50 Best Restaurants 2017

1.17-LOIn 2016, we saw an explosion of new eateries opening doors in Northeast Florida. We saw some high-profile closings as well—we won’t name names, but the takeaway is that the food biz is a hard row to hoe. The 50 restaurants on this list, however, are testaments to what can be accomplished when hard work and kitchen know-how come together to create something special. From Southern staples and local seafood to spicy curries and mouthwatering desserts, these are the very best places to eat in Jacksonville right now.

Aqua Grill
Aqua Grill first opened its doors to Ponte Vedra in 1988. In 2016, those doors reopened as a completely rebuilt restaurant with a climate controlled lakeview deck. Look for Baked Oysters Rockefeller or Mayport Shrimp Cocktail starters, but ask for daily specials before choosing. Dinner favorites featuring local seafoods include the blackened sheepshead. The lunch crowd favors handhelds from shrimp or fish tacos to meatballs parmesan subs. Sawgrass Village, Ponte Vedra Beach

Azurea at One Ocean Resort
Beachfront views from every table and aqua-hued surroundings complete an under-the-sea feel, beginning at the tunneled entrance. Dinner items “From the Sea” include Columbian River king salmon and North Atlantic swordfish. “From the Land” entrées are highlighted by Harris Ranch bone-in ribeye and Plantation Farms quail, which pairs well with foraged mushrooms in thyme butter or roasted heirloom cauliflower. Ask for seasonal specialties and The Adventurous Palate, where chefs create a five-course, culinary journey. 1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach

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bb's

bb’s
A chic bistro that’s a little fun, a little upscale, bb’s has been a good choice for San Marco diners for nearly two decades. The menu reflects the lively atmosphere, running the gamut from classic soups, sandwiches and salads to specials such as pan-seared duck breast and gemelli pasta with Black Angus meatballs. 1019 Hendricks Ave., San Marco

Biscottis
Biscottis opened as an Avondale coffee shop more than 20 years ago. Today, guests flock for glasses of wine, lunch, dinner and items from the dessert case. Entrées include the Florida Double Cask Bourbon-molasses glazed black grouper and bleu cheese-crusted beef medallions shiitake demi-glaze. Finish with coffee and rum cake. 3556 St. Johns Ave., Avondale

Bistro Aix
Bistro Aix’s dining room can be described as sexy, with its exposed brick walls, plush seating, playful touches and a Bohemian bar area. But the food—French with the same flair that inspired the décor—such as escargot, duck cassoulet and tuna Nicoise, remains the star of this show. 1440 San Marco Blvd., San Marco

Black Sheep
Located in the funky neighborhood of Five Points, Black Sheep strives to use ingredients from local sources whenever possible. Choose between snacks, like fried green olives, or starters including the Farm to Spoon soup of the day. For the main event, Korean beef short ribs with collard green kimchi or Miso-glazed duck confit pair well with one of the restaurant’s house cocktails. Enjoy all of the above on a seat at the rooftop bar overlooking the St. Johns River. 1534 Oak St., Riverside

Blackstone Grille
The white tablecloths and roses provide an atmosphere fitting for a romantic evening. Try the tea-smoked duck breast with an apricot-shallot demi glaze, served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. 112 Bertram Oaks Walk, Julington Creek     

Blue Bamboo
Blue Bamboo serves what the proprietor happily calls “hip Asian comfort food.” The dragon whiskers (fried zucchini straws) served with ranch dipping sauce is a fan favorite. Signature plates include basil brushed salmon, panko sweet-and-sour chicken and red curry shrimp and grits. Chef Dennis Chan often makes rounds to ask guests about their experience. He’ll be the guy who is always smiling. 3820 Southside Blvd., Southside

Buddha Thai Bistro
Somewhat tucked away in busy Jax Beach, Buddha Thai offers a contemporary dining experience with a touch of traditional décor. For starters, summer rolls offer light introduction before tackling the Andaman sea soup featuring squid and shrimp swimming under a spicy and sour broth. The panang curry is a go-to for those with a taste for coconut. We suggest pairing your meal, whatever you choose, with a glass or two of sake. 301 10th Ave. N., Jax Beach

Caffe Andiamo
Fired in a wood-burning, copper pizza oven are 15 distinctly delicious pizza varieties, including the stuffed Danieli with smoked salmon, mozzarella and goat cheese. If searching for a hearty Italian dish, the pollo paisano with roasted chicken, Italian sausage, wild mushrooms, olives and pepperoncini under a balsamic vinegar sauce may be just what you are looking for. Sawgrass Village, Ponte Vedra Beach

Candy Apple Cafe

Candy Apple Cafe

Candy Apple Café
Though one may be initially attracted to this Downtown bar and restaurant for its sweet treats and whimsical décor, the eclectic menu features dishes to make visitors stay a bit longer. Entrées include country fried chicken, cornmeal-dusted catch of the day and wild mushroom risotto. The inventive cocktail menu is always fun. Save room for dessert, or candy to go. 400 N. Hogan St., Downtown

Chart House
The unusual architecture and stunning views of Downtown and the St. Johns River are high on the list of reasons to visit this longtime Southbank favorite. The outstanding food only adds to the experience. Start with the coconut crunchy shrimp and move to the prime rib, black and blue swordfish or Key West spiced grouper. To top off your evening, don’t skip the chocolate lava cake. 1501 Riverplace Blvd., Southbank

Dwight’s Bistro
Veal piccata under shallots, capers and covered in lemon wine sauce is a menu standout that shares space with lamb, fish or quail. If you have trouble choosing, opt for the mixed grill with a taste of all three plus beef tenderloin. A wine pairing from the bistro’s deep roster of reds and whites completes an evening in this chef-run Mediterranean-themed Beaches landmark. 1527 Penman Rd., Jax Beach

Eleven South
Maine lobster tail, Mayport shrimp, local triggerfish and chorizo paella with a tomato-seafood saffron risotto—these items alone give a first-timer an idea of what’s to come at Eleven South. The restaurant is hidden away neatly in a quiet section of South Jax Beach, where an intimate setting and modern décor accompany a range of other entrée selections. Ask about artisan cheeses and the spirits and cordials list. 216 11th Ave. S., Jax Beach

Enza’s 
Authentic Sicilian favorites like spaghetti carbonara and baked lasagna, as well as some house creations such as shrimp alla Enza (jumbo shrimp, capers, onions, bell pepper, olives, artichoke hearts, Italian sausage and marinara sauce over linguini) stream out of Enza’s busy kitchen, a family-run establishment smack in the middle of Mandarin’s franchise program. The large portions of comfort food always pair well with one more slice of garlic bread. 10601 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin

Flying Iguana 
Guests go for the tacos and stay for the tequila. Or is it vice versa? Reposado, blanco, anejo and mescal varieties make up the list of 86 tequilas from which to choose, straight or in a margarita. For starters, classics like the queso or guacamole and chips, or the peruvian ceviche, provide an introduction for main courses such as junkyard tacos or habañero mango-glazed swordfish. 207 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach Hobnob R Relatively new to the Jacksonville culinary scene after opening in March, Hobnob’s brands its menu as having “global inspiration with local intentions.” The interior is clubby and chic and the open kitchen serves as a point of focus. Entrées include Chilean sea bass, shrimp and longanisa pancit and tri-pepper-crusted ribeye. 220 Riverside Ave., Brooklyn

Il Desco 
A casually sophisticated addition to the corner of Park and King streets in Riverside, modern Italian eatery Il Desco (a sister restaurant to Ovinté and Bistro Aix) proves one need not be in Five Points to be hip or a trend-setter. Seasonal cocktails like the Dusk Along the South Bank and Two Birds, One Stone pair well with squash risotto and rabbit lasagna. 2665 Park St., Riverside

India’s Restaurant
The casual ambiance at India’s, famous for its inexpensive lunch buffet, warm yet unassuming dining room, belies the serious business of the cuisine. The hardworking Punjabi family who opened the restaurant in 1997 continue to turn out some of the best Indian eats the city has to offer. Goat curry, saag paneer, lamb vindaloo and a variety of warm naan breads—the adventurous diner can’t go wrong here. 9802 Baymeadows Rd., Southside

Indochine 
Patrons are invited to customize Thai and Southeast Asian dishes such as pho, pad Thai and curry fried rice with Indochine’s spice rack. Take the typical dining experience from mild to Thai hot if you’re daring. Be sure to keep a glass of water and a clean napkin on hand (for watering eyes) if choosing the latter. 21 E. Adams St., Downtown and 1974 San Marco Blvd., San Marco 

Kazu 
Kazu is a standout among a sea of sushi spots in town. The creative rolls, such as the spectrum roll—tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado lightly torched and topped with tobiko, rich crunchy and scallion, drizzled with a sweet wasabi sauce—are top sellers. For diners looking for something cooked, the fried oysters dipped in tonkatsu sace and unagi don (barbecued eel) are exceptional. 9965 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin

Marker 32 
Marker 32’s dimly-lit and demure dining room situated overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway is a chef-owned escape from the hustle and bustle of the strip malls, casual seafood joints and dive bars that populate the beach. Start your next dinner with fried green tomatoes before moving on to the wood-grilled Atlantic salmon and finishing with the bourbon and raisin bread pudding, classic and delicious as to be expected from this dining landmark. 14549 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach 

Matthew’s Restaurant 
Caviar, anyone? Elegant and stylish surroundings and a menu to match have kept Matthew’s a foodie destination in Jax for some 20 years. Escargot, braised lamb shank and duck breast are among the menu regulars. Don’t leave without trying the souffle of the evening or another of pastry chef Rebecca Reed’s house-made desserts. 2107 Hendricks Ave., San Marco

TacoLu

TacoLu

Metro Diner 
With six area locations, this neighborhood staple has been serving Northeast Florida for nearly 25 years. Breakfast is prepared all day but aside from the signature chicken and waffles, dishes such as shrimp and grits, meatloaf and chicken pot pie gain the approval from residents and visitors alike. The diner is now also open for dinner. Various locations including 2034 Kingsley Ave., Orange Park

Mezza Restaurant & Bar 
There are actually three ways to enjoy the creative fare here—on the covered patio, in the casual bar and lounge and by the fire in the dark wood-trimmed dining room. No matter where you sit, though, Mezza’s Italian-inspired dishes like Mayport shrimp arrabbiata and the manna oyster mushroom pizza are sure to please. 110 1st St., Neptune Beach

Mojo No. 4 
Brisket, Texas hot links, pit smoked chicken, North Carolina pork or all of the above. You choose the meat (or two, or more) and two Southern side dishes from a list of 13 favorites ranging from collard greens to dirty rice. And Mojo offers Southern platters like BBQ shrimp or the Delta catfish platter to take the guesswork out for indecisive diners. Ask for the whole lineup of sauces, and top it off with a Cheerwine float. 3572 St. Johns Ave., Avondale

Mossfire Grill 
Mossfire is located a block away from the Five Points intersection. The Tex-Mex fare is funky and fun. Burritos can be found all over Jacksonville, but what you won’t find is a smoked gouda quesadilla with apple butter, a taco topped with togarashi-seared yellowfin tuna or meatloaf with mushroom gravy and chipotle cheddar mashed potatoes. 1537 Margaret St., Five Points

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails 
As one of few non-franchise restaurants surrounding St. Johns Town Center, Moxie showcases chef Tom Gray’s Southern take on contemporary regional American cuisine. The pimento cheese toast appetizer topped with potato chips and pepper jelly is a must. St. Johns Town Center 

Nineteen
The TPC Sawgrass signature clubhouse restaurant, Nineteen—as in, after you’re done with the eighteenth hole—is a beautiful, open-to-the-public peek inside the exclusive golf club. The seasonal menu offers some simple options like nachos and “The Burger,” but we suggest opting for more unusual offerings such as stuffed quail, duck confit carbonara or the Florida red grouper. Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach

NOLA MOCA 
The location almost certainly gave inspiration to the bright museum cafe which rebranded in 2016 as NOLA MOCA. The menu is brushed with local ingredients in artful dishes like the Chick-a-Boom, a crispy-fried chicken breast with honey-tabasco goat cheese, kale and pickled onions on a toasted bun, and the vegan paella—Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, arborio rice and smoked almonds with a saffron tomato sauce. 333 N. Laura St., Downtown

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North Beach Bistro

North Beach Bistro 
One or two slices of the Margherita pizza work well as an appetizer, if the bistro bangin’ shrimp or crab and artichoke dip doesn’t take you in first. On a clear evening guests may choose to sit outside amongst the bustle of the street patio, or large parties may make reservations to dine in the private art gallery. The half-NOLA, half-Euro feel of the bistro is reflected in the entrée offerings, from seafood paella to the bistro fish n’ chips. 725 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach

North Beach Fish Camp 
A somewhat upscale break from the typical seafood shack, North Beach Fish Camp is a more refined yet casual restaurant that happens to be steps from the shore. The menu is laced with seafood selections just as its sister restaurants in Palm Valley and Julington Creek. Try the roast cod filet with brown butter, garlic, lemon, parsley potatoes and steamed vegetables. 100 1st St., Neptune Beach  

Ocean 60 
Island-inspired Latin and Pacific dining room and martini room next door, guests find local seafood and music throughout the week. Start with the spicy firecracker shrimp, which finds its heat from St. Augustine’s own Datil Peppers. It may look intimidating, but the O60 whole fried fish special is a citrus-horseradish treat. Or the shrimp scampi may work well for more reserved diners. 60 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach

Orsay 
Orsay takes seriously its French bistro roots, but doesn’t forget it was born in the South. Parisian dishes like croque madame, duck cassoulet and mussels frites are on the menu alongside meatloaf made with beef and duck gizzards and pan-roasted fish with grits. If you’re too full for dessert, take home a pint of the bistro’s house-made ice cream. You won’t regret it. 3630 Park St., Avondale

Ovinté 
Though it’s perhaps best known for its substantial wine list and tapas plates, the entreés at Ovinté shouldn’t be dismissed. This swanky Town Center spot turns out a wonderful butternut squash risotto, and the grilled hanger steak with asparagus and a smoked sea salt caramel jus are worth braving the shopping mecca’s traffic for, too. Save room for the Limoncello brioche bread pudding, a crowd favorite. On a nice day, check out the bocce out out back. St. Johns Town Center

Ragtime Tavern 
An Atlantic Beach meeting place and dining fixture for more than 25 years, this bar, restaurant and craft beer brewery combo specializes in lobster and shrimp tacos, a seared and crab-crusted pompano and choice cut steaks. Ragtime also brews barrels of award-winning beers in-house, including lagers, ales, IPAs and a rotating specialty dark beer. Live music keeps regulars returning again and again. 207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach

Restaurant Medure 
This posh Ponte Vedra establishment is always in style. We’re talking fresh local fish, house-made pasta and mouthwatering meats (add the foie gras, trust us). Try the grilled salmon with a ginger cashew crust, scallion Carolina gold rice and sweet teriyaki sauce. For a more casual affair, check out the lounge—no reservations needed—for live music, small plates and craft cocktails. 818 A1A N., Ponte Vedra Beach

Salt Life Food Shack
As the name suggests, Salt Life is all about the sand and sea. This is also reflected in their menu items, with handhelds such as the beach burger with applewood bacon or tropical yardbird chicken sandwich layered with pineapple. Also try the Costa Rican inspired poke bowls and dipping sauces. A raw bar, sushi items and non-seafood options are available, and the entire menu is gluten-free. 1018 3rd St. N., Jax Beach

Sliders Seafood Grille 
In the mood for a cigar? Sliders serves a hand-rolled crab meat stick under Provolone and Parmesan, with hints of cracked pepper marinara in a spring roll wrapper. You won’t smoke this one, but it works well as an appetizer. The restaurant specializes in local seafood (not surprising, the owner was a former shrimp boat captain) including a seafood Kielbasa meatloaf over mashed potatoes, or the seafood vieja stew. 218 1st St., Neptune Beach

Sorrento Italian Restaurant
Sorrento isn’t located in the hippest of neighborhoods and doesn’t have a celebrity chef at its helm. It doesn’t even have a website. But with an intimate atmosphere and hearty, classic Italian fare such as veal parmesan and lasagna (and the warm, crusty garlic rolls that come with each meal) rolling out of the kitchen via knowledgeable staff, who needs that fancy stuff? It’s a Jax Italian dining landmark and for good reason. 6943 St. Augustine Rd., Southside

TacoLu
It’s rare that the parking lot isn’t crowded and the colorful patio isn’t bustling with merry guests. Whether indulging in tacos on a particular day of the week that’s become customary throughout the U.S. or visiting to see what the hype is all about, the ‘Lu’s atmosphere seems to be appreciated. The Mexican street corn is a fan favorite. Say “hi” to Deb and Don. 1712 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach

Taverna

Taverna

Taverna
The simply decorated dining room provides a stylish backdrop that allows the menu to shine at this Mediterranean-influenced eatery laced with Italian and Spanish flavors. Try the sautéed mussels and clams with smoked onions, fennel mascarpone, potatoes and garlic bread. Bring Fido along to enjoy the patio, if you wish. The people-watching in San Marco Square is always enjoyable. 1986 San Marco Ave., San Marco

The Fish Co. 
Have a seat at the oyster bar, on the outdoor patio or around the table with the family. The Fish Company offers a large selection of fish entrées—not surprising given the name—with daily food and drink specials. Diners flock for the dozens of oysters which are discounted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 725-12 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach 

The Tree Steakhouse
Though there are several establishments in Jacksonville at which one can order a good steak, Mandarin mainstay The Tree Steakhouse should be on your shortlist. It underwent a renovation in 2015, with a large charcoal-fired grill . Go for a ribeye with blue cheese butter or New York strip—it’s a steakhouse, after all. 11362 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin

13 Gypsies 
Tiny eclectic bistro 13 Gypsies has a big reputation in Jacksonville. Order several small plates—we recommend the risotto of the day, the chorizo and pears, the house-made ricotta and bread and the sautéed Brussels sprouts—and prepare to order more. 887 Stockton St., Riverside

III Forks 
III Forks offers a contemporary take on the classic upscale steakhouse with its lounge area and lively bar and outdoor patio. Upon entry guests are greeted by the glass wine room which displays the restaurant’s more than 1,500 varieties of vino. Pair a glass with the featured cuts topped with jumbo lump crab meat, asparagus and Hollandaise. 9822 Tapestry Park Cir., Southside 

Tuptim Thai
Everything about Tuptim is pleasant, from the traditional instrumental music to the warm wooden interior. The restaurant offers mainstays like curries, noodles and soups, with the Pad Drunken Noodles blended well with fried rice and an array of veggies. Even those with a high tolerance for spicy food should be weary of ordering Thai hot, but for those who enjoy a truly hot dish, this is for you. 9866 Old Baymeadows Rd., Southside

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Wine Cellar

Uptown Kitchen & Bar
Located in historic Springfield, Uptown Kitchen specializes in traditional Southern fare with modern details. Breakfast and brunch are the draws with items such as caramel pancakes and the pimento cheese and sausage omelet. During dinner, try the smoked pork chop with creamed greens and white bean salad. 1303 N. Main St., Springfield  

V Pizza 
V Pizza operates with the goal of making the authentic Napoletana pizza in mind. That is why the eatery’s only method of cooking is by wood-fired oven—each commissioned to be built in Naples, Italy. While the pizzas are the obvious draw, the oven-roasted wings are a fan favorite. Try them tossed in chili pepper paste for an extra kick. Three Jacksonville locations including 12601 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin

Wine Cellar
Wine Cellar is a Southbank landmark, a popular spot for business lunches for some 40 years. The name is a nod to its extensive selection of wine but the food is a draw of its own. Try the “Trio of Flavors” which comes with Florida gulf shrimp stuffed with lump crab meat, grilled beef tenderloin medallions and sea scallops over roasted red pepper and bacon-cream corn. 1314 Prudential Dr., Southbank