The 6 Hottest Restaurants in North Florida Right Now
From comfort food in the Ancient City to coastal culinary magic in Neptune Beach, here are the North Florida restaurants you shouldn't miss.
The change is gradual but noticeable as you creep your way up the Sunshine State. It starts in the scenery; the tropical palms of Miami give way to the skinny pines and saw palmettos of Kissimmee. Further north, you’ll find Spanish moss draped like cobwebs on looming oak trees in Ocala and then shallow marshes sprinkled on the outskirts of Jacksonville.
Just as the landscape unfurls from a Caribbean paradise into a Southern sanctuary, so too does the food. The further up Interstate 95 you go, the fewer island influences you’ll find, and instead, the more down-home dishes and philosophies that speak to the heritage of the place and the chefs. Lardon becomes fatback, black beans turn to black-eyed peas, and crusty Cuban bread gets subbed out for biscuits drizzled in the sought-after tupelo honey that comes from deep within our state’s swamps.
We’ve assembled a list of a few old favorites along with some new and notable North Florida restaurants worthy of a road trip to the Panhandle or even up the St. Johns River. We’ve got a just-opened hotspot helmed by a nationally acclaimed chef featuring the best of the Gulf, a favorite pitmaster of ours pairing champagne with fried chicken and even a magician on the list.
Date Night Dinners
The New York Times once called Chef Christopher Polidoro a “young magician” for his ability to transform simple ingredients into delicious dishes with stunning presentations. Polidoro spent time as a farmer, something that’s clear from a menu full of fresh vegetables ranging from celeriac to beech mushrooms to kumquats and fennel paired with mains like scallops, grilled snapper, duck breast and lamb loin. The cozy yet refined space, outfitted in Florida pecky cypress and contemporary coastal art, buzzes with a vibe worthy of the chef’s big city chops only without the pretense. Be sure to book in advance, as this is one of greater Jacksonville’s hottest spots.
Looking to go somewhere cool? The chic new Hotel Effie recently opened its doors with James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson at the helm of its Ovide restaurant. The menu takes cues from Acheson’s more notable establishments, Empire State South in Atlanta and Five & Ten in Athens, Ga., while staking out its own Gulf Coast flavor with dishes like blue crab bisque, roasted grouper with Anson Mills farro verde, kimchi creamed collards and Effie’s signature biscuits. Not to mention the glittering women-owned hotel doesn’t disappoint for a staycation or weekend getaway. Are you packing yet?
Leisurely Lunch Spots
Don’t be fooled by this college town bistro. There are a few standout restaurants that hold their own against the state’s culinary best and Sage is one of them, with its New American cuisine with a hefty dollop of French influence. Sip on a glass of rose while perusing the menu with items ranging from croque monsieur to the chef’s own twist on salade niçoise to chicken and mushroom crepes to a good-old-fashioned filet mignon. Bon appetit, ya’ll!
From a charming cottage in downtown St. Augustine, The Floridian serves up a menu that it describes as “innovative Southern fare for omnivores, herbivores and locavores.” At lunch you’ll find everything from meatloaf sandwiches to steak frites and the Florida sunshine salad, and for those still doing take-out, The Floridian offers a feed-the-family Supper Club. From a perch on the outdoor deck, beat the heat with a sweet tea served in a mason jar and enjoy the bustling vibe of nearby Flagler college.
Best of Brunch
We’ve long been fans of Chef Kenny Gilbert, and his latest Jacksonville spot in the historic Springfield neighborhood is part champagne bar and part comfort food restaurant, with biscuit platters and chicken sandwiches. Ask for the daily specials, like the Hump Day Chicken Adobo and wash it down with a Southern Belle champagne cocktail. We’ll drink to that!
Just south of downtown St. Augustine and within pecking distance of the Bridge of Lions, this charming bistro serves up hearty breakfast plates that’ll remind you of your mama’s cooking—if your mama made BBQ pulled pork grits and fried green tomato tacos. The Blue Hen Cafe has mastered the art of down-home cooking in a space that feels like home, right down to the vintage dishware that could’ve come straight from your grandma’s cupboard. But be warned, like any good Southern eatery, the portions are generous. We wouldn’t want you to go hungry!