Dining scene: From sizzling fajitas to gooey melts

Baja Cantina

201 NW First Ave., Boca Raton, 561-419-8118, BajaCantinaBoca.com

Owner Hugh Shafritz feels nostalgic about re-opening this Mexican joint after Baja Café had closed for three months.

"It had been an institution in Boca for twenty years. Baja is like a Mexican Cheers, and everyone has a Baja story," says Shafritz, who's been encountering married couples who met in the flip-flop ambiance. "We totally cleaned it up and renovated it, but tried to keep the kitschy aesthetic and funky vibe. Everyone has been overjoyed."

He also brought back the longtime chef and Southern California-style menu while inviting some of the same musicians to perform. Highlights are slow-cooked pork carnitas soft tacos ($12.99), blackened Voodoo chicken breast with cheddar jack and sauteed peppers and onions ($13.99) and fish of the day (market price). The chicken, steak, shrimp or fish in the sizzling fajitas are simmered in salsa ($12.99-$17.99).

Shafritz, who worked in the restaurant industry before becoming an attorney, installed new furniture, tore down dividers for an open feel, and hung hand-painted tin decorations imported from Mexico and humorous signs on yellow and orange walls, contrasted by a blue ceiling. More than 100 tequilas bedeck the backlit pecky cypress bar. Kick back with margaritas ($5.99-$15.99) on the rustic porch.

Lunch and dinner are served daily, except lunch Sundays.

Grille 401

401 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-767-0222, Grille401.com

This 1-year-old trendy two-tier restaurant with local artwork has boosted its curb appeal on the city's prime street with a quick $500,000 renovation that added a bar on a wooden deck with live music, along with a sushi-sake bar inside.

"People would walk by thinking it was just an office building," says general manager Callum Molloy. "But now they hear the music first and then see the patio tables. It's quickly become one of the most popular happy hours on the boulevard."

In fact, sales have increased by 20 percent, he says. Weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. features buy-one-get-one-free on all drinks, half-off appetizers, and acoustic musicians Wednesday through Friday nights. A DJ has debuted inside Friday and Saturday nights, along with "Girls Night" at 11 p.m. with buy-one-get-one select drinks for ladies.

Ten interior tables were removed to add the indoor-outdoor bar through existing bay windows and to triple the high-top seating outside. The sushi-sake bar, with hits such as braised short rib-roll and espresso-rubbed tuna roll with crunch from wontons (both $17), was incorporated into the front end of the inside mirrored-ceiling bar. Late-night sushi is half off Wednesdays through Saturdays.

A weekly "Sunday Comfort Cooking" prix-fixe dinner for $29 has kicked off with a changing entree, such as meatloaf with shiitake stroganoff, a glass of house wine and a dessert choice, such as flourless chocolate waffle. Children can get a smaller portion and hot fudge sundae for $11.

Daily Melt

350 SE Second St., 954-713-6358, Fort Lauderdale, DailyMeltGrill.com

James Beard award-winning Chef Allen Susser's new fast-casual location a block off Las Olas Boulevard is larger and warmer than his Miami one with a wider selection of gooey comfort food, comfy lounge and grab-and-go options.

Breakfast, lunch and early dinner are served daily, along with free Wi-Fi. Breakfast offers pastries and melts ($5.95), such as the maple bacon and veggie frittata.

A new pickle bar lays out flavors such as mojo and lemon ginger in glass jars, which also are paired with pressed sandwiches or incorporated into melts.

Libations range from wine and craft beer to milkshakes, such as mango ($4.95), a reminder of Susser's "Mango Gang" fame from his bygone Chef Allen's restaurant in Aventura.

Melts break down by Classics ($3.95-$6.95), such as ham and Swiss, and Signatures ($5.95 - $7.95), such as white truffle bacon cheddar and BBQ pulled pork with Swiss, jalapeño chips and caramelized onions. There are also rotating weekly specials ($7.95), such as mac & cheese with bacon and crab Louis. Alternatives are soups ($1.45-$4.95) and new salads ($6.95-$7.95), such as quinoa and kale.

In addition to pies and cookies, sweet melts tempt, such as crispy banana Nutella with fontina on sourdough French toast ($4.95).

Oceans 234

234 N. Ocean Blvd., Deerfield Beach, 954-428-2539, Oceans234.com

This oceanfront restaurant, where the breeze and extensive patio reign, has kicked off a "Culinary Cult" series with themed dinners that pair drinks with three to five courses.

While the first one was seafood themed, the second one at 6:30 p.m. May 1 is titled "Cinco Platos" with a Day of the Dead-meets-Cinco de Mayo theme with wine, beer and cocktails paired with five courses, including spicy conch ceviche, roasted chicken and posole, short-rib and grilled snapper tacos and grilled pound cake with chili fruit compote for $49. Dinners will be held every six to eight weeks.

"Oceans 234 already had a loyal following of locals who love Chef Vic and his gourmet cuisine," owner Danielle Williams said in a press release, referring to executive chef Victor Franco. "So we decided to bring these like-minded people together."

Shrimp, jumbo lump crab and avocado salad with citrus vinaigrette ($24) is the latest addition to the regular menu, as well as a dozen new cocktails, such as peach lychee martini ($12), Key lime pie martini ($12) and the Hummingbird with St. Germain liqueur, Champagne and club soda ($9 for brunch).

Email news to susan@editorguru.com or send to John Tanasychuk, Sun Sentinel, 500 E. Broward Blvd., Suite 900, 9th floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33394.

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