South Florida’s Atlantic coast is dense with seaside towns that serve as escapes for snowbirds in the winter and spring. Names like Palm Beach and Delray Beach evoke thoughts of seaside mansions barely visible behind the thick hedges along Highway A1A. As expected, the streets of Palm Beach are lined with high-end boutiques, like Ferragamo, Tory Burch and Gucci, and Mercedes sedans and BMW convertibles are parked under the palm trees. But you’ll find more than tangible wealth here. The ocean provides an embarrassment of riches—stone crabs, rock shrimp, tilefish, grouper—and a constant stream of fresh fruits and vegetables comes from the region’s farms, thanks to the year-round growing season.
Here are a dozen of the area’s best restaurants: laid-back seafood shacks, a breakfast spot with an unexpected dose of Indian spice, a classic white-linen French bistro and authentic Cuban food at any time of day (or night).
Get in Line
Even regulars like Celine Dion, Michael Jordan and golfer Rory McIlroy wait their turn for a table at Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill, a family restaurant in an old strip mall beside the Seminole Golf Club. Don’t be put off by the exterior—this is the real deal. The vibe is casual (lots of shorts and boat shoes), taxidermied swordfish line the wood-paneled walls, and folks chat over drinks at the cozy horseshoe-shaped bar. When you finally do snag a table, a server will drop off bowls of creamy cole slaw even before you’ve placed your order. You could dine here for weeks without trying half the items on the menu, so here’s a tip: Go straight for the whole Bahamian-style yellowtail snapper. Captain Charlie’s has never advertised, and there’s no sign on the road—you just have to know it’s there. Now you do. 12846 U.S. Hwy. 1, Juno Beach; 1.561.624.9924
Reeling Them In
Since 1984, the fish market Cod & Capers has been selling fresh seafood to area restaurants and hotels (the Breakers and the Ritz-Carlton are huge customers). Last year the market moved to a new location and added a café that serves lunch and dinner. Two standouts: steamed stone-crab claws with house-made mustard sauce, and a grouper sandwich (grilled, fried or blackened) with a side of peas and rice. If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, the market is the perfect spot to pick up fixings for your next meal, such as Florida spiny lobster, yellowfin tuna and swordfish. 1201 U.S. Hwy. 1, North Palm Beach; 1.561.622.0963
Little has changed at Green’s of Palm Beach—an actual soda fountain inside a pharmacy—since it opened in 1938. Sit at a window table for breakfast and you’ll feel as if you were in an Edward Hopper painting. Business types on their smartphones are next to retirees in pastel pants on their way to the golf course. Chatty waitresses will make your waffle to order behind the counter and refill your coffee cup without asking. The citrus cocktail (with orange and grapefruit supremes) serves as a reminder, in case you’ve forgotten, that you’re in Florida. 151 N. County Rd., Palm Beach; 1.561.832.0304
Stepping It Up
For a night on the town with excellent service, look no further than the Palm Beach Grill. Executive chef Andrew Schor creates superb dishes, like Creole shrimp with okra, corn, basmati rice and toasted ciabatta; and a salad made with heirloom tomatoes grown nearby and tossed with blue cheese, basil and champagne vinaigrette. But save room for the star of the show: Key lime pie with fresh whipped cream. 340 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach; 1.561.835.1077
A Palm Beach institution, Chez Jean-Pierre serves such Gallic classics as artichoke vinaigrette and steak tartare with excellent frites. The scene is Old Palm Beach—there’s soft jazz playing, modern art on the walls, starched white tablecloths, oversize floral arrangements and dim lighting (flattering for the clientele d’un certain âge). This is a real family-run place: Jean-Pierre Leverrier himself is in the kitchen (along with his son Guillaume); his wife, Nicole, and their other son, David, run the front-of-house. Reservations suggested. 132 N. County Rd., Palm Beach; 1.561.833.1171
The Restaurant That Never Sleeps
Festive Cuban music blares and the smiling servers, unfazed by the growing crowds, seem to be having as much fun as the customers. This is Havana, a Cuban spot that literally never closes. Lunch and dinner are served in the dining room, but the real draw is outside, where customers order enormous portions of arroz con pollo, ropa vieja and a variety of sandwiches to go from the 24-hour window. The excellent café cubano (espresso) helps fuel late-night visits. 6801 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach; 1.561.547.9799
Breakfast With an Accent
The Pelican, on a stretch of Lake Avenue with a small-town feel, may look like your typical American diner. But the specials board sings a different tune. The red chili chicken keema omelet, for instance, is filled with spicy ground chicken, sprinkled with cilantro and served with grilled naan bread. Owners Tahira and Mohammad Sami offer dishes that give a nod to their homeland, a part of Pakistan whose cuisine resembles that of neighboring India. These specials have become so popular that the restaurant now serves dinner on Friday: Folks come from all over for the spinach and lamb curry or tandoori chicken or fish. 610 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 1.561.582.4992 You could easily while away an afternoon at Dave’s Last Resort & Raw Bar, founded in 1999 by Pittsburgh native Dave Palombo. The wood-paneled room is decorated with rubber flippers, a huge stuffed mahimahi, tin palm trees and colorful fish. Of the dozen brews on tap, six are Florida craft beers, including an excellent Due South IPA from nearby Boynton Beach. Dave’s has the freshest oysters, conch salad and rock shrimp. Try your luck with the steamed clams— a couple of diners once found in one a rare purple pearl that turned out to be worth thousands of dollars. 632 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 1.561.588.5208
Seek Shelter Here
If a hurricane were headed this way, Hurricane Alley would be the place to ride it out. Owner Kim Kelly is often found in the kitchen or chatting with regulars who have come for lunch or the raucous happy hour. Meanwhile, the TV overhead is tuned, appropriately, to the Weather Channel. The menu continues the stormy theme: It’s divided into Category 1 (soups and salad), Category 2 (appetizers), Category 3 (raw bar and seafood) and, well, you get the point. You can’t go wrong with the tennis-ball-sized conch fritters or the soft-shell crab sandwich (Categories 2 and 5, respectively). 529 E. Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach; 1.561.364.4008
When you’re sitting on the breezy patio overlooking the water at Prime Catch, it’s easy to imagine yourself spending winters in Florida. The fish-heavy menu offers no surprises, but no disappointments either. A selection of fish (snapper, mahimahi, swordfish) can be grilled, blackened or broiled. There’s also a good selection of entrée-sized salads here, including a jumbo lump crab Cobb—perfect for those days when you can’t look at another conch fritter. 700 E. Woolbright Rd., Boynton Beach; 1.561.737.8822
A Curious Chef to Watch
A chat with James Mills of Jimmy’s Bistro reveals a mind on the move. One of his passions is collecting sea beans, also known as drift seeds—fruits and seeds that have washed ashore after traveling vast distances in ocean currents. Chef Mills has something in common with these objects: A native of West Virginia, he cooked in New York and Paris before opening his eight-table bistro here four years ago. Locals are glad he washed ashore, bringing with him dishes like seared tilefish with olive-and-basil ratatouille. 9 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach; 1.561.865.5774
A Sunny Disposition
Delray may be close to the beach, but it’s almost impossible to find a waterfront bar and grill here. Enter Sandbar at Boston’s on the Beach. This new outdoor hangout is the quintessential summer-never-ends spot. Among the rum-heavy cocktails are a raspberry mojito and a Key Lime Koolada, made better by a shot of 151-proof rum that’s floating in a test tube in the frozen drink. The food menu includes red-pepper hummus with crudités and jerk chicken wings. Join in a game of cornhole (bean-bag toss), or sit back in an Adirondack chair and watch the waves roll in. 40 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach; 1.561.278.3364
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.