Kababi Cafe
Photo courtesy of Kababi Cafe

Kuluck does something well that most ethnic restaurants in Broward or Palm Beach don't: it's cool. The upscale Persian supper club, located in a strip mall in Tamarac, actually oozes style. With soft lighting, colorful walls with velvet drapes, white tablecloths, and a 20-foot dance floor, the joint is all sleek edges and sass. It's a wild departure from the typical regional-history-while-you-eat décor that clogs other ethnic restaurants, but who wants to eat in a museum? The secret behind Kuluck's styling is that the owners wanted to create a place where they would not only serve great Iranian food in a classy atmosphere, but also a place where their band Dima could play. They do that on Saturday nights while folks nosh on tender, marinated kebabs of Cornish hen and koobideh (juicy, onion-flavored ground beef). The menu is simple, but what's there is flavorful and cooked perfectly. (Chicken that's not dried to the bone? No way! Yes, way!) The kashke bademjam — a textured dip of roasted eggplant, garlic, onion, and whey — is particularly dreamy. The result is a restaurant that's both sexy and sophisticated.

Kilwins Chocolates Fudge and Ice Cream

Few things are as controversial as the chocolate milkshake, and few beverages have such outspoken partisans. Approximately half of all devotees believe the shake should be made with vanilla ice cream and some kind of chocolate sauce, which makes for a creamy drink with chocolatey overtones. This is incorrect. The fact is, more chocolate is better chocolate, and the double chocolate milkshake at Kilwin's is perhaps the greatest proof of this truism the world has ever seen. Kilwin's super-rich chocolate ice cream plus whatever syrup they're using equals a milkshake so powerful it's almost invasive: the salivary glands start freaking out when the stuff is only halfway up the straw, there's a feeling of heat at the back of your head, and every nerve in your body begins twitching as though in expectation of some explosive sexual climax. And then the flavor hits. And the world melts away, leaving you adrift in a sea of cocoa goodness.

Entre Nous

Small is beautiful when it comes to your hangout — who wants the masses plunking their butts on your corner seat and scarfing up all the lobster bisque before you even walk through the door on a Friday night? A neighborhood restaurant has to meet strict criteria: It has to serve food you're willing to eat six times a week — nothing too outré (no lambs' brains), nothing too lame (hold the penne marinara!). The place can't be corporate. It requires a unique flavor that clicks with who you are, or at least who you want to be. Entre Nous fits the bill. Run by an ex-bartender who never took a cooking class (Jason Laudenslager, your new BFF), who actually lives in Lake Park, Entre Nous turns out a juicier pork chop, a crispier potato skin, and a livelier Caesar salad than you really want the world to know about. With its menu of lamb chops, steaks, and crab cakes served in a candlelit room just cozy and dark enough to make things interesting, this is a secret we should keep.

Christine's Restaurant

When the great restaurants in any city are increasingly operated by celebrity chefs in partnership with luxury resorts or millionaire backers, you've gotta love these two young locals (Steve Shockey and Gregory Rhatagan), a couple of guys brave or insane enough to do it on their own. Christine's, which opened just a couple of months ago, is a lovingly executed example of opposing forces: it's fine dining in an elegantly minimalist space, but still seductive, comfortable, and utterly unpretentious. Your waiter intelligently answers any question you throw at him, he knows how to remove a plate or refill a glass almost invisibly, but he's relaxed and charming. The live jazz on the mezzanine is the ideal accompaniment to Chef Shockey's contemporary world menu, which, while small and focused, has a kind of slinky urban sophistication in the details: a bit of corn essence here, a huckleberry compote there, a drizzle of tomato truffle emulsion. He produces dishes both familiar and strange — crab cakes, yes, but with bacon and tasso gravy; kampachi, yes, but served as sashimi with wilted spinach, sautéed shiitakes, and kimchee sauce. The place already has a loyal local fan club. We've never met anybody who didn't fall in love there at first night.

UPDATE: This location is now closed.
Forte Martini Bar and Restaurant

Stephen Asprinio's Forté is a work of art. It's as though the 26-year-old proprietor, a contender on the first season of Top Chef, had designed his décor and menu to generate argument — and indeed, since it opened this spring, many have loved it and many have hated it. Even we who love it find our feelings shifting from week to week — pleasure, irritation, shock, despair, ecstasy — but the place never bores. There's a balance of tensions and what sometimes feels like deliberate anarchy, the occasional stroke of genius, and the inevitable flamboyant failure. But unlike restaurants that chart a safe course, Forté never shrinks from risk. The menu changes whimsically and sometimes frustratingly — you'll never meet the same amuse bouche; your favorite cocktail has been discontinued (the basil martini, although it was replaced with something even more delicious and elegant); the specific pairing of fruit compote with cheese (or mostarda with salumi) you raved over one night is ancient history. The menu has Italian genes, but in execution it's almost unbearably personal and not a little surreal, as if the butter poached lobster, the miniature pork chops with wild mushrooms and blackberry sauce, or those codfish "lollipops" had taken shape from a fevered dream.

The Soma Center Cafe

A visiting friend of ours, professing that he "hated hippie food," ate his way through half the menu at Soma before he realized that what he was consuming was 1.) organic, 2.) vegan, and 3.) raw. We'd like to say he was a permanent convert to whole foods, but back home in New York he was instantly swallowed up again by a fleet of hot-dog carts. Still, he was our acid test, and we too occasionally find ourselves pondering the possibility — as we spoon up our bowl of quinoa soup or bite into a lettuce leaf wrap, a walnut-pate-stuffed tomato, or a homemade dairy-free cookie — that food that's good for you can also taste incredibly good. The Soma Center is one part yoga studio, one part meals-on-wheels, two parts wireless café, with a dash of dinner-club and afterhours party thrown in, and it's run by the nicest people on the planet. They'll deliver a daily raw food lunch to your door if you live in the neighborhood, but it's much more fun to stop in for a cup of fair trade coffee and a bowl of granola while the world dance class is going on in the front room, or to sit in the sun on the patio watching butterflies flitter through the potted pineapples. Soma puts on gourmet/vegan/raw/slow food dinner parties with wine tastings on an irregular basis, plus other events of an alternative nature, so call for their latest schedule.

Dada
Candace West

This wood-slat house, built in 1924, is such a throwback to old Florida that if it weren't for the sleek, artsy crowd sucking down cocktails and munching eclectic fare on its immense front porch, you might swear Dada was actually your Aunt Velma's country cottage, with tables occupying what should be a yard with chickens scratching in the dirt beneath a high canopy of ancient trees. Thank you, Dada, for having the foresight to preserve and smartly update a slice of South Florida's dwindling southern charm. Such a delightful place deserves an enlightened menu, and Dada has it: creative vegetarian dishes like mango gazpacho and black bean-chick pea wontons next to fanciful twists on bistro staples like salmon, served here with a habanero maple glaze. Plus the prices are — gasp! — accessible.

Totoritas Restaurant
Gustavo Rojas

The Japanese aren't the only ones who know how to eat raw fish. They taught the habit to the Peruvians, only instead of dainty little rolls, our southern neighbors serve their lime-marinated ceviche on a platter the size of your head, with side dishes the Japanese would snort at: corn and potatoes. At Las Totoritas those vegetables come in lots of variations, from cobbed to boiled to something like semolina in the case of corn. Totoritas' ceviche mixto — a pile of shrimp, tilapia, and squid rings enlivened with chopped aji peppers and onions — is best eaten family-style (i.e., with about 10 of your closest friends and relatives). On weekends the pipe player/guitarist will be tuning up in an alcove while you pop kernels of the crunchy pan-fried chulpa corn between your teeth and ponder whether you'd prefer loma saltado with tacu-tacu or shrimp chaufas. Sound exotic and confusing? Yes, for the first two or three visits. Once you get the hang of it, you'll find yourself embraced by the family that runs the place (before you know it they'll be pressing alfajores on you as you slip out the door) and you'll have developed a taste for marinated fish that won't quit.

Pho 78 Vietnamese Restaurant

Walking into a Vietnamese restaurant can be intimidating. You're probably there for a bowl of pho, the delectable rice noodle soup that is the country's national dish, but what type of pho should you get? So many restaurants prepare pho so many different ways... even if you've had it before several times, staring at a new menu can still leave you flustered. The folks at Pho 78 seem to understand this and make picking the right bowl as easy as possible, with categories for beginners, advanced, the adventurous, and so on, to help you discern whether, say, eye-round steak, tripe, flank, and tendon are a better combination than well-done brisket and meatballs. Whether you opt for something complex or simple, all the pho here is excellent. The cuts of meat are so savory and soft that each bite feels like a mini-reward. The broth itself isn't oily, so the soup manages to leave you sated without feeling heavy. Pho 78 manages to stand out even in a neighborhood known for its stellar ethnic food, and they also offer numerous dishes beyond noodle soup.

Pomodoro probably has a range of delicious appetizers, pasta, and other entrees, but the moment you walk through the front door, the aroma of cooking dough will cast its spell and your eyes will dart to the portion of the menu marked "Pizza." The dough is tossed by a man of Mediterranean descent who eschews chit-chat to concentrate on his task, and the crust he creates strikes that perfect balance between soft and crispy. The sauce is lightly applied, with a subtle mix of spices and herbs. But the revelation is the freshness of the toppings: Vegetables with just-picked splendor; meats and cheeses whose rich flavors announce their having arrived from the deli, not the freezer. You wouldn't usually call a 12-inch pie a "personal pizza," but this isn't your usual pie, and here's betting you won't be toting leftovers.

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