Strip malls are a necessary evil and a part of out daily lives. You know the type; uncomfortable parking lot, quick in-and-out, post offices, groceries, laundromats, massage parlors, and fine dining. Wait. What? Fine dining? In a strip mall? Yes, really! In a strip mall. Right next to the dollar store. Sandwiched in between the PCS and Subway. No, I am not crazy.
Strip malls began around the 1920’s or so I hear. The point is, they have been around for a while. I am not sure when this fad of housing amazing restaurants in strip malls started, but I am not complaining. I do know it wasn’t long ago that the best you could find in a strip mall was an Outback Steakhouse and a Chili’s. Yes, I am using the term “best” loosely. Now, I am not saying there are any Michelin stars type restaurants there, but these I am mentioning are not your typical “strip mall” eats. Sure, the first time I walked towards one highly recommended restaurant I had to pass neon lights and a bank drive-through. I felt a little weird. Here I was wearing a nice dress, designer purse and heels, and someone is giving me a Papa John’s flyer? I became an instant believer. It seems Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are in a battle to see who can do it best. I am not sure who is winning, but I will driving back and forth to try them all out!
My first experience came with Graziano’s on Bird Rd. a long time ago. Nestled neatly next to a bowling alley and a check cashing store sits this Argentinian oasis. It was a little shabby before, but it has been remodeled now for a while. I usually begin with a provoleta and then move on to an entraña (sometimes al caballo- with an egg on top) with a zanahoria y huevo side salad. I like to close dinner with panqueques de dulce de leche and a cortadito. Just color me happy. (that’s a grilled provolone, skirt steak, carrots/boiled egg salad and dulce de leche crepes for my gringo friends!)
If in Broward, you cannot miss La Brochette Bistro. Sure, it’s right next to Winn Dixie and has a neon sign outside. Once you go inside though, it all changes. It happens to be very good. The owner usually comes to greet you and it’s all upwards from there on. Go early. The more popular specials often run out, but never fear, there are a lot of them to choose from. It’s hard to make up your mind. As long as they don’t run out of the white chocolate bread (croissants) pudding then we are good. Someone recently told me they now offer the pudding made out of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I think a reservation there is in my near future (as in tonight maybe?). I love their warm bread that comes with a honey dollop. It’s hard to go against my better judgement to put the bread down and save room for everything else. I cannot get enough. The spinellus steak is also stellar. Add a $20 corkage fee if you bring your own wine (as we often do) and you are all set!
Now here’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone OK? Bon Picat. Tiny. Those that know about it don’t want to share it. I am surely breaking some kind of code here by raving about it. It is a husband and wife team and they offer authentic Spanish food. It has no more than 10 tables (if that) and it is usually very full. It is because of them that I now order octopus everywhere I go. You cannot miss their pulpo a la gallega. Amazing! I was running out of things to dip into the remaining sauce once the octopus was all gone. Do you want something not on the menu? Just ask! The owner will come out, talk to you and make something just for you. You heard it here. This is Doral’s most delicious hidden gem.
Up north, way north, I present to you Pasta And. They are all the way up in Margate. Not much more to go up there for, but a trip to Pasta And is worth the drive. I promise. They offer all of their pastas a la carte and all of their sauces separately. It’s up to you how you combine it. Of course, they make suggestions for you. Ultimately, you choose and they bring you something absolutely memorable. Simple. This one was really funny though. Was that really an oriental massage parlor next door to it? Really? It was completely full even though it was a weekday. These were not just pop in diners either, they were mostly regulars. The pasta is fresh, delicious, decadent, dreamy and addicting. The portion I was served was huge! Just make sure you wear comfortable “eating” clothing (leave the fitted dresses at home ladies) and you will be OK.
Now I need you to get up, take a good stretch, and sit back down. We are nearing my last four strip mall picks. I have saved the best for last. They are ALL so different. They are ALL so special. Here we go…drums please…
Eduardo de San Angel
Mustard Seed Bistro
Chef Adrienne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar
The Federal, Food, Drinks & Provisions
Eduardo’s is a high-end Mexican restaurant (next to a podiatrist and a nail salon). Yes, I used the word “high-end”. Not a taco or quesadilla in sight. Once inside, it is quaint and romantic. Dim lighting sets the stage for a “palette” of ingredients. The cilantro soup? Get it! Don’t ask. Just get it. This is one of those places that makes it really difficult to choose what to have. It’s all beautifully done. They never rush you out. They make you feel like you are the only one there and service is always exceptional!
Mustard’s, well, this is the one I frequent the most. I live nearby and there simply is no other place like it for miles! They have a nice breakfast menu and they get absolutely packed for lunch. Dinner is my favorite there. This is when it comes alive. Lights go dim and sheer curtains block out the strip mall parking lot view. You forget where you are. The first rule to dining at Mustard’s is to call on the day of your reservation and set aside the cupcakes you want for later. They have great cupcakes (different flavors daily), that usually run out by 1pm. WARNING: If you don’t end your meal with their cupcakes you have not had the full experience. I have now visited so much that I can recite the menu. It is because of this that the last couple of times I have requested to do a chef’s tasting menu instead. Surprise me! I just walk in and request it. Unless it’s the weekend , you don’t need to call ahead for it. They offer a five course tasting and I love the surprise factor. Portions are perfect as is taste. If you do order off the main menu, please get the bacon wrapped dates, crispy duck, and the spinellus steak!
All the way down south, and I mean aaaaallllll the way south we have Chef Adrienne’s (with Goodyear as a neighbor). Dark, mysterious, sexy and unmatched are words that come to mind when describing this restaurant. $15 corkage fee? Score! It’s easy to just eat, and eat, and eat while there. It’s probably a good thing it takes me almost an hour to make it there because I can’t really move when I am done. It’s hard to stop. I love it all. Why oh why can they not have a place in Broward too? It’s not fair. Chef Adrienne also does a dining in the dark experience. I have yet to try it but you know I will post all about it if I do.
Last but not least, The Federal, Food, Drink & Provisions. I’m not sure what’s with the long name, but these kids are just too cool for school. They really are. BFF’s with Dunkin Donuts next door, this place simply rocks. They have an adorable terrace with stringed lights to enjoy on those rare Miami days that the heat is not eating us alive. The inside is chic-meets-rustic and the food is to die for. Go hungry. Go in a big group. Order the entire menu. I dare you! Pretzel bread, Jar-o-Duck, Mussels and Crispy Duck, are all musts. End with their desserts (which are surely made with crack and why I am so addicted) and some amazing Panther Coffee (in your very own French press) and you will wonder just how you ever made it without The Federal being around.
I have now learned to overlook these restaurant “locations.” Who cares? I mean, you can even multitask! Drop off some mail, pick up some dry cleaning, get your nails done, pick up a new dress, and then have an amazing dinner all in the same strip mall! Finding all these jewels has made me take a closer look while zipping in and out of these malls in search of the next best thing. Now you know. Get out there, explore and please pretty please let me know when you do! I want to know all about it. Until then, thanks for reading my very first post. As I see it, from my palette to yours.