Courtesy of Cafe Martorano
Courtesy Casa Sensei
Asian fusion restaurant Casa Sensei doubles down on the gondola theme.
Don’t even think about leaving town without having one of LaSpada’s hoagies or the kimchi fried rice at Casa Sensei.
When you think of Fort Lauderdale, you probably start with sun, sand, boats—but dining out should also be on your itinerary. As both a cruise port and neighbor to Miami, this South Florida city sees more than a million international tourists each year, and its food scene reflects that. You might enjoy Latin-Asian fusion on the same street as rustic Italian, or a treat-yourself extravagant dinner in a residential neighborhood. Here are six dining experiences you don’t want to miss when you visit Fort Lauderdale.
You can’t claim “the best damn hoagies in town” for more than 40 years without a menu that’s in demand. LaSpada’s, a small sandwich shop in a busy strip mall, has a cult-like following among locals; the line regularly snakes out the door. Hearty sandwiches come on fresh Italian bread, classics like Italian and turkey, though the most popular item is a “Monster” hoagie: freshly sliced ham, turkey, roast beef, and provolone piled high with your choice of a dozen toppings. No sandwich is complete without the signature #meatblanket, which is exactly what it sounds like: one final helping of meat to keep all those toppings in place. Order in advance online to avoid the wait. 1495 S.E. 17th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-3483, laspadashoagies.com
In an otherwise quiet shopping center along one of Fort Lauderdale’s main drags, you’ll find a dimly lit Italian restaurant like something out of a song. Cozy booths, white tablecloths . . . and chef-owner Steve Martorano deejaying in the open kitchen. He’ll shout his catchphrase “yo, cuz!” to friends and newcomers alike—everyone’s like family here. The menu shares Martorano’s roots in Philadelphia with such dishes as chicken cacciatore and bucatini Amatriciana. No visit is complete without the famous meatball and Martorano salad. The baseball-sized meatball is made with fresh ricotta, long hot pepper, and Pecorino Romano that’s plated with a side salad covered in housemade vinaigrette. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. The larger-than-life slices of cake—carrot, chocolate, red velvet—are made by Martorano’s wife and worth the extra calories. Reservations are suggested; this hot spot is known to draw a crowd every day of the week. 3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-561-2554, cafemartorano.com
It’s not just the food that draws a crowd to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s Aruba Beach Cafe (though the Bimini bread with honey butter has its diehards); it’s the ambience, like nothing else in the Fort Lauderdale area. In this small oceanside community is a lively beach bar and restaurant with live music, a busy happy hour, and a menu full of Caribbean American fare. It’s an easy spot to share several appetizers—hello, blue crab dip—or fight off a food coma after large plates of shrimp scampi and baked stuffed shrimp. Of course, as with any great beach cafe there’s a raw bar featuring peel-and-eat spiced shrimp, chilled lobster, and smoked wahoo dip. 1 Commercial Blvd., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, 954-776-0001, arubabeachcafe.com
We daydream about Casa Sensei’s miso-marinated lamb chops; the Shogun sushi roll with spicy tuna and wagyu beef; the Korean beef and kimchi fried rice with a hint of white cheese. (Yes, there’s cheese in the fried rice, exactly where you never knew it should be.) These perfectly spicy, flavorful bites are memorable, and reason enough to put this restaurant on your list. And then there are the gondolas: Casa Sensei is right on the Himmarshee canal (part of the “Venice of America”) so diners have the option of eating inside the romantic restaurant, outside along the canal, or right on the water while enjoying the sights from their own private gondola. 1200 E. Las Olas Blvd. Ste. 101, Fort Lauderdale, 954-530-4176, casasensei.com
Can’t go wrong with a classic steakhouse, though this one’s fresh seafood may tempt you away from the cut. Steak 954 delivers with precision and attention to detail in a memorable setting inside the W Fort Lauderdale. (A massive jellyfish tank takes the main stage, adding a gentle blue glow to its surroundings.) Start with a raw bar selection like the Alaskan king crab cocktail with spicy mayo. When it comes to the steak, you’ll find all the usual cuts as well as wagyu options and a curve-ball cheesesteak that’s given a luxurious upgrade—made with American wagyu, truffled cheese, and a freshly baked brioche roll and served with Laurent Perrier Brut. 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-414-8333, steak954.com
Foxy Brown was built on a patty melt, a milkshake, and a dream. Since it opened in 2012, this gastropub has landed on many “best brunch” lists across the region with the diner staples that inspired the restaurant, and a selection of “standards” like lump crab cakes, beef-a-roni, fish ’n’ chips, and a pot roast dinner. Pay attention to the specials—that’s where the chef gets creative. To wit: A burrito that comes stuffed with perfectly grilled steak and gooey mac and cheese. French dip pancakes are exactly how they sound: shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese are served atop pancakes, with au jus and a drizzle of horseradish aioli. During its infamous weekend brunch, you may consume a week’s worth of calories thanks to dishes like banana bread grilled cheese made with Nutella and ricotta, s’mores waffles, and boozy milkshakes. With its “be nice” slogan, it’s easy to feel at home while visiting Foxy Brown. 723 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 754-200-4236, myfoxybrown.com
*Note: This restaurant is moving to a new, bigger location in the next 40–60 days according to a recent news story. New address:476 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale
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