When I travel, I eat out a lot. I find that I can get a feel for a place by going to local restaurants and people watching. When we went to Ft. Lauderdale for five days, so that my JD could be in a wedding, I was a bit concerned that there wouldn’t be time to explore much due to the fun obligations associated with being in a wedding. But with a bit of planning, we found three restaurants that I would recommend to anyone, traveler or local who is looking for somewhere good to eat.
South Florida cuisine is hard to define. I’m still not sure what it is, but these places helped me start to create a definition. The two things I observed and experienced were the Latin American influence, not just Mexico or Cuba, but also extending further south to Peru and Argentina. There is also a South Florida twist on American classics like chicken wings and surf and turf. My best friend has been to South Florida dozens of time and says that Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza has the best wings around because they’re cooked in a brick oven on an open flame. Lastly, South Florida cuisine is light and fresh. I had fresh squeezed orange juice that was so good, it was better than some oranges I had had!
Our first stop was SuViche. This is the place I was most excited about; Peruvian/Japanese cuisine. It took us a while to find it. It is located in an office building, so we had to go through the lobby, past the ATM and to the sidewalk on the other side of the building. A wary security guard pointed the way before we had even finished the question “Where is SuViche?”, a question he probably answers dozens of times per day. When we found it, we found a place whose vibe is minimalist and industrial, yet simultaneously welcoming. This vibe is created by the interior décor exposed wood beams and orange chairs and pendant lights. We sat outside on wicker rattan chairs under large orange umbrellas. There were a lot of trees on the quiet street, so it was like an oasis in the middle of Las Olas Boulevard.
The “Su” in “SuViche” is for sushi, the “Viche” for ceviche… two countries’ take on raw fish. Raw fish isn’t the only Peruvian influence. The second, equally important influence is Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour. Years ago, I had tried to make a Pisco Sour with some Pisco I had received as a gift from a former boss who had been in Peru. The swill I concocted was nothing compared to the light, airy Pisco Sour – made with Pisco, lemon juice and an egg white that I had at SuViche.
The secret sauce for the ceviche was tomatoey, light, and acidic, perfect for pickled fish. The Saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish; pick your protein, and add rice and sautéed vegetables. To match the modern décor and update the Saltado, SuViche serves a Saltado egg roll. I could have had these and Pisco Sours all day, but alas all good things must come to an end, as the next stop was the wedding rehearsal.
Day four was the gastronomic highlight of our trip. That was the day we were having Cuban sandwiches and surf & turf! Everyone seemed to have an opinion on who makes the best Cuban sandwich, but we ultimately found 925 Nuevos Cubanos, a small storefront, on a 5-lane road across the street from a car dealership, on our own. The original owner built the storefront as an addition to her house, a house in which she still lives. It would be a little place hidden in plain sight were it not for the 9-deep line of people occupying the sidewalk waiting to order on that Sunday morning. We parked in an empty dusty parking lot and went to get in line under the rising Florida sun.
To pass the time, we started talking to those around us. Most were locals who had heard about the place from a friend. Like us, this was their first visit. During the 30 minutes that we were in line, we decided, and then changed our minds at least a dozen times. One decision that didn’t change was ordering fresh Florida orange juice. The cashier at 925 also doubles as a juice maker. In between taking orders, she tosses oranges up into the juicer, never missing a beat and at the bottom of the machine, out would come fresh orange juice.
After we placed our order, we waited another 30 minutes to get our food. It was worth every minute of hungry waiting that we endured. The shredded pork in the sandwich was juicy and tender and the sweet plantains made a nice complement. The juice washed it all down perfectly. My whole mouth was immersed in full, mouth-watering Cuban food.
We savored all of this in the parking lot that had been turned into a lovely, shady dining area. There are wooden tables and high benches lining the perimeter of what was the parking lot. One of the brightly painted surrounding walls had a large mural. While we were eating, a live band was setting up near the sidewalk and the people standing in line. The live music immediately transformed the drudgery of waiting into a party and gave diners some nice entertainment.
We walked all of this off before heading up north to Cut 432 in Delray Beach for dinner with friends. Neither of us had been to Delray and we had fun driving down Atlantic Avenue looking for parking. Even early on a Sunday evening, the streets were filled with people. I presumed that many were locals because they didn’t have the pasty, not-enough-time-in-the-sunlight look like My JD and I did.
We spotted the restaurant from the car then parked a few blocks away. We had such a good time visiting with our friends in this restaurant that felt like a fantasy. It is set back from the street with a completely open front. The décor was modern and minimal with white leather furniture and white tablecloths. The atmosphere was breezy, open, and light. And as happens in fantasy worlds, we had a celebrity sighting, a baseball player for the Washington Nationals. In easy Florida style, nobody paid much attention.
From start to finish, the meal, and the service were impeccable; refreshing cocktails, jumbo shrimp that were so big we had one each and an extensive and impressive menu of many cuts of steak including a Porterhouse for two. The seafood menu boasted delicacies such as King Crab, lobster tails, and Yellowfin tuna.
Our waiter was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the steak cuts. While three at our table ordered steak, I ordered the Swordfish which I was thrilled to see on the menu. It is a slightly heavier white fish that is still tender enough to cut with a fork. It melted in my mouth, as did the banana cream pie I had for dessert. I didn’t want it to end; fine food and excellent company in a relaxed, elegant atmosphere.
Visiting these three restaurants over two days helped me to define South Florida cuisine; ethnic, light, fresh, and classic. I’m sure there are other places that give an expanded definition of South Florida cuisine, but these three restaurants gave me a pretty good start.