From Korea Town to Caribbean Row, Explore Local Food Neighborhoods

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Our annual food guide, Taste, hits newsstands Thursday, February 19. In this year's issue, you'll find guides to local food neighborhoods; interviews with local coffee roasters, chefs, and chocolatiers; and a handy roundup of South Florida's breweries. Readers of Clean Plate Charlie don't have to wait. Here's a sneak peek from 2015's Taste Guide, and you can follow this link to see other Taste Guide posts you may have missed.

There's a common misperception in Broward County that there is a lack of ethnic food. That idea most frequently comes from big-city transplants, but we have to break it to the haters: That notion is just not true. How could it be? In an area filled with newcomers and expats, of course there are going to be pockets of cultural fare spread throughout the area.

The 2010 Census determined that 32 percent of Broward County residents are foreign-born. We have inhabitants from Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, China, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Ireland, England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and almost every other country on the planet.

We may not have a Chinatown on the scale you'll find in, say, San Francisco, London, or Toronto. And we may not house a Little Italy as you'd find in Manhattan. But we have areas that specialize in different kinds of food from far-flung parts of the planet. From Korea Town in Lauderhill and a Little Vietnam in Lauderdale Lakes to Caribbean fare along 441, here's a guide to finding global cuisine in Broward County.

See also: Taste Guide 2015: Florida Chocolatiers Create Handcrafted Treats for Valentine's Day

Set among the golf courses and suburban developments of University Drive and West Commercial Boulevard, the City of Lauderhill is home to a small section of Korean businesses.

Gabose (991 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-572-4800) was the first on the scene. Now run by Fred and Susan Kim, the Korean barbecue spot was started by Susan's parents, James Soonkuk Hong and Eunsuk Hong, 14 years ago. Since then, the joint has garnered a devoted following of locals and chefs (including Michelle Bernstein and Daniel Serfer of Miami's Blue Collar and Mignonette). Why the fanfare? Our pick for Best Restaurant - Broward County 2014 is one of the few places in South Florida that houses charcoal tables -- think of it as traditional Korean fondue, where you get to do the cooking yourself. So, that galbi gui (short rib) is flavored not just from its sesame marinade but also by the DIY cooking process. If you don't feel like cooking, the eatery serves already cooked specialties like dolsot bibimbap (a traditional rice dish with meat and veggies served in a heated bowl), hot pots, and noodles.

The Kims' influence on the area hasn't stopped there; late last year, they opened Gabose Pocha (4933 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-999-0603; Facebook.com/GabosePocha), a Korean-style pub, just a couple of doors down from the original outpost. The casual counterpart focuses on drinks (mostly shrubs and soju) and Korean pub grub like abalone, sea cucumber, fried chicken, and spicy pork belly.

Head across the street for homestyle Korean fare. Mom-and-pop shop Manna (4966 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-748-6088; koreanfoodfortlauderdale.com), owned by Young and Tae Kho, features dishes from a vast repertoire of family recipes. Japchae, a special-occasion dish of sweet potato glass noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and beef, is a house favorite.

For provisions, check out Kim & Lee Oriental Market (4850 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-747-7740). It offers a wide array of Asian ingredients, including Japanese mochi, hard-to-find rice cakes, meat, seafood, and rare produce. Its specialty, however, is all things Korean. Here, you can find staples from all over the country, including kimchee, snacks, dried chilies, prepared triangle rice balls, and gochujang (a fermented condiment from the peninsula made from red chili).

Head a few blocks east to Commercial Boulevard and State Road 7 and you'll find an area rich with Southeast Asian spots, primarily Vietnamese. Spread throughout shopping centers north and south of the intersection are markets and restaurants offering the French-influenced tropical fare found throughout the coastal country.

To do it yourself, head to Cho A Dong Oriental Food Mart (4245 State Road 7, Lauderdale Lakes; 954-485-9450). It features row upon row of rare ingredients and even housewares. Pick up everything you need, from Thai red chilies and bitter melon to palm sugar and shrimp paste.

Just down the shopping center, past Arizona Shooting Range and Silver Pond (a seafoodcentric Chinese restaurant also worth trying), sits Saigon City. The bright but austere eatery features all the old reliables: refreshing spring rolls, savory happy pancakes, bún chá (rice noodles with grilled pork), báhn mì, and pho.

A couple of strip malls over, Pho Hoa (5435 State Road 7, Tamarac; 954-739-9888; phohoa.com) presents another equally delicious option for steaming hot bowls of its namesake dish. Part of a massive chain, with 70 locations spread throughout seven countries, this place has mastered the country's most popular meal. In addition to a wide array of other Vietnamese choices, it offers multiple pages of options for pho. For beginners, it offers the fragrant broth with common cuts of steak like brisket, eye round, and meatballs. More flavorful cuts like tendon and fatty flank kick it up a notch for the regulars. But "The Adventurer's Choice" portion is just for the pho pros; that's where you'll score tripe and innards.

But it isn't only Asian eateries that have found a home in South Florida. Another foreign cuisine has carved out its own niche, this one hailing from a bit closer to home.

Just a bit south of our version of Korea Town and Little Vietnam, right around State Road 7 and West Sunrise Boulevard, discover a wide selection of Caribbean fare in one fell swoop. There are bakeries, jerk shops, hot pots, and Caribbean specialties galore; one could easily take a drive, pick a place, and discover a new favorite, but if you're looking for tried and true, we've got you covered.

With the air of a secret meeting place, Blue Mountain Restaurant (1430 N. State Road 7, Lauderhill; 954-584-8781) serves some serious jerk at a steal. The small space has just a few tables, a bar, poker machines, and stage for DJs for afternoon and evening parties. It's a place for the local expat crowd to hang out, and the food is as authentic as you'd find in Jamaica. Heaping portions of curry goat, curry chicken, brown stew chicken, jerk pork, jerk chicken, or oxtail are piled on top of rice and peas with a salad for less than $10.

Head to the Lauderhill Mall for a taste of East-meets-West Indian. Roti shops may line the highway, but Joy's Roti Delight (1235 NW 40th Ave., Lauderhill; 954-587-7684; joysrotidelight.com) has been rolling the Trinidadian wraps since 1992 -- in restaurant years, that's nearly an eternity. For $6 to $10.50, get fragrant curry goat, shrimp, conch, or duck cloaked in paper-thin dhalpourie or paratha (flatbread made from ground split peas or wheat).

Food is central to experiencing any culture, and diversity of cultures is certainly not lacking in South Florida. Perhaps saying "You can't get good ethnic food down here" is just one of our local traditions, like snowbird season and Christmas lights on palm trees, but it's one that's long outlived its application.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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