Sunday, November 27, 2022

Top Trends in Delray Beach Dining 2021

Here are a few people—and places—that are shaking up Delray’s dining front

In 2021, Delray restaurants moved from soft post-pandemic reopenings to full-bore dining service, whether they had enough help or not. People went out in droves. New places opened. Reservations were a must, well into summer. As we look toward another busy season, here are a few dining concepts that are enlivening our culinary landscape.


Pineapple Grove’s newest additions, both inside The Ray Hotel, are bringing style, glamour and delectable dishes to Delray. Helmed by prominent chef Joe Zanelli, each restaurant has its own personality. Ember Grill features a modern twist on American cuisine, while Rosewater Rooftop is serving up global street food in a lively atmosphere.

“To see Clique and fellow top chefs and restaurant groups relocating or taking interest in elevating South Florida’s culinary scene is exciting to me,” Zanelli says. “In Vegas, we’re used to serving new tourists daily. In South Florida, there’s an opportunity to formulate a closer connection to the local resident and tourist, as there’s more frequency in their visits to a local restaurant. So I’m looking forward to doing that with Ember Grill and Rosewater Rooftop, and I’m looking forward to presenting a unique array of dishes for people to experience and for them to become new neighborhood favorites.”


The locally headquartered, commercial real estate developer Menin created the massive 150,000-square-foot space, and its vendors have brought Delray a slew of refreshing, new and exciting options for locals and visitors alike to enjoy. Bringing an international culinary scene to Delray, here you’ll find Southern fried chicken and good ole’ American smashed burgers alongside sushi rolls, Indian bowls and Mexican tacos.

And a few of its top women chefs…


After leaving her corporate gig behind to invest in her passion for baking, Lee worked at notable venues including the Four Seasons, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and the dearly beloved 32 East before opening up her own bakery, Lovelee Bakeshop, in Fort Lauderdale. Her cakes, famous for their Italian meringue butter cream, are her signature, and are prominently displayed at the Delray Market.


As the owner of Ferdos Grill, a family-owned restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Raquel has brought her Mediterranean fare north to Delray. Here diners can choose from creamy hummus, an array of kabobs, gyros and warm kibbi stuffed with sautéed meat and onions.


Food has always been a big part of Amber’s life. Growing up in New York, her father owned an Italian restaurant and cultivated her passion for good food. Five years ago Amber, with her partner Carson Bennett, started a catering company and opened the first Guaca Go location in Boynton. Now Amber, who grew up visiting her grandparents in Delray every winter, has expanded her guacamole empire to the Ave.


This contemporary space effortlessly blends the feel of a refined whiskey lair with the cuisine of an elegant yet comfortable restaurant. Starters like jumbo lump crab cakes, St. Louis ribs, crispy calamari and smoked fish dip share the menu with favorites including juicy burgers, Wagyu steaks and soaring seafood towers.

But the singular feature that distinguishes Warren from other new entries in Delray is its 900-bottle whiskey library that includes rare golden-hued sips of McCallan 50, Double Eagle Very Rare and Pappy Van Winkle. Damn Good Hospitality Group CEO Jeff John looked to his legendary uncle Warren for inspiration, and now honors his life with his newest west Delray Beach concept.


Delray Beach is indeed welcoming its own share of star power, with celebrity chefs and big-name hospitality firms descending onto its sands to share the spotlight with established and beloved local chefs. We sat down to chat with Michelin-starred chef Akira Back about what his new concept means to Delray’s dining scene as well as local darling Jimmy Everett about his thoughts on our foodie future.


Chef Akira Back. Photo by Greg Samborski

Akira Back, the namesake restaurant by world-renowned Michelin- starred chef and global restaurateur Akira Back, opens this fall in the arts district of Pineapple Grove at The Ray Hotel Delray

Beach, Curio Collection by Hilton. This multi-sensory modern Japanese dining concept, designed by Celano Design Studio, will become Delray Beach’s first Michelin chef-led dining experience, incorporating Back’s diverse culinary influences acquired from his childhood, Korean heritage, and travels throughout the world.

The custom menu will be composed of cold and hot “small plates” served in multiple courses, and the space features a semi-open kitchen and two dining counters, one featuring sushi and one featuring a charcoal robata grill.

“The restaurant will be a melting pot of culture with a focus on my life experiences from traveling the world as a professional snowboarder and chef,” Back says. “It represents the roots of my culture, along with the roots of my culinary training. My passion is to provide a food and beverage experience that is unique and leaves people emotionally connected with aspects of my food, personality and life.”


Chef Jimmy Everett. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

As a Delray native who grew up visiting his grandmother at her Atlantic Avenue office, Jimmy Everett has seen firsthand Delray’s evolution from its small beach town roots. At 17 he left Florida in search of culinary enlightenment and worked his way up through the ranks until he worked under Michelin-starred chef Michael White in both his New York and Hong Kong restaurants. He returned to South Florida with his wife Ilia to open their dream restaurant. After exploring Atlantic Avenue space options, the couple quickly realized that venues were garnering New York City-like rents. Driftwood recently celebrated its three-year anniversary in its Boynton Beach location while Jimmy was busy opening up the fast-casual pasta concept Sorella’s inside the Delray Market.

As for Delray’s dining scene, he appreciates the New York companies coming down. He sees the bar being raised as diner expectations are being refined. While he doesn’t love being stuck in traffic, he likes that he’s seeing better quality food available. He just hopes these new companies aren’t fickle, and really invest in the city.

“As far as the future goes, it’s going to depend on how much the businesses are really putting into it and listening to what people want,” he says. “It seems like they are, but with everything else reopening, what’s going to happen in a year? But I would love to see it continue to grow, and I would love to see that competition. It’s good competition. It’s the type of competition that forces everybody to do better. I thrive off that. I hope to see a good balance of places that can preserve what Delray is and also bring a more elevated and quality-focused product, including service.”

He doesn’t want to just see a New York transplant here. An example he notes is Lionfish, which in his opinion is bringing something better to the area while not simply replicating a concept. The seafood-centric restaurant is working with local fishermen and products, making it feel like it belongs on the Ave.

This story is from the September/October 2021 issue of Delray magazine. For more content like this, pick up a copy on your local newsstand or subscribe to Boca magazine.

Christie Galeano-DeMott
Christie Galeano-DeMott
Christie is a food lover, travel fanatic, bookworm, Francophile, and she believes art in all its forms is good for the soul. When she’s not writing about the incredible dishes, people and places that capture South Florida's culture and vibe, Christie is irresistibly happy in the company of her husband and a glass of red wine.

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