Sette Bello
The dapper servers at Sette Bello know the importance of empathy. That's because they aren't just glorified food runners trucking out your linguine with clam sauce or slow-braised osso buco. They're professionals who can feel the ebb and flow of a meal and somehow know your every whim almost before you do. Sit in that romantic dining room with blush walls and sheer curtains and the wait staff will go to work on you like maestros conducting an orchestra. They'll answer any questions you have with care and concern and make sure you know exactly what you're getting. Plates arrive the moment they are supposed to and are delivered and removed with careful efficiency. Your glass will never hit bottom, whether it's in need of another pour of crisp Italian Greco di Tufo or just sparkling water. And you'll never have to ask for silverware or salt or even more sauce to go with your entrée — your waiter will have it spotted and delivered to your table before you've even raised your hand. Most of all, the servers here are a direct link to the kitchen — a conduit between you and chef/owner Franco Filippone. They're his lips gently whispering the praises of local snapper Livornese and Dover sole and his ears receiving your messages and acting upon them with care and alarm. And you can't ask for better service than that.
Art's BBQ
The walls at Art's BBQ in Coral Springs are covered with posters of blues artists like B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker. You gotta figure even legends like them are happy to have a place at Art's, a suburban smokehouse with deep reverence to tradition. The emphasis is on Southern barbecue — slowly smoked ribs, pork, and chicken smothered in a sweet and spicy homemade sauce. Texas-inspired hot links and slow-cooked chicken wings appear alongside pulled pork sandwiches with lots of bark and mac and cheese done creamy and rich. But the ribs are the real star here. Tender and smoky with a toothy bite, these St. Louis-cut bad boys are served over two pieces of plain white bread — a telltale sign of great 'cue, whether in Florida or the Gateway City.
California Burgers and Shakes
For four weeks in 2003, the blissful concoction we call a milk shake got a bad rap. The simple partnering of milk and ice cream became synonymous with Kelis' ubiquitous song about boys flocking to a yard — for her "Milkshake." Whatever that means, we gather it's not the creamy heaven we're celebrating with this category. And despite how many times she claims all the boys say her milk shake is better than all of our milk shakes, it's highly unlikely that it delights the senses like the shakes at California Burgers & Shakes, an inconspicuous surf-themed burger joint across the street from the Galleria Mall. Delicious and big-strawed — this is key; sizable straws mean you don't have to be a Hoover to get a taste — California Burgers & Shakes crafts the perfect milk shake. Its flawlessly thick consistency needs no spoon. They use real fruit for flavoring. And if your taste buds are up for a little adventure, you can get creative with peanut butter, cookies, or caramel. Feel limited by the standard chocolate, strawberry, vanilla trifecta? Try mint, peppermint, coffee, or pineapple. We don't know about Kelis, but this is the best milk shake of 2010.
Angelo Elia Pizza Bar Tapas
C. Stiles
Italians know the value of impeccable ingredients — when you have something as beautiful as a freshly shaved piece of Prosciutto de Parma, what could you possibly do to make it taste better? That's the MO at D'Angelo, a hip new spot for Italian small plates from beloved South Florida restaurateur Elia Angelo. The menu is vast but simple, full of authentic ingredients that prove they're worth far more than any expert technique. The place serves half a dozen fresh carpaccios made from local swordfish, tuna, and salmon; simple appetizers like mozzarella-stuffed zucchini flowers and sautéed clams in tomato broth; and salads such as octopus with Amalfi lemon or calamari and shrimp with green basil pesto. D'Angelo also makes incredible wood-fired pizzas with those same ingredients. It leverages stracchino, taleggio, and burrata cheeses into creamy pizze bianche and spreads San Marzano tomatoes over crackly thin crust for traditional margherita pies. Best of all, the sleek, modern feel of the place coupled with a breezy front patio make D'Angelo a prime spot to sit and enjoy all these fine ingredients the way Italians do: with a bottle of red or white, a few friends, and plenty of time. Bellissimo.
El Guanaco Taqueria y Antojitos
John Linn
The secret to a great taco is in the tortilla, and the ones made at Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant El Guanaco are topnotch. In typical Salvadoran style, the tortillas are prepared thick and made to order. The soft little discs of masa come out a quarter-inch thick and almost creamy on the inside, with a perfectly griddled exterior that folds lovingly around fillings such as moist, chipotle-enhanced chicken breast and slow-stewed lengua. Graced with just the right amount of cilantro and onion, a squirt of lime, and some of El Guanaco's tingling green chili salsa, these tacos are impossible to resist.
The Whole Enchilada Fresh Mexican Grill
John Linn
The vegetarian option at most restaurants often seems like an afterthought. Either you get just rice and beans or they pile in veggie trimmings to fill the void left by the absence of protein. You're left feeling as empty as your burrito. But with tofu seared on the grill and prepared with the same diligence and attention to taste as the beef, chicken, and fish, the fresh-Mex joint the Whole Enchilada could placate the most stubborn of meat eaters. The hearty tofu "Hasselhoff" taco marries the vegetarian staple with a soft corn or crispy flour tortilla (soft flour and soft whole wheat are also options), topped off with the typical: cheese, lettuce or cabbage, and tomato. Add avocado and salsa, varieties of which can be found at the bar. If you can handle spice, we recommend the habanero in the plastic squeeze bottle. In fact, it's not just the tacos. Almost the entire menu can be substituted with tofu: Think quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, and salads.
Le Patio
Things move so fast here in South Florida. We're always rushing from one appointment to another, caught up in some never-ending stream of obligations that somehow seem to impede us from enjoying the wonders of this tropical paradise. Which is why a place like Le Patio is so important. This boutique French restaurant in Wilton Manors is no bigger than a hallway. But behind the little room is a beautiful outdoor patio bathed in Florida sunlight. There, you can nibble on your duck pâté with a glass of red wine as you sit at tables made from antique sewing machines. You'll feel the sun on your face as you smear garlicky baked baby clams across crusty pieces of French baguette and smell the crisp, clean breeze as you sip on daily-made French onion soup melted with cheese and love. Yes, outside at Le Patio, the world just seems to move a bit slower than it does anywhere else. And we could all use a little bit of that.
Taurus Steakhouse
It doesn't take a whole heap of skill to turn an expensive piece of dry-aged prime beef into a quality steak — just apply enough heat to sear, then serve. But transforming cheaper cuts like picanha (top round) and vacio (flank steak) into tender, mouthwatering morsels takes extreme know-how. That's where Taurus, a Peruvian-style steak house in Tamarac, comes in. Its lunchtime specials offer cuts like that same vacio plus a drink and sides for less than $10 a pop. The steaks are cooked with skill and precision — a crisp, grilled exterior reveals a ruby-red medium rare in the middle — and the kind of flavor that begs you to sop up every last bit of juice left on your plate. Taurus carries finer cuts like filet mignon and rib eye too. But with cheap beef this good, why bother?
Charm City Burgers Company
The folks at Charm City sure do have it sweet for hamburgers. Stop into their sunny, mural-painted storefront and you can taste that love firsthand. It's present in the concoctions that change daily, like the torta burger, a Mex-inspired sandwich with guacamole and queso fresco, or the Cajun burger, a sesame-studded bad boy layered with tasso ham and a fried green tomato. Of course, classics also reign supreme — how do you improve on an already perfect bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg on top? Most important, these burger chefs know that artistry of this sort would be wasted if not for fine ingredients. Charm City composes its masterpieces with a moist blend of beef ground daily, along with yeasty, freshly baked rolls. And since they know the supporting cast can be just as important as the stars of the show, the joint takes extreme care crafting its hand-cut fries, thickly battered onion rings, and golden tater tots.
Talia's Tuscan Table
Talia's ain't afraid to showcase its Italian-American 'tude. The cramped deli looks like a Bronx tenement lifted up and slammed into East Boca. Almost every spare inch of wood and brick is covered with Polaroid photos of patrons (many of them female, many of them staring at the camera luridly) posing beside massive plates of pasta. There are a half-dozen handwritten signs decrying cell phone usage, and a few warn complainers just where they can stick their pasta fagioli. But beyond that gruff exterior is a truly inviting place, a joint where inexpensive meals are served family style on paper plates and where cold beer is poured on the honor system. The communal tables are packed tight, so you might find yourself bumping elbows — or even sharing food with — your neighbors (a slice of thin-crust pizza for a wedge of a chicken and eggplant sandwich, perhaps?). And the atmosphere is warm and bold enough to match the sunny marinara, the homemade sausages and meatballs, and the hand-churned mozzarella, also made daily by the staff. Now that's a real Italian-American experience. And it's exclusive to Talia's.

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