"It's got to be the most boring, mundane street in South Florida," says Dr. Paul George, an oft-quoted Miami Dade College professor and historian, when I ask about Hallandale Beach Boulevard. "It's more a racetrack to the beach than anything else."
It's true -- the first several hundred feet of Exit 18 off Interstate 95 offers concrete blight and strip mall after strip mall. Most buildings are set far back off the massive, three-lane road, which few pedestrians dare to cross, so it's almost impossible to see what's in most of the squat, beige or pale-yellow buildings besides big box stores.
This urban wasteland, however, offers a silver lining for a hopeful restaurateur.
"Rent was $2,000 more per month in Aventura," Falafel Benny owner Ben Regev bellows over the telephone. He opened his small shop earlier this year serving only the fried, ground-up spheres of chickpeas along with chicken schnitzel -- pounded thin and fried -- and shawarma inside an orange-beige building that's easy to miss while speeding by.
"I used to do catering, and people loved it," Regev says. "I always said I'd open my own restaurant, even in a bad location."
Not only is rent affordable in Hallandale but Broward County's southernmost town also sits at a nexus between South Florida's myriad immigrant communities. To the south is Miami: Cubans, Colombians, and Venezuelans, all of whom are slowly pushing farther into suburbia. Toward the ocean lies Sunny Isles -- home to a growing Russian and Eastern European population. Just south of that is Aventura, with large Jewish and Israeli communities.