Let's face it: West Palm Beach has never been known for its dining scene. But that doesn't mean there aren't some truly stellar dining options -- you just have to know where to look.
These days, we have our eye on a few places -- both new and old. Whether you're headed for a night out on the town in CityPlace, looking to go out somewhere off Clematis Street, or are even willing to wander into local neighborhoods like Northwood, there's a little bit of something for everyone.
10. Maison Carlos
This French- and Italian-themed restaurant opened in 2002, with its original location off Clematis Street downtown. But after seven years, the owners -- Carlos and Lanie Fariase -- decided to move their establishment a couple of miles south to the city's El Cid neighborhood, transitioning to a smaller restaurant with a neighborhood vibe. A family-run establishment, the owner is there most every night helping to take orders. The restaurant has just 11 tables and serves a nostalgic take on Italian, Latin, and French cuisine. The menu offers everything from oysters Rockefeller and vichyssoise to a roasted beet salad and chicken and mushroom risotto.
9. Il Bellagio
Miami restaurateur Tom Billante has operated enough Italian chow houses to know what he's doing. His eateries -- owned with partners and family -- offer big, moderately priced menus featuring homemade pasta, wood-oven pizzas, grilled veal and pork chops, imaginatively composed salads, and good, cheap house wine. Il Bellagio at CityPlace has flourished and expanded over the past 13 years thanks to this formula, and a knockout location directly facing the center's splashing fountain and live music stage doesn't hurt. The patio seats 150, and it's a treat to be outdoors on a fine night with a bowl of fresh pasta, a grilled pork chop, or a tuna tartar. The newly renovated restaurant has added a number of creative dishes to the original menu since reopening last year, with an expanded appetizer section that helps get the night started in a whole new way.
At Taste of India, everything -- including the poori, roti, parantha, and naan -- is made fresh daily. You'll want to order some to help soak up chef Sigi Joseph's creamy, cashew- and yogurt-infused sauces that drown your choice of chicken, lamb, and fish-based dishes. It creates a taste journey that can only be described as some of the area's best. We love the masala dosa, a transparent crepe made with rice and lentil flour, rolled around a slathering of curried potatoes and paired with a dipping sauce of cool green coconut, coriander, and green chili chutney. The daily lunch buffet is also well-known for its affordability and amazing selection of Indian specialty dishes, regional Indian offerings, and vegetarian options.
Darbster is every vegan and vegetarian's dream come true, a comfortable waterfront eatery in West Palm Beach that proves eating clean can be fun -- and tasty. Many of the house-favorite menu items originally created by executive chef Seth Kirshbaum (formerly of Sublime in Fort Lauderdale) remain, offering a host of meat and dairy substitutes to make a wide-ranging menu of delicious vegan treats. For example, the house favorite palm cakes made from shredded hearts of palm and crusted by panko bread crumbs; you can order it as a sandwich or dabbed with pine nut aioli. Dining on Darbster's waterside deck is a beautiful experience, especially when augmented with an affordable wine and beer list, a host of organic teas, and food that tastes as good as it is good for you.
6. Table 26
If the dining scene on Palm Beach Island had a love child with Nantucket, it would be Table 26 in West Palm Beach. Owners and partners Eddie Schmidt and Ozzie Medeiros opened Table 26 several years ago, offering locals an upscale -- yet casual -- neighborhood eatery. Indeed, it's a place where Palm Beach's seasonal residents can indulge in the high-end service they value while rubbing elbows with some of the more colorful characters that make up the nearby downtown nightlife scene. Named after the latitude of Palm Beach, the restaurant isn't actually on the Island, however. But it's close -- just over the Okeechobee Boulevard bridge a few blocks south of the Norton Museum of Art off Dixie Highway. The name is also tribute to New Yorker Medeiros' former restaurants on Nantucket Island, Lola 41 (also that Island's latitude degree) and its hipster offshoot, Lola Burger. Here, the menu offers a "sophisticated, yet affordable" array of options where you can order everything from a New England-style lobster roll to an old-fashioned American hot dog.
After Jade Kitchen closed its doors, we were sad. What a loss, we moaned -- until we realized that what replaced it was equally stellar. Welcome O-Bo Restaurant and Wine Bar, the work of owner Jeffrey Thompson and executive chef Bob Reilly, who have created the type of spot that is just what Northwood Village needed. It's a happening wine bar with artful small plates, exotic wines and beer, and sultry live music compliments of soul singer Raquel Williams. Open just three days a week -- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights -- this is the place to go when you want to enjoy the local Northwood neighborhood with its often-lively, welcoming crowd. You'll find house specials like black and white lobster ravioli, pork belly, and short rib sliders to pair with a long list of wines by the glass.
We named Kitchen the best new restaurant in Palm Beach recently because it's not your everyday West Palm Beach eatery. Founded by chef/owner Matthew Byrne and his wife, Aliza, the couple says the idea behind the concept was to re-create the kitchen experience of their home. It's simple, according to Matthew Byrne: Buy only the highest-quality, freshest ingredients and do as little to them as possible. With a constantly rotating menu and private chef table that hosts up to ten, the kitchen experience offers a new way to dine for Palm Beach foodies. Labeled a contemporary American brasserie, Byrne channels his passion and discipline to create refined yet approachable dishes. Past highlights have included a duck ragout over fettuccine and seared salmon with corn and leek risotto in a lobster and tomato broth. And its off-the-map location all the way east off Belvedere Road makes for a secluded retreat.
If it's your birthday, Okeechobee Steakhouse is your favorite place to dine out. Why? You get a free steak for getting older, that's why. The steak house has certainly proven it can stand the test of time with its classic menu too. Conde Nast Traveler recently named this spot one of the 15 best steak restaurants... in the world. That's thanks to more than 60 years as a Palm Beach staple, a place that's seen more birthday celebrations and anniversary dinners than you can count. A '70s-style lounge with a dark-wood interior is made complete with bartenders who always remember everyone's drink and pour them righteously. Thick, char-grilled steaks are the top pick here; order any number of classic cuts by weight. Sides are traditional: creamed spinach, baked potatoes as big as your head, and the other staples of the genre. There's a great wine list, but this is the type of place you'll want to order a martini with your steak. Prices aren't cheap, but the portions are big enough that almost everyone leaves with a doggy bag.
In April of 1950, Patrick J. Howley opened the doors to what is now a West Palm Beach institution, and since that time the landmark has changed hands only three times, always maintaining the name and traditions of Howley's. In 2004, Howley's was restored to its original splendor, and became one of the Subculture family restaurants. The classic diner was given a modern overhaul, and now features a digital jukebox, flat-screen TVs, a full liquor bar, live music -- and amazing food. Howley's has been open in the same West Palm Beach location for half a century, which speaks volumes for its food. Traditional diner fare is given an elevated twist, from homemade mashed potatoes and meatloaf, top-notch Philly cheese steaks, the daily turkey dinner with all the trimmings, a New York strip steak, and crab cakes. And then those bloody marys and menu of martinis, all at reasonable prices.
This elegant and comfy little bistro off Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach has been a long-standing fixture in the city. You can get a juicy grilled breast of chicken pail lard, half an organic roasted chicken with petit vegetables, an amazing duo of duck with a leg of confit and seared breast, or a lemon-drenched arugula salad that makes you pucker with pleasure. Best of all, low prices make Pistache more neighborhood hangout than special occasion for the budget-conscious. That means salads, burgers, croque monsieur, cheese and charcuterie plates, steaks, a couple of fish dishes, and hand-cut steak tartare, washed down with a carafe of house wine at a fraction of the price at more pricey, upscale French restaurants.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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