A Newcomer's Gold Coast Dining Guide

Life's a beach in sunny South Florida with these excellent restaurants.

Photo By: Andrew Thomas Ryan ©Andy Ryan All Rights Reserved

Welcome to the Gold Coast

When it comes to South Florida dining destinations, glamorous Miami garners much of the national attention, but the Gold Coast is like the Magic City’s down-to-earth, beachy sister. World-class chefs dish up plates that could rival Miami’s very best, just without the pretension. Elegant Italian, late-night Japanese, James Beard nominees and ocean breeze: Here are the eateries that make Broward and Palm Beach counties dining destinations of their own. 

Date Night: Valentino

With crisp white walls, wood-beamed ceilings, vintage-style couches and reclaimed-wood accents, Valentino Cucina Italiana feels like a luxurious Tuscan escape — or a scene from a high-end furniture catalogue. Elegant yet understated, it’s the perfect scene for a romantic night on the town. As memorable as the setting is, the food is even more stunning. Chef Giovanni Rocchio prepares an ever-changing array of innovative, modern Italian cuisine. Everything is made on the premises, from the cavatelli, served with osso buco, bone marrow, ricotta salata and porcini mushroom, to the garlicky lobster Bolognese to the delicate final pastries. The restaurant also hosts epic events, often featuring esteemed winemakers and Michelin-rated chefs from the motherland. 

Beachfront: S3

The Gold Coast’s beautiful beaches are on full display at S3: The restaurant offers Atlantic views from nearly every seat. Scenery aside, this place has plenty of appeal, including multicourse share-a-plate-style meals, great drinks and a sultry indoor-outdoor bar scene with live DJs and fire pits. There are ample reasons to head indoors, too, including a well-appointed Southeast Asian atmosphere and a menu of global eclectic fare, like sushi, oak-grilled steaks, mac ‘n' cheese with smoked Gouda and prosciutto, and brisket sliders. 

Seafood: PB Catch

Surrounded on three sides by water, Florida is known for superb seafood. However, when it comes to upscale, sustainable fish, PB Catch tops the food chain. Set on the island of Palm Beach, this pearl offers pristine food in a posh setting. The seasonally rotating selection of oysters is the most extensive in town, from Prince Edward Island Malpeques to Oregon Kumamotos, with pretty much everything in between. And the globally inspired dishes are just as impressive. Look for options like pan-seared Chilean sea bass certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The fare and atmosphere alone are exceptional, but throw in imaginative cocktails like a Blackberry Mint Gin & Tonic and numerous by-the-glass wines, and you have the ultimate seafood joint for the new Florida. 

Brunch: Blue Moon Fish Co.

Set on the Intracoastal Waterway, overlooking multimillion-dollar yachts and svelte paddleboarders, Blue Moon Fish Co. has a sublime view. Fittingly, it is one of the most-exemplary seafood spots on the Gold Coast, with superb food and a brunch that could go head-to-head with any place on the planet. For less than $60 per person, guests tuck into unlimited food and bottomless mimosas, bloody Marys and champagne. There’s an omelet stand, a carving station, a salad bar, and a raw bar with freshly shucked oysters, clams and shrimp. Mini cannoli, cupcakes, ice cream, creme brulee, pastry puffs, parfaits, cookies and more line the finale dessert table. Between the talented chefs and the striking natural surroundings, there’s no better place to spend a Sunday morning. 

Clay Conley

Clay Conley has been around the culinary block. He traveled the globe for a decade as culinary director for Todd English’s Olives Group. He then won numerous awards and accolades as the executive chef of the Miami Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s Azul. Since opening his own Palm Beach eatery, Buccan, in 2011, Conley’s star has only continued to soar. Known for innovative American fare prepared with ultra-fresh ingredients, he was the only Gold Coast toque to garner James Beard Foundation Awards nominations two years in a row. Even so, Conley hasn’t settled for the status quo. He’s added new places to his roster, including modern Asian concept Imoto (inspired by time spent in Tokyo), The Sandwich Shop at Buccan and a highly anticipated Italian concept slated for June 2015. 

 

Photo: Andy Ryan

Alfresco: DaDa Restaurant & Lounge

Set in a historic 1920s home, just steps from the main strip of Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue, fittingly named DaDa Restaurant & Lounge is like an Old Florida artist’s bungalow. A lush banyan tree shades the gravel-lined yard, with lanterns casting soft light from its limbs and benches flanking the trunk. Below the canopy, tiki torches and string lights brighten the wooden tables and chairs for a vibe that’s sultry, cool, slightly eclectic and perfect for the food. Executive Chef Bruce Feingold churns out creative dishes like Lamb Ribs, Pork Belly Waffle Dogs and Caramel Spiced Chicken. Renowned mojitos and an impressive selection of wines are ideal for sipping on warm evenings. Where many prefer to soak in the ocean breeze, this destination spot offers a more bohemian taste of the Gold Coast. 

Burgers: Charm City Burger Company

Taking cues from old-school burger stands, this counter-style shop serves old-fashioned steak burgers with modern, chef-inspired accoutrements. Fast, cheap, delicious: It’s the perfect greasy storm. The Good Ole burger, with or without cheese, costs a mere $5.50. The Big Sloppy, a monstrous pile of double meat, double bacon, double cheese, hash browns and fried egg, still rings in under $10. High-end options are available, too; the Emperor combines an eight-ounce American Kobe beef melt with sauteed mushrooms, aged Swiss and truffle aioli. Want to go really decadent? Throw on a piece of foie gras. Those looking to steer clear of beef should opt for chicken, veggie, lamb, tuna or sausage burgers. To wash the burgers down, the shop proffers a selection of commercial and craft brews, specialty sodas and shakes. 

Cocktail Bar: Sweetwater Bar & Grill

South Florida’s sunshine means that it’s better known for beach bars than cocktail dens. But those looking for a proper drink should head straight for Sweetwater Bar & Grill. The Boynton Beach speakeasy has accumulated a devoted following with its intensive drinks program and cool underground vibe. Co-owner and master bartender Sean Iglehart is the ultimate cocktail geek. A veritable encyclopedia of all things alcohol-related, Iglehart will happily discuss cocktail history, technique and ingredients, showing off rarities like hard-to-find bitters, handmade infusions, elaborate liqueurs, and a garden of fruits and herbs. They’re all essential for combinations like Death & Taxes, a blend of Earl Grey gin, St. Germain, stone pine liqueur, lemon and house tonic. Or request something off the list — he’s happy to shake up pretty much anything and he’ll most likely give it a unique spin, preparing it with the ritualistic precision of a magician performing onstage. 

Darbster

Even those with the best intentions find that the idea of going vegetarian is far easier than actually doing it — unless they come to Darbster. What started out as a haven for South Florida’s growing vegetarian community has turned into a meat-free destination for even the most die-hard carnivores. Meat eaters and vegetarians alike come in droves to this small canal-front West Palm Beach restaurant for vegetarian Buffalo wings, sliders and “fried oysters,” made of cornmeal-crusted shiitake mushrooms. If that’s not enough to get you there, consider the brunch, which griddles pancakes with meatless sausage, and turns up vegan Benedict. The initial location in West Palm Beach saw so much success that the Darbster crew opened a second location, in Boca Raton. So, no matter where you are, there is gratifying and cruelty-free food nearby.

Late Night: Marumi Sushi 

Tucked away from sight, in a nondescript Sunrise strip mall, this authentic izakaya offers late-night food for nearly every Japanese-food craving. Open until 1:30 a.m. every night, Marumi has en excellent selection of noodles, including udon, soba and seven different ramens. Plates extend from snacks like gyoza to more substantial hot pots, including seafood miso and kimchee with tofu. There’s also top-notch sushi and a lengthy list of grilled items — whole squid, spicy lamb steak, Wagyu beef. And that’s just the set menu. On every visit, attentive servers roll over a dry-erase board of specials. Don’t be surprised to find exotic dishes like live orange clam, whole crispy fried smelt, simmered pork feet or spicy fried grouper head, all an excellent end to a late night.

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