For adventurous diners out there, finding the best food in Jacksonville can seem daunting. The unspoken rule of foodies everywhere is that the best food is usually found off the beaten path — so where to start looking? Here are a few restaurants on the First Coast that have a cult-like following, and are truly some of the best food in Florida.
The leader in eclectic eateries in Fernandina Beach would be T-Ray’s Burger Station. T-Ray’s occupies an old gas station on a major artery into town and is open for breakfast and lunch every day except Sunday. Dishes are simple, Southern home-style food such as fried chicken and meatloaf, as well as handmade hamburgers. The traditional Friday special is fried shrimp for $13.95 — a dozen thumb-size local shrimp served with French fries, cole slaw, and hushpuppies. You’ll compare all your future shrimp dinners to T-Ray’s, and wonder why you paid $25 for a fancy dining experience and got six tiny shrimp in return. It will take all of your willpower not to tell your waiter that you’ve had better shrimp in a gas station.
For something a bit healthier, Cafe Karibo is a courtyard cafe in downtown Fernandina on North Third Street. Cafe Karibo serves lunch and dinner with a ton of vegetarian options. Dishes include the portabello mushroom burger and Mediterranean couscous salad. Cafe Karibo also has its own small craft beer, the Karibrew, brewed in its pub next door.
Intriguing restaurants are nearly everywhere in Jacksonville. In the Springfield area just north of downtown, for instance, there’s the Uptown Market. Uptown Market serves classic American food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can try new twists to classic breakfast fare, such smoked salmon benedict, and deli-style sandwiches dot the menu for lunch. Pan-roasted chicken from a local farm highlights the dinner menu.
Indochine on East Adams Street downtown serves Asian-fusion fare for lunch and dinner. Indochine sits above the Burrito Gallery and is reminiscent of restaurants of Savannah or New Orleans, where you have to trust that the light at the end of the dark hallway or at the top of the wrought-iron stairs is indeed the amazing restaurant everyone raves about. Indochine is one of Jacksonville’s highest-rated eateries by both Google and Urbanspoon and by far the best Thai restaurant in Jacksonville.
In St. Augustine, local chefs rely on fresh seafood to round out their menus. Culinary Outfitters on South Dixie Highway is no exception. Serving both local seafood and American fare, Culinary Outfitters has become the “go-to” location for lunch in St. Augustine. But you’ll need to time your visit perfectly, as it’s open for lunch only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Also of note is The Purple Olive, which is the culmination of Chef Peter Kenney’s varied restaurant career. Taking a bit of experience from each place he’s worked and creating his own international menu, Chef Peter offers patrons a taste of nearly everything, including artisanal breads and salad dressings. In addition, he’s created dishes with chicken, shrimp, fish, and lamb. The Purple Olive serves dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday.
Finding a local restaurant with a variety of foods and a unique atmosphere can be a fun diversion to brighten your week. Whether its Thai spring rolls in an upstairs haunt or fried shrimp from a gas station, a place to call your own could be just around the corner.
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