Feast on Mexican, Italian and Asian in Hollywood & Pembroke Pines

Mexican, Italian and Asian food are always solid bets in our family. Here are three neighborhood restaurants that offer dishes from these countries.

Open since May, El Paso II is the second outpost for owners whose original location has been around for more than a decade in Coral Springs. Outside it still looks like a rundown Italian restaurant with a red, white and green awning, but inside it’s gotten a makeover with sombreros, Mexican artwork, red vinyl booths and terracotta tile creating a cheerful atmosphere. The menu covers the gamut of Mexican and Spanish favorites at very reasonable prices, with most items under $10. It’s a good place for kids or large parties because there’s plenty of room. House specialties include Mexican stir-fry and brochettes (skewered grilled shrimp), and combos like the Cuban with pork, palomilla and chicken or the Tampico with chicken tostada, cheese enchilada and beef taco suit the indecisive. Suprema fajitas — a plentiful skillet of chicken, steak and shrimp served with all the traditional fixings — are worth coming back for. The Jalisco combo with chicken enchilada, beef taco and chili relleno also got high marks, and the steak burrito was loaded with meat.

Yes, there really is a Joe, and over nearly a decade he has built Joe’s Pizza & Pasta into a small chain with locations in Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Coral Springs. Set in a strip center just off University Drive, the Pines location drew a steady stream of customers on a Sunday night hungry for New York style pizza, calzones, stromboli, subs, pastas and traditional
entrees as well as out-of-the-ordinary options like chicken paesano (mushrooms, marinara and mozzarella) and snapper alla Salvatore (mushroom, artichoke hearts and lemon with white wine sauce). The setting is bare-bones, with Formica tables and murals of Italian landmarks accented with exposed brick. It’s the kind of place where long-time staff know the regulars. We tried a sampler with chicken parmigiana (lightly fried, ungreasy), lasagna and a meatball (too peppery). Eggplant spinach rollatini arrived lukewarm but was a hit after reheating. Overall the place does well on the basics, but the tomato sauce could use a flavor boost. Slices of pizza came out underbaked, but the whole pies looked much better.

There’s definitely a need for good, affordable food at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and we had high hopes for Noodles, which opened late last year. It gets points for the striking setting, with low, Asian-style tables and dramatic blue accents. There’s also outdoor dining where you can watch the casino’s nightly light show. However, even with a half-empty restaurant, service was dismal. Half our food arrived cold. Chicken pot stickers tasted like they came right out of the freezer. Shrimp pad Thai didn’t arrive until we had finished the rest of our meal. They ran out of sauce, we were told, the dish still had no sauce and no flavor. We sent it back and had it removed from our bill. The best dish was a curry noodle bowl with roast pork, but even that was only a step above ramen noodles. Chicken teriyaki came with mushrooms that seemed on the verge of going bad. We had to head next door to Kilwin’s for something sweet to get the bad taste of this dinner out of our mouths.