The Restaurant Year in Review

Well, 2022 is now behind us — and what a wild ride it was. We watched with outrage as Russia rolled its 40-mile war armada into Ukraine and launched its merciless war. And we cringed at America’s record-setting inflation took its daily toll, especially on food and gasoline. A plethora of other issues emerged, including product shortages, contentious mid-term elections, severe labor shortages, political and business scandals, an open border leading to uncontrolled influx of migrants, human trafficking, drug cartels, fentanyl deaths (now the #1 cause of death for 18-40 year olds), and refugee overflow. We also witnessed out-of-control crime waves terrorizing our cities, devastating forest fires and natural disasters including Hurricanes Ian and Nicole here in Florida, the passing of a beloved queen, the rise of a new king, a new Supreme Court Justice, a historic and polarizing Supreme Court ruling, the RSV virus, Monkey Pox, the Slap, and a crippling end of the year blizzard forcing thousands to spend their Christmas holiday in an airport. Yes, 2022 was a tough year — but it hit the restaurant industry particularly hard. Already dealing with slim margins and lower customer bases due to remote working, restaurants were now faced with drastically higher costs (from food and labor, to utilities ad rent), along with drastic labor shortages, increased crime, and the still-lingering effects of COVID. Moreover, the high inflation directly lessened consumer’s disposable income.

Yet despite all the adversities, new restaurants still opened in our little corner of paradise. The national big guns basically shunned the Boca/Delray market last year (signaling, I surmise, a saturation point), although we did attract a few regional concepts like Sixty Vines from Texas and Naples-based Skillets. But the vast majority of new openings came from local restaurateurs expanding their market presence, along with eager mom ‘n pop startups, the true backbone of the restaurant industry. And of course, we also lost many restaurants, including some long-time favorites. And so, my fellow foodies, here again is your guide to our culinary comings and goings, in something I like to call, “The Restaurant Year in Review.” 

NOW OPEN As always, the lion’s share of new restaurant action occurred in downtown Boca, and Royal Palm Place lead the way with two notably spectacular additions. First, Medi Terra Western Mediterranean took over the Ristorante Sapori’s recently vacated space. We were sad to see the iconic Sapori end its three-decade reign, but Medi Terra more than fills the void, with its unique and utterly delicious western Mediterranean cuisine. This is no falafel & gyro shop, mind you — but rather a sophisticated, chef-driven experience featuring a cross-blend of Italian, Spanish, southern French, and Portuguese fare, along with a few Greek and Moroccan touches. Royal Palm Place also welcomed the new Le Sorelle (taking the former Vespri Siciliani space), extending the same authentic Italian cuisine, personal service, and magnificent charm of the original north Boca location to downtown. As its loyal core of devotees and newcomers alike agree, Le Sorelle is unquestionably one of the very best, most authentic, and most hospitable Italian ristoranti around (with the best Fettuccine Carbonara I’ve ever had). Royal Palm Place also welcomed AlleyCat, presenting its unique Japanese Izakaya (meant-for-sharing “tapas”) concept, along with Mercato Italiano in the former GourmetPhile spot, Kixi Café, and Original Fat Cats sports bar & live music venue. Nearby Palmetto Place welcomed Koee & Toast, the short-lived Santa Anna, and then its successor American Tapas Bar. Meanwhile, Mizner Park finally started filling some of its major vacancies, beginning with Strike 10 Bowling, a bowling alley/arcade/restaurant & bar emporium to the empty Uncle Julio’s spot. Long-term tenant Kapow Noodle Bar relocated to a bigger, better space formerly occupied by The Blue Fish, while casual eateries Subculture Coffee Roasters, Cielito Artisan Pops and Pure Green also opened new shops in Mizner Park. Then in December, Serena Pastificio breathed new life into the former Tanzy location (at the iPic theatre), with an updated menu and desperately needed renovation into a lighter, brighter, and more inviting setting. The short-lived Mr. Goode’s Chinese Takeout opened a few blocks down on S. Federal (taking the former spot of the beloved Stateside Sandwiches), and was then succeeded by Big In Japan, introducing Boca to real authentic Japanese hand rolls and specialty cuisine. Closer to the beach, Peter’s Pizzeria opened on E. Palmetto Park Road.

Many restaurants opted instead for the convenience and accessibility of central Boca. Most notably, Sixty Vines opened in the Shops at Boca Center, taking over the abandoned Brio space. With its warm, inviting “living room” leading into a stunning interior, expansive ‘wine on tap’ program, contemporary cuisine, and authentic brick oven artisan pizzas, Sixty Vines quickly became Boca’s new must-try hot spot. Boca Center also saw the short-lived Carma Cucina Moderna open, taking the space of fellow short-term Italian Vivo, while The Blue Dog moved into the old Zinburger space in the nearby Town Center mall. In the Garden Shops of Boca Del Mar, Boca Fish House took over the long-held space of Monet Café, with Chef Daniel Cournoyer cranking out fresh seafood in a relaxed, personable setting. The Garden Shops also welcomed Skillets, offering its expansive menu of sensational egg creations, signature Skillets, sandwiches, exceptionally friendly service, reasonable prices, and down-home comfort; along with Pure Green (juice and smoothie bar) right next door. Sushi Sake expanded from Miami into in the nearby Del Mar Village, taking over the former Boston Market free-standing parcel. Java’s Ice Cream & Pops opened in the adjacent Palms Plaza, but didn’t last very long; while Larry’s Ice Cream & Café opened on St. Andrews Blvd.

Heading a bit north, the Fifth Avenue Shops on N. Federal welcomed Eat District, introducing its own unique pan-Asian spin on the popular (and healthy) “Build Your Own Bowl” trend, with global ingredients like Korean potato noodles, roasted bok choy, beef Bulgogi, sweet potato glass noodles, miso salmon, Vietnamese grilled pork, etc. — plus a full menu of hot appetizers, poke bowls, noodle dishes, stir-fries, Bahn Mi sandwiches, boba teas, and so much more. You can ‘eat in this district’ every day for a full year, and never have the same dish twice! Arun’s Indian Kitchen/Taco Masala also opened in the The Fifth Avenue Shops. This eatery offers authentic, “gourmet” Indian fare (tandoori-baked butter chicken, lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka masala) and its signature Indian Tacos at affordable fast-casual prices. Amore Italian Cafe, How ya Dough’n Pizza, Meatball Room, Carne Argentine Steakhouse, and The Hen & The Hog (all on N. Federal Hwy), Chili Crab on Dixie, La Condesa on Airport Road (in the long-vacant Sammy J’s space), Herb N’ Roots on NW 20th Street, Leziz on Glades, and Holy Shakes in the Polo Shops also took on new northern Boca addresses.

Meanwhile, western Boca witnessed somewhat of an Asian invasion, as Ramen Lab Eatery expanded its popular Asian fusion concept to Mission Bay Plaza. Skyƒn Asian Bistro took over The Red Boat’s former home on W. Glades Road, Zhen Wei Fang Chinese opened in The Reserve on Congress, and Zen Sushi + Robata Grill entered the new Uptown Boca development — which also welcomed Naked Taco and Sloan’s Ice Cream to its restaurant roster. Embarcadero 41 Ceviche & Rolls then brought its popular Peruvian & Japanese marriage to the Home Goods Plaza on W. Glades Road, taking the former Honey Baked Ham locale. 

Of course, Delray Beach saw its share of new restaurant openings as well. Pagoda Kitchen took the former Apeiro spot in the Delray MarketPlace. The latest project of Boca’s favorite restaurateur Mr. Burt Rapoport brought a much-needed taste of elevated Chinese fare, including its signature Peking Duck. Then Chef Akira Back opened his eponymous Japanese project, Akira Back into the new Ray Hotel. We also saw the birth of The Falcon on 6th Ave. (replacing the cherished Death or Glory), paying tribute to the original Falcon House, with an adventurous global street food menu and quirky vibe. Pour & Famous reopened its local watering hole on West Atlantic, while Bar 25 Gastropub (in the old Mellow Mushroom spot), the newly reborn Oceanside Grocer (aka “The O.G.”), and Lulu’s Café also entered the Delray scene. The Delray Beach Market food hall also took on a few new tenants, including Freshop, Jamón Jamón, La Casona, Maison Bouchard, Shì-Chang, and Chuck And Patty.

“SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED” But alas, the restaurant gods wield a vicious saber indeed, and struck down many valiant warriors last year, from hopeful newcomers to long-time veterans. To wit, the aforementioned Ristorante Sapori in Royal Palm Place has been one of the ‚nest and most highly regarded Italian restaurants for over thirty years — but Chef/Owner Marco Pindo decided to bow out gracefully (Arrivederci, Chef Marco!). Fellow upscale Italians Vespri Siciliani (also in Royal Palm Place) and Tanzy in nearby Mizner Park also folded their hand last year. Speaking of beloved veterans, we bid a fond farewell and tipped a final Guinness to Mizner Park mainstay Dubliner, which closed its friendly Irish doors for the last time. Downtown Boca also lost Tucci’s Kitchen, Uncle Pinkie’s Deli, and D’Cuban Bistro (all on E. Palmetto Park Road), Santa Anna Bar & Grill in Palmetto Place, Baja Cantina, Zuco Juice Bar, and Mr. Goode’s Chinese Takeout on Federal Highway.

In central Boca, the one-of-a-kind Rex Baron shuttered its unique themed restaurant and adjacent virtual reality lounge in Town Center mall. What a shame, as Rex Baron offered great food, a totally unique atmosphere, and a great bar scene with live music — plus the only VR lounge around. Unfortunately the company focused more on creating its expensive “Vigilante Outpost” and custom-outfitted “warrior survivors” than it did on marketing – and its post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-like “Survivor’s Kitchen” theme just never caught on. The Poke Company in Palms Plaza, followed by its replacement Java’s Ice Cream & Pops, Vivo in the Shops of Boca Center, and its successor Carma Cucina Moderna, The D in Delicious (Village Point Shops), and the ill-fated Balux Night Club in the Gardens Shops (remember the old Club Boca Site?) all likewise went dark. Northern Boca also witnessed many restaurant failures — including, sadly, Tucker Duke’s on North Federal, which had developed a cult-like following for its ridiculously good burgers, craft beers, and other comfort favorites. Other north Boca eateries who never got to flip their “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign back around include Seafood Street Eatery on E. Yamato (fantastic food & service, but lousy location), The Red Boat on Glades Road (incredible Vietnamese-Korean fusion), Zen Wei Fang, and Tempura House (both in The Reserve); and Dragon Pho, La Rural, Mama Sue’s, Fit Fuel Smoothies, Beehive Kitchen, Aloha Food Shack, Ahtziri Mex Grill, and Ash Cigar Bar, all on N. Federal Highway.

Delray Beach lost the revered Death or Glory, along with Meso Beach House on E. Atlantic, Taru at the Sundy House, and Banyan; plus short-lifers Pour & Famous, Amazon Emporium Brazilian Café, and Joyfull Refresh Bar. But the most dramatic shakeup came to the relatively new Delray Beach Market food hall, which lost nearly all of its remaining restaurants, including original tenants Tanuki, A Modern Rose, Alpine Sausage, Bona Bona, Dad’s Favorite, Ferdo’s Grill, Guaca Go, and Roots, along with newcomers Freshop, Jamón Jamón, La Casona, Maison Bouchard, ShìChang, and Chuck And Patty.

2022 forced even some long-standing veterans to fold their cards. But at least they got to play the game for a while – many hopeful newcomers didn’t even last one year. Carma, for instance only lasted a few months. Other newbies who never got to celebrate their rst birthday include Tucci’s Kitchen, Uncle Pinkie’s Deli, D’Cuban Bistro, Mr. Goode’s, Java’s Ice Cream, Carma, The D in Delicious, Vivo, Zen Wei, La Rural, Ahtziri, Ash Cigar Bar, Freshop, Meso Beach House, Jamón Jamón, La Casona, Maison Bouchard, Shì-Chǎng, Santa Anna Bar & Grill, and many more (Whew!). Yes, last year was tumultuous on all fronts, including our local dining scene. But we also landed some exciting new restaurants, and 2023 is already off to a good start, with several major new ventures in the works, including some scheduled to open by the time this article goes to print. And so, my fellow foodies, here’s wishing you all a fantastic 2023, full of health and happiness — and of course, Good Eatin’!

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