50 Best Restaurants 2016

bluebamboo azurea andiamo

// photos by Agnes Lopez

2015 saw an abundance of restaurant openings in Jacksonville, giving locals a wide array of new options. Of course, many of the eateries listed among Jax Mag’s annual list of the top places to dine aren’t new. In fact, some have been around for decades. But that’s the thing about food—fads come and go (are kale chips still a thing?), but it’s hard to beat the tried-and-tasted. From Southern staples to hot bowls brimming with spicy pho, this might be the River City’s most delicious year yet. Eat up.

Click on the name of the restaurant below to read more about it.

Aqua Grill

Aqua Grill relocated to a new building across the Sawgrass Village parking lot late last year, a well-deserved update to the 27-year-old establishment. Though the menu changes daily, it’s consistently well-rounded with fish, meat and vegetarian options. Don’t miss the panko crusted green tomatoes appetizer, a fan favorite. 950 Sawgrass Village Dr., Ponte Vedra Beach, aquagrill.net

Azurea at One Ocean Resort

Every table has an ocean view at Azurea, and the rich greens and blues of the restaurant’s décor bring the outside in. It’s a tranquil setting, overshadowed only by the beautiful food about to be placed on the table. The lovely presentation for menu items such as citrus marinated duck breast and rack of wild boar with stone fruit preserves is second only to the flavor. 1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, oneoceanresort.com


At the intersection of casual and upscale sits bb’s, an inviting bistro where the noise level is often high, especially during lunch as the dining room packs with business types. The core menu of sandwiches, salads and pizzas is top-notch, but don’t miss from-scratch specials like Caribbean red snapper with sunchoke purée and smoked bacon marmalade and diver scallops with housemade potato gnocchi. 1019 Hendricks Ave., San Marco, bbsrestaurant.com


The clinking of glasses and murmur of parties chatting over the candlelit tables in Biscottis' cozy dining room will charm you—the innovative food with dramatic flair will win you over. Whatever the nightly fish special is (pistachio honey encrusted sea bass was an enticing recent option), we recommend that. Don’t miss the dessert tour, during which your server will regale you with the delights of the refrigerated case such as croissant bread pudding, the restaurant’s most popular treat. 3556 St. Johns Ave., Avondale, biscottis.net

Bistro Aix

In Bistro Aix’s chic dining room, diners find ornate flourishes in the carved wood details, swirly chandeliers, backlit onyx bar and on their plates as well. Chateaubriand, short rib bourguignon, escargot and toasted brioche with Russian caviar are just a sampling of luxe French-inspired dishes emerging from the open kitchen. 1440 San Marco Blvd., San Marco, bistrox.com

Black Sheep

Sure, one can sit in Black Sheep’s trendy dining room with a view of the bustling bar and active Five Points streetscape, but to get the restaurant’s full experience, ride the (somewhat slow) elevator to the top to dine on one of Jacksonville’s only rooftop bars. On Sunday evenings, the Southern-influenced eatery offers a fried chicken dinner for two, complete with all the fixin’s—mashed potatoes with gravy, fluffy biscuits, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and a side of honey. One can’t go wrong with the poutine, fried green olives or crispy duck confit, but the craft cocktails are not to be missed. Get a Dusty Boot, or if you’re not a bourbon fan, a Roman Holiday made with St. Augustine gin. 1534 Oak St., Five Points, blacksheep5points.com

Blackstone Grille

This white-tablecloth establishment consistently makes our list of the top restaurants in Jacksonville, owing to its sophisticated atmosphere and inventive fusion menu. Blackstone Grille’s pistachio-crusted chicken breast is a fan favorite and their steaks are among the top in the city. 112 Bartram Oaks Walk, Julington Creek, blackstonegrille.com

The Blind Rabbit

The Blind Rabbit’s casual atmosphere and menu of refined pub eats—the BBQ bacon burger is topped with crispy tobacco onions and bourbon spiked creole mustard, and the chicken wings are served with peach habañero hot sauce and shaved celery salad—earn it high marks with the burger-and-a-beer crowd. Don’t miss the gorgonzola chips, dripping with fondue and balsamic glaze. 901 King St., Riverside; 311 North 3rd St., Jacksonville Beach, theblindrabbitwhiskeybar.com

Blue Bamboo

In billing itself as “hip Asian comfort food,” Blue Bamboo hit the nail on the head. The dragon whiskers appetizer (fried zucchini straws with garlic chive ranch dipping sauce) is almost mandatory, and the big portions of classic dishes with Asian twists, like red curry shrimp and grits and lamb rack with grilled bok choy marry East and West with ease. 3820 Southside Blvd., Southside, bluebamboojacksonville.com

The Blue Fish

Diners love brunch at The Blue Fish, which varies weekly but always includes a cold bar with salad, cheese, dips, fruit and more. Pay the few extra bucks to get unlimited bloody Marys or mimosas—it’s worth it. During lunch or dinner, the crab bisque is a crowd favorite. Don’t miss: Elevated Avondale, the intimate piano bar above the restaurant frequented by the locals. 3551 St. Johns Ave., Avondale, bluefishjax.com

Bowl of Pho

Bowl of Pho is a standout among the plethora of Vietnamese restaurants in Jacksonville. Their signature noodle soup bowls are heady with sweet spices, chewy noodles and a variety of proteins (rare steak and tripe are perennial favorites). Other selections (broken rice with grilled pork, sautéed chicken in lemongrass) are equally flavorful and worth a break from the eponymous dish for which the restaurant is known. Various locations, including 9902 Old Baymeadows Rd., Southside, 646-4455

Buddha Thai Bistro

Sure, you could go the “safe” route at Buddha Thai—pad Thai with chicken, red curry with shrimp—but you can also choose from a selection of dishes that bring the heat. Kalua ribs marinated in pineapple and honey and served with coconut rice offer a more pungent take on Thai, while Andaman sea soup—loaded with fish, squid, shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and galangal—is one of the most vibrant meals in town. 201 10th Ave. N., Jacksonville Beach, buddhathaibistro.com

Café Nola

Chef Kathy Collins’ dishes are often as inventive as the art hanging in the MOCA galleries (Nola is the museum’s in-house restaurant). The menu changes seasonally but expect dishes with a wide range of influences, from vegan paella with smoked almonds to blackened rainbow trout with Mexican crema and crispy collards. Don’t Miss: Shrimp and grits have become ubiquitous on the local dining scene but Nola’s, which feature smoked cheddar Greenway stone-ground grit cakes, sun-dried tomato crostini and white wine and mushroom sauce, are some of the best in town. 333 N. Laura St., Downtown, mocajacksonville.org

Caffé Andiamo

Italian food, at least in America, is all about the pizza and the pasta. Caffé Andiamo has both of those in spades, but it’s the more regional dishes—tuna and salmon carpaccio, roast chicken with wild mushrooms—that really shine. Pastas, risottos, baked dishes and a lengthy wine list round out the menu and the restaurant itself, complete with a copper pizza oven, is a far cry from the checkered tablecloths you’ve come to expect from Italian eateries. The convivial bar is a chic but still casual option at which to graze on mushroom pizza and sip a glass of red. 500 Sawgrass Village Dr., Ponte Vedra Beach, caffeandiamo-pvb.com

Candy Apple Cafe

A major renovation of the historic Seminole Club in 2014 has allowed the building housing Sweet Pete’s and Candy Apple Café to become a mini empire of all things delicious in Downtown Jax. It’s now a space that would make Willy Wonka proud, with striped walls, oversized furniture, multi-colored chandeliers and candy in nearly every corner. Mother-daughter duo Liz and Jennifer Earnest, owners of Chef’s Garden Catering & Events, opened Candy Apple with an emphasis on grown-up versions of classic kids favorites. Petite corn dogs with cheddar ale fondue and mac n’ cheese with candied bacon will please everyone in the family, while rock shrimp crepes, buttermilk-fried chicken with pink peppercorn gravy and short rib meatloaf satisfy the after-work crowd. 400 N. Hogan St., Downtown, candyapplecafeandcocktails.com

Dwight’s Bistro

The ambiance (locals tucking into plates of grilled quail and veal piccata in a room where every conceivable bit of wall is covered in mosaic murals) isn’t modern, but it’s part of the charm at Dwight’s, a Beaches institution for 20 years. Crab cakes—heavy on the crab, not the breading—are the stuff of legend and diners can’t go wrong with a plate of house-made pasta. 1527 Penman Rd., Jacksonville Beach, dwightsbistro.com

Eleven South

The wine list alone has helped cultivate Eleven South’s pack of loyalists—some of whom even cross the ditch for the eatery’s upscale atmosphere and sophisticated cuisine. Staff is always happy to help diners navigate the vast selections of merlots, pinots and cabernet, and are well-educated when it comes to pairing suggestions. The menu is heavy on the seafood (coriander crusted Ahi, black grouper with tomato-mustard seed jam) but fresh chops and pastas make appearances, as well. 216 11th Ave. S., Jacksonville Beach, elevensouth.com


Enza’s is old school Italian, through and through. Enna and Mike Huff man the kitchen, which turns out hefty portions of Sicilian-style favorites. Expect tried-and-true comfort food—lasagna, spaghetti carbonara and veal milanese—plus a few surprises (low-carb chicken Stephanie and gluten-free pasta among them). Unlimited garlic bread, live music on weekends and a mom-and-pop atmosphere ensure customers leave happy—and, more often than not, with a doggie bag. 10601 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin, enzas.net

Flying Iguana

The word “fusion” is all too often thrown around in the restaurant industry but at Flying Iguana, it’s an accurate description. Dishes like Canadian poutine and all-American meat and potatoes get a Mexican spin. The poutine, for instance, comes with sweet potatoes fries, redeye gravy and queso fresco while the meat and potatoes comes stuffed in a tortilla. The bar offers plenty of signature margaritas to wash down your table-side guacamole, addictive chips and salsa and chorizo empanadas. 207 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach, flyingiguana.com

India’s Restaurant

Intricately spiced curries seem made for pillowy naan bread and luckily, you’ll find both at India’s, a go-to for Indian cuisine since 1997. Here, diners nosh on tandoor specialties like chicken tikka (marinated in yogurt sauce before being roasted in an earthenware pot), bone-in goat curry and India’s chaat, a combination of chickpeas and potatoes with crisp wafers and a variety of homemade yogurts and chutneys. 9802 Baymeadows Rd., Southside, indiajax.com


Whether its curry fried rice, peanut curry or short ribs in Massaman curry, the polished plates of Thai-fusion dishes at both Indochine locations are enough to knock anyone out of a dining rut. Part of the fun of dining here is customizing your order with Indochine’s spice rack, adding more heat—and thrills—to the typical dining experience. 21 E. Adams St., Downtown and 1974 San Marco Blvd., San Marco, indochinejax.com


In a land of burgers, fries and tacos, simple but well-executed meals are a welcome respite. Such is the case at Kazu, where the emphasis is on a rotating selection of omakase (a daily selection of specialty fish like sea bream, sea urchin and live scallops) and creative sushi rolls. The chefs know their way around the kitchen, too, deep-frying fresh oysters to dunk into tonkatsu sauce and marinating black cod in a sake-miso sauce before grilling and finishing it with eel and sriracha. 9965 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin, kazujapaneserestaurant.com


One bite of crispy crab rangoon subtly accented with curry, roast duck simmered in coconut milk and spices or deep-fried whole snapper will take you to a warm, distant land. The transporting flavors at Lemongrass, a bright and contemporary space on Baymeadows Road, extend beyond the rice and noodle dishes for which most Thai eateries are known. Even the desserts (purple sticky rice with coconut and custard with shredded pumpkin) offer a palate-expanding way to experience exotic cuisine. 9846 Old Baymeadows Rd., 645-9911

Marker 32

In a part of town littered with strip malls and chain stores, Marker 32 is a welcome anomaly. A dimly-lit dining room perched above the Intracoastal Waterway is full of bustling waitstaff that deftly cater to the well-heeled clientele. The menu has undergone a few overhauls in recent years, but fish always steals the show. Try the lobster wedge salad before moving on to seared yellowfin tuna with braised kale and garlic-miso, a Marker 32 favorite that’s managed to stand the test of time. 14529 Beach Blvd., Intracoastal West, marker32.com


Matthew’s has been a bright spot on Jacksonville’s culinary scene for over a decade. It’s seen a few changes since it opened, but both the food and the service remain top-notch. Here, diners dressed in business casual attire nibble on osetra caviar and salumi and cheese before moving on to pastas (a recent menu including agnolotti with wild mushrooms and sherry cream) and main courses such as Hawaiian Kajiki with cardamom butter poached potato or Wagyu beef with shaved black truffle. Pastry Chef Rebecca Reed’s desserts are not to be missed, and include tasting flights of gelato and petits fours, olive oil pound cake and the always-delightful soufflé of the evening. 2107 Hendricks Ave., San Marco, matthewsrestaurant.com


Here, there’s fun for the entire family. While mom and dad enjoy happy hour with live entertainment on the patio, the kids can make their own pizzas in Mezza’s wood fired oven. Fido is even welcome. If the ambiance isn’t enough of a draw, the menu is sure to delight. Try the coffee rubbed pork chop with sweet potato, Brussel sprouts and tart cherry demi. Gluten free options are also available. 110 N. 1st St., Neptune Beach. mezzarestaurantandbar.com

Mojo No. 4

With five other restaurants under the Mojo Q umbrella, Mojo No. 4 has made a name for itself. Deemed an urban barbecue and whiskey bar, both the ‘cue and the spirits are high points. Try the smokehouse grilled chicken breast sandwich topped with Mojo BBQ Sauce, sautéed onions, smoked bacon and Jack and cheddar cheeses paired with a peach whiskey cocktail. 3572 St. Johns Ave., Ste. 1, Avondale. mojobbq.com 

Mossfire Grill

Taking the inspiration for its name from the Spanish moss that sparked the Great Fire of 1901, Mossfire Grill has been a Riverside staple for more than 15 years. The eatery serves traditional Southwestern fare with a twist. Try the Mossfire crab cakes topped with chipotle lime mayo and roasted corn salsa, black beans and rice. 1537 Margaret St., Five Points. mossfire.com 

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails

  Helmed by two-time James Beard Award nominee Tom Gray, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails serves up eclectic fare with a Southern twist—think crispy pig ears and brunswick stew with house-smoked pork and crispy grits. The cocktail program offers a variety of Instagram-worthy creations—try the Sure Thing with Tito’s Vodka, creme Yvette, pear shrub, orange and peach bitters and lemon. St. Johns Town Center. moxiefl.com  


Though it’s located on the grounds of the famed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Nineteen is not the average clubhouse grill. Of course, the menu does take some inspiration from its surroundings (TPC salad and Fred Funk nachos are just a few of the offerings) but the food can easily stand on its own. The atmosphere is clubby casual, and you can order a sandwich just about any time of day, but we suggest tucking into one of the fresh fish or steak entrées. Try the Mayport shrimp with butternut squash blini, pomodoro sauce, baby vegetables and a micro green salad. 110 Championship Way, Ponte Vedra Beach, 273-3238

North Beach Bistro

Even on a weeknight the mood at North Beach Bistro generates a feel-good buzz, thanks to live music, art scattered on the walls and a menu that manages to be creative but comfortable. Expect dishes like short ribs with risotto and onion straws, along with classics such as chicken Milanese with lemon-caper broth. The specials menu should be of particular interest, if only because it offers hearty dishes at surprisingly low prices (think 12-ounce prime rib with whipped potatoes, green beans and onion jus, for $13). 725 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, nbbistro.com

North Beach Fish Camp

Ben and Liza Groshell (the owners of Marker 32 and all of the Fish Camp restaurants) understand the beauty of fresh seafood. At North Beach Fish Camp, the kitchen turns out plates that eschew too many trends and culinary fads, allowing fish to be the star. That deft touch is best evidenced in dishes such as iron-skillet brook trout with arugula, bacon, crushed new potatoes and deviled egg sauce. Or grilled salmon with horseradish Hollandaise, steamed spinach and parsley potatoes. And roast cod with brown butter, garlic and lemon. We could go on… 100 1st St., Neptune Beach, thenorthbeachfishcamp.com

Ocean 60

Most people gravitate to Ocean 60 for the martini bar, the music and the laid-back vibe, but the food has remained consistent since it opened its doors in 2001. The main dining room is suited for a more intimate dining experience than the adjacent bar and it’s an ideal place to tuck into a plate of Mojo chicken and plantain nachos, shrimp scampi or pecan-crusted pork tenderloin. The nightly specials menu is always rife with creative takes on beach cuisine. Look for crispy soft shell crab with key lime cabbage slaw and blue crab-crusted Mayport flounder. 60 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, ocean60.com


Ovinté remains one of the few non-chain dining options at the St. Johns Town Center and though it’s best-known for a hefty selection of wine by the glass and small plates, entrées are hearty enough for those recovering from a day of shopping. Local fish is served atop Brussels sprouts, potatoes, beets, mushrooms and microgreens, while house-made pappardelle gets the Bolognese treatment and comes covered in a sauce with simmered pork, veal and tomato sauce. St. Johns Town Center, ovinte.com

Pattaya Thai

Pattaya Thai touts itself as a “small restaurant with big flavors,” a description that couldn’t be more apt. Both the Baymeadows and the King Street locations are equally cozy spots to slurp up wok-tossed noodles with veggies and tofu and sweet-and-sour stir-fry brimming with pineapple, cucumbers and tomatoes. 9551-1 Baymeadows Rd., Southside and 1526 King St., Riverside, ptgrille.com


In a town brimming with pizzerias, Picasso’s stands apart from the pack. The eatery serves up fresh-from-the-oven ‘za along with modern American fare (New Orleans BBQ shrimp over crusty bread, slow-roasted pot roast with red wine reduction and a pretty killer Kentucky hot brown sandwich). When it comes to pizza, diners can choose from Saint Louis-, New York- or Mediterranean-style, but it’s hard to go wrong the perfectly crispy St. Louis, a thin-square-cut crust topped with a special blend of cheeses and tomato sauce. Toppings run the gamut from traditional (pepperoni, mushrooms, every conceivable type of cheese) to downright exotic (truffle oil, mushroom melangé, hearts of palm). 10503 San Jose Blvd., jaxpicassos.com

Ragtime Tavern

The word “tavern” calls to mind beer (and lots of it) plus classic pub fare. You’ll find both at Ragtime, a staple of the Beaches dining scene for more than 25 years. But you’ll also find unexpected eats, many of them inspired by Cajun flavors, such as andouille-crusted mahi, red beans and rice and jambalaya. The house-brewed ales are a must. Can’t decide? Try a sampler of all six. 207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, ragtimetavern.com

Restaurant Medure

The Medure brothers helped pioneer the fine dining movement in Jacksonville, so it’s no surprise that both of their upscale restaurants (Matthew’s and Medure) are on the list. Like its owners, Medure has always been a little ahead of the curve. The dishes are an homage to fresh ingredients (Springer Mountain chicken, Mayport shrimp, house-made sausage), never overtly trendy but always full of flavor. The lounge is a more casual, reservations-free zone in which to take in local musicians and indulge in small plates (fish and chips, smoked marlin bruschetta) and an excellent craft cocktail program. 818 A1A N., Ponte Vedra Beach, restaurantmedure.us

Restaurant Orsay

More than eight years after it opened, Restaurant Orsay remains a coveted reservation. Executive Chef Brian Whittington opts for class and consistency over flash and fad, a move that’s apparent in expertly prepared French comfort-food classics like lobster pot pie, bouillabaisse and duck cassoulet. The restaurant’s pastry program, helmed by chef Michael Bump, is one of the best in town (think sugar-glazed, deep-fried waffles, French macarons and chocolate caramel tarts). If you’re too full to indulge in dessert immediately post-dinner, take home a pint of Orsay’s house-made ice cream. Pints are $12. 3630 Park St., Avondale, restaurantorsay.com

River City Brewing Co.

For a city with so much water, Jacksonville is sorely lacking in the waterfront restaurant department. Fortunately, River City Brewing Co. offers some of the best river views in town. Add in half-pound burgers, pasta Alfredo and fresh Florida lobster tail and you’ve got a dining staple that pleases out-of-towners and traditionalists alike. 835 Museum Cir., rivercitybrew.com

Salt Life Food Shack

Salt Life Food Shack is exactly what you’d imagine a restaurant based on the wildly popular catchphrase would be. Inside, videos of fishing trips and surfers hanging ten play on repeat and the chairs feel like they belong on the deck of a beach house. The laid-back surf town fare of fish tacos, burgers and fresh fish is all good, but don’t miss Caliche’s poke bowl: marinated tuna with steamed spinach and avocado over sticky rice. 1018 3rd St. North, Jacksonville Beach, saltlifefoodshack.com

Slider’s Seafood Grille

On a warm Thursday evening the place to be is Slider’s, where they offer all-you-can-eat oysters and all-you-can-see people watching from the homey outdoor seating area. Eclectic décor and heaping plates of seafood enhance the more-than-30-year-old Beaches institution’s casual atmosphere. Don’t miss: The butternut grouper, crusted with herbed breadcrumbs and buttered pecans. 218 1st St., Neptune Beach, slidersseafoodgrille.com

Sorrento Italian Restaurant

Though the restaurant’s location is modest and a little off the beaten path, Sorrento’s hearty, classic Italian dishes like spinach, chicken and veal cannelloni and chicken parmigiana, knowledgeable servers and an intimate atmosphere has been drawing in locals for more than 25 years. Don’t miss the warm rolls and extra garlicky house dressing—if you can handle it. 6943 St. Augustine Rd., San Jose, 636-9196

Southern Charm

Dining at Southern Charm is like eating at your crazy uncle’s house: Chef Art talks with guests while he cooks in his tiny open kitchen wearing a zany hat. But make no mistake: Art is a soul food master, churning out heaping piles of fried fish, Mayport shrimp and down-home sides all day. Don’t overlook the Trailer Trash Special, which comes with a chopped pork sandwich, fried green tomatoes and fried shrimp. 3566 St. Augustine Rd., San Marco, artscrackercooking.com


Colorful lights and bunting, sugar skulls and metal lanterns festively adorn TacoLu’s log-cabin rooms, bringing the whole place to life with a kind of kitschy fun that really sums up what seems to be the philosophy here. Nothing is too serious, except perhaps the restaurant’s devotion to tequila (more than 130 types!) and Tex-Mex flavor. Don’t miss the bangin’ shrimp taco, which is… well, bangin’. 1712 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach, tacolu.com


The stylish dining room, simply decorated with neutral tones and wood, is analogous to the menu at Taverna: hearty Italian dishes, warm and comfortable, modern and elegant. The scallops with butternut squash risotto is a menu highlight, as is brunch. Don’t miss the always-creative day’s specials, and if there’s a pizza special, we say go for it. 1986 San Marco Blvd., San Marco, taverna.restaurant

13 Gypsies

At tiny, Mediterranean-inspired 13 Gypsies, the sausage, cheese, cured meats, pickled vegetables, spice blends and fresh pasta are all made in-house. Naturally, with this approach, once it’s gone, it’s gone for the day, so if you’re hoping to get a bite of the Roman gnocchi or chorizo cooked with sautéed pears and spiced dates, arrive early. 887 Stockton St., Riverside, 13gypsies.com

III Forks

III Forks is a sleek, upscale steakhouse with a wine list to match—patrons can verify that on entry, as the impressive glass wine room allows a view of the more than 1,500 varieties available. Cozying up by the patio fireplace with a glass of vino in hand and a bone-in steak topped with king’s butter at this swanky spot? Pure romance. The seared scallops appetizer with housemade bacon jam almost rivals the steak. 9822 Tapestry Park Cir., Southside, 3forks.com

Uptown Kitchen & Bar

The hip, bright Uptown Kitchen with its chalkboard specials and metal chairs is melding of new and old Springfield, specializing in traditional Southern food with modern details. Breakfast and brunch are standouts here, and items like French toast and biscuits and gravy won’t disappoint. During dinner, go for the chicken pot pie and wash it down with a local brew. 1303 North Main St., Springfield, uptownkitchenandbar.com


Vernon’s is the signature restaurant at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, frequented by guests and golfers alike. The rotating fresh catch selection, prime cuts of beef and pork, locally sourced vegetables and an extensive wine list make Vernon’s an elegant choice for a special occasion or to impress a date. 1000 PGA Tour Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, 280-3405

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