the whisk makes singing in a copper bowl. Rocchio, who cooked at his parents' Plantation restaurant as a teen and then sought his fortune in New York's best kitchens — Piccholine, Fiamma — returned home a couple of years ago and opened Valentino's in a small, plain space on Federal Highway. And there he created an ingenious wine list, hung oversized antique mirrors, and put together a menu that manages to encapsulate everything you love about traditional peasant Italian cooking without ever really touching down on that rustic turf — as if what his kitchen really does, at heart, is cook up feelings. At worst, Rocchio's dishes are failed but interesting experiments. At best — like the sauces incorporating sea urchin roe or lobster coral, salads loaded with wild mushrooms and parsley root, vegetable blossoms stuffed with rare, artisanal cheeses, duck cured in coffee, or an almost absent-minded handful of warm green apples and pancetta on the side of a plate — they're purely expressive, a dinner-hour encounter with a beautiful mind.

Greek Express
Chelsea Scholler

Falafel platters and pitas are not usually something you order as a main course at a swanky restaurant. The best falafel dishes are most often found at "faster" food eateries where the food is fresh but simple. Greek Express, located in the midst of the cheesy tourist shops that dominate the west side of the Fort Lauderdale Strip, provides a quick bite for locals looking to get away from Beach Place and actually enjoy the beach and good food. The spiced chickpea balls are fried, and the resulting texture is a perfect blend of crunch on the outside and a tender core. Get your falafel with hummus, on top of a Greek salad, as part of a platter with fries and hummus, or in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion, and hummus. If you have to wait more than five minutes, the view of the beach will remind you why you live in South Florida.

Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House
Chelsea Scholler

There was a time in this country when fast food meant something other than overprocessed, frozen, globally distributed chunks of sodium (that should probably not be called "food"). The old concept was a brilliant one: fresh, hot food for the working folks who put in long hours and didn't have time to make dinner, served by clean-cut young Americans in paper hats. It's an old-fashioned idea that has been alive and well at Jack's since 1972. The patties are made from nothing but lean beef, cut and ground twice daily on site. The fries are soft, cut fresh. And the condiments and toppings are abundant — not squeezed from a tiny foil packet. It's not often you say this of a hamburger restaurant, but if every "fast food" joint were more like Jack's, the world would be a better place.

Slow Food Glades to Coast leader Diane Campion has to keep a lot of balls in the air, but she makes juggling Florida eggplants, oranges, and rounds of fresh mozzarella look like a breeze. Apart from a full-time job as a sales rep for Prime Line Distributors, Campion has organized and hosted the jolliest food events of the year: a fresh, green smorgasbord of slow food shindigs including lavish dinners at Café Boulud and 3030 Ocean, locavore cocktail parties at Forte and "green drink" menus for Earth Day, panel discussions on buying local, and demonstrations on creating edible gardens. Campion is a regular presence at national conferences advocating for humane, ecologically sound farming practices. She shows up to participate in strategy sessions for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has lobbied Gov. Crist for recognition of the plight of enslaved Florida farm workers. And she's a walking encyclopedia of worldwide food knowledge — sourcing rare cheeses from Italy, spreading awareness of Florida clam farming, gathering under her wing families who raise beef humanely and farm fish safely, and working with chefs to encourage them to buy from local growers. Campion has changed the way we eat in South Florida. But just as important, she's brought gastronomic joy to the table.

The Cove Restaurant and Marina

Most waterfront restaurants in Broward County are good for oysters and other bounties of the sea, but French fries? Usually you'll get your standard fries to accompany a grouper sandwich, and you're happy if they are at least somewhat warm and your squeeze container of ketchup isn't empty. Ho-hum. Not at the Cove. That large and sprawling restaurant on the Intracoastal has fries that make you drool like Homer Simpson on a Krispy Kreme. They're all battered up and don't so much melt in your mouth as meld with your taste buds in a way known to make burly, full-grown men become giddy. We don't know the secret. Frankly, we don't want to know the secret. They put a smile on your face — isn't that really all you need to know?

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®