Two Georges at the Cove

The best way to start off a meal is to arrive at the restaurant by boat. Two Georges makes that easy with its dockside location. Once inside, chow down on a fried seafood platter or sliders that complement the great beer selection — especially on a Friday after work, during the happening happy hour. This friendly vibe is encouraged with community-building events like fishing and golf tournaments and sporting events on TVs. This place is quintessential Florida — it feels like you took a drive to the Keys, but thankfully, you can hit up this place even without a five-hour trek.

Tarks of Dania Beach
Photo courtesy of Tarks of Dania Beach.

"Cheap" and "seafood" usually don't mix well, except at Tark's. Located in a standalone building that's wrapped in a mural that might have been done by Guy Harvey when he was in middle school, this restaurant offers some of the best deals on quality seafood in South Florida. There's about to be a party in your tummy: smoked fish dip ($5.50) and free (!) orders of blue cheese and celery get things going, and a gator-tail dinner ($9.95) or bucket of steamers (three dozen for $25.95) raise the roof. Two-dollar drafts make this the closest thing we have to a heaven on Earth, and if you eat enough oysters (an aphrodisiac, ya know), the chick in the Salt Life shirt on the next stool might want to start talking fishing poles.

Valentino's Cucina Italiana
Courtesy Photo

At home, chef-owner Giovanni Rocchio practices mixed martial arts and wrestling, but in his restaurant kitchen, it's all elegance: quail, turbot, foie gras, and handmade pasta. The chef is most famous for his casoncelli, wonton-shaped pasta stuffed with a rich veal and pancetta filling and served with a creamy brown butter sauce. The butternut squash tortilla is Rocchio's favorite, however: a dish inspired by a meal at the Michelin-starred Ristorante dal Pescatore in Northern Italy. Rocchio started working at his family's pizzeria as a kid, then at their white-tablecloth restaurant in Plantation before going in his own direction. His recipe for success: respect. "Respect for the product and respect for the customers. A good chef is only as good as his ingredients, and I want people to know they are getting the best. I'm always trying to do better. And that's the secret to anyone's success."

Readers' Choice: Brian Nelson, Tanzy

If only all things in life were like a Brazilian steak house. For the poor uninitiated, allow us to explain how such an establishment works. You are given a small button when you sit down at your table. One side means you don't want food; one side means you do. When you flip your button over to the food-wanting side, a swarm of meat-carrying hunks approaches your table, ready to carve off a slice of various steaks, pork, sausages, and chicken as soon as you approve. It's the closest you can get to feeling like a Roman emperor without getting arrested. If the world worked like this, any time you were stressed out, you'd only have to flip over a piece of paper and a masseuse would pop up and start working out those knots. Hung over? Give the signal and a team of quiet nurses would crawl out from under your bed with Advil, Gatorade, and Chipotle. At Chima, they do service better than anyone in town. Make a reservation today, and wear your fanciest sweatpants.

Steak 954

Though its beaches are pristine and chic condos and hotels are opening, Fort Lauderdale is still seen by some as a place to drink beer and get tattoos. But one dinner at Steak 954 just might forever change your perceptions about the former spring-break capital of the world. The steak house, located inside the W Fort Lauderdale, is decked out in natural and citrus tones, a perfect accompaniment to the deep greens and blues of the Atlantic right outside the dining room's windows. Order a barrel-aged Manhattan ($15) as you peruse the menu of beef from small boutique ranches. An eight-ounce filet ($39) is seared on a 1,700-degree range, allowing it a beautiful char on the outside while the inside stays a cool pink. It's as damned near perfect as a piece of meat can get. A 16-ounce Wagyu rib eye will cost you $85. Pricey, but one bite of the marbled, succulent flesh and you'll realize this is money well-spent. Of course, a steak house is also judged by its sides, and Steak 954 doesn't disappoint. Get the truffled mac 'n' cheese ($11) and creamed spinach ($11), both creamy, decadent classics. Enjoy, indulge, and don't worry about falling into a meat coma. Just get a room at the hotel and sleep it off in a state of pure carnivorous bliss.

Smoke BBQ

You can separate a good barbecue restaurant from the bad by its ribs. The meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender and have the perfect mix of smoky flavor and charred goodness. A newcomer to the South Florida scene but boasting a chef with decades' worth of competitive barbecue under his belt, Smoke in Delray Beach serves some of the tastiest ribs around. Pork spare ribs and beef ribs are smoked over low heat for hours, permeating the meat with a soft smoky essence and melting away fat for a rich flavor and unforgettable char crust. The key to rib heaven, says executive chef Bryan Tyrell, begins with good product. Tyrell sources the same thick slabs of pork and beef he once cooked at Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City. Next, the product must be prepped and seasoned just right, trimmed properly, and given the Smoke house blend of sugar and spices that imparts each rib with a sweet-tart tang. Last, the ribs are smoked low and slow for up to four hours over oak logs in a custom-order pit made in Missouri. You probably won't need them, but the restaurant offers several sauces to dip into, including a thick Kansas City-style red; tangy, vinegar-based Carolina BBQ; and a mild golden mustard sauce. When you're done, there won't be anything left but a pile of bones — and the need for a few dozen wet wipes.

Hailing from Mexico City, Los Tacos chef-owner Omar Covarrubias was once hailed as an "ambassador of Mexican cuisine" by the New York Times, has served as executive chef for the Mexican president, received the National Award as Latino Chef of the Year at Flavors of Passion in 2011, and hosts a weekly cooking show on the Spanish-American network Univisión. Guess you could say he's "authentic." He brings his passion, expertise, and personal cultural background to every dish that emerges from his kitchen. A far cry from the Tex-Mex/Northern Mexican fare most Americans know, Covarrubias' food is influenced by dishes and spices he grew up with in Mexico City. The house-made guacamole has a bit of heat from jalapeño and serrano chilies, diced tomato and sweet white onion, fresh cilantro, and lime juice. And the chips are fried fresh to order from house-made tortillas. If you are seeking authenticity, look no further than this big green bowl of guac.

Taquerias are popping up all over South Florida, prepping handmade soft corn tortillas with pulled pork that's been slow-cooked for hours. It's a wonderful movement that hopefully builds in momentum. That does not mean, however, that the more familiar Americanized Tex-Mex cuisine is bereft of culinary value. Sometimes, just you want a danged giant burrito. You will get this at Señor Burrito, especially if you order the mole verde. Only slightly smaller than a newborn baby, the mole verde is a soft, perfect flour tortilla filled with shredded white chicken breast, and that's it. No, seriously. That's it. It is absolutely smothered in mole verde — literally green mole, rather than the more common black mole, which involves chocolate and cumin and other darker-colored spices. Mole verde is made from tomatillos, herbs like cilantro, and green peppers like jalapeño. It's not particularly spicy here, however. As you cut open the burrito — yes, you will use a knife and fork — it oozes down into the pulled chicken along with the melted cheddar cheese on top. Drag the whole bite through the refried beans before you shovel it into your mouth. It's burrito heaven, and you will need a siesta afterward.

Readers' Choice: La Bamba

Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar
CandaceWest.com

On any given night, the line is out the door at Rok:Brgr, there are more than 100 reservations on OpenTable for Public House, and the newly opened Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar has a two-hour wait. You could say Marc Falsetto, whose JEY Hospitality runs these joints, is a busy man these days. His latest concept to hit SW Second Street in Himmarshee Village is a remake of the district's longtime T-Mex Cantina, which closed its doors last year. Already, the tiny, 1,200-square-foot space is a hit, revamped with a custom mural by Florida graffiti artist Ruben Ubiera and featuring tacos that everyone is talking about. These come as house-made, hand-formed masa tortillas prepared daily and stuffed with prime meats and specially sourced cheeses, $3 to $5 each. Our favorite is the chorizo, house-made Mexican sausage paired with a fried egg in all its runny-yolk glory smothering a pile of potato hash, a garlic aioli, and delicate crumbles of cotija cheese. The crispy shredded pork is the most popular, however: adobe- and chili-rubbed and smothered with the same imported cow's-milk cotija, a thick house crema, vibrant salsa verde, and diced, charred pineapple.

Readers' Choice: Rocco's Tacos

Papa's Raw Bar

Let New Orleans have its gumbo, Kansas City its barbecue, and Los Angeles and New York City their trend-setting concepts. Here in South Florida, we have our own invention: Floribbean, a fusion of island-inspired fare mixed with locally grown tropical fruits and fresh-caught fish. At Papa's Raw Bar in Lighthouse Point, it's what's on the clipboard menu. It was originally intended to be nothing more than a wine and raw bar, but Papa's — run by the same owners as longtime restaurant and fish market Seafood World next door — has transformed into a sort of seafood gastropub. Through nothing more than word of mouth, it has rapidly became a popular hangout for the Lighthouse locals who come for the fresh fish, craft beer, sushi, and creative small plates. But it's the "Most Interesting Tacos" that will catch your eye. Choose from the fresh catch of the day, shrimp, conch, or lobster, and get any of them blackened, grilled, or panko-crusted. What you decide determines the toppings, either a fresh pico de gallo or ripened peach salsa slathered over a bed of raw savoy cabbage and topped off with the chef's chipotle mayo. The fish tacos are the most interesting, of course — moist beer-battered slabs of white flesh tucked into corn tortillas delivered fresh from the Mexican market down the street.

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