Sometimes we have to defer to Broward County for certain types of foods. Because when it comes to cultural diversity, Broward has Miami beat by a long shot. Broward has twice the Asian population that Dade has, and the county’s demographics are more or less equally divided between Black, White, and Latino residents. That’s pretty diverse when you compare it to Miami’s 75% Latino population. As such, you’ll find a lot of food in Broward that's hard to find in Dade, especially Asian food.
Broward has lots of options (including its own mini Koreatown in Lauderhill). But one of the biggest clusters of Asian food—and the most accessible for Miamians who think Broward and Greenland are on the same latitude—is Carriage Hills Plaza, a strip mall often referred to as Foodtown. That’s the name of the grocery store that anchors the plaza, and it’s one of the most diverse international grocery stores we’ve encountered anywhere, really. Surrounding it are numerous Asian restaurants serving everything from pho and banh mi to harder-to-find street foods, DIY summer rolls, crepes, and Hong Kong French toast. Below is our guide to the incredible restaurants that call Foodtown Plaza home, along with some tips on what to order.
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If you’ve ever fantasized about eating snails while sitting on a tiny stool in an alleyway somewhere in Vietnam, this place will make you giddy. On almost any night, you’ll see groups sitting at low tables in front of this restaurant sharing plates of food. If your bones can’t deal with sitting so low to the ground, there are taller tables inside. MaMa has an English language menu plus another menu with a bunch of dishes in Vietnamese. The menu has pictures to help, but if you’re not super familiar with Vietnamese food, lean on your server for suggestions. They will happily suggest all kinds of wonderful dishes, like snails that range in size from little periwinkle-like things to ones that could house Sebastian the crab and three of his closest friends. We usually go for the green mango and cone snail salad, which has a nice heat, an assertive squeeze of lime, and a generous amount of de-shelled meat.
Tasty Cafe Restaurant
While it doesn’t advertise itself as such, Tasty Cafe is one of South Florida’s only cha chaan tengs—the Hong Kong equivalent of a Cuban cafeteria. It’s the type of place where you can get a Cantonese take on a Western-style dish, like the must-order thick toast: a two-inch slice of milk bread stuffed with peanut butter, deep fried, and served with condensed milk and a pat of frozen butter (the temperature contrast really works). It’s also a great place to grab Chinese BBQ like tender, juicy duck or crispy-skinned pork belly. Just make sure to get a cup of the strong milk tea, which is as essential as a cafecito at a cafeteria, i.e. an absolute requirement. If it’s too late in the day for that much caffeine (and it’s more than your typical cup of tea), we also love the honey citron tea that has a salty-sour plum floating in it.
545° Banh Mi Cafe
It’s not just the banh mi that make this casual takeout spot such a destination, even though they’re amazing and feature excellent loaves of 545's own bread. But we love this place because of all the extra Vietnamese snacks they have, which include a big selection of grab-and-go boxed lunches filled with rice and grilled pork, summer rolls, pork buns, and more. The most exciting part of this little restaurant is the refrigerator where you’ll find colorful Vietnamese desserts called chè. Get the chè thái, which features lychees, tapioca, basil seeds, chewy noodles, and other fruit swimming in a glass of sweetened coconut milk. But also make sure to grab a steamed Vietnamese flan, which is lighter and not as sweet as the Latino versions.
Like the name implies, Pho 79 specializes in the classic bowl of beef and rice noodle soup (although you really ought to try something else here, too). This is a great place for someone who’s new to Vietnamese food because it specializes in the basics: pho, com (rice bowls), and bun (rice noodle bowls). Even if you go here for something other than pho, you should still at least try some of the broth, which is rich, beefy, and has a subtle hint of cinnamon and star anise. You can order a small cup of just the broth for a couple of bucks, and it’s a great way to start the meal without committing to a bowl of soup that seems big enough for a manatee to live in. They make a good Viet iced coffee, but we prefer the milk and beaten egg soda because it tastes like drinking French vanilla ice cream.
This is the most spacious restaurant in Foodtown plaza—in case you're making your culinary pilgrimage with a big group—and they have big, round tables with lazy susans. This Vietnamese spot has favorites like bowls of pho, bun, and com, but those aren’t the most exciting things on the menu. Start with a crepe, or bánh xèo, from the appetizer section—a crispy rice flour and coconut milk crepe overstuffed with bean sprouts and shrimp that’s more than one person can eat. We also love the tiny rice noodle platter, which includes little rectangular blankets of super skinny rice noodles that stick together along with up to three items of your choice (get the grilled beef and bean curd skin with shrimp). It also comes with a platter of herbs, lettuce, and bean sprouts, as well as a stack of rice paper discs to make DIY summer rolls. They take a little finesse, but ask your server to show you how and you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
This is the holy grail of supermarkets. On the outside, it may seem like just another version of a Presidente or Sedano’s. But once you step inside, it’s like the United Nations of food. Every aisle stocks ingredients from a different region of the world: South America, South Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Caribbean, and so on. There is a halal butcher in the back as well as a conventional butcher that sells almost every part of the pig. The seafood department is one of the most varied we’ve seen anywhere, you’ll discover fruit you’ve probably never even heard of in the produce section, and there’s even a miniature Chinese bakery where you can grab mooncakes 365 days a year. This is the place to visit when your pantry needs a makeover.
This to-go boba spot isn’t in the same shopping plaza as Foodtown (it's a half-mile down the street), but it’s too close and too delicious not to include in this guide. Tiger Sugar is a famous boba chain from Taiwan that specializes in a milk and black sugar drink that looks like tiger stripes in the cup. It’s topped with a salted cream cheese foam and includes their own proprietary tapioca pearls in two different sizes, which make for a great textural contrast. Just remember to shake it exactly 15 times before you drink it. It’s not only tradition, but actually mixes the syrup and milk together just right. If you drink a lot of boba, grab one of their souvenir metal boba straws. You’ll look like a boss when you roll up to a boba spot in Miami with it.