We’re fortunate enough to live in a place that, even when we’re not on the road, feels a lot like vacationing. Tracy and I moved to Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, and have since been amazed at the sheer depth of things there are to do in the Venice of America, as it’s called.
Fort Lauderdale isn’t a large city, with only around 200,000 residents in what is considered “proper” Fort Lauderdale. One really does need to make the distinction, as rarely is done, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. It’s essentially two different planets. The food, the attractions and the cities themselves are different enough to necessitate separating Fort Lauderdale out from Miami in a food-focused post. There are, of course, plenty of reasons we travel, but Fort Lauderdale is a great place to call home when you can’t, and there’s plenty of things to do.
With that being said, Fort Lauderdale is a major tourist attraction in the U.S., and you can’t cover all of it in one post. The beautiful beaches, hot climate and vibrant atmosphere attract visitors from not only the rest of the U.S, but South America, Europe and throughout Asia as well. It is as diverse a place as there is in the United States for tourism, and its deep culinary underbelly reflects much of that.
Given the depths of all there is to experience, we’ve tried to gather as much information to give you a great start the next time you find yourself along Las Olas and A1A, looking for a place to fill you up that won’t break the bank!
Southport Raw Bar
It’s first on our list for a reason.
Southport Raw Bar is a Fort Lauderdale landmark that has its beginnings in the early 1970’s, and has seemingly grown alongside the city. At the time, Fort Lauderdale was primarily an undeveloped beach town aside from the notoriety it had gained by being featured in the 1960 movie Where The Boys Are. Now, both are synonymous with “island-life” in South Florida.
When company or family comes to town, the first stop is Southport, one of the best seafood restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. With outdoor seating facing the Intracoastal waterway, some of the freshest seafood catch you can find in the Southern U.S. and cheap beer specials, you can come, fill up, slam a couple of pops and just get away for a while.
The service is friendly, the food is great, and the prices are some of the more affordable along the beach considering the quality of the experience. We highly recommend as a place that is sure to get you in the beach-mood.
Gilbert’s 17th St. Grill
Gilbert’s isn’t just a burger joint, it’s the burger joint.
Family-owned for more than forty years, Gilbert’s boasts a small menu that’s heavy on taste, including a selection of more than ten different hand-crafted burgers, grill platters with beef, fish and chicken as well as excellent salads and desserts.
However, don’t sleep on the sides at Gilbert’s. Get the legendary sweet potato fries to go with the blue cheese stuffed burger for a truly transcendental experience!
Looking to keep it thin for your fun in the sun? Gilbert’s offers plenty of lighter-fare options to keep you from feeling beached on the beach!
Type: Seafood/Fine dining
Why include a “fine dining” establishment in a post about where to eat on a budget? Wild Sea offers a first-class experience at third-class prices, with one of the most creative seafood menus in all of Fort Lauderdale. The menu is stunning, and you can get a great meal for under $20 per person.
If you know your seafood, I mean really know, Wild Sea offers great catch options outside of the norm such as Monkfish and Wahoo. The decor is elegant, the inside is cozy and warm while also feeling exclusive and providing the background setting for a great date night.
Tap 42 is a newer Fort Lauderdale invention that is off-the-rails popular. A place for 30-somethings to both see and be seen, Tap 42 is most popular as a brunch location that gets busy early and stays that way.
Complete with bottomless drink menus both Saturday and Sunday, the brunch features American-based fare with flair, such as Chicago-Style Steak and Eggs and the “Hangover,” a colossus of a meal consisting of Turkey Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, White Cheddar and Maple Hollandaise between a French Toast Challah Bun!
Located just down the street from Las Olas and on the edge of downtown Fort Lauderdale, “Tap”, as its called locally, has also spread to neighboring areas in Boca Raton and Miami for those just outside of Lauderdale limits. Go hungry, stay long and take a cab. Trust me.
Mention Italian food in Fort Lauderdale, and Il Mulino is bound to come up. Located on N Federal Highway next to one of our favorite theaters, The Gateway Theater, Il Mulino serves classic Italian dishes in a warm and inviting setting.
I, quite honestly, have a very hard time recommending what to get at Il Mulino. Why? Everything is outstanding. You want pizza in Fort Lauderdale? The good stuff they make in the old country? Go to Il Mulino. You want pasta? Il Mulino. Flatbread Rustico? Il Mulino.
Just go to Il Mulino, the best Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
Tracy and I are absolute suckers for diners. Put one in an Airstream bus or other silvery, shiny exterior mimicking an Airstream, and we go fully unglued into nostalgia for a time forgotten in America. Fort Lauderdale is like any city – it needs a great diner.
Don’t get fancy, just stay with the diner classics for a cool, romantic experience and a taste of Americana – split a chocolate shake, for example. Two straws, please!
Perhaps you and your love need a base-coat after a fun night out? You can’t go wrong with off-the-griddle hash-browns and a couple of eggs, sunny-side up!
Type: Thai Fusion
Galanga is a Thai-Sushi location in the Wilton Manors area in northern Fort Lauderdale, about 2 miles from downtown and only 3 miles west of the coast. We frequent here when we need an international fix, as Galanga serves up one of the best Red Curry dishes in all of South Florida.
The interior is soft and ambient, providing an ideal mood-setting spot that is incredibly relaxing. Best of all? Two entrees and a bottle of wine will get you out the door for under $40!
This is absolutely one of our favorite places in Fort Lauderdale, and it comes highly recommended.
Shuck n’ Dive
Shuck n’ Dive serves up Louisiana Cajun like no one else in Fort Lauderdale, including nightly specials coming both in plates and bottles! Shuck is a place we go to often when we’re looking for a relaxing outdoor setting where we can have a casual conversation or possibly take in a ballgame. Cajun may not sound like the ideal centerpiece for a date night, but it absolutely is.
The popular Cajun classics are on point – from Jambalaya to Crawfish, and we’ve probably eaten our body weight in oysters here. Very cool, very laid-back spot that’s great to pass a few hours and down a few buckets.
Want authentic Cuban? Want a real Cubano? Guava Pastelito? Empanada? Come here as soon as your plane lands and get the best Cubano in Fort Lauderdale.
Nuevo’s Cubano’s is a local fixture that stands on its own in a city full of great Hispanic food and tradition. Nuevo’s is exactly how you want a place to look when having one of the best sandwiches you’ve ever had – small, roadside, tight parking, fast service, cheap (under $10) and delicious.
With the location only three miles from the beach, it’s a great spot to sit down for a day-break, maybe even split a meal (they’re filling) and head to the beach. Wash it all down with a delicious Cuban Coffee for the road, and off you go!
Tom Jenkins BBQ
You can smell it when you drive by. It’s as though the scents reach into your car, grab the wheel, and pull you in. It’s good. It’s really good, and (as un-beachy as BBQ may be) you’ll do yourself a service to get the good stuff anywhere you can, anytime you can.
Tom Jenkins is by far the best BBQ in Fort Lauderdale, but that isn’t a disservice to the rest of the BBQ joints in the city because Jenkins is the best BBQ restaurant in most cities.
Listen, is BBQ a romantic food? No, of course not. But it’s a great way to find out if you have the right one with you. “You don’t like BBQ? Maybe I don’t like you.” There’s possibly no better love than someone that can help you take down a pound of brisket – let’s be honest.
Homemade food. Homemade sauce. Do it.
The Foxy Brown
Unquestionably a top-five brunch spot in Fort Lauderdale, The Foxy Brown is a personal favorite. It’s a place that feels somehow less than Floridian, and more in line with what one would experience in a Charlestonian breakfast or brunch. It has a bit of Southern Charm that is equal parts relaxing, delicious and intoxicating.
The small, warm environment includes a somewhat secluded seating area outdoors, and generally is full after about 10am on the weekends. They have an excellent choice of frittatas and benedicts, but I’m partial to the Hangar Steak Hash- a lead cut with 2 eggs and a chimichurri hollandaise that is somewhere lighter than it should be, and so good. A place where Tracy likes to go traditional, try the Patty Melt as well – it did, after all, inspire the rest of the menu!
More of a fusion restaurant than purely Mexican, intertwining with classic Spanish dishes, La Bamba is a great location for couples looking to have a few margaritas and unwind.
A small, comfortable and traditional restaurant, the lines at La Bamba are often long – with good reason. Worth the wait? Without question. The traditional Ropa Vieja is outstanding, and I highly recommend the Costillas de Puerco – two seasoned pork chops topped with sauteed onions served with white rice, black beans and fried ripe plantains.
Date Night Special: Mod Wine Lounge & The Gateway Theater
Type: Neighboring establishments – Wine Bar & traditional 1950s movie theater
One of our favorite date night plans involves two neighboring locations.
Start your night at Mod with a bottle of wine and charcuterie plate, perhaps mixing in an elegant country pate in a quaint, beautiful bar with a 1960s flair. Reasonably priced given the quality, we’ve loved going to Mod and sitting outside on yet another impeccable Fort Lauderdale night and watching the city go by. Frank and Chad are the owners, and if you have an opportunity to speak with these two you’ll fall in love with their love for wine, for providing a first-class experience, and their sheer kindness and hospitality.
After you’re finished, walk the ten steps next door to the Gateway Theater, a traditional movie theater opened in 1951 that is as much Fort Lauderdale as the beach, itself. The Gateway hearkens back to a pre-AMC homogenized era where theaters had a sense of character while offering films not commonly shown in your run-of-the-mill chain theaters, including art films and foreign new releases not available anywhere else!
It’s easy for us to pick out a few of the best, ones that we’ve frequented and loved, but it’s hard to go wrong in Fort Lauderdale. With the ocean as your backdrop, the sound of the gulls as your soundtrack and the smell of salt and fresh catch in the air, it’s easy to find the right choice.