Year after year, the excitement around Jacksonville’s and all of Northeast Florida’s culinary scene continues to build. While franchise operations still dominate sizable portions of town, neighborhood favorites are keeping things interesting by introducing the latest trends in food and drink. The four-dozen establishments that populate our annual 50 Best Restaurants list represent all shades of the dining palette.
Some have been in operation for decades, others hit the scene only recently. They all share some common bonds, however. Each is something special, offering that hard to quantify “yes” that satisfies guests night after night—atmosphere, staff proficiency, consistent quality, interior decor, etc. In addition, each offers diners good value, regardless of what the prices are on the menu. We’re not a town laden with white-linen restaurants and we shouldn’t pretend to be. A tasty plate of barbecue and two sides suits us fine. So, if you have a hankerin’ to get your fork on the road, this article is a good place to start your journey.
Sawgrass Village, Ponte Vedra Beach
The Cuisine: Seafood with eclectic influences, like the popular crab and avocado salad and wasabi pea-crusted Hawaiian tuna, are the draw at Aqua Grill. The pork osso buco, with vidalia-pancetta jus whipped potatoes, is a favorite as well. Ask about the daily specials before deciding, though.
The Décor: The restaurant was rebuilt in 2016, updated with a chic and contemporary vibe, water features, a lake view deck, private dining room, open kitchen and a cozy bar area.
What’s Cool: The deck, which overlooks a small lake, is climate-controlled. On a breezy or cold evening, you’ll be snug among the heaters, windscreens and fireplace.
insider tip: When a big game is on, the bar area can get crowded and rowdy. Arrive early.
Azurea at One Ocean Resort
1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: Labelle Farms seared foie gras, mountain river wild boar with gala apples and local berry chutney, day boat diver scallops with poblano purée and squash panna cotta, line-caught cobia with kohlrabi coleslaw… the menu at Azurea focuses on elevated and creative fare to match the sleek beachfront resort that houses it.
The Décor: A palette of grays with pops of bright green and bold blue and lots of texture create a modern, swanky atmosphere. Every table has an ocean view.
Drink: There’s a seasonal cocktail menu with some tasty options, but a favorite is the Il Pero martini, made with Grey Goose pear-infused vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur and topped with shaved pear and Parmesan. Yes, cheese. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
St. Johns Town Center
The Cuisine: On the second floor of Nordstrom at the Town Center sits Bazille, an under-the-radar bistro serving hip classics like steak frites, prosciutto and arugula pizza cooked in a brick oven, prime rib French dip sandwich and crab mac and cheese. Ask about the specials.
The Décor: Sleek, contemporary booths and tables offer a view of the kitchen beyond a glass wall. Wave and smile!
What’s Cool: There are 19 other Bazille restaurants inside Nordstroms in the U.S. and Canada, but each restaurant utilizes seasonal and local ingredients in its weekly specials. Organic items and sustainable practices, such as the use of cage-free eggs and fair trade coffees, are also a big part of the philosophy here.
What’s not: Parking can get tricky at the Town Center and Nordstrom’s small dedicated lot is often full. Be prepared to walk.
bb’s Restaurant & Bar
1019 Hendricks Ave., San Marco
The Cuisine: The menu reflects the spirited atmosphere, with a little bit of everything and it’s all good. Diners rave about the warm goat cheese salad, white truffle pizza and fried green tomato sandwich. Never disregard the specials menu, though, which offers creative dishes like caramelized onion and ricotta ravioli with mushroom broth and truffle oil, and a selection of daily cheeses.
The Décor: A one-room bistro that’s both fun and upscale, the décor at bb’s is casual-chic and cozy. The dining room is separated into two sections by frosted glass panels. Several small tables are dotted around, a booth lines the back wall and bar seating is also available.
Insider tip: The ice tea here is superior.
The Bearded Pig
1224 Kings Ave., San Marco
The Cuisine: The Bearded Pig specializes in smoked meat. Take your pick—brisket, pork, sausage, turkey, chicken, beef or spare ribs—and add a couple of sides, maybe some cole slaw or mac 'n cheese.
The Décor: Grab a seat on the expansive covered patio or settle in one of the bright orange chairs at the bar to enjoy a glass of beer or wine. The no-fancy-stuff attitude here extends to the décor, but amusing touches like chalkboard paint on the fence and art inspired by the animals you're eating let you know they had a lot of fun designing this place.
Insider tip: That XXX sauce is no joke.
3556 St. Johns Ave., Avondale
The Cuisine: Biscottis’ small core menu features Italian, modern American and Southern influences in items such as personal pizzas, salads and sandwiches. The daily specials are the way to go, though. There’s always a seafood special—a recent option was panko-parmesan baked black grouper—and meat choices like blue-cheese crusted beef medallions with shiitake demi-glaze, as well as pasta and vegetarian options.
The Décor: Exposed brick, low lighting, dark wood and a neutral palette make for an inviting, comfy space. Rotating exhibits of local artists’ work adorns the walls.
Insider Tip: The decadent, towering cakes in the dessert case are certainly eye-catching, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. But don’t overlook the unassuming dishes of bread pudding on the top shelf, made from croissants and served with a dollop of ice cream. It might be the best dessert here—and that’s saying something.
1440 San Marco Blvd., San Marco
The Cuisine: Though Bistro Aix has been closed since Hurricane Irma flooded San Marco, it’s scheduled to return early this year. The restaurant will reopen with a new menu, which will include a mix of longstanding favorites and new items showcasing executive chef Shaun Trachtenburg's aptitude for French and Mediterranean cuisine.
The Décor: Management says the restaurant will reopen with a mix of familiar details and new enhancements to the dining experience. The exposed brick, wood-fired oven, open chef's kitchen and backlit onyx bar will remain focal points of the interior design. Guests who dine in the private dining room will find a completely redesigned space featuring sleek and modern touches.
1534 Oak St., Five Points
The Cuisine: Leaning heavily on ingredients sourced from Florida and Georgia, the menu is full of dressed up-down home dishes such as fried green tomatoes topped with pickle relish and buttermilk ranch; kale and smoked trout salad with sieved egg, marcona almonds and mustard vinaigrette; and wild Georgia shrimp and grits with charred broccoli, shallot confit and New Orleans barbecue sauce.
The Décor: In the main dining room, cool copper-toned orb lamps hang above dark wood booths and a long, well-lit bar ends at a wine selection behind glass that doubles as a feature wall. Upstairs on the roof, cement tables, comfy seating, a fire feature and a view of the St. Johns make for a popular neighborhood gathering spot.
The Mood: There’s definitely a chic vibe here—expect women in skirts and heels and men in jackets at the rooftop bar.
Drink: You can’t go wrong with a dusty boot (Old Forester Bourbon, lemon and lime juices, bitters and a sea salt and black pepper rim) but the Faux Croix (Manifest vodka, Giffard pamplemousse, hibiscus syrup, lime juice, tropical bitters and Grandial sparkling rosé) is a tasty local choice.
112 Bartram Oaks Walk, Julington Creek
The Cuisine: From the Thai-marinated steak to the tea-smoked duck breast, the inspiration at Blackstone Grille is evident. Chef Charles Wang’s Asian-fusion accents such as saffron and fish sauce come through subtly in dishes such as pistachio-crusted chicken and grilled salmon.
The Décor: Floor-to-ceiling windows offer lots of natural light and white tablecloths and roses amid tall, intimate booths provide an elegant atmosphere that might bring to mind a dressy restaurant in a boutique hotel.
Insider Tip: On Chinese New Year, for three days (February 15-17) Blackstone will serve traditional Chinese fare. Call for reservations as Blackstone’s regulars may scoop up the seats quickly.
3820 Southside Blvd., Southside
The Cuisine: Chef and owner Dennis Chan’s Americanized Chinese food staples like crab rangoon, sweet and sour chicken and lo mein are far removed from their takeout brethren. The Katsu Vietnamese tra fish is a standout, and don’t leave without trying the dragon whiskers, a Blue Bamboo mainstay for more than a decade.
The Décor: Recently updated with soft silver chairs, a fresh coat of paint and black-and-gray carpeting, Chan’s décor now has a more contemporary feel.
What’s Cool: Once a month, the restaurant hosts Dim Sum Sundays. Real dim sum is a rarity in Jacksonville, and the à la carte roast pork buns, potstickers and shrimp dumplings are as authentic as they come. January 7 and 21 from 11 AM-2 PM.
insider tip: The chef hosts cooking classes on a near-regular basis. The hands-on experiences are good-natured and fun, a reflection of Chan himself.
500 Sawgrass Village Dr., Ponte Vedra Beach
The Cuisine: Those searching for hearty, authentic Italian dishes in Ponte Vedra should look no further. A large menu of pasta, pizzas, meat and seafood is prepared with traditional, fresh ingredients including house-made Italian sausage, pasta and mozzarella.
The Décor: It’s hard to miss those huge copper pizza ovens that double as a décor feature inside among small, intimate tables. A newly renovated, large patio offers outstanding people-watching.
Drink: An extensive wine list covers flavors from Italy to California. An espresso martini perfectly complements a slice of the tiramisu.
Candy Apple Café & Cocktails
400 N. Hogan St., Downtown
The Décor: Candy Apple Café has a sort of grown-up Dr. Seuss thing going—striped walls, colorful chairs and oversized cherry sculptures give the restaurant a fun, whimsical feel, perfect for Instagramming.
The Cuisine: Here you’ll find American food with a French spin and vice versa—wild mushroom risotto with sage beurre noissette and shaved reggiano, a croque monsieur sandwich with smoked country ham and a fried egg. Of course, there are candy apples for dessert. Go for the sundae, with Sweet Pete’s sea salt caramel apples, ice cream and rocky road or cookies and cream toppings.
Drink: It’s only right to order one of the “craft candy cocktails,” like the Pop Rockadopolis (made with Tito’s vodka and Pop Rocks, natch) or Bourbon S’mores (house-made, chocolate-infused Four Roses bourbon, Kahlua, Irish cream and marshmallow fluff).
27 Seminole Rd., Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: Peruvian cuisine isn’t too common in Northeast Florida, but Ceviche is representing the region beautifully with authentic lomo saltado (skirt steak with red onions and tomatoes in soy sauce), papa a la huancaina (boiled potatoes in creamy yellow cheese sauce) and, of course, the selection of ceviches, the national dish of Peru.
The Décor: A royal blue theme—the tablecloths, the bar and the lighting—pops against the black-and-white checkered floor in the small dining room.
Drink: Don’t skip the Peruvian beverages, including the non-alcoholic Inka Kola, Kola Inglesa and Chicha Morada, as well as beers Cusqueña and Cristal.
1501 River Place Blvd., San Marco
The Décor: The unusual architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright was designer Frank Gehry’s inspiration) and stunning views of Downtown and the river are high on the list of reasons to visit this Southbank standard.
The Cuisine: Unique seafood offerings like swordfish and spätzle and Key West spiced grouper with mango sticky rice are the main attraction, but the Chart House cut of prime rib is a fine option if you’re not into fish.
Drink: The tableside-torched apple Manhattan, made with Baker’s Bourbon, Berentzen apple liqueur, Carpano Antinca Formula vermouth, is an impressive show.
216 11th Ave. S., Jacksonville Beach
The Cuisine: Maine lobster paella with Mayport shrimp, mussels and chorizo on asparagus-carrot saffron risotto typifies the upscale global cuisine one will find at Eleven South. Items like escargot, veal loin Parmesan and grilled steaks with Maine lobster tail, as well as a selection of salads and artisan cheeses ensure there’s something here for everyone.
The Décor: The restaurant’s location in a quiet section of south Jax Beach reinforces the intimate, white-tablecloth ambiance. Sit on the patio for a quieter experience.
Drink: Classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned are done well here, but a creative selection of martinis like the Paper Airplane (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol and lemon juice) makes ordering tough.
Empire City Gastropub
13475 Atlantic Blvd., Intracoastal West
The Cuisine: A diverse menu inspired by the culture of New York City runs the gamut from Filipino adobo style shortribs and Scotch eggs to steak frites and a West Coast burger with avocado and lemon crème fraiche. Fresh herbs come harvested from a garden in a corner of the restaurant.
The Décor: They were serious about the term “gastropub,” using dark wood and brick accents, chalkboards and glasses hanging above the bar to create a casual, watering-hole feel.
What’s Cool: Rather than chips or bread, each table gets a bowl of complimentary spicy popcorn.
What’s not: The menu’s diversity offers something for everyone, but may paralyze the more indecisive patrons with too many options.
Five Points Tavern
1521 Margaret St., Five Points
The Cuisine: Five Points Tavern serves rustic American cuisine cooked with European techniques such as stuffed piquillo peppers, grilled octopus, wood-fired steaks and pasta dishes like tagliatelle with lamb ragout.
The Décor: The 106-seat restaurant is housed in a 100-year-old building which has been renovated with fresh white paint and light wood tables.
The Mood: A covered, open-air bar remains from the Irish pub that previously occupied the space, which offers a casual spot to have a beer from one of the 11 taps and watch the hustle and bustle of Five Points go by.
Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar
207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach
The Décor: Flying Iguana looks just like a fine Mexican restaurant should—a bright mural, colorful lights and fun details with a dash of Old World, South-of-the-Border charm.
The Cuisine: Start with the guacamole prepared tableside and get two or three tacos. The carnitas, with slow-roasted pulled pork, salsa verde, queso fresco and cilantro, is a classic, and the crispy pork belly taco with rum and Coke glaze, watermelon, cotija cheese and pickled onion is soon to be.
Drink: Tequila fans will have a lot to enjoy here, as there are dozens of varieties on offer. Not into drinking it straight up? Try the Millionaire margarita, with Don Julio 1942 tequila, Grand Marnier, agave nectar and fresh-squeezed lemon and lime.
4021 Southside Blvd., Southside
The Cuisine: Chef Kenny Gilbert’s first addition to the mainland Jacksonville dining scene (he opened Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach a few years ago) focuses on seasonal, modern Southern fare with worldly influences. Case in point: the house made apple sauce with Chinese five spice, or loaded chicken and biscuit topped with pimiento cheese, greens and spiced bourbon syrup.
The Décor: Down-home touches like chalkboard art and antique kitsch provide an interesting mix with a neon sign by the bar and orange-and-black color scheme. Key Face: Gilbert can sometimes be seen in the parking lot, wearing a denim apron and tending meats in the smokers.
Il Desco [Editor's note: In January, Il Desco closed its doors after two years in business.]
2665 Park St., Riverside
The Cuisine: This “modern Italian” spot has a menu focused on classics presented with flair. Pizzas are baked in two wood-fired ovens and hit the table crispy on the edges; lasagna and orecchiette arrive beautifully plated, rather than heaped in a bowl as many more traditional Italian restaurants are wont to do. Octopus and oysters beckon from the raw bar.
The Décor: Terrazzo floors original to the building, brown leather tufted booths and dandelion-esque light fixtures all contribute to a warm, inviting and on-trend space. A row of televisions above the bar adds a touch of casual to the main dining room.
Insider tip: The complimentary bread is outstanding—fresh, crusty and soft on the inside, perfect for dipping in the garlicky oil that accompanies it.
9802 Baymeadows Rd., Southside
The Décor: Opened in 1997 by brothers Gurdev and Narinder Singh, who owned other restaurants before moving to Jacksonville, India’s is located in an unassuming strip mall. The décor inside is just as humble, with a few small pieces of art and several “Best Of” plaques adorning the walls.
The Cuisine: First-timers are probably soothed by all those plaques, and they won’t be disappointed, provided they’ve got adventurous palates. One can’t go wrong with any of the curries, saag paneer, lamb vindaloo or chicken biryani paired with one of the naan breads served warm. Have a chai tea and some authentic Punjabi kheer to finish the experience.
The Mood: It’s usually quiet, even during lunch buffet hours. While they may seem standoffish to first-timers, the owners and staff are welcoming and will offer suggestions.
Kazu Japanese Restaurant
9965 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin
The Cuisine: Kazu is a standout among the sea of sushi spots in Northeast Florida. The extensive menu features creative sushi such as the Florida sunrise roll (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura and avocado wrapped in soy paper, topped with sliced mango and served with sweet eel sauce) as well as cooked entrées like spicy Thai basil chicken and barbecued eel.
The Décor: Simple, black high-backed chairs surround simple black tables creating a sleek and contemporary theme. Behind the sushi bar, an impressive rock wall with the word “Kazu” built into it makes a cool focal point.
Drink: Sake is a must, and Kazu offers a large selection. Cheers!
14549 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach
The Décor: Marker 32’s dimly lit dining room overlooking a marina on the Intracoastal Waterway feels miles away from strip malls and casual bars only a stone’s throw down the street.
The Cuisine: Items like fried green tomatoes, pork belly tacos, blackened yellowfin tuna, fried shrimp, hoppin’ John and wood-grilled Atlantic salmon give balance to a menu that’s at times eclectic and folksy but always upscale and current.
2107 Hendricks Ave., San Marco
The Cuisine: Foie gras, soufflé, escargot and local fish Francaise have been staples since Matthew’s opened in 1997, but the menu of perfectly plated, French-inspired dishes changes seasonally.
The Décor: Sleek and modern furnishings reveal the attention that goes into every detail at this fine dining spot. Look for some changes coming, as the restaurant celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
The Mood: One of the only restaurants in town with a stated dress code (business casual, if you were wondering), Matthew’s has a tony atmosphere with service to match—ideal for a special occasion.
Insider Tip: Every Monday, wines by the bottle (of which Matthew’s cellar holds approximately 2,000) are half-price. Also, the bar menu is great for small bites.
Seven area locations including 3302 Hendricks Ave., San Marco
The Cuisine: It’s comfort food. And lots of it. Their meatloaf is quite famous—featured on Food Network—although one could get their Southern fixin’ with fried chicken or shrimp and grits, too. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s probably not recommended to eat like that three times a day. We’re willing to try.
The Décor: It’s looks just like that roadside diner everyone always hopes to find on a road trip, but doesn’t so they end up having to eat fast food in their car at a rest stop.
Key Face: Does Guy Fieri count?
What’s Cool: Most neighborhoods in Jax have one—San Marco, Ortega, Southside, Jax Beach, PV Beach, Orange Park, Mandarin and St. Augustine.
What’s not: On Sunday morning when you’re dying for a big ol’ plate of waffles, Metro is going to be busy. Be ready to wait it out; other people want waffles, too.
Mezza Restaurant & Bar
110 1st St., Neptune Beach
The Cuisine: Mezza has a largely Italian influence on a menu highlighting seafood, steak and pizza.
The Décor: They have a patio, lounge and main dining room all seeming much like a villa settled in the middle of Tuscany.
Insider Tip: While the main dining room is reserved for adults, children can make their own pizzas in the lounge from 5-6:30 PM.
What’s Cool: After finishing off that bottle of wine and a plate of dessert, head just down the road and take a walk on the beach or top off the night with a visit to one of the bars within walking distance.
What’s not: Parking in the Beaches Town Center area is always a struggle. It’s all a game of chance. Good luck!
Mojo No. 4
3572 St Johns Ave., Avondale
The Cuisine: Here one can find hearty BBQ and Southern platters. The burnt ends are something of a local legend and the sweet sauce is largely raved about.
The Décor: It feels kind of like a Southern smokehouse, but with an urban vibe.
Drink: While there’s an extensive whiskey list, one can also find beer, wine and cocktails. As far as whiskey goes, each day of the week has a different three-dollar whiskey shot. See you on Thursday for that Four Roses Yellow Label.
Insider Tip: Going with the whole family and everyone is starving? Check out the “Whole Hawg”—pork, beef, turkey, chicken, ribs, sausage and four sides. What more do you need? Oh, yeah—dessert!
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails
St. Johns Town Center
The Cuisine: Moxie serves up American comfort food with an upscale twist. There’s meatloaf and chicken and waffles, but there’s also scallops and filet mignon.
The Décor: Like the food, the atmosphere is comfortable, yet classy. Think giant, round leather booths, an open, bustling kitchen and well kept-patio space both upstairs and down.
Drink: While the bar is mixing up classic cocktails and pouring out beer from exclusively local taps, alcohol isn’t the only interesting offering—Moxie makes sodas in house. What’s Cool: It’s one of the few restaurants in the Town Center that’s not a chain. Yay! You still have to deal with all that traffic, but it’s worth it.
Insider Tip: Their $4.B4.5PM happy hour means $4 drinks. The list includes draft beer, wine, wells and cocktails. They have a regular happy hour, too, but it’s not $4.
Key Face: Chef Tom Gray has opened quite a few restaurants around Jacksonville, including Moxie.
110 Championship Way, Ponte Vedra Beach
The Cuisine: Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner, Nineteen has everything from corn beef hash to nachos to duck breast. Pro-golfers and children alike will be able to find something that’s up to par.
The Décor: Located inside the grand TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse, there’s a casual, yet elegant atmosphere with leather chairs and warm wood beams inside and patio tables surrounded by palms and fire pits outside.
Insider Tip: Monday through Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM, there’s $5 happy hour snacks and all drinks are half-priced. What’s Cool: Even those not a part of the exclusive club can enjoy Nineteen, and maybe even pretend like they, too, are world-class golfers.
333 N. Laura St., Downtown
The Décor: NOLA MOCA is bright and contemporary like the museum it sits within, but here guests can eat the works of art placed in front of them.
The Cuisine: Most dishes here have a creative twist, from sweet potato nachos to vegan paella. The menu changes with the season and there’s always a fresh catch and a daily flatbread, risotto, grilled cheese, soup and even dessert—so don’t plan on ordering the same thing every time.
What’s Cool: NOLA MOCA is open for dinner on Thursdays and for Downtown’s Art Walk, the first Wednesday evening of each month.
What’s not: They’re not open on weekends or for dinner most days of the week.
Insider Tip: During Art Walk they offer a $12 special that includes a sandwich, cup of soup and a can of Intuition beer.
North Beach Bistro
725 Atlantic Blvd. #6, Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: While there are plenty of dishes straight from the Atlantic, such as shrimp and grits or the fresh catch, there’s also a bone-in pork chop or prime rib sliders. There’s an extensive list of sharable plates as well as flatbreads, handhelds and mains.
The Décor: The ambiance is simple and warm with deep woods and touches of beach-inspired art. The beach is there, but one doesn’t have to worry about getting sand in one’s shoes.
Insider Tip: Cooking for the entire family on holidays can be a pain, but North Beach Bistro handles all the pressure by laying out family-style buffets.
What’s Cool: They offer a Sunday brunch that includes $10 bottomless mimosas with any entrée.
North Beach Fish Camp
100 1st St., Neptune Beach
The Cuisine: Grab a basket of fried seafood or go with one of the chef’s more sophisticated daily creations of snapper or steak; either way it will have a Southern flair.
The Décor: It’s as upscale as it can get while still retaining that “campy” vibe. New England influences mingle with classic Florida style. A fish case shows off some of the catches that will become dinner.
Insider Tip: The bread pudding is ever changing—sometimes it’s blueberry, sometimes it’s Oreo, once it was Irish car bomb. If dessert is in the plans make sure to find out what the option is that evening.
What’s Cool: Not near the beach? There’s a Fish Camp in Palm Valley and Julington Creek as well, both right on the water in their respective areas.
60 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: Ocean 60 serves up Continental cuisine from the land, sea and garden. A large portion of the menu is ever-changing nightly specials with dishes like island seared grouper and ribeye Oscar.
The Décor: There’s a main dining room with a more intimate feel, resembling something from California wine country. There’s also a martini lounge, where live music is played and drinks are mixed and shaken. Chef Danny Groshell knows his customers and they know him.
Drink: Everyone raves about the Butterfinger martini, one of the 20 house variations they have to offer.
3630 Park St., Avondale
The Cuisine: At Orsay, Southern meets French in an upscale yet unintimidating fashion. For starters there’s a raw bar or charcuterie, for mains venison, duck breast or shepherd’s pie. If there’s room for dessert there’s creme brûlée or macaroons, or take home some of their house-made ice cream.
The Décor: It’s like a French country house or inn with deep wood beamed ceilings and muted, warm tones in the walls and furniture. A crisp, white bar sits in the back and a quieter dining room off to one side.
Drink: The well-trained bar staff will put together unique drinks such as a sweet potato mule or a blood orange martini. For those more into grapes, there’s an extensive wine list.
Insider Tip: Happy hour might be a tip on a few of these, but seriously, Orsay’s happy hour is on point. It includes drinks and bites such as half-off oysters, every day 4-7 PM and Saturdays 11 AM-7 PM.
207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: Ragtime has a little bit of everything on their menu, but a Cajun theme is present throughout shining in dishes like the gumbo, étouffée or red beans and rice.
The Décor: With different rooms and different levels Ragtime feels like a little city within itself. Live music is played in the bar, an open kitchen livens up the back and, in between, tables and booths fill up every nook and cranny.
Drink: Beer is brewed right on site. There’s a Dolphin’s Breath Lager sure to please the classic beer drinkers or the First Coast IPA for those on the more adventurous, and hoppy, side.
What’s cool: Ragtime is open late—midnight during the week and 1 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.
106 1st St., Neptune Beach
The Cuisine: “New American” is the theme of chef and owner Christopher Polidoro, with a seasonal menu focusing on what’s fresh and available. The tomato and bread soup and farro and wheatberry “risotto” are highlights of the restaurant’s recent offerings. Don’t skip the house-made vanilla ice cream.
The Décor: The design brings to mind a stylish home kitchen—light, bright and coastal chic, with whitewashed wood accents and white tables and chairs.
Insider Tip: Diners are encouraged to order all at once from the selections split into first and second courses, with a handful of à la carte sides.
818 A1A N., Ponte Vedra Beach
The Cuisine: Here you’ll find high-end delights such as caviar and escargot or indulge in a meatloaf or short ribs. The locally caught fish and the house-made pasta are the most raved-about menu items. Oh, and don’t forget to ask about the soufflé of the evening.
The Décor: Soft whites and creams and clean lines define the space within Restaurant Medure. Tall booths line the walls while tables covered in white linens fill the remaining space.
Drink: The wine menu was put together by their house sommelier; each cocktail is hand-crafted, and there’s a handful of beers from local to world-wide.
What’s Cool: The lounge has a more laid-back atmosphere with live music, happy hour and a ladies’ night on Tuesday.
Salt Life Food Shack
1018 3rd St. N., Jacksonville Beach
The Cuisine: Oysters, sushi, tacos, burgers—to name a few. The extensive menu is inspired by the ocean, but landlubbers will find something to float their boat as well.
The Décor: While inside there’s no mistaking the fact that it’s at the beach—there are surfboards and fish and pictures of the ocean at every turn. The barstools look like they came right off a boat, while the rest of the seats seem to have come from a local beach house’s front porch.
What’s Cool: While Salt Life merch can be seen all over the state, the concept originated right here in Jacksonville.
Mood: Since Salt Life is just ever so beachy, it’s a great place to go when the wintertime blues set in. In there it’s always summer.
Sliders Seafood Grille
218 1st St., Neptune Beach
The Cuisine: For more than 30 years Sliders has been serving up seafood with soul. Classics like meatloaf have seafood thrown in, there are original creations like the deconstructed crab cake tacos, or go with a classic like baked oysters.
The Décor: The large patio with its long rows of tables feels a bit like summer camp—being outdoors and surrounded by palms. There’s a fireplace toward the front and a tin roof overhead. Inside is a bit campy as well with wood beams and bright shutters.
Insider Tip: Happy hour specials change with the day of the week here. Tuesday is tacos, accompanied by drinks like margaritas and coronas. Steamer Wednesday offers up shrimp and clams and Cold Thursday options include raw oysters or peel-and-eat shrimp.
Drink: The house cocktails are mostly on the tropical side, such as painkillers and mojitos.
South Kitchen & Spirits
3638 Park St., Avondale
The Cuisine: While many establishments in Jacksonville have a Southern influence, South serves up nothing but country dishes. The menu is full of staples Grandma used to make like biscuits and cornbread, black-eyed pea and tomato stew or fish and grits.
The Décor: The new and large building that was constructed to house South feels kind of like an industrial barn… if that’s a thing. An exposed ceiling shows the metal beams while wood accents finish off the walls. The patio has three gas fireplaces around which to pull up a chair. The bar opens up to the outside making it easy to relax by the fire without having to go far for a refill.
What’s cool: Southern food isn’t exactly known for being nutritious, but at South they offer a large selection of salads, which all come with a vegetarian or vegan dressing.
1712 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach
The Cuisine: Is Jax-Mex a thing? Guacamole, queso, Mexican street corn, quesadillas, tacos, burritos—the usuals, but all with that Lu twist.
The Décor: The vibe is hustle and bustle in a Mexican lodge. Colorful Day of the Dead decorations mingle amongst each other in various rooms, in the center there’s a large fireplace, and off in the sunniest room the bar is almost always full.
What’s Cool: It’s become a Jax staple. Eating at TacoLu makes you feel like part of the community.
Insider Tip: They don’t take reservations and it’s always packed, so expect a wait. If the wait is a hefty one, walk over to Engine 15 for a beer to pass the time. Just make sure you can hustle back in time to get your table—they give you five minutes.
1986 San Marco Blvd., San Marco
The Cuisine: Taverna’s claim to fame is handcrafted Mediterranean fare. Their menu features hand-made pastas, traditional pizzas and plenty of seafood such as Sicilian stew.
The Décor: Clean whites and natural woods lend Taverna a modern Tuscany feel. A long bar lines one side, while tall booths separate the seating area nearby. Through large windows there’s a patio right off the square. Insider Tip: Brunch at Taverna is something to behold. There’s banana bread, lemon ricotta pancakes and breakfast pizza, to name a few.
Drink: Have the bar put together a classic cocktail or try one of their originals such as the Fever Dream which has Vida Mezcal and serrano pepper infused Camarena Silver Tequila. There’s also an extensive wine list to browse through or just grab a glass of local beer from their draft list.
The Fish Co.
725-12 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach
The Cuisine: It would be wise to order some fish at The Fish Co., but there’s also an oyster bar and delicacies such as Dungeness crab. Tilapia, tuna, shrimp, scallops—if it’s seafood they have it, and they do it well.
The Décor: Grab a seat at the oyster bar for the authentic fish market feel, or enjoy the ocean breeze felt from the patio. The dining room has a lot of blues and browns, making one feel like one is right in the ocean—kind of like the fish who swim in a tank nearby.
Insider Tip: Wednesday oysters are on special for $7.99 a dozen.
The Tree Steakhouse
11362 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin
The Cuisine: Specializing in steak, The Tree has various cuts of black Angus beef from filet mignon to prime rib. There’s also Atlantic salmon or butternut squash risotto for those who don’t quite have a taste for red meat.
The Décor: The Tree Steakhouse feels a bit like a sophisticated hunting lodge—but don’t worry, there’s no animal heads, just deep woods, warm wallpapers and exposed brick.
Drink: There’s wine, beer and cocktails like the Spiced Pig, which has Kraken spiced rum infused with house smoked candied bacon.
Insider Tip: The Oak Bar has two-for-one drink specials Wednesdays and Fridays from 4-9 PM.
887 Stockton St., Riverside
The Cuisine: 13 Gypsies’ roots are in simple Spanish peasant food. Their menu consists largely of tapas such as risotto, fresh chorizo with sautéed pears and and pan-seared cod, but there’s also a section of house-cured meats and cheese. If venturing in at lunch, there are a handful of sandwiches to choose from.
The Décor: It’s an eclectic little bistro in a strip in Riverside with just a handful of tables and old photos hung all over the walls. Drink: While there is wine, beer and cider, it has been recommended to check out the house-made sangria.
What’s Cool: Because the place is so small it can be a very intimate dining experience. Very.
What’s not: Definitely try and make a reservation to secure a spot.
9822 Tapestry Park Circle #111, Southside
The Cuisine: It’s called the “best prime steakhouse” for a reason. Highlights include a 46-ounce tomahawk ribeye or a bone-in strip of wagyu beef. Choose your cut, your size and any additions like truffle butter or a Parmesan crust. There are vegetarian options, but let’s just go ahead and say this place is for the carnivores.
The Décor: The chandeliers that hang from the ceiling look as though they were lifted from a castle. Along the main dining room wall is a long, modern fireplace. Small corridors are home to cozy booths.
Drink: The wine room houses more than 1,500 bottles of wine while the bar shelves more than 250 different bottles of liquor—lll Forks has no shame in their abundance. Now what to choose with so many options?
Insider Tip: The first Wednesday of each month the restaurant hosts a wine tasting with a sample of six wines from a featured region along with hors d’oeuvres.
5907 Roosevelt Blvd., Ortega; 9825 San Jose Blvd., Southside; 9825 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin
The Cuisine: Tuptim Thai has recipes that have been handed down for generations from noodle and rice bowls to curries. Most dishes have a mild amount of hot and spice to them, but for those with an extreme tolerance to heat ask for the very hot option.
The Décor: Toto, I don’t think we’re in Jacksonville anymore. Everything is authentically Thai from the traditional instrumental music to the Oriental art and the smell of food being cooked up the kitchen.
Drink: Give the Thai sweet coffee or tea with cream a try or the Singa beer imported from Thailand to have an authentic beverage with your meal.
Sorrento Italian Restaurant
6943 St Augustine Rd., San Jose
The Cuisine: While pizza may be taking over the world, there’s still a few placing serving other Italian dishes, Sorrento being one of them. Pastas, masalas and parmesans are all featured on the menu and are regarded as some of the best Italian in town.
The Décor: While the outside may not look like much, venture in and the white tablecloths, dim lighting and a crackling fire give off a cozy feel.
What’s cool: The recipes, and even the waitstaff, haven’t changed in the more than 30 years that Sorrento has been open. Expect the servers to know the menu like the back of their hand and the dishes to be true to their Italian roots.
What’s not: The décor also hasn’t changed in more than 30 years. It’s like the 80s in a time capsule… which could be cool if you’re super into the 80s.
Uptown Kitchen & Bar
1303 Main St. N., Springfield
The Cuisine: From beef short ribs to vegetable pot pie, there’s something for everyone on the menu of American fare. Breakfast offerings include a variety of biscuits or omelettes, but something is to be said about the Sweet Pete caramel pancakes.
The Décor: The open kitchen and expansive bar give way to an urban feel in Uptown Kitchen & Bar. Want to be out in an actual urban environment? Grab a seat on the patio and enjoy the people-watching Springfield has to offer.
Drink: The draught list boasts only local breweries, the cocktails come both classic and original and a variety of wines are available to accompany one’s meal.
What’s Cool: It’s one of the few places to get breakfast in Springfield.
1406 Hendricks Ave., San Marco; 528 1st St. N., Jacksonville Beach; 12601 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin
The Cuisine: The pizza is probably as authentically Italian as one will be able to find in Jacksonville. V is known far and wide for their chicken wings, but beware of the spicy ones—they are for brave souls only.
The Décor: Watch pizza being made in giant ovens and gather around community tables. The chefs are covered in flour and by the end of it everyone else is covered in parmesan and red pepper flakes.
Drink: Connected to each V is a bar of some sort. Wander over and grab a beer or a cocktail to wash down all those carbs.
Insider Tip: They have a $12 lunch special where any of the house pizzas are served in a smaller, one-person portion, or grab a calzone, panini or chicken wings for the same price, all including a drink.