Ah, Lake Worth. It's one of Palm Beach County's most, shall we say, unique municipalities.
It would make sense, of course, that a town as colorful as El Dub has some equally colorful kitchens. We already love places like Tacos El Carbon, Diners, Drive-Ins and
Forget the fancy, overly priced Palm Beach haunts. Instead, try exploring something more unique — the under-the-radar, hole-in-the-wall-type establishments that look more than a little suspect from the outside but hold an abundance of deliciousness inside. They're what make a trip to this tiny, quirky town worthwhile.
7000 Charleston Shores Blvd., Lake Worth; 561-963-4999; fiorellarestaurant.com.
Originally from Naples, Italy, Fiorella chef-owner Franco Guardascione first migrated to the U.S. in the 1980s. He landed in Long Island, where he worked with the original Umberto’s Pizza and Restaurant in Patchogue. In 1992, Guardascione and his wife Fiorella, along with their two sons, moved to Boca Raton, where he worked as chef for Renzo’s for 14 years. Today, the couple and their family are operating their own restaurant in Lake Worth's western suburbia, featuring a menu of Italian homestyle fare that specializes in pasta and eggplant dishes (but there are plenty of chicken, meat, and seafood specialities too). Try the homemade gnocchi smothered in a rich Alfredo mushroom sauce; the trio of meatballs served with a smooth, sweet marinara; or the pork chops pizzaiola prepared with caper-, black-olive-, and garlic-studded marinara. Family-size portions include the house specialty:
11. Real Wok
4640 Hypoluxo Rd., Lake Worth; 561-963-7338; realwokdimsum.com.
10. Crazy Mario's Pizza & Indian Kitchen
4478 Tenth Ave. N., Lake Worth; 561-969-7272; crazymarios.com.
Crazy Mario's Pizza and Indian Restaurant is just what it sounds
9. Guacamole by Chef Omar
6250 Lantana Rd., Lake Worth; 561-223-3033; guacamolebychefomar.com.
In a city with taco joints on nearly every corner, this is one you might have to do a little digging to find. Hailing from Mexico City, Guacamole chef-owner Omar Covarrubias doesn't just prepare Mexican cuisine. He prepares authentic Mexican cuisine using traditional recipes that call for the correct (and often Mexican-sourced) ingredients. Covarrubias will be the first to admit that most Mexican food outside of Mexico is a sham, much of it watered-down versions of the country's northernmost cuisine served stateside as chicken-topped nachos, flavorless fajitas, and overfried chimichangas. While the dishes at Guacamole — and, to a larger extent, his Los Tacos chain — may look and sound familiar, they're Covarrubias' way of delivering the real flavors of Mexico to the South Florida populace. The tacos, served three at a time, are among some of the best in the area. Several specialties include the chorizo con papas, corn tortillas packed to the brim with a crumbly, flavorful chorizo made fresh by a local Mexican market and paired with cubes of soft, roasted potatoes. The pork pibil tacos — named for the Mayan word pib, or oven — pop with a combination of citrusy marinade and earthy achiote paste. Your server will undoubtably recommend the Tacos Locos, a brilliant combination of ancho-marinated pork, carne asada, and chicharrón topped with ripe slivers of avocado and bright pico de gallo.
8. Le Troubadour Restaurant
6661 Lake Worth Rd., Lake Worth; 561-855-0601; letroubadourestaurant.com.
Haitian cuisine is full of bold and spicy flavors that demonstrate its African, Caribbean, and Spanish roots, paired with a kiss of French sophistication. Meat-eaters will love the griyo, a traditional dish of fried pork cut into cubes. The pork itself is not the star of this dish; rather, it's the orange-based marinade that walks the fine line between sour and salty before resolving into a peppery heat that lingers on the tongue. On the island, it's often served with Haiti's official condiment, a spicy salad known as pikliz made up of a pickled vegetable slaw with white-vinegar-soaked Scotch bonnet peppers, carrots, and cabbage. Try the legume militon, another traditional Haitian dish of braised vegetables. Cooked for two or more hours in a dutch oven, the end result is a complex dish with plenty of spices that help to make this combination of eggplant, cabbage, carrots, peppers, and spinach taste nearly sublime. It's thick, filling, and spicy and sticks to your ribs the way any good stew should. End your meal with a slice of the fragrant, moist pen pasta (sweet potato bread pudding), a cake-like treat sweetened with banana and given a touch of spice from freshly grated ginger.
7. Pelican Restaurant
610 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 561-582-4992.; facebook.com.
The Pelican might be a faded diner tucked among consignment stores, pizza joints, beach bars, and hippie coffee shops that make up the charming downtown Lake Worth strip off Lake Avenue, but don't let appearances fool you. Nostalgic vibe aside, the 15-year-old eatery is best-known for specializing in a cuisine you wouldn't normally expect to find on a breakfast menu: Indian food. Owners Tahira and Mohammad Sami are from Pakistan. Lake Worth residents for 30 years, they owned a convenience store before buying the diner eight years ago. Today, their menu has all the typical American breakfast items you'd expect, plus a few Indian specialties (once available only on Friday but now made daily). Sami prepares all the Indian dishes herself, including a spinach keema omelet that packs in red chili and chicken, served with naan and home fries. Consider ordering the eggs
6. 2 Chef's Souparee
6338 Lantana Rd., Lake Worth; 561-432-2477; Facebook.
I know it’s reaching well over 90 degrees these days, but that's no excuse to not head over to 2 Chef’s Souparee, like, now. The family-owned and family-operated eatery serves up a number of homemade sandwiches and salads, lunch and dinner entrees, and desserts. As the name suggests, the real
5. Las Flores Restaurant & Pupuseria
913 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 561-585-0530; Facebook.
If you haven't yet been introduced to the El Salvadoran pupusa, you're missing out. In a sea of South Florida Mexican, Cuban, and Peruvian joints, this is one Latin American dish you won't see quite as often: a thick, handmade corn tortilla — similar to, but uniquely different from, the Colombian or Venezuelan arepa — filled with cheese, seasoned pork, refried beans, or loroco (a flower bud from Central America). Las Flores, located just west of Dixie Highway on Lake Avenue, is so authentic the staff and patrons are almost guaranteed to be speaking Spanish during your meal. If you don't speak the language you might feel a bit out of place, but the food is reason enough to grin, bear it, and point to what you want on the laminated menu. The menu features several variations, the most popular of which is a blend of cheese, beans, and chicharrón. The pupusas are best with a few spoonfuls of the house curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and pickled vegetables drenched in vinegar.
4. The French House
821 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 561-345-2559; thefrenchhousecafe.com.
Going to the French House is like taking a trip to a Paris café for the afternoon. The French family that's owned and operated the small cafe since opening in 2013 have fashioned it after their native country's "salon du thé" — the French phrase for a small café that serves light fare, coffee, and tea. The menu uses all organic ingredients, and many dishes are based
4391 Tenth Ave., Lake Worth; 561-729-0494; instagram.com/chulasbotanera.
Last summer, Melissa Gonzales and her daughter Alexia opened a small Tex Mex-style eatery off Tenth Avenue in Lake Worth. Originally open only on the weekends, the mother-daughter duo have since expanded hours to noon to 10 p.m. seven days a week thanks to the overwhelming demand for Gonzales' dessert and snack creations, many of which use ingredients she purchases directly from Mexico. These include her raspas, Latin-style snow cones made of crushed ice and flavored with a variety of syrup, condensed milk, and fresh fruit. At Chulas, block ice is ground to order and drenched in one of more than 25 fruit-flavored syrups ranging from banana and cherry to the more exotic, like horchata or tamarind. Try the Diablito, a raspa prepared with a chamoy, a spicy-savory sauce made from pickled apricot seasoned with lime, spices, and chilies. Don't leave without sampling the house specialty: tosti locos, a stateside rendition of Mexican antojito (street food) that begins with your choice of Mexican chips topped with pork rinds, cucumber, lime juice, hot sauce, chamoy, tajín chile powder, salt, and chili-spiced Japanese peanuts.
2 . Mother Earth Sanctuary Café
410 Second Ave. N., Lake Worth; 561-460-8647; motherearthsanctuarycafe.com.
Long thought of as a coffee shop and tea house, you'd be wrong to assume Mother Earth Sanctuary is just another hipster lounge for caffeinating. Yes, there are more than 30 types of herbal teas, but more important is the food: a breathtaking assortment of handmade veggie burgers — 20 varieties to be exact — in a rainbow of flavors. Chef-owner Patti Lucia first began making them when she decided to expand her menu of comfort food favorites to more health-focused fare. Today, what started with a single burger has grown to dozens, each made using fresh, local ingredients from a nearby market and featuring a black bean, garbanzo bean, or sweet potato base. All burgers have their own names (and their own stories behind their unique ingredients), are vegan-friendly, and can be made with a choice of Lucia's homemade naan bread served warm from the griddle. Among the most popular is the Aztec, a nod to the ancient culture, that combines fresh tomato, cilantro, jalapeño cumin, and chili spice with a black bean base. Or maybe the John and Yoko is more your style (an homage to one of Lucia's favorite couples that enjoyed a macrobiotic diet), a burger made with organic brown rice, sweet potato, kale, and wakame seaweed and seasoned with curry spices. They all come with her house cilantro aioli, but be sure to ask for a side of the fresh, homemade ketchup too.
1. Clary's Corner Café
1500 Lucerne Ave., Lake Worth; 561-547-7577; Facebook.
Clary's Corner Café is without a doubt the very definition of a hidden gem. When you finally find the door, you'll know you've found something special. Taking the quick walk through the restaurant's food-lined pantry shelves and past the open kitchen is a bit like going down Alice's rabbit hole, but staff is friendly and smiling all the way. If you ask, owner Vicky Elliott will tell you she wasn't always so well hidden, but rather she first opened 12 years ago in Palm Springs. Four years ago, she relocated Clary’s Corner Café to this magical spot, a tiny nook on the west side of an aging apartment building off west Lucerne Avenue. She's still offering the same immaculately delicious breakfast and lunch items, working alongside a single line chef to serve you some of the most crave-inducing food in all Lake Worth. While the current Clary's has pared down the menu from the original version, forever favorites include the chef-owner's homemade biscuits and gravy, smothered in a thick, pepper-flecked cream sauce, and her signature dirty grits, a heaping plate of slow-cooked grits, ham, bacon, onions, and melted cheddar cheese served with toast. Don't leave without a taste of Grandma Lida's Pecan Sticky Bun French Toast, a recipe Elliott concocted to replicate the smell of her grandmother's kitchen when she was a child. More like a dense bread pudding than a traditional breakfast dish and topped with a dense pile of chewy candied pecans, it's a sinfully sweet way to begin any day.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.