One might think growing up in Delray Beach, Florida would be paradise. You're 10 minutes (or less) from the beach, one hour from Miami, and the locals (like me!) are friendly and laid-back. Instead, I dreamed of living in New York City, with its 24-hour hustle and bustle, changing seasons, and endless run of Broadway shows (I was really into theater as a kid). Now that I actually live in New York, though, I long for trips back to Florida—especially come January and February, when the novelty of a northeast winter has worn off.
When I do make it back to Delray, you're likely to find me somewhere along Atlantic Avenue, a mile-long stretch of restaurants, shops, and bars that starts at the beach. With a thriving food and drinks scene (not to mention, less crowded beaches), it's the undeniable heart of the area. It's also well worth a detour—if not worthy as a vacation destination on its own—from more popular tourist hot spots like Miami or Key West.
From a life-changing crab eggs Benedict to an always-packed taco joint serving up the best spicy margaritas, here are just a few (emphasis on few) of my favorite Delray Beach spots.
Tucked away just a few blocks off Atlantic Avenue in the Pineapple Grove Arts District, Brulé Bistro is one of the first meals I eat after landing. I always order their crispy broccoli with hummus and smoked fish dip, but my absolute favorite is the chicken and waffles (cornbread waffles, to be specific), served with cheddar, bacon, a chipotle aioli, and plenty of maple syrup.
You'll be hard pressed to find better tacos (served on house-made tortillas) in Delray Beach than the ones at El Camino. But even better than the food is their extensive tequila selection and signature margaritas. You can't go wrong with any variation on the menu, but I almost always opt for the guava-habañero.
Set in a quiet shopping center just across the street from Brulé Bistro, Papa's Tapas is a must-visit for its cozy atmosphere and perfect-for-sharing bites. Make sure to order a pitcher (always a pitcher) of their famous red sangría, sizzling garbanzo beans in a peppery pisto sauce, ham croquetas, and—if you're really hungry after a long, hard day at the beach—their paella Valenciana with shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams. (In the highly unlikely event that you're still hungry after, head just a few doors down to Two Fat Cookies for dessert.)
For a quick, casual bite off Atlantic Avenue, check out the Ramen Lab Eatery, where they specialize in fresh, house-made noodles and poke bowls. My usual order: ramen tonkotsu with a rich pork broth, braised pork belly, and a soft-boiled egg; lobster and shrimp gyoza; and a nice cold beer.
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I only checked out Wood & Fire for the first time on my latest trip home, but after just one visit you can bet I'll be coming back again and again. About a 15-minute drive from the beach (well away from the crowds of Atlantic Avenue), this hidden gem is a new local favorite for its airy outdoor bar and patio, killer wood-fired pizzas (I got the Grandma and Buffalo Chicken), spicy fritto misto (crispy calamari and shrimp), and super-friendly service.
With an eclectic menu ranging from excellent crab cakes to crispy sumac chicken, Dada has been a fixture in the Delray dining scene for as long as I can remember. It's located in one of the oldest historic homes in the area—the Tarrimore house, built around 1924—so eating here also counts as a cultural experience in my book. I prefer to dine outside underneath the huge banyan trees and string lanterns (sipping a mojito, obviously), but inside you'll find a comfortable bar and live local music most nights.
Right across the street from the beach, Caffe Luna Rosa is home to what is maybe my favorite eggs Benedict ever. They also have a delicious Italian menu of antipasti, pastas, grilled local fish, but their brunch cannot be missed. My dad and I always order the lump crab meat Benedict, plus a round of mimosas— the fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice really can't be beat.
Opened in 1951, Doc's All American has been my family's go-to for post-beach milkshakes, burgers, hot dogs, and soft serve ice cream since I was a toddler. You can go to the walk-up window in a bathing suit and flip-flops for a low-key bite—there's nothing more Floridian than that.
Only a few minutes away by car from Atlantic Avenue, Saltwater Brewery is Delray's first microbrewery. It has a tasting room, palm tree-covered beer garden, and—the best part—a rotating lineup of local food trucks in the parking lot. You can taste a nice mix of their seasonal and special-release beers, like their Grapefruit Gose and Cinnamon Sea Cow milk stout, but I love their flagship Screamin' Reels IPA the most. As an added bonus, Saltwater Brewery gives back to ocean-based charities and uses eco six-pack rings, which are compostable and naturally degrade when left in water.
Are there any Delray Beach spots that I missed? Add them to this list in the comments!