Once there were Proctor’s, Howard Johnson’s, Ranch’s Drug Store lunch counter, Peggy Kellogg’s at Sears, Sportsman Inn, A&W and The Hut — the drive-in hangouts. All were along or just off Dixie Highway-U.S. Highway 1, serving all the “motorcourts” that lined the road, the tourist throughway before the interstate.
They served up fried chicken, clam strips, juicy burgers grilled on flattops with foamy root beer, and spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic-cheese-bread; pasta had not entered the lexicon.
Lunch counters quickly dished up hot dogs with grilled buns, chili on the side; tuna salad sandwiches, and grilled cheese cut on the diagonal, with the soup of the day.
Today, their buildings may remain, but the names have changed. Instead of just food, it’s cuisine, and there are real chefs with creative menus behind the stoves.
Heading south from Okeechobee Boulevard to Southern Boulevard:
Table 26, 1700 S. Dixie Highway. 855- 2660. American comfort dishes with hearty cocktails in an upscale setting with welcoming hosts. Patio dining available. Now open for lunch.
Serenity Garden Teahouse & Café, 316 Vallette Way. 655-3911. Affable Irish host Audrey Farrelly serves traditional teas, sandwiches, soups, quiches, and salads. Occasional events at dinners with wines.
Grato, 1901 S. Dixie. 404-1334. Chef Clay Conley (buccan and Imoto in Palm Beach) and executive chef James Strine (formerly of Café Boulud) kick it nightly at this modern Italian, where pizzas and pastas and crafted cocktails, along with Chef Strine’s specials, wow the crowds frequently coming off the island.
Joy Noodles and Rice, 2200 S. Dixie. 655-5212. A long-timer along the highway and a favorite of the locals, this casual Asian serves gluten-free Thai and Chinese dishes and organic teas in a pleasant storefront setting.
Kitchen, 319 Belvedere Road. 249- 2281. Chef Matthew Byrne and wife Aliza create seasonal contemporary American menus with a number of locally sourced dishes. Their new waiting bar nearby, Prep Kitchen, has an extensive wine list and retail foods. (Note: The couple is working on Patina, at 1817 S. Dixie — a Greek-Israeli seafood centric restaurant.)
Sushi Jo, 319 Belvedere Road. 868- 7893. Another longtime favorite of the neighborhood. Chef Joseph Clark brought sushi to the forefront with this local chain serving fresh sushi and sashimi. Bento box lunches are popular.
Maison Carlos, 3010 S. Dixie Highway. 659-6524. Truly family-run, with Carlos and Laine Farias, and young son Alex at the restaurant. Cozy, with spot-on service, and a French-Italian bistro with seasonal menu.
Lynora’s Market and Deli, 3301 S. Dixie Highway. This is the latest from the Abbenante family, which came out of retirement to open a restaurant on Clematis Street and recently opened another in Tequesta. The market, with grab-and-go fare, is expected to open around the end of March.
City Diner, 3400 S. Dixie Highway. 659-6776. Chef-owned diner with modern twists on old-fashioned favorites. A brunch favorite of the neighborhood as well as islanders.
Belle & Maxwell’s, 3700 S. Dixie Highway. 832-4449. An old favorite eclectic lunch and early wine bar spot. Décor is for sale; sandwiches, salads, and desserts a specialty.
Cholo Soy Cocina, 3715 S. Dixie Highway. 619-7018. Handmade authentic tacos with global Latin influences from chef Clayton Carnes. Few seats inside the tiny space; patio seating arranged to accommodates diners who don’t take out. Local beer.
Rhythm Café, 3800 S. Dixie Highway. 833-3406. Partners Dennis Williams and Ken Rzab are decades-old favorites at this fun, off-the-wall spot in a converted drugstore lunch counter. Fresh, local and creative American fare.
Other notables, close by.
The Regional, CityPlace, 651 Okeechobee Boulevard. 557-6460. Top Chef’s Lindsay Autry’s menu is a paean to her Southern ties.
Hilton West Palm Beach, 600 Okeechobee Blvd. 231-6000. Kitchen’s chef Matthew Byrne consults at the signature Manor restaurant, with chef Miguel Santiago, who puts on a mean pig roast on the patio on weekends.
Tulipan Bakery, 740 Belvedere Road. 832-6107. You’ll meet all kinds at this Cuban bakery to get a café con leche and guava pastry. No tables, only counters.
Souvlaki Grill, 795 Belvedere Road. 655-6333. Greek gyros, fresh salads and other Mediterranean favorites served in a former gas station. Counter service with tables.
Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill, 330 Southern Boulevard. 659-3129. Part of a chain of bar and grills attached to liquor stores, it surprises with consistent salads, burgers, wings, and fish. A locals’ hangout.
Howley’s, 4700 S. Dixie Highway. 833-5691. A ‘50s diner, reclaimed by chef-driven contemporary diner foods. Adult milkshakes. Eclectic, late-night crowd.
Dixie Grill & Bar, 5101 S. Dixie Highway. 586-3189. Craft beer heaven, with bar foods a touch above the norm.
Montezuma Mexican Restaurant, 5607 S. Dixie Highway. 586-7974. Family-owned Mexican that’s held down this strip center for decades. Oaxacan influences.
La Sirena, 6316 S. Dixie Highway. 585-3128. Other chefs dine at this Italian mainstay where the Fiorentino family bring elegance to a strip of Dixie Highway that is, if we’re honest, one long strip mall. Classic dishes and a stellar wine list bring in the coat-and-dress bedecked diners from across the bridge.
Havana, 6801 S. Dixie Highway. 547- 9799. Known as much for its 24/7 takeout window where empanadas fly over the counter, it’s a steady Cuban restaurant with that island’s favorites.
Don Ramon, 7101 S. Dixie Highway. 547-8704. A local treasure, with old-world servers dishing up Cuban favorites, often to live music (weekends).
Wattana Thai, 7201 S. Dixie Highway. 588-9383. One of the first Thai restaurants in the area, it’s a mainstay for both take-out and dining in. Small, but attractive dining room. ¦