Best Palm Beach Restaurants

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Given the astonishing affluence of Palm Beach, it is surprising that the town has relatively few restaurants of particular note. I would have supposed that a concentration of people for whom the final check is not a primary concern would have drawn flocks of aspiring young chefs, keen to make their names and their fortunes. Perhaps the sky-high cost of suitable premises is the primary deterrent. On the other hand, it’s not that there are few restaurants; it’s just that many are rather predictable in character. In the winter high season, places like the Palm Beach Grill (American classics including steaks and burgers) and Café L’Europe (Wiener schnitzel, calf’s liver and chicken Milanese) are so popular that tables are handed down from parents to children like treasured heirlooms. A disproportionate percentage of the snowbirds who arrive each December are New Yorkers, and they have even brought their favorite restaurants with them. Both La Goulue (East 61st Street) and Le Bilboquet (East 60th Street) have Palm Beach outposts that are similarly oversubscribed. However, even if Palm Beach cannot boast a vibrant cutting-edge food scene — maybe it’s just not that kind of place — it is still possible to eat extremely well. The establishments below number among my favorites.

Best Traditional Italian: Marcello’s La Sirena

This family-owned restaurant has a slightly unexpected location, beside U.S. Route 1, 3 miles south of downtown West Palm Beach. From the outside it seems an unremarkable structure, set back from an anonymous stretch of road. But since it first opened in 1986, Marcello’s La Sirena has enjoyed a considerable reputation, and it is one that remains entirely well deserved. Inside, diners are greeted by a striking quartzite bar, beamed ceilings, subdued lighting and tables covered with starched white cloths. The waiters are scrupulously polite and wear immaculate cream jackets. Everything is deeply traditional — this is the Italian restaurant that your parents took you to, in celebration of your mother’s significant birthday — but there is an immediate impression of professionalism and a dedication to excellence. Owner and chef Marcello Fiorentino, who took over the restaurant from his parents, serves a menu of elevated Italian comfort food, backed by an enormous wine list. (It arrived at our table in a massive leather binder, which made it look rather like the Book of Kells or some similarly weighty medieval manuscript.) We opted for classics: lobster ravioli and vongole al forno (baked clams), followed by yellowtail snapper oreganata and saltimbocca alla Romana. All were superbly well prepared and utterly delicious. To complete the experience of time travel, we then opted for zabaione with seasonal berries for dessert. One of the best things about Marcello’s La Sirena is that despite being slightly formal and somewhat conservative, it is thoroughly friendly and unpretentious. When I passed over the Italian reds, quite a few of which come with four-figure price tags, and instead selected a relatively modest $60 Vermentino, the waiter smiled and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about my choice.

Marcello’s La Sirena
6316 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 585-3128

Best Contemporary: Buccan


Chef Clay Conley made his name at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental, Miami (which finally closed early 2019 after a distinguished 17 years). His first Palm Beach venture, Buccan, now offers some of the town’s most imaginative and innovative cuisine. Centrally located, less than a five-minute walk from both The Brazilian Court and The Chesterfield hotels, it occupies a contemporary space with plain white walls, hardwood floors and copper-topped tables. This décor can make it rather noisy, and perhaps as a result, Buccan tends to appeal to a younger clientele that appreciates the lively cocktail bar and celebratory atmosphere. (There are also a limited number of tables on the sidewalk for outdoor dining in appropriate weather.) The menu features creative American cuisine, served as small plates, but intended to deliver outsize flavors. We tried the tempura soft-shell crab with hoisin aioli, hamachi tiradito with Peruvian chiles and lotus root, confit duck leg with a sourdough-scallion pancake and a golden-raisin glaze, and wood-grilled octopus with vadouvan (curry) sauce, confit potato and lentil salad. All were exquisitely presented, and the crab was probably the most memorable iteration of the dish that I have ever consumed. Overall, Buccan is a sophisticated contemporary restaurant that would thrive in either New York or San Francisco.

Buccan
350 South County Road, Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 833-3450

Best Japanese: Imoto

Literally next door to Buccan, Conley’s latest venture is Imoto, which means “little sister” in Japanese. Here, a much more limited menu of principally Japanese dishes emphasizes nigiri, sashimi and classic rolls. In addition to a plate of oysters and a selection of sashimi, we tried the spicy seared yellowtail roll, with cucumber, jalapeño, fried garlic and a spicy sesame sauce, and the salmon roll with cucumber, avocado and miso. The quality of the fish is outstanding, some of it being flown in from Tokyo. Imoto is a smaller, darker and more intimate space than Buccan, making it more conducive to relaxed conversation.

Imoto
350 South County Road, Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 833-5522

Best French: Café Boulud

Outdoor terrace at Café Boulud
Outdoor terrace at Café Boulud - The Brazilian Court Hotel

Although Palm Beach has any number of bistros serving standard dishes of the soupe à l’oignon and canard à l’orange variety, by far the most distinguished French food of our trip was that served at Café Boulud in The Brazilian Court Hotel. Here too, classic dishes are offered — we enjoyed an exceptional salade Lyonnaise with duck confit — but on the whole the menu is “modern French,” with dishes of varying provenance inspired by French technique and the ideas of a celebrated Michelin two-star chef. We particularly relished braised rabbit with maitake mushrooms, bacon and mustard, and sea bass with honeynut squash, spinach, pine nuts and dill. Although many celebrity chefs have outposts of their original restaurant dotted around the world, it can be hard at times to see them as anything other than brand-expanding, moneymaking ventures. This is emphatically not the case at Café Boulud in Palm Beach, which confers additional luster on the stellar reputation of its founder. (Alas, the original Café Boulud on New York’s Upper East Side closed in May this year after 23 years, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Café Boulud
301 Australian Avenue, Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 655-6060

Best Place to Check Out the Social Scene: Ta-boo

Although high society is virtually ubiquitous in Palm Beach from December to April, many of those in the know insist that ground zero is Ta-boo, a celebrated bistro and bar that has occupied a prime location on Worth Avenue since 1941. Despite an unassuming exterior, Ta-boo is larger inside than you might suppose, with a long bar counter, white-cloth tables, rattan chairs and black-and-white-striped banquettes. At lunchtime, the atmosphere is relatively demure, but in the evening it can become decidedly more louche. The food is pleasant if unremarkable, with straightforward bistro fare such as lemon sole with capers and white wine, charbroiled pork chop with a Dijon mustard sauce and rotisserie duck served with a honey-ginger sauce. At lunch, the deviled eggs are accorded great fanfare, but to my taste they are bland — the devil seems to have mellowed with age — and lack sufficient mustard and paprika to enable them to live up to their name. But Ta-boo is all about the people who go there — politicians, movie stars and the exceedingly wealthy — and the legends that have accrued around them. It is claimed by some that the Bloody Mary was invented by a barman at Tab-oo at the request of Barbara Hutton to provide relief from an epically crushing hangover. I have yet to find independent verification of this apocryphal tale, but even if it is disproved, there are innumerable others in a similar vein.

Ta-boo
221 Worth Avenue, Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 835-3500

Best Place to Sit and Stare at the Sea: Seafood Bar at The Breakers


Despite the town’s name, few of the hotels and restaurants in Palm Beach are within sight of the ocean, and most are set back several blocks from the sea. The principal exception is The Breakers hotel, the vast 538-room Renaissance Revival pile, built by Standard Oil and railway tycoon Henry Flagler. The hotel began life in 1896 as The Palm Beach Inn, but when guests began requesting rooms “overlooking the breakers,” Flagler renamed it The Breakers in 1901. Today, the hotel has 10 dining outlets of one kind or another, but my favorite by far is the Seafood Bar, a lovely space with a nautical décor, aquariums, an ocean-facing counter and tables set beside wide windows overlooking the Atlantic surf. There are few more pleasant and stylish places in which to enjoy a plate of Florida stone crab claws, a swordfish sandwich or maybe the pecan-crusted grouper with a coconut-lime sauce, while being gently hypnotized by the onrushing waves.

Seafood Bar at The Breakers
One South County Road, Palm Beach. Tel. (561) 655-6611

Read more about our editor’s trip to Palm Beach

By Andrew Harper Editor Andrew Harper editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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