Fort Lauderdale restaurant dining rooms have been open for some time, and Miamians have been sussing out the lay of the land. What they've found are chic settings, exotic cuisines, and lively establishments.
Read on to learn more about six restaurants that are worth a short drive for a unique dining experience.
Bombay Darbar1521 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
With large chandeliers, elegant Indian décor, and a vibrant color palette, Bombay Darbar in Fort Lauderdale is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the taste buds. The wide variety of Indian specialties includes starters such as vegetable samosas, crisp patties stuffed with seasoned potatoes and green peas ($5.95); and aloo gobi, an invigorating dish made with cauliflower and potatoes sautéed with fresh herbs ($14.95). Enjoy Bollywood performances on large screens while indulging in a main course of masala lamb chops marinated and cooked in a sauce made with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and other spices ($25.95); or mango chicken curry ($17.95). Standout vegetarian options: a vegetable biryani made with basmati rice and a mix of nuts, raisins, and spices ($16.95); and mushroom makhani, a hearty dish of fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter and cooked in creamy tomatoes, cashew sauce, and white wine ($15.95).
Cafe Vico Restaurant & Piano Bar125 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale
Brazilian-born owners Marco Rodriguez and wife Eclair started dishing out homemade pasta in Broward 25 years ago and they still make this old-school Italian restaurant worth returning to again and again. Candlelit wall sconces, ceilings that open into a trompe l'oeil evening sky, and black-and-white framed photos of celebrities scattered throughout three dining rooms will make your visit even more interesting, but it's the food that's at center stage. Rodriguez suggests that you begin your meal with beef or salmon carpaccio ($16.95) or a portion of meatballs, topped here with fontina cheese and tomato sauce ($12.95). Continue with an entree of ravioli, stuffed with chicken and ricotta and topped with a deep, rich black cherry and red wine sauce ($24.95); or lasagna bolognese ($23.95), also featured in the eatery's promotional three-course Dine Out menu ($35) offered through the end of September. Finish with a dessert of classic tiramisu ($8.95). On Fridays and Saturdays, the eatery features lively piano bar performances.
Casa Sensei1200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
There's a lot going on at this restaurant in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, including a menu of Asian-Latin fusion dishes, a picturesque canal-side patio with live music, and gondola dinner tours. Add a rock and roll weekend brunch featuring giveaways and a raffle to win a two-night stay at the new Hard Rock Guitar hotel and you've got enough good reasons to make your drive north worthwhile. The menu packs specialties such as Japonesa sashimi salad with avocado and mixed greens ($15), seared lobster tail guacamole served with malanga chips (market price), and grilled octopus accompanied by papaya mango salad and fresh basil vinaigrette ($16). The selection of large plates includes Korean steak chimichurri with jasmine rice and maduros ($29), a dish of grilled lamb chops with dusted fingerling potatoes and asparagus ($34), and whole fried red snapper with a side salad ($35).
Dune2200 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
This oceanfront restaurant occupies a bright, airy space inside the posh Auberge Beach Residences & Spa. The restaurant boasts great service, a well-chosen wine list, and pretty views of the Atlantic. Dune's offerings are made with fresh, sustainable ingredients accented by intriguing international influences. Dinner starters include yellowfin crudo tossed with pomelo, mango, avocado, smoked trout roe, and mustard oil ($17); and burrata, served with grilled panzanella ($16). Among the entrées: whole roasted branzino with charred lemon and hearts of palm ($32); blue crab spaetzle ($21); and summer farro risotto with asparagus, corn, exotic mushrooms, and gremolata ($23). Starting — and/or ending? — with drinks? Head outdoors to watch the gentle waves gently crashing on the rocks while you partake of something on the rocks yourself — the Golden Sands, perhaps, made with Botanist gin, cucumber-mint syrup, and tangerine juice ($14)? — or a selection from the extensive wine list.
Le Vie Lebanese281 S. Pompano Pkwy., Pompano Beach
Located in a strip mall on South Pompano Parkway, family-owned La Vie Lebanese was built to resemble a lavish oasis (one decorated with colorful lights, drapes, water fountains, and rich furnishings) designed to allow the South Florida breeze to flow through by way of its open sides. Visit Friday or Saturday, when the restaurant adds an extra layer of fun to your gastronomic experience with belly dancers during dinner service. Start your meal with the La Vie salad made with mixed greens, apples, red onions, arugula, grapes, walnuts, dried figs, and crumbled blue cheese ($14); followed by an order of mezza royale ($30) — a generous platter of hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and fattoush whipped up fresh daily and served with pita bread and hot portions of falafel, fried kibbeh, cheese burak, spinach pies, and mini sfiha (meat pies) you can smother in a blanket of labne. Don't leave without trying the Forbidden Love, a vodka cocktail infused with figs, fresh lime juice, and a touch of fig jam ($13); or an Arabian Night, made with chilled fresh cucumber, gin, and St. Germaine pineapple juice ($13).
Shooters Waterfront3033 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Go to Shooters for its seafood-centric menu, vibrant atmosphere, and pet-friendly policies. The resort-style indoor dining room is casual and relaxed, but if you're bringing your canine pal, head to the outdoor patio where you both can enjoy delectable meals with views of the Intracoastal Waterway. Start with an order of guava-chili chicken wings ($12) or, from the raw bar, a dish of ahi tuna poke with avocado, ginger, garlic, sesame, and soy sauce, served with taro chips ($16). A main course of cashew-crusted mahi is served in a red Thai coconut curry sauce with sticky rice ($27), while an the seared brown-butter scallops and shrimp entrée is accompanied by corn risotto, seared asparagus, and citrus beurre blanc ($29). Among the desserts: Betty's red apple pie, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla bean ice cream ($10). Shooters' happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. with half-price cocktails and discounts on wine and beer.