Michael's Sonoma Grille
The restaurant prefers to call them "sunset specials," which made more sense before the end of daylight savings caused the sun to set at, oh, 8 p.m. or so. But why quibble? The fact remains that this eatery, which opens daily at 4 p.m., offers a great gourmet deal: soup or salad, main course, potato and vegetable of the day, nonalcoholic beverage, and dessert. Prices range from $11.95 for a perfectly roasted chicken in lemon-thyme broth to $16.95 for herb-marinated lamb chops. Then there's the Wiener schnitzel, the potato-crusted salmon, and the duck in wild berry sauce, all of which are freshly prepared and served with an extra dose of friendliness -- and plenty of sunshine.

Middle East Bakery & Grocery
Just a stuffed grape leaf's throw from the county courthouse, Adib Salloum's little gem of a store would be worth the trip for the fresh pita alone -- earthy, chewy, and delicate all at once. The fresh hummus and tabbouleh are terrific; big barrels of imported olives from all over the Mediterranean take up the shop's center stage. The cooler case to the rear holds feta and kasseri cheeses from a similar broad selection of lands. A shelf of tapes by the register is stacked with a nice selection of Middle Eastern music. But the best entertainment is Adib's younger brother Tony: This good-natured kibitzer would sell you your own rug off your floor if he got the chance -- and make you think you got a bargain in the process. Check the parking lot for signs of the Palm Beach ladies who venture over the bridge to do some grocery shopping here. If those people deign to cross the Intracoastal for Middle East Bakery, the place must be something truly special.

Bice Ristorante
Yes, it's a classic, this link of a very popular, worldwide chain of high-end Italian restaurants. And yes, some of the menu items -- carpaccio, for example -- tend toward the tried-and-true. The restaurant is also loud, crowded, and filled with socialites. But really, when you're talking about receiving such delicacies as squid-ink ravioli filled with minced fish and seafood, or air-dried beef with black olives and cherry mozzarella, or veal chop in port wine sauce, it's hard to argue that this isn't some of the finest Italian fare around. Plus it's certainly expensive enough to qualify: Appetizers alone range from $16 to $80.
Mimi's Ravioli
Other than your Italian relatives' house on a major holiday, this is the place to be for fresh homemade pasta. The place got its start in 1970 when Joe and Mimi Termine brought a couple of ravioli machines from New York City. Joe figured he'd make some ravioli, maybe sell a bit, and have a nice little hobby. A few years later, he was dragging his cousin, fellow Brooklynite Frank Billisi, down to Hollywood to help him with the business. Billisi then bought the shop from the Termines and has never looked back. The place now boasts all manner of strange machines, constantly churning sauces, kneading dough, and stretching what will eventually become spaghetti. As for those ravioli that gave the place its start and its name: They take Chef Boyardee, tar him, feather him, brand a big MIMI on his butt, and then toss him out of town on his ear.

Along with the tasty Jamaican specialties served up at this Lauderhill eatery -- callaloo; mackerel; jerk pork, chicken, and fish; brown stew chicken; and curry goat -- some of the spiciest yet yummiest hot sauces in the land are made at Hot Pot. This golden-red dew of the gods is full of floating seeds harvested from the Scotch bonnet pepper, each one capable of decimating an entire tongue. The rub that the Hot Pot crew slathers over its jerk meats is plenty blazealicious too, but the Chernobylesque, Three Mile Island-ish, China Syndrome-like sauce is guaranteed to make your eyes water, your scalp sweat, and your life flash before your eyes. It's that hot.

Sloan's
Christina Mendenhall
Even the bathrooms at this neon-color monument to all things fattening are deliciously tempting. People flock to the lime green-and-orange ice cream parlor to dare friends and strangers to step behind the clear glass doors of the bathrooms, which are in full view of those waiting in line for their favorite confection. Luckily for those who prefer to keep some parts of their lives private, a mere flip of the switch activates liquid crystals, making the transparent walls safely opaque. The mutable glass bathroom doors are just one reason to visit the dizzyingly cute ice cream parlor across from the public fountain in downtown West Palm Beach. The hot pink décor, which looks like a throwback to the Roaring '20s, is alive with hand-painted murals of cherubs clutching bowls of ice cream and pulling garlands filled with cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, hot fudge sundaes, and banana splits. It's enough to make even the lactose-intolerant among us drool. Lucky for the lactose dependent, relief is in sight. The 25-plus flavors of homemade ice cream, the Heath Bar crunch mousse cake, the toffee, and the caramel bars are even more amazing than the bathroom doors. And according to reliable sources, the extra weight normally generated from eating such delicacies somehow magically disappears -- like the view of the bathrooms.
Poppy's Pizza II
OK, this place may be best known for its pizza, which blisters your mouth so appropriately. But a slice that would make any New Yorker grin isn't Poppy's only claim to fame. The pizza oven embraces an enormous steak calzone, for example, stuffed with sirloin, ricotta, mozzarella, onions, and peppers. It puts the finishing touches on a chicken, cheddar, and broccoli stromboli. And it lovingly polishes off a dozen different Parmesan dinners, including veal, chicken, sausage, and even eggplant rollatini, each of which is served with a trio of cheese ravioli or stuffed shells, or a pair of manicotti. Not convinced yet? Test Poppy's further by ordering veal Marsala or the perfectly fried large Gulf shrimp, and you'll be as impressed as we are -- and quite frankly you'll also be as full, since truth be told, Poppy is not only a paesano, he's a generous kinda guy.
Lester's Diner
Photo by Kristin Bjornsen
The coolest thing about Lester's Diner isn't the vast menu, although it's an impressive one: daily specials, 70 or so different sandwiches (including such quirky combos as meat loaf and fried egg), nearly two dozen salads, homemade soups du jour, 35 desserts "baked on the premises daily," Greek and Italian specialties, a children's menu, and such mainstay entrées as chicken, seafood, steaks, and chops. And no, the coolest thing about Lester's isn't the equally comprehensive "served anytime" breakfast menu, which runs the gamut from simple (ham and eggs) to snazzy (Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict), or the diner's famous 14-ounce cups of Colombian coffee. The coolest thing isn't even the old-fashioned fountain, which dispenses banana splits and ice cream sodas, shakes, and sundaes. The coolest thing about Lester's? The ambiance, which is part classic diner décor, part clientele. The latter, at least in the case of the original State Road 84 site, has to do with location: Situated as it is, conveniently accessible from both I-95 and downtown Fort Lauderdale, it attracts a mix of locals and out-of-towners that gets only more surreal as the hour gets later. On a really good night, you can dine with truckers on their way in or out of Port Everglades on one side and drag queens from nearby discos the Copa and the Saint on the other.
If you think of the Mediterranean as a crossroads-type culinary region, then you'll have no problem assimilating this joint. Headed by owners and chefs whose heritages include French, Belgian, and Israeli, Finjan takes all those influences and swirls them into an intriguing compendium. In other words it's the perfect place for a little salade Niçoise with your falafel and a touch of apple strudel with your baklava. Add the upscale décor and a comprehensive, world-ranging wine list, and you've got yourself an eatery that brings the Mediterranean lifestyle to funky West Palm Beach -- and, we hope, keeps it there permanently.
To take a look into this Israeli deli, you'd never know it's "new." The place is always so full of loyal customers it might as well be called Old Tel-Aviv. The eatery's signs and menus are written in both Hebrew and English, and the place is Glatt kosher. That means you won't find any dairy on the premises, but you'll hardly miss the milk when you taste creamy tahini that substitutes beautifully for dairy-based toppings. With the lamb shishlic, beef kebab, and chicken schnitzel sandwiches, you'll find plenty of protein to fill your belly. Salads -- hummus, baba ghannouj, Israeli, and Turkish -- are tangy and flavorful. And those are just for starters. Tel-Aviv also carves up a mean pastrami on a kaiser and offers fresh whole fish. If you stop by on a Tuesday, you can even score some couscous. Just don't expect to get brunch Saturday mornings.

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