Sadly, when Floridians vacation, there aren't many places that can top home. Which brings us to the idea of a staycation. After all, there are plenty of world-class resorts and hotels to choose from. In your average city, the hotel restaurant isn't much to write home about, meant only to serve guests who don't have time to wander outside of the neighborhood. But here in South Florida, restaurants need to serve more than eggs Benedict in the morning to be relevant, and chefs have the opportunity to become rock stars in their own right.
Whether it's topnotch fare at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's new Kuro or a celebrity chef like the one you'll find at 3030 Ocean, both Broward and Palm Beach counties offer the type of hotel restaurants tourists and locals want to visit.
10. Grille 66 & Bar
Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, 2301 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-728-3500, or visit grille66andbar.com.
Grill 66 & Bar is an upscale waterfront restaurant known for its unbeatable views, located directly off the Intracoastal Waterway adjacent to Pier 66 and the Hyatt Regency hotel. The eatery boasts an upmarket vibe, with white tablecloths and a lovely view of yachts floating by. Here you can savor a number of hand-trimmed, tender cuts of meat, aged for great flavor and carefully prepared to perfection. The signature Maryland crab cakes or a Maine lobster cocktail will cure your seafood cravings. The dinner menu also includes fresh-caught fish, daily specials, and — of course — that stunning water view.
9. Beauty & the Feast
601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-567-8070, or visit society8.com.
Reclaimed wood and brick, Edison bulbs, tufted leather booths, small plates, and an emphasis on "craft" seem to be the main ingredients for this trendy restaurant set inside the Atlantic Resort & Spa. Beauty & the Feast has it all: beautiful ocean views located across from Fort Lauderdale Beach, a menu of global comfort dishes, and one of the best brunches around. Set in the ground floor of the boutique hotel, the restaurant boasts that rustic-industrial vibe that has been sprouting up all around South Florida in the past few years. The menu offers a range of dishes intended for sharing, like sea scallops served over sweet basil oil with porcini mushroom sauce and microgreens. Crispy chicken sliders are slathered with honey sriracha and mango slaw, then sandwiched between Hawaiian buns. Pizzas range from Old School� meatball to white clam. The dishes are interesting, the decor is nice, and the cocktails are good. What more could you need?
8. Leopard Lounge & Restaurant
Chesterfield Palm Beach, 363 Cocoanut Row, Palm Beach. Call 561-659-5800, or visit chesterfieldpb.com.
The legendary Leopard Lounge & Restaurant stands as one of Palm Beach’s best loved institutions — a place where you can go to see and be seen. From its jet-black lacquered walls, hand-painted ceiling, and slitted window blinds to the granite-topped tables, punkah fans, bevelled mirrors — and that leopard-skin-patterned carpet — this kitschy bar and restaurant at the Chesterfield Hotel is known for serving upmarket American eats to classy clientele. Here, hip out-of-towners groove to a lounge singer, big shots order $400 bottles of Champagne, and locals come to hob-nob and eat. The menu features an eclectic mix of classic American, English, Asian, and international dishes prepared with flair and imagination by executive chef Gerard Coughlin. The late-night menu is the best, though, served until 1 a.m. on weekends and featuring everything from exotic burgers to a short list of creative small plates.
7. Ocean 2000
The Pelican Grand Resort, 2000 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-556-7667, or visit pelicanbeach.com.
The Pelican Grand Beach Resort's Ocean 2000 is the ultimate in waterfront hotel dining. The menu features new American fare and offers diners an alternative to the area's other upscale options. The experience starts at "The Lounge" with an oceanfront patio, small-plates menu, and a creative mixology program of classic reinvented cocktails. Ocean 2000, the main event, is a stunning, 88-seat dining room adorned with driftwood candelabra and circular metal light fixtures that look like giant starbursts for a mix of old and new. Like the decor, the menu has a bit of everything. Ocean 2000 pays homage to the local palate, featuring fresh-caught seafood like yellowtail snapper to more upmarket options like steaks and lobster — and a really good Key lime pie.
6. 3030 Ocean
Riva-Marriott Harbor Beach, 3030 Holiday Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-765-3030, or visit 3030ocean.com.
This upscale seafood spot is also one of the area's best seafood establishments, situated inside the Marriott Hotel. The restaurant is home to one of the region's most beloved culinary talents, Paula DaSilva, known for her farm-to-fork philosophy and ceaseless commitment to sourcing the finest local ingredients available. Here, DaSilva launched her career, honing her skills and securing a reputation as one of the area's rising culinary stars. A star turn on Gordon Ramsay's reality cooking show Hell's Kitchen garnered the savvy young chef national attention for her talent, dedication, and coolness under fire. Today, the restaurant offers a mix of upscale eats paired with beautiful ocean views.
The Hilton Fort Lauderdale, 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-523-7873, or visit s3restaurant.com.
S3 — short for "sun, surf, and sand" — hails from the same family of restaurants as YOLO, Vibe, and Tarpon Bend in Fort Lauderdale. But rather than catering to the masses downtown, S3 is the team's first foray into Fort Lauderdale's beachfront, and it's doing it in high style. Nearly $4 million was spent transforming the first floor of the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort into a Pacific-inspired oasis. For this project, which opened mid-2013, company execs Tim Petrillo and Peter Bouloukis reunited with chef Chris Miracolo. The menu features entrées that appeal to a professional crowd, like pork loin and skirt steak, more than a dozen raw and sushi items, and a wide choice of small plates that pair well with a trendy cocktail and ocean views. Drinks are creative, the atmosphere is calm and cool, and the fire pits on the outdoor terrace are perfect for any time of year (but especially those chilly South Florida nights).
4. Rusty Hook Tavern
The Sands Harbor Resort, 125 N. Riverside Drive, Pompano Beach. Call 954-941-2499, or visit therustyhooktavern.com.
This 56-room resort hotel features two penthouses, a full-service marina with 50 slips, its own fuel dock, and three waterfront restaurants, including the Rusty Hook Tavern. This hip, waterside joint comes complete with a water view. The idea is to offer a casual hangout — with equally casual, affordable fare — for locals and tourists alike. An upscale atmosphere offers stunning views of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the menu specializes in fresh-catch specials, seafood, steaks, and sharing plates with a global touch. The menu is made for sharing and indulging, paired with a short list of cocktails and a selection of craft brews — all of it equally conducive to quiet dinners for two or large festive gatherings. If you can make it through the patio crowd and down a narrow set of steps, the hotel's pool deck offers uninterrupted views of the Intracoastal, as does the interior dining area, where you'll find a cooler, slightly less raucous reprieve. Still farther back, through a pair of glass doors leading to the hotel lobby, is the restaurant bar. There's no view, but it offers a refuge for sampling the chef's crafty creations.
3. Echo Palm Beach
The Breakers, 1 S. County Road, Palm Beach. Call 855-435-5747, or visit echopalmbeach.com.
Echo is a vibrantly designed Asian restaurant, owned by the Breakers of Palm Beach and featuring dishes from China, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam. They're categorized according to the elements. There's "wind" — small plates to start your journey. And "water" — a mix of beverages and sushi. Next is "fire" — food from the grill, wok, and frying pan. Don't forget "earth" — food from the sea and land, or fish and meats. Stay on the island long enough and you'll hear the Palm Beachers rave about the Thai curry chicken, Hong Kong-style noodles, Cantonese black cod, and Mongolian beef. Desserts, like mandarin orange cheesecake, are just as good. A sushi bar in the Dragonfly Lounge is curved and runs the length of the room, serving Asian beers, imported sakes, and specialty cocktails. The happy hour makes it worth the trip and saves you some money.
2. Steak 954
W Fort Lauderdale, 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-414-8333, or visit steak954.com.
In the W Fort Lauderdale, you'll find one of the area's best steak houses of great refinement, in spite of a menu that looks like the same-old, same-old. You walk past a tank full of black-lit jellyfish to get to Stephen Starr's Steak 954, set in the austerely swank W Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and by the time you've finished dinner, you'll feel nearly as graceful and buoyant as those medusae. Refreshing cocktails are made with exotic elements such as aloe or ginger beer. A slider is not just a slider: It's Kobe beef topped with the sweetest caramelized onions and sandwiched between rounds of buttery brioche. A bone-in veal chop is thick and juicy, while a plate of Mediterranean bronzini, with a jewel-like array of vegetables, is as light and delicate as any fish that ever swam. Even a tuna-foie gras taco, weird as it sounds, is a luscious flavor pairing. Don't skip dessert: The pastry chef is one of the best when it comes to satiating this city's sweet tooth.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Call 954-585-5333, or visit seminolehardrockhollywood.com.
Almost everything happening at Kuro is new to Broward County. Not many restaurants offer such a complex, well-calibrated experience with a Japanese take. It's a roller-coaster ride for the senses, one you'll want to take — again and again. By the time your server has finished telling you the philosophy behind the Kuro menu, you'll be hooked. Start with the toro, a tasty, beautiful pile of raw fish, fatty and rich, paired with a trio of sauces — salty, spicy, and sweet — served as an interactive dish that comes with a basket of crispy wontons fried into pillow-shaped balloons. That's just the beginning too. Although there are many ways to nosh on sushi and sashimi in Broward County, that's not all you'll find here. Instead, Kuro offers a traditional, multicourse Japanese style of dining known as kaiseki. The Hollywood Hard Rock resort's latest dining concept was a year in the making, designed bottom to top by a new management team including Hard Rock's vice president of food and beverage, Justin Wyborn; and creative culinary director Alex Becker (a Nobu and Katsuya veteran). The goal: to create an upmarket establishment unlike any other in Broward County — or South Florida, for that matter. They've succeeded.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.