The restaurants that get the most hype always seem to be those fancy, just-opened joints. You know, the ones stuck right smack in the middle of downtown or maybe that cute little historic district where the hipsters flock. Basically, wherever the nightlife crowd is rowdiest.
But sometimes it's the establishments that force you to venture out into the suburbs -- those hidden gems that require a little extra fuel to get there -- where you find the most fabulous meals that make it worth a trip. Or two.
In Palm Beach County, pretty much everything we know is east of I-95; the downtown strips have it all, from Clematis Street in West Palm Beach to Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. But there is plenty of good eating to be done west of the highway. Sure, these places might be a little harder to get to, but they're worth the drive, every time.
Here are the ten best destination restaurants in suburban Palm Beach County.
See also: Ten Best Suburban Restaurants in Broward
Located in the heart of Wellington, this restaurant has a unique concept and menu: Asian tapas. From small, sharing-sized plates to entrée-style dishes and a list of specialty sushi and hand rolls, Kontiki has it covered. Plus, it's the best place to be at the height of polo season, when the main dining room gets converted into a dance floor for late-night partying. Despite its remote location, the creative rolls served in a fun, funky atmosphere are what set this place apart from all the others. The Kontiki sushi bomb is a highlight here, a tempera-style roll stuffed with tuna, salmon, white fish, avocado, asparagus, scallion, sesame, and masago that is deep-fried and topped with the house spicy bomb sauce. It comes in a lobster version too, if you're feeling extra fancy.
It may not look like much, and it might not be in the most beautiful building -- and it's not even located in an easy-to-access area. But the Okeechobee Steakhouse has proven it can stand the test of time with its classic steakhouse menu. That's over 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 dark wood interior is made complete with bartenders that 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. The best part of the meal: The salad, bread, and cheese bar. 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 for the portions are good enough that almost everyone leaves with a doggie bag.
No trip out west on Lake Worth Road would be complete -- at least for us -- without a stop at Tacos Al Carbon. Whether you sit and eat inside the small restaurant and kitchen's dining room, or wait in line at the stationary food truck that preps the same menu for hungry patrons vying for a seat at one of the picnic tables, it's all amazing. It may not look like much -- that dusty lot entrance at the corner of Military Trail finally got smoothed over, though. Despite a bumpy entrance, this is the destination for authentic Mexican food served 24/7. There are more than a dozen varieties of tacos, from chewy lengua to chicharron to carne asada, each inexpensive, each served with cilantro, lime, and onion in a pliant, fresh corn tortilla. Splash a little ultrahot orange salsa on there and your late-night taco binge will be complete. During the day, the taco trucks parked there spread out like worker bees to distribute the goods. At night, they return to a packed lot. You can even tell a bit about the patron by which window he orders from: A younger crowd gathers at the brick-and-mortar building on the east side, while adventure-seekers and buzzing party folk congregate by the food trucks parked in the west lot.
Part of the Buckhead Life Restaurant family, City Fish Market is west Boca Raton's answer to those looking for some pretty amazing seafood. This Atlanta outfit runs a smooth operation with a classy touch. From the raw bar to the wine list, everything is top notch, and for a reasonable price. The menu is rife with some of the freshest, local, and sustainable seafood available in Palm Beach County, and the cool-casual restaurant includes a market selling Scottish salmon, Nantucket bay scallops, Boston lemon sole, and Key West hogfish. Prefer clams and oysters? The restaurant's raw bar serves them all, garnered from those cute little New England enclaves. What's on the menu depends on season, and it's mostly cooked in simple olive oil or butter sauces. Don't miss the lightly battered king crab fritters with remoulade sauce or their signature crab cake. There's also a daily infused martini made with fresh fruit.
Wellington is known for many things, and dining out is not one of them. Luckily, a few years ago the "Fashion Cuisine" restaurant family came on the scene and changed all that. Thanks to three different concepts -- Oli's, The Grille and The Seahorse -- owners Juan Gando and Justin Parfitt are able to dish out a variety of plates that appeal to almost any palate. Their first (and most popular establishment) remains Oli's, which came on the Wellington scene in 2010. Open for brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night mingling, it's equal parts casual cafe, upscale dinner date spot, and nightclub. It's termed "fashion cuisine" because it not only tastes good, but looks good, too. The menu focuses on simple flavor pairings, fresh ingredients and offers a good mix of both healthy and indulgent dishes. Desire a refreshing summer salad made with local produce and the house made dressing on the side? No problem. Prefer a bowl of house made pasta with a rich, creamy alfredo sauce? They've got that, too.
5. Sybarite Pig
This gastropub would probably be even more packed if it weren't located west of the turnpike where Glades Rd. meets Route 7. Instead, this hidden gem is out of the fray, meaning your favorite specialty craft beer selection on tap still has plenty of Cigar City's horchatta -- at least it did the last time we checked. Craft beer and food enthusiast Daniel Naumko opened this awesome little spot just over a year ago in a space once occupied by Wicked Awesome Snackbar. A self-described beer nerd, Naumko has traveled the country touring American breweries from San Diego and Portland, to Delaware -- even Berlin -- in order to deliver the best craft brew experience possible. The bottled and draft menu is extensive and ever-rotating, and has selective and hard-to-find picks that will keep you coming back for more. Here, the food is equal to the drink. The concise menu is meat-centric. There are duck-fat infused Wagyu beef burgers, house made charcuterie and sausage, and bone marrow -- just to name a few dishes. Try Naumko's favorite, the sous vide short ribs so tender they taste like "beef butter." There's even an in-house pastry chef who makes all the breads fresh. What more could you ask for in a wayward spot but to indulge like that without having to leave the bar stool?
It may be off the beaten path, as they say, but aren't the best things in life always a little harder to find? Founded by chef/owner Matthew Byrne and his wife, Aliza, Kitchen opened in October, 2013. The concept is quite simple: Buy only the highest-quality, freshest ingredients and do as little to them as possible, just as the Byrnes do in their kitchen at home. With a constantly rotating menu and private chef table that hosts up to ten, the kitchen experience offers a new way to dine for foodies in Palm Beach County. With his restaurant labeled a contemporary American brasserie, Byrne channels his passion and discipline to create refined yet approachable dishes. The day's dishes change often. Sometimes as frequently as once or twice a week -- or daily -- depending on what is available. If something is in season, it's used across the menu from appetizers and small plates, to side dishes and desserts, until it runs out. While the menu rotates entrees often, there are a few staples Byrne loves, including his personal favorite dish: chicken schnitzel. Organic chicken breast is pounded thin, then dressed in a parmesan and Panko bread crumb crust fried in olive oil. It's finished with charred lemon zest and a special arugula mushroom salad, and topped with a fried egg.
Guanabanas first opened in 2004, originally nothing more than a surfer hangout where you could grab a sandwiches on-the-go. Four years later, owners Jon Sullivan and Chad VanBoven have transformed Guanabanas into one of Jupiter's most coveted restaurants. No longer a place to grab simple meals on the run, today the menu offers an abundance of dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and delivers one of the best dining experiences in Palm Beach County. If you're looking for an escape, Guanabanas is a place you'll have to see to believe. The restaurant's outdoor, tiki-style seating has been carved into a jungle-like grotto overlooking an inlet waterway just west of A1A. Here, meandering hand-chiseled coquina stone pathways weave through intimate seating areas. Despite its remote location, such a dreamy layout draws a crowd of tourists and locals alike, who travel in droves for a taste of paradise. Here, a stellar Caribbean and Latin inspired menu is executed by executive chef Vinny Trupia, who has mastered sourcing Florida seafood and produce to make each dish sing with flavor and color. It's one of the few restaurants that serves only Florida-sourced seafood, everything from the shrimp coming from Cape Canaveral, clams and crab from the Sanibel Island area, and fish from as far as the Keys. That includes menu favorites like Floridian fritters, the restaurant's sustainable take on the conch fritter. As conch becomes increasingly endangered -- and hard to come by the team decided to use local seafood to create a fritter made with Florida shrimp and crab. Served with a sweet jalapeño mustard sauce, it's become one of the most popular dishes on the menu.Another treat: the avocado bacon mango salad. A trip to Guanabanas wouldn't be complete without a tropical drink or cocktail from a bar that reflects a similarly exotic theme. There's a wide array of Florida beers, as well as a rotating selection of specialty craft brews, and more than 30 rums from around the world.
Tim Lipman is used to lines out the door and busy seatings twice a night. It's all part of being one of the best restaurants in Palm Beach County (we dubbed him best new restaurant in Palm Beach County in 2013). It's all thanks to a loyal following, a passionate desire to deliver the best fare possible, and a penchant for coming up with some amazing dishes. Think rabbit tostadas, gator sausage, and wild boar tenderloin. You've probably never had them, but they're all on the menu -- or have been -- at Coolinary Cafe. Lipman and his wife, Jenny, are the cool kids behind this hip 47-seat eatery, where an arsenal of well-planned menu items changes seasonally and specials change twice daily. Lipman (the original executive chef for Jupiter establishments Little Moir's Leftovers Cafe and Little Moir's Food Shack) is a Florida native and resident of Abacoa who is steadfast about product sourcing, and buying as much as he can close to home. That means produce from the Peddler in Juno Beach, milk from Daikin Dairy in Myakka, honey from McCoy's in Loxahatchee, and eggs from Lake Meadow in Ocoee. What he can't buy local, he grows himself in community gardens his team has established nearby.
You don't know Palm Beach County eating until you've been to a Little Moir's establishment. The first restaurant opened in Jupiter in just another ordinary grocery-store strip mall. But the Food Shack is no ordinary establishment. Instead, it's now one of the least-kept secrets in the county. The skinny spot, decked out in surfboards and tiki-hut grass surrounding the cook's window, evokes a shack on a blue beach in the Caribbean. At the height of season, the place operates with a perpetual line that snakes around the door at prime time. Expect a slight Caribe hand and unusual, ever-changing preparations for seafoods so popular that they've morphed onto menus elsewhere in the area -- like that sweet-potato crust we can't get enough of.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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