Fast Cars, Slow Food

Daytona Beach’s reputation for dining catches up with its race cars.

It started with a hot dog on the boardwalk and ended with warm guava and mascarpone cheese risotto. My last trip to Daytona Beach was a gustatory orgy that demonstrated the breadth of the famous beach town’s personality and dining pleasures.

Of course its two most famous personality quirks – its spring break-crazed, drive-on beach and international speedway – influence its popularity, but also its cuisine in unexpected ways.

The ice cream, pizza, and hot dog stands that line the beach boardwalk are emblematic of its beach-abandon spirit. Huddled around centerpiece Main Street Pier, they are the last holdouts of a way-of-life and reputation for classic, frivolously tacky beach town.

The historic pier itself undergoes restoration with expectations of a new and improved version of the restaurant that has been operating along the circa-1900 landmark, while locals protest that fine dining here would be oxymoronic.

A notch above typical beach fare, Ocean Deck, steps from the pier, is a favorite for seafood lovers, with a youthful vibe and views of the wide sands. A different pier to the south in Daytona Shores, a different restaurant: Crabby Joe’s at Sunglow Pier is a favorite for breakfast with the crash and hiss of waves underfoot.

Here, south of bustling Daytona Beach proper, the town’s reputation for racing first got the green flag.

Long before there was an International Speedway, guys with last names like Ford, Chevrolet, and Olds came to test-drive their cars on the wide, hard-packed sands. Before long, racing established a track that ran down A1A to the South Turn and back up the beach to the North Turn.

Here tastebuds collide with heritage at the Racing’s North Turn restaurant, where historic NASCAR photos and memorabilia decorate walls, and the signature Russ Truelove Prime Rib Sandwich feeds hungry racers and fans when the big events – Daytona 500 in February, Coke Zero 400 in July, and biking’s Daytona 200 in March – hit town.

Breakfast at the Daytona Diner, downtown Daytona Beach on the mainland, races you headlong into the day with Start Your Engine – a skillet full of eggs and potatoes smothered in sausage gravy.

A classic gleaming chrome diner, it sits behind the block-long Harley Davidson dealership, a testament to Daytona racing’s spinoff reputation as a bikers’ haven. Truth be told, motorcycle racing preceded car racing on the beach, and Daytona Beach celebrates the tradition with infamous bars such as Boot Hill in addition to its annual Bike Week and Biketoberfest.

Harley and Me

Even the finest restaurants in Daytona Beach cater to the leather-clad crowd during the big events. Martini Chophouse, one of the town’s most stylish and inventive restaurants in terms of its Asian architectural style and global cuisine, opens its parking lot and dining terrace to feed the most discriminating motorcycle enthusiasts, a.k.a. RUBs (Rich Urban Bikers).

Any time of year, stop in for Wine Down Wednesday, when all of its wines-by-the-glass, including organic vintages, cost $5 each. Sip yours on the wall-fountain terrace, then get ready for highly recommended favorites from its nightly changing menu — pork osso bucco or seabass in a bag. Dorothy, I don’t feel like we’re in Daytona anymore. Read more of this post