From fine dining all the way to dives, Palm Beach transplant Kiira Leess shows us where a recovering New Yorker gets her foodie fix.
PALM BEACH, Florida – After moving from New York City to the Palm Beach area over two years ago, I thought I would have to do some serious digging to feed my insatiable hunger for really good food. I (happily) discovered it wasn't too difficult, not even a little bit, not even at all.
The dining scene down here has undergone a renaissance of sorts over the past few years, and the demand for quality food is being met with vigor. Couple that with a tropical climate that provides year-round local produce, and you've got the makings for seriously inspired food. Here are my favorite local spots, from dives to fine dining.
Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel
301 Australian Ave., Palm Beach; +1-561-655-6060
Price point: $$$$
If you're looking for the Palm Beach Experience on a slightly less exorbitant scale, head to chef Daniel Boulud's Palm Beach outpost for brunch. Reserve a table outside and relish in the pristine surroundings of the famed Brazilian Court Hotel. What makes this a brilliant brunch destination is the prix-fixe menu, which allows you to indulge in a three-course meal for a cool $36. And with offerings like fried oyster hash with local eggs and hollandaise and a Kurobuta pork trio (featuring Boulud's famed charcuterie), you'll quickly understand the value play going on here.
HMF at The Breakers
1 S. County Rd., Palm Beach; +1-561-290-0104
Price point: $$$$
Come for a cocktail. And sip it slowly. It's your not-so-free admission into the unequivocal magnificence that is The Breakers. Order something classic — a dirty martini or glass of Champagne — and soak in the splendor. Once you've been socially lubricated, roam the grounds. Bonus points if you visit during the holidays when the decorations are unlike anything you've ever seen. The impeccable preservation of this historically rich landmark is both spectacular and moving.
I love a good two-for-one. By night, Buccan is the island hotspot, rocking a refined American gastropub cuisine. Be sure to secure reservations beforehand. (Insider tip: You can walk in and dine in the lounge area if you're cool with not having a formal dining table.) Don't miss the baby kale salad studded with pine nuts and currants or the steak tartare, which is intensified with black truffle and a crispy flash-fried egg yolk and served with grilled bread. Thankfully, Buccan has expanded. Buccan Sandwich Shop around the corner serves high-end sandwiches on house-made bread at totally approachable prices. Whether you go for the ridiculously good (and spicy!) banh mi or beef carpaccio topped with balsamic onions and arugula, order it to go and bring to the beach, which is just a breezy, two-block walk away.
201 E. Ocean Ave., Lantana
Price point: $$, cash only
With just a handful of tables (all outside), a no-reservations policy (no phone line), and a menu that changes daily (which I check online compulsively), it's no wonder there's always (always) a wait at Pizzeria Oceano. Just a stone's throw from the Intracoastal, chef, owner, and pizza genius Dak Kerprich is slinging some of the most innovative and well-done pizzas around — allowing what he's able to source from local farms and fishermen dictate his ever-changing menu. Like spicy mustard greens, locally-cured mortadella, fresh house-made mozzarella that's prepared daily, and the crispy, crunchy char that can only come from his custom-built, wood-burning oven. This is some of the best and most inventive food in all of Palm Beach. Just be prepared to wait.
The Blind Monk
410 Evernia St. #107, West Palm Beach; +1-561-833-3605
Price point: $$
You won't feel like you're in South Florida at this chic little (and I mean little) wine and craft beer bar, but that's okay. This is the ultimate date night spot — with its close quarters, dim ambient lighting, and a projector streaming silent black-and-white films. Don't snooze on the chicken liver paté which is topped with a homemade strawberry preserve and served with toasted baguette and house-cured pickled vegetables. Don't be shy: I can't help but finish the jar off with my finger when no one's looking.
2905 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach
Price point: $
I'm hesitant to even include this (for selfish reasons, of course), but I would be remiss to not mention my favorite (yes, favorite) place to dine in all of Palm Beach County. It's not pretty, not even a little bit. And it's tucked away in a shopping center strip mall leaving a lot to be desired. But none of that matters. Anyone who knows anything about pho knows that it's all about the broth. And this particular broth is the most deeply flavored, heady, and downright gorgeous broth I've ever had the privilege of tasting. I go weekly. If it were closer, I'd go daily. Don't leave without ordering the spring rolls. And might I suggest the #29 pho?
Victoria's Peruvian Cuisine
111 S. 3rd St., Lantana; +1-561-588-9606
Price point: $
All you need to know about this unassuming little Peruvian restaurant is that their ceviche game is strong. Family-owned and operated, Victoria's Peruvian serves authentic, fresh, and lively Peruvian food at more than reasonable prices. Order leche de tigre ceviche, which is flavored with loads of lime, red onion, ginger, chilis, and fresh cilantro. You won't find a better rendition anywhere. They just opened a to-go joint a couple of storefronts down, offering Peruvian-style rotisserie chickens with aji verde (a cilantro and garlic-based green sauce with a cult following).