The Rebel House
CandaceWest.com

Too many South Florida restaurateurs take the easy way out in terms of design. Minimalist art, chrome fixtures, white furniture as far as the eye can see: Frankly, it's dull and more than a little played-out. When Mike Saperstein and Evan David last year debuted their first full-service restaurant, they sidestepped the "IKEA showroom meets South Beach salon" aesthetic entirely. The duo hired Lake Worth artist Adam Sheetz to blanket the entire space from front to back and top to bottom in original, one-of-a-kind art. Sheetz's cheeky paintings and collage-like tabletops (each one is different) inject a level of personality seldom seen in South Florida restaurants, let alone in staid Boca Raton. Odds and ends (glass jars, wooden boxes, and other curios) blend with a mix of reclaimed and refinished furniture.

Valentino's Cucina Italiana
Courtesy Photo

For years, Giovanni Rocchio churned out delicious Northern Italian fare to wide-eyed, smitten customers in a strip mall on Federal Highway. An impressive wine list, impeccable service, and a comfortable, intimate atmosphere kept customers and critics raving for years. Then Rocchio kicked it up a notch by moving the restaurant to a new, larger, more open location. Today, you can still get his fresh handmade pastas — like the famous ham and egg raviolo, a whimsical dish filled with ricotta, asparagus, and egg yolk finished in truffle butter and pancetta ($21); and the Cavatelli, a comforting plate of pasta osso buco, bone marrow, and ricotta salata ($26) — but in a bright, European-inspired interior with white walls, rustic accents, and a huge open kitchen. A brand-spanking-new bar with a mind-blowing mixology program has brought Rocchio's game to a whole new level. Expensive? Yes, but we doubt you could find food, cocktails, or atmosphere this impressive anywhere else in Broward.

Coolinary Cafe
Nicole Danna

Rabbit tostadas. Gator sausage. Wild boar tenderloin. They're all on the menu — or have been — at Coolinary Cafe, which opened just one year ago in March. Owner Tim Lipman and his wife, Jenny, are the cool kids behind this hip 47-seat eatery, where an arsenal of well-planned menu items changes seasonally and specials change twice daily. Lipman (the original executive chef for well-known Jupiter establishments Little Moir's Leftovers Cafe and Little Moir's Food Shack), a Florida native and resident of Abacoa, is also steadfast about product sourcing, buying as much as he can close to home: produce from the Peddler in Juno Beach, milk from Daikin Dairy in Myakka, honey from McCoy's in Loxahatchee, and eggs from Lake Meadow in Ocoee. What he can't buy local, he grows himself in community gardens his team has established nearby.

d.b.a./cafe

Steven Zobel is a classically trained French chef who spent more than a decade cooking in New York City, moved to Florida, said "no more" to corporate restaurants, and started cooking for himself. He linked up with business partners Mike Lynch and Tom Moynihan via Craigslist, and together they built a restaurant that is warm and casual — low lighting, old trinkets, and wine-crate art — and a menu that's anything but. Zobel is still showing off his hand for French fare with rich dishes like crostini topped with seared chicken livers and sweet onions braised in sherry wine ($12), but he mixes up the highbrow with the low: A chicken special comes marinated in buttermilk, deep fried, and served on top of funnel cake with powdered sugar and maple syrup. An ever-changing wine list and mystery winetasting nights curated by sommelier Lynch keep the place fun and intriguing.

The Grove
Candace West

Breeding the perfect show dog takes a prestigious pedigree, thorough training, and a handsome build. If restaurants were dog shows, the Grove would definitely win Best in Show. The two young chefs who run the entire kitchen are both grads of the most prestigious cooking school in the U.S.: the Culinary Institute of America. (There's the pedigree.) Chef/partner Michael Haycook went on to become sommelier at Zuma and D.B. Modern Bistro in Miami. Resident chef Meghan O'Neal worked in Chicago for Grant Achatz, at Alinea and Next, and Paul Kahan, at Publican Quality Meats. (There's the training.) Combine those backgrounds with a comforting, contemporary atmosphere, a constantly evolving menu, a wine list that would please even the pickiest wine geeks (wines range from $25 to $1,800), and friendly, prompt service and you have yourself the prized poodle of the restaurant scene.

Sardelli's
Courtesy Photo

Take your time when enjoying the $15 sea scallop at Sardelli's. First cut it in half, then quarters, then eighths if you're skilled with a knife. Make sure each forkful contains a piece of the butter-crisped mollusk along with the tangy almond-parsley pesto and bit of the creamy parsnip purée. When your server sees you licking the plate clean and asks if you'd like another, tell him or her yes. Ordering only one of Fulvio Sardelli's scallops might make him think you didn't enjoy it. If you found the $1.6 million Italian-style villa that houses Sardelli's, only a stone's throw away from Hollywood Beach, you already knew you'd need a fat wallet, or better yet a friend with a large bankroll, to really enjoy the restaurant the Sardelli family spent their life savings to build.

Buccan
Candace West

For the record: This decision was not based on Conley's good looks alone, although those boyish dimples most certainly did not hurt. Combine those good looks with a pedigree to match — in 2005, he was named a StarChef's Rising Star Chef, spent time working directly under Todd English, and managed to fill Michelle Bernstein's shoes as executive chef of Azul — and you have yourself a celebrity chef. Conley is known for exquisitely prepared dishes from his wood-fired grill at Buccan and Asian-inspired cuisine with modern twists at Imoto. He has been the only chef in Broward and Palm Beach counties to get nods from the James Beard for the past two years. Although he didn't make the finalist cut, he's still our hometown hero.

Sublime
Michele Sandberg

As a carnivore, sitting down to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant can be scary. Will the food taste good? What the hell is Gardein? Will PETA ninjas attack me as I walk through the door? The key to setting a meat-eater's heart at ease is a fantastic server to walk him through the edible forest, so to speak. You will not be judged for wearing leather shoes. Instead, you will be carefully and lovingly guided through choices like Sublime picatta ($18) — which tastes just like, well, chicken — or a hearty vegetable lasagna ($16) filled with house-made ricotta. The bartenders are skilled and friendly and work with fresh fruit and the finest spirits (which, by the way, are veggie-friendly). After your entrée, your server will offer you dessert. Perhaps he will suggest the coconut cake ($9), which is nothing short of spectacular. Listen to him. Though he is likely a vegetarian, he is a friendly spirit. In fact, you've just had a completely meat-free meal (and helped animal charities while doing it, since 100 percent of Sublime's profits are donated to organizations that promote animal welfare and a vegan lifestyle).

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Where the sands of Hollywood Beach end, the sand at Taco Beach Shack begins. Though this restaurant isn't quite on the beachfront, it's just a block away, and with the restaurant's sand floors, you'll barely notice you've strayed from the ocean. This place offers large portions (don't hurt yourself on those nachos!) served alongside a nice breeze, frequent live music, a 20-foot screen for watching key sports games, and a sexy lounge area with modern outdoor furniture for schmoozing it up after imbibing a few of those $3 margaritas on Mondays or $4.50 Presidentes. Though this casual joint is ostensibly classified a "Mexican" restaurant/bar and you can't go wrong with the roasted corn or the cheesecake burritos for dessert, the Korean short rib tacos are the truth, Ruth! Yet the most important item on the menu seems to be a good time. Ping-Pong tables were brought in for the Super Bowl, and on Cinco de Mayo, they passed around sombreros, fake mustaches, and... a live donkey. Andele!

Due South Brewing Co.

"I really want to drink some skunky imported beer tonight," said no one ever. Instead, you want good fresh beer, and you want it cheap. Due South Brewing helps fulfill those lofty goals of not drinking bad beer. The brewery is a full-production affair, so don't mind the giant fermenters and conditioning tanks. There are no secrets as to what goes in the brew: You can literally see the sacks of grains and hops, and, most important, taste the difference in beer quality when it needs to move only 100 feet from where it's brewed to where it's poured. It's inexpensive as well, with 12-ounce pours starting at $3.50 and 16-ounce pints (actual pints, not those fake 14-ounce glasses) at $4.50. There's enough space in the tap room and the main space to hold upward of 100 people, but most of the time, you'll find just a couple of dozen locals enjoying a cold one and a game of cornhole. For those looking to grab some fresh beer on the way home from work, growler fills are available. With new beer creations flowing in and out, food trucks stopping by weekly, and the nicest and most enthusiastic staff, you're bound to find yourself making this industrial-style business your hangout.

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