Woodlands Indian Cuisine
Eric Barton

There are many fine Indian restaurants in South Florida that offer an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in the afternoon and entrées served with rices and the oven-baked flatbread known as naan. Woodlands follows this template exceptionally well, but what makes this Indian restaurant in an unassuming minimall extraordinary are its rarer delicacies from the South of India. Chief among the savory treats are the dosas: crepes made of lentil and rice flour stuffed with potatoes, spinach or 19 variations that range in price from $7.95 to 11.95. Folded into a triangle that outsizes the plate it is served on, a dosa will appear large enough to feed a battalion, but you should save room for dessert, as the place offers halwa (a sweet confection of almond or carrot) as well as ice creams of mango, pistachio, and more. The entirely vegetarian restaurant marks the menus with V for any item that can be prepared vegan, including the apple ice cream.

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Cafe La Buca
Candace West

Italian fare in the United States tends to be dominated by meatballs and the ubiquitous red sauce. It's delicious, yes, but not necessarily the most authentic. Italian-American is a thing in and of itself. For the most part, legitimate Italian cuisine comes only from ridiculously expensive, fancy-pants spots. Such food is exquisite but pricey. Only, like, 1 percent of the population can do high-end Italian regularly. For everyone else, there's Cafe la Buca. Owned by Napoli native Marco Spina and his family, this casual Pompano Beach eatery specializes in rustic Southern Italian cuisine at affordable price points: Dinner for two will run you around 80 bucks. The menu changes every day based upon what's around and what looks good to Spina. (You can call in the morning to find out the specials for the night.) It offers classics like papardelle Bolognese, fresh gnocchi, and linguini with clams. Pizza is made from an oven brought over from Naples. Although the pizza and pasta are main parts of the draw, simply prepared seafood and meats are also available on a nightly basis. Expect to see items like grilled filet mignon and lamb chops with spinach and balsamic rosemary sauce. Be sure to call ahead for a reservation, as these seats fill up days (if not weeks) in advance. It truly is that good.

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Old Heidelberg
Candace West

Food always tastes best in its country of origin. Baguettes are crisper and loftier in France. Curries are hotter in Thailand. Pastas are more toothsome in Italy. Schnitzel is more, well, schnitzely in Germany — you get the point. When the craving for wursts and dunkel hits, you need to find a place that honors its German heritage. Cue Old Heidelberg. Step through the doors and you'll be transported to another world; it feels like you've been transplanted in an Oktoberfest hall. The space is dimly lit with dark wood walls, stained-glass light fixtures, and German knickknacks all around. Female servers and bartenders don traditional dirndls, and some have German accents as well. As kitschy as it may be, the place is legit. The fare is about as authentic as you can find in South Florida. Selections range from common weisswurst ($12.95) and wiener schnitzel ($8.95) to specialties like rouladen ($17.95), a dish of thinly sliced, seasoned, and stuffed beef served with mashed potatoes, dumpling, and cabbage. All of which is easily washed down Deutschland-style with a nice big beer. The restaurant boasts a nice selection of imported German brews ranging from refreshing Weissbier to light lager to full-bodied dopplebock — and yes, you can drink it out of a boot. Save yourself the airfare; come here.

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Pine Court Chinese Bistro

In South Florida, there are several signs that indicate you've found a good Chinese restaurant. One: The majority of the customers appear to be Chinese. Two: Said customers are not speaking English. Three: There's neither too much nor too little Oriental gaud. Four: Chicken feet are on the menu. If you find three out of four, you've discovered a good Chinese restaurant. If you've hit all four nails on the head, chances are you've landed at Pine Court Chinese Bistro. This push-cart-style dim sum spot is not for the faint of heart. With an array of unidentifiable delicacies and a language barrier between you and many of the servers, it's not always easy to surmise what exotic ingredients are finding themselves in your mouth — just go with it. From chicken feet ($3.95) to beef tendon ($3.95) to bao ($3.25) to shrimp dumplings ($4.50), everything here is an adventure for your taste buds. Don't worry, though, if you have a picky-pants on your excursion — it offers an à la carte menu, with pictures, in English.

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"I, T — — — , an adult residing at — — — — — , being of sound mind, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I revoke all wills and codicils previously made by me. As most of my close friends and associates will already know, my life has been consumed in recent years by one overwhelming passion: Carl's Seafood and Jamaican Cuisine. Many have scoffed at my enthusiasm for this Tamarac eatery. Many have grown distant due to the all-consuming need to ingest Carl's as often as possible. These people are all low fools. My worst moments — Missy leaving me for Alejandro; the death of Snuggles; Election Day 2008 — have been balmed by Carl's curry goat with white rice. My most wonderful achievements — the Yalies topping Harvard in overtime; Election Day 2000 — have been made all the better with the restaurant's oxtail. Yes, it's not much to look at, just a stand in Tamarac with no seating and a slow line out the door. But it is my life. Therefore, when I have passed on to my just rewards, I request that my body be burned and my ashes be scattered in Carl's brown stew and that the container be placed in the family crypt. Then I will marinate in the deliciousness forever."

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Moon Thai & Japanese Restaurant
CandaceWest.com

Moon Thai & Japanese was established in Coral Gables in 2000 but quickly expanded to five locations, with the location in Coral Springs, situated next to the Magnolia movie theater, having just undergone a huge expansion. Now you can satisfy your need for delicious comfort food before seeing a movie with your sweetie. And make no mistake: Thai curry is comfort food at its finest. Sure, it's spicy, but spice is what gets all your feel-good endorphins rushing. Then the spice is immediately soothed by the sweet creaminess of the coconut milk. That combination of exciting and soothing will leave you feeling calm and happy.

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Las Colinas Restaurant
Eric Barton

Las Colinas is the spot where la familia orders from every time they're in town. Like so many SoFla gems, it sits in an unassuming strip mall, but a large mural of el país de origen and a second landscape with macaws and toucans set it apart. The ropa vieja ($6.95) melts on your fork, soaked in a sharp but sweet tomato base. Churrasco ($11.95) will blow your gringo friends' minds: tender, pink, and so much juicier than anything they could try to cook up (Q: "What's this green stuff?" A: chimichurri). The sweet plantains ($2.50) come no-strings-attached, meaning the fruit is perfectly ripened and leaves nothing to pick out of your teeth. Black beans are made with silky poblano peppers and onions and pair perfectly on a cloud of white rice. Score a Cubano especial ($5.79) — a Cuban sandwich plus side — and you'll make out with lunch for under ten bucks. The tip is to call ahead so you can let the concentrated smell of your diet-breaking lunch whisper sweet nothings into your mouth before you find somewhere private to have your way with it. Trust us, nobody in public needs to see what you're about to do.

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Chapultepec
Zachary Fagenson

Mexico's food and drinks (tequila and mezcal namely) may be trending among hipsters, making the simple, honest cuisine just as pretentious as suspenders and mustachios. But that's not how it's supposed to be; real Mexican fare is freaking delicious and laid-back, with not even the slightest hint of irony. That's exactly what you'll find at Chapultepec. The no-frills restaurant serves authentic Mexican breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night tacos in a come-as-you-are setting. Whether dining in for huevos rancheros ($4.99) at 10 a.m., tortas ($5) for lunch, chicken mole ($8.99) at 7 o'clock in the evening, or $2 tacos al pastor from the late-night taco stand in the parking lot after the restaurant closes, you'll find piquant, authentic fare without all the trendy accoutrements — no reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, or über-expensive urban industrial ornaments decorate this place. Expect to find yourself surrounded by a hodgepodge of patrons. No matter what time you arrive, you can expect to see whole Spanish-speaking families, leathery sunburnt locals, on-duty cops, and construction workers straight off a job site stuffing spicy foods into their faces. This place is about as real as you get — even if it, somewhat ironically, looks like a scene from the Village People's YMCA.

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Ceviche by the Sea

In Peru, ceviche is typically consumed on the beach; in fact, it's not uncommon to find sand in the bottom of its serving dish. If you're looking to get a legit Peruvian experience, you really should be near the shore (even if you're not actually in the sand). You really should try Ceviche by the Sea. The atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated than what you'll find at an oceanfront picnic — or most Broward Peruvian restaurants, for that matter. The modern décor is comfortable yet somewhat elegant. And the fare is considered Peruvian fusion; presentation is a big part of the experience. Causas ($11 to $17), cold mashed potato cakes topped with sauce and protein, are elevated with ingredients like avocado mousse, sweet potato, and spicy aioli. Ceviche ($15 to $29) is offered with all the spicy dressings, from traditional to aji amarillo to Asian-inspired Nikkei. All the old reliables are served here but prepared with the restaurant's own take: aji de gallina ($11 for lunch), a spicy and creamy chicken dish; chaufa ($11 for lunch), Chinese-style fried rice; and papa a la huancaina ($7), a spicy potato salad made with the national favorite yellow chili.

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Coconut's Bahama Grill
Photo by Laiacona Photography & Design courtesy of Coconuts.

Some restaurants are known for great service, others are recognized for outstanding food, and some, well, some just have a great view. Hitting one nail on the head is good, but when it comes to an enjoyable dining experience, it's nice to have it all. This place most certainly does. Located directly on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Coconuts boasts a stunning yet laid-back atmosphere with food that's just as good. The menu is heavy on seafood, but it's a bit more upscale than your average shack on the water; most of the boats tied up to its docks are nicer than your run-of-the-mill dinghy. Think fish tacos ($14), New England-style  lobster rolls ($16), and crab cakes ($26) rather than buckets of things that have been deep-fried in old grease. Options for landlubbers are also present, with tropical-inspired takes on classic American dishes. Danish baby back barbecue ribs are slathered in a chipotle-pineapple barbecue sauce ($22) for a very Floribbean twist.

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