From shiny new favorites to classic haunts that never fail, our comprehensive annual guide on where to eat (and what to order) in the River City.
words by Virginia Chamlee and Jocelyn Tolbert // photos by Agnes Lopez
Though it may take a while, food trends—cupcakes, food trucks, anything with kale in it—will inevitably make their way to your neighborhood. It’s good news for foodies, but sometimes it can make choosing a place to eat a difficult task. Not to fear. In our annual Top 50 Restaurants guide, we give you our favorites—from small holes-in-the-wall to fancy schmantzy steakhouses. It’s tough work researching the plethora of dining options in the area, but someone has to do it. And we’ve been giving readers our picks for top dining destinations for years, so why stop now? After countless tacos, innumerable burgers and an untold number of doggie bags, we’ve found that Northeast Florida is more delicious than ever.
Though it’s located just a stone’s throw from the ocean, Eleven South excels in more than seafood. The Harris Ranch steaks and chops rival some of those served in steakhouses and even the vegetarian dishes (fresh pasta served with artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, mushroom and parmesan cream sauce) are first-rate. Of course, seafood does play a large role in the kitchen and patrons can’t go wrong with entrées such as diver scallops or coriander-crusted ahi. Be sure to order a glass (or a bottle) of wine to go along with your meal. The staff is incredibly knowledgable about pairings and happy to help select something special from the extensive list.
Most Expensive Entrée: Oscar-Crusted Veal Chop, Crab and Asparagus Crust, $39
Least Expensive Entrée: Basil Parmesan Fettuccini, $18 Order This: Black Grouper with Tomato-Mustard Jam and Basil Pesto, $29
Chef/owner Scotty Schwartz’s menu is as down-to-earth at first glance as its location in a humble historic house. However, there’s more to the pork chop (brined in sweet tea) served over macaroni (with warm blackberry ginger preserves) and the cheeseburger (a blend of foie gras and beef topped with brie) than meets the eye. The mix of Southern simplicity, fresh, farm-to-table ingredients and modern elements make 29 South an island favorite.
Most Expensive Entrée: Smoked Short Rib, $28
Least Expensive Entrée: Red, White and Blue Burger, a chili-rubbed burger with bacon and bleu cheese slaw, $13
Order This: Black Hog Farm Fried Chicken, $18
Located inside the Casa Monica Hotel, the Moroccan-inspired decor in reds and golds make 95 Cordova seem as rich and elegant as the seasonally inspired eclectic menu—and it is. Try the sampler, which includes five courses paired with wine and amounts to a fancy tour for the tastebuds: lobster and crab bisque, baby arugula salad, porcini mushroom ravioli and short ribs, 1855 Black Angus filet, and Meyer lemon and lavender pot de crème to share.
Most Expensive Entrée: Filet Mignon with Crab and Shrimp Ragout, $44
Least Expensive Entrée: Savannah-Style Shrimp and Grits, $23
Order This: Fried Green Tomato Appetizer with Creamy Smoked Jalapeño Sauce and Goat Cheese, $10
An expansive menu of seafood, a few “turf” selections and even some for vegetarians means that there’s a dish for just about everyone at this Ponte Vedra landmark. Offerings like pan-seared wild sockeye salmon with sriracha creamed shrimp and sautéed snapper with sweet tomato jam spinach fettuccine don’t disappoint. Sit outside on the patio surrounded by water fountains and the herb gardens that help supply the kitchen.
Most Expensive Entrée: Grilled Filet Mignon, $36
Least Expensive Entrée: Chicken Piccata, $17 Order This: Bang-Bang New England Cod, crusted with almonds and fresh herbs and served with Thai chili sauce, $24
Walk from the One Ocean lobby through what seems like a rocky portal to a watery wonderland and diners arrive at Azurea, where every seat offers a view of the ocean. The seafood-rich menu changes with the seasons, but always features flavors of Northeast Florida infused with international flare. Picture coriander sea scallops with cold water lobster and braised leek risotto. When the bread comes with its four spreads, don’t overlook the black garlic.
Most Expensive Entrée: Bison Rib Eye with Jack Daniels Honey and Cipollini Onion Marmalade, $38
Least Expensive Entrée: Hand-Crafted Acorn Squash Tortellini, $21
Order This: Day Boat Diver Sea Scallops, $25
This one-room bistro outshines its small size with lunch, dinner, nightly specials, a prix-fixe menu, brunch and near- legendary desserts. The core menu features small plates, sandwiches, salads and grilled pizzas—like the jambalaya pizza with andouille sausage, Cajun shrimp, chicken, bell peppers, onions and creole tomato sauce—but make sure you look at the much dressier specials menu before selecting, which includes items like pan-seared Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with white truffle hominy grits.
Most Expensive Entrée: Pan-Seared Diver Scallops, $35
Least Expensive Entrée: Fried Green Tomato Sandwich, $10
Order This: Warm Goat Cheese Salad, $12
This Avondale eatery is dressed in warm red brick and artwork by local artists and is a cozy spot for lunch, dinner or just a glass of wine. The reasonably priced menu is similar to that of Biscottis’ sister restaurant, bb’s, but again, the specials are where it’s at here. There’s often a creamy risotto and a fish plate or two, such as pan-seared Atlantic striper with browned sage butter, roasted asparagus and butternut squash gnocchi. Ask for the dessert case tour, as it’s always filled with a dizzying array of decadent treats and enormous cakes.
Most Expensive Entrée: Grilled Sea Bass, $33
Least Expensive Entrée: Grilled Turkey Burger, $10
Order This: Nightly fish special, varies
Stylish touches like the backlit onyx bar and the bustle of the open kitchen give Bistro Aix a dramatic flair that complements the French-American menu. The new raw bar, featuring items like clams, periwinkles and oysters, has added another layer to this already diverse menu. If you’re in for lunch, ask for the quiche du jour or try the wood-fired smoked salmon pizza. If it’s dinner time, you can’t go wrong with escargot and steak frites.
Most Expensive Entrée: Oak-Fired Ribeye for Two, $68
Least Expensive Entrée: X Burger, $13
Order This: Steak Frites, $16/$25
Locally sourced beef, cheese and produce all play a big role in dishes that fall somewhere between home-cookin’ and hip cuisine. The savory roasted mushroom and Point Reyes bread pudding is served as a side dish—but delectable enough to eat on its own with a salad. Heartier appetites enjoy the Korean beef short ribs, with soft-boiled egg and bulgogi marinade. Bring a friend along for the Sunday night fried chicken special for two, which includes half-a-chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, collard greens and biscuits—all for $30.
Most Expensive Entrée: Steak au Poivre in a brandy cream sauce, $29
Least Expensive Entrée: Bar-B-Que Duck Sandwich, $14
Order This: Wild Georgia Shrimp & Grits, wainwright cheddar grits, tasso and Creole tomato gravy, $21
From Thai-marinated steak to tea-spiced duck breast, the inspiration at Blackstone Grille is evident. Asian-fusion accents like saffron and fish sauce come through subtly in dishes such as pistachio-crusted chicken and rack of lamb. If you’re overwhelmed by the variety, try the four-course tasting menu. Regulars insist chef Charles shines best when his creativity takes the helm.
Most Expensive Entrée: New York Strip Steak, $35
Least Expensive Entrée: Crispy Shrimp and Honey-Coated Walnuts, $19
Order This: Thai-style Surf and Turf, grilled beef and shrimp stirred with udon noodles and spinach in a Thai red curry sauce, $21.95
The Blind Rabbit
Burger spots are a dime a dozen these days; however, when those burgers come topped with fried green tomatoes, five pepper jelly or peach habañero hot sauce, and served alongside a hand-crafted whiskey cocktail, you’ve found something special. The Blind Rabbit offers more than just burgers (shrimp and grits are a fan favorite), but the hand-pattied offerings are where the restaurant excels. Hand-cut fries, chips or tobacco onions make for stellar side dishes and the sauces (curry mayo, bourbon BBQ) are outstanding. The house cocktails make good use of small-batch bourbons and moonshine.
Most Expensive Entrée: Smokehouse Ribeye, $26
Least Expensive Entrée: Classic Cheeseburger, $10
Order This: The Southern Burger, topped with Creole pimento cheese, peach habañero hot sauce, Georgia cane syrup, fried green tomato, and pickled okra, $12
Jacksonville Beach & Riverside
Jacksonville is sorely lacking in non-chain, top-shelf Asian cuisine. Fortunately, there’s Blue Bamboo, a Southside mainstay specializing in Pan-Asian cuisine. Here, selections go beyond stir-fry and rice (though those are on the menu). Short rib tacos, chile-soy chicken and BBQ spareribs are menu staples—and far better than the stuff you eat out of a white takeout box. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Chef Dennis Chan prepares a selection of Southern specials, like softshell crab and grits and peachy chicken and waffles.
Most Expensive Entrée: Green Curry Shrimp and Salmon, $29
Least Expensive Entrée: Crispy Shrimp Salad, $13.50
Order This: Katsu Vietnamese Tra Fish, $18.95
It’s fitting that the restaurant at Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art specializes in contemporary renditions of familiar fare. Chef Kathy Collins and her team prepare dishes such as pan-seared shrimp atop smoked cheddar grit cake with sun-dried tomato crostini, Asian noodle bowl with rainbow trout and chili-citrus vinaigrette and a clever take on the common chicken sandwich, starring spicy Korean fried chicken with kimchi vinaigrette. Perhaps the best part of the meal comes at the beginning, in the form of perfectly doughy yeast rolls.
Most Expensive Entrée: Shrimp & Grits, $21
Least Expensive Entrée: Grilled Cheese du Jour, $12
Order This: Seasonal Gnocchi, $15
Italian food is often thought of as heavy and old-school, but the emphasis at Caffé Andiamo is light, fresh and authentic. Diners find traditional fare such as fettucine Alfredo, but the real draw here is the dishes you won’t find elsewhere. Start with an order of the carpaccio di pesci—thin slices of cured ahi tuna and salmon, topped with mixed greens, portobellos and lemon-tomato vinaigrette, and move on to something heartier. It’s hard to beat the pizza, which comes out of the restaurant’s gorgeous copper pizza ovens with a perfectly crispy crust and is available with a number of toppings.
Most Expensive Entrée: Breaded Veal Chop, $34.95
Least Expensive Entrée: Margherita Pizza, $10.50
Order This: Gamberi Oreganato, shrimp with white wine lemon sauce, topped with parmesan and toasted bread crumbs, $24.95
Cap’s on the Water
There are so few restaurants on the First Coast that actually sit adjacent to the water that diners flock to Cap’s for the view alone. Fortunately, the food is delicious, with a heavy reliance on fresh fish and Southern flavors. The menu is lengthy but the best dishes are those that feature seafood—such as ragin’ cracker grouper with a spicy sweet pepper hash and sun-dried tomato risotto. Add a platter of raw oysters, an icy cold beer and a seat on the outdoor patio for the ultimate North Florida dining experience.
Most Expensive Entrée: Snow Crab Legs, $24.99
Least Expensive Entrée: Short rib sliders, $12.99
Order This: Crispy Scored Flounder, a whole fried fish with a light apricot glaze and sweet and sour cucumbers, $21.99
Mexican food isn’t all about frozen margaritas and ground beef burritos and the popularity of St. Augustine restaurant Casa Maya, which moved to larger digs in 2012, attests to the fact that diners are expanding their tastes. Here, patrons find inspired and traditional eats, like mahi with cucumber basil sauce, octopus ceviche and the popular cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula. Indulge in a full meal or head to the back patio oyster bar, known as El Escondite, for a round of chorizo, spinach and queso fresco-broiled oysters.
Most Expensive Entrée: Cordero Rosticado (Roast Lamb), $35
Least Expensive Entrée: Vegeterian Burrito, $13
Order This: Tikia Xic Fish, marinated with achiote and citrus juices, $16.95
It’s easy to miss Collage, a classic bistro tucked in the middle of the hustle-and-bustle of Downtown St. Augustine. But hidden inside the eatery (the sign of which is nearly obscured by pink bougainvillea), is some of the best dining the Oldest City has to offer. Entrées, which range from parmesan- and brown sugar-crusted grouper to truffle butter-topped filet mignon, are sophisticated and hearty and the service is near- impeccable. Because of its small size, reservations are a must, as is a bottle of wine from the extensive and well-edited wine list.
Most Expensive Entrée: Filletto Magnifico, $45
Least Expensive Entrée: Pork Chop, $28
Order This: Lobster Ravioli, homemade and served with sautéed shrimp in a pesto cream sauce, topped with a lobster tail, $34
Walking into Dwight’s is a bit like walking onto the set of The Godfather, with its cozy ambiance, mosaic tiled-walls and traditional Mediterranean fare. Despite the classic nature of Dwight’s (and chef Relude himself), nestled in a strip mall on Penman Road, the kitchen produces meals fit for a special occasion. The handmade pasta is a treat and fresh mozzarella, dressed simply with olive oil and served alongside ripe tomatoes, is an ideal way to start a meal.
Most Expensive Entrée: Mixed Grill with lamb, quail, fish and beef tenderloin, $39
Least Expensive Entrée: Angel Hair Puttanesca, $19
Order This: Crab Cakes, $19
This taqueria-cum-tequila bar is part of a new wave of Mexican restaurants—those that feature inspired tacos, small plates and entrées with a decidedly gourmet slant. Fresh guacamole is prepared tableside with jalapeño, tomato, red onion, cilantro and lime, and margaritas come in dozens of flavors (try the blood orange, which features agave nectar, house-made sour mix, Patron and Solerno). Though the dinner entrées are delicious, the real draw here is tacos, which range from $3.50 to $4.50 each. Vegetarians will appreciate the Dirty South taco, with fried green tomato, black-eyed “peaco” de gallo, pimento cheese and arugula.
Most Expensive Entrée: Habañero Mango-Glazed Swordfish, $22
Least Expensive Entrée: Pollo a la Brasa, Peruvian rotisserie chicken, $14
Order This: Blackened Shrimp Taco with ginger purple cabbage slaw, chipotle aioli, mango pico, and cilantro, $4
Ice Plant is easily one of the most visually enticing eateries in North Florida. Housed in an old ice plant (hence the name), the soaring ceilings and old-school fixtures call to mind a scene from The Great Gatsby. Both the eats and the drinks live up to the atmosphere. The cocktails (which are prepared by one of the bar’s suspender-wearing mixologists and served in frosty highball and punch glasses) are truly the star of the menu and an ideal accompaniment to one of the Plant’s small plates or entrées. Start your meal with an order of soft pretzel bread, served with beer-cheese fondue and dijonnaise, along with the Mazzy Star, a blend of St. Augustine Distillery vodka, Absenteroux, Falernum, lemon and grenadine.
Most Expensive Entrée:Maple Leaf Farm Duck Leg Confit, $26
Least Expensive Entrée: Ice Plant Burger, $14
Order This: Root Vegetable and Brioche Bread Pudding with Sunny Side Up Egg, $17
India’s tandoor specialties, yogurts and freshly baked breads appease all of the senses—as well as the wallet. The $6.99 lunch buffet offers a variety of choices, but you’d be best served by ordering off the menu. Garlic naan is the ideal vehicle to soak up the creamy sauce from an order of chicken korma, tender pieces of boneless chicken with nuts. Combination dinners for two available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties) can be prepared mild, medium or hot and come with a selection of tandoori and curry dishes, plus dessert and tea.
Most Expensive Entrée: Tandoori Mixed Grill, $16
Least Expensive Entrée: Dal Makhani, lentils with tomato, ginger, garlic, onions, herbs and spices, $10
Order This: Chicken Tikka, cubed chicken breast marinated in yogurt sauce with fresh garlic, ginger and spices, then roasted in a tandoor oven. Baymeadows
Spice is key in Indochine’s kitchen, which specializes in curries, noodles, rice and wok dishes. The atmosphere at both locations is fairly similar—casual food served in a swanky setting—but the menu varies, particularly when it comes to each restaurant’s specialties. At either location, you can choose your own spice level (on a scale of one to six) but even some of the non-spicy dishes pack a serious punch. Drunken noodles sautéed with egg, celery, onion, sweet pepper, mushroom and basil are a customer favorite, but we suggest veering off the beaten path with a dish like softshell crab, deep-fried and wok-tossed with sweet pepper and yellow curry.
Most Expensive Entrée: Sea of Indochine, shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels with sweet pepper and bamboo shoot, $22
Least Expensive Entrée: Pad Thai, $13
Order This: Prik Pow Chicken, with onions, peppers, mushrooms and veggies in a semi-sweet basil sauce, $13
Downtown & San Marco
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro
Far from a tourist haven, Joe’s is an eatery frequented mostly by locals. Eating a meal at Joe’s is a bit like a eating a meal in a chef’s kitchen—the food is decadent but the dining room (particularly the covered porch) is cozy and casual. The quaint environment is made all the warmer with a glass of wine and an order of grilled ribeye with three sauces or grouper filet grilled in a corn husk wrapper with roasted jalapeno-lime butter.
Most Expensive Entrée: Grilled Filet Mignon Oscar, $34
Least Expensive Entrée: Cajun Carbonara, $16
Order This: Seafood Bouillabaisse, $32
At Kazu, minimalism is held in high regard and, when it comes to well-prepared Japanese dishes, less really is more. Chef Jason Chen and owner David Chen receive weekly shipments of fresh and hard-to-find proteins from Japan, like golden-eyed snapper, live uni and kumamoto oysters, which are put to good use by expertly slicing and plating in dishes such as chirashi, an assortment of sashimi served atop a bed of sushi rice. The sushi rolls (which are available both maki style and naruto, or cucumber wrapped) are a must, particularly the house specialties, like the Florida sunrise, with spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, sliced mango and sweet eel sauce.
Most Expensive Entrée: Seafood Teriyaki, $20
Least Expensive Entrée: Nabeyaki Udon Soup, noodles, shrimp, crab, fish cake and poached egg, $11
Order This: Super Kazu Roll with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, crab, cucumber and tobiko, $11.25
The name of this waterfront eatery, which sits perched high overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway off of Beach Boulevard, comes from its location at marker #32, a navigational aid for boaters. But the restaurant is far from a casual boathouse, thanks to a knowledgable bar and wait staff and an ever-changing menu of inspired dishes prepared by chef/proprietor Ben Groshell. Nibble on a slice of bread (servers offer five house-made flavors daily) while perusing the menu, which relies heavily on seafood dishes like caramelized scallops with collard greens and creamy grits. The warm spinach salad (topped with swiss, mushrooms, bacon, egg and honey-tarragon dressing) is a must to start.
Most Expensive Entrée: Wood-Grilled Ribeye, $34
Least Expensive Entrée: M32 Burger, topped with horseradish pimiento cheese and bacon, $16
Order This: Seared Yellowfin Tuna with braised Szechuan kale, peanuts, whipped potatoes and toasted garlic red miso, $27
Michael’s Tasting Room
Michael’s has seen a couple of incarnations since it first opened its doors in June 2006. In 2014, chef Michael Lugo stepped up as owner and executive chef, expanding the menu to feature more entrées—while still relying on meticulously sourced ingredients and bold Spanish flavors. While large plates such as minutas fritas (lightly fried snapper with crispy truffle fries) are outstanding, Lugo really flexes his creativity in the smaller plates, such as chicharones de pollo, Southern-fried chicken skins with Aji Amarrilo hot sauce. Michael’s also offers a couple of family-style options—like paella mixta with braised chicken, chorizo, seafood, escargots and vegetables—which serve two people and require approximately 30 minutes to prepare.
Most Expensive Entrée: Lobster Risotto, $36
Least Expensive Entrée: Huevos Rotos, Catalan vegetable stew, $22
Order This: Arepas de Vieras, seared scallops atop manchego corn cakes with green curry sofrito, $15
Matthew’s has been at the top of the list for discerning Jacksonville diners since it opened in the late ‘90’s. Despite being a fixture on the local dining scene for nearly 20 years, the restaurant remains one of the most innovative. The swanky lounge offers a stellar Happy Hour on weekdays from five to seven, drawing a younger post-work crowd, while the main dining room is an appropriate place for an intimate dinner, thanks to gleaming wood walls and sleek lighting. The food, like the decor, is a lesson in refinement—Atlantic salmon dressed with fennel confit, sautéed chickpeas and baby carrots, while bucatini pasta is infused with squid ink and topped with farm egg yolk, lemon preserve and shaved local truffle.
Most Expensive Entrée: Wild Boar Tenderloin, $42
Least Expensive Entrée: Radiatori Bolognese, $16
Order This: Rack of Lamb with Sweet Onion Soubise, $38
This cozy Atlantic Beach hideaway (which originally opened as “Mezza Luna”) was once known as a restaurant serving mostly Italian cuisine. It has since dropped the “Luna,” and added menu items inspired by other corners of the globe—but the reliance on brick-oven pizzas and fresh-made pastas is still there. Despite the changes, the eatery remains a favorite for both special occasions and more casual dinners—thanks, in large part, to three dining rooms (the patio area offers al fresco seating while the dining room is more formal). The entrées are stellar, but diners can’t go wrong splitting an appetizer (use a slice of fresh-baked bread to soak up the juices from the steamed mussels with garlic and parsley purée) and one of Mezza’s from-scratch pizzas (try the wild mushroom with baby arugula and white truffle oil).
Most Expensive Entrée: Filet Mignon, $33
Least Expensive Entrée: Linguine with Creamy Parmesan, $16
Order This: Grouper with Jalapeño Cream, Shrimp and Corn Salsa and Horseradish Potatoes, $28
Mojo specializes in traditional smoked specialties at its five area locations: chicken, pork, turkey, sausage...you get the picture. What sets the Avondale location apart is its added focus on top-shelf and rare whiskey, which is available in cocktails, by the flight or by the shot. A few sips of Jefferson’s Mojo personal Blend go down like a treat when served alongside a heaping pile of North Carolina-style ‘cue and Texas toast. Sides (BBQ pit beans, collard greens, smoked corn) are rich and the house-made sauces (there are five from which to choose) are addictive.
Most Expensive Entrée: The Whole Hawg, a platter of pork, beef, turkey, chicken, ribs, sausage and four sides, $36
Least Expensive Entrée: Buttermilk Fried Chicken, $15
Order This: Pulled Pork Shoulder, $13
Avondale (plus 4 additional locations)
Moxie kitchen + cocktails
The opening of Moxie at the St. Johns Town Center was a welcome sight to hungry diners tired of eating at franchise establishments at the retail mecca. Dishes such as fried chicken with waffle pudding and pepper jelly, seared scallops with three-cheese grits and open-faced Sloppy Joe with brisket and farm egg maintain chef Tom Gray’s Southern philosophy while injecting a sense of whimsy that is often missed on the local dining scene. The dessert menu includes a selection of modern incarnations of traditional treats—like the skillet cookie with ice cream, pink peppercorn pavlova and salted caramel praline malt.
Most Expensive Entrée: Filet Mignon, $38
Least Expensive Entrée: Seared Tofu, $16
Order This: Short Rib with Dr. Pepper Glaze and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, $25
St. Johns Town Center
If you’ve visited the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, you know the grass really is greener at the famed golf club. Of course, the perfectly manicured lawns and challenging courses aren’t the only reason to visit. The club’s on-site restaurant, Nineteen, is a popular choice for golfers and hungry diners alike. The menu is mostly comprised of typical country club fare—sandwiches, grilled steaks and fresh fish—but the food is artfully executed. If the weather’s nice, ask for a table on the patio; otherwise, nosh on dishes such as grilled lamb chops with boursin cheese tartlet in the wood-paneled dining room, which offers views of the main attraction (the Stadium Course) via table side windows.
Most Expensive Entrée: Ribeye, $33
Least Expensive Entrée: Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast, $22
Order This: Osso Bucco, Butternut Squash Risotto, Bacon Lardons, and Cider Braised Kale, $27
North Beach Fish Camp
Fresh fish is plentiful around these parts, and yet there aretoo few local restaurants that do it justice. North Beach Fish Camp offers coastal cuisine the way it’s meant to be served—simply and artfully. For maximum enjoyment, start with the New England fried clam bellies before moving on to a non-fried entrée like seared yellowfin tuna or blue crab cakes with caper dill aioli. Don’t pass up bread pudding for dessert. The flavor changes periodically, but it’s always delicious.
Most Expensive Entrée: Low Boil for Two, $36
Least Expensive Entrée: Pan Fried Fish Sandwich with French Fries and Turnip Slaw, $13
Order This: Roast Cod Fillet with Brown Butter, $16
Neptune Beach (palm valley & julington creek)
North Beach Bistro
Chef Tony Pels studied under culinary greats such as Wolfgang Puck and Michel Richard before signing on as executive chef at North Beach Bistro. Pels tragically passed away just two months prior to the restaurant’s opening but his culinary aesthetic lives on in the restaurant’s hearty, bistro-style fare. The menu (which is now overseen by Chef Dave Seavey) includes dishes such as bouillabaisse, which is rife with shrimp, scallops, mussels and fish in a tomato-fennel broth, and crispy chicken Milanese, which acts as an ideal vehicle for lemon-caper sauce.
Most Expensive Entrée: Filet Mignon, $35
Least Expensive Entrée: Bistro Mac & Cheese, $12
Order This: Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mushroom Risotto, $26
The crowd in Atlantic Beach is a mix of families, surfers and tourists but a handful of upscale restaurants has injected a bit of style into the casual beachside community. The Latin- and Asian-inluenced Ocean 60 is one such restaurant and only open at night—making it an ideal locale for a cocktail and appetizers or a full meal in the dining room, where selections range from whole fried snapper to Thai-style chicken. The specials menu changes nightly and features a range of creative fare—recent offerings include chursasco-style flank steak with candied sweet plantains and Southern-style grouper with corn and bacon compote.
Most Expensive Entrée: Herb-Grilled Ribeye & Crab-Stuffed Shrimp, $32
Least Expensive Entrée: Wild Mushroom Pappardelle Pasta, $17
Order This: Ocean 60 Meatloaf, $20
Chef and owner Jonathan Insetta deftly marries Southern influences with French bistro classics at Orsay, where house-made charcuterie, farm-fresh produce and local meats reign supreme. The menu changes on occasion, but favorites like bouillabaisse, steak frites and coq au vin are to be expected. Pastry chef Michael Bump oversees the restaurant’s dessert program, which is one of the best in town. House-made ice creams and sorbets are always a favorite (and, on occasion available for sale at the Riverside Arts Market) but, if macarons are available, don’t think twice. They’re well worth the calories.
Most Expensive Entrée: Filet Mignon, $38
Least Expensive Entrée: Root Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie, parsnips, celery root, butternut, carrots, haricot vert, mushrooms and pearl onions in a potato crust $18
Order This: Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, $29
What was once considered mostly a wine bar has since grown into a full-fledged and noteworthy restaurant, offering both small plates and entrées like braised lamb shank and pappardelle bolognese. The wine selection is still stellar and it’s never a bad idea to shun one large meal in favor of several tapas—shrimp Romesco, herb truffle fries and ceviche are all on offer—and head out to the back patio for a game of bocce ball. Brunch (which features a smoked salmon platter, house-made poundcake and crepes) is particularly delicious—and a good excuse to order chocolate-dipped bacon.
Most Expensive Entrée: New York Strip for Two, $25
Least Expensive Entrée: Pappardelle Bolognese, pork and veal simmered in tomato with house-made pappardelle pasta, $10
Order This: Sautéed Clams, $13
St. Johns Town Center
Pele’s Wood Fire
The wood-fired ovens at Pele’s can bake up a perfectly-crispy pie in under two minutes (no surprise, considering the pizza ovens roar up to 1,000° F) but the Italian-Hawaiian eatery excels with other dishes, too. The pasta, for instance, is hand-made with imported Italian flour and the filet mignon is crusted in Hawaiian lava salt. Of course, it’s hard to pass up the pizzas, which come topped with dozens of unique ingredients—pear, slow-roasted Kalua pig and balsamic cippolini onions among them.
Most Expensive Entrée: Pele’s Own Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza, $39
Least Expensive Entrée: Cast-Iron Lasagna, $15
Order This: Chaos Pizza, with San Marzano tomato, hand-pulled mozzarella, coppa, roasted mushrooms, farm egg, $18
Fans of Thai food are likely familiar with Pom Souvannosoth from his former establishments, Old Siam and Poms Thai Bistro. At Poms Signature, which has been open in Tapestry Park since 2011, he’s expanded his horizons while shrinking the floorspace. The menu has plenty of nods to Thai cuisine—including peking duck, red curry and amassaman sauce—but there are notable deviations that pay off. Pan-roasted Cornish hen, for instance, is served alongside Shanghai bok choy, brown rice and peanut curry sauce. Traditional? Not exactly, but that’s what sets Poms apart.
Most Expensive Entrée: Asian Seabass, $29
Least Expensive Entrée: Meatball Pananag, $22
Order This: Green Curry Scallops with Summer White Truffle Oil, $29
Coconut-fried shrimp, sesame tuna and house-brewed beers are just a few of the items Ragtime has perfected in the years since it first opened. The menu has changed a bit since 1982, but the Louisiana-style specialties (andouille crusted mahi, red beans and rice) remain perennial favorites. An order of beignets with chocolate and strawberry dipping sauce are always a good choice.
Most Expensive Entrée: New York Strip, $26
Least Expensive Entrée: Black & Blue Chicken, $15
Order This: Sesame Tuna, $22.50
The building which Raintree Restaurant occupies is over a century old and is one of the last surviving Victorian houses in the area. Locals now come to Raintree for the intercontinental menu with items like Canadian lobster and beef Wellington, the brunch and the desserts—including made-to-order crepes, a rarity in Northeast Florida.
Most expensive entrée: Bleu cheese crusted filet, $33
Least expensive entrée: Fettuccine Alfredo, $12
Order this: Lasagna Puttanesca with Italian Sausage and House-made Meatballs, $18
Salt is the signature restaurant of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, and prides itself on serving “simple elements of the earth and sea,” and chef de cuisine Richard Laughlin rarely strays from that aesthetic. Dishes such as Hawaiian sea bass with pepper jam and dill pistou, and foie gras with Asian pear and zucchini bread, are inventive without being overwhelming. If you’re in the mood to throw caution to the wind, try the Chef’s adventure dinner (a multi-course meal designed and selected by the chef). The $105 meal changes nightly, but typically consists of four courses (think big eye tuna carpaccio, elk tenderloin and pompano linguine with parmesan chicharrons) with an optional wine pairing for each.
Most Expensive Entrée: Beef Tenderloin and Maine Lobster, $62
Least Expensive Entrée: Florida Snapper, $39
Order This: Dutch Valley Veal Porterhouse, $45
Decked out with a colorful mural, paper flags and vivid Día de los Muertos figurines, Tacolu’s lively exterior is a good indication of what’s to come from its menu—namely, bold flavors that aren’t always easy to find in a taco. Start with an order of Mexican street corn, which comes shucked and tossed with chipotle cream and cotija cheese—before moving on to a selection of tacos. The bangin’ shrimp taco, topped with cabbage, scallions and sriracha, is a popular choice, and pairs nicely with a margarita (the restaurant has an enormous tequila selection as well as a number of specialty cocktails).
Most Expensive Entrée: Suizas, $10
Least Expensive Entrée: Standard tacos are all $3 (specialty tacos range from $4 to $5)
Order This: Carne Royale Taco, carne asada, brie and grape salsa, $4.99
There are few local restaurants where the ambiance is as inviting and, dare we say, sexy. At Taverna, chef/owner Sam Efron works contemporary touches into classic Mediterranean dishes to keep it creative. The industrial-chic ambiance is fitting for menu items such as roasted half-chicken, a decidedly homey dish made modern with the addition of truffled walnut purée. House-made pastas and pizzas (such as the salsiccia, which comes topped with house-made lamb and fennel sausage, mint, caramelized onions, goat cheese and piquillo peppers) are always on point.
Most Expensive Entrée: Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto, $29
Least Expensive Entrée: Short Rib, $26
Order This: House-made Fettuccini with Tomato Cream Sauce and Basil, $18
The Good Food Company
Taking cues from comfort-food classics like stick-to-your-ribs Bolognese and beer-brined pork chops, Good Food Company hits on a trend that sees no sign of dying down. Appetizers such as salmon cured in vodka and topped with caviar is a luxurious start to a meal crafted with an appreciation for all things seasonal and local. The restaurant’s charcuterie chamber offers up a daily selection of salted, cured and smoked meats, like pork rillettes and chicken liver pâté.
Most Expensive Entrée: Ribeye, $33
Least Expensive Entrée: Fry Basket of shrimp, oysters and fish, $19
Order This: Pumpkin and Kale Lasagna in white sauce, $22
The food at The Reef, which fronts the Atlantic Ocean, is indicative of its surroundings. The menu is laden with seafood, but there are plenty of options landlubbers will enjoy, as well. Slow roasted prime rib is cut to order and served with au jus and horseradish and braised lamb shank is awash in tomato, herbs and white wine. Steamed crab legs, datil pepper shrimp and grits, and Zarzuela (a Catalonian style of fish stew featuring almonds, ham, shrimp, clam and mussels) offer a taste of the ocean.
Most Expensive Entrée: Lobster Tail, $39
Least Expensive Entrée: Classic Fried Shrimp, $19
Order This: Grouper Oscar, topped with crabmeat, asparagus and hollandaise, $28.95
Chefs Matthew and David Medure are veritable pioneers of fine cuisine in Jacksonville, so it’s no surprise that both of their fine dining establishments (Matthew’s and Medure) have made it on the list yet again. At Medure (run by David), the focus is on fresh flavors, polished service and inventive combinations. Hawaiian sea bass marries beautifully with octopus soy butter sauce, while slow-braised short ribs intermingle with Anson Mills grits and truffled spaghetti squash. The upper left corner of the menu changes with frequency, and always centers on a particular theme. A recent selection of pork-themed dishes included soy-braised pork belly with udon noodles and slow egg and, for dessert, baked pecan bacon tart topped with vanilla maple ice cream.
Most Expensive Entrée: Grilled Beef Tenderloin, $34
Least Expensive Entrée: Medure’s Meatloaf, $19
Order This: Long Island Duck Breast, $29
Ponte Vedra Beach
River City Brewing Co.
One of the First Coast’s original craft brewers, River City has been cooking tasty dishes to go alongside its house-made beers for more than 20 years. The menu contains several dishes typical of a brew-pub—tacos, burgers and sandwiches—but it really shines at dinnertime, when guests nosh on smoked ribs, chicken marsala and drunken salmon.
Most Expensive Entrée: Chargrilled Ribeye, $36
Least Expensive Entrée: Tuscan Chicken, $18
Order This: Parmesan Crusted Flounder, topped with a drunken soy glaze, $18.95
Tree Steak House
A traditional steakhouse that, after 45 years, is a tradition in its own right, the Tree Steak House prides itself on quality. The decor is warm with brick walls and a few taxidermied animals (some wearing sunglasses) in the dining room. Order the ribeye and they’ll bring it to the table whole to let you choose how you want it cut. Regulars keep coming back for the steaks, grilled mushrooms and hot, fresh bread.
Most expensive entrée: Two Lobster Tails, $38
Least expensive entrée: Chicken, $18
Order this: New York Strip, $33
Vernon’s burst onto the dining scene last year, offering a new option for Ponte Vedra diners looking for something different. The restaurant, which is inside the Sawgrass Marriott and named for Vernon Kelly (the real estate developer who helped craft the renowned TPC Sawgrass course), features a rotating selection of “straight off the boat” fish and signature steaks. Don’t forget to visit the chef’s chowder bar, which includes a variety of soups and stews (potato leek, Floribbean conch, gator tail gumbo) and is complimentary with any entrée.
Most Expensive Entrée: V-Bone T-Bone, $43
Least Expensive Entrée: Varies according to daily fish specials
Order This: Char-Grilled Swordfish, varies
The passionately curated wine list is reason enough to pay a visit to Wine Cellar, but the well-crafted, upscale fare can certainly stand on its own. The restaurant opened in 1974 and remains every bit as sophisticated today as it was 40 years ago. Trendy it is not. But what it lacks in trendiness, it more than makes up for with attentive service, a warm atmosphere and a skilled hand at cooking dishes such as peppercorn-seared yellowfin tuna, which is topped with lightly sautéed arugula and finished with (what else?) a port wine reduction. We’ll drink to that.
Most Expensive Entrée: Cold-Water Lobster Tail, $59
Least Expensive Entrée: Chicken Rollatini, chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto, $23
Order This: Roast Duckling with orange liqueur-peppercorn sauce, $32