APPLE UGLY DONUT
The Donut Shoppe, Arlington ($1.83)
Waking up to one of these doughy, deformed mounds of apple-meets-doughnut-meets-fritter goodness makes any day amazing. Served warm (aka fresh out of the fryer), this massive, misshapen thing is by no means attractive (hence the “ugly”), but the taste is perfection. The outside is glazed and has a light crunch to it, while the inside yields a magically soft center and imparts a light apple flavor. Bring cash (and be prepared to wait in line).
BAHN MI THIT NUONG
Pho 99 Vietnamese Grill, Westside ($3.50)
Bahni Mi Thit Nuong is a wonderfully satisfying sandwich, a portable piece of Vietnamese street food and political history, blending the fresh flavors of Vietnamese cooking with serendipitous borrowings from French colonial culture. At Pho 99, the sandwich begins with a potent alchemy that turns sliced pork into a sweet meat with the flavor of a slab of bacon and a charcoal-grilled richness. The slices of meaty meat are laid inside a hunk of warmed French bread coated with a little mayonnaise and decorated with bits of pickled carrots, julienned daikon radishes and cucumbers. The whole thing is brought to life with jalapeño pepper slices and the bright green flavor of cilantro sprigs.
BBQ PORK & WONTON EGG NOODLE SOUP
Bowl of Pho, Southside ($7.50)
This Vietnamese soup — properly called mi hoanh thanh xa xiu — features a slightly salty broth filled with pieces of flat barbecued pork, strands of thin egg noodles and pork-filled wontons. Peacefully floating among the noodles are chopped scallions, pieces of leafy green lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro leaves. Served with a lime wedge, don’t forget a few drops of Sriracha for an extra kick.
Mr. Taco, San Marco/Englewood ($5.25)
A great, authentic Mexican torta touts a nicely toasted yet supple, pillowy bun. Mr. Taco has just that — fantastic buns. This sandwich is messy, but it’s full of deliciousness. Layered sloppily between those perfect buns are seasoned pulled pork, refried beans, creamy sour cream, fresh avocado, diced tomato, crisp lettuce and spicy jalapenos. Hit up Mr. Taco’s salsa bar to choose the appropriate poison — mild to blazing hot.
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails, St. Johns Town Center ($19)
There’s good fried chicken, and then there’s Moxie’s fried chicken. Chef Tom Gray ensures Moxie’s poultry is moist on the inside and properly crisp and golden brown on the outside. The fried goodness is served over a sweet, fluffy waffle and paired with a unique savory airy waffle pudding and pepper jelly. You will lick your plate.
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA
5th Element, Baymeadows ($11.99; on lunch buffet $7.99)
Maybe it takes a little more sophistication than the average lunch-hour palate to distinguish the varieties of tastes that arise from Jacksonville's very own Little India district on Baymeadows Road, where there are no fewer than eight Indian restaurants and grocery stores within a 1.5-mile radius. But one thing holds true: If it's good, it's good. And 5th Element's chicken tikka masala is good. Really good. Really, really good. The charcoal-broiled chicken is prepared with a spiced, slightly sweet cream sauce and served with rice and naan bread, for $11.99. Know what's even better? You can get it in all-you-can-eat quantities during 5th Elements’ daily lunch-hour buffet for just $7.99. Go ahead, enlighten your palate.
Kazu Japanese Restaurant, Mandarin ($15.95)
This plate of scattered sashimi paired with sticky, vinegared rice is equal parts artistic expression and fresh fish. The assorted fish bring big flavor, color and a velvety smooth texture. The plating is nicely thought out, too, as the colorful fish are arranged artfully with the rice, pieces of tamago omelet, pickled daikon radish, shredded carrots and a vibrant edible flower. Served with wasabi and pickled ginger, this is a must for the raw-fish enthusiast.
Chowder Ted’s, Northside ($6.25)
This divey cash-only fish camp is small and off the beaten path, but when it comes to the chowder, there’s big flavor ahead. It’s not creamy, but rather tomato-based and loaded with potatoes, carrots, onions, mahi mahi and — secret ingredient alert! — whole green olives. Your chowder, served with garlic bread, will arrive piping hot in a pot.
Pinegrove Deli, Avondale ($7.99, $9.99)
This family-owned-and-operated deli may be just off the main concourse in Avondale, but the pressed Cuban is worth the adventure. The bread is toasty but not too thick, and when you pry it open, you see huge chunks of moist roasted pork, slices of honey-cured ham, gooey melted Swiss cheese, a slather of spicy Dijon mustard and a few pieces of Tony Packo’s pickles. It’s available in two sizes — large or small — and both are equally amazing.
DIJON BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN TACO
Corner Taco, 5 Points (and various locations) (1 for $3.95, 2/$7.50, 3/$10.95)
Corner Taco ain’t your average taco stand, so don’t ask for sour cream or ground beef. They don’t have it. A favorite of food truck junkies across the city, Corner Taco found a permanent home in 5 Points in February. Among its signature offerings is the delight I tried, which begins with a custom corn-tortilla maker — one of only two in Florida; owner Chris Dickerson says the other one's at Epcot. He uses Dijon mustard and breads the chicken with rice flour before cooking it on a 550-degree griddle. This “semi-swanky taco” also packs a sweet chili-lemon sauce, shredded red cabbage and cilantro. The result is a Southern taco with an Oaxacan twist.
Hon Korean Restaurant, Southside ($12.95)
Hon Korean takes Mom’s home cooking and does it up Korean-style. Everything at this small family restaurant is handled with loving care, from tiny sample plates of various types of kimchi to cups of barley tea. More than anything else, though, Hon’s dolsot bibimbap remains in the imagination like a newly learned word. Dolsot bibimbap is at its most basic a rice-based dish served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. When the rice hits the hot oil in the bowl, it takes on a crunchy texture that forms the hard edge of a dish that includes layers of finely sliced, sautéed marinated beef, shredded fresh greens, julienned and barely braised crunchy root vegetables, and other tasty bits flavored with a complex sweet, hot red sauce. The stone bowl arrives topped with a just-fried egg, giving the dish and the experience a just-this-moment feel.
Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, Westside (5 pieces, $5.50; 10 pieces, $8.99)
Some establishments (which will remain nameless) overcompensate for craptastic chicken wings by hiring young buxom blondes, brunettes and redheads to distract from their menu’s mediocrity with their, um, assets. But on the Westside, there’s a purist who strives for winged perfection. Monroe’s Keith Waller offers smoke-infused chicken wings — served wet or dry — moist, tender and coated with a spicy made-in-house dry rub that infuses itself into every possible surface of the meat. If heaven were a chicken wing, Keith would take St. Peter’s place at its gate.
Mandaloun, Southside ($7.95)
This Mediterranean salad packs so much color and flavor, it’s begging to be demolished: torn pieces of Romaine lettuce meet chopped tomato, wedges of crisp cucumber, radish slices, diced onion, mint, lemon, pepper, crispy pita bread, olive oil, lemon juice, springs of fresh parsley and a sweet, tangy pomegranate dressing. Have at it!
FRA DIAVOLO PIE
Tommy's Brick-Oven Pizza, Southside ($13.50/small, $19.99/large)
This scrumptious brick oven pie served on a New York-style crust smolders with every bite. Layered with marina, paper-thin pepperoni and cheese, then topped with crumbled sausage and peppers galore — plus what the website calls a “Secret Heat” — the Fra Diavolo Pie tastes so magical it might have been forged in the Fires of Mordor. Try it as is for an incendiary treat, or ask the friendly server to kick it up a notch or 12 for a burn that’ll bring you howling back for more. Gluten-free is also available for people who have Celiac disease (or just like to pretend they do).
FRIED SHRIMP A LA CARTE PLATTER
Singleton’s Seafood Shack, Mayport ($14.95)
Fried shrimp in the South is serious business (which is why two fried shrimp platters made our list). Fried Mayport shrimp in Northeast Florida has become the seafood snobs’ go-to. “Where was the shrimp caught?” they ask, and if the answer indicates that the trawling spot was more than 20 miles away, locals won’t eat it. At Singleton’s, diners can see the fresh catch being unloaded right from the docks. The food is served on Styrofoam platters, and the fried shrimp is every Southerner’s dream: plump battered and deep-fried large shrimp. It’s a locals-only idea of what they eat in heaven.
FRIED SHRIMP PLATTER
Checker BBQ & Seafood, Lakewood ($8.99)
Thank the patron saints of Northeast Florida shrimp that one cooking lesson Jacksonville native Art Jennette took to heart is the right and proper way to deep-fry fresh-caught shrimp. He describes his technique as “fish-camp style.” He’s branded the cuisine learned from his mother — and black women in the local restaurant industry — as Northeast Florida Cracker cuisine, and he serves it up in heaping helpings at Checker BBQ & Seafood. The fried shrimp are especially masterfully done. Jennette gives his shrimp only the lightest flour dusting before they go into the deep fryer. The result is a great marriage between light spackling, the sweet taste and snap of fresh local catch and the prickle of Atlantic Ocean brine.
The Blind Fig, Riverside ($7.50)
There we were, hung over as hell on a recent Sunday morning, wandering Riverside in search of brunch and Bloody Marys, when we stumbled into The Blind Fig, lured by the prospect of the stuffed French toast, or maybe the burger (called “The Burger”). But before gorging ourselves, and to quickly sate our rumbling, booze-queasy stomachs, we ordered an appetizer, the Gorgonzola chips, and Holy Mother of God was that a good choice: crisp, slightly oily chips drenched in ridiculous amounts of Gorgonzola, and topped with a delectably tart balsamic drizzle and a sprinkling of chives. For a Sunday morning coming down, this was damn near perfection.
GREEN CURRY WITH THAI EGGPLANT
Pattaya Thai Grille, Baymeadows ($8.80-$17.50)
At Pattaya Thai, two generations of family work together to simmer an unquestionably authentic sauce that has the perfect balance of sweet, spice and savory. Choose your meat and dive into a flavor explosion so amazing you might have to stop yourself from picking up the plate for a final lick. Hundreds can try to imitate but there’s only one fresh, delicious Green Curry with Thai Eggplant worth remembering in all of NEFla.
GRILLED OCTOPUS & WHITE BEAN SALAD
Palm Valley Fish Camp, Ponte Vedra ($9)
A generous portion of chewy pieces of grilled octopus blend with oversized creamy white beans, a colorful assortment of julienned carrots and juicy tomato wedges, and an ever-so-slightly spicy datil pepper vinaigrette, all atop a bed of fresh, mixed green lettuces. The powerhouse mashup of flavors and textures makes this dish stand out.
HOUSE-MADE PAPPARDELLE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE
Taverna, San Marco ($27)
Sitting outside on Taverna’s patio in San Marco Square is one of the true joys of living in Jacksonville. Another is the restaurant’s handmade pappardelle pasta, served with a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce topped with parmigiano-reggiano cheese. The wide base of the pappardelle offers the perfect surface to soak up as much Bolognese as possible with every bite. The sauce has a stew-like quality in which every ingredient is evenly distributed across your palate. Telfair Stockton designed San Marco Square after Piazza San Marco in Italy; 70 years later, Taverna has made a reality of his vision for bringing the Old World to the Bold New City.
KANSAS CITY BURNT ENDS
Mojo Bar-B-Que, San Jose ($9)
No doubt, Mojo Bar-B-Que is one of our four favorite local barbecue spots — along with Mojo Kitchen, Mojo Smokehouse and Mojo No. 4. These joints are all about guilty pleasures, and there’s no pleasure guiltier (or greater) than the Kansas City burnt ends. The “fatty, barky end” of the beef brisket — that’s how our server described it, anyway — the burnt ends are packed with flavor. The beef points are prepared in kosher salt and horse pepper in a 50/50 ratio and smoked at 250-275 degrees for eight to 12 hours. These crusty outer edges are truly to die for.
KOREAN BBQ SHORT RIB MELT ($8)
Chew Chew Food Truck, locations vary ($8)
Chef Blake Burnett's truck has been on the road only a few months, but he’s already created a highly craved sandwich. It starts with moist shredded Korean BBQ (the sauce is made from scratch!) short ribs paired with delectable melted Gouda. The two are abundantly piled onto thick, toasted sourdough bread slices. On the side is an equal-parts salty, sweet and crunchy diced homemade kimchi coleslaw. All of the flavors and textures happily conjugate on your taste buds, and you'll soon be licking your fingers clean.
Whiteway Delicatessen, Riverside ($7.25)
Jacksonville is known for its ubiquitous camel riders — pressed pita sandwiches stuffed with lunchmeat — a product of our sizeable Arab population. (Even The New York Times gave us a shoutout a few years back.) Whiteway is home to the best, the Late Bloomer: chopped turkey, fresh homemade tabouli, provolone cheese, crispy bacon pieces, tangy banana peppers and a thick creamy avocado spread, all on crunchy toasted pita bread. Pro tip: Add a dash of Louisiana hot sauce.
Liberty Bakery, San Marco/Englewood ($1.50 each; sleeve of 5 for $7.50)
These delicate meringue-like sandwich cookies are time-consuming to create (which is why they’re difficult to find) but a sheer joy to devour. They’re the perfect little confection. The glossy outer shells are chewy and melt in your mouth; the thicker filling is velvety smooth. With creative flavors like Fruity Pebble, birthday cake, Nutella, strawberries ’n' cream, raspberry cream, latte, lemonade and chocolate ganache, at Liberty Bakery, there’s a macaron for everyone.
MShack, Southside and Atlantic Beach ($18.95)
There was a time when we feared foie gras, that strange-sounding fattened duck liver that’s so controversial it’s banned in California. (To engorge the ducks’ livers, farmers cram pipes down their throats and force-feed them, oftentimes until they can’t stand up.) But no more. We conquered our fear (if not necessarily our guilt) at MShack, where we devoured The Medurable, a burger topped with American cheese, carmelized onions and, yes, foie gras. The result is an earthy flavor, a balance of the onions’ sweetness and the foie gras’ creaminess, atop a 4-1/2-ounce beef patty (more than 90 percent of the beef is grass-fed and hormone-free). It’s expensive, to be sure — entirely because of the foie gras — but if you shove those pangs of shame deep down into your coldhearted soul, it’s a hell of a burger.
MINIATURE CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHEESECAKE
Kathy's Bakery & Cafe, Southside ($7.50)
These perfect concoctions of confectionary mastery are the Cindy Crawford of desserts: gorgeous enough to belong on a magazine cover but with amazing depth beneath their smooth, supple surfaces. Tip your hat to Rex the Beach Boulevard Dinosaur, then treat your taste buds to a heavenly creamy cheesecake indulgence covered in mouth-melting milk chocolate and a dollop of zesty orange compote, which adds just the right amount of zip. It was hard to choose a favorite among so many masterpieces, but these sweet treats take the cake.
NUTELLA ICE CREAM IN HOMEMADE WAFFLE BOWL
Three F(x) Ice Cream & Waffles, Baymeadows ($6.41/medium)
Nutella is a natural choice to accompany custom-made-to-order ice cream, and the folks at Three F(x) do it up right. On a freezing cold pan, your Three F(x) magician distributes scoops of creamy Nutella blended with milk — your choice of whole, skim, nonfat, almond or soy — then pushes them around until they become creamy. You then pick two mix-ins (suggestion: get the blackberries). At the end comes the warm, delightfully scented fresh waffle bowl that’ll happily house your freshly made delight.
OREO COOKIE MOUSSE CAKE
Biscottis, Avondale ($9.10 per slice)
Upon entering this bustling eatery, you’ll notice one thing and one thing only — that glorious dessert case. And among the decadent cakes, pies, bread pudding and crème brûlées sits a tall, dark and handsome mousse like none other. With its dreamy texture, this towering Oreo cookie mousse cake is loaded with bits of crumbly Oreos, creating the most wonderful balance of smooth and textured flavors and colors.
OVERLOADED SWEET POTATO PLANKS
On The Fly, Downtown ($6)
It is exactly 13.7 miles from Folio Weekly World Headquarters to the back of the line at On The Fly food truck. We know because we make the trip often, and it’s always worth it. Stick a fork in a morsel of overloaded sweet potato planks and you'll be making round trips to the corner of Jefferson and Adams, too. Chef Andrew Ferenc ensures that “overloaded” isn’t an empty buzzword. He piles braised pulled pork, sliced scallions, cilantro aioli, a sweet chili and melted blue cheese crumbles on top of those scrumptious planks, which are showered with Ferenc's addictive secret sauce. How food so delicious can be served out of a 1990 GMC 3500 Value Van is one of life's great mysteries.
Billy's Boat House Grill, Jax Beach ($4/dozen, $12/quarter bushel on Thursdays; regular price $8/dozen, $17/quarter bushel)
Better tell the sitter you’ll be late Thursday night, ’cause the Apalachicola oysters at Billy’s Boat House Grill will have you sticking around for a second and third round. Served the way any god worth worshipping intended — steamed or raw — the darling mollusks arrive with plenty of the usual suspects (Saltines, cocktail sauce, lemon, horseradish) with a taste so fresh you’ll swear they scooped ’em out of the water on their way to the table. Raw come on the half shell; steamed require shucking.
Pecan Roll Bakery, Fernandina Beach ($3.49)
There are lots of ways to be average and ordinary in the exact-measurement, cookie-cutter world of baking. So when your bakery takes its name from a classic Southern delight, that treat better be anything but run-of-the-mill. Enter the pecan roll from Fernandina Beach's Pecan Roll Bakery. Moist, delicious and robust with spices, this pecan roll is the real McCoy. At $3.50 apiece, the cost approaches think-about-it territory, but the bakery's chemical- and preservative-free approach to baking is apparent from the first bite, making each sweet piece of bread worth every penny.
PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM SANDWICH
T-Ray's Burger Station, Amelia Island ($6.95)
The granddaddy of all Amelia Island burger stands, the venerable T-Ray's Burger Station, presents the Portobello mushroom sandwich, a delicious yet no-frills vegetarian option for those who eschew the whole carnivore thing (or just want a change). It's gloriously ooey and gooey with cheese and mayo, yet firm enough with the Portobello's bite to stand up on its own. This monster mushroom melt may be more than a mouthful, but its real charm is in its homespun simplicity.
Black Sheep, 5 Points ($8)
Nicely crisped on the outside and soft (but not mushy) on the inside, this generous serving of thick hand-cut potatoes is liberally topped with chewy, bite-sized cheese curds and misshapen cubes of housemade pastrami. The proverbial icing on the cake: warm smoked-short-rib gravy is drizzled on top, tableside. If this poutine is wrong, we don’t want to be right.
PROSCUITTO, BUFFALO MOZZARELLA AND ARTICHOKE BRUSCHETTA
The French Pantry, San Marco ($9.50)
Walk up to this industrial-looking building and you’ll be thrillingly overcome with the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. There’s always a line, so bring your patience. French Pantry's house-baked crusty bread becomes a delectable bruschetta when it’s generously buttered and topped with crisp salty prosciutto, thick quartered artichoke hearts and rich buffalo mozzarella, and served with a heaping mound of balsamic and basil diced tomatoes atop a bed of fresh mixed greens.
PULLED PORK SANDWICH
Happy Tomato Café Courtyard Café & BBQ, Fernandina Beach ($7.25)
Lovingly prepared by the unofficial lord of hogtown in an onsite smoker that might’ve come from the land of Hanalei, these mile-high sandwiches pack a perfect pork punch on buns so supple the Kardashians are jealous. Choose one of three sauces – sweet, mustard or spicy – or mix and match as your swine-ful little heart desires. If you’re the no-frills type, tuck into one of these masterpieces sans souci; the juiciest babies don’t need sauce to sing.
RISOTTO OF THE DAY
13 Gypsies, Riverside ($15)
With daily risotto offerings including pork belly, Genoa salami, blue crab and bacon and parmesan, Chef Howard Kirk makes this pleasingly carbtastic dish a high priority in his popular, Guy-Fieri-approved restaurant. The telltale sign of a standout risotto is how the rice is cooked. It gets gummy if overcooked and crunchy if undercooked. Here it’s perfectly al dente and nicely seasoned. The dish itself is delightfully creamy and smooth — thanks to lots of butter and cream.
Hawkers Asian Street Fare, 5 Points ($3)
This thin, buttery Malaysian flatbread is served with a cup of spicy curry sauce for dipping, and best eaten either rolled up or broken into pieces. Roti is traditional Asian street food and seems to be a hybrid: part crêpe, part Indian naan, part buttery biscuit — and equal parts addicting. The curry sauce makes it even better, adding a savory, slightly spicy component to a heavenly appetizer.
Culhane’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Atlantic Beach ($15.95)
Out of all the times we've been to Culhane's up in AB, it's been all about the drinks — OK, and the trivia: that guy Hacker's there three nights a week! Anyway, one time we were there for, like, hours and got hungry. So our friendly bartender, who could've been one of the four actual Irish sisters who own the joint, gave us a menu and the heavens opened. Among the choices with clever Celticesque names like Irish Dog (a banger, or hot dog if you insist), Limerick Salad (a salad) and Southern Fried Chicken Dinner (popular on the Emerald Isle, we assume) was Shannon's Salmon. Scotland is known for its world-class salmon, and that's near Ireland, so we gave it a shot. It's fresh Atlantic salmon, grilled or blackened, with a "signature whiskey glaze" that's damn addictive. You realize later you want everything glazed with the stuff. Sides are vegetable of the day, usually carrots and string beans barely steamed, which is nice, and some stuff called champ. A North Ireland dish, champ is creamy mashed potatoes blended with scallions or green onions; at Culhane's they add spices and butter. Yummy in a lump. With one or 12 Magners ciders, it's a night to repeat often.
SOFT PRETZEL BREAD
The Ice Plant, St. Augustine ($6)
Let’s be honest: You don’t go to The Ice Plant for the food, though our meal certainly didn’t hit anything (in an actual former ice plant) approaching a sour note. You go for the atmosphere and pre-Prohibition-era craft cocktails (get the vieux carré). And you should. But while you’re at the bar, do yourself a favor an order the soft pretzel bread. The bread itself is warm, soft but not doughy, and slightly salted, but the real showstopper is the truffled cheddar fondue dipping sauce, which you’ll be unglamorously scooping with your spoon when the bread runs out.
SMOKED SALMON EGGS BENEDICT
Uptown Market, Springfield ($10)
This is a unique twist on an old favorite, combining the best of two culinary favorites — lox and cream cheese and delicate poached eggs and Hollandaise. Two toasted English muffin halves are stacked with pieces of tender smoked salmon and soft cream cheese, then topped with poached eggs complete with a runny golden center. Each open-faced half is drizzled generously with a thick river of Hollandaise and studded with salty little capers.
SMOTHERED “WITH LOVE” CHICKEN
Arden’s Kafe & Katering, Ortega ($6.95)
Don’t let the buffet line and curious spelling fool you. Arden’s Kafe is the real deal. Tucked away in a small strip center, this Avondale/Westside gem turns out some of the best Southern food in Northeast Florida. The all-you-can-eat buffet (only costs $9!) features daily specials, none better than Thursday’s smothered “with love” chicken. This is what God thought about when he uttered the words, “Let there be gravy.” And there it was — these guys poured it all over juicy, delicious chicken. And it was good. Amen.
ST. LOUIS TOASTED RAVIOLI
Picasso’s, Mandarin ($7.25)
Luckily for Jacksonville, we’ve got a bite-sized St. Louis favorite at our fingertips. These meat-and-herb-stuffed oversized raviolis are first breaded and then toasted, adding a tasty extra dimension (crunch!) to otherwise standard boiled ravioli. On the way to your table, they’re generously dusted with parmesan and parsley; they arrive with piping hot marinara sauce for dipping.
Orsay, Avondale ($24)
Orsay’s menu is stacked with quality dishes — or so we’ve been told. We wouldn’t know. For our money, skipping the steak frites is almost criminal. The base of this dish consists of fresh, thinly hand-cut potatoes, double-fried to golden perfection (in duck fat!) and topped with tender hanger steak and a red wine jus. The steak is a magnificently glorious experience; its salty seared crust encases a deliciously juicy cut that melts in your mouth.
SWEET-TEA-BRINED PORK CHOP
29 South, Fernandina Beach ($24)
Chef Scotty Schwartz's innovative take on Southern cuisine reaches a signature high with his sweet-tea-brined pork chop. Paired with a macaroni gratin that plays the role of a very high-class mac-and-cheese, plus blackberry ginger preserves (a combination of flavors that hint at the tea), the result is a dish that perfectly marries its ingredients. Harmony never tasted this good.
THE $10 TACO
TacoLu Baja Mexicana, Jax Beach ($4.99)
Here’s a clever marketing ploy: Take a $4.99 taco and call it "The $10 Taco," giving pause to anyone who'd naturally howl at laying down a fin. We’re onto your games, TacoLu! The 10 Taco, as it's alternatively called, proves more than worthy of our fin. Savory strips of filet mignon, seasoned and grilled, piled in a flour tortilla with pico de gallo and two cheeses — cotija and jack. Whatever we order, we usually add the creamy $20 guacamole. (Kidding! It’s 75 cents per taco.)
THE FIVE AND DIME
Maple Street Biscuit Company, San Marco & Jax Beach ($8)
The answer to all your carb-filled prayers: The Five and Dime is so tasty it deserves its own fan club. First, a homemade buttery biscuit is topped with a huge piece of juicy fried chicken, pecan wood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. Next comes a thorough smothering of thick sausage gravy, and then the pièce de résistance — a runny-yolk fried egg on top.
Chomp Chomp, Downtown ($7.50)
That it’s attached — literally and in a business sense — to one of our favorite Downtown haunts, Burro Bar, and that it in fact delivers to Burro Bar, which means you can eat while enjoying one of Burro’s excellent craft brews in a no-frills, no-bullshit setting, are just two reasons to love Chomp Chomp. The One-Up sandwich is another. Stacked with grilled Portobello mushrooms, fried peppers and onions, smothered in jack cheese, and drenched in a spicy Srirachi aioli that heats the whole package up just right, the One-Up hits the late-night munchies sweet spot.
Angie's Subs, Jax Beach ($5.25/7-inch, $7.25/10-inch)
Don’t worry, fellow townies. The fine folks at Angie's Subs will serve you, too. Walking in, you’ll notice the kitsch — taxidermy heads, license plates, Gators and Seminoles football helmets, a snow sled, a lonely sock (?) hanging from the ceiling. The menu proves just as overwhelming, but there’s little doubt which special sandwich satisfies more than any other. Angie's Subs packs The Peruvian with a rich combination of flavorful meats — ham, Genoa salami, bacon and Italian sausage — with provolone on a crunchy 10-inch or 7-inch roll. The sweet and tangy Peruvian sauce pulls it all together. Paired with the revelatory sweet tea, The Peruvian sates Beach residents and keeps luring the rest of us across the ditch time and time again.
Pele’s Wood Fire, Riverside ($25)
The old saying goes that pizza is like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. This is wrong. Bad pizza can, in fact, be bad, especially bad pizza dressed up as high-end, fancy-pants pizza. There is a splendid simplicity to the proper pie — dough, cheese, sauce. There’s some culinary danger in getting too far afield of that formula. This is, fortunately, not the case at Pele’s, and certainly not the case with The Vegas — formerly called the Calloway — a pie that won second place in the 2013 International Pizza Challenge, and deservedly so: garlic ricotta, roasted mushrooms, succulent applewood-smoked bacon, black truffle arugula, garlic, a hint of lemon, flashed-cooked at 1,000 degrees in Pele’s wood-fire oven, blistering the crust and creating a soft, wet center of cheese and toppings, the hallmarks of a quality Neapolitan pie. Like sex, we’ve yet to have a bad experience.
Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, Riverside ($4.25)
This savory, handheld quiche-like breakfast pie touts the most buttery, flaky crust in town. Pastry chef Adam Burnett uses a handed-down family recipe to concoct these popular pies. Egg and cheese mingle inside the crust, creating a base for thin slices of sweet green and red tomatoes, white onion and a generous dusting of cracked black pepper. Pair one with a cup of Bold Bean’s freshly roasted in-house coffee and your day just got better.
Tomo Cuisine & Art, Jax Beach ($10.70)
This oversized bowl of savory, milky pork broth is comfort food at its finest. The broth — made by boiling pork bones for hours — is the product of a lengthy process that yields a slurp-worthy outcome. The result is loaded with an abundance of long, thin tangled noodles, sliced pork belly, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), shreds of dried nori (seaweed), thinly sliced green onions, a hard boiled egg and a fish cake. Roll up your sleeves, grab your spoon and chopsticks, and slurp to your little heart’s content.
El Palermo, Orange Park ($7.50)
If El Palermo were located in Miami instead of Orange Park, the owners would be lighting cigars with $100 bills. This joint serves amazing Puerto Rican delicacies, none more so than the trifongo, a glorious mashed mixture of yucca and both green and sweet plantains. With the consistency of mashed potatoes, the trifongo is seasoned with garlic and stuffed with fried pork pieces that form a dizzying tornado of sweet, salty and tangy.