Broward's Foodie Heaven Isn't Las Olas Pretty but a Slew of Strip Malls on University Drive

Categories: Musings
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Marumi's tofu steak: You won't find this east of I-95.
When my foodie friends arrive for a first visit to SoFla, I deceive them immediately. In my old Taurus wagon, I drive them north on I-95. We pass marinas and canals ("Venice of the Americas," I tell them), cruise onto Andrews Avenue and over the New River ("Have you ever seen a jail on such an awesome slab of real estate?"), and then eastward on Las Olas. Along the beach, up Sunrise, north into Wilton Manors and past all the gay fabulousness, and then we're home. "This is Fort Lauderdale!" I say. They're impressed, or at least consoled that South Florida mightn't be as barbaric as they thought. In their minds, an image forms of their imminent vacation: Strolls down scenic shopping streets, a trip to the Galleria, a burger on Mary's lanai. But we will do none of these things.

Here is the secret known only to longtime Floridians, and especially longtime Floridian foodies: East of I-95 in Broward County has a few bright spots, like Hollywood Beach,
which retains some whiff of the mangrovified funk that made it a three-decade haven for dropouts, burnouts, and itinerant Jimmy Buffett impersonators. But the moment we're home, I begin adjusting my visitors' expectations. "Yes, perhaps we'll go to Las Olas tomorrow, but tonight I'd like to take you to this really excellent microbrewery. Tell me, have you ever heard of Coral Springs?"

Because no matter how excellent Las Olas looks, no matter how happening Beach Place seems to be, how sophisticated the Borgish mass of the Galleria may appear, or how retro-chic looms Pier 66 as it reflects the evening light, we won't be going there. Ultimately, I take my visitors west. West to Coral Springs, to Lauderdale Lakes, to Sunrise, to Plantation -- to all the dumpy, sprawling, one-story suburban vomitslops where, improbably, actual families and actual entrepreneurs and actual Floridians have spent the last two decades making life interesting.

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The bulgogi from Gabose is worth the drive into strip mall land.


Consider University Drive, surely one of the most aesthetically deficient thoroughfares in the United States. On a northward drive beginning at Sunrise Boulevard, a traveler on University passes within spitting distance of South Florida's best and most inventive Japanese restaurant (Marumi Sushi), a blessedly cheap purveyor of brilliant southern Mediterranean food (Sunrise Pita, where orthodox Jews and be-burqua'd women eat side-by-side), an even cheaper purveyor of almost equally brilliant vegetarian Indian food (Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant), two topnotch Korean BBQ joints (Gabose, and especially Myung Ga), a whole universe of craft beers (World of Beer), and then into Coral Springs, where it's a quick jog to Big Bear Brewing Co.'s masterful pizza and microbrews, or to an outpost of Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza (which is actually an eastlander chain, but the Coral Springs location is better 'cuz you can sometimes get a table.)

It's a heavenly jaunt. Granted, the western spots, with the possible exception of Big Bear, look like hell. Especially Marumi, the strip mall address of which could be converted to a dollar store with only the barest rejiggering of decor. I can't take visitors there when they first get off a plane, because the stultifying flatness of the land, the useless patches of grass in the swamp-killing office parks, the uniform roofs and fake stucco of the neighborhoods would send any sensible guest screaming back to the airport ticket counter. They must be eased in slowly. Eventually they are won over. No visitor has yet questioned my reluctance to visit Las Olas or Beach Place. They're too busy eating to care.

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The falafel pita from the land of Sunrise.


I wonder, sometimes, why it is that so many South Florida foodie gems are secreted out west, in the barely settled swamp frontiers. The obvious answer is this: Only business people can afford to open restaurants on the glitzier boulevards, and most business people are not chefs. Chefs, with their lesser business acumen, must go elsewhere. It's a facile theory, but I hope it's true. Maybe as the word spreads, and as people realize that a dumpy little Marumi is worth a dozen high-polished Japanese Villages, the strip mall geniuses of Coral Springs and Sunrise will find their wallets fattened. Then, perhaps, they will expand their operations eastward, and Fort Lauderdale will become as delicious as it is pretty.


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Location Info

Marumi Sushi

8271 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation, FL

Category: Restaurant

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18 comments
Jasmargc
Jasmargc

Oh man...just the THOUGHT of one of Sunrise Pita's falafels makes my mouth WATER!!!  BTW, the pic of that falafel up top is sadly puny...mine is always bursting with extra toppings, the pickled cabbage, and all that other unknown stuff that I gladly chow down on, on those rare special occasions that hubby & I go there.  LOL

Amanda
Amanda

You forgot to mention BASH, which is right on University and Oakland Park Blvd. If you haven't eaten there yet... check it out! It's awesome!! Even though the shopping center looks abandoned. :-)

Steven Peters
Steven Peters

While there are a FEW decent eateries west in lock your doors-hand on pepper spray-look over your shoulder territory west of 441, let us not underestimate the real gem in the city of Fort Lauderdale - Las Olas and its amazing restaurants.

There are a sluegh of low to mid priced restaurants that will have you drooling over their mouth watering grub. I'm not just in favor of the area because of the less sleaze factor, I love the ambiance and the delicious treats you won't find anywhere in the city.

So, while there might be a handful of places out west, that serve up good grub, this isn't the only reason to eat somewhere - dining out should capture every one of our senses, not just our taste buds - even when dining at a strip mall and ducking stray bullets. 

No, we won't be heading in that direction anytime soon!

Dhh
Dhh

Article should have also included the Kingshead Pub in Sunrise, in the same shopping center as Sunrise Pita (best pitas in town).  Kingshead is small and cozy with friendly staff.  Food there is also excellent.  Chicken Tikka Salad, meat pies, fish and chips (fries) are aweswome.Stickey Toffee is great for dessert.

Garydru
Garydru

We were in the area and tried marumi sushi last night based on this article and agree this place is a find; the menu is diverse and the food is very, very good; it has a new york/greenwich village feel to it with a lot of young people and a crowd at 10 pm at night, something we do not have much of in boca raton; we will definitiely go back when in the area again.

ted anthony inserra
ted anthony inserra

no, no no, you people (yes, you people, even my friends) are wrong. When in Fort Laudy Dale, and wanting to eat there is no reason to go west of 441, that is my cut off line...if you live here, and live way west-"what are you thinking?" The new foodie area is 17th street..a great variety of places, The Gateway Theatre area (where sunrise blvd. curves around into US1) for you coral springs people. C'mon, Cafe Matorrano, and the new place's east of the bridge on Commercial Blvd....Wilton Manors is thriving with great restaurants and bars...Las Olas is making a comeback with some great eateries...and the cream-de-la-cream-The Himmarshee Village==west of 441=NEVER, that is like living Orlando, if you live in florida and live in the middle, what are you thinking!! and if you live in fort lauderdale and cannot atleast get to the beach by a moderate bike ride , at best, re-think your thinking!! I grew up in this great city, when plantation was a place to pick mushrooms in the cow pastures after it rained......All you need is East, not West...that belongs to the gators, turtles and smugglers!!

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

You know, I find myself going west a lot, but I need some great music to serve as prozac for the anti-scenic drive.  But yes, the food is better. Some of the spaces depress the hell out of me, though. Great post, Brandon. 

R. D. M.
R. D. M.

another reason why the "city" of Fort Lauderdale is a joke

Eric Barton
Eric Barton

When you first move to Fort Lauderdale, you drive down Las Olas and think, "OK, so this is where I'll be eating every day." But truth is, most locals rarely go there. And it's a shame. I've heard many restaurant owners complain that the rent is simply too pricy, so they open in strip mall land or in the more far-flung areas.

Luckily there still are some hidden, affordable gems east. El Jefe Luchador's tacos might beat anything you'd eat in Mexico. Bravo Sandwiches will blow your mind. And the sound of someone making tortillas in the back of the awesome El Guanaco reminds you how authentic it is.

And hell, consider the options we have in Broward -- Vietnamese, Korean, Peruvian, Cuban, and just about everything else -- and you realize what a foodie paradise this county has become.

alyssa
alyssa

i have a feeling no one here has actually been in a bad neighborhood. 

i feel sorry for people who will overlook this list because of some stupid pre-conceived notions about a particular area, and what dining "should be." 

please, keep your pretentiousness out of west broward for the rest of us. thanks! 

John L.
John L.

Ahhhh yes, ducking stray bullets on the hard streets of Sunrise, Lauderhill, and Coral Springs.I love the smell of xenophobia in the morning! Smells like... Yankee Candles and dog hotels. 

Frank
Frank

"There are a sluegh of low to mid priced restaurants"...name them, because I haven't noticed them.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Wilton Manors can be great, true. will re-think my thinking.

on another note, it seems the context of brandon's post is international eats: chinese, japanese, dim sum, korean, middle eastern. . . and hey, let's face it. those places are usually in strip malls. they were in dc. and jonathan gold in la has chronicled those for years.

Frank
Frank

I don't agree that we are anywhere close to a foodie paradise, but I do agree that Las Olas - which should be Broward's crown jewel for restaurants - is about as far from a good dining destination as possible. And that is a shame. Whenever I go to Atlantic in Delray I am always left wondering why Las Olas cannot be more like that. 

MelissaMcCart
MelissaMcCart

right. dc and new york are nothing to west broward.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

I'm finding out for blog posts, but i think some places in himmarshee have higher rents than delray, according to a delray restaurateur who opened Union this past week.

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