On a Saturday night, the wait for a table at Canyon Southwest Cafe was nearly 90 minutes. Most South Florida restaurants would envy that kind of popularity during the deadly doldrums of summer. But it’s even more of an accomplishment when you consider that Canyon will be turning 19 at its next anniversary Dec. 17.
What’s more impressive is that the Fort Lauderdale restaurant maintains this kind of loyalty without making concessions. Don’t even think about making a reservation. The website adamantly states: “No reservations. No way. … Forget about it.” The place closes nightly “at our discretion.” Mario Di Leo, who owns the restaurant with executive chef Chris Wilber, says the reservation policy, the food and the atmosphere are not for everyone.
Ambience: Unlike its name, Canyon is not a large space. The cafe seats 70, including 10 spots at the small bar. Quarters are tight when it’s packed, but the lively vibe comes from conversations, not high-decibel music. Large comfy booths draped with sheer curtains pulled to the side, dim lighting and candlelight allow diners some intimacy. Food is made to order, so don’t be in a rush.
- Warm bread
- Barbecue shrimp tostada – light, crisp tortillas loaded with flavorful shrimp and a scattering of roasted corn, melted manchego and cilantro crema
- Succulent oysters with a blue cornmeal shell, served with pico de gallo and a nice swirl of cilantro cream
- Delicious, ultra creamy mac ‘n cheese tossed with manchego, jalapeños, Serrano chiles and a dusting of panko
- Seared tuna, served atop wasabi boniato mash with a salsa blending sliced Asian pears & cucumbers
- Supple & juicy fresh black Florida grouper marinaded with Southwest spices and plated with dollops of jumbo lump crab, Serrano ham and buttered haricot vert
- Three large scallops seared to a perfect golden brown and paired with pork risotto
- Terrifically tender & juicy filet mignon topped with Parmesan and goat cheese blended with a pesto of roasted poblanos, pistachios and cilantro
- Chili-braised short rib quesadillas elevated with a shot of basil vinaigrette
- Housemade ice cream
- Fantastic white chocolate bread pudding served with a berry Chambord pan sauce
- Flourless chocolate cake served with peanut butter ice cream