I started The Whet Palette exactly one year ago today. My first post on this blog highlighted ten wonderful restaurants with locations hidden inside your every day strip mall: restaurants that are anything but typical. It’s only fitting that I celebrate this special anniversary with a sequel post to the original. I present to you, South Florida Strip Mall Jewels, Part 2!
Cafe La Buca is not necessarily fine dining but their food is delicious and cooked homestyle (mamma truly is in the kitchen here). There’s barely any parking and from the outside it looks like any other pizza joint (but it is anything but simple or boring). Dinner reservations are required as it only fits 9 tables inside (but you will never be rushed once seated). Ladies, leave the heels at home. You can dress as you please here because of it’s casual ambiance. OK, I admit it, I wore heels, but you could barely see them through my very long jeans (that’s my casual look- I can’t help it). One more important thing, there is no menu or prices available. You read that correctly. Chef Marco will list what’s available and you just keep ordering until you are full. Don’t be surprised to see and hear Marco yell out orders (in Italian) to the kitchen staff and his “mamma” in the kitchen. He is usually interacting with every single customer, and walking around all night long. Chef Marco is part of the experience of dining here. While everything at Cafe La Buca is special, their bread and pizza dough stand out. It becomes actual work to push that bread basket away, and not fill up on pizza when there are so many other wonderful things on the menu to try. Another plus? It’s BYOW! With no corkage fee, you are free to indulge in your wine of choice to pair with their “mamma mia” good food.
Hidden and a lot more upscale than Cafe La Buca is Cafe Maxx. Understated elegance and rich, flavorful entrees will make you an instant fan. The daily changing menu uses fresh and mostly seasonal ingredients. Crispy fried calamari, BBQ beef brisket, stuffed mushrooms, sea scallops pad Thai, and bourbon pecan pie have all been favorites in the past. Parking is plentiful and valet parking is also an option.
Kitschy knick knacks, and a disarray of celebrity photos everywhere you look, set the stage for Cafe Vico in east Fort Lauderdale. There is one must order item here. I will get right to the point and share what that is: the lasagna. I have yet to find a better one in Broward County. Cafe Vico has other standout, more refined dishes such as their salmon carpaccio and fruit di mare. The ambiance would be more romantic if the noise level wasn’t so high. Regardless, Cafe Vico effortlessly feels quaint yet vibrant all at once.
One great find last year for me was Thai Spice. If you happen to miss the giant, red sign for the restaurant, you need glasses ASAP. The lobster pad thai had my knees buckling. Other favorites were the Bangkok rolls, Chilean sea bass and their special fried rice. The entree portions are hearty and if you like it hot, this is the place for you! You can request your food spice to range from mild to Thai hot. End with any of their more traditional desserts such as the coconut fried ice cream or the non-traditional route with a white chocolate cheesecake or the chocolate peanut butter mousse (as if I needed any further convincing).
Long time favorite Casa D’ Angelo is perhaps the restaurant to beat: strip mall location or not. If you read my list of favorites in my last post (or you can find it HERE if not), you then know I named Casa D’ Angelo my top favorite restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. This restaurant has it all: the best ingredients, delectable courses and attentive service (except the one time I was on my phone,photographing the food, and our waiter got upset). If you find yourself there during truffle season, they will list an abundance of specials containing either white or black shaved truffles. Also, if you ever find osso buco on their menu, order it! I’ve never had any other that tastes as superior as theirs in all of South Florida. One last tip, you must end with their cannoli: fried pastry dough filled with a savory sweet, creamy ricotta filling. Heaven.
Thank you for being a part of this past year. I am looking forward to canvasing the town for more delectable finds this 2014. I cannot wait to see what I find next!
As I see it, from my palette to yours. Cheers!