Delray Beach’s perennially popular Enigma Bistro perplexes with a Cuban-Italian menu

Enigma Bistro on N. Federal Highway in Delray Beach.

Located along a desolate strip of N. Federal Highway (US 1), Enigma Bistro offers something for everyone at wallet friendly prices. Covered outdoor seating is plentiful.


Were it not for the chartreuse paint on its exterior walls and the curbside sign in front, it would be easy to miss Enigma Bistro on North Federal Highway just before Delray Beach gives way to Boynton Beach.

I’d read about Enigma Bistro – once called Phyllis G’s Enigma Bistro – since moving to Florida, but until this year I’d never dined there. Friends and neighbors lauded its plentiful outdoor dining; its food, described on Enigma’s web site as “Cuban Fare meets European Flair;” its wallet-friendly prices, and its fruity sangrias.

Housed in a small building that dates to 1959, Engima Bistro is surrounded on three sides by a parking lot. In peak season, parking can be challenging. You can wait, perhaps 20 minutes, to grab a spot vacated by a departing guest, or seek out a spot on the busy highway, or drive a block north and park at Walmart and walk back.

Enigma Bistro’s inside dining room seats 70.

Once you arrive you’ll see strings of colored lights hanging above the covered outside dining patio in front. During this year’s peak-season Presidents Week diners were jammed shoulder to shoulder on the deck. I had no choice but to sit on a cushionless hard wooden chair. More recently in summer , that dining area as well as the eclectically decorated wood paneled and white stone, 70-seat interior dining room were so empty that our dinner reservations proved unnecessary.

Phyllis Granger, formerly of the popular Granger’s Grill, founded Enigma in 2003 after her family sold its eponymous restaurant to a business partner. Her partners in Enigma were Nas Weismeuller Farah, a Brazilian-born chef, and his Cuban-born wife, Adita Hernandez. Granger gave up her share in Engima in 2008, according to public corporate records.

Plentiful outdoor seating.

Enigma’s eight-page menu can be overwhelming. Offerings include such specialties as seafood paella, Cuban skirt steak, hazelnut grouper and Havana-style snapper. You’ll also find classic lechon asado and Cuban pork chop. But the vast menu encompasses more than French, Italian and Cuban foods. You will also find French onion soup, Bahamian conch chowder, New England chowder; falafel and hamburgers. Enigma, it seems, doesn’t want anyone to feel left out.

You can start your meal with the delightful, fruit-filled house-made red or white sangria (by the glass, carafe or pitcher $7/21/28), some wine or beer. No hard liquor is offered.

Once you order, a server will deliver a basket of barely warm, tiny rolls and a small green salad with a tomato wedge and homemade vinaigrette dressing for each diner.

Service, though friendly, lacks polish. Dishes arriving from the kitchen are auctioned by your server. You know the routine: “Who gets the …” And one time, a dining companion’s cup of coffee arrived after he had finished his dessert.

Cuban skirt steak is juicy.

Juicy Cuban pork chop.

I started dinner on more than one occasion with the Bahamian conch chowder ($5), a cup of hot, bright-red-hued, thick tomatoey broth with just the right amount of spice to give it some verve. It was studded with bits of potato and chewy bits of conch. My wife’s French onion soup ($6.50) had unusual, sweet notes.

Conch chowder has verve.

Creamy Cuban flan.

Red and white sangria.

Veal chop Romana.

For me, the best entree was the Cuban Skirt Steak ($24), char-grilled and juicy from its marinade, accompanied by rice, black beans, homemade onion rings, a plantain and Chimichurri sauce – a blend of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar. The black beans, however, seemed dull.

Earning high marks, too, were the Cuban pork chops ($22), two tender, luscious, pan-seared and roasted 9-oz. bone-in pork chops that were bursting with flavor. The dish arrived with rice, black beans and vegetables and sauced with a white wine reduction, cumin, garlic and lemon.

Another Cuban dish, snapper Havana ($22), disappointed slightly. A filet of yellowtail snapper sauteed in olive oil was awash in a piquant Cuban-style sauce of peppers, tomato and onions that overpowered the delicate fish. It arrived served with rice, beans and sweet plantains.

An Italian dish, veal chop Romana ($27), one highly recommended by friends, also proved a bit disappointing. A 10-oz. bone-in chop, lightly breaded and sauteed with peppers, onions, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and spices was somewhat tough and chewy. It was topped with a bit of fresh marinara sauce and a patch of fresh mozzarella cheese. But green pepper overwhelmed the chop. And the accompanying linguine in a red sauce was dry and in need of salt and flavor.

Chicken francese ($21), my wife’s go-to dish in any Italian restaurant, was tender, but sprinkled with black pepper on one occasion, in spite of a request for no pepper. and tough, but sans pepper on another. The accompanying linguine was barely cooked and would have benefited from more of the francese sauce.

Other dining companions were happy with their choices. One, who chose the panko-coated eggplant parmigiana, cooed that it was among the best versions of the dish she’d ever had. Another dining companion, on another occasion, said she enjoyed the New Orleans seafood casserole ($27) – neither Cuban nor Italian – which consisted of shrimp, calamari, mussels, snapper filet, clams and Lobster in a rich fish broth topped with rosemary and garlic. Sort of a twist on Bouillabaisse.

Cuban flan ($6), served in a martini glass, is a creamy, vanilla and cinnamon-accented custard swimming in caramel sauce. It’s a rich dessert.  Another dessert, chocolate cake ($6.50), was moist and sweet and served with swirls of whipped cream.

Enigma Bistro is well named because dining here can be puzzling. With Cuban, Italian and other offerings you might think it suffers from identity issues. But its broad menu helps it appeal to a larger community of diners. I’d stick with the Cuban dishes, especially the meats, for the most satisfying dining experience, and, of course, the sangria.

Enigima Bistro

2717 N. Federal Hwy., Delray Beach 33483


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