Monday, May 29, 2023

Restaurant Review: Tropical Smokehouse

3815 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, 561/323-2573

Tropical Smokehouse is full of surprises.

It’s so casual that you order food and drinks at the bar, pay for them and get a number to put on your table (you can also order by phone from the table). It’s so casual that there are large coolers of sweet tea and water to grab refills. It’s so casual that ashes from the smoker out back might land on your clothing in the outside dining area—but that just adds to the flavor of the experience.

There’s a well-known chef behind the smoky goodness: Rick Mace, who worked for years at Café Boulud and is now co-owner here because of his love of SoFla flavors and barbecue.

The food is top-notch, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but this restaurant location hasn’t had much luck before. That’s changed now, and it happened during a pandemic. The other half here is Jason Lakow, who was co-owner of the spot’s previous incarnation, Mazie’s, as well as former general manager of Café Boulud.

Surprises at our table appeared all night, with almost each dish served. Mace’s efforts to meld tropical flavor with barbecue standards were evident and worked well. The hot and sweet hushpuppies ($7) were light, airy, crunchy balls of tangy goodness that went “poof!” in your mouth, with or without the delicious honey butter served alongside. The sour orange wings ($8) were moist and tender with a great flavor.

The tender brisket ($16) landed with a Cuban espresso sauce that was both smoky and dark with coffee flavor. It melded with the brisket perfectly, turning it from just good to great in the “totally unexpected” slot. All dishes were served in a partial family style—all the meats were on one platter with the sides, for instance. It was a great setup for sharing.

Even the music was a perfect BBQ background: Post-WWII country with Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Jerry Reed, Waylon Jennings. Take a homemade corn tortilla chip, scoop the homemade chorizo queso ($10) and sing along, on the way to the baby-back ribs (half-rack was the special, $25) with Carolina sweet sauce and mustard sauce.

A return visit is mandatory, and happy hour—when all “snacks” (starters) are half off—is a perfect time to try the BBQ meatloaf; the pulled pork, guac and crispy onions sandwich; or the hot dog “medianoche.” No reservations are taken here.

Leave a bit of room for the orange-white chocolate chip bar ($3), the mango cheesecake ($5) and the pineapple carrot cake ($6), just some of the homemade desserts that hit all the right combos of sweet and tangy.

There isn’t another restaurant like this. That’s the point, and Rick Mace should be rewarded with a faithful following for his unique brand of Florida/Caribbean/Cuban-influenced barbecue dishes. If this is a trend, we are hopping on the train with our ribs covered in both sweet and mustard sauces.


PARKING: Parking lot

HOURS: 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m. daily; closed Mondays

PRICES: Entrees $9.75-$25


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This story is from the May/June 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

Lynn Kalber
Lynn Kalber
Lynn Kalber was raised in Boca Raton and has always worked in Palm Beach and Broward counties. She is a career journalist, with 26 years at The Palm Beach Post alone, where she wrote feature and food articles, edited the food section and wrote about wine as part of the Swirl Girls.

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