This time of year is surreal in South Florida. It never really feels Christmas-y. Snowmen are extinct. Without cues from Mother Nature, Christmas week doesn't have the smoky whiff of holidays up north.
Restaurants sometimes go all out and prepare a massive banquet, all of them basically on a big over-compensation binge intended to replicate the warm comforts of home. But you know those poor souls would rather be in their own homes, eating with their families.
Not everyone cares, though. Sometimes it's hard for us to realize that there are huge segments of our colorful cross-cultural spectrum that don't allow annual tree infestations in the living room, aren't singing "Away in a Manger," do not enjoy egg nog or exchange presents, and have never owned a monogrammed stocking.
Yeah, for some folks, Christmas is just another day. And this year it's a Saturday -- which is almost always a work day.
•1. Phuong Nam Restaurant, 6672 NW 57th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-726-9728.
Historically, Vietnam hasn't had a tremendously religious culture, though it identifies with Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Nothing about wise men or Bethlehem at all. So, that means this small and ever-dependable joint will be open for lunch and dinner on Christmas Day. A steaming bowl of pho and some crunchy spring rolls is a perfect non-traditional tradition.
•2 Al Salam, 1816 N University Dr
"Of course, sir," was the reply when we asked if this house of hummus would open its doors on Saturday. And why wouldn't they be? The Middle East may have been JC's old stomping grounds, but not everyone there went crazy about his birthday. Al Salam, tucked in a strip mall near the corner of Sunrise and University, serves up amazing food. Felafel, shwarma, kafta kabobs...there's a lot to choose from, and none of it uses any fruitcake.
•3 L'Chaim Mee Seen Oriental Restaurant, 3940 North 46 Avenue Hollywood, 954-986-1770
As a kosher certified Chinese restaurant, L'Chaim practically has a duty to open on Christmas. But they won't open until about 7:30 p.m. on Christmas day. That's fine, because that way you can eat ham with Granny and then go out at night for Hong Kong dumplings or L'Chaim chicken in soothing lettuce wraps. Egg drop soup and the Mongolian Duo. Duck l"orange. Or maybe sweet and sour beef. That'll show those elves.
•4 Cafe Emunah, 3558 N Ocean Blvd, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, 954-561-6411
This extravagantly kosher restaurant actually calls itself "a kabbalistic cafe" and promises a sumptuous array of healthy soups, rolls, wraps, fish/pasta dishes, and salads. This is probably the farthest thing from Christmas feasting. Their website hosts an "Ask a Rabbi" blog, and rabbis have never been that big on Santa Claus. This Saturday, of course, Emunah opens the same time it does every Saturday -- one hour after sunset.
•5 Pita Paradise Cafe, 4820 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-772-0207
The owner of the Pita Paradise hails from Jordan, where Christmas Eve apparently involves sitting around a hookah. This tiny hole-in-the-wall serves some of the best Arabic cuisine in the area, with outstanding felafel. Try those little chickpea delights in a pita pocket that is then flattened in a waffle press. It's amazing. Grab a pot of mint tea and pistachio baklava. The halls may be undecked, but who cares?
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