Let's face it: West Palm Beach has never been known for its food scene. No one ever raves about his fabulous dinner out on Clematis Street; you won't see people making destination dining trips to CityPlace; and while nearby Palm Beach "island" glitters with swank restaurants, hip lunch spots, and prissy breakfast nooks, the city over the bridge remains a tough spot to find your new favorite restaurant.
But all that could be changing thanks to the emerging neighborhood enclave known as Northwood Village, what is shaping up to be a diverse restaurant row offering an astonishing variety of cuisine.
Nestled between West Palm Beach's downtown Clematis Street and the city's sleepy Old Northwood neighborhood's estate-like homes, Northwood Village has that small-town, main-street feel with a splash of artist-den hip, a stark contrast to the surrounding area's repetitive strip malls. Instead, here you'll find authentic Thai curry, handmade pasta, handmade Jamaican meat patties -- even a gourmet burger bar. And rumor has it longtime Mexican favorite Aleyda's will be relocating here, while the owners of Little Moir's Food Shack and Leftover's Cafe have nabbed the former China Bistro spot to open a third location.
Watch out, downtown West Palm Beach. Northwood strip just one-upped you thanks to these ten restaurants you need to visit, now:
Culinary team Rob Bieber, Dennis Freireich, and Rick Kendall whip up breakfast lunch and dinner at this longtime Northwood establishment. Daily specials cover homemade, American comfort food favorites with a Florida twist, from fried dolphin fingers and a shrimp and chicken linguine alfredo to meat loaf with mashed potatoes. Inside, the diner-style seating makes it the perfect spot to drop in for breakfast or lunch, while an outdoor patio makes it a good setting for a quiet, peaceful evening meal.
Tucked on the south end of Northwood Village, this Caribbean-themed, laid-back café is a touch of Jamaican soul food for the colorful art district. Supe's casual walk-up counter offers an ever-changing menu that covers all the typical Jamaican dishes -- like ackee and saltfish or oxtail stew and curry goat -- just not at the same time. The owners operate on island time. That means you may want to call ahead before stopping by from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- their posted business hours -- and hope they answer. The menu specials are handwritten, change daily, and are often whatever they feel like cooking that day. But if it's a Jamaican craving you're looking to fix, this is the perfect stop for fresh, made-from-scratch fare. Look for stewed green callaloo served with whatever fresh fish they're frying, and -- when they're available -- the spicy meat patties pair well with a cold ginger beer. Jerk dishes and barbecue selections are often found on the handwritten menu.
In a city at risk of sports bar fatigue, the new Sports Page Bar and Grill in West Palm Beach is serving up something new and different. It's not the 47 high-definition TVs, nor is it the menu highlighting the best of standard New England fare. What makes Sports Page different -- and a little cooler -- is the 40-foot strip of snow-like frost that runs the length of the bar where you can rest your glass assured you'll always have an ice-cold beverage. It's all thanks to the bar's cutting-edge Chill-Rite draft system, with ice taps designed to pour your pint at a perfect 32 degrees, as well as the custom dry-frost "rail" running the length of the bar -- all of it guaranteed to deliver the coldest beer in town. Co-owner Rich Bonzani, a New England native, opened Sports Page last November with longtime friend Brian Lamb. Both men hail from upstate Connecticut but relocated to South Florida to fulfill their lifelong dream of opening a bar and restaurant together. The partners said they chose the Northwood district of West Palm Beach for its unique location that several specialty restaurants call home. Like the bar, the menu is also a compilation of some of their favorite eats from across the Northeast. The menu begins with the "First Quarter," a long list of appetizers that range from Italian-themed eats like triangle-shaped mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, and fried ravioli to standard sports bar picks like nachos, quesadillas, loaded potato skins, and wings. A top pick, said Bonzani: the fried pickles, thin circular slices fried to perfection with a house breading. If you make it into the "First Quarter" or "Half Time," choose from soups and salads or one of the house specialties like lasagna, chicken Parmesan, and baked penne pasta. You can also "build your own" hot dog and burger with plenty of free add-ons -- even Cheese Whiz. The spot also serves some of the best New England clam chowder around, according to Bonzani.
A family-owned establishment, Centro and Allora are two restaurants in one. Next door but not connected, Allora is the casual extension of Centro, offering a laid-back, café-style setting. Even so, the eats are far from provincial; you'll find a variety of hand-tossed, gourmet, thin-crust pies served alongside pasta dishes and burgers. Yes, burgers. Looking for more hearty Italian fare? Centro is the slightly upscale, white-tablecloth trattoria next door, complete with piano bar, homemade pastas, and a wine menu to match. The atmosphere is hip, urban, and inviting, with gorgeous exposed brick and wood-beam ceilings and endless glass doors often thrown open to allow patrons a choice of outdoor sidewalk seating -- and homemade Italian rum cake for dessert.
Just around the corner from Supe's, this trendy little 1920s red stucco art deco establishment has been serving lunch, dinner, and a full bar for more than five years. Chef Terry Marince and Matt Reber are the food pioneers behind the restaurant's gourmet-style "grill and bistro" menu that features steak, fish, pork, and plenty of vegetarian options. One of these veggie options just so happens to be a house specialty: the vegetable lasagna -- one that doesn't make you yearn for beef. For lunch, Sunset Grill has a half dozen selections of half-sandwich and soup options -- or a pasta du jour. And when the sun goes down and the mood is right, it's also the place to hang out in Northwood for after-dinner drinks. Low lighting and an intimate setting pair well with local artist Deborah Kerly's work, on permanent display across the walls, making for an eclectic, funky atmosphere. Stop by for the sunset dinner special served Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. For $15.95, you'll get three courses including a soup or salad and dessert of the day. Enjoy live jazz on Saturday night, and take a seat on the outdoor patio with a view of another sunset.
Agora Mediterranean Kitchen
With all the variety in Northwood, it just wouldn't be complete without this little Greek taverna. Order in and take a seat in the elegant dining room, or take out from the walk-up counter and deli case after perusing the small selection of Greek market items. The restaurant has a cozy chic ambiance, with indoor and outdoor seating. If you choose to stay awhile, a glass of Turkish wine pairs perfectly with any of the hot and cold mezes, soups, and salads or fresh-off-the-grill entrées. Vegetables dominate the cold meze, with sautéed artichoke, stuffed grape leaves, roasted and whipped eggplant and leeks, to name a few. Small hot plates aren't your average offerings, either: zucchini croquettes, fried calves' liver and a pastry filled with Turkish-style pastrami, cheese, and peppers. For dinner, the house specialty is "Adana," Agora's own hand-ground lamb, made daily and marinated in 17 herbs and spices.
Relish, in the cozy and quaint Northwood Village, is the ultimate mix-and-match burger joint. Here, owners Daniel and Desiree Tobin have created one of the best burger bars around, offering more than ten types of meat to make your masterpiece with, everything from turkey, tuna, and boar to duck, lamb, buffalo, veal -- even lobster. No matter what you choose, rest assured they're all fresh-ground, mixed, and shaped in-house each day. The variety doesn't stop there, however. Next, add any number of Relish's 20-plus gourmet toppings. There are relatively normal offerings, like lettuce slaw and drunken onions cooked in lager. And then there's the wacky stuff you would never think to put on a burger, like oven-roasted beets with fresh herbs or shaved asparagus with white wine and tarragon. The freedom of choice is mirrored across the menu, from shoestring-style fries and thick-cut onion rings that can be made with a choice of six gourmet finishing salts. If one of the rotating craft bottled beers isn't your thing, you can opt for a drink and dessert in one shot. Relish is just as well-known for its over-the-top milk shakes that include Key lime pie, salted caramel chocolate, bananas foster, and s'mores. And don't forget the latest menu item: made-to-order doughnuts that match the menu of shakes. Basically, it's every American fast food -- done up fancy -- in one spot.
A true gem, Jade Kitchen has closed its doors to be replaced by a new one: O-BŌ Restaurant and Wine Bar. Together, owner Jeffrey Thompson and executive chef Bob Reilly have created the type of spot that is just what Northwood Village needed: 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.
Chef Roberto Villegas is the man behind Table 427. The former executive chef for popular North Palm Beach Italian restaurant Mangia and the Pelican Cafe in Lake Park, Villegas' dream was to run his own establishment. This year, that's just what he did with Table 427. Inside, the romantic atmosphere is just the spot to enjoy Villegas' brand of international cuisine with its fusion of Spanish, Italian, and American dishes that cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant proudly offers three signature dishes, including the chef's recipe for huevos rancheros, featuring house-made corn tortillas smothered in two eggs over-easy with black beans, cheddar cheese, and a fresh salsa verde.
Born in Yasothon Province in Thailand, owner and chef Nopporn "Noopy" Areerak has been cooking true Thai food since a young age, beginning with his mother and supplemented with formal training from Oriental Thai Cooking School at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. His restaurant is popular with the area locals who know this small gem well. The tiny stand-alone establishment isn't located on the main Northwood Road drag, but -- like it's location -- the small establishment is its own tropical retreat. Inside, you'll be lost in a sea of color, hand-painted murals from wall to ceiling, which allow you to sit under a glittering night sky, indoors or out. The extensive menu is well-rounded, with familiar Thai dishes and the chef-owner's own special creations.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.