Discovering the pleasures of multicultural dining in Broward County feels like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Open the door of a small hole-in-the-wall or family-run place and you enter a wonderland where you can savor the flavor of the country through its food, language and music.
There’s just about every type of cuisine to explore, from Argentine to Vietnamese. There are enclaves of Asians, Arabs, Brazilians, Bahamians, Brits, Indians, Israelis, West Indians, Jamaicans, Haitians, Dominicans, Peruvians and Cubans, not to mention Russians, Romanians, Polish, Persians, Puerto Ricans and Canadians plus African Americans and Americans of Irish, German, Swedish, Scottish and Italian ancestry to name a few.
If you crave ackee and salt fish or za’atar-stuffed patria (pastry triangles), they can be found in Broward communities from Parkland to Pembroke Pines. Whether you keep kosher, eat halal, or dine with fork and knife, chopsticks or your fingers, you can easily eat your way around the world without leaving Broward.
Like the Caterpillar, you can also smoke a hookah and perhaps be transported to another time and place – just as a meal in the following eateries will do.
Meal in a Pie: Owners Rod and Tracey Wiggill offer big South African stuffed pastries with various fillings, like shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney, chicken pot pie, feta and artichoke, and bobotie, a Cape Malay mixture of spiced ground beef, dried fruit and egg custard. Sausage rolls, homemade biltong (beef jerky), and boerewors (farm-style sausages) round out the menu.
There are several tables where you can eat on the spot surrounded by impala pelts, carved masks and zulu shields. The Wiggills also stock watermelon and ginger jam, atjars (spicy pickles) and blatjangs (chutneys). 4440 NE 20th Ave., Oakland Park; 954-202-9118.
Caspian Persian Grill: The storefront restaurant is popular with South Florida’s Iranian community, estimated at about 10,000. Highlights include succulent Cornish hen kebabs and fesenjan, the most magnificent of all the khoresht (savory stews) with chicken simmered in a thick mahogany sauce made of pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts. Try ash-e reshteh, soup with noodles, spinach and beans, or koo koo sabzi, a baked omelet with herbs. The best dessert is vanilla and rosewater ice cream with sour cherry preserves. The small market next door has paper-thin lavash bread, dried mulberries exotic spice mixtures and pistachio nougat. 7821 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation; 954-236-9955.
Udipi Café: Named after a famous temple city in South India, the restaurant is known for its aromatic vegetarian dishes. Crisp dosas (rice and lentil batter crepes) are rolled up with hot chutney and spiced potatoes. Another variety made with cream of wheat called rava dosa has grated coconut. Iddli are flying saucer-shaped spongy rice cakes served with sambar (lentil soup) and coconut chutney. Vada are deep-fried lentil doughnuts and pau bhaji is mashed veggies served on a buttered pau (roll). There’s also Indo-Chinese stir-fried noodles and some North Indian dishes, good scooped up with blistered naan bread hot from the clay tandoori oven. 2100 N. University Dr., Sunrise; 954-748-5660.
Nava’s Grill: Across the street from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino but worlds away is this pulsing center of South Florida’s Israeli community. Owner Nava Kaufman is at the heart of this friendly place. After closing on Saturday evening there is a real party with BYOB, live music and dancing. The place is nondescript except for a mural of a country scene but the atmosphere is magical, filled with conversations in Hebrew. As soon as you are seated, you’ll get small plates like roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms, hummus and baba ghanoush, delicious with fresh pita and meant to be shared. Glatt kosher meats come sizzling from the grill, good with fries and Israeli chopped salad. Saturdays brings cholent (stew) with brisket, barley, beans and potatoes cooked overnight. 5418 State Road 7, Hollywood; 954-583-4600.
Saigon Cuisine: The French left a legacy of bread and charcuterie in the former colony known as Indochine. Taste both in bahn mi, a spiced-up Vietnamese-style sub. Baguette rolls are spread with homemade mayo and stuffed with grilled chicken, cold cuts or paté, garnished with pickled carrot, cilantro sprigs and slices of jalapeno. Make a meal of pho (rice noodle and beef soup). There’s also fish in caramel sauce, bahn xeo (sizzling savory pancakes), and crackling cha gio (fried spring rolls) for wrapping in lettuce. Frosty fruit shakes with tapioca pearls combat the spicy heat.1392 N. State Road 7, Margate; 954-975-2426.
Lovey’s Roti: This is a quaint little West Indian shop where people from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago hang out among the plastic palms. They come – and so should you – for chicken or duck curry wrapped like a fat burrito in a roti (thin flat bread). Ask for “peppa, ” hot sauce made from Scotch bonnet peppers. “Buss up shut” is slang for large griddle-cooked bread that is cut in strips to resemble a “burst up shirt” served like a nest with “straights” (vegetable curry) to sop up the sauce. There’s also channa aloo (chickpeas and potatoes), vivid orange pumpkin curry and scone-like rock cakes with currants. 8336 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise; 954-741-9212.
Coconutz Fusion Café: It’s a little funky looking, but this friendly spot serves down-home Jamaican food plus pasta and Chinese dishes. Favorites are ackee combos based on the vegetable fruit that looks and tastes like scrambled eggs. Get it with salt cod, callaloo (a leafy green), tofu, butter beans or chickpeas. Caribbean specialties include oxtail stew, goat curry, steamed snapper with green bananas and jerk shrimp in spicy sauce. Coconut drops with ginger are like candy. 2408 S. State Road 7, Miramar; 954-961-3334.
Chocolada Bakery & Café: The charming spot has butter cream walls, glass cases displaying jewel-like confections and pleasant outdoor dining. Romanian specialties include sarmale (stuffed cabbage) served with mamaliga (polenta) and mititei (little grilled sausages) made from a mix of pork, lamb and beef plated with fries. Cakes, sold whole or by the slice, are decorated with fruits, glazes, chocolate swirls and clouds of whipped cream. There’s baba rum (sponge cake soaked in rum syrup), chocolate hedgehog cakes with quills made from almonds and Dobos torte with layers of sponge cake and chocolate cream topped with caramel. 1923 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 954-920-6400.
Bundo Khan Halal Restaurant: When you walk inside this no-frills storefront, you’ll be greeted by heady spices like ginger, cloves, cinnamon and garlic. Owner Abdul Hakim was born in India but raised in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, so he offers both cuisines – halal refers to meat prepared in line with Islamic dietary guidelines. Dishes include shami kebab (pan-fried ground meat and lentil patty), tandoori meats, curries, samosas and rotis (breads). Pakistani dishes generally have more of a spicy wallop. The lunch buffet is a good way to get a sampling of Bundo Khan’s cuisine. 8438 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise; 954-749-1550.
Old Heidelberg: It feels like Oktoberfest all year when you walk into this Teutonic temple with its kitschy gnomes, rows of beer steins and waitresses in dirndl skirts. This longtime Fort Lauderdale destination for brats, beer and sauerbraten looks as if it was transported from a Bavarian fairy tale. Yvonne and Stephan Liebe, originally of Berlin, have taken over Old Heidelberg from their aunt and uncle, Deiter and Heidi Dorrenberg, the owners for nearly two decades. Specialties include smoked pork chops, sausages (bratwurst, thüringer, knockwurst, kielbasa), schnitzels, spaetzle, potato pancakes and apple strudel with vanilla sauce. 900 State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-6747.
El Tamarindo Cafe: Owners/siblings Alex, Juan, Yecson, Antonio and Sonia Amaya grew up in Sensuntepeque, El Salvador, and were inspired by a popular Salvadoran beach and the tamarind tree, which bears a sweet-sour fruit, for the name of their sunny restaurant. It’s a destination for the country’s signature street snack, pupusas (griddle-cooked corn tortillas) with fillings like red beans, cheese and a mixture of ground pork, garlic, onions and green peppers. Try the tamales or for more substantial fare, order mariscada, a gumbo-like seafood soup or churrasco and finish up with flan and a glass of horchata, a cinnamony rice milk. They’ve recently added a liquor license in the Fort Lauderdale location at 233 State Road 84; 954-467-5114. Another branch is at 712 Atlantic Shores Blvd., Hallandale Beach; 954-456-4447.
Parc 28 Exotic Asian Cuisine: You’ll find a selection of Malaysian dishes enriched with spice mixtures, fragrant herbs and shrimp paste. Juicy grilled chicken and beef satay come with a creamy peanut sauce. Popular dishes include roti canai, a crisp multilayered griddled bread best torn into pieces to dunk in the complex chicken and potato curry, and buah mango, which brings shrimp sautéed with shredded mango in a spicy sauce. Banana fritters with lychee ice cream make for a happy ending. 1382 Weston Rd., Country Isles Plaza, Weston; 954-389-7029.
Istanbul Restaurant: Open since 1991, the beach nook serves authentic Turkish fare with views of the ocean. Some tables are out front, almost on the sand. Start with pan-fried eggplant slices served with garlic-laced yogurt, piyaz (white bean salad with onion and parsley in lemon and olive oil dressing) or lahmacun, a type of Turkish pizza with ground lamb. There’s also kebabs, gyros, kofte (lamb patties in pita), boreks (filo dough pies stuffed with spinach, chicken and peppers or feta cheese). Wash a meal down with ayran, a cold yogurt drink or Efes Pilsen (Turkish beer) and save room for baklava. 707 South Broadwalk, Hollywood; 954-921-1263.
Al Salam: This is a plain space with very good Middle Eastern food. There’s an attached market where you can buy herb-stuffed pastry triangles, pita bread, labne (thick yogurt cheese), tahini and dates. Start with torpedo-shaped cracked wheat kibbe stuffed with spiced ground meat and pine nuts or foul medames (fava beans with garlic, chiles, olive oil and lemon). There’s also kebab platters, braised lamb shanks, grilled salmon and whole red snapper in spicy sauces. Puff flavored tobacco in the café next door. 1816 N. University Dr., Plantation; 954-916-5193
Kussifay: The name means “what’s up?” in an Italian-Argentine dialect and what’s on the menu are calzones, empanadas, pizza, noquis (gnocchi) and ravioli. Campfire cheese brings grilled provolone smeared with herbs. Grilled meats include sweetbreads and several Argentine cuts of beef like entrana (skirt steak). Dessert crepes are rolled up with dulce de leche at this cozy spot, which resembles a Swiss chalet. 2652 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 954-534-7690.
Saxsay Café: The name Saxsay comes from Quechua, the Native American language spoken in the Andes Mountains, and means “to eat and be satisfied, ” says owner Renzo Salini. Diners are more than satisfied at this cheerful, 45-seat Sunrise nook, where you’ll find classic Peruvian fare like lomo saltado (skirt steak strips with fries and rice), papa a la huancaina (potatoes in a creamy cheese sauce) and aji de gallina (shredded chicken in a luxurious yellow pepper sauce). Saxsay is also known for its bracingly fresh ceviche. End with desserts like Suspiro a la limeña (a confection “as soft and sweet as a Lima woman’s sigh”), picarones (pumpkin doughnuts) and lucuma, ice cream made from the Andean fruit with a butterscotch-date flavor. 9160 W. Commercial Blvd., Sunrise; 954-746-5099.
The Field Irish Pub & Eatery: A true Irish pub, says Belfast-born Hilary Joyalle, has “an indefinable heart.” And you’ll find it at her popular pub, which looks like a rambling farmhouse plucked from the Irish countryside. The Field seats 350 in its six rooms, which allows for a cozier atmosphere. It’s framed in dark wood and filled with antiques, books, barrels and often the sound of uileann (Irish) pipers. The homey menu features traditional pub grub like bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips as well as burgers, sandwiches, salads and entrees like Gaelic steak with an Irish whiskey cream sauce. 3281 Griffin Rd., Dania Beach; 954-964-5979.
Kingshead Pub, Restaurant & British Market: Fans gather to catch games on the telly while chowing down on British fare from London-born chef Sarah Mendham, who whips up fish and chips (in a light Bass Ale batter), sausage in puff pastry or the daily curry special. Stock up on Mendham’s fare, plus frozen items like Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire Pudding at the adjacent Kingshead Market. There’s also live music, an open mike night and a “Brilliant Sunday Roast.” 2692 N. University Dr., Sunrise; 954-572-5933.
Tatiana Restaurant & Cabaret Show: Tatiana is all about Russian mystique and majesty melded with a smorgasbord of old country cooking – traditional dishes like borscht and “blabber mouth” (beef tongue salad), sardines and sturgeon, caviar and cold, smoked meats, washed down with lots of Stoli. The opulent, 10,500-square-foot space features three levels of seating for 600 with romantic balconies, Murano glass fixtures, gold drapes and 26-foot ceilings, plus an elaborate Las Vegas-style floor show (Friday-Sunday) and dancing till the early morning hours. 1710 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hallandale Beach; 954-454-1222.
Greek Islands Taverna: The place draws crowds lusting for char-grilled lamb chops and fresh fish, pungent feta cheese and lemon-scented chicken and octopus. Located near the beach, the taverna is festive with lots of blue-and-white checked gingham, a large bustling dining room and outdoor dining. Other traditional fare includes souvlaki (skewered pork), moussaka (baked eggplant) and meze or small plates like saganaki (cheese flamed in brandy), spanakopita (spinach pies) and dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves). End on a sweet note with baklava. 3300 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-568-0008.
Ikea Sunrise Cafeteria and Food Market: Busy shoppers here can take a fika or coffee break and grab a bite in the upper level café. Try Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry sauce; salmon gravlax with sweet mustard sauce; open-face shrimp sandwiches on rye; or pyttipanna (hash), a mix of diced pan-fried seasonal vegetables and potato. Or just get coffee and a slice of daim torte (chocolate cake with almonds). The market downstairs by the checkout area sells ginger cookies, rye crisp, black-currant marinated herring, and herrgard cheese (similar to pale cheddar). 151 NW 136th Ave., Sunrise; 954-838-9292.
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine: Anthony Vilarino opened his first restaurant, a small, no-frills Las Vegas in Hollywood in 1984, four years after he and his family fled Cuba in the Mariel boatlift. Today, Vilarino, his wife, Nilda, and five daughters run a mini chain of 11 Cuban and Mexican restaurants. Las Vegas is still a prime destination for homey fare like ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomatoey sauce), boliche (pot roast), arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice) served with black beans, white rice and plantains. Finish with flan and café con leché. Visit www.lasvegascubancuisine.com for locations.
Padrino’s Cuban Cuisine: The family restaurant started with a small food market and winery in 1930s Cuba. Diosdado Padrino sent his wife, Candida Rosa and two children to the United States in 1968; he followed in 1972. The Padrinos opened their first restaurant in Hialeah in 1976 and the family now operates restaurants in Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Boca Raton and Orlando. You’ll find dishes like lechon asado (roast pork), arroz con pollo a la jardinera (chicken, veggies and yellow rice), churrasco and variety of seafood. Visit www.padrinos.com for locations.
Viva Chile Restaurant: You’ll find pastel de choclo, the national dish, based on shepherd’s pie, but made with creamed corn capping ground beef. If there’s a national fish, it’s congrio (cusk-eel) with scallop-like flesh. The celebrated Nobel poet of Chile, Pablo Neruda, waxed poetic about it in his Ode to Fish Chowder. Fillets are fried and served with salad or grilled and topped with fried eggs. Go for frita, small fried cheese empanadas or chilenitos – pastry rounds sandwiched with caramel encased in a meringue shell. 6013 Stirling Rd, Davie; 954-581-8138.
Rochelle Koff contributed to this article.
Linda Bladholm’s latest book is “Latin and Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified.” She blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.