When I began reviewing restaurants for The Miami Herald in 1994, we were drowning in a sea of marinara. It seemed like there were more Italian restaurants in Broward County than in Italy. Pad Thai and chicken curry were exotic, and Publix didn’t sell sushi.
But the world has come to Broward over the past two decades, bringing wonders like cheesy Salvadoran pupusas, Jamaican ackee and salt fish and Venezuelan arepas. Padrino’s and Las Vegas may have popularized Cuban cuisine in the 1980s, but Brazilian and Argentine steakhouses are now powerhouses, and we’re hooked on Peruvian ceviche.
Sure, Fort Lauderdale is overshadowed by Miami’s glamour, but friends who once considered Broward a culinary wasteland are coming across the border to savor our wildly diverse ethnic dining, which has exploded thanks to Asians, Arabs, Bahamians, Chileans, Dominicans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Indonesians, Israelis, Indians, Turks, Romanians, Russians, Vietnamese and West Indians, along with Puerto Ricans and those of European, African and Mediterranean heritage.
Linda Bladholm, The Herald’s Fork on the Road columnist, once wrote that “discovering the pleasures of multicultural dining in Broward County feels like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Open the door of a small hole-in-the-wall or family-run place and you enter a wonderland where you can savor the flavor of the country through its food, language and music.”
Most ethnic restaurants tend to be west of U.S. 441, but there have been big changes on the east side of Broward as well. Tim Petrillo, Peter Boulukos and Alan Hooper, founders of The Restaurant People, have been behind a lot of the trends. Their friendly, casual Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle turned Himmarshee Village into a hot destination, particularly on Friday nights.
The Restaurant People are also behind wildly popular YOLO, drawing Fort Lauderdale’s beautiful people (and the shortest skirts) to Las Olas Boulevard. In March the restaurateurs are bringing S3 (“sun, surf and sand” plus “steak, seafood and sushi”) to The Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach, the latest sign that hotel dining has been transformed on the strip.
Upscale hotels have launched restaurants like the Via Luna at The Ritz-Carlton, 3030 Ocean at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (where seafood king Dean Max showed locals there was a reason to dine at the beach) and SAIA at the B Ocean Fort Lauderdale. If there’s any doubt that Fort Lauderdale can now attract an uber-luxe crowd, visit over-the-top Steak 954 in the sexy W Hotel, which is all about excess, from its luminescent jelly fish tank to its kobe foie gras and black truffle cheese steak.
Off the beach, Fort Lauderdale’s Market 17 is one of the area’s few restaurants to embrace the farm-to-table movement. The Galleria Mall has become a dining destination as well as shopping oasis. And Sawgrass Mills draws restaurant patrons as well as international shoppers to Sunrise.
Despite all the changes, many longtime favorites are still around:
• Georgia Pig, open in Davie since 1953, which richly deserved its spot on Southern Living’s 2012 list of top barbecue joints for its pork sandwich and pecan pie.
• Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor & Country Store, a Dania Beach institution since 1956, where anyone can order the “Kitchen Sink” and feel like a kid.
• Southport Raw Bar, a neighborhood favorite in Fort Lauderdale that’s been serving the creamiest clam chowder in town for 40 years.
• Sugar Reef, where you can savor chef Patrick Farnault’s Caribbean-kissed French cuisine on the Hollywood Broadwalk, just a few steps from the shore.
• Casa D'Angelo, where passionate chef Angelo Elia still prepares fine Italian cuisine, including heavenly risotto with white truffles.
For 20 years, I’ve had a seat at the table as Broward’s dining scene has evolved. Thank you for joining me along the way.