The next time you find yourself longing for the scent of a sizzling fajita, the sound of ice tinkling in a fruity margarita on the rocks or the special kind of heat a habanero salsa can deliver, check out your local non-chain Latin American or Mexican restaurants. Below are three independently owned eateries in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, each with a distinct character fit for whatever mood you’re in.
Down Home in Latin America
El Sabor Latino Restaurant
9056 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens
Open Monday – Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday – Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This hideaway located on the side of a small strip mall is owned and operated by Edgar and Daisy Perez, who provide very friendly service. Edgar realized his dream by opening ‘The Best Authentic Latin American Food in Palm Beach County,’ according to the El Sabor website. It features warm lighting with small booth seating in an ultra-casual setting. Homemade dishes, Latin music and World Championship soccer in June and July give it a cozy family-owned feel.
Order a mango margarita on the rocks and an Empanada Carne or Pollo ($1.75) with tomatillo salsa to start. Sizzling fajitas are served with the usual flair and don’t disappoint. Especially delicious is the Ropa Vieja ($10.99), a stew-like plate with shredded flank meat, peas and carrots over white rice and pinto beans. For a variety plate, ask for the Bandeja Paise Montanero ($9.99, $11.99 with chicken), which features juicy seasoned sirloin and lemon pepper chicken, pork belly and zesty Columbian sausage. A small children’s menu is available. Of special note, this diner serves a breakfast from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. with a special starting at $3.99, something to remember when the long lines of high season brunches leave you eggless.
Permanent Mexican Restaurant Vacation
Cabo Flats Cantina and Tequila Bar
11701 Lake Victoria Gardens Ave., Suite 5101, Palm Beach Gardens
Open 7 days, 11:30 a.m. to “really late”
For a complete change of scene, don’t miss the turbo-charged Cabo Flats Cantina and Tequila Bar for its Mexican/Southwest fare and party character. Here you feel like you’re on spring break rather than right at home. Opened by local restaurateur Paul Ardaji last spring, this hot spot features a young, sexy staff and a tequila menu that’ll make your head spin. The décor consists of colorful murals, a giant tin star chandelier and an inexplicable water wall backing a stage area. Large green garage doors open the space to outdoor seating that flanks the main bar so a margarita can be downed inside or out.
With over 14 margaritas to choose from, our sociable server Sara recommended the sweet and savory Twilight “Blood Orange,” ($9) a tall libation of blood orange puree, Patron Silver Tequila and Citronage. The salsa is the freshest tasting in town, but order the 4 salsa sampler for variety with your chips. The Queso Fundido appetizer is a satisfying mix of melted cheese served in an iron skillet that disappears fast but save room for the Carne Asada Tijuana ($17), a tender chili adobo skirt steak best done at medium temperature with tomato chile de arbol sauce topped with guacamole and onions.
For dessert split the Cabo Crunch Fried Ice Cream ($8), but if you’re limited on belly space your server can bring you a cone of melt-in-your-mouth cotton candy. With so much on the menu, you’ll have plenty of reasons to return for more.
By 9 p.m. either live or recorded rock music gets so loud you can forget about table conversation, but after several tequila drinks this may be by design, and by now it’s probably bedtime for the kiddies. This fiesta can get rowdy – ole!
Don’t Forgeta La Fogata
La Fogata, Inc.
924 Northlake Blvd, North Palm Beach, FL
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Ok, so technically this restaurant is located in North Palm Beach but just a stone’s throw from the Palm Beach Garden’s line, but hey, tomatilla/tomatatta. This family owned and operated venue now has six-plus South Florida locations but manages to feel like a secret find for an easy Mexican munch with friends. The booth-style seating is separated by dividers for an intimate feel yet the conversational energy circulates amongst sections. You won’t find margaritas here, but a small beer and wine offering is available. Our server, Israel, was charming and helpful with dinner recommendations.
The chicken flautas appetizer ($4.25) is a crispy flour tortilla dish stuffed with chicken, guacamole, sour cream, tomatoes and parmesan, not to be missed. The menu is everything you crave from a casual Mexican restaurant, broken into chicken, pork, beef and seafood, with combination dinner offerings, a ‘Healthy Foods’ vegetarian section and a vocabulary section on the back of the menu for Spanish-challenged patrons. The Pollo a la Crema ($13.25) is a house favorite, consisting of sautéed, saucy chicken with celery, onions and mushrooms. Don’t miss this spot for it’s authenticity without fuss.