So much about the restaurant industry is hype that you can’t really take it seriously when you read a “Best of…” list. A restaurant experience is ephemeral; servers and chefs have bad days, but, when a place is named to the city’s “Top 10” or “Best” lists time and time again, you can bet the odds of a terrific dining experience are in your favor.
Hot and Soul
3045 N. Federal Highway
To look at this unassuming storefront in an equally bland mall, you wouldn’t imagine that it is consistently on every list of Fort Lauderdale’s best restaurants. Ah, but like a toad just waiting for the kiss to turn it into a prince, Hot & Soul has more to offer than you might suspect. This homey spot, run by a husband and wife team, serve up inventive and multi-cultural takes on traditional comfort food. The fact that there’s a damn fine and reasonably priced wine and craft beer list just add to the magic.
The menu is the very definition of fusion; but not in the trendy way you’d expect. The marriage of ingredients and techniques from diverse cultures makes for dishes that are as enjoyable as they are inventive. This is fine dining with an emphasis on the food and without pretense. Service isn’t terrifically polished, but it is friendly and knowledgeable, a trade off I’ll take any day.
Related: Magically Delicious?
On the night of our visit, we started with what the menu identified as “hunk a meat” a generous serving of country pâté, presented with pickles, caramelized onions, orange marmalade and toast - not enough toast to support the amount of pâté, but extra was brought as soon as we asked. Other apps included a golden tomato gazpacho (that I wasn’t blown away by, but everybody else loved) and a soba noodle salad topped with cucumber, marinated tofu, sesame oil, mint, soy and a nice kick from rooster sauce.
Hot & Soul offers many dishes in half and full portions, so you can order the half as an appetizer (as we did with the noodle salad - it was a steal at $5) or go for the larger size as an entrée. I opted for a full order of fluffy gnocchi with tender oxtail meat (it tastes just like short rib). I thought the San Marzano tomato sauce could have done with a little more cooking; it still had the metallic taste canned tomatoes give off if not cooked long and slow. I ended up taking half home and the metallic taste disappeared when I reheated the dish. My dining companions raved about the chicken adobo (stewed bone-in chicken over jasmine rice) and the gumbo of the day (chicken and andouille sausage). Even my vegetarian husband found a hearty dish; the “Vegan Yum Bowl” a filling combination of coconut polenta topped with mushroom gravy, crispy onions and sprouts.
Even if it means you must take food home, leave room for dessert. The dulce de leche custard with candied cashews, coconut cream, caramel toast and banana jam is lick-the-plate yummy. The dark chocolate-pistachio bark presents a platter (more than enough for four to share-though you won’t want to) of salty sweet deliciousness with a sprinkle of sea salt and evoo. Only the vegan chocolate cake was less than spectacular, and even it was pretty good.
You pay for quality and a three course meal with a glass of wine will run about $65 a person (tax and tip included). They only have a few tables, and only take reservations for parties of five or larger. If there’s a line, be patient, you’ll be rewarded! That being said, I just don’t even try to go during high season or on weekends.
There are a few other places that are consistently named among the best in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve written about some of these before, but they deserve another mention.
Casa D’angelo Ristorante
1201 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Casa D'Angelo is one of the best Italian restaurants in South Florida. It’s a bit pricey, but if your budget won’t allow a visit, check out either of its more reasonably-priced sister restaurants; Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar & Tapas, or the newly opened Angelo Elia Bakery Bar, which serves sandwiches in addition to pastries, bread, beer and wine!
1818 E Sunrise, Fort Lauderdale
Canyon serves an innovative array of American dishes with Asian, South and Central American undertones. Its prickly pear Margarita is a must-try.
Beauty & the Feast in the Atlantic Hotel
601 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
With such spectacular ocean views and built in clientele, Beauty & the Feast doesn’t need to be as good as it is. The kitchen whips up a flavorful array of small plates, entrees, and family-style feast plates for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a spectacular Sunday brunch buffet.
1431 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Sublime’s innovative vegan dining will satisfy even the most devout carnivore. It’s a favorite with vegan celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Pamela Anderson (can she afford it anymore?) and the like.
1850 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
Since opening in 2010 Market 17 has been garnering great reviews and pleasing diners with its unique approach to creative dining.
The Foxy Brown
723 E Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Consistently named in the Top 10 for brunch, desserts and holidays, Foxy Brown’s is quite simply, one of the top 10 restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. The fact that it is reasonably priced, laid-back and dog-friendly is an added bonus.