Annie's Fresh Fish & Baked Goods
Good Jamaican and Caribbean food abounds in South Florida. Drive ten minutes from anywhere and you can get decent jerk and oxtails that taste pretty much the same as the ones you had elsewhere. Are they all using the same recipes and sharing one big kitchen? Annie's is one of a handful of places where such thoughts never occur. The jerk is not just tender but scented through and through with peppers, cinnamon, and allspice. Fish are cooked fresh, not ladled from a steam table. Rice and peas are moist and fragrant, not dry and starchy. Even the steamed cabbage has a certain something to it. The sorrel and bracing ginger beer are made on the premises. And save room for dessert: The "Off-the-Chain" spice cake really is.
You thought old-fashioned hibachi pyrotechnics had gone the way of the samurai? Not so, Grasshopper: The spinning knives and the flying fillets are still dancing through their paces at Sakai Japanese Restaurant, where -- depending on how sociable you feel -- you can reserve a seat at one of four communal hibachi tables. Kids, of course, love to belly up to the hibachi to see old Iron Chef play with his food (where else is tossing around your vegetables socially acceptable?). Watch him, all but stony-faced, as he twirls his knives like batons, cracks raw eggs midair, and composes a flaming volcano from a stack of raw onion rings. Choose steak, shrimp, scallops, chicken, and lobster in some combination ($19 to $35); hibachi dinners include soup or salad, fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, and noodles -- you can't go away hungry. Sushi and excellent vegetable, tempura, and tofu plates are available in the quieter front room, where you and your party can shutter yourselves away from the madding crowds in a completely private booth, sliding the paper screen closed behind you with a satisfying whoosh.
Colombino Italian Bakery and Deli
You make a submarine for 20 years, you get to know what you're doing. The current owners of Colombino took over the decades-old business just five years ago, but the family's carrying on a serious tradition to exacting specifications -- while Taco Bells and Subways have sprung up around this tiny deli and bakery like pokeweeds around a violet, nothing can stop the hot ovens from churning out dozens of warm loaves of Italian bread six days a week (the deli is closed Monday) or the "upstate N.Y. style" pizzas or the buttered steak, sausage, and veal parmigiana sandwiches or the stuffed breads bulging with pepperoni and cheese. It's the "Italian assorted" sub (six, nine, or 12 inches from $3.19 to $5.39), though, that defines the genre. Stuffed into one of those warm, crusty rolls, a mound of salami, Italian ham, capiccola, and provolone is drizzled with olive oil and vinegar, given a shake of oregano and a handful of tomato, sliced onion, and torn romaine lettuce leaves. The art of the sandwich is indeed a living art.
EuroBread & Cafe
Let us school you on the croissant. The best ones are covered with a thin, tan crust that's hard enough so that it resonates a little if you tap it with your fingernail but thin enough to "break" when it's given a little squeeze, like the shell of a robin's egg. Inside, the bready material should be slightly moist, with enough body so that it shreds rather than breaking or balling up when it's pulled apart. It should have a scent of butter, and it should taste like a morning in Provence. All right, maybe we're getting too subjective with that last bit. We must be under the influence of EuroBread & Café, the French bakery in Coral Ridge (there's another one at 6847 Stirling Rd., Davie), where the walls are painted an earthy yellow, like Provence clay, and the croissants are always fresh. There's a buttery smell in the air, as well as the scent of baking bread. Try all of their croissants -- the chocolate croissant, with its schmeer of bittersweet chocolate inside, or the almond, which is sweet-toastier, with a sprinkling of crisp almond slices. We'll settle for the croissant plain, warm from the oven, maybe daubed with a little strawberry preserves or English marmalade.
If you've run through the menu at your local taqueria a few dozen times and think your burrito tour has made you an expert in Mexican food, it's time to get cozy with Silvana. The focus here is seafood, and we don't mean fish tacos: Chef Antonio Brodziak takes his classical Mexican culinary training and gussies it up in contemporary trappings via New York, where he worked with Richard Sandoval at Tamayo. Specials from Brodziak's rotating menu, like sea bass with roasted corn and tamarind, tuna with tomatillo and mango chutney, adobo-marinated yellowtail, and salmon served with warm pico de gallo and black bean sauce, are priced between $17 and $22.95 and served by big, raven-haired Mexican boys whose smiles could melt a block of queso fresco. It's all buttery, beautiful, and sensually revelatory, but Brodziak's camarones Silvana ($18.95), grilled shrimp drizzled with pitch-black calamari ink and arranged around a sigh-inducing masa cake stuffed with black bean paste, is enough to make serious diners consider permanent relocation to West Boca. And you know, that's high praise.
German Bread Haus

When it comes to the staff of life, Europe rocks. If you're looking for something awesome with which to mop up your gravy, go straight to the Italians, the French, and the Germans. While the first two favor a crusty, airy loaf, the German version is typically too heavy to carry one-handed. It's also lugubrious in mood, slightly sour in flavor, and best when heavily buttered -- much, come to think of it, like the national character. Deiter and Norma Dauer, who've owned the German Bread Haus for 20 years -- that tiny gingerbread-looking concoction you've passed a thousand times on Commercial Boulevard -- import some of their flours from Germany and offer several entirely organic loaves studded with seeds and nuts (like their popular Jogger's Loaf, Survival Power, and other multigrains also sold at Whole Foods) in addition to classic German wheat-rye mixes, sourdough, sweet raisin-inflected stuten, Christmas stollen, and a cornucopia of rolls to fill Little Red Ridinghood's basket. They'll let you stand and taste (heavily buttered) samples for as long as it takes you to make up your mind. And by that time, you'll be packing up cherry strudels and bags of ginger and pepper nut cookies too.

Horizon International
Open the front door to Horizon and it'll look like a tiny Asian food mart. But follow the murmur of voices and clanging of pans coming from the back and you'll discover a busy little kitchen with seating for about 20 and lunchtime fare that'll snap you out of your burger complacency. Come here during the weekend and you'll likely stand in line with a cadre of Filipino workers from the cruise ships docked at nearby Port Everglades. Horizon is home-away-from-home for many of them, serving up the mainstay dishes of their homeland. Philippine food has been influenced by Malaysian, Chinese, and Spanish cultures, but it retains an identity all its own. Your best bet is choosing among the pork dishes, most of which cost $3.99. Adobo, considered the national dish, is pork marinated and sautéed in cider vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and peppercorns. Pata tim is pork hock sautéed in a dark, sweet-vinegary sauce. Lechon kawale, or pan-roasted pork, is bite-sized pieces of belly that are fried in a wok to a golden, crispy brown. Some of the vegetable dishes use bitter melon, a squash that's too strong for most America palates, so it's best to ask if it's in a dish before ordering.
Le Petit Pain
Christina Mendenhall
Somehow during each year's Best Of search, we find ourselves inexorably drawn by the scents of baking brioche, cardamom coffee cakes, and fruit tartelettes, the mixed berry custard strips, the lovingly handmade baguettes and loaves of country and Vienna and dark sourdough, the chocolate mousse cakes and the cream horns -- as we were saying, we're drawn by a mysterious, magnetic force back to Le Petit Pain, as if someone (perhaps the movie-star-gorgeous, 30-something proprietress, her equally delicious husband, and their adorable baby) had cast a spell on us. And the main ingredient of that wicked spell is quite evidently... butter. There is butter in the soft, rolled crepes, stacked like expensive Cuban cigars and filled with chocolate and raspberry sauce. There's yet more butter in the brioche, which begs to be taken home and dipped in egg, grilled, and showered with powdered sugar. There's butter in the butter cookies. As for the butter croissants, and even the chocolate croissants, which traditionally are composed by rolling a big block of butter between layers of pastry dough, let's just say that they're made in the grand old French tradition -- with lots and lots of butter. The rugalach and the biscottis, the brownies and the Dutch apple pies are also full of it, and so is the princess cake, the Swedish pizza, and the cheesecake. As you slide out the door, don't say we didn't warn you.
El Tamarindo Café
Photo by Ben Rusnak courtesy of El Tamarindo Cafe.
Two days after Wilma hit, the power was out everywhere. The streets were a mess. The airport was dark and silent. Taking a walk before curfew as twilight set in, we smelled carne asada. A policeman in a parking lot radioed another patrol: "I'm at Tamarindo. They're open. Come on over." A powerline repair crew sat at a table outside. A waitress came out. They were salvaging what they could from the freezer and cooking with propane: "We've only got carne asada and churrasco with rice and beans." Inside the dark restaurant, flashlights ricocheted around the kitchen. Candles flickered at a few tables and at the counter. Food came out in styrofoam. Even before their stint as the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, El Tamarindo won us over with its nicely charred grilled shrimp and beef, its pupusas encased in handmade-to-order tortillas, its sweet corn tamales and Sunday-morning huevos rancheros, and its "Exotica" salad with apples, queso blanco, and hearts of palm. All served on real plates, in an appealing space, with prices that will make you smile.
C'est Si Bon
When a wealthy Palm Beach matron throws a party -- which she does pretty often -- you can bet you won't find her in her kitchen six hours before the big night rolling hundreds of tiny pigs into hundreds of tiny blankets. More likely, she'll be perusing the flats of refrigerated finger foods in the cooler at C'est Si Bon (mini quiches, fig and cheese flatbreads, Palm Beach cheese balls, bite-sized beef Wellingtons). And when it's the cook's day off and Milady wants a no-fuss lunch -- something like roast tenderloin of beef with horseradish Dijon sauce and potatoes boulangre -- she isn't going to Albertson's deli for her prepared foods. That's why this tiny gourmet shop in the Bradley House Hotel has triumphed through many decades, several changes of management, and the vicissitudes of fortune -- the owners have learned to satisfy a clientele a bit on the demanding (they'd call it "discerning") side. Well, there's no law saying we all can't take picky advantage of lunch specials like jumbo lump crab cakes with remoulade sauce; or red pepper meatloaf with mushrooms, or braised lamb shanks, curried new potatoes, and pea salad; or roulade of turkey, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms. In fact, a trip to C'est Si Bon on a Saturday morning to fill the picnic hamper with cream of watercress soup, maple Dijon-glazed corn beef, dilled chicken salad, and orzo primavera is an ideal first step for a trip to the beach, a pleasantly strollable three blocks up the street.

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