People who say you can live in Miami without a car are almost as delusional as Gator fans after a big win over Presbyterian College (an actual team on the 2016 schedule). Sure, you might be able to navigate a neighborhood or two using the Metromover and Lyft, but if you really want to experience all that our great region has to offer, walking is out of the question. Case in point: some of the best restaurants you’ll ever go to are within a couple hours’ drive of the Magic City. So whether you live in the 561, 954, 239, or the Keys, or just like to go there to escape Miami, here are a dozen restaurants that are as good -- if not better -- than anything you'll find in Dade.
West Palm Beach
Clematis St isn’t exactly known as a culinary nirvana -- unless your definition of “culinary nirvana” involves pizza slices and tacos. But this relatively new spot from a couple of married chef/owners is aiming to change all that. Jardin brings stuff you’ve probably never seen -- like deep-fried hummus and gator grits (exactly what they sound like), and puts it in a busy, chic space with an open kitchen and a craft-cocktail stocked bar. It’s the best example of modern cuisine in West Palm, and an oasis of creative plates for young professionals in PBC.
Forget the shells along the sand in one of America’s best destinations for couples. The real hidden treasure is this steak and seafood joint on the bottom floor of the Marco Island Marriott. Here, chefs combine local seafood like nori-seared ahi tuna with steaks from the on-premises dry-aging room, then sprinkle the menu with creations like foie gras torchon. Throw in a staggeringly impressive wine list and a décor that’s part '50s living room, part glass-walled penthouse, and you may well have the best restaurant in southwest Florida.
The fresh, local ingredient movement isn’t just for eco-conscious millennials in big cities. Old money is in on it, too, as best demonstrated in this Palm Beach restaurant. Though the crowd here ranges from the ultra-wealthy who have houses nearby to young professionals from other parts of PBC, the food is decidedly urban. Shared plates like Swiss chard gnocchi and brisket “Reuben” pizza dominate the menu, with larger plates like U8 shrimp scampi on grilled bread making appearances. It’s a young- feeling restaurant in a more mature area, bringing a definite Miami feel to Palm Beach.
Getting seafood in Key West can be dicey, since even Irish Kevin’s claims to have stuff “caught fresh that day.” But this fine-dining spot in an old house on Duval not only lives up to that claim, it does it better than anyone on the island. The lobster ravioli uses a light tomato sauce, so you can enjoy it and still have room for the grilled octopus, which brings one of the biggest tentacles you’ll ever see. The meats are done impeccably, too, including a Kobe beef Bolognese pappardelle, chipotle pork tacos, and a Florida grass-fed burger, all of which will have you completely forgetting you’re eating dinner mere steps from bars with refillable plastic cups and Jimmy Buffett on repeat.
Anyone who’s ever set foot in northern Palm Beach County -- even just to pay a parking ticket -- knows about this locals’ favorite tucked into a nondescript Jupiter strip mall. The feel is unmistakably hipster, with hand-written paper menus and a funky, multi-colored décor. But it’s not ironic, it’s the opposite -- an authentic neighborhood gathering spot for Jupiterians. The food’s chock-full of inventive twists on Florida staples, like the chimichurri-seared sea scallops and a daily fish crusted with boniato, habanero, and coconut. And the menu is changing almost as often as the bands who play there. But that doesn’t keep locals and seasonal residents from packing this place pretty much year-round.
Miami’s best barbecue restaurants are officially on notice. The Winter Park BBQ joint that made that Orlando suburb one of America’s best small food cities -- and was also named the best BBQ in Florida by some serious experts -- opened its first SoFla outpost in Coral Springs this September. The pitmaster here has cooked at the James Beard house, and seamlessly combines styles, with St. Louis ribs right next to an 18-hour hickory-smoked Texas brisket, and does it all without raising the ire of any barbecue traditionalists. For Miamians who’ve fled to the 954 but still miss a good Cuban, it’s even got a smokehouse version, with smoked pork and ham added to the traditional mustard, mayo, pickles, and cheese.
Imagine the fresh sushi and savory, smoky robata of Miami’s Zuma, but rather than staring out at some dude’s exorbitant yacht, you’re staring out at the state pool at the Seminole Hard Rock. That’s Kuro in a nutshell. An Asian fine-dining experience in Hollywood’s biggest hotel, Kuro is adorned with a chandelier bigger than some apartments, high ceilings, and plenty of crystal. The chefs have put together a menu that blows anything in Broward away, with a hamachi pepper sashimi and avocado toro tartare that even the most hardcore carnivore will appreciate. The highlight of all the main courses is the Chilean sea bass miso, but any of the grilled steaks from the robata grill will make a perfect anchor to a multi-course Asian feast.
It might not be the biggest restaurant on the list, but this tiny spot near Downtown Lauderdale packs more culinary punch per square foot than anywhere in South Florida. Chef Philip Darmon is no stranger to small spaces. He spent the better part of his career as the chef on yachts for the rich and famous, developing a cult following in South Florida that led him to open Hardy Park with his wife Jessica Rossitto. The menu’s perpetually in flux, so check the chalkboard daily, and order what looks best. But if you want to sample the tried & true staples that have made this place famous, get the HPB Burger with crispy onions and tomato chutney, or the hoisin-glazed duck breast.
Ft. Lauderdale (& other locations)
There may be no greater way to spend a Tuesday in South Florida than crushing AYCE tacos and washing them down with margaritas at Rocco’s. That’s because north of the County line, there’s a Rocco’s on every party street in SoFla, from Clematis in West Palm, to Atlantic Ave in Delray, to Las Olas in Ft. Lauderdale. No matter which one you’re visiting, you’re always guaranteed fresh, spicy guacamole and house-made tortillas, surrounding flame-broiled meats and grilled vegetables. So even on the off chance you didn’t go to Rocco’s to drink, the meal's still worth making the trip.
Along the Overseas Highway, there's no shortage of restaurants serving fresh seafood complemented by sunset views. There’s also no shortage of places that have tables that stick to your arm, and mumbling locals who look like they’ve been there since 1974. For Keys seafood and a sunset experience in a tranquil, island-paradise setting, no place in Monroe County beats Pierre’s. The restaurant is set in an old plantation house at the Morada Bay resort, complete with a teak-wood bar downstairs with open-air access to the resort’s private beach. Upstairs you’ll find the requisite collection of daily caught seafood, plus a 16oz cowboy steak, ceviche, and the chef’s most prized creation, the seafood curry.
Perhaps you recognize Daniel Boulud’s name -- or rather his initials -- as the “DB” in DB Bistro Moderne in Miami. His Palm Beach outpost is the same world-class dining experience, in a totally different setting. Here you’ll dine alfresco in a Mediterranean courtyard adorned with fountains and perfectly manicured hedges. The menu is long on simple, fresh seafood and hearty meats like the bacon-crusted pork chop and dry-aged NY strip. And don’t let the location near Worth Ave scare you away: Café Boulud also has a Sunday-Thursday prix fixe for $48 where you can enjoy the best restaurant in Palm Beach without having to own a house there.
If South Florida is known for two things, it’s great seafood and even greater scam artists. Shockingly, sometimes those two things converge in the form of restaurants that charge $39 for a piece of "Chilean sea bass" that is, in fact, farm-raised tilapia. This will never, ever happen to you at Captain Charlie's, one of the freshest, most trusted seafood restaurants in the state. Locals have been coming here for decades for simple seafood that is always the fresh catch it claims to be. The wait for a table can be painful (they don’t take reservations), but always worth it. And the prices at Captain Charlie’s are a fraction of what you might pay a couple of counties south, for seafood that’s a fraction of the quality.
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1. Jardin330 Clematis St, West Palm Beach
2. Ario400 S Collier Blvd, Marco Island
3. Buccan350 S County Rd, Palm Beach
4. Nine One Five915 Duval St, Key West
5. Little Moir's Food ShackJupiter Square, 103 US-1 D3, Jupiter
6. 4 Rivers Smokehouse2660 N University Dr, Coral Springs
7. Kuro1 Seminole Wy, Fort Lauderdale
8. Hardy Park Bistro21 SW 7th St, Fort Lauderdale
9. Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar1313 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
10. Pierre's81600 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada
11. Café Boulud301 Australian Ave, Palm Beach
12. Captain Charlie's Reef Grill12846 US Highway 1, North Palm Beach
Food-wise, Clematis Street isn't known for much more than pizza slices and tacos, making Jardin the odd man out; it serves up inventive cuisine you've probably never even tried before, from deep-fried hummus to gator grits. The married couple who head up this buzzy spot attempt (and successfully, we might add) to bring West Palm modern cuisine that pushes culinary boundaries. It's a chic space with an open kitchen and a bar stocked with craft cocktails -- and an oasis of creative dishes for young professionals in PBC.
Situated in one of America’s best destinations for couples is this swanky surf and turf spot on the bottom floor of the Marco Island Marriott. The menu here is split between local seafood, such as nori-seared ahi tuna, and steaks from Ario's on-site dry aging room, with a few creations like foie gras torchon sprinkled in, too. Its elegant dishes and eccentric décor, which is part '50s living room, part glass-walled penthouse, arguably makes Ario the best restaurant in southwest Florida.
The crowd at this chic Palm Beach eatery draws a crowd that ranges from the ultra-wealthy who have houses nearby to young professionals from other parts of PBC. Wherever you fit on that spectrum, you'll no-doubt enjoy Buccan's shared plates like swiss chard gnocchi and brisket “Rueben” pizza, plus larger dishes like U8 shrimp scampi on grilled bread. The vibe here is definitively young and hip, which contrasts with the mature surrounding area and brings a Miami feel to Palm Beach.
Finding top-notch seafood in Key West isn't always easy, but this fine dining spot in an old Victorian house on Duval does it better than anyone on the island. The lobster ravioli is a wise choice and uses a light tomato sauce, leaving room for you to try the humongous tentacle that comes with the grilled octopus. The meats are done to perfection, too, including a Kobe beef Bolognese pappardelle, chipotle pork tacos, and a Florida grass-fed burger. With food this impeccable, you'll forget you're eating just steps from bars with refillable plastic cups and Jimmy Buffett blasting.
If you've ever stepped foot in northern Palm Beach County, you probably know that this strip-mall spot is adored by Jupiterians for its inventive takes on Florida staples and funky seafood-shack decor. You'll find dishes like chimichurri-seared sea scallops and a daily fish crusted with boniato, habanero, and coconut on the menu, which changes almost as often as the bands who perform there. No matter the time of year, though, you'll find this friendly joint buzzing with locals.
The BBQ joint that helped turn Winter Park into one of America’s best small food cities has a South Florida outpost in Coral Springs, too. The barbecue at 4 Rivers encompasses most regional styles in America perfectly, from St. Louis ribs to an 18-hour hickory-smoked Texas brisket. And it even throws in a South Florida twist with its Smokehouse Cuban sandwich, made with smoked pork and ham added to the traditional mustard, mayo, pickles, and cheese.
Located in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel, Kuro is a true success. The fish is up there with any yacht-up restaurant on the Miami River that may or may not rhyme with "puma," and the decor is as opulent as you'd find in any international casino.
This tiny, stylish restaurant near downtown Ft. Lauderdale is headed up by Chef Philip Darmon, who spent a solid chunk of his career cooking on yachts for the rich and famous. It helped him garner a cult following in South Florida, ultimately leading to the opening of his sophisticated Hardy Park. The menu here is constantly changing, so you'll have to check the chalkboard daily, but if you want to sample the staples that have made this place famous, go for the HPB Burger with crispy onions and tomato chutney, or the hoisin-glazed duck breast.
With 425 varieties of tequila, a house sour mix, and plenty of authentic Mexican eats, Rocco's is pretty hard to beat. The restaurant's famous guacamole is prepared table-side, the corn tortillas are all hand made on a Comal (a standard Mexican tortilla griddle), and the margaritas taste every bit as fresh as they are. In addition to serving tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas, the kitchen serves up a number of creative meat and fish-centric entrees, while guests seat themselves on the paper-lamp-adorned, red-brick patio. The restaurant offers a limited selection of nachos and tacos as late as 3am, and the cocktail menu features 13 different renditions of the margarita (try the strawberry basil), along with a full menu of non-tequila craft cocktails, and, of course, pitchers of sangria.
For fresh Keys seafood and a breathtaking sunset in a tranquil, island paradise setting (we can practically hear you saying, "ahhh"), Pierre's is the best of the best in Monroe County. Situated in an old plantation house at the Morada Bay resort, this spot is outfitted with a teak-wood bar downstairs and open-air access to the resort’s private beach. Upstairs, you’ll find its collection of daily-caught seafood, a 16oz cowboy steak, ceviche, and the chef’s favorite dish, the seafood curry.
From famed chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud comes the aptly named Café Boulud, where you’ll dine in a Mediterranean courtyard adorned with fountains and perfectly manicured hedges, while noshing on simple, fresh seafood and hearty meats like the bacon-crusted pork chop and dry-aged NY strip. Yes, it's located near Worth Ave, but fear not: it also has a reasonably priced Sunday-Thursday prix fixe menu, when you can enjoy the best restaurant in Palm Beach without having to own real estate there.
Captain Charlie's is one of the freshest and most reliable seafood restaurants in Florida. Plenty of places claim to serve a "fresh catch," but this unassuming, friendly spot actually delivers, every time. Locals have flocked here for years to dig into simple, flavorful seafood dishes like sesame-crusted salmon and seafood curry with shrimp, mussels, bay scallops, and fish in a curry & coconut cream sauce. You might have to wait agonizingly long for a table thanks to the no-reservations policy, but it's more than worth it for the high-quality food at low prices.