Once billed as the home of more restaurants per capita than any city in the nation, Fort Lauderdale loves—and virtually lives in—its restaurants. Hardly a day goes by in the city where the discussion doesn't turn to the latest great restaurant find: a favorite seafood haven, the best spot for steak, a great waterside spot or a new romantic-dining discovery.
It's easy to find amazing steak, at such renowned spots as Shula's On the Beach and the casual Chuck's Steak House or the woodsy Raindancer, the later two as popular for their brimming salad bars and French onion soup as for their beef and seafood selections. Cool-chic can be had at Bimini Boatyard, and trendy crowds also head for the seaside H2O, where an intriguing menu is abetted by an equally diverting seaside location.
Work does get done in Fort Lauderdale but much of it gets done over lunch at such popular downtown spots as Mango's, where street-side tables are packed by noon. At Mark's Las Olas, where an award-winning chef and a sleekly sophisticated atmosphere cater to the wants of classy customers, the tables are full from midday to nearly midnight. When the flavors of France tempt, thundering herds head for Le Cafe de Paris, where chefs of considerable local renown have been presiding over their respective, and respected, kitchens for decades. Enjoy Southwestern fare at Canyon or have some pizazz and pizza at Bistro Mezzaluna. Dine with a view, waterside, at Casablanca.
Those who want the sand almost between their toes as they dine head for the north end of the beach where Aruba, an on-the-beach—casual dining spot offers views of swimmers and suntan fans frolicking alongside a fishing pier, where determined anglers dangle a hook in hopes of snagging supper. Have some fish and chips on the river at Shirttail Charlie's. Those who delight in the combination of casual and gourmet may head for By Word of Mouth, where the menu is as intriguing as the green-striped exterior.
If the focus of discussion is seafood, you are likely to hear enraptured tales of dinner at 15th Street Fisheries, tucked away in a marina where impressive yachts provide entertainment, or Old Florida Seafood House, where much of the staff has been around long enough to recognize regular customers.
North Beach Area
Not far away on chic Las Olas Boulevard, lines form on weekends at the Floridian Restaurant, where judges and lawyers, politicians and regular folks gather to gossip as they down a creative collection of egg selections—one even including a bottle of champagne—in the ultimate in casual surroundings, inside and out. Boulevardiers who aren't at the Floridian can likely be found at Vie de France Cafe & Bakery just down the way, or up on Federal Highway at Croissan'Time Cafe, where French-speaking bakers create what the name suggests, along with baguettes, epis and a host of downright irresistible pastries, sandwiches and sweets.
Indulge in comfort foods at Ireland's Inn Ocean Room and enjoy the elegant Oriental options at Rainbow Palace. Picadillo and plantains can be had at Las Vegas, or try the bouillabaisse at the beach at Sea Watch. If steak is more your taste, bask in the kitsch in a den at The Caves. You can always have a yodel at Alpine Village, where the food is homemade and divine. If an evening that includes both fine food and enchanting entertainment is in order, no Fort Lauderdale devotee would fail to name the Mai-Kai, one of the city's oldest restaurants and perhaps its most revered.
At Sage, French touches are applied to contemporary cuisine. If you'd like to enjoy a bar atmosphere with your dinner, try Howl at The Moon, where the food is simple, and the people-watching is complex.