Fort Lauderdale has seen its fair share of new and old. The restaurants shuffle in and out, and sometimes it's hard to keep tabs on what's hot on the streets, which meal you can't pass up, and where the party's at.
In 2013, we ran down a top-ten list of the best restaurants in the city and since that time have welcomed a number of new establishments that deserve a shoutout. So here they are, the best new(ish) restaurants in Fort Lauderdale.
10. The Mermaid Bar
Mall eating can be dull. Boring. Fast food, to say the least. But not so at Neiman Marcus, where you can enjoy delightful dishes in a casual, contemporary atmosphere at the Mermaid Bar Fort Lauderdale. Shop till you drop -- from hunger -- has meaning here. To remedy that, the restaurant launched in 2013 and serves a variety of fresh salads, sandwiches, homemade desserts, and specialty items daily (until the restaurant closes at 8 p.m.). The menu offers a wide selection, sure to satisfy the full spectrum of appetites -- and offers nutritional information, just in case you were wondering. Take the salmon green goddess, a salad with avocado, tomato, egg, greens, asparagus, cucumber, and light green goddess dressing for a total of 530 calories or the Crab Louie with jumbo lump crab, greens, tomato, egg, cucumber, and Louie dressing for 420 calories. Want something a little more substantial? The portobello mushroom or the roast turkey Italian melt sandwiches are under 600 calories each. The Mermaid Bar is located at the Galleria Mall in Neiman Marcus at 2442 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-396-4520.
9. The Keg on Sixth
Set off the main road, among warehouses, auto repair shops, and cheap motels just south of State Road 84 and west of Federal Highway, the Keg on Sixth isn't a place most Fort Lauderdale residents would just happen to stumble across. But the place offers a cool vibe, good food, and one of the best selections of beer south of Broward Boulevard (26 taps in all). The fare is global comfort, with dishes ranging from curried cauliflower and salads to pork-belly sliders and burgers. With an urban industrial vibe complete with graffiti murals by local artists, the spot is like a cool underground escape from the pomp and pretension of much of South Florida -- and the fist-pumping, beer-pong crowds that like to overtake our town from time to time. The Keg on 6th is located at 3218 SE Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-765-3473, thekegon6th.com.
8. Fork & Balls
Another concept by the Restaurant People (the folks behind YOLO, Vibe, Tarpon Bend, and S3), Las Olas' Fork & Balls focuses on -- you guessed it -- balls. It was inspired by the Meatball Shop in New York. The vintage-looking bar is usually packed, with a wide mix of people sucking down drinks and slurping up meatballs. Like its muse, the eatery offers customizable and composed dishes at reasonable price points. "Just Balls" ($8) comes with three meatballs (with options ranging from classic beef or spicy pork to veggie and the special of the day), sauce of your choice, and a side of focaccia. Composed dishes are slightly more expensive, at around 14 bucks. Try the Spicy Italian, a combination of pork balls with creamy polenta, roasted tomato sauce, peppers, and dollop of ricotta on top. Fork & Balls is located at 1301 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-771-2257, forkandballs.com.
If you're a purist, the sushi at Fort Lauderdale's new Asian-American fusion concept, Chow, isn't what you'd expect. But if you'd prefer to avoid the raw stuff, it's something you just might love. A good portion of the menu is labeled "not so sushi" -- a list of soy-paper-wrapped "redneck rolls" that offer fully cooked fare like steak, fried chicken, and pulled pork wrapped in rice. If you're up for it, the Challenge Roll plays Russian roulette with your taste buds: five pieces of kani crab, cucumber, and asparagus drizzled in a sweet miso sauce, with a single mystery piece that hides an extra-spicy habanero. None of this is technically sushi in its most traditional sense, but that's the point. Chow is playing with food, plain and simple -- and that's precisely what creators John Todora and Ian Rose are aiming for. The menu is an amalgamation of Asian-style comfort fare assembled to appeal to the masses, and many dishes are unique creations you won't find anywhere else. Try the addictive bowl of American-style Thai fried rice, Asian fajita-style steamed buns, and gringo crab rangoons -- then wash it all down with moonshine-based bang cocktails delivered in street-food-style plastic bags. Chow is located at 208 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-1213, eatatchow.com.
Kaluz on Commercial Boulevard is Argentine businessman Carlos Demirjian's first attempt to set up a restaurant in the U.S. after operating his successful minichain of Kansas City Grills in Buenos Aires. The 200-seat waterfront eatery opened quietly in early 2013 and was immediately popular with Fort Lauderdale's mature and professional crowd. The menu, similar to that of American chain restaurants like Season's 52, offers fried appetizers, salads, burgers and flatbreads, plus more substantial entrées like seared diver scallops. The restaurant runs with stunning efficiency -- fast service by teams of servers, precise execution of dishes by cooks in matching orange coats -- thanks in large part to Demirjian's partner, David Baldwin, who spent is early career working for Houston's/Hillstone, a company known for its rigorous training program. Kaluz is not the place to find soulful, personal food, but it is good for a solid meal and a stunning view of the Intracoastal Waterway at dusk. The partners say they intend to expand their brand with more waterfront eateries. Kaluz is located at 3300 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-772-2209, kaluzrestaurant.com.
5. Bao Las Olas
Bao Las Olas is all about high-end Asian cuisine thanks to owner Simon Bai, who was exposed to the flavorful fare of Indonesia, Java, Creole, the West Indies, and Korea early in life. Part of his goal with his new restaurant: expand South Floridians' palate for Asian cuisine. Set on a canal on Las Olas Boulevard, the restaurant offers a wide selection of from-scratch Asian fare in a casual, chic atmosphere. Its main dining room is modern with a rustic, imported, Indonesian wooden bar overlooking the open kitchen and a commanding a view of the picturesque patio and dock, which is the perfect outdoor space to relax and enjoy. Here, the focus is on sourcing high-quality ingredients and making everything from scratch. Executive chef Mark Rivera uses a Black Angus skirt steak for his Korean street tacos, which are topped with a vibrant Napa cabbage slaw. Wild sockeye salmon is used in the salmon tartare, which is finished with caviar, shallots, olives, white soy, and wasabi cream. The same natural ingredients are used to fill the namesake bao buns, including Kurobata pork belly, Ashley Farms' all-natural chicken, and local catch of the day sandwiched between the fluffy dough with fresh herbs, apple kimchi, and cucumbers. The fillings are good, but it's really about the steamed bun itself, made in-house by pastry chef Kathleen Dills. There's even a specialist to make dumplings, part of the classic American-Chinese options available. A favorite: the blue crab rangoons, made daily with macadamia nuts and a spicy homemade sweet chili. Bao Las Olas is located at 1200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-530-4176.
Longtime downtown Fort Lauderdale establishment T-Mex Cantina -- located in a small spot in the center of Himmarshee -- closed recently. But rather than go extinct, owner Chuck Bergwin partnered with Marc Falsetto, cofounder and partner of JEY Hospitality Group operating Himmarshee Public House and Rok:Brgr, to create a more modern take on Mexican. Together, they've built a more upscale approach to the concept with chef-driven interpretations of street tacos using handcrafted tortillas made on the premises daily. The beverage program is worthy of its tequila bar title with more than 100 tequilas, a dozen or so handcrafted margaritas, and a good selection of Mexican beer (as well as plenty of local brews sourced from across South Florida). To keep the downtown urban feel, the restaurant will showcase street art and hand-painted murals, delivering a Miami "Wynwood" vibe; the art is compliments of well-known street artist Ruben Ubiera, who created the restaurant's colorful, street-style graffiti art. Tacocraft is located at 204 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-2003, tacocraft.com.
S3, short for Sun, Surf and Sand, is the latest project by the Restaurant People, owners of YOLO, Vibe, and Tarpon Bend. It's the team's first foray onto Fort Lauderdale's beachfront, and it's doing it in high style, with an even higher budget. 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 have reunited with chef Chris Miracolo. The trio have worked together on and off all the way back to 1995 but parted ways for a while when Miracolo went to work at the farm-to-table restaurant Max's Harvest in Delray Beach. 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. The grilled octopus, for instance, is one of the best dishes in town. S3 is located at 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-7873, s3restaurant.com.
2. Red Cow
Red Cow, in a hard-to-spot location at Sunrise Boulevard and Federal Highway, opened in mid-2013 as the latest concept from Elliot Wolf, who has found success in downtown Fort Lauderdale with Foxy Brown, G&B Oyster Bar, and Coconuts. For this restaurant, he turned to Steve Shockey, a Texas native whom he's worked with for nearly a decade. Before opening, the two brought in a massive wood smoker and spent weeks cooking more than 1,000 pounds of meat, trying to perfect their recipes and methods. Eighteen-dollar Eat Meat combos are what you want when you step inside. Whether you pick thick, smoky slices of beef brisket or the huge beef ribs with a slice of sweet pomegranate barbecue, be sure to order the corn bread -- it's like dessert hijacked an appetizer's spot on the menu. Facing death would be easy if coffin makers begin lining boxes with this stuff. The Red Cow is located at 1025 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-652-1524, redcowftl.com.
1. Hardy Park Bistro
After years of planning and traveling the world, former yacht chef and Australian native Philip Darmon opened downtown Fort Lauderdale's Hardy Park Bistro in November 2013. Here, he serves upscale food in a casual neighborhood environment. Though Darmon has an affinity for the Mediterranean and its cuisine because of his travels throughout the region, his food also reflects a rich Southeast Asian influence because of its proximity to Australia. He serves dishes like coconut risotto with a green bean, asparagus, and cilantro salad; beef short ribs that are braised in classic red wine with palm sugar; and Maine lobster salad with grapefruit, avocado, herbs, and vanilla vinaigrette. But the menu changes weekly. Expect to see a stellar selection of wines by the bottle and glass; celebrity chef Angelo Elia helped compile the list. Hardy Park Bistro is located at 21 SW Seventh St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-652-1475, hardyparkbistro.com.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger 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 Clean Plate's Instagram.
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