Old Heidelberg
Candace West
With so many Europeans living, breeding, and cooking in our midst, South Florida eaters expect ethnic authenticity at our ethnic restaurants. In this regard, Old Heidelberg exceeds on every front. From the voice and smile of the hausfrau hostess, the spaetzle that tickles going down, frost-rimmed glasses of Tucher Weissbier or Diebels Alt, to the dark pine and leather interior, Old Heidelberg's old-country charm is far from forced. The owners' names are Dieter and Heidi, for crying out loud. Almost every night, Ingo Froehlich transforms the accordion from the second-most-hated instrument into an oompah-pah sine qua non. Bavarian comfort food is succulent and sizably portioned, so this means you'll leave completely stuffed, possibly from the pork tenderloin with a crisp layer of fat just as crunchy as a chicharron. Maybe from roast suckling pig or the bratwurst platter. Maybe from that final, ill-advised bit of Black Forest cake. But at least your indigestion will be well-earned.
Judging by the dearth of Vietnamese restaurants in these parts, it seems that South Florida hasn't been the first choice for emigrants from that Southeast Asian nation. At the very least, that's a culinary pity. Maybe it's the French influence, but Viet cuisine is a refreshing, light affair compared to, say, its Thai cousin, which usually comes slathered with rich sauces and big hunks o' meat. Take, for instance, Pho Nam's house specialty, the Vietnamese pancake: a thin, crispy crepe stuffed with onion, yellow beans, bean sprouts, and finely minced bits of shrimp and pork. At $7.50, it's about the most expensive thing on a menu of meals that average about $6. The spicy beef salad, a $7 specialty that won't leave you feeling bogged down after dinner, is made of thinly sliced beef, tomato, cucumber, basil, and ground peanuts over lettuce. You won't find fancy décor at Pho Nam, which lies just south of Commercial Boulevard, but you will see a steady stream of Vietnamese customers.
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Aptly named, indeed. You don't have to dress like royalty or haul around bodyguards, but the kingly fare will make you feel as if you've got the right to consider hiring some robes and rogues. Or at least a personal trainer. Along with standard chutneys, pakoras, and naan, you can feast on zesty crab masala, creamy butter chicken, and tandoori salad, a combo of onions, peppers, and mushrooms marinated in rock salt and vinegar and then roasted. Among the pleasant elements here include a nicely appointed dining room, bistro-chic and contemporary; a decent list of wines and beers; and a party room where princes and princesses of all ethnicities can get their ghee on.
Thai Me Up
Photo courtesy of Thai Me Up.
Given the crowd you're likely to see gathered around the entrance of Galanga on any given night, you might not expect much attentiveness once seated. But the energized waitstaff at this stylish establishment seems to thrive on its patrons' food lust. They bob and weave about the tables -- and around one another -- at a healthy gait. Like Siamese royalty, you'll likely have two or more servers waiting on you during any given meal and another troupe of young men whisking away dirty dishes with military precision. The service bonus: a tiki bar outside the front entrance that makes any wait for a table a bit more palatable.
Mancini's
Tabatha Mudra
Mancini's has a voguish-looking interior with a huge, bristling chandelier, like a cluster of giant pods. But it's on the broad sidewalk outside, where the restaurant has staked out an impressive chunk of Las Olas Boulevard with a couple of dozen linen-swathed tables, that you'll see the deals being made. All the usual suspects are there, the same folks who used to frequent Mark's on Las Olas (which has decided not to serve lunch during the off-season): politicians, developers, well-heeled tourists, the yacht crowd, and the occasional celebrity. The ambiance has a certain European feel to it, including the service, which is, oh, a half-step slower than that in some of the clattering establishments a block or two farther south. (I mean, are you here to suck down food or to eat?) For their epicurean indulgence, patrons get savory, steamy food with all the requisite olive oil and garlic. A caesar salad goes for $7, a tasty linguine alle vongole, $14, a slice of fresh grilled salmon adorned with greens, $16. Good and somehow entrepreneurially satisfying. As the waiter serves the cappuccinos, that condo tower project you've been talking about with the guy across the table should really start coming into focus.

The focus on Spanish food these days seems to be all about the avant-garde gelatins and foams with which the young chefs, many from the Basque region, are playing. Imagination has its place, but so does tradition, which is why we're grateful to chef-proprietor Jorge Luis Fernandez. Where other Spanish chefs are taking paella and putting it in the blender, Fernandez is serving the rice dish as it should be, though he is hardly ignorant of progress and process -- the vegetarian paella, for example, is made up of organic roots and vegetables with the rice and saffron. Fernandez has as firm a handle on international flavors as he does on his classic mustache. Thus, you can get anything from Australian lamb chops to French cuts of meat. But keep in mind that the tapas, including sautéed cuttlefish or pickled white anchovies, are generally so good that it's all too easy to fill up on the first wave.
The delicious smells emanating from this place tell the complete story -- the fare here is elegantly prepared, flavorful, and satisfying. Granted, you won't be finding jellyfish and sea slugs on the menu, nor will you see shark's fin soup or tripe. But while Jasmine might stick to regional basics such as yu-hsiang lamb, lobster Canton, and shredded beef Szechuan-style, you can rest assured it's also sticking close to quality control -- the lamb is succulent, the Maine lobster fresh, and the beef fiery. An array of noodle dishes also yields items like the sesame chicken lo mein, an item more readily available in Boston's Chinatown, which makes sense when one considers that the sibling restaurant to Jasmine stems from Andover, Massachusetts. No matter its origins, though, what you can depend upon is results, and like the night-blooming jasmine itself, you can bet this place reaches its peak every evening.
Out of sight, out of mind. If you want to disappear with that special someone from your office without your co-workers finding out, you'll find ready concealment here. Many of Punjab's tables are located in the center of its open and airy dining room. Around its periphery, however, await a dozen or so lace-shrouded alcoves. Seating up to four, these six-by-five-foot niches are a shelter from prying eyes and ears. For you romantic types, these cubbyholes of love are private enough for confessions of love and kisses that need not be stolen.
Argentango Grill
Competition has become tough in these parts for Argentine steak houses. There are just so darn many of them. That's why it's the ones that stay tender -- like Argentango Grill -- that win out. But juicy, marinated steaks and grilled sausages aren't the only reasons this place rules the Latin roost. Argentango also presents delicious South American and Italian options ranging from excellent empanadas to superior pastas, tangy shrimp ceviche to succulent Caprese salad, and grilled sea bass to caesar salad. The result is that you feel neither energetic nor sexy enough to follow a meal with what the name of the restaurant implies, but at least your palate will be dancing in delight.
Bruno's
Take into account the décor, dotted with memorabilia and photographs. Consider the manner of service, warm and hospitable. Above all, note the menu, dotted with dishes like "Grandma Kay's farfalle," "pollo alla Alfred," and "Ginny's shrimp fra diavolo." Clearly, the quintessential Italian family is alive, well, and cooking in Pembroke Pines. Indeed, Bruno's claims that it is "proud to celebrate the time-honored traditions of La Familia Italiano... shar[ing] love, laughter, and of course, the most wonderful food." In turn, we're just as proud to honor this family restaurant for permitting others to partake of the love, laughter, and especially the lasagna.

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