Thursday, February 2, 2023

Eating BIG in South Florida Pt. 4

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties 
- The Melting Pot of the South

Smokin’ Chokin’ & Chowing will return for a 16th season. But not before a winter break in South Florida, and our readers are coming with! Pack your bags and don’t forget to bring some sun-block, a swimsuit, and an appetite with you. Today's post takes us to what’s become my second home - South Florida. A place I’ve been visiting my entire life going back to when my grandpa started to spend winters down here in the 80’s. More times than not my family would come down for a week or two around Easter and I have many fond memories of our trips that included days at the beach, trips to Miami to watch the Heat and also playing basketball and swimming at the club. I loved our annual visit to the flea market where my grandpa liked to hunt down a deal. As a kid I also loved going to a couple of ex-athletes spots. Back then both Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Rose had bars / restaurants that my elders would take us to eat and play games. Long story short I love some South Florida. 

Beachin' in South Florida

As years went by places like Pete Rose’s and Wilt Chamberlains closed and the flea market turned into luxury housing and so forth. South Florida was a very different place in the 80’s than it is today but I still like visiting. The main reason is the weather but another is the food. Yes the food scene in South Florida is also very different these days than it was back then. As a kid I loved going to Miami Subs, the locally born fast food chain that’s still around. But as I got older and started to become more interested in food and regional food in particular, it opened up a whole new world to me. Over the last decade I’ve explored the area through food and let me tell you, anyone that says there’s not much to eat down here must not leave their gated community too often. The South Florida area is home to ten million people and it’s one of the country’s most diverse regions and with that comes diversity in the food. You just have to venture away from the beach to find most of it's riches. Lucky for my readers I’ve done that for them over the years, exploring everywhere from West Palm Beach to Miami and then some. The region is rich with options and I’m going to show you that here today.  

Colorful South Florida

You can’t talk about the local food scene down here without first mentioning the Cubans. South Florida’s largest ethnic community is the backbone of the area in more ways than one including the food scene. But over time the Cubans have been joined by the Jamaicans, Haitians, French Canadians, Brazilians, Argentinians, East Coasters and so forth which has created one of the country’s biggest melting pots when it comes to food and culture. Today's report is the longest and most in-depth the site has ever seen. It’s the culmination of my last few trips including a two month stay last winter. Miami is the hub of South Florida and my favorite place to hang out down here but within every town up and down the coast you can find good dining options ranging from mom and pop type spots to places backed by big money investments. Your choices are endless you just have to know what you’re looking for and where you can find it. That’s where I come in. We’ll start in Palm Beach County and work our way through Broward County before ending in Dade County as we visit 99 spots I give my personal stamp of approval. You can find a link to a google map guide of every place featured in this post at the very end. So let’s drop the top and buckle up. We’re going for a ride! 

Motels of Miami

Captain Charlie's Reef Grill (Juno Beach)

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again in case you forgot. Captain Charlie's is likely the best seafood restaurant in South Florida. Tucked away in a strip mall where rent is less than half than that on the beach. This place stays packed from September - May with both snowbirds and locals looking for reasonably priced super fresh fish. Always a must for us even with it being in Juno Beach which is a 40 min drive north from where we typically stay. The owner has a longstanding relationship with some local fishermen so the menu is always changing though favorites like wahoo, pompano, and swordfish stay on the menu which is best described as Floribbean cuisine (local ingredients with Caribbean and Spanish influence). My go to is the blackened prep of fish which is always a big hit. They also do up a flawless whole fried snapper on the ever changing specials menu. On this trip in we also tried some rock shrimp, tempura fried grouper cheeks, and key lime pie. Pretty much a perfect stop save for one thing. MLB's the Cardinals hold spring training in nearby Jupiter so the bar and dining room are filled with baseballs “best fans” during that time. But that’s OK, nothing is perfect. No reservations. 

Dinner at Reef Grill

Leftovers Cafe (Jupiter)

Fans of Captain Charlie's will find a couple of other similar spots in the area. They come from a guy who used to cook at Captain Charlie's before breaking off to open his own places including Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter. The Floribbean inspired restaurant is open all day making it a popular spot for seafood as well as live music and craft beer. I love their signature sweet potato crusted fish dish.

Sweet Potato Crusted Fish at Leftover's Cafe

Matty's Gelato (Juno Beach)

Juno Beach has one of Florida's best beaches and that's before you take the the free parking factor into effect (huge lot too). Matty's Gelato is another thing I love about visiting Juno Beach. After a few hours in the sun, the need for something cold and refreshing is a must and Matty's makes some very good gelato. I can whole heartily recommend their Key Lime Pie with crushed graham crackers. 

Key Lime Gelato at Matty's Gelato

The Catch Seafood & Sushi (North Palm Beach)

There’s so many average, uninteresting and quite frankly "vanilla" restaurants down here. But there’s also some good local ones to be found. But rarely are they hidden as spots like The Catch stay busy with snowbirds. You just have to dig a little deeper than the first page yelp results. The Catch is a Floribbean restuarant which means it’s a casual place that serves a decent amount of seafood and drinks to go with it. They do sushi too as the chef comes from Peru where it's also very popular. We enjoyed a perfectly fried whole red snapper with tostones, an excellent batch of Chaufa de Mariscos and a refreshing Vuelve a la Vida, as well as some relaxing waterfront views on our visit.

Dinner at The Catch Seafood & Sushi

Chunkay (Riviera Beach)

I make sure to get my fair share of Trinidadian food in South Florida. It's one of those cuisines you wont find in Chicago save for a spot or two but it's still not the same. The Caribbean food hits different down here. Chunkay is a place ran by a couple of woman from Trinidad. It's more modern than most of the Trini spots you'll find. They seem to cater to a younger crowd with an active social media presence and such. This is the freshest Trinidadian joint I've found down here in that the food is typically made to order. Pictured below is the best double I've had north of Broward and a lesser seen dish called Geera Pork which is delicious chunks of tender pork butt slathered in a spicy cumin heavy gravy. Best washed down with one of their extra refreshing housemade drinks. Try the basil lime. 

Trinidadian Food at Chunkay

Buccan (Palm Beach)

If you need a night out type vibe in Palm Beach this is your best bet if you want good food to go with it. If you don't like noise try to sit outside bc it's a popular spot. It's best to reserve ahead. The pasta here in particular is a highlight. It seems like the sweet corn agnolotti is a dish that doesn’t leave the menu so I’ll likely be back for that. Lobster + Shrimp with perfectly cooked made on site fusilli was also a winner. Even the snapper ceviche with fresh fried tortilla chips was a big hit. One of their most popular offerings is the tuna crisps which is chopped raw tuna served atop fresh fried wontons. 

Dinner at Buccan

Buccan Sandwich Shop (Palm Beach)

The folks from Buccan also run a lunchtime sandwich spot just around the corner. The Sandwich Shop at Buccan has a menu of hot and cold offerings and it too is a very popular spot so you'll want to order ahead (takeout only). Pic'd below is the steak carpaccio which was very nice but the house smoked yellowtail tuna was even better. The bread is good and the fillings all seem to be great. 

Steak Carpaccio at Buccan Sandwich Shop

Cafe Boulud (Palm Beach)

It wasn't my choice to come to this expensive spot ran by a famous French chef but I wasn't paying so who cares. That said I started to care when an order of $15 frites ended up being nothing more than frozen food service fries. He should be ashamed. I was so annoyed I found it hard to enjoy the rest of the meal. A shrimp cocktail was good but not great so not worth the price but I did have better luck with my entree which was a pan seared turbot with yukon golds, leeks, and lobster. But was it worth the price of admission? I really didn't think so. Though I'm really not that their target base.

Dinner at Cafe Boulud

Havana Restaurant (West Palm Beach) 

Havana makes it's presence known with it's big white building towering over the corner of Forest Hill Blvd and the busy Dixie Highway. It's one of the areas most iconic restaurants so you can expect a crowd 24 hours a day at the walk up window. The dining room is also popular but the hours are a bit more limited. I've never dined in but have been ordering stuff up at the window for many years now. I like the shakes, steak sandwiches and the Cuban Creole shrimp dish but it's the croquetas I find myself stopping for more times than not. Cuban style croquetas are the official street snack of Miami and can be found pretty much anywhere that Cuban coffee is served. They're a lightly breaded, deep fried, cigar shaped snack typically made with ham and a bechamel sauce. I've never met one I didn't like but my guy Sef at Burger Beast has a list for those looking for the absolute best in Miami.

Croquettes at Havana Restaurant

Colombino Italian Bakery (West Palm Beach)

Let’s talk bread. They seem to do it really well down here in South Florida. Bread is what makes or breaks a sandwich. It really doesn’t matter how good your other ingredients are if you don’t have good bread to put them in. On the flip side a great piece of bread can also hide any type of average ingredients. I don’t know if the meatballs from this locally loved Italian deli are homemade though I’d assume they are. But what I do know is they bake the perfect bread for use in a meatball sandwich as it’s crisp and crunchy on the outside and super soft and warm within. So popular that many customers get hot loaves buttered and eat that as a meal in itself. This place has a very Upstate NY feel (a bit rundown in a good way) which is fitting bc they also sell what they describe as “Upstate New York Pizza” which I didn’t think was anything special. A Palm Beach County favorite since 1988.

Lunch at Colombino Bakery

Tropical Smokehouse (West Palm Beach)

I found the smoked meats with a Floribbean influence on offer here to be intriguing. West Palm Beach doesn't have a ton of unique spots but Tropical Smokehouse felt the part. Pulled Pork with Mojo sauce, Alligator Sausage, and smoky black beans to start followed up with a Fried Smoked Cobia Sandwich. I enjoyed both of the meats and the side of black beans as well. The sauces were all pretty good too. But the smoked fish sandwich was different than I was expecting. It was one of those ground fish patties that I'm not all that fond of. I would've preferred a classic fried fish sandwich. But the bbq was different enough from the traditional stuff to stand out but traditional enough to stand in.

Mojo Pulled Pork and Alligator Sausage at Tropical Smokehouse 

Smoked Cobia Sandwich at Tropical Smokehouse

Hamburger Haven (West Palm Beach)

What’s the most American food you can think of? For me it might be the cheeseburger. First and foremost bc they’re American and there’s not a country that does them better but also bc you’re never far from a good one no matter where you are in the States. South Florida isn’t the first place that comes to mind when it comes to great burgers but there’s certainly a few worth seeking out. Some of the better ones tend to be international offerings like the Frita Cubana from Cuba or the X-Tudo from Brazil. The history down here isn’t exactly old but most of the old school spots are long gone replaced by high rises and hotels. But here’s a place I randomly found in WPB that hasn’t been razed for a gentrified condo, not that they haven’t tried (local pols won’t designate any of the neighborhood as historic - useless like the rest of them). Pleasant City is the oldest Black neighborhood in West Palm Beach with a history going back to 1900. Hamburger Haven which dates back to 1947 is near. This is a no frills Black owned spot known for some seriously good double cheeseburgers. No fries, chips! Here we have a leading candidate for ‘Burger of the Year’. Excellent old school style - smashed with deluxe toppings and well melted cheese. One of Florida's best.

Double Cheeseburger at Hamburger Haven

Mr. Macks Island Grill (West Palm Beach)

There's a ton of options for jerk chicken down here but the quality can vary from spot to spot. Mr. Mack's makes a fantastic batch using a big old steel-drum smoker that's parked in the parking lot. 

Jerk Chicken at Mr. Macks Island Grill

Pizzeria Cubana & Bakery (West Palm Beach)

Ever heard of Cuban Pizza? Yes it’s a thing in South Florida where it’s said to have migrated from a popular Cuban beach town when a pizzaiolo from Varadero Beach moved to Miami. It’s pan cooked so there’s some small similarities to both Chicago pan pizza and Detroit style too. The dough is almost fluffy like a dinner roll as described in this really well written Food52 article. It's worth a read if you want to learn more about this relatively unknown regional pizza style. I was welcomed like a regular by the Cuban ladies running this place which specializes in Cuban pizza, Cuban spaghetti, and home cooked Cuban dishes that switch by the day. I got a small chorizo pizza and a small ham spaghetti. She asked if I wanted the pizza crispy but she assumed I wanted it cut bc most locals will just fold an uncut pizza in half and eat it like a sandwich. I can see why so many Cubans consider this a treat. It’s got trending power for sure. Maybe not the spaghetti but I understand it’s comfort. 

Cuban Pizza and Spaghetti at Pizzeria Cubana & Bakery

Fern Street Wine Bar & Kitchen (West Palm Beach)

Most of the night out type of spots in West Palm Beach are weak. They're more about being seen than eating some good food. Fern Street Wine Bar seems to be somewhere in between. It's a hot spot but it's popular with people that want to eat well while attending a night on the town. They do farm to table plates led by a Florida born chef so you can expect to find dishes like a ceviche with locally caught cobia or a grilled Pichana steak with chimichurri among other interesting offerings. 

Dinner at Fern Street Wine Bar & Kitchen

Tropical Bakery Cafe & Restaurant (Palm Springs)

If you know what's pictured below upon first glance you’ve probably spent some time in South Florida. Home to over one million Cuban-Americans and the sandwich they created after coming over. I found a good one here in Palm Springs where Tropical Bakery stays packed with locals looking for Cuban coffee, pastries, and home cooked plates of Cuban food. They bake their Cuban bread fresh each morning and it's terrific. They also do pretty good job with their Cuban sandwich and the balancing of the fillings which most spots botch. Maybe a little too much ham but the key is to always order your Cuban sandwich double pressed. This will guarantee the cheese melts and the bread starts to glisten. They also make some pretty great pastries and pastelitos de guava. If you’re not indulging in the many Caribbean and Latin American bakeries down here then you’re doing it all wrong.

Cuban Sandwich at Tropical Bakery Cafe

Pastries at Tropical Bakery

Enzo's Cafe and Bakery (Palm Springs)

I’ve been going down to South Florida for most of my life. I’ve been exploring the local food scene down there for at least the last ten years and I’m constantly amazed at all the hidden gems that keep on popping up. Places like this Enzo's Cafe & Bakery in Palm Springs. It's here where a family from Uruguay cooks up traditional favorites like Milanesa Napolitana (breaded steak covered in marinara and layered with ham and melted cheese). They also make all their pasta in house including some super tender spinach raviolis mixed in a carbonara with bacon. More than 1/3 of Uruguayans have Italian descent and the local food in Uruguay reflects this. South Florida is home to largest Uruguayan population in the United States so you’re never far from a chivito (read on) in these parts.

Dinner at Enzo Cafe & Bakery

Polo Club Bakery & Grill (Greenacres)

Lake Worth Beach is a pretty cool town. It still has some of that Old Florida charm going for it in it's buildings and neighborhoods. It's easily the most artsy and least artificial of all the towns that make up Palm Beach County. They also have a very nice beach with ample parking so sometimes will head over there for some sand and sun and bring some beach treats like these Argentine empanadas. 

Empanadas at Polo Club Bakery

Karina's Churros (Greenacres)

The history of churros is a story that starts in Spain before moving into to other Spanish speaking countries like staring in South America before moving into Mexico and so on. This truck comes from some Argentines serving up some freshly fried churros stuffed with your choice of chocolate, caramel or the locally loved guava. They do empanadas and sandwiches de miga too.

Churros from Karina's

Iberia Grill (Greenacres)

I've featured this Portuguese hangout before in a previous report. They do charcoal grilled chicken and fresh cut fries that are both very good. Today I'll focus in their Prego Steak Sandwich: Steak, bread, and condiments such as tartar sauce. So simple which means your ingredients better be good. Iberia Grill serves up chewy fresh baked Portuguese rolls paired with soft and tender steak. In a word - great. On this same visit I also got an order of the family style Portuguese BBQ for the people back at the house. Charcoal grilled ribs and peri peri chicken with chorizo, tocino, and beef short ribs was all very good. I first tried this spot for East Coast Snowbirds of Portuguese descent before I ever went to Portugal and I love it even more after having visited. Nothing like it back home which can be said about a lot of the spots down here in South Florida, if you know what you're looking for. 

Prego Steak Sandwich at Iberia Grill

Curry Tabanca (Greenacres)

This is the closest Trinidadian restaurant to where I typically stay so it's pretty much always a stop on my local dining itinerary. I feel like all of the Trinidadian spots down here are above average and while none of them are way above the others some are definitely better. Curry Tabanca makes spicy doubles as well as delicious renditions of aloo pie and one of my favorite Trini snacks - shrimp wontons which are the fried kind and come with a terrific Caribbean-Chinese dipping sauce. 

Trini Snacks at Curry Tabanca

Eagle Grill & Oyster Bar (Greenacres)

There's a few restaurants down here with a Maryland connection and this one is known for it's crab cakes. The pictures online looked great in that you could see these weren't imitation crab cakes by any means. By which I mean these had very little filler and tons of big chunks of crab. I've actually never been to Baltimore so these just might've been the best damn crab cakes I've ever ate. We also tried an order of New England fried whole belly clams though those weren’t of Essex County quality. More like Connecticut or Rhode Island. But the crab cakes sure seemed to be Maryland quality.

Crab Cakes at Eagle Bar & Oyster Grill

Pelican Restaurant (Lake Worth Beach)

If I were a scout for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (I really should be) I’d give The Pelican in Lake Worth Beach a five star grade. It looks like a typical breakfast spot and it is but there’s an “Indian Breakfast” menu too. I loved their beef shank Nihari. My type of breakfast. Yo! Guy Fieri! Get in the red Camaro and get over here. Ran by a lady from Karachi who also lived in Delhi. A South Florida dining gem. 

Beef Shank Nihari Breakfast at the Pelican Restaurant

Roxie's Place (Lake Worth Beach)

Aside from heavy representation from just about every country in the Caribbean and South America there’s also a shit ton of east coasters in South Florida. Hot dogs, cheesesteaks, pizza, bagels, you name it and there’s likely someone from out east doing it down here. Still I wasn’t expecting to come across a real deal Beef on Weck ala Buffalo New York but that’s exactly what we have here at an otherwise typical daytime diner in Lake Worth. An online dive into Beef on Wecks being served up in Florida revealed that there's a ton of places that make these but I'd put Roxie's against any of them. 

Beef on Weck at Roxie's Place

Beef & Ale (Lake Worth Beach)

Speaking of beef sandwiches in Lake Worth, here's another good one. Beef & Ale sounds like a corporate chain with locations across the state but it's not. It's just a classic South Florida strip mall dive bar with plenty of pool tables. Lots of online reviews mention the roast beef so I stopped by one night to watch some NCAA March Madness and have a sandwich. Another solid option in the area.  

Roast Beef at Beef & Ale

El Rey Del Taco (Lake Worth Beach)

If you drive up and down Military Trail between Delray Beach and West Palm Beach you’ll come across all sorts of food trailers at least half of which are permanently parked taco trucks. I’ve tried quite a few of those trucks over the years and this one offers up lot of beef options. Pictured below are Suadero, Lengua, Cachete, Surtido which come from the steamer save for suadero which is fried.

Tacos at El Rey Del Taco

Tropical Island Restaurant (Boynton Beach) 

South Florida is home to the largest Haitian community outside of Haiti and the majority of them live in Palm Beach County. So of course there’s some great Haitian food to be found down here. Tropical Island Restaurant just might be my favorite of the bunch. They make the best batch of griot I’ve tried and I love the house pikliz which is monotoned in color but harmonious in flavor. They do a fantastic hot sauce too. Griot is tender chunks of citrus marinated pork shoulder that’s braised before being deep fried and pikliz is Haiti’s national condiment consisting of shredded cabbage, carrots and scotch bonnet peppers that are pickled in white vinegar. Together they make for a crazy good combo. 

Griot at Tropical Island Restaurant

Bud's Chicken & Seafood (Boynton Beach)

If I was born and raised in the Boynton Beach area I’d likely have a connection to Bud’s which has served these parts since the late 50’s. I’ve been coming down since the 80’s and this was my first trip in for a fish sandwich which is one of their most popular items. It won’t be my last. These are nothing special as far as catch but it's a much more of a quality offering than all the corporate fast food chains that flood the area. I like the option to do housemade potato or pasta salad instead of fries too. 

Fish Sandwich at Bud's Chicken & Seafood

Driftwood (Boynton Beach)

Driftwood is another spot I can recommend for a nice dinner out. It's one of the better options in the area for those looking for food and drinks. The husband and wife team that run Driftwood worked for years in NYC restaurants as well as Los Angeles. They teamed up with a cocktail guy who'd done spots in NYC and Nashville and together they created a spot that the area really needed. It's casual but nice enough to make reservations at for a Friday night dinner for pretty plates of food with influences that are both foreign and domestic. The menu changes over time but the shrimp and grits seems to be a mainstay and for good reason, it's awesome. You can also expect a fresh local catch. 

Dinner at Driftwood

Two Georges Waterfront Grille (Boynton Beach)

The fish sandwiches in Florida are second to none. You can find them up and down both coasts and they’re particularly popular in the Keys which is where the Grouper Reuben is said to have come about. It’s a Reuben with blackened or grilled grouper instead of corned beef. I got this one made with a cooling curry cole slaw at one of Boynton Beach Marinas oldest spots (est. 1957). This place just oozes old Florida in all of it’s aspects. The type of environment you typically have to go down to the Keys to find. Also pictured is blackened wahoo with mango salsa and fresh veggies over rice from the daily catch board and a Miami Vice which is half Rum Runner and half Pina Colada for dessert. 

Dinner at Two Georges Waterfront Grille (click pics to enhance)

La Brasa Grill (Boynton Beach)

There's a handful of fast food chains that call the South Florida area home. Burger King is the most well known of them all but some of them like La Brasa are only found in South Florida. It's regional fast food if you will. La Brasa serves the food of Peru with rotisserie chicken being their specialty. It's a relatively new concept (est. 2005) that's quickly grown with more than ten locations stretching from West Palm Beach down into Miami. It's pretty good actually, better than most as far as drive-thru food goes. They make a nice fried rice (chaufa) in part bc it's made in a wok to order. But the chicken and sides are also decent. Both are greatly enhanced with some of the excellent sauces they make.

Chifa Chaufa at La Brasa Grill

Hurricane Alley (Boynton Beach)

I'm not sure how much longer this popular raw bar has but it's still around for now (building was sold for development). Hurricane Alley isn't the first place I think of when I go out for dinner down here but it's a good option if the other spots are packed, of course it's possible this place will also be busy. They make hearty sandwiches using house roasted beef and turkey as well as Floribbean seafood plates and salads and such. I like them bc they're one of the few spots that usually has rock shrimp, though the consistency of them varies. But I'll miss this place if it goes away as it's one of the older eating / drinking destinations in the area. Not many of them are left from the previous era.  

Rock Shrimp at Hurricane Alley

Captain Clay and Sons Fish Market (Delray Beach)

Our next stop might be my favorite of them all down here except it's not a restaurant but rather one of the best fishmongers I’ve ever come across in terms of offering what’s fresh and local. Yes I always miss the warm weather when leaving South Florida but even more than that I miss having access to the freshest of fish. They also own a coveted stone crab fishing license which means you can find some of the freshest stone crab in all of South Florida here (they'll crack it for you). Plus the best smoked fish dip I’ve ever had and a sensational shrimp salad if you're in need of food for the beach.

Stone Crab Claws from Captain Clay and Sons Fish Market

Bamboo Fire Cafe (Delray Beach)

Is this the best Caribbean food in Palm Beach County? That’s a question I find myself asking after a few visits to Bamboo Fire Cafe just last year. I can’t believe they’ve been open for 14 years and I'd just found out about them last year but there's lots of hidden gems down here. Most of Florida’s Guyanese population lives in Broward so that’s where you’ll find the majority of eateries serving up the food of Guyana. Save for Bamboo Fire Cafe in Delray Beach. It’s listed as Caribbean but the owners come from Guyana and so do two of the better plates of food I had down here last year. Yes Guyana is in South America but their food and music and culture is much more reflective of the Caribbean. 

Pepperpot Oxtail at Bamboo Fire Grill

First up is an order of Oxtail Pepperpot (!!!). This is the national dish of Guyana, the Pepperpot part of it that is. Guyanese Pepperpot is a unique type of stew native to the Americas and Amerindian people (inhabitants of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans). The most important ingredient in Pepperpot is cassareep which comes from the Cassava plant. Pepperpot serves as a curry of sorts so it can made with potatoes, shrimp, chicken, and more. But I can’t imagine any of them topping oxtail. This was so succulent and full of deep beef flavor. 

Chicken in De Ruff

Then there’s Chicken in De Ruff, another dish that’s extremely popular in Guyana. It’s basically the unofficial national dish. At it’s basic core it’s fried chicken and it’s very popular in Guyana’s Chinese restaurants where it always comes served atop a big pile of fried rice. Bamboo has its own play on the dish and it’s some real finger licking stuff. But you have to ask for it as it’s not listed on the menu. Each dish comes served with your choice of smoky okra fried rice or fluffy rice and peas. Plus some of the most flavor packed meatballs you’ll ever come across. I’ll never come back down here and not get an order of these jammin’ jerk meatballs. I’ve been thinking about their warm heat all winter.

Jerk Meatballs at Bamboo Fire Grill

Sweet's Sensational (Delray Beach)

This is my favorite homestyle Jamaican joint in Florida. When I say homestyle I mean a place where they're cooking homemade Jamaican dishes such as brown stew chicken or oxtails. Places like Sweets will usually do jerk too but that tends to be better at spots that specialize in just that. The jerk at a homestyle place like this will be more about the sauce and will usually come with rice and gravy if you want that too. Sweets Sensational makes their jerk chicken in this fashion which I do enjoy from time to time. Some spots will bake it (big no) but not here where they grill it up out back. This style of jerk can be very satisfying in the same way a big plate of soul food or a Southern Meat and Three can be. I like the jerk pork even more. That and beef patties are my go-to orders from here. The family that runs Sweet's is very friendly and the food is always good which makes me a regular. 

Jerk Chicken at Sweet's Sensational

Island Smash (Delray Beach)

This weekends only pop-up comes to us directly from the Bahamas. Pictured below is the cracked conch plate at Island Smash in Delray. The conch here comes cracked then breaded, and fried to order after arriving each week fresh from the Bahamas where people are allowed to bring up to ten pounds back into the States (by air only). But if you remove conch from the waters in Florida you can be fined and or arrested thus it’s hard to come by if you don’t have a distributor contact. But George, the guy who runs this pandemic born operation out of his front yard, knows people going and coming from the Bahamas on the regular so every Saturday he sets up shop and offers all of the Bahamian conch classics including fried conch fritters and fresh conch salad. As you might guess South Florida is home to the largest group of Bahamians outside of the Bahamas as it’s warm and close to home.

Fried Conch at Island Smash

Brule Bistro (Delray Beach)

Here's another very good dinner option in the Boynton and Delray area. Brule Bistro was one of the first spots to elevate the local dining scene with it's commitment to both seasonal and local ingredients. I always see the chef from here loading fish on to his golf cart while at Captain Clay's which was mentioned up above. The menu isn't going to knock your socks off but everything they do they seem to do really well. We've enjoyed appetizers like a swordfish ceviche and one bite fried oyster po boys plus entrees like Key West Pinks over Soba noodles or a plate of diver scallops with two types of fried potato. Get reservations if going bc spots like Brule are popular and uncommon.

Dinner at Brule Bistro (click pics to enhance)

Proper Ice Cream (Delray Beach)

We're in the golden years of ice cream right now. Much like breweries there's so many independent spots around the country that are making a quality product. In both traditional and local flavors. I really don't eat ice cream unless it's coming from a spot like Proper Ice Cream. The guy behind proper is a former lawyer from New York that decided to chase his passion - ice cream. He ended up taking classes on how to make at the Penn State Creamery. After working at Buccan in West Palm Beach he opened Proper which has two locations in Delray Beach and is served at handfuls of South Florida restaurants. Their Key Lime Pie ice cream might be my favorite dessert in South Florida.

Key Lime Pie in a waffle cone at Proper Ice Cream

La Casa Del Peinado (Boca Raton)

I'm not a big fan of the typical American breakfast, especially not cereal, but also bacon and eggs etc. It's not that I don't like sausage or hash browns and all that but it's not very exciting. So usually I'll skip breakfast altogether unless there's an option like La Casa Del Peinado in the picture. The mini South Florida chain (3 locations) is a popular spot for a Colombian breakfast like Bistec Encebollado with a sunny side up egg plus an arepa with cheese. This was $7.99 when I had it but I'm sure the price has gone up. Also sure it's still a great deal in an area where empty lots command millions. 

Bistec Encebollado at La Casa Del Peinado

V&S Italian Deli (Boca Raton)

The sandwiches at this Italian deli might be the best thing to come to South Florida from the Northeast. Most sandwich shops suck for the simple fact their bread sucks and without good bread you can’t have a good Italian sub sandwich and or a hoagie. I guess this could be considered a hoagie since the bread is a quality product that comes unhinged but the owners come from Queens and not Philly so call it what you will. I call it a perfectly built Italian cold cut sandwich, a somewhat rare sandwich outside of certain parts of the East Coast. It’s all about the bread and they make a pretty great sesame roll here. The addition of hot cherry peppers is another thing that makes this an East Coast product. Personally I prefer giardiniera but when in Rome or in this case South Florida - wintertime and also full time home to a countless number of current and former New Yorkers.

Italian Hoagie at V&S Italian Deli (click pics to enhance)

Acarajé Na Florida (Boca Raton)

Here's an Acarajé pop-up I found in Boca. This West African dish is traditionally encountered in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia where street vendors mash cowpeas seasoned with salt and chopped onion and form it into balls before frying. Once fried they’re split down the middle and stuffed with a variety of ingredients that most always includes a condiment called vatapa. It’s made with bread, shrimp, coconut milk, finely ground peanuts, palm oil and mashed into a creamy paste. Also included in this version is sautéed shrimp, a tomato salad and a spicy sauce added upon request. South Florida is home to the largest Brazilian community in the United States and a large chunk of them reside in Boca Raton so I’m not surprised that you can find acaraje down here. I’ve also had this in Lisbon where Brazilians make up the largest foreign community in all of Portugal. If not for corona I would've likely gone to Brazil last winter. Maybe next year. But in the meantime this was delicious. 

Acarajé at Acarajé Na Florida

D'Best Sandwich Shop (Boca Raton)

D'Best is another well liked daytime sandwich shop in Boca. There were lots of people stopping in on their lunch break on my visit. It's ran by a couple local restaurant vets that bought the place in an effort to get some family time back (open for lunch only). The sandwiches are crafted with care but the bread is a bit too soft. That said it works well with the D'Bomb sandwich from their signature selections. It's house turkey with house beef plus Swiss cheese, slaw, Russian dressing. 

D'Best Sandwich at D'Best Sandwich Shop

Kousine (Boca Raton)
Kousine is a popular Peruvian-Asian restuarant near the beach in Fort Lauderdale. They also have an outlet in Boca Raton which we visited for some fresh fish. There was a miscommunication with our order, we didn’t get everything we ordered, but what we did get was pretty good. The tricolored tiradito (sliced raw fish with Japanese influence) has some real Instagram flair which doesn’t always translate to deliciousness but it was a tasty plate of food - the perfect lunch for a hot Florida day. 

Tricolored Tiradito at Kousine

LaSpada's Hoagies (Boca Raton)

The history of this locally popular hoagie chain starts out in Atlantic City where John LaSpada Jr’s grandfather opened his first hoagie shop sometime in the ‘30’s. John LaSpada Jr would move to South Florida and eventually open his own spot in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Today LaSpadas had six locations in Broward County plus this one in Boca. They’re known for their hoagies which is Pennsylvania lingo for sub sandwiches. Although it’s mostly agreed upon that the roll must be hinged for it to be a hoagie. LaSpada’s slices their meat to order and it gets thrown in the air from slicer to sandwich maker. These are pretty good sandwiches that suffer a bit from a bread that’s too soft. They bake it on site but the best part of the hoagies I had in Philly was always the bread and LaSpada’s doesn’t come close to matching that. But other than that these are some pretty crafted sandwiches.

Italian Hoagie at LaSpada's

Los Olivos Bistro (Boca Raton)

I recommend coming to this Argentinian owned spot for a perfectly prepared Gaucho Milanesa plate, served with fresh cut fries, rarity down here. It makes you appreciate the fact that 100’s of spots serve 'em fresh back home in Chicago. What you won’t find back home is a Milanesa prepared better than this one which consists of breaded steak, marinara, ham, melted cheese, tomato, fried egg (the last two are what make the dish gaucho style). This is Argentina’s version of the world classic that is thinly sliced breaded meat. Brought there by Italian immigrants who moved to the Southern Cone. A popular dish here in South Florida where the country’s largest Argentine community resides.

Dinner at Los Olivos (click pics to enhance)

Dandee Donut Factory (Deerfield Beach)

Here’s a 24 hour diner that sells donuts and has a Jersey Pork Roll breakfast sandwich on the menu. Pork Roll which is also known as Taylor Ham is a sliceable slab of pork product, mixed with sugar salt, and spices, that gets processed, smoked, and sold in Jersey. Apparently all of the regional classics from out east like to head down to South Florida at some point. You can pair your jersey pork roll with some quality donuts. I like the glazed sour cream and puffy stuffed key lime varieties.

Breakfast at Dandee Donut Factory

The Pickle Barrel (Deerfield Beach)

I was down here for St. Patrick's Day last year and decided to celebrate by heading to one of South Florida’s many Jewish delis for some corned beef, those that know the history of corned beef will understand why. There’s no shortage of old Jewish delis (or old Jewish people) down here and the Little Pickle in Deerfield Beach is one of the most popular. They’ve been at since 1974 and in true South Florida fashion the clientele is a diverse group that almost always includes a handful of east coast snowbirds. There’s pretty much always a line for what are some of the best deli sandwiches in the South. Pictured is the classic combo of corned beef and pastrami with Swiss and yellow mustard on rye. Loved the free half and half pickles too as they reminded me of a long gone Lincoln Park deli.

Corned Beef / Pastrami Sandwich at The Pickle Barrel

The Whales Rib (Deerfield Beach)

We’ve visited the Whale’s Rib countless times over the years. Guy Fieri also visited once as it’s an iconic spot, located in one of my favorite beach towns. Deerfield Beach has a different feel than all of the other beaches up and down the Atlantic, I can’t quite explain why but it’s more intimate than most of the others and a bit more chill too. Despite numerous visits there’s only three things we ever order from here - lobster bisque, rock shrimp, and the blackened Mahi sandwich. Typically we get all three as it’s the perfect meal for two people. The main draw is the rock shrimp. It’s a deep water shrimp (some say they’re prawns) that has a hard shell and tastes like crab with the consistency of lobster. One of my favorite sea specimens. The bisque has a deep seafood flavor while the fish sandwich always hits the spot. Although they switched the bun on my last visit and it wasn’t as good. They still use a wheat bun which works well but it’s not nearly as light and fluffy as the previous one they used.

Lunch at the Whales Rib

Fish Shack (Lighthouse Point)

This spot near Pompano Beach has some of the best cracked conch down here. It’s also a place I know I can find hogfish on the specials board (order from the daily catch menu at a Floribbean fish shack). Hogfish is almost always going to be the most expensive offering as it isn’t allowed to be heavily fished within the commercial fishing industry. Actually it’s a popular catch for spear fisherman down in the Florida Keys so it's common on menus down there plus up here. Served blackened with onion rings and rice. Like butter. There's also a really nice yellowtail tuna sandwich to be had here.

Lunch at Fish Shack

New Jersey Deli 2 (Margate)

New Jersey Deli has two outlets in South Florida including this one in Margate. For those that might be wondering, yes, they do make Taylor Pork Roll sandwiches here but that’s not why I stopped in. I was here for this Uruguayan owned delis take on the Chivito sandwich which is an iconic dish in Uruguay made with a thin slice of tender steak (churrasco), with mozzarella, ham, tomatoes, mayo, fried egg and bacon. Here they do one with Cuban bread that’s pressed and it’s a fantastic mashup.

Chivito Special at New Jersey Deli 2

Finley's Bahamian Kitchen (Pompano Beach)

I try to get my fair share of fried conch when I'm down here. It's kind of a comfort food for me even though I never really grew up eating it. Except for the time we took a family rip to Abaco Islands in the Bahamas and we ate a bunch of it. My Italian grandpa was with us and even he cooked some up one night so I've always felt a special connection to cracked conch and the likes. Some places make it much better than others and in my opinion it's best served as a sandwich with sauce and toppings. These are called conch burgers and you can find a really good one at this friendly family owned spot.

Conch Burger at Finley's Bahamian Kitchen

Galata Kebab & Pide House (Pompano Beach)

Here's a spot for Turkish Pide in Pompano Beach. The business itself moved to the area from Ephesus and they’re not the only ones from Turkey that have moved down here. The SoFla real estate market remains extra attractive to foreign money and the Turks are moving into the area and buying up property to the point where there’s now a Turkish embassy in Miami and non stop flights from Istanbul. Though Pide is sometimes called Turkish Pizza it’s not all that similar to what we as Americans think of as pizza. Pide is a boat shaped bread that can come topped with a variety of options. This version is made with Turkish cured beef + mozzarella. I always enjoy pide and stop for a spot specializing in it such as this. Turkey is one of the top spots on my bucketlist at the moment.

Pide at Galata Kebab & Pide House

Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar (Pompano Beach)

Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar has been featured in previous reports as it's my favorite Floribbean fish shack in the area. It fits the bill of one perfectly with it's strip mall location and a menu that has lots of delicious Caribbean inspired dishes plus wings. Options like spicy pepperpot soup and highly seasoned curries served with fresh roti. The cutters (Barbados lingo for sandwich) are super solid (we like the shrimp). But we usually come here for dinner and we almost always get the whole fried snapper which comes with a delicious lip licking teriyaki sauce and a perfectly paired mango salsa on top. The only thing bad I can say about this place is that it's not open weekends so plan accordingly. 

Whole Fried Fish at Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar

Tabanka - A Trini Kitchen (North Lauderdale)

As you can see from the previous spots there’s lots of international offerings found down this way. But there’s one I try to enjoy as much of while I can. When it comes to flavor per capita and or square feet Trinidad and Tobago can hang with anyone. Outside of the islands themselves it’s also popular in NYC, Toronto, and here South Florida where you’ll find Tabanka Trini Kitchen. The doubles (always plural) here are as good as anywhere I’ve tried them which has always been in the previously listed places. One day I’ll visit T&T and when I do doubles will be a daily thing. Curried chickpeas between two pieces of fried flatbread served with a medley of sauces is one of the Caribbean's best exports. 

Doubles at Tabanka Trini Kitchen

Boston Beef By The Sea (Lauderdale By The Sea)

If you're in the Lauderdale area and looking for something to eat that's not from the sea I suggest still heading that way for a Boston beef by the sea. This is yet another East Coast regional specialty turned Florida resident. Roast Beef sandwiches like these are commonly served in Boston and it's North Shore suburbs. I've had a few of them in Massachusetts over the years and the one I had from here was pretty much on par with the ones from up north. You wont find many if any spots in Chicago that make roast beef sandwiches in this style so I try to stop for one when a place like this pops up. 

Roast Beef Sandwich at Boston Beef By The Sea

Singh's Roti Delight (Lauderdale Lakes)

Singh's has quickly become of my favorite restaurants in South Florida. There’s nothing like it back home in Chicago so I have to get my fix down here, it’s as essential as sunshine. The journey of Roti (generic term for flatbread) starts in India as most historical notes state. From there it’s traveled to many other places including the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago where roti signifies not just an order of bread but a complete meal that can come served wrapped or unwrapped. The former is like a Caribbean burrito and the latter is similar to a Southern meat and three. The common link between the two ways roti in the Caribbean comes served is the islands take on Indian dhal puri which is a type of thick flatbread made with ground yellow split peas. Popular fillings as far as non vegetarian ingredients go include curried meats and stews such as curry chicken and also curry goat, both are usually available with bones but only chicken is typically served without. So when I get a goat roti, which is outstanding here, I like to get it unwrapped bc it’s much easier to eat. Curried potato + chickpeas (Trini Aloo Channa) round out the plate which comes served with a big piece of roti, your edible utensil. Always ask for hot sauce on the side. Nobody brings the heat quite like the Caribbean.

Doubles, Roti (wrapped), Roti (goat) at Singh's Roti Delight

Trini's Chinese Bites (Lauderdale Lakes)

Trini-Chinese fried chicken is the signature dish at this fun little find in Lauderdale Lakes. Crispy fried chicken is covered in a glaze made from five spice powder, garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet, soy sauce, and oyster sauce and served atop fried rice and Trini Chop Suey. I’m a big fan of any and every regional dish that revolves around Chinese immigrants cooking with what’s local and available. Caribbean-Chinese is very interesting bc it varies from island to island with each nation having its own signature dishes. In same way as orange chicken and hyper regional ones like War Sue Gai are considered American-Chinese. You’ll find this Trini-Chinese dish wherever there’s Trinbagonians.

Trini Chinese Chicken at Trini's Chinese Bites

Joan's Kitchen De V.I. Spot (Lauderhill)

I found some V.I. treats hidden deep in Lauderhill strip mall. V.I being Virgin Islands style beef patty aka “pate” plus a Johnny Cake and a slice of Vienna Cake. The Johnny Cake is just fried dough while the Vienna Cake is one of those interesting culinary mysteries as far as exactly how did a popular cake from Austria become a staple with Crucians (people of or from St. Croix)? Joan thought I might have been from the island since it’s usually just islanders that stop in. But I’ve been down here enough times to know there’s always something interesting hidden in the strip malls of South Florida.

Virgin Islands Food at Joan's Kitchen De V.I. Spot

Charlie's Pastries (Lauderhill)

Around 40% of the people that live in Lauderhill Florida were born outside of the United States and 25% of them come from the Caribbean with 15% of them coming from Jamaica. You’ll find some good Jamaican stuff around there including a couple of top notch bakeries. Charlie’s Pastries is the first one up. It’s a typical Jamaican bakery which means they sell a shit ton of Jamaican beef patties throughout the day. As far as savory pastries go the beef patty is very much my favorite snack going back to my first trip to Jamaica circa 2002. I’ve been hooked on them ever since then and as I’ve come to learn the best patties come from bakeries like Charlie’s where they make them fresh throughout the day and often supply them frozen to local restaurants and such.

Beef Patty at Charlie's Pastries

Hammond's Bakery (Lauderhill)

You’ll find Hammond’s Bakery sitting in the strip mall across the street from the one that Charlie’s is in. This area has no problem supporting both spots as each of them will typically have a line of customers some of whom will order just one beef patty for a quick snack while others will get a box worth to bring to work and what not. I don’t think I’ve ever tried them side to side so I can’t pick a winner between the two but it seems like it would be a very fair matchup. Both places make perfect patties plus all the other Jamaican classics like coco bread and festival.

Beef Patty at Hammond's Bakery

Localicious Caribbean Ice Cream (Lauderhill) 

Localicious is a Caribbean Ice Cream store next door to Hammond’s and they make for a wonderful 1-2 punch. Jamaica has a very rich ice cream culture that not only utilizes all the refreshing fruit from the island but also all of the delicious booze too. Flavors like Irish stout and rum raisin are extremely popular in Jamaica and also at Localicious where the ice cream is made on site. They make two types of rum raisin but I forget what separates them. I just remember both of them being fantastic.

Rum Raisin Ice Cream at Localicious Caribbean Ice Cream 

Dutchy's Gourmet Sausages (Plantation)

I’m not saying the food scene in South Florida is better than where I’m from (Chicago) but the food scene down here is such a contrast to there it makes a great place to visit (plus the beaches, warm weather and all that other stuff minus DeSantis). I guess I shouldn’t say I was surprised to find a handful of South African spots down here but it’s not something I was aware of until recently. It makes sense when you consider a place like Cape Town has very South Beach vibes in places like Camps Bay plus Durban is a big surfers town so South Florida might feel like home to a South African stuck in the States. Lots of the resort spots down here will bring over workers from South Africa so maybe that’s where all the South African spots in the region come from. From those who never returned home. Dutchy’s is outside FLL and it caught my eye bc they make boerewors sausage (and biltong) on site. Barbecue (grilling) aka Braai is a big part of South African culture and boerewors is one of those things you’ll find at every South African barbecue. The name derives from the Afrikaans words boer and wors. It’s a different sausage than most in texture and that’s bc it must be 90% meat to legally be called boerewors. Typically made with beef but sometimes other meats are included. Taste wise you’ll find hints of coriander, nutmeg, clove. Toppings can vary but here you get grilled onions, chutney mayo, cowboy candy. You won’t find anything like this place back home so I had to stop.

Boerewors at Dutchy's Gourmet Sausages

925 Nuevos Cubanos (Fort Lauderdale)

The first thing (and last thing) I will typically do upon arriving in South Florida is grab a Cuban sandwich from somewhere. If you fly into or out of FLL you can do that at 925 Nuevos Cubanos which sports a long walk up window and a very respectable Cuban sandwich which I always make sure to order double pressed whether it's from here or elsewhere.

Cuban Sandwich at 935 Nuevo Cubanos

Finster Murphy's (Fort Lauderdale)

A friend of mine flew down to hang out for a few days before driving back to Chicago with me. On one of those days we went down to Fort Lauderdale and hung out at the beach before meeting one of his old friends for a bite to eat. His friend took us to one of his favorite spots for seafood in Finster Murphy's. They're a fish market and restaurant. Aside from the menu which is filled with lunch options like sandwiches and salads they'll also grill any piece of fish you want from the display case. My friend got locally caught tuna and I did the fried grouper. Both dishes were fresh and delicious. 

Lunch at Finster Murphy's

Georgia Pig BBQ Restaurant (Fort Lauderdale)

While it does feel somewhat odd eating good old fashioned southern bbq under the palm trees surrounded by ocean air, South Florida is indeed a part of the south, it’s very own part but it’s still a part of it. I’ve always wanted to try the areas oldest barbecue restaurant which has been around these parts since 1953. That’s about as old as it gets down here when you don’t include some of the snowbirds themselves. A good sign that this place was going to be worth a stop was the smell of smoke upon arrival. Chopped bbq pork sandwich seems to be their thing so that’s what the order was. A fine one indeed. Lots of smoke with a really nice texture. It was similar to chopped carnitas.

BBQ Sandwich at the Georgia Pig Restaurant

Little Cuban Cafe (Fort Lauderdale)

You’ll find places like Little Cuban Cafe in pretty much every South Florida town. It’s a small Cuban owned spot popular for home style Cuban food paired with Café Cubano. You can pretty much always find a good sandwich at these type of places. Pictured below is a really well made Cuban steak sandwich that was paired up with some classic Cuban croquettes.

Steak Sandwich at Little Cuban Cafe

Primanti Brothers (Fort Lauderdale)

You can find Pittsburgh’s most iconic sandwich in a very non Iron City setting. Capicola and cheese is the move at Primanti Bros. Plus a fried egg, provolone, cole slaw and fries. Pretty much what I remember the original in the Strip District to be. Except these ones get a ton more sun and go great with a mango flavored Iron City or “ahn” as they say in Pittsburghese. Sitting directly across the street from Fort Lauderdale Beach. A 24/7 favorite of snowbirding’ yinzers and non yinzers alike.

Primanti Brothers in Florida

Shuck N Dive (Fort Lauderdale)

Considering you can find the regional food offerings from places as far as New York and Chicago and down here it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to find some good Nola style food. Shuck N Dive was opened in 1999 by a New Orleans Louisiana guy who decided to bring some authentic Cajun flavors to the South Florida area. We enjoyed well represented plates of char grilled oysters and fried green tomatoes and I thought the crawfish Étouffée was a bit better than the gumbo which was still pretty good. You can expect a pretty lively atmosphere and some boozy drinks to go with it.

Dinner at Shuck N Dive

Dairy Belle (Dania Beach)

The large flocks of east coast snowbirds that migrate to South Florida for winter isn’t limited to just the United States species. French Canadians are prevalent too down here to the extent that there’s a few locally published papers that are printed in French. Which left me wondering, where do the Québécois go for a taste of home? Well I found out in the form of a Dania Beach Cabane à Patates, these are traditional summertime snack shacks found throughout Quebec. They’ll typically serve poutine and ice cream at these type of spots on top of hot dogs and burgers and spaghetti and such. This one has “Michigans” on the menu which is what they call meat sauce topped hot dogs in some parts of Quebec and upstate New York by extension. So if you want to “eat like a local” the order here is a Michigan plus a picture perfect serving of the French-Canadian classic poutine followed up with a cone of maple soft serve. The majority of the people inside (customers + employees) were speaking French so you know it's a popular spot with the “Little Quebec” community that spends winters here.

Poutine and Hot Dog at Dairy Belle

Saltenas Bolivian Kitchen (Hollywood)

Here’s a dish that’s nonexistent back in Chicago. Salteñas are a Bolivian version of empanadas except they’re best eaten with a spoon as a liquid beef stew resides inside. I got these beauties from a permanent stall at The Hollywood Farmers Market which is a huge food market open each wkd. Instead of baking them they’re air fried. Served with a side of zesty Bolivian salsa aka Llajua.

Saltena at Saltenas

Sonny's Famous Steak Hogies (Hollywood)

I finally got a chance to stop by South Florida’s most iconic stop for cheesesteaks. It’s been on my radar going back to the earlier days of ‘DDD’ which is where I first found out about it. Samuel “Sonny” Nigro moved to South Florida after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He came from Philly where his parents ran a bakery and after attending the University of Miami he decided bread was in his blood and spent his savings opening a spot that eventually morphed into Sonny’s Famous Steak Hogies (hoagie is purposefully misspelled as a conversation starter). More than 60 years later it sits in the same spot and you can feel the history walking in. The entrance leads to the grill where fresh thinly shaved ribeye is applied. There’s lots of cheesesteak spots down here but many use the frozen sheets of meat that's similar to Steak-Umm. Also of note is the house baked roll which works really well with the rest of it. You can do a classic with nothing more than onions and your choice of cheese or add other stuff like marinara and green peppers both of which I got on the side. This was an awesome sandwich as is but I enjoyed a few bites of it dipped in the gravy with some of the green peppers plopped in. If you’re really hungry you can probably eat two of these and at around $10 each they’re a steal of a deal in an area where an order of rice and beans can cost the same. Since 1959.

Cheeset Steak at Sonny's

Coney Island Joe's (Hollywood)

Most of the hot dog culture down here is driven by South American countries like Columbia and Brazil. But you can bet your Bentley that east coast style hot dogs can also be found. Coney Island Joe’s is one of a handful of permanent stands that sit in an empty lot in Hollywood. People pull in here for the snappy natural casing hot dogs made by Sabrett, “New York’s #1 Hot Dog.” The owner moved down from NY and his most popular offering is with onions and sauce aka onion sauce which is basically grilled onions cooked in tomato paste with each spot having its own recipe.

Hot Dog at Coney Island Joe's

J28 Sandwich Bar (Hollywood)

The sandwich scene down here is one of the best anywhere. It's a product of the diversity in the region. For ex. South Florida is home to the largest Peruvian population in the US (from my understanding Patterson, NJ has a higher percentage but South Florida has a higher total). I think you can make a very case that Peruvian food is one of the worlds most underrated cuisines and part of that might play in the fact it’s not as common in other places as it is down here. Peruvians make some of the worlds best sandwich art and thus I was very intrigued with J28 Sandwich Bar where almost all of the ingredients are made from scratch including the bread which is a major component in building a perfect Peruvian sandwich. Peru is known for a handful of regional sandwiches with the Pan con Chicharrón being one of the most heralded. It uses a unique combination of crispy / tender pork belly sitting on top of thinly sliced sweet potato that’s typically fried. Toppings include a zesty red onion relish called salsa criolla. Ask for it “spicy” and they'll throw on a homemade spiced mayo based condiment. All of that goes on a light and fluffy but still sturdy Roseta roll. This was maybe the best sandwich I had all year. You’ll find it in Hollywood which is about 15 minutes south of FLL.

Pan con Chicharrón at J28 Sandwich Bar

Le Tub Saloon (Hollywood)

I’ve known about this spot that people like Oprah and pubs like GQ call the best burger in the country for a long time now. Despite numerous chances to try it I never have. Not that I didn't want to give it a go but it was never at the top of my list of things to try while down here. No way it’s going to live up to those claims especially with such a well rounded list like I already have going (I name the best by state and it’s an ever evolving list, the best in the country is always up for debate). So the story goes it was built up in 1975 when the original owner bought an old gas station and turned it into Le Tub which has grown into a bit of a local legend in these parts. They’re known for huge burgers served up in a very Floribbean setting with outdated ambiance and a location right on the water. The type of spot found down in the Keys and other parts of Florida but not as much in South Florida where real estate is mostly new and the waterfronts are over developed. Le Tub’s claim to fame are their famous 13 ounce burgers which are the antithesis of the currently trending smash burger. These are big ass burgers cooked to your liking and topped with nothing more than the classics. Is it the best burger I’ve ever had? No not at all but if you come with the taste for a large meaty and juicy backyard burger it will meet all the requirements. It’s a little piece of paradise hidden in a very touristy part of town (across the street from Hollywood Beach). Ironically it's almost completely engulfed by Margaritaville Beach Resort which sits across the street and has one of it’s five restaurants next door. But if you want a cheeseburger in Paradise, Le Tub is your spot. The serene setting certainly makes it better. No time to snap a pic of their delicious key lime pie as a mid afternoon sun shower had just moved in.

Cheeseburger at Le Tub Saloon

Tropics Restaurant & Lounge (Pembroke Pines)

I very much enjoyed sitting at the bar eating West Indies style chicken fried rice while a bunch of regulars from Guyana drink Guyanese rum while watching cricket. Guyanese style Chinese fried chicken is pan fried, sauced, chopped, and served on top of an Indo-Chinese style fried rice. You can find a very nice rendition of this dish at this 25 year old bar that caters to Broward County's Guyanese community. It's ran by super nice people. Though Guyana is a part of South America it’s way more culturally connected to the Caribbean which includes it’s cuisine. There's also influence from India as many West Indies Caribbeans have an Indian heritage.

Dinner at Tropics Restaurant & Lounge

Chef Tally's World Famous Jerk (West Park)

If you’ve ever tried jerk chicken from a roadside stand in Jamaica you know just how special it can be (one of the most transcendent eating experiences on earth). But for some reason its hard to translate that experience here in the States. Save for Chef Tally's. It's a permanently parked trailer sitting next to two huge smokers in a very industrial part of town. Surrounded by auto repair shops, and when open, lots of hungry customers most of whom are Jamaican (one good sign). The other good sign is the smoke that can be smelled when approaching - it smells like Jamaica, the grilling of jerk meats mixed with ganja. Jerk is so much more than a flavor. It’s “freedom manifested by food” as its origins can be traced to the 17th century when the Maroons (mountaineers) escaped slavery in the mountains of Jamaica. There they mingled with the islands original habitants, the Taíno. Culinary practices were exchanged and the art of jerk was born. Most signs point to the name coming from “jerky” as the indigenous people taught Maroons how to preserve meats with spices and leaves and developed an underground cooking method to help evade enemies (no smoke left in the air). For decades the Maroons had to hunt, prepare, cook, preserve, and sustain while on the move. Chicken is by far the most popular food to jerk but the original jerked meat was wild boar and if you’ve ever had jerk pork in Jamaica you also know just how special that can be. So don't skip the pork here as it’s as good as the chicken. They do ribs too but I prefer the chopped up chunks of bone-in pork butt traditionally used. Chef Tally is “authentic” in every way except one. You’re not going to wait on island time for your food. It comes out rather fast and when it does you’re free to put as much jerk sauce on it as you want but if you want it on the side it’s .50 per cup. They offer 3 options incl. mild, hot, and pepper. The last of which is hot as hell for those that like to breathe fire. You can buy bottled sauce too. No hyperbole when I say this is the best jerk in the States and South Florida’s best barbecue.

Jerk Chicken and Pork at Chef Tally's

S&N Vegetables (Hialeah)

Cuba’s sandwich arsenal has got to be tops in the world on a square mileage basis and they can all be found in Miami. There’s lots of amazing options and all of them start with that perfect bread. I’d tried most of them from the ‘Pan con’ collection with the exception of the Pan con Tortilla. It’s a breakfast sandwich of the omelette variety that can come made a number of ways but ham and cheese is probably the most popular combo. You can find a really good one at this produce store that doubles as a cafeteria. Heck I’m not sure you can find a better breakfast sandwich for just $4. Paired with an extra refreshing batido de mamey (mamey milkshake). A great stop before or after the beach.

Pan con Tortilla at S&N Vegetables

Star Chigua's Pizza Cubana (Hialeah)

Cuban Pizza is by no means new but it has gotten quite popular down here. Unlike the Cuban sandwich it’s history can be traced back to an exact place - Varadero Beach in Cuba, a popular holiday destination where Cuban pizza is eaten at the beach. So the story goes the originator of this style moved from Cuba to Miami after the communist revolution and opened a pizza place which has since inspired many other spots to open up shop. First let’s go over what a Cuban pizza is not and that’s the ingredients of a Cuban sandwich in pizza form. The main characteristics of a Cuban pizza would be it’s thicker slightly sweet crust. The sauce can lean sweet but all the spots have their own recipe. Cuban pizza uses two types of cheese in Gouda and mozzarella while toppings can range from ham to chorizo to sausage to shrimp and so on. Most spots offer a personal size and a large but you always want to go the personal route. For whatever reason they just taste better. In some cases Cubans will fold it and eat it like a taco. Some folks in Miami will tell you the best Cuban pizza around can be found in Hialeah. Like most gems down this way it’s hidden in a busy shopping center. Fans of this place will tell you the dough is less thick than other spots around town. It’s made in house and for max crispness and frico factor you get the Pizza Estrella which allows for five toppings of your choice. This was the third spot I tried Pizza Cubana from down here but it was the first in Hialeah which is the hotbed for this style. What I like about it is that you can eat some without committing to an entire pizza. I’d put these beauties right in the middle of the Pizza Hut personal pan pizza and Detroit style pizza as far as structure and style. When in Rome I eat like the Romans and when in Hialeah I eat like the Cubans. By which I mean I’d much rather eat this kind of pizza when in Miami than some half assed Chicago style pizza or whatever. Food is supposed to be regional and Hialeah is home to the highest percentage of Cubans living in the United States.

Pizza Estrella at Star Chigua's Pizza Cubana

Casa Lenca (Hialeah)

An online search for some Honduran style fried chicken aka Pollo Chuco led me to this Honduran spot with some really pretty looking plates of food. Pollo Chuco translates to "dirty chicken" and it gets it's name from fried chicken that sits atop thinly sliced and lightly fried plantain chips with an array of toppings both on the side and on top. A beloved dish found all around Honduras and places like South Florida where the country’s second largest Honduran population resides (behind NY/NJ).

Pollo Chuco at Casa Lenca

Fritanga Las Piedrecitas (Hialeah)

This was my first time trying Nicaraguan food. I've never been to Nicaragua but I figure Miami is the second best spot to try it since it’s home to the largest Nicaraguan population outside of Nicaragua. I went with the classic - carne asada paired with gallo pinto and fried cheese. Nicaraguans tend to marinate their steak with a citrus forward blend of bitter and sour fruits like Seville oranges and limes which makes for an extremely flavorful piece of beef.  A classic South Florida find aka located in a random strip mall and frequented almost exclusively by the people who’s cuisine is being served.

Lunch at Fritanga Las Piedrecitas

Tio Colo (Hialeah)

Hialeah is home to the largest Hispanic population of any city or town in the United States and around 75% of it's residents are Cuban. This means you can find all sorts of spots catering to the local Cuban community. I got turned onto this gem by my guy Sef Gonzales aka Burger Beast. He’s a local blogger / burger maker / restaurateur and all around good guy that knows just about every Cuban spot in the area. His knowledge of restaurants down here runs deep and he shares a lot of it on his blog at That’s where I leaned about these absolutely amazing Cuban style ice cream sandwiches served alongside Cuban style pizza in an otherwise industrial part of town. 

Bocadito de Helado (guayaba) at Tio Colo

La Uchirena (Doral)

The world of empanadas runs far and wide. While I enjoy all of them, there’s some that stand out above the others. For example I think the Venezuelan variety is near the top of the power list with their corn dough offering that are stuffed with a variety of fillings before being deep fried which in my experience is usually to order. The dough gets crisp on the outside and stays soft and tender within. I’m also partial to seafood empanadas which are big in Mexico’s Nayarit region. So when a Venezuelan friend of mine suggested we grab some seafood empanadas and go to the beach one day last winter I was all in. It was on the ride to La Uchirena that I learned empanadas are a popular beach snack in Venezuela and empanadas de cazon (shark meat) are what most Venezuelans eat while beaching. These are made with shredded shark steak which is legal to use here in the States where shark meat is outlawed. They taste like the beach in that they’re the flavors one meets when somewhere warm on the ocean. Some of the best empanadas I’ve had. The pop. of Venezuelan immigrants in the U.S has risen 54% since the oil industry fallout and majority of them live in South Florida where the town of Doral aka “Doralzuela” hosts the regions largest Venezuelan community.

Empanada de Cazon at La Uchirena

La Esquina Del Lechon (Doral)

Next up is another strip mall spot in Doral serving up some of the city's best suckling pig. La Esquina Del Lechon is a Cuban restaurant where the lechon sits front and center. Crowds come from all over the city to get a chunk of perfectly roasted pork with extra crisp chicharrones. The lechon comes served with a bunch of lard grilled onions as well as white rice and Cuban black beans. Pure Miami. 

Lunch at La Esquina Del Lechon
El Palacio de Los Jugos (Miami)

If I'm in Miami I gotta make a special stop at El Palacio De Los Jugos for some fresh juice. The Juice Palace is a pretty one of a kind stop in the States. It's much more reflective to what you might find somewhere in the Caribbean or Colombia and the likes. They started out as a small spot to grab the food and juices like Cuban grandmothers like to make. Today they have a handful of locations in the Miami area. The food is pretty good but the juice is the reason I stop in whenever I can. They got all the tropical options and they sell them in a number of sizes. I always bring a liter or two home. 

Fresh Squeezed Juice at Palacio De Los Jugos

Sanguich De Miami (Miami)

First stop in Miami is a mandatory any time I'm in town. As far as “souped-up” Cuban sandwiches go this spot takes them to the absolute max. I first visited Sanguich De Miami in it’s shipping container days and it’s been a must stop spot any time I’m in town since then. They make what’s pretty much a perfect Cuban sandwich using the best all around quality ingredients. All the spots down here have access to the otherworldly Cuban bread but there’s only so many of them that dress it and then press it so perfectly. Two tips - 1) Always get it double pressed. 2) Get a mamey milkshake to go with it.

Cuban Sandwich at Sanguich de Miami

El Rey De Las Fritas (Miami)

While the Cuban sandwich is typically mentioned as Miami’s most iconic eat it’s something you can find in other parts of the state not to mention in other states entirely. But the Frita Cubana (the Cuban Burger) is something you’ll rarely find outside the 305. You can find one of the most iconic at El Rey De Las Fritas, an old school Cuban diner in the middle of Little Havana. They make their own potato sticks in house which makes for a big difference when compared to the canned products. The meat is ground beef but some spots add chorizo and paprika for color. Common toppings on a Frita Cubana include diced onion, ketchup, and the julienned potato sticks. Cheese isn’t traditional but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Though other stuff like lettuce and tomato is a big no. Best followed up with an always refreshing batido de mamey (a sapote milkshake). Since 1976.

Frita Cubana at El Rey De Las Fritas

Itamea (Miami)

I stopped into this award winning Peruvian spot for a quick and fashionable snack in Miami’s swanky Design District which is where you’ll find most of the high end clothing shops. But I’m not here for luxury clothing. I come for fashion in the form of food at Itamea. This was the one reservation I made sure to make while down here as the food really caught my eye when I first learned of the place. Ran by a Peruvian family of Japanese descent which means Nikkei cuisine is front and center. Nikkei being the food of Peru (Lima in particular) that’s been influenced by Japanese immigrants. When it comes to seafood both Peruvians and the Japanese are at the top of the game in terms of putting it to use. So you can expect some flawless offerings here. Served up based on what's fresh and local.  

Grouper Cebiche - Murasaki Potato, Concha, Choclo, Red Onion

Wahoo Tiradito - Roasted Turnip, Red Kampot, Red Onion

Japow Kakigori (Miami)

Kakigori is without a doubt my favorite dessert on earth. The Japanese shaved ice flavored with syrups and sweeteners is an art in Japan where it's consumed year round. It's starting to take off in other places including the States although the product served over here and elsewhere is not anything close to what you'll find in Japan. But I thought what I got from this little trailer permanently parked in the Design District was legit nonetheless. They had some interesting flavors which is part of it's appeal in Japan which in the summer can get pretty damn hot. The same can be said for Florida.

Kakigori at Japow

Motek (Miami)

This “Kosher Style” restaurant is hidden amongst some 400 jewelry dealers in the historic Seybold Building located in downtown Miami. The menu showcases Middle Eastern and Mediterranean offerings including a delicious part burger, part kebab specimen that some say is of Lebanese descent while others claim it’s Palestinian. Either way what we do know is that the Arayes Burger became extremely popular in Tel Aviv and now Miami too. This is a beef stuffed pita but lamb is also common. You know you’re in the right spot when you can smell the pungent smoke coming from the grill (they sell a ton of them). Terrific when dipped in harissa aioli served on side. I just wish I had the stomach space to try some more of their offerings. I plan to be back for that sabich and a schnitzel.

Arayes Burger at Motek

Captain Jim's Seafood (Miami)

There’s not as much fresh seafood served up in Miami as there maybe should be. It seems like the local mom and pop type seafood markets are fading fast in a fast changing city. Captain Jim’s is owned by the same guy that owns La Camaronera, an iconic restaurant / market founded by a family of Cuban fisherman (as seen in this previous report). Captain Jim’s has a big display case of fresh seafood that can be bought raw or cooked up and served on site. We stopped here so my friend that was visting could try some cracked conch as I'd heard they fried up a nice version. Not bad at all.

Fried Conch at Captain Jim's Seafood

Majestic Cafe & Bakery (Miami)

A rare Francesinha sighting in the States! This massive sized sandwich from Porto requires a knife and a fork as it consists of ham, linguica, fresh sausage, steak, cheese, and bread with a fried egg on top. All of that is then drowned in a spiced tomato and beer and cheese based sauce. They always come with what’s usually fresh cut fries though typically those come served on the side. I enjoyed one of these in Porto and haven’t seen them anywhere over here including when I was in New England - home to the largest Portuguese community in the States. Though I do know you can find one in Newark which also has a large Portuguese population. You’ll find quite a few Portuguese restaurants in South Florida too as they never seem to settle too far away from the ocean. Portugal might be my favorite European country to visit and the city of Porto plays a big role in that.

Francesinha at Majestic Cafe & Bakery

Manjay (Miami)

There’s lots of options for Caribbean food in Miami but Manjay is the spot you should make a point of checking out if you want to try some of it. The team behind this place take a chef driven approach without taking away any of the spices or flavors food in the Caribbean is known for. The menu leans Haitian and I highly recommend the coco loco curried shrimp dish which comes served up with  red beans and rice, banane peze and the most perfect order of Pikliz. Caribbean food down here does not disappoint. What does is Caribbean food elsewhere after you’ve spent enough time down here.

Coco Curried Shrimp at Manjay

1811 Miami (Miami)

There’s very few spots to get a taste of Paraguay here in the States but one of them is here in Miami where a husband and wife team run one of the city’s best food trailers. He’s from Uruguay and she’s from Paraguay and together they serve the food of their homelands at 1811 Miami. The menu has two sides with Uruguayan classics on one and Paraguayan classics on the other. The Chivito from the former of the two is supposed to be one of the best in South Florida but I couldn’t resist trying some Paraguayan specialties for the first time ever. So I did so with two of their chipa offerings. From what I read chipa in it’s most common form is a small baked cheesy corn roll popular in Paraguay as a quick snack. But there’s many variations of the chipa many of which are popular side dishes commonly served with steak. So I tried both the chipa gausu and the chipa so’o. Chipa Guasu is made with Paraguayan corn, milk, cheese, onions in a souffle style cake. This was good enough to be enjoyed as an entrée alongside a salad or such but I bet it’s even better next to a juicy cut of vacío. The Chipa So’o is another cornbread variation stuffed with meat and other stuff like red peppers, onion and hard boiled egg. Also excellent. Next time I’m going to try the Lomito Arabe which is a popular street food in Paraguay that was developed over time by the country’s Middle Eastern immigrants. It’s basically a shawarma wrap seasoned to Paraguayan palates. 1811 is a popular spot with tourists from Paraguay who can’t get enough of what Miami has to offer.  

Chipas at 1811 Miami

Chifa Du Kang (Miami)

I have a huge fascination with fusion cuisine, Chinese fusion to be more specific, so Chifa Du Kang is right up my alley. There aren't many spots on the globe where the Chinese have not set up shop and when they do they always bring their recipes with them but over time they morph into a mix of elements fused with local ingredients and traditions from the country in which they settled. Perhaps none of them are more interesting than Peruvian-Chinese aka Chifa cuisine. There's literally 1000's of Chifa restaurants in Lima and a few of them in South Florida. None more famous than this Miami spot which started as a restaurant in Lima. Pictured below is the classic Chifa dish known as Pollo Chi Jau Kay. It's a crispy chopped chicken dish served with peapods in an oyster gravy laced with five spice powder. On the side are crispy pork wontons and arroz chaufa otherwise known as Peruvian fried rice. The chicken reminded me a lot of an American-Chinese regional favorite - War Sue Gai aka ABC Chicken. Enjoyed in one of those classic old school Cantonese style dining rooms.

Peruvian Chinese food at Chifa Du Kang

Pamela's Restaurant (Miami)

Chilean food is pretty tame (or plain) in comparison to some of the other countries in South America. In part due to a major influence from European countries like Germany and France. But then there’s things they excel at like empanadas, sandwiches, and wine. South Florida has a handful of Chilean spots that accommodate to some 25,000 Chileans that live in the area (New York is home to a similar number). Pamela’s was bustling with lunch traffic on my visit last winter. I’ve only had Chilean food in Miami so I don’t have much to compare it to but the big ass beef empanadas (with hard boiled egg) from here are excellent. So is their Super Churrasco sandwich made with steak, ham, tons of melted cheese, avocado, tomatoes, and mayo on a house baked Amasado roll. The popular topping combo of whipped avocado with tomatoes and thick Chilean mayo is typically referred to as “Completo Italiano” because those are the colors of Italy’s flag and there's a ton of Italians living in Chile.

Chilean Empanadas and Sandwiches at Pamela's Restaurant

La Estacion Cafe (Miami)

I've been in search of Arepas con Huevo y Carne ever since a trip to Cartagena a few years back. It's one of the city's signature dishes and as I've come to learn it can be hard to find outside of there and Colombia in general. But if there was one place in the States I was going to find one it was going to be in Miami where I came across a popular breakfast spot in Brickell that serves them. Aside from the fact I had to wait a half hour for it to arrive it was an awesome way to start the day. 

Arepa Con Huevo y Carne at La Estacion Cafe

Sweet Delights Bakery (Florida City)

There’s no such thing as a hidden gem in todays day and age where you can find anything online. Nonetheless this bakery hidden within a beauty boutique inside a large strip mall is as close as it gets. Sweet Delights is known for pretty much one thing - Key Lime Pie. It’s owned by a very friendly baker who hails from the U.S Virgin Islands. She makes the best key lime pie I’ve tried down here and it comes in all sorts of tropical flavors made with locally grown fruit like Mamey (sapote).

Mamey Flavored Key Lime Pie

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand (Homestead)

Our last stop up is always my first stop whenever driving from Miami to the Florida Keys. In fact I sometimes just drive to Robert Is Here is from Miami and then turn back. It’s in Homestead which is a part of the Caribbean basin which means you can grow all sorts of tropical fruits in the area and this classic roadside stand is where you can go to buy them and try them. The best way to do so is in the form of their terrific milk shakes which come served in all sorts of tropical flavors including my favorite - guanabana which tastes like a mix of citrus and banana. Some people would call this spot a tourist trap and it kind of is but it’s also unlike anything else around here in that you can buy some interesting exotic fruits you just won’t find elsewhere. Yes they’re marked up but where else can you find them all under one roof like this? Plus the shakes are well worth their double digit pricetag as they’re both big and delicious. This is an iconic Florida spot that everyone should stop in at if making the drive from Miami to Key West or anywhere in between. That’s it for this trip! See y'all in March.

Fruits and Milkshake at Robert is Here

Click HERE to continue the journey with an old Key West post -

Click HERE for my Google Maps guide to South Florida -

See ya next time @chibbqking


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