It was a crazy year, from hurricanes to Haynie’s mayoral blues. Here’s what we took away as the best, the issues that defined us and our insider picks for don’t-miss people and places.
By Marie Speed, John Thomason and a select committee of people who do, indeed, know it all
BOCA HOT SPOTS AND EMERGING PLAY ZONES
- Louie Bossi at the new Hyatt is the official epicenter of Boca’s downtown on weekend nights. Or maybe all nights. The outdoor patio is always packed, the bar is three deep on Friday nights and the man himself is in the house most nights.
- Little-known fact: The only adult entertainment zone in Boca is around Rogers Circle, where the new Barrel of Monks brewery has set up shop.
- Most under-the radar fun zone: East Palmetto Park Road before the bridge has all kinds of diversions, including ice cream spots and The Beach House restaurant—a local fave steps from the shoreline. AND we might add the tiny—but mighty—M&M Thai.
MOST CHARMING NEW RESTAURANT
The name of Luff’s Fish House derives from the original owner of the property—early Boca resident Ted Luff—but the rest comes straight from the vision (and hands!) of Arturo Gismondi, who also owns the wildly popular and critically revered Trattoria Romana and La Nouvelle Maison across the street. Now Gismondi has a trifecta of Boca gourmet restaurants, this one featuring a Keys-inspired menu with stellar seafood in a 1920s coquina bungalow.
IN MEMORIAM: RESTAURANTS WE LOST THIS YEAR
- Sybarite Pig
- Little Chateau
- Uncle Julio’s
- 32 East in Delray
- Testa’s in Palm Beach
- Piñon Grill at Town Center
AND ON HIS WAY OUT…
Uncle Tai announces he is on his way out of Boca Center after 31 years. A city is in mourning. The Year of the Dog has turned into the year of the sad basset hound. The idea of no more Uncle Tai’s Chicken is almost too much to bear. Almost in-Hunan. Open letter to Howard Tai: Please open up somewhere else.
HANGOUT WE LOVE
Papa’s Raw Bar in Lighthouse Point almost always has a line, and is our pick for a casual Friday night hang with beach vibes, music and memorable binge-worthy wahoo bites. Closer to home, the bar at Frank and Dino’s in downtown Boca is packing them in (and has music).
GREAT FRENCH FOOD WITHOUT THE AIRFARE
Tradition in Deerfield has calf’s liver with caramelized onions that is epic. Jean-Louis and Gloria Quellier have operated Monet Café since 1990, and we like everything here, but the pâté does keep calling us back. Casimir in Royal Palm Place is a highly popular French bistro, and may have the best French bread we’ve had since Paris. Kathy’s Gazebo is a landmark in Boca, with fine dining, attentive waiters and vichyssoise every day, like this is normal. Chez Marie in the Polo Shoppes is a small family-owned restaurant with big talent and classic French dishes. We say coq au vin to start, but it’s all swoon-worthy.
COMFORT FOOD THAT NEVER DISAPPOINTS
Chicken piccata and the pizza buffet at Augy’s, buffalo chicken dip at Legends in Deerfield; breakfast in a skillet at Tom Sawyer’s; chicken Milanese at Jimmy’s Fries to Caviar; the Bolognese sauce at Trattoria Romana.
APPS WE LOVE—AND NOT THE DIGITAL KIND
- Goat cheese croquettes at Max’s Harvest
- Fish dip at Seafood World
- Mussels with bleu cheese at J&J Raw Bar and Seafood Grill
- Seared tuna at Max’s Grille
- Grilled artichoke at Houston’s
TOP 10 FAVORITE THINGS TO ORDER
- Butter chicken at Taj, Deerfield Beach
- Eggplant pancake stack at Mario’s, Boca Raton
- Yellowtail oreganata at Trattoria Romana, Boca Raton
- Pan-seared flounder at Kathy’s Gazebo
- Matzo ball soup at Junior’s, Boca Raton
- Singapore noodles at 5-Spice, Boca Raton
- Fried chicken skins at Funky Buddha, Oakland Park
- Lobster mac and cheese at Charlie’s Fish Fry and Seafood, Deerfield Beach
- Cannellone at Arturo’s, Boca Raton
- Ramen noodles at Nori Thai, Boca Raton
COCKTAIL OF THE YEAR
Mixologists, as they are called now (we used to think of them as bartenders), have run amok the last couple of years crafting designer cocktails so precious it was blasphemy to order two in a row. Our pick for this year’s drink is more like a third-world marriage of convenience: the Piscojito at CVI.CHE 105 in Miami is the best summer drink invented by man.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BISCUIT BLUES
Shout out to the Funky Biscuit, a no-frills bar/club/restaurant with an unlikely home in upscale Royal Palm Place, and a commitment to great bands and blues jams. The Biscuit (named for its signature house biscuits) is your music ticket in Boca, with popular local and tribute bands (The Fabulous Fleetwoods, Turnstiles), the occasional national name (Vanilla Fudge) and classic rock on Wednesday nights.
BEST (ALMOST) COMEBACK
The James Beard award-winning chef and former Mango Gang star Mark Militello and restaurant king Burt Rapoport team up to launch a reincarnation of their much-beloved Prezzo, a Boca hit from the ‘90s known for its signature roasted garlic and focaccia sticks, its fusilli, its legendary pizza. But alas, a scant two months into the partnership, Militello leaves, and Rapoport is adrift with a name and a dream. The show will go on, Rapoport says. We hear the elusive Militello has returned to Josie’s.
BEST REASON TO GO TO FORT LAUDERDALE FOR DINNER
Everyone is swooning over Valentino’s (proper name: Valentino Cucina Italiana), a sumptuous Italian restaurant on Federal off the New River tunnel. Handsome chef Giovanni Rocchio has delivered a place one critic described as “oozing with luxury,” and the food is no different. And it’s pricey. Very pricey. Next door, the chef’s other restaurant is One Door East, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. With a whole roasted lobster that deserves a fan club.
BEST PLACE TO CATCH A MOVIE
Living Room Theaters at FAU is one of Boca’s most civilized ways to experience art-house films in cushy chairs, complemented by an ambitious menu of snacks and entrées. You can watch indie films in a luxury venue with everything from fried risotto bites to pan-seared mahi, braised pork, chicken piccata—the works. And a full bar to top it off.
COFFEE PLACE WE CAN’T RESIST
The Seed is Boca’s first specialty coffee and juice bar (all the coffee is locally roasted) and a mainstay in our caffeine universe. Our faves today are the cold brew nitro and the green matcha latte.
FOOD TRENDS WE LOVE
- Bowls, especially açaí and tuna poke
- Small plates
- Fried chickpeas with Frito dust (see Death or Glory)
- Pizza for breakfast
- Pickle pops
- Communal tables
- Open kitchens
- Beer pairings
FOOD TRENDS WE ARE SICK OF
- Pork belly
- Avocado toast
- Brussels sprouts
- “Farm to table” everything
- Sushi at restaurants that are not Japanese (including the “kosher sushi” at West Boca’s Winn-Dixie)
- The miniaturization of everything, including desserts. If we want pie, we want a big honking piece.
BEST NEW BAR
Death or Glory in Delray is already getting a rep for cool pop-up themed bars, a snow machine at Christmas and those devilish French fries with rosemary. And the tiki bar in the back is the Delray homage to the Keys—only closer.
HEALTHY FOOD THAT ACTUALLY TASTES GOOD
True Food Kitchen opens at the mall, with menu items like a tempeh sandwich and teriyaki quinoa bowl. The reviews are in, and they are very, very good. We know getting excited about charred cauliflower is a stretch, but this is real. Move over, Bloomin’ Onion—the clean eating craze is spreading.
THE INSIDER: THREE AREA BEST-KEPT SECRETS
The Seaside Grill at Lighthouse Cove Resort in Pompano has $5 beers. On the ocean. And WaveRunner rentals. And banana boat rides. Who knew? So much for breaking the bank. We’ve got a vacation in paradise that actually might not threaten the college fund.
Toa Toa should be your answer next time someone complains about no good Chinese food in South Florida. Our enlightened source (who is Chinese-American) swears by Toa Toa (4145 W. 88th Ave. in Sunrise) as authentic and delicious—and covers all the bases: Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechuan, Hunan. And the dim sum. Please. Chef Wong has had a devoted following since 1989, and we know it’s the real deal. The last four words we have for you: House special pan-fried noodles.
Our Place Bar & Grill at the Boca Raton Plaza Hotel on Federal Highway in Boca would be the perfect place for Nick the Lounge Singer (aka Bill Murray) to belt out a few—if it weren’t the perfect secret local hangout. We suspect this is the universal catcher’s mitt of a bar for those nights you do not want to be seen, or maybe you had a fight with your spouse, or you just want a little anonymity—served with a side of karaoke.
CRAFT BEER HEAVEN
South Florida is turning into a beer lover’s dream. For the ultimate laid-back casual beer throwdown, we like Beer Trade Co. (in the former Sonny’s Gelato location), which has 300 different bottled beers (35 to 40 new ones arrive every week), multiple TVs, and a menu that sports fans will love: wings, Boardwalk-style fries, grilled cheese and more.
MOST EXCITING NEW FOOD CONCEPT
The Grandview Public Market in West Palm’s emerging warehouse district near the Armory Arts Center introduces the food hall concept to our area (think Chelsea Market in New York), with 14 trendy vendors, ranging from a noodle bar to a spicy chicken stand to olive oils and cold-brewed coffee. Add in communal dining and gaming spaces, a sleek bar and a chic fitness studio, and we have a winner—our vote for the edgiest lunchtime hangout.
See who else made the Best of Boca 2018 list:
Best of Boca: Food & Drink
Best of Boca: Retail & Business
Best of Boca: People & Lifestyle
Best of Boca: Issues & News
Best of Boca: Arts & Entertainment