Stop at 5th Element (9485 Baymeadows Road, 448-8265) or India’s Restaurant (9802 Baymeadows Road, Ste. 8, 620-0777) for a bountiful Indian buffet lunch. With items ranging from vegetarian dishes to lamb and goat, and mild to extremely spicy, experiment with a small helping of everything. Scoop up your sag paneer or channa masala with a few wedges of warm Indian flatbread called naan. It’s cooked in a tandoor (clay oven). India’s, voted best Indian food in Jacksonville by Folio Weekly readers, has a more open, light, modern atmosphere than 5th Element (a former Village Inn), but the 5th's buffet is easily three, if not four, times larger and more diverse than India’s. Load up on India’s crispy vegetable pakora fritters if they have them. Delicious!
Authentic Vietnamese noodle house Bowl of Pho (9902 Old Baymeadows Road, 646-4455) is immaculate and cozy, and there’s always a good crowd, especially during the lunch hour. The portions are as large as the menu is long. Try the mi hoanh than, or BBQ pork and wonton egg noodle soup; add in a fistful of items served alongside it, like raw jalapeno slices, saw-leaf herb (flavor similar to cilantro but stronger), fragrant Thai basil, crunchy bean sprouts, chopped green onion and cilantro. Pronounced “fuh,” not “foe,” pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that traditionally contains beef broth and rice noodles along with varieties of meat including rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon (connective tissue that’s cooked for a long time at a slow temperature, which becomes pliable and gelatinous like beef fat), tripe (stomach of a domesticated animal) and meatballs. If you’ve never had Vietnamese cuisine, try a boba milk smoothie, which has chewy black tapioca pearls in the bottom, to be slurped up in a thick, colorful straw. Taro, avocado and honeydew are popular flavors.
Less than a mile apart, Thai spots Pattaya Thai (9551 Baymeadows Road, Ste. 1, 646-9506), Lemongrass (9846 Old Baymeadows Road, 645-9911) and Tuptim Thai (9866 Baymeadows Road, Ste. 8, 329-4999) will put a little — or a lot — of spice in your day. Pattaya Thai has been in Jacksonville for more than 20 years, with its high ceilings and an open kitchen surrounded by a bar. Chunks of potato and onions are the perfect complement to the slightly sweet and spicy yellow curry with chicken or shrimp over rice. Lemongrass’s open, window-lined dining room features modern, bright green hues. Start with the crab rangoon — crisp handheld fried wontons stuffed with silky cream cheese. Then, try The Amazing: a creamy peanut curry sauce served atop a perfect mound of white rice, with spinach and fresh broccoli. Select how spicy you want your meal on a scale from one to five. Nearby Tuptim offers a similar menu, but its atmosphere is more traditional, with carved statues, wood interior and floral decorations. First time for Thai? Order the Pad Thai — rice noodles, fish sauce, tamarind, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts are the signature items — and a bright orange Thai iced tea.
For a unique treat, Three F(x) Ice Cream & Waffles (9802 Baymeadows Road, Ste. 6, 928-9559) offers three sweet “effects”: homemade ice cream, waffles and coffee. The iced coffee stays true to form and flavor with coffee ice cubes. Try a taiyaki, or a Japanese fish-shaped waffle, that’s generously plumped with your choice of filling — think creamy Nutella, pumpkin, Bavarian cream, apple cinnamon, or red bean and walnut. The texture of the taiyaki is a bit more dense and chewy than pancake batter, but still pliable and fluffy. Ice creams are made-to-order in minutes using your choice of milk or non-dairy milk, on a thick icy metal slab. Traditional Japanese flavors include green tea, red bean and taro, but there’s also coconut, espresso, mint, mango and kiwi. My go-to combo is green tea with chewy mochi bits mixed in.