South Florida truly is a melting pot. People from all over the world, especially the Caribbean and South and Central America, have made our part of the world their home. This is good news for us, because that gives us access to authentic food. We've listed a few of our tried-and-true favorites below. Different flavors, different experiences, but they all have one thing in common — they put out delicious food.
Bravo! Gourmet Sandwich Shop
2925 NE Sixth Ave., Wilton Manors. Call 954-533-4350.
The postcard-sized menu at Bravo promises: "The best sandwich you'll ever taste!" Those are big words in the world of sandwiches, but the thing is, Bravo! just might live up to that promise. Bravo!'s Peruvian sandwiches are full of juicy pork, flavorful country ham, and well-spiced onions, all served on bulky, flaky buns that perfectly soak up the meat juices and spicy sauce. On Sundays, get a traditional Peruvian Sunday feast of fried pork chunks, slices of sweet potatoes, spiced onions, and a banana-leaf-wrapped tamale. It's served with one of those buns for a self-assembled sandwich. The desayuno plate costs $10, but it could easily make a meal for two. Pair it with a traditional Peruvian drink: chicha morada, which is made from red corn and spiced with apples and cinnamon. Bravo!'s also got fantastic yuca fries, or hold out for the alfajores ($2), flaky Peruvian cookies filled with dulce de leche.
1198 SW 27th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-584-7966.
This little Cuban hole in the wall may be in need of an interior decorator — wood-paneled walls are a little too dark, plastic plants that need dusting more than watering — but what this restaurant lacks in ambiance it makes up for in flavor. Cuban food is not really spicy, so the food has to rely on the tenderness and freshness of the meat and seafood — usually seasoned only with garlic, salt, and citrus. The pork steak at Don Arturo is moist and juicy. Paired with beans and plantains, it's a solid meal. A pitcher of sangria seals the deal, as does a piece of home-baked tres leches cake. No need to drive to Miami when Don Arturo is right here in Fort Lauderdale.
2876 N. State Road 7, Lauderdale Lakes. Call 954-797-7414.
There's quite a large Jamaican population in Broward, as evidenced by the many jerk restaurants in the central and western parts of the county. We choose Hot Pot when we're feeling the need for some jerk chicken or curry goat. A whole escovitch fish, marinated in vinegar and cooked with onion, is tangy and flaky, while braised oxtail and brown-stew pork are slow-cooked to fall-apart texture. Ackee and saltfish, the unofficial "official" dish of the island, is served for breakfast, as is mackerel and banana and liver and onions. Sure beats a bagel any day.
1434 S. Powerline Road, Pompano Beach. Call 954-977-5434.
Despite a sizable Broward population of immigrants from the subcontinent where vegetarian cooking is a high art, there's still a dearth of Indian restaurants here willing to venture into the uncommon cuisine of south India. But Madras continues to buck the trends, serving idli, sambar, and those delectable little savory doughnuts called dhai vada, plus lesser-known dishes from the southern coast — like the marvelous, hot-sour Malabar fish stew made with kingfish and curry leaves. Excellently cooked North Indian clay-oven specials are here too, like yogurt-marinated chicken tandoori that falls off the bone in one lovely bite. And anybody still craving lamb vindaloo and chicken korma won't go hungry. But it's the feel of the place, its bustle and warm scents, the melodious accents coming from the next room — where extended Indian families come for the buffet — that really makes Madras a place to lodge deep in your heart.
636 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach. Call 561-514-3030.
Mexicans may be even more fanatical about ice cream than Italians and Argentines combined. The chain of La Michoacana ice cream parlors can be traced back to Tocumbo, a formerly nondescript village in central Mexico. Tocumbians developed paletas, fruit Popsicles, and sold them, along with ice cream, at paleterias. Today, all the stores are independently owned and operated, but conservative estimates place La Michoacanas at about 15,000. You can taste why the formula is so addictive at the West Palm Beach outlet, where fruit pops made from the pure juice of mangoes or strawberries are incredibly refreshing. For chunkier sweets, the ice creams, or paletas de crema, have swirls of fresh fruit in them.
8336 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise. Call 954-741-9212.
Lovey's Roti is the place to go for West Indian-style roti and curry with a Trinidadian bent. Roti comes three ways (dhalpourie is with lentils, sada is thick like naan, and "buss up shut" is thin and ribbon-like), each made fresh to order. Chicken, duck, goat, and pork curries abound, as do some truly awesome "straights" — that's vegetarian dishes like channa aloo (chickpeas and potatoes), bhagie (spinach), and sweet orange pumpkin. Lovey's also serves excellent Trinidadian street food like doubles and aloo pie, two sandwich-like specialties made with fried bread and stuffed with chickpeas or potatoes and garlicky mango kuchela. Prices are cheap, but it's cash only.
1392 N. State Road 7, Margate. Call 954-975-2426.
Saigon Cuisine has come a long way from its roots as a humble deli. No, not the knish and bagel kind. The kind that turns out banh mi: Vietnam's take on the submarine sandwich that shoehorns a fluffy baguette full of roasted pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and spicy jalapeños. These days, owner Young Le's place operates as a full-service restaurant, sporting a menu of more than 150 authentic dishes, from pho with tripe and tendon to pan-fried Hanoi fish with dill to cauldron-sized hot pots of pork broth, shrimp, and sliced steak. There's a large dining room painted purple and gold with a well-equipped stage that hosts music from the homeland as a diverse crowd looks on. It's a great spot to share a family-sized meal, but you can still treat it like a deli if you choose: Pop in midday for a six-inch banh mi larded with house-made cold cuts and a healthful mix of carrot, daikon, and cucumber, at only four bucks a go. Then gulp down a creamy/tart soursop smoothie studded with gummy tapioca balls you suck through a fat red straw.
4285 N. State Road 7, Lauderdale Lakes. Call 954-486-8885.
It's a common lament. "Where is the authentic Chinese food in South Florida?" There is life beyond egg rolls and sweet-and-sour chicken. Silver Pond might as well be in New York's Chinatown — or a town in China. Note the tanks of live lobsters, crabs, and eels waiting for their turn in the pot as you sit. The restaurant has two menus — green and the more adventurous white menu. Choose white and prepare for an adventure in eating. Steamed lobsters, sea cucumbers, and bird's-nest soup are options, as is the classic Peking duck. There's something for everyone at Silver Pond — even egg rolls.
7100 Fairway Drive, Palm Beach Gardens. Call 561-691-5662.
Chef Charlie Soo's restaurant isn't cheap, but the flavors are worth the expense. Traditional pad Thais and curries mingle with elegant Talay sea bass and Masaman duck dishes. Talay Thai is a family affair, so expect to see chef Charlie in the kitchen, Mama Soo working the hostess stand, and other family members asking how your meal was. Good service and an understanding of the dozens of intricate spices and ingredients it takes to nail the flavors of Thai food is what makes Talay Thai worth the price... and the drive.
Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant
4816 N. University Drive, Sunrise. Call 954-749-3221.
This quaint strip-mall eatery out west serves regional South Indian cuisine with a flair for curries and chutneys and an assortment of starches with which to sop it all up. And it's all vegetarian. Yup, no meat whatsoever. There's vada, fried lentil doughnuts dipped in sambar or rasam; bonda dumplings made of lentil or potato; uthappam pancakes topped with chilies and potatoes; and massive dosai — rolled-up crepes larger than your forearm and stuffed with all sorts of delicious veggies. All this is to say nothing of an excellent range of curries and pullavs — fragrant and liberally spiced — and freshly made flatbreads like naan and paratha. Best of all, no single dish on the menu will set you back more than $8.