In the sprawling dining room, white tablecloths drape over square and circular tables. Atop these tables are platters of the Mandarin, Szechuan, and Cantonese cuisine that fills Christina Wan's menu. Favorites such as general tso's chicken and sesame beef share space with less-known dishes such as saigon steak kew (filet mignon with snow peas) and lemongrass-marinated rack of lamb.
Bright spotlights shine down as the doors swing open. Grinning faces look up in recognition. Dishes emerge from the kitchen at Panda Buffet like celebrities, draped in boas of steam and mantles of honey-garlic or bourbon glaze beneath the lemongrass-hued walls and wood paneling. Waiters toting traditional concoctions such as General Tso’s chicken scoot past mirrors painted with bucolic Eastern scenes that let diners experience exotic locales without hiding in a shipment of pith helmets.
15th Street Fisheries illustrates a key facet of the circle of life: you feed the fish, and the fish feed you. Every evening, guests head to the edge of the docks to feed schools of giant tarpon—fish that can grow up to 8 feet long—with shrimp from the nearby store. It's a feat made possible by the restaurant's location on the Lauderdale Marina, a hub for pedestrians and boats alike on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Floating above the silvery tarpon, yachts, fishing boats, and other charters pass in view of the upstairs dining room. The space resembles an upscale boathouse with eclectic seafood entrees to match. Start with a bowl of Bahamian-style conch chowder or shrimp and grits, then choose from an impressive list of prepared fish, including miso-glazed Chilean sea bass and pan-roasted black grouper. The Maine lobsters on the menu weigh 2 to 3 pounds, depending on how often they crawled ashore to go to the gym, but you can also order a spiny lobster tail with baby bok choy. Downstairs, the dockside café offers more casual fare and live music on weekends.
Shooters Waterfront Cafe USA showcases vistas of the intracoastal waterway as servers ferry plates of fresh seafood, burgers, and sandwiches to outdoor tables. Boat docking with valet assistance allows diners to pull up to the waterfront eatery after a day spent negotiating record deals with musically gifted whales. Shooters serves drinks on an outdoor patio, while their swimming pool allows guests to mimic those musical whales. On the weekends, a raw-food bar lures seafood lovers with fresh-caught oysters, clams, shrimp, and crab legs.
When Tropical Acres Steakhouse first opened in 1949, a green palm tree festooned its simple menu of seven steaks, chops, and sandwiches. Today, the Studiale family tops tables with a vast menu of T-bones, porterhouses, strip steaks, and filet mignon seared in a bustling kitchen alongside pork chops and veal cutlets. Chefs ladle sauces whisked with horseradish and dill or lemon and capers over shrimp, scallops, and fillets of fish such as snapper and wild-caught salmon. Dark wood columns and beams encircle the dining room's tufted booths and wall-inlaid tanks filled with colorful fish and treasure chests billowing bubbles of steak sauce. Tropical Acres also caters events from luncheons to weddings with light or formal meals, and it hosts celebrations for up to 250 guests in a refined banquet room.
Sea Level pampers patrons with a patio perch that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and quality dishes infused with beachy zing for a tranquil tropical feast. The lunch menu packs a pescatarian punch, with seafood options such as the fish tacos ($18), swimming in a tortilla tank of pico de gallo, mango relish, queso fresco, and key-lime mustard aioli. Sunset revelers and those who don't believe in noon can dive into the dinner menu, letting stomachs ponder how much of the one-pound peel-your-own-shrimp ($16) it would take to break free of the restrictive tyranny of buttoned pants. Sixteen-ounce rib eyes ($39) are composed of Harris Ranch USDA–certified black angus beef, then slathered in a choice of béarnaise, rosemary, herb-butter, peppercorn, or chimichurri sauce. Side options ($7), such as fried plantains, sweet-potato fries, and sautéed mushrooms, can accompany self-conscious steaks into dark stomach caves. Sea Level's indoor and outdoor seating gifts hungry eyes with beautiful ocean vistas as well as protection from angry outdoor breezes.