Forget the big-name restaurants making headlines these days. Some of the area's tastiest fare hails not from these shiny new restaurants but instead from the random, tiny, divey spots you'll find scattered across Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
Many are family-owned businesses that locals have grown up with. Others are rather new but still offer the distinctive hallmarks of the definitive hole-in-the-wall with plenty of affordable homestyle fare served within a small, unpretentious space.
No matter what your preference, here are a few of our favorite cheap eats from places that serve what South Florida does best: seafood.
7. Conch Krawl
2600 S. University Dr., Miramar; 754-703-5981.
This four-month-old seafood dive is serving some of the best conch salad around. The snug seafood joint has a charming, homey island atmosphere. The owners serve a number of Caribbean-style fish dishes with plenty of conch options that range from crack conch (calamari-style fried pieces of conch meat) to ceviche-style conch salad, conch fritters, and conch burgers. Nassau's famous takeout-ready Chicken in da Bag is a favorite here too: fried chicken legs and thigh meat tossed together with ketchup-covered fries, served in a snack-sized bag.
6. Buster's Doughboy's and Clam Cakes
4305 N. Pine Island Rd., Sunrise; 954-765-6665; bustersdoughboys.com.
As the name suggests, the specialty here is the doughboys, tiny balls of fried dough that are made from scratch and fried to perfection before being rolled in granulated, powdered, or cinnamon sugar. When it comes to seafood, however, this hole-in-the-wall is all about rare New England treats, specifically clam cakes (fritter-sized balls of clam-riddled dough made in-house and cooked to order) and stuffies (baked and stuffed hard-shell clams known as quahog). You can also find fish tacos and cod sliders; traditional fish and chips; Manhattan-, New England-, and Rhode Island-style chowders; lobster and clam rolls; and fried oysters, shrimp, or scallops.
5. The Twisted Fish
511 NE Fourth St., Boynton Beach; 561-806-5441; twistedfishevents.com.
A live music tiki-bar spot in Boynton Beach that opened off NE Fourth Street previously known as the Backyard is now a seafood eatery and bar known as the Twisted Fish. Timothy Collins, founder and owner of the Fish Depot seafood market just a few miles north on Federal Highway, purchased the place with his son, their first professional partnership together outside the Depot. Thanks to the nearby seafood market, the Twisted Fish serves some of the freshest seafood around, from the "famous" Twisted Fish dip, crab cakes, and conch salad to the signature specials like rum caramel scallops, whole fried yellowtail snapper, and tea-glazed Scottish salmon. Insider tip: If you're looking for a good fish taco, the blackened/fried/grilled fish tacos feature the freshest catch of the day topped with a perfect combination of Thai chili slaw, balsamic pico de gallo, and sliced avocado.
4. Charlie's Fish Fry
1200 E. Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach; 954-573-7198; facebook.com/charliesfishfry.
Sometimes, all you want is some fried cod filets and fries. In other words, you want fish and chips. And you can get some of the best fried cod nuggets and fries around at four-month-old Charlie's Fish Fry in Deerfield Beach. The restaurant offers a number of seafood entrees that you can order and enjoy in the fast-casual dining area, or take out on your way to the beach. That includes New England favorites like clam rolls, clam chowder, and tender fried rounds of octopus or calamari. If you like your fish grilled or blackened, choose from fresh catches like mahi, swordfish, salmon, grouper, and snapper. You can also order dinner-style platters of various fried seafood like oysters, shrimp, scallops, or clams that can be tossed in a spicy Buffalo sauce and served with a heaping pile of hot fries and a cup of coleslaw.
3. Lito's Turf & Surf
2460 N. Federal Hwy., Lighthouse Point; 954-782-8111; litosturfandsurf.com.
Located in the Beacon Light Shopping Center, this little treasure might not catch your eye. Don’t be fooled by its modest exterior. Inside, there is good food being served by one of the friendliest families in Lighthouse Point. Owners Don and Joan Hoy run the restaurant alongside their chef sons, Kyle and Stephen. The previous owners of the Landlubber’s Raw Bar and Grill in Plantation for more than two decades, the couple decided to downscale to a more intimate setting when they opened Lito's, which today offers everything from a heaping pile of peel 'n' eat shrimp boiled in the house blend of pickling spices to a homemade lobster and crab bisque. Don flies his fish in fresh several times a week, including Ipswich clams that can be prepared either steamed or fried that are flown in every Wednesday night from Maine. The most popular dish is the Tsunami, thin-sliced ahi tuna served atop a bed of lime-and-ginger-marinated calamari served with plum and cucumber wasabi dipping sauces.
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2. Fish Shack
2862 NE 17th Ave., Pompano Beach; 954-586-4105.
"Finally, I found it." That's sort of how you feel once you arrive at the Fish Shack in Pompano Beach, located in a hidden strip of shops just off Federal Highway. The tiny location wears its modest name proudly, a popular locals' spot that's been owned and operated by a family in the seafood business for over 20 years. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu begins with seafood starters and a raw bar, everything from conch fritters and smoked fish dip to crack conch, oysters, and middle neck clams on the half-shell. The shrimp and scallop fritters are a good choice, arriving hot and crispy on the outside but tender and gooey at the center thanks to plenty of diced scallop, not too much batter. Larger plates include First Mate sandwiches that come on soft, oversize kaiser rolls with lettuce and tomato. Choose from grouper and mahi, both of which can be ordered grilled, blackened, or with Cajun spice. The fish sandwich is the way to go, though, beer-battered cod encased in a light, crispy shell that doesn't overpower the delicate white flesh.
1. The Whale's Rib
2031 NE Second St., Deerfield Beach; 954-421-8880; whalesrib.com.
The word "dive" doesn't have to be bad, especially when it comes to this one, best known for being featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The beloved Deerfield Beach seafood shack is widely hailed for its superfresh fish available at a price that won't break the budget. Try simple yet fantastic items like lobster, stone crabs, Ipswich clams, raw Oysters, oysters Rockefeller, and steamed shrimp. If heartier options are what you're looking for, the homey seafood shack features a wide selection of items from the fryer and some fresh fish sandwiches that will have you coming back — over and over again — for more.
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.