Openings: Taco Chula boasts ‘handsome’ tacos in the Gardens

You’d never guess Taquería Taco Chula just opened last week – many of the customers streaming into the charming taco shop Friday were greeted by name.

Palm Beach Gardens’ newest restaurant already has regulars even though it is not so easy to spot from Military Trail, out front. The small, Mexican-style taco spot is tucked into the corner of the Abbey Road Plaza, just south of PGA Boulevard.

Delicious duo at Taquería Taco Chula. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Delicious duo at Taquería Taco Chula. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

RELATED: 5 best places for tacos in Palm Beach County, readers say

But there’s a reason for the repeat customers – the tacos. They’re authentic and delicious. They get top billing in a well-focused menu that includes burritos, quesadillas, tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and gorditas, all stuffed with a choice of five meats or simply veggies.

That means you can have that spicy, heady “al pastor” pork filling in gluten-free corn tortillas (purveyed by Lake Worth’s Gallo de Oro tortillería), in flour-tortilla-wrapped burritos, in fried corn gordita pockets, in cheesy quesadillas or torta-style in fresh, thick-cut telera bread.

Tastes like rice pudding! Refreshing horchata is on tap at Taco Chula. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Tastes like rice pudding: refreshing horchata on tap at Taco Chula. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

Wash it all down with Mexican Coke, a “Jarritos” soda or any of three fresh-made aguas frescas, offered in tamarind, hibiscus and horchata. The horchata is especially destination-worthy – the cinnamon-laced rice punch tastes like rice pudding, but in refreshing liquid form. It makes a perfect, cool pairing for any of Taco Chula’s spicier meats.

The team behind the counter-service restaurant share a great love of Mexican cuisine, though none of them are Mexican. Brother-sister duo Peter Tapia and Dahiana Lainfiesta, who co-own the place with their father and Dahiana’s husband, hail from Venezuela.

“We’ve been eating Mexican food since we were kids,” says Tapia, who moved to Palm Beach Gardens after spending four years in California, where he fell in love with Mexican food. “It’s one of the most amazing tasting food I’ve ever had in my life.”

Tacos and more: the menu at Taquería Taco Chula in Palm Beach Gardens. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Tacos and more: the menu at Taquería Taco Chula in Palm Beach Gardens. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

In opening the taco shop, the family spreads its presence and enterprise in the plaza. Dahiana Lainfiesta owns the Canino Pet Spa grooming shop there. Her artist husband Scott Lainfiesta, who created the shop’s wall art and outdoor wood bar, has an art studio.

So, why the “chula” in the shop’s name? It’s a flirty word that can mean “cute” or “chic.”

At Taco Chula, the word serves as a kind of mission statement, says Tapia.

Taquería Taco Chula is in the Abbey Road Plaza on Military Trail. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Taquería Taco Chula is in the Abbey Road Plaza on Military Trail. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

“It means a handsome taco, or a pretty taco,” he says. “We decided on that name because every taco was going to look perfect, was going to have just the right amount of onions, the right amount of cilantro, the right amount of sauces. So we always strive to have every order perfect.”

Taquería Taco Chula: 10800 N. Military Trail, #108 in the Abbey Road Plaza; 561-530-7755;; open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to close (till the tacos run out, usually about 8 p.m.); closed Sunday.

Openings: New York’s chic Sant Ambroeus debuts in Palm Beach

The long-awaited Palm Beach outpost of Sant Ambroeus, the Milanese restaurant and pasticceria with locations in New York City and Southampton, will debut at dinnertime Saturday, according to a publicist for the fashionable spot. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Pastry palace: Sant Ambroeus, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is beloved for its sweet tooth. (Credit: Sant Ambroeus)
Pastry palace: Sant Ambroeus, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is beloved for its sweet tooth. (Credit: Sant Ambroeus)

The pretty-in-pink ristorante has slipped into the island’s newly renovated Royal Poinciana Plaza, which is home to Hillstone’s popular Palm Beach Grill. It inhabits part of the space where Del Frisco’s Grille operated from 2013 to 2015.

Beloved for its espresso bar, pastries and gelato selection, Sant Ambroeus brings wide-ranging menu options and extended hours (by Palm Beach standards) to the plaza. The restaurant will open every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

On the menu: classics including Vitello Tonnato, saffron risotto, Cotoletta alla Milanese, plus dishes inspired by Florida’s coastal ingredients.

Classics at Sant Ambroeus: Spaghetti all'Arrabbiata. (Photo: Nicole Franzen)
Classics at Sant Ambroeus: Spaghetti all’Arrabbiata. (Photo: Nicole Franzen)

“The menu will focus on seafood and will incorporate local citruses and herbs to accentuate the fresh, luminous surroundings that encompass Palm Beach,” said Executive Chef Marco Barbisotti via news release.

Desserts will include Italian pastries as well as homemade pies and cakes. The drink selection is varied as well, thanks to a full bar: regional wines, cocktails, specialty coffees and teas.

All this in a setting inspired by Italy’s vintage caffe culture. The 174-seat restaurant will serve various roles during the day: It’s a fine dining restaurant in the principal dining rooms, but at the bar it transitions into coffee-bar and cocktail mode.

With roots in 1936 Milan, Sant Ambroeus has seven locations: the original Madison Avenue restaurant, locations in SoHo, the West Village and Southampton. The SA Hospitality Group also operates Sant Ambroeus coffee bars at New York’s Loews Regency Hotel and Sotheby’s. Another coffee bar is planned for the Hanley Building in New York’s Upper East Side.

SA logo
The restaurant has its roots in 1936 Milan.

Now there’s Palm Beach. The location made sense, according to restaurateur Dimitri Pauli, a partner at SA Hospitality Group who owns a home in Palm Beach County.

“We had long considered opening out of New York, but nowhere resonated with our brand until we saw this opportunity at The Royal Poinciana Plaza,” he said via news release.

Sant Ambroeus already has something very Palm Beach-y going for it. It’s pink and gold branding. Think flamingo, with sunscreen.

Sant Ambroeus: Opens at 6 p.m. Saturday at 340 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach





As the dough rises, so does business at Aioli

The sourdough can be a diva. Sometimes she cooperates, but there are times she refuses to give in to the coaxing.

Chef Michael Hackman of Aioli sandwich shop in West Palm Beach knows them well, the whims of sourdough.

Aioli's basic bread ingredients: 'Water, flour and salt.' Plus patience. (Photo:
Aioli’s basic bread: ‘Water, flour and salt.’ Plus patience. (

“It’s a lot of work. It’s very temperamental. You mess up one thing and it’s ruined,” says Hackman, who owns the daylight café with wife/partner Melanie.

Aioli's chef/co-owner Michael Hackman. (
Aioli’s chef/co-owner Michael Hackman. (

He bakes bread daily for the shop’s sandwiches as well as for retail sale. He bakes semolina bread and seven-grain loaves. Within the bread-baking rotation, he makes two types of sourdough bread, a plain loaf and an olive-studded one. But they can be tricky.

Chef Michael Hackman kneads sourdough for bread. (Photo:
Chef Michael Hackman kneads sourdough for bread. (

Part of the reason for the challenge is that Hackman uses no shortcuts.

“I started making sourdough from scratch. We don’t use commercial yeast. We make the ‘mother,’ the culture. We’re making the yeast and watching it grow,” he says. “There was a moment when I literally fell in love with it.”

The handmade loaves sell for $6, $9 and $12.

Preparing bread molds: Hackman at Aioli. (
Preparing bread molds: Hackman at Aioli. (

Hackman’s love of baking – and his customers’ demand for his breads – sparked expansion plans at Aioli. The couple recently began construction on a separate baking facility that will operate adjacently to the café.

“We will be doing all the bread production there, plus a little wholesale,” says Hackman.

Time for a nap: rising dough at Aioli. (
Time for a nap: rising dough at Aioli. (

Also in the works, an Aioli location in downtown West Palm Beach.

“We’re still in the beginning stages,” Hackman says of that spot.

Michael Hackman's olive-studded sourdough beauty. (
Michael Hackman’s olive-studded sourdough beauty. (

Although the business is set to grow, he says it will not change Aioli’s mission to create fresh food using seasonal and many times local ingredients:

“We love to make stuff from scratch here.”

Aioli: 7434 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-366-7741


Feast of the Sea wants to spoil you with tasty seafood this weekend!

Indulging in the best seafood Palm Beach County has to offer doesn’t mean breaking the bank on an impulsive dining experience or special occasion.

Enjoy tasty crustaceans, live music and culinary demonstrations on Saturday, Oct. 22 at the 3rd annual Feast of the Sea Seafood Festival at Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. General admission is free from 11 a.m. to 4 pm. and you’ll pay under $8-$12 a dish. Get more info on other feast festivities here.

Photo: feast of the sea west palm beach
Photo Cred: Feast of the Sea on Facebook/Chasin’ a Dream Photography

This year will be the first time award-winning chefs from restaurants such as Table 427Ristorante Santucci and Sandpiper’s Cove compete in hourly competitions called “knife fights.” Sounds intense, right?

While you’ll have a great time tasting bites of food and cheering on talented chefs for free, there’s a chance for you to join in on the exclusive part of the festival if you’re interested.

Starting at 6 p.m., the daytime feast turns into a private, grand tasting where the culinary marksmen from around town step it up a notch and create sparks in front of the crowd. Tickets will run you between $100 and $175. Get them here.

And there’s not a bad spot on the waterfront because this showdown will be projected on a large LED wall. After four rounds, the last chef standing will be crowned the “2016 Maestro del Mar” and be gifted with a $5000 check. Again, intense.

Photo: Feast of the Sea West Palm Beach
Photo Cred: Feast of the Sea on Facebook/Chasin’ a Dream Photography


The Deets:

What: #FOTS16

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22

Where: Meyer Amphitheater

Cost: Free to attend, $45 to taste and $100+ for a seat at the night show.