Put down that gas-station burrito.
Congrats on your decision to take a road trip north, but there’s no reason a drive to North Carolina or Disney World should include rest stop food. (However, please do use your indicators. You’re not in Miami anymore.)
Palm Beach County is not only a great place to stretch your legs — with plenty of things to do. It has wonderful restaurants with chefs who have been lauded by the James Beard foundation — and they’re not all wallet-busting posh spots.
Here are some of my favorites from my 12 years as a food (and features and sports!) writer for the Palm Beach Post, including some new spots creating plenty of buzz.
You really can’t go wrong at this downtown West Palm Beach spot, now going on five years, from Julien Gremaud. Crispy fish tacos, check. Lamb slider or empanadas? Check. A seafood paella within sight of the water, oh yeah. And make sure to see why the restaurant lives up to its name and order the avocado, served whole as a salad, grilled in wedges or chunked up into guac.
125 Datura St., West Palm Beach
You can call Buccan New American, world-inspired or just a work of genius. Clay Conley (formerly of Miami’s Azul) was named a semifinalist for his fifth James Beard award for his preternatural ability to pair flavors — Italian, French, Peruvian, Mexican — in dishes that change all the time. Currently, think Florida snapper moqueca with basmati rice, snapper ceviche “al pastor,” short rib empanadas with aji amarillo.... Sorry, I got hungry just writing that sentence. Want something quick? He sells sandwiches with scratch-made ingredients on the other the side of the building.
350 South County Road, Palm Beach
Christopher’s Kitchen uses mostly organic (often local) plant-based food to make rich, flavorful, filling dishes that often blow my mind. A fig-and-honey starter plate using macadamia ricotta would make you scratch your head if you weren’t busy licking your fingers. Pizzas using cashew cheeses, with items like cremini, shiitake, portabello and white mushrooms, would shame other traditional pies. Their pad thai with bok choi and almond Thai sauce is stand out. And if you really want your noodle baked, order dessert like the lemon vanilla “cheesecake,” or a warm brownie sundae with ice cream that is somehow dairy-, soy- and gluten-free. Don’t ask how. Just eat and enjoy.
4783 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens
Rabbit tacos are a thing I crave now thanks to chef Tim Lipman and wife Jenny, the team behind this strip mall spot in Palm Beach Gardens, right off the interstate. They use the best meats (and butcher it themselves) from Creekstone Farms and Palmetto Creek to make dishes like crispy pork cassoulet and sausages. You’re not allowed to skip the boneless Southern fried chicken and waffle with jalapeño cheddar. (Sorry, it’s a must.) Are they booked? Walk over to their bar, the Parched Pig, and order maybe the best charcuterie board you’ve ever had, with meats they cure and veggies they pickle in-house. You’ll regret it if you don’t push through and order the chocolate-bourbon bread pudding.
4650 Donald Ross Rd., #110, Palm Beach Gardens
If you’re just passing through and need a quick bite — but your car is packed with picky eaters — a great option is this new food hall right off the I-95 Belvedere exit. It’s not only convenient; some of the food here is destination-worthy. Locanta has plant-based options. Clare’s makes a winning Nashville hot chicken. And you can have a Pumphouse coffee espresso in a scenic revamped warehouse you can hang out in — or grab and get back on the road with your clan.
1401 Clare Ave., West Palm Beach
Hop off I-95, make one turn and you’re at another of Conley’s spots, this one focusing on wood-fire pizzas. Skip the tables and sit at the pizza counter, where you can watch pizzaiolos spin pies with fresh ingredients and toss them in the oven. Pick a pie (I like the black truffle, fontina, oyster mushroom), pair with an appetizer like the Parmesan polenta meatball (or split a larger plate like the Sunday gravy with pasta if you’re hungrier) and have your expectations blown for what an upscale pizza and pasta shop can be.
1901 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach
Jimmy Strine loves making and eating Chinese food — and he wants you to love it, too. Forget that he’s as American as bacon. After owning his own restaurant in the South and working for the great chef Daniel Boulud (link) at Café Boulud, and later Clay Conley at Buccan, he opened a restaurant of American-style Chinese food. Think dim sum, locally grown long beans, Cantonese eggplant, Chinese broccoli and a Palm Beach fried rice with king crab.
150 Worth Ave #234, Palm Beach
Outside, it’s a very-Boca pink strip mall, but inside it’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, with funky, artsy touches and a lively bar. It’s no surprise you’ll find one of the best burgers you’ve ever had at Rebel House. They’re from the same folks who own Sunshine Provision, which provides many South Florida restaurants with their custom burger blends, and Charm City Burger — which is a renowned great burger spot in Deerfield Beach. (They even use the same “Charm City” sauce.) Charcuterie — of course, made here — is a great starter as is a cocktail like the Fig Yourself,with fig preserves, maple syrup and vodka.
297 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton
Mix traditions of the South with fresh Florida seafood, locally raised pork, vegetables grown within the county and the talents of one of Michelle Bernstein’s successful disciples, Lindsay Autry, and you have a destination restaurant in Palm Beach County. At her restaurant, Autry (a recent back-to-back James Beard award semifinalist) combines her time cooking in Mexico and Miami with Bernstein and her summers making peach cobbler and spanakopita from her Greek grandmother in North Carolina. Pretty please, order the vegetable ragout made with seasonal vegetables after the pimento cheese spread. Trust me, order the fried chicken.
651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
Thai food doesn’t need to be this good, this refined and in such a warm and comfortable setting for me to love it — but chef Charlie Soo does it anyway in what’s perhaps the best Thai spot in the county. At the family-owned restaurant, Papa Soo helps him make impeccable renditions of dishes like Masaman duck curry, jumbo scallops in panang curry and dumplings with chicken and crab meat. Mama Soo handles the front of the house and remembers regulars. (Be nice to Mama Soo.)
7100 Fairway Dr., Palm Beach Gardens
Palm Beach County has several great breweries — from the Belgian-focused Barrel of Monks in Boca and Due South in Boynton Beach to Twisted Trunk in Palm Beach Gardens and Civil Society in Jupiter. But the West Palm Beach Brewery & Wine Vault is a crowd-pleaser for all. It combines some of Florida’s finest craft beer with a wine bar featuring limited-production wines. Oh and don’t miss the wood-burning oven for crispy, doughy pizzas. The 2019 Best Florida Beer Competition just crowned their Five Six One hefeweizen a gold medalist.
332 Evernia St., West Palm Beach
Still hungry? For more great spots, check in with my buddy and former colleague, Palm Beach Post food editor Liz Balmaseda (a former Miami Herald Pultizer prize winner), who has her own list of favorites.