Slap on your retro cat-eye shades and put the top down on your baby blue Continental. Today’s Neighborhood Guide takes a trip down the Dixie Highway to West Palm Beach courtesy of Dinner Party‘s own Lisa Cericola, whose love of plantains runs so deep she served them at her extra-chic West Palm wedding (and played “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords at the reception to boot). Class and a sense of humor!
I love my hometown, but West Palm Beach is not a dining mecca. It has beautiful beaches and parks, cool antique shops, lots of laid-back Florida charm, but like a lot of other suburban cities, it also has chain restaurants as far as the eye can see. While our ridiculously wealthy neighbors to the east dine on tasting menus by Daniel Boulud and Michelle Bernstein and sip gin and tonics at The Breakers, West Palm Beachers have Chili’s, Applebees, and just about every other “casual dining” restaurant you can think of.
As a budding food lover in West Palm, I made it my mission to discover quality eats in my own backyard. My high school friends and I tried sushi for the first time, checked out a questionable-looking but tasty Mexican restaurant in a strip mall, ate in an Indian place decked out in Christmas lights, and taste-tested all of the major Cuban eateries in town. I ate a lot of fried plantains as a teen.
While I wouldn’t go back to all of these places today (many of them don’t even exist anymore), I discovered that there was good stuff to be found if I was willing to look. Although I grew up on the “wrong” side of the bridge, West Palm Beach taught me to value beachfront diners, mom-and-pop Cuban joints, and greenmarkets full of handmade treats. Not a bad way to grow up, really.
Here are a few of my favorite local haunts from my teenage years, as well as some more recent discoveries.
Located in downtown West Palm, E.R. Bradley’s Saloon (104 Clematis St., 561-833-3520) has a popular late-night bar scene, but during the earlier hours, it’s a popular spot to grab a burger or an order of crab cakes and enjoy the view of the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway directly across the street. Sit on the breezy back patio and order the fish tacos, then take a post-dinner stroll across the street at the recently-renovated waterfront.
You’d think good sushi would be easy to find in Florida, but somehow that’s not the case in West Palm. Whenever I’m in town, my go-to spot is Sushi Jo (319 Belvedere Road, 561-868-7893). The fish is reliably fresh, the staff is warm and friendly, and there is a good selection of straightforward sashimi as well as more creative offerings like the Bahama Roll (spicy conch, kimchi, masago, and scallions) and the Havana Roll (eel, mango, avocado, cream cheese, shiso).
A short drive from downtown West Palm, John G.’s (10 South Ocean Boulevard, 561-585-9860) is a long-time local favorite for early-morning blueberry pancakes and French toast. The line for breakfast can stretch around the block, but the restaurant is across the street from Lake Worth beach, so at least the view is nice. If you can’t wake up in time for breakfast, the lunch menu is good too. They serve a wonderful fried fish sandwich on a kaiser roll (with hush puppies!), fish and chips, and the world’s biggest fruit plate, if you’re into that kind of thing. Be sure to get there early, the restaurant closes at 3:00 pm.
Ah, TooJay’s. A New York-style Jewish deli transplanted in sunny Florida. While there are many TooJay’s locations throughout the state, go to the restaurant in Lake Worth (419 Lake Avenue, 561-582-8684), which has a charming main drag of old and new shops. I highly recommend the lox and bagel platter and the blintzes, and my husband would probably order the TooJay’s Classic sandwich (corned beef and pastrami with chopped liver) as his last meal.
Cuban Food: Havana, Don Ramon’s, Tulipan Bakery
A trip to West Palm Beach would be incomplete without eating Cuban food. I used to be a die-hard Havana restaurant (6803 South Dixie Highway, 561-547-9799) fan. My high school friends and I would gather there for cheap meals of sweet fried plantains and black beans and rice.
But after a few sub-par dinners over the past few years, I’ve switched alliances and now favor Don Ramon’s (7101 South Dixie Highway, 561-547-8704), a family-run restaurant down the street with a similar menu of Cuban favorites: ropa vieja, pollo asado, and picadillo. For coffee, pastries, and a very good Cuban sandwich, my favorite spot is Tulipan Bakery (740 Belvedere Road, 561-832-6107). Get the iced cappuccino and thank me later.
West Palm Beach Greenmarket
Open during the bearably hot months of October to April, the West Palm Beach greenmarket offers local produce, baked goods, and other edibles. The open-air market is fun for people (and dog) watching, and is a perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee and something tasty for breakfast. Located downtown on Narcissus Street and Second Street, it is open Saturdays from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.