The sunshine isn't all that's bright in this coastal paradise. From Cuban classics to local favorites, we've found three can't-miss spots for innovative South Florida cuisine.
Kim Sunee

Affordable Flavor
This area is home to solid examples of Floribbean cuisine, a lighter version of Caribbean and Latin American flavors fused with classic Florida favorites.

Havana restaurant boasts a colorful, funky, 24-hour walk-up window. Inside you'll discover a family style eatery with solid service and happy customers. The Tamal Cubano, fresh cornmeal laced with seasoned pork presented in a delicate slipper of a husk, offers the best bang for a buck ninety-five. Pan con Lechon satisfies with hot, tender pulled pork marinated in fresh oranges and garlic, and then slow-roasted for six hours. It's incredible, as are the braised oxtail and lamb shank.

Portions are copious here. Co-owner Rafael Perez cooks without pork fat or MSG, and you can taste the difference. This is Cuban food at its most authentic and healthiest. You may want to stop by on your way out of town (as I did) for hot Chicharrones de Pollo (seasoned and fried chicken chunks) or fried plantains and a glass of fresh watermelon juice. 6801 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; (561) 547-9799 or www.havanacubanfood.com. Appetizers, soups, and salads: $1.75-$9.45; lunch entrées: $6; dinner entrées: $10-$14.

 

Little Moir's Food Shack
I was warned about Little Moir's, but not because of its location (a strip mall in Jupiter, Florida, about 15 miles north of West Palm Beach with a sign that states: Food Shack). Mainly, I heard that it would be impossible to get in.

Good challenges are enticing, as is Michael Moir's cuisine. I found a seat at the crowded counter next to a regular (everyone who eats here becomes a regular), who also happened to be the founder of the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum, located just across the highway from the Shack. Never mind celebrities, it's the food that captivates.

The crew serves up refreshingly simple and creative fare such as Conch Gazpacho or the fresh catch of the day, crusted with everything from sweet potatoes or yucca to lemongrass or tortillas. Most dishes are served with greens and an unusual dressing, such as banana-blueberry salsa or cherryaki.

I wanted to try all of the daily specials, but it would have taken awhile, and I didn't want to be scorned by the hungry diners waiting to get in. I definitely want to come back to the best little food shack in Florida. 103 South U.S. 1, Jupiter; (561) 741-3626. Entrées: $14-$20.

 

Mark's City Place
Mark Militello has all the right moves. Some consider him one of the chefs responsible for putting South Florida cuisine on the culinary map.

His fourth restaurant, Mark's City Place, is located in the heart of West Palm Beach's shopping and dining district. The menu combines the best of ingredients, offering choices for every diner's palate, including wood-oven fired pizzas, pastas, fresh seafood, and steaks.

You don't want to miss the sleek sushi bar. Sushi chef Roy Villacrusis takes these delicacies to an unprecedented level. This is more than your average California roll--it's true edible art. Roy rants so passionately about sushi, it's bound to turn non-sushi eaters into lifelong converts.

Try the signature buttermilk fried calamari, but save room for the dry-aged New York strip steak, perfectly marbled for incredible flavor. One bite of the accompanying truffled macaroni and cheese, and you'll know why Mark is a former recipient of the prestigious James Beard award for best chef in the Southeast. 700 South Rosemary Avenue; (561) 514-0770. Appetizers and sushi: $2-$20; entrées: $12-$39.

"Palm Beach County" is from the January 2004 issue of Southern Living.