South Florida is a foodie’s paradise. So why do you keep going to the same restaurants time and time again? While we all have our favorites, you owe it to yourself to break up the routine and try something new. I suggest you start with these five places, each extraordinary in its own way. I’ve included places throughout the Dade-Broward-Palm Beach areas because a good meal is often worth the trip.
Taste Buds of India
7881 W Sample Road
Coral Springs, FL 33065
Indian food is too often associated with buffets serving the same tired dishes. While there’s nothing wrong with that (I love a good Indian buffet), that’s like judging all Chinese food by dining at Panda Express. Taste Buds of India offers an elevated dining experience. Not that it’s fancy (there are white linen tablecloths and napkins), but it’s the variety and inventiveness of the dishes that make dining at Taste Buds of India a must for any fan of Southeast Asian cuisine. Try the lasooni gobi: crispy cauliflower florets tossed in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, almost like General Tso’s chicken. Another splash of spice enlivens chili paneer: cubes of Indian cottage cheese sautéed with onion, bell pepper, chili sauce, and light soy sauce.
For something milder, try the paneer reshami, which coats strips of the Indian cheese with onions and bell peppers in a mild masala. Although there are plenty of vegetarian dishes, meat and potatoes folks will find plenty to satisfy them as well. Madras lamb offers meaty cubes of tender lamb in a rich brown sauce with just the slightest bit of heat.
For seafood lovers, sautéed black pepper jumbo shrimp, redolent with ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, green pepper and crushed black pepper is a party in your mouth. Madras fish flavors the catch of the day with curry leaves, tomatoes and coconut milk. Although Taste Buds of India does offer a brunch buffet on weekends, the options aren’t as abundant or as inventive. Stick with ordering from the menu.
1690 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Dolce captures the effortless elegance of Rome in a 1960s Fellini movie. The fact that the food is spectacular is just icing on the cake. Each plate looks as if it was created by an artist’s palette and is an equal treat for the palate. Saying Dolce is the best restaurant in America isn’t just hyperbole, it actually captured that title on Bravo’s culinary competition series of that name. Dinner will run about $50 a person, lunch about half that, and breakfast about $15. Stop by for happy hour for a great deal, when Dolce offers a selection of cocktails, wines, and appetizers for $8 each and beer for $4. Oh, and as if the casually elegant atmosphere and phenomenal fare weren’t enticement enough, did I mention that the wait staff all looks like Italian fashion models? It should be noted that Dolce follows the European model and adds an 18 percent gratuity to every check.
409 Plaza Real in Mizner Park
Boca Raton, FL 33432
Brooklyn-based Junior’s may be famous for its cheesecake, but its classic deli fare is a star in its own right. Soul-stirring classics include matzo ball soup, brisket, corned beef, and pastrami sandwiches. They’re not the grossly overstuffed behemoths that made the Carnegie and Stage delis legendary, but there is still more than enough to satisfy even the most devoted carnivore. In fact, you could take half the meat off and save it for a later sandwich (as I, in fact, have) and still have a satisfying meal.
Entrees include Hungarian beef goulash with egg noodles, cheese blintzes, roast chicken, or Romanian skirt steak. Meal-enders include mile-high hot fudge sundaes, and, of course, that famous cheesecake. You can go with the basic, a blend of Philadelphia cream cheese, eggs, sugar, heavy cream, and a touch of vanilla with a classic graham cracker crust, but for true decadence try one of the combinations; such as the carrot cake cheesecake, which is basically an entire cheesecake wedged between two layers of carrot cake. Specials include half off all cocktails, including premium liquor brands, and half off all appetizers during Happy Hour from 3-7 p.m. daily and 50 percent off bottles of wine, with the purchase of an entrée, on Mondays. On Tuesday, the “Most Fabulous Burger” is available for $7.
Swank Speciality Produce
14311 N Road
Loxahatchee, FL 33470
For the ultimate in farm-to-table dining you MUST check out the series at Swank Produce, in Loxahatchee Groves. Where you’re not only eating well, you’re doing well; each meal benefits a local charity. Each dinner is themed, whether by fashion (‘70s night), focus (steaks, Argentine, vegetarian) or holiday (Valentine’s Day).
After a tour of the farm’s hydroponic growing houses, guests gather at a table in the fields for al fresco dinners under a big white tent in the middle of the Loxahatchee Groves fields. This is no mere picnic; the tables are set with white linen table cloths topped with fine china and glass stemware. The food is equally elegant and prepared by the top chefs in South Florida. The 2017-28 series, kicking off in November, will feature eight Sunday dinners (family style), six Saturday night dinners (plated), and four-six Sunday brunches (family style or buffet). Prices will range from $75 to $162 per person (all inclusive). For more information, visit their website and book as soon as the dinners are listed; the entire season sells out in a matter of weeks.
Hot & Soul
3045 N Federal Hwy
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306
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. The homey spot serves up inventive and multi-cultural takes on traditional comfort food. The fact that there are reasonably priced wine and craft beer lists just adds to the magic.
The menu is the very definition of fusion; the marriage of ingredients and techniques from diverse cultures makes for dishes that are as enjoyable as they are inventive. This is fine dining in a casual atmosphere. The emphasis is on the food and without pretense. Hot & Soul offers many dishes in half and full portions, so you can order the half as an appetizer or go for the larger size as an entrée. Among the regular dishes that win raves is the chicken adobo (stewed bone in chicken over jasmine rice), gumbo (changes daily), and the “Vegan Yum Bowl,” a filling combination of coconut polenta topped with mushroom gravy, crispy onions, and sprouts. Start with a generous serving of country pate, presented with pickles, caramelized onions, orange marmalade, and toast.
Leave room for dessert. Although the options change daily, there are some staples such as dulce de leche custard and dark chocolate pistachio bark. 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!