Hollywood. City planners' dreams of a downtown drag offering wide sidewalks with plenty of shade and restaurants are a reality.
Yet there's something strange afoot. Some nights, you can almost hear a pin drop on the opposite side of Young Circle. Despite a lengthy restaurant row, you never know what you're going to find once you get off I-95. It might be a rager, and you'll pound your first against your car's roof as you circle around and around trying to find parking.
Other nights, prime parking is so widely available that there's reason for suspicion. That restaurant your friend recommended is empty, roiling up a deep sense of concern.
But Hollywood Boulevard's problems are really more a symptom of the car-first mentality that pervades Broward County. Endless strip malls and wide, high-speed roads are more conducive to hit-and-runs than a dining and walking district. It certainly is not for a lack of good eats.
Despite the challenges, the fact that these restaurants continue to survive — and even thrive — is a testament to just how good the dining in this area really is. This is true taste of "old Florida."
So here they are, the ten best restaurants in Hollywood.
10. Exotic Bites
After a long night of drinking on Hollywood Boulevard, you have a choice. Up or down? Do you want to pass out or keep going? Exotic Bites on Harrison Street will serve your fancy either way. Have them fill you a hookah with jasmine-flavored shisha and puff till your eyes get heavy. Conversely take your pick of American, Italian, Cuban, or Turkish coffee and order a few "lady fingers" of crispy Phyllo dough wrapped around sweet-salty crushed pistachios and suddenly you'll find a few more hours of stamina. Don't forget a lamb kebab or a falafel wrap at the start or the end of the night.
If you're hankering for a simple pan con bistec and a café con leche, Laura's is the place to go. There's a picture of famed Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti hanging on the wall. Befitting Broward County, refrigerator cases hold dozens of varieties of craft beers to wash down the lechon and moros. A similarly sized collection of hot sauces is also available. While Laura Alfonso runs the kitchen, the restaurant was the dream of her late husband, Ariel Tamargo. Although he passed in mid-August, Laura is keeping the dream alive and says she doesn't plan to quit serving her home-style Cuban classics anytime soon.
Mauro's doesn't stock the dry sawdust most pizza eaters know as a sad iteration of Parmesan cheese. In fact, it tells you it doesn't have it with a sign that also warns "DON'T ASK." There are also curt instructions on the use of oregano and dried chili flake dispensers: "POUR ON YOUR PLATE FIRST, THEN ON YOUR PIZZA." There are a lot of rules at Mauro's, but if you manage to follow them all correctly, what you'll get is an ooey-gooey slice of thin-crust, New York-style pizza good enough to settle even the most devout New Yorker's longing for home for the night.
Once upon a time, beer was valued more for its nutritional qualities than its inebriating ones. The yeast that ferments grain starches into alcohol contains high levels of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorous... oh who cares. At PRL Euro Café there's enough good-quality beer to make a meal and then some. Like it's neighbor Mauro's, the décor is four walls and nothing more. A few LPs are tacked to the walls, and last we heard, you can still smoke inside.
For more than two decades, Hasan Kochan has been turning out classic Turkish dishes at his beachside restaurant on the Hollywood Broadwalk. Inside, driving techno thumps as a singer belts out a song in what you might guess is Turkish. It's the perfect pace to tap your foot or thumb as you wait for one of Kochan's thin-crust Turkish pizzas topped with a spicy combination of ground lamb, onions, parsley, and herbs. Grab a falafel wrap and a seat on the Broadwalk and watch the Margaritaville construction or the always-entertaining daytime drinker stroll by.
Ask most people what they think they'd find on the menu at a kosher, vegan restaurant and you're likely to see a lot of furrowed and raised eyebrows. At Sara's, they'll get pizza, French toast, and Shakshuka (an Israeli breakfast of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce). There's a Rubinovich for the weekdays, with corned beef stacked skyscraper high, grilled onion, a special sauce similar to Thousand Island dressing, and plenty of cheese. They even have kosher Chinese food for Sunday-night dinners. They cater, they deliver, and they'll never let you go hungry.
Most people end up finding Harrison Street while circling around looking for parking for wherever they're headed on the boulevard. Luck strikes when they zip past Lola's. Inside, chef Bob Mignola, who has worked under David Burke, Bobby Flay, and Michelle Bernstein, serves a carefully crafted menu that melds French cooking with American comfort food. A meal may start with a Brie en croute or grilled Portobello mushroom tacos with roasted poblano peppers and a sweet, tangy tomato relish. You can continue keeping it casual during the entrée with an onion-and-Muenster-cheese-topped burger, or class it up with a $34 grilled veal chop.
There's a lot of beach food on Hollywood Beach, and tacos more than fit the category. Yet the tacos and overstuffed burritos from South Beach real estate tycoon Alan Lieberman's Taco Beach Shack are a cut above the rest. Pull up a stool at the bar and order a short rib taco topped with a nuclear spicy kimchi slaw. There are also calamari and cilantro tacos as well as quesadillas stuffed with mahi-mahi, pico de gallo, and cilantro cream.
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2. Le Tub
Volumes have been written and hours have been spent researching what makes Le Tub's food, especially its nationally renowned burger, so unexpectedly good. Call it the terroir, as oenophiles like to explain what makes the best Burgundy or the finest Malbec. Maybe it's something about sitting on the creaky old patio hovering above the Intracoastal as the sun sets and casts brilliant streaks of orange and purple across the sky. Maybe it's the grill that looks like it's been on the almost-hidden property since before original owner Russell Kohuth bought the onetime Sunoco station in 1970. Whatever it is, make sure to bring a couple of friends and to make at least one of them order the chili and the Key lime pie.
Hollywood's reining restaurant family's million-dollar beachside restaurant isn't to be missed. Inside the four-story villa, Fulvio Sardelli Jr. turns out homemade pastas. A stainless-steel elevator in the foyer takes you up to an airy white room with mocha hardwood floors and an open kitchen. It's a room Fulvio Jr. is turning into a kind chef's tasting. You come, you sit, you eat, you drink. Sardelli plays host, and you don't have any options. If you're a control freak, head downstairs for a single seared scallop atop a garlicky parsnip puree dressed with almond-parsley pesto. It's a rich bite that's worth every penny of the $15 you'll pay.