Michelle Bernstein's at the Omphoy

Sad-but-true story: For its first year in business, the Omphoy had the honest-to-goodness best cocktail in the universe. Top-shelf gin mixed with grapefruit juice into which fresh basil leaves had been thoroughly muddled and the whole thing topped with a splash of Prosecco. De-freaking-lishus. You could tell the Omphoy took pleasure in the beverage, cuz it called it "The Omphoy." Then, one day, a reporter walked up to the bar, ordered an Omphoy, and was handed some kind of champagne-based thing that tasted like a girl drink. The menu'd changed — but a sweet and sympathetic bartender ran upstairs to the kitchen at Michelle Bern­stein's brilliant restaurant to assemble the necessary ingredients, and the evening was salvaged. You can still usually persuade a bartender to make an Omphoy the right way, but if you can't, no sweat: A diverse and inspired cocktail menu rewards the bold imbiber, with an unusually potent "Dark & Stormy," featuring dark Gosling's rum and intense house-made ginger beer; and a singularly decadent cocktail called "Blood and Sand," which combines Johnny Walker Black with cherry brandy, vermouth, and orange bitters into a drink packing more flavor per milliliter than just about any liquid known to humankind.

Il Mercato Cafe & Wine Shop

If you're looking for all-the-usual-suspects sort of wines at prices that make armed robbery seem reasonable, don't bother with Mike Lynch's sweet little Hallandale Beach wine bar and café. On the other hand, if you've got a taste for oenological adventure or you just can't stomach one more overoaked California Chardonnay or overpriced Cabernet Sauvignon, then Il Mercato is your kind of place. Owner and wine maestro Lynch looks for "B-side varietals, oddball wines" that partner well with the café's first-rate food and offer Lynch the kind of savings he can pass on to his customers. What that means in your wallet are markups about twice wholesale instead of the typical three to five times those of most SoFla restaurants. With about 140 different bottles on a list that changes constantly (including two dozen or so available in full and half-glasses), you've got plenty of good wines and good deals to choose from. Unless, that is, you're hunting one of those usual suspects.

VIVO Partenza
Candace West

Restaurant wine lists are often described as "encyclopedic," but no encyclopedia offers the kind of pleasure that perusing the 300-plus-label list at Tony Bova's elegant Vivo Partenza does. Assembled by Bova and director of operations Sande Weinstein, it focuses almost exclusively on the wines of Italy and California, but within those areas is an encyclopedic roster of the best vintages and finest producers. Super Tuscans like Solaia, Tignanello, and Sassicaia are well-represented, as are Barolos, Brunellos, and Amarones and multiple bottlings from Angelo Gaja. Fans of California Cabernets will drool over vintages of Silver Oak from 1995 on, as well as wines from Harlan Estate, Opus One, and Joseph Phelps (Insignia). There's also an impressive list of magnums, from Antinori to ZD. Of course, all this oenological pleasure isn't exactly cheap, with bottle prices starting around $200 and zooming up to almost a grand. But the other half of what Weinstein calls his "bipolar" list, where most of the restaurant's seafood-friendly white wines reside, serves up dozens of excellent choices for under $50, which is more in the neighborhood of those of us whose bank accounts aren't quite so encyclopedic.

La Cigale

If you're going to abandon the One True Faith, be excommunicated from the First Church of the Holy Eggplant of the Blessed Legume, and exchange the heavenly rewards of seitan for the earthly pleasures of Satan, you may as well get as much joy and flavor out of it as possible. And there is no more joyous or flavorful bit of gastronomic apostasy than the thymus glands of a calf, gently poached and carefully picked over, then pressed, lightly floured, sautéed, and bathed in a luxurious chanterelle cream sauce richer than Bill Gates but ever so much more exciting. Most restaurants would barely dare to even offer it as a special, but at suave, elegant La Cigale, this devilishly seductive number sits proudly on the regular menu. Truly, a blessed event. Can I get an amen?

Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar
Courtesy of Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar

The margaritas at Rocco's, where there's a menu dedicated exclusively to tequila, are so good that you might just quit your job and join a mariachi band. But eating here is awkward — you can't talk to the person across the table without screaming over the Top 40 hits. It's fine if you don't particularly care for your company, but if that's not the case, beeline to the bar. It's usually slammed with a civilized cross section of people. The bartenders are friendly, and most important, the 12 varieties of margaritas come in huge glasses (note: The Cadillac is incredible — El Mayor Anejo, Gran Marnier, and Rocco's house-made sour mix). Frequently, Rocco Mangel, the owner, jumps up on the bar wearing his signature white patent-leather shoes, and pours shots of Patrón into patrons' mouths. You can't get that lip service during dinner.

Dixie Pig BBQ

Burger joints, soul food restaurants, and taco food trucks are just a few places to eat sans utensils, so what makes Dixie Pig the best place to take off those dainty white gloves? Simply put, it's the sauce. Dixie Pig has been in the same location on Dixie Highway for more than 20 years, so they know a thing or two about making good BBQ. There are four stellar sauces to choose from: golden mustard, sweet BBQ, spicy BBQ, and North Carolina vinegar sauce. Each table at the outdoor eatery is outfitted with its own "kit" of sauces. You can almost see the twinkle in diners' eyes as they feverishly drizzle their favorite sauce over a pulled pork sandwich or rack of ribs. Overindulge in the Dixie Pig's expansive array of homemade sauces that will, if applied correctly, drip down your arms like a lit candle in a Meat Loaf video. Leave the wet wipes at home, and don't forget to lick your fingers.

Maguire's Hill 16

Whether you enter stone sober or three sheets to the wind, walking into Maguires Hill 16 is never a regrettable decision. Over the past three years, the bar has upgraded from a typical dark, Irish pub to an airier, more atmospheric space. The back of the restaurant has been converted into a sleek, intimate bar area that is ideal for small cocktail parties. The new outdoor sports bar is complete with two large flat-screens and plenty of seating. Menu items have also recently been added. The old outside patio area received a face-lift as well, complete with designer fans to beat the summer heat. The outdoor patio area is now semi-enclosed, which not only gives the exterior of the pub a more polished look but also conveniently helps prevent naughty drunks from stumbling away while their handlers finish up that last, well-deserved pint of Magners. Slainte.

Cruising Andrews Avenue for a bite to eat is a lot like going to Epcot... if Epcot ditched the disco ball, became affordable, and morphed into a long street that ran the length of several large cities. On this strip, you can enjoy food from around the globe, including the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Dirty South, USA. The average price of a dinner including a drink (nonalcoholic — sorry) is under ten bucks. You won't find any TGI McFunsters on this popular strip; Andrews Avenue is a mom-and-pop-shop mecca, which only adds to the avenue's charm and keeps us coming back for more.

Darbster
Candace West

Vegetarians aren't exactly a discerning bunch, culinarily speaking. After all, this is a group that chooses by virtue of free will to forgo bacon, steaks, burgers, and all things indelibly yummy. And that's why the hallmark of any great vegetarian restaurant isn't just in its ability to appease those forward-thinking few. It's how firmly it can win over the palates of card-carrying carnivores. And that's precisely where Darbster delivers. Darbster makes its animal-free meals taste as decadent and indulgent as its meaty counterparts, only without the guilt. Take its "tree's wings": These mock Buffalo chicken wings are made from Gardein, a planet-friendly protein that Darbster renders so juicy and supple that you'd swear it's the real thing. Or consider Darbster's unique palm cake, a faux crab cake made with shredded hearts of palm and dabbed with savory pine nut aioli. There are plenty more options to savor, from gooey cheese enchiladas made without an ounce of dairy to a bevy of raw food items including — get this — a badass bacon cheeseburger made with dehydrated eggplant, nuts, and whole grains. Dy-no-mite. And lest the bold flavors fool you into thinking a meal there is anything less than completely healthful, the pristine, outdoor setting overlooking an inland waterway will help you find your Zen.

Trata Greek Taverna
Candace West

Mussels saganaki (Greek for "a small frying pan") simmer in a fresh tomato sauce with enough feta to meld into every bite without making the dish overly heavy. Figuring in cost and deliciousness, this $11.95 dish is the loveliest and practically the cheapest meal on Las Olas — not a common pairing of qualities on the boulevard of kept men and women and wealthy tourists. There is a special section of three saganaki on Trata's menu — conceivably, you could choose scallops or shrimp, but if you crave a scrumptious bargain, you should opt for the mussels. The others are true appetizer portions (saganaki are traditionally small), but for some blessed but unknown reason, the kind people at Trata make the mussels a much larger portion. Soak up the delicious sauce with the fresh bread served with a side of hummus, and voilà, you've got an affordable and delicious meal, and you've saved enough money to overtip the incredibly nice servers and buy yourself a glass of wine.

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