Written By: Phillip Valys
Photos By: Michael Laughlin
South Florida SunSentinel
Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue is growing even bigger, with a new wave of upscale restaurants and lively bars popping up along the touristy, tree-lined mecca.
Swarms of new developments on Atlantic (nicknamed “the Ave” by locals) have fueled this flurry of activity. One big reason: West Atlantic Avenue, the blighted cousin of swanky East Atlantic Avenue, is on the verge of booming. In April the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency approved a deal to give away seven acres of controversial land between the 600 and 800 blocks of West Atlantic. The land, valued at $17 million and sitting in the heart of the city’s African American neighborhood, is being given away for free to developer BH3 Management. (Well, almost free: The city charged the developer a $10 fee.)
A restaurant industry veteran, Barbagallo has spent the past few months sprucing up the Rooster, a squat, boxy storefront splashed with an eye-popping mural of jagged red stripes. While Atla West is years away from completion, he plans to incentivize visitors now with cheap craft cocktails ($5 and up).
With the influx of new Atlantic Avenue eateries, of course, comes extra foot traffic from foodies and tourists. In March, the city announced they’d begin cracking down on where patrons can socialize outside bars. Some 20,000 people pack the Ave’s sidewalks during winter weekends, surging as high as 40,000 during special events, despite the city’s attempts to rein in the number of local festivals.
Even so, Atlantic Avenue is bursting with new bars and eateries. Before you do your culinary crawl, take this tour of Delray Beach’s newest hotspots, broken up into four categories to best suit your appetite.
181 NE Second Ave., 561-562-8399; noon-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sundays
What it is: In Pineapple Grove, the trendy art district two blocks north of Atlantic, this pit stop (next door to the old Max’s Harvest) is a hole-in-the-wall from chef-owner Hiro Yamamoto (Ebisu in Palm Beach Gardens). Opened in February, this izakaya (basically a Japanese pub) is tiny (six barstools at a lunch counter) and its menu is even smaller: seven items. “We tried to go really small with no chairs like in Tokyo,” Yamamoto explains. “In Tokyo, you stand, you eat ramen, you go. But this is Delray.”
Why you should go: The Japanese A5 Wagyu beef appetizer ($20, lightly seared with bok choy) is a must-try, and the bar lists the cattle’s breeding paperwork. There are four ramen bowls (tonkatsu, shoyu, miso or vegan; $12-$14), cold ramen salad and a pork-belly bowl with ginger, scallions and seaweed. For drinks, there’s beer, sake and green tea.
The Real Poke
123 E. Atlantic Ave.; 561-450-6696; TheRealPokePlace.com; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
What it is: Across the street from Atlantic Avenue staple Rocco’s Tacos is this fast-casual poke eatery from chef-owner Gio Tavares, who fell in love with the dish while living in Hawaii. The restaurant opened in late March with partner Eduardo Machado.
Why you should go: While the trendy, Hawaiian-born seafood bowl is ubiquitous in South Florida, there’s no such thing as too much raw tuna marinated in soy sauce. The kitchen (the storefront is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tiny) offers build-your-own bowls, which includes choice of base (white or brown rice, baby kale), proteins (from Scottish salmon to spicy ahi tuna), toppings (from edamame to scallions) and sauces (from shoyu to garlic aioli).
4 E. Atlantic Ave.; 561-330-4639, Tapas35.com; 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 5-10 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays
What it is: This Mediterranean tapas spot, next door to Tin Roof, comes from restaurateur Marcos Alexandridis (formerly of the Oliv Pit in Boca Raton), a Greek-born former soccer star whose idea for a tapas bar was inspired by the dishes and live jazz he spotted while traveling the Mediterranean. The dimly lighted eatery features a circular bar ringed in red lights, black leather-tufted banquettes and cubism art on dark-stained walls.
Why you should go: “We’re a cocktail bar that happens to offer live jazz and tapas,” Tapas35 manager Garry Clark says. He’s not kidding: There are 22 craft cocktails, including Ghost Island Treasure (rum, honey, fig, lime, Creole butter), and 23 small plates ($6-$29), such as pork belly and lamb burger sliders, moussaka and grilled octopus. Its late-night happy hour is 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
L’Acqua Ristorante Italiano
110 E. Atlantic Ave.; 561-563-7492; LacquaRistoranteItaliano.com; noon-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Who they are: Opened in late December, this fine-dining Italian spot – in the center of Atlantic’s tangle of restaurants and retail shops – comes from Miami-based owner Giuseppe Bevilacqua.
Why you should go: Traditional Italian dishes are served on white tablecloths under blue beach umbrellas. Menu highlights: A variety of risottos ($32.75-$34.75), filet mignon fiorentina ($45.75) and linguine bathed in white wine and clams and garlic ($29.75), and lobster and king crab (when in season).
Cena Cucina Italiana
9 SE Seventh Ave., Delray Beach; 561-330-1237; CenaCucinaItaliana.com; 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday
Who they are: Replacing the former Osteria Salina that shuttered in October (and before that, Cena Modern Italian Restaurant), Cena Cucina brings Italian fare to this historic two-story house-turned-restaurant. General manager Paulo Accarpio (DeVito in Miami Beach, Bice in Palm Beach) runs the kitchen, which sources fresh-baked bread from Miami’s Sullivan Street Bakery and pasta from Dania Beach’s Mrs. Pasta.
Why you should go: “We’re a small, cozy house that transports you to Italy,” Accarpio says of Cena (pronounced “chain-ah”). Diners eat amid candlelit tables and limestone-textured walls, with views of a wine cellar ($12-$18 per glass) recessed into the dining room wall behind glass. Highlights: a pan-seared Atlantic salmon in a mustard crust, with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach; and a 14-ounce veal chop covered in porcini mushroom glaze.
524 W. Atlantic Ave.; Bearded-Rooster.com; 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday and 2-10 p.m. Sunday
Who they are: Opening April 26, owner Stefano Barbagallo’s dive bar toasts his Sicilian heritage (Barbagallo translates to “Bearded Rooster”) inside a squat historic building that’s housed multiple businesses since the 1930s, most recently Vintage Tap in 2017. Inside are dartboards, free-to-play old-school video games, lounge chairs and a giant rooster mural behind the bar. Its 1,200-square-foot backyard patio is decked out in market lights and artificial turf, a bocce ball court and potted herb plants.
Why you should go: All cocktails ($10-$11) are crafted with fresh basil, rosemary and mint leaves picked from Barbagallo’s garden, and include Snozzberries (Hennessey Black cognac, blackberry puree, dry vermouth) and Card Y Bee (Beefeater gin, Cardamaro, raspberries and egg whites). Well versions of the same drinks cost $5-$6. There are wines ($5-$6) and beer ($5-$6) is limited to draft suds like Coors and Narrangansett. Delray Beach police, fire and city officials get 20 percent off discounts.
8 E. Atlantic Ave.; 561-265-5310, TinRoofDelrayBeach.com; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Who they are: Barbecue and live music? Count us in: This Nashville-spun chain, which opened its first South Florida outpost in January, comes from partner-CEO Bob Franklin and replaces the old Smoke BBQ. Its Atlantic Avenue-facing patio is massive, with blue-striped chairs under red beach umbrellas and a live-music stage. Inside, there’s a second live-music stage framed by reclaimed wood walls and a wraparound bar beneath a pressed tin ceiling.
Why you should go: Along with 16 beers on tap, there are 14 cocktails (order the Brown Sugar Old Fashioned, $10) and nine wine varieties ($8 per glass). Southern-inspired comfort food dominates the menu, including chicken and waffles ($14) and voodoo shrimp in Creole sauce ($16). The bar also hosts trivia and karaoke nights.
Proper Ice Cream
75 SE Fourth Ave.; 561-455-4463; ProperIceCream.com; 3-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays
Who they are: Opened April 3, owner and New York native Rick Felberbaum’s 750-square-foot ice-cream shack may be small and scrappy but it churns out 50 big, experimental flavors such as Black Sesame, Orange Creamsicle and Glazed Donut. Find it two blocks south of the Ave, behind the new iPic Delray, in a building decorated in a mural depicting a cartoon scientist and what looks like a grumpy mongoose.
Why you should go: Before it opened, the only place to find Proper’s scoops was chef Clay Conley’s ultra high-end kitchens Buccan and Grato, which served Felberbaum’s desserts. “I learned so much about flavor contrasts and butterfats and Clay gave me so much confidence,” says Felberbaum, 62, a semiretired real-estate attorney. There also are 12 cone varieties, from Red Velvet to Blue Corn ($7.25 for one scoop, $12.25 for three).
iPic Delray Beach
25 SE Fourth Ave.; 561-359-5844; iPic.com.
Who they are: An eight-screen, 429-seat cinema, iPic Delray takes the movie theater experience and swathes it in padded luxury. We’re talking reclining leather pod seats decked out with pillows and blankets, a swivel table and call buttons to flag down servers. The lobby, adorned with mossy wall installations, features a full bar, and the venue boasts a 329-space parking garage.
Why you should go: Along with those creature comforts, iPic’s menu (no concession stands here) was designed by two-time James Beard award winner Sherry Yard, the Boca-based theater chain’s COO. They specialize in fine-dining dishes, including turkey sliders and spicy tuna on crispy rice, lobster rolls with Old Bay potato chips and a Green goddess burger topped with smoked Gouda cheese. Oh, and there’s free, unlimited popcorn.