Self-described as serving ‘semi-swanky street food,’ the former taco-stand-turned-food-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar casual restaurant offers made-from-scratch “Mexclectic cuisine” including (duh) tacos, nachos, chicken, chorizo, tempeh, seafood, plus gluten-free, vegetarian options, and beer and wine. It may sound silly but trust us: try the hummus. The Corner was awarded two Slow Food First Coast Snails of Approval.
818 Post St., Riverside, 240-0412, cornertaco.com
BLACK SHEEP RESTAURANT
The independent upscale restaurant in historic Five Points serves New American favorites with a Southern twist (they call it “where haute meets homegrown”), made with locally sourced ingredients from regional farmers and purveyors. Daily specials are available; check the website. And the awesome rooftop bar is … well … awesome. It even won Best Rooftop Bar in our Best of Jax 2018. There you can imbibe signature cocktails and craft beers, or work your way through an extensive wine list. (There’s even bubbly in a can!) In the immortal words of Tim Hardin, “The black sheep can wear the Golden Fleece and hold the winning hand.”
1534 Oak St., Riverside, 380-3091, blacksheep5points.com
BLK SHP at INTUITION
It’s like a dream come true: local craft brews and great Black Sheep fare are offered at the counter inside Intuition Ale Works. Brisket sandwiches, shrimp baskets, wings, mac & cheese, burgers, buffalo chicken and … drum roll, please … best damn poutine on the face of the Earth.
929 E. Bay St., Downtown, 683-7720, intuitionaleworks.com/food
THE SALTY PELICAN
Since 2012, The Salty Pelican has been one of Fernandina Beach’s most popular eateries, offering high-quality bar food with a gorgeous view of the Amelia River. Owners Al Waldis and T.J. Pelletier leveraged their years of experience in the hospitality and restaurant businesses, which included stints at the Ritz Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation, to offer qualify food and service in a waterfront setting.
The Salty Pelican menu is rich with traditional and non-traditional bar fare. In addition to chicken wings, salads, burgers, sandwiches and conch fritters, you can also order seared tuna nachos with seaweed salad, goat cheese, wasabi sesame seeds and Pico de Gallo; shrimp etouffee; and Maine lobster rolls served with chives, celery, butter and micro greens. According to Pelletier, the lobster rolls have been a huge hit. “I’m from Maine, so it was important to me to do it the right way,” he said.
They are perhaps most famous for their broiled oysters, served with your choice of sauce: Pelican Original (horseradish, butter and parmesan); Bacon & Bleu Cheese (smoked bacon, bleu cheese and garlic butter); or Rockefeller (creamed spinach, parmesan, bread crumbs and bacon).
12 N. Front St., Fernandina Beach, 277-3811, thesaltypelicanamelia.com
BOLD BEAN COFFEE ROASTERS
For Zack Burnett, managing partner (and green coffee buyer) of Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, running a great coffee business is not just about producing good-tasting coffee; it’s about the entire experience. “We put all of our energy into ensuring a great customer experience,” said Burnett. “This touches on everything from the quality of the products we serve, the ambiance of our shops and the genuine interactions we have with our guests.”
Burnett’s father, Jay, started Bold Bean in his garage in 2007. Zack soon joined to help with production, and by 2010 he had started developing the retail model. The company has locations in Riverside, San Marco and Jacksonville Beach, and routinely racks up Best of Jax awards for best coffee shop.
Bold Bean sources all its coffees in the country of origin, not from a coffee broker’s manifest, which gives them access to a greater number of coffees than most roasters. In addition to its extensive coffee selection, the company offers a bake shop run by Burnett’s brother, Adam, as well as subscription services, custom orders, a line of Bold Bean merchandise and even classes and coffee-related demonstrations.
Burnett said Bold Bean is currently upgrading to a new roasting system that burns 80 percent less gas than a traditional roaster, “so our carbon footprint will go way down.” The new system, currently being tested, “will more efficiently transfer heat from the burner to the coffee bean,” resulting in a sweeter, more vibrant coffee.
The staff is at the heart of Bold Bean’s success, Burnett said. “The most common feedback we get is that people love our staff and the experience they have in our shops,” he said. “Our wholesale accounts love not just our coffee but the account managers who work directly with them as well as the services we provide such as training and consultation. So, really it’s all about the people.”
THE FISH COMPANY & OYSTER BAR
This Atlantic Beach seafood destination has been making waves in the coastal community since 2006. Known for consistently offering some of the best local, seasonal fresh catch, The Fish Company & Oyster Bar has made its reputation. “The Fish Company is our vision of a first-class seafood restaurant with a casual beach attitude,” says Ann Pinner, who owns the establishment with her chef husband, Bill. Together, they’ve accomplished that mission.
Chef William Pinner uses the best seasonal and local seafood available in creating his menu. Locally sourced products are included whenever possible. A raw bar in the center of the restaurant showcases crustaceans and other fresh steamed and raw seafood.
The Fish Company, open every day, has daily specials; happy hour is 2-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The Pinners also offer housemade desserts and a full bar. And there’s people-watching on the outdoor patio as you dine. This destination is a must for lunch or dinner.
725 Atlantic Blvd., Ste. 12, Atlantic Beach, 246-0123, thefishcojax.com
A Northeast Florida staple founded in 1988, Al’s Pizza is known all over the region for its awesome pies and chill atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like a neighborhood pizza joint, and Al’s has sweet weekly deals to lure you in. Stop in daily for a quick $1.50 slice for lunch; get $8.99 pasta dishes (including garlic bread and a salad) all day Monday, or show up on Thirsty Thursdays for $1.50 wine and select beers.
With seven Al’s in the area, you can get that cheesy pull whenever you crave authentic pizza or Italian dishes. Founder Al Mansur built his empire one pie joint at a time, but he has since diversified his restaurant portfolio to include Latin fusion (Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar) and contemporary Southern fare (Coop 303). A local legend, Mansur can still be seen tossing dough and baking pizzas in his various kitchens.
SMOKIN D'S BBQ
In a small, unassuming building, there’s a handmade brick firepit that fits into 500 square feet. Don’t let the small size fool you—the magic happens the moment you set foot inside. Close your eyes and mouth, and take a deep breath through your nose.
That smell, authentic old-school barbecue … it’s meat, smoked to perfection.
Smokin’ D’s has been servin’ chicken, brisket, beef, pork and sides daily for 11 years; the little powerhouse has managed to find a place in the hearts of local carnivores in St. Johns County and beyond. Be early—they won’t sell yesterday’s meat.
1409 U.S. 1, St. Augustine, 295-8952; 110 S.R. 206 E., St. Augustine, 797-2050, smokindbbq.com
A bellwether is defined as ‘one who takes the lead or initiative … an indicator of trends.’ Solid description of the newish slick, contemporary restaurant, part of the sisterhood of Orsay, Black Sheep and BLK SHP at Intuition.
Elevated Southern classics served in an understated setting, reflecting owner Chef Jon Insetta’s focus on exceptional flavors, while spotlighting the culinary creativity of Chef Kerri Rogers.
The menu changes seasonally to include entrées and specials with Northeast Florida flair. There is a rotating selection of local craft beers, regional spirits and a cold brew coffee program.
100 N. Laura St., Downtown, 802-7745, bellwetherjax.com
MOON RIVER PIZZA
Owner Dan Bottorff isn’t in business for the money. In fact, all his staff is paid the same so there’s no competition for duties or tips. He believes that philosophy has contributed to the chill, family-style atmosphere and great service Moon River Pizza is famous for.
“I don’t have them dressed up in outfits with hats and matching shirts,” Bottorff said wryly.
As a military brat growing up in different parts of the Northwest and Northeast, Bottorff discovered he had a passion for pizza joints. After finishing college, he decided he wanted to run his own pizza restaurant. One Small Business Administration loan later, and he was able to open his first location in Fernandina Beach in 1996.
The menu items are simple: fresh, quality ingredients, a handful of signature pizzas, plus salads, calzones and breadsticks. He uses cheeses from Wisconsin (which his pizza-makers blend themselves) and sausage from Jacksonville-based Azar Sausage. The restaurant now offers vegan cheese and vegan meats from local company The Zen Butcher, as well as lower-fat cheese and a gluten-free crust. Bottorff personally selects all the beers and wines.
While the all-meat T-Rex might be his most popular pizza (and several Yelp reviews support that claim), his favorite is The Pizza, featuring mozzarella, mushroom, spinach, cheddar and garlic.
About 15 years ago, Bottorff was looking to expand into Jacksonville. (“I was looking at areas that needed a little love.”) Downtown ended up being too expensive so he opened the Murray Hill location in 2005. Its hip aesthetic, colorful interior and striking artwork has made it one of the hippest and most popular eateries in the city.
Bottorff said his goal was never to be rich but to support the community, a goal he believes he’s reached. “I wanted it to be affordable for families, and I wanted to see a diversity of families,” he said.
1176 Edgewood Ave. S., Murray Hill, 389-4442; 925 S. 14th St., Fernandina Beach, 321-3400, moonriverpizza.net
MANGO MANGO'S CARIBBEAN GRILL & BAR
Located just one block from the ocean, Mango Mango’s Caribbean Grill & Bar has been serving island-inspired cuisine in St. Augustine Beach for the last 15 years. Aside from the variety of unique dishes, this local lunch and dinner destination is much more than just a great meal. It’s dining with a fresh style, unique flavor profile, laid-back atmosphere and friendly people. We recommend you try out the trademark Mahi Sliders, Trevor’s Chipotle Shrimp Tacos or Mango Mango’s Famous Corn Cakes (p.s. they’re even better topped with savory jerk pulled pork). If you’re looking for dessert, Mango Mango’s features mouth-watering housemade treats, including white chocolate cheesecake and classic tangy key lime pie. This oceanside treasure is so good ... you just have to say it twice.
700 A1A Beach Blvd., St. Augustine Beach, 461-1077, mangomangos.com
Caffé Andiamo is a family-owned and family-managed restaurant serving contemporary Italian fare created with traditional, fresh ingredients. This established dining treasure just celebrated its 15th anniversary.
Head chef and owner Giovanni Recupito Jr. took the best features of all the restaurants he and his father owned, including Tra Vini’s, and incorporated them into what has now become a destination restaurant for people all over the region. From making homemade fresh pasta as his father did here 30 years ago, to housemade fresh sausage and mozzarella, to an extensive wine list, Caffé Andiamo goes above and beyond to serve authentic cuisine.
The bar has more than 65 wines by the glass, and the dining room’s atmosphere is chic, with a beautiful wood-burning pizza oven and private dining room. Outdoor seating is available.
225 Village Main St., Ste. 500, Ponte Vedra, 280-2299, caffeandiamo-pvb.com
Perennial Best of Jax winner, latin-themed La Nop is tops in several respects: name recognition, market share and the always-important hipster cachet. Be they tourists or touring bands, locals, localized or just loco, La Nopalera’s fast, consistent service and uniformly good quality has a certain universal appeal to its customers.
The eatery offers all kinds of freshly-cooked-to-order burritos, plus tostadas, chimichangas, burgers, tacos and empanadas. More than 50 craft beers, some local, as well as signature margaritas. Sunday brunch means bottomless mimosas. The baskets of chips and salsa—with a side of queso, of course—paired with a margarita, Modelo or a combination of the two are sheer bliss. Hours vary at each La Nop; check the website for details.
T-RAY'S BURGER STATION
Housed in a former Exxon filling station in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, T-Ray’s Burger Station is an undisputed local institution. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch six days a week, and crowds start lining up for lunch before 11 a.m. to feast on the famously generous servings.
“Big Ray” Mullis opened the gas station in 1972, and his son T-Ray, an aspiring restaurateur, started selling homemade sandwiches there more 20 years ago. Word spread quickly about the quality of the food, and by 1998, Ray, T-Ray and his wife, Laura, opened as a full-time restaurant. The eatery became famous for its tagline, “Eat here and get gas!”
For breakfast, try the Kitchen Sink Omelet or Meat Lover’s Omelet, or one of their popular biscuits, bagels or English muffins loaded with ham, link sausage, bacon or sausage. If you’re watching your weight, have the Egg White Omelet or an omelet loaded with veggies and cheese.
Though famous for its burgers, T-Ray’s offers an array of sandwiches including blackened Mahi, fried bologna, portabella mushroom and fish. The signature fried shrimp is all locally caught. Daily specials are offered Mon- Fri, and include fried fish with hushpuppies, meatloaf and chicken and dumplings.
The restaurant closes at 10:30 a.m. to prepare for the busy lunch service.
“It sounds crazy to close your restaurant for 30 minutes every day, but it just gets so hectic,” said Laura Mullis.
T-Ray’s has been mentioned in Southern Living and the Washington Post, and even landed on USA Today’s list of the 50 Best Burger Joints in America. So if you’re ready to experience this local treasure, be sure to get there early—and come hungry.
202 S. Eighth St., Fernandina Beach, 261-6310, traysburgerstation.com
BRETT'S WATERWAY CAFE
Located at the end of Centre Street in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, Brett’s Waterway Café has been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike since 1989. Diners can feast on the array of fresh seafood dishes (and more) while enjoying breathtaking sunsets and beautiful views of the Amelia River.
Lunch menu items include the Midwest Heartland Chicken Salad, with bacon and garlic-roasted pecans; shrimp & grits, with Tasso ham, red-eye gravy and fresh tomatoes; Bourbon Street Pasta, with roast chicken, vegetables, Tasso ham, cream sauce and tabasco fried onions; and fish tacos with bronzed whitefish, black beans, avocado crema, sofrito rice and salsa. For those with more traditional tastes, there’s a half-pound burger, a pulled pork sandwich—slow-cooked in-house with homemade barbecue sauce—and Good Ol’ Fried Shrimp, with coleslaw and cocktail sauce.
Dinner items include an appetizer of grilled asparagus with lump crabmeat and Hollandaise, seared scallops with butternut risotto, pork belly and asparagus, grilled salmon with mustard-glazed guinae, wild rice craisins and beurre blanc, and grilled twin lobster tails with French fries, butter and corn on the cob. Land-lover favorites include beef short ribs, Porterhouse steak and chicken Cordon Bleu.
Owners Brett Carter and Robert Fischer keep their restaurant modern offering daily vegetarian entrée specials and gluten-free options. Dogs are welcome on an outside porch, a popular spot for happy hour, Mon.-Fri. 3-6 p.m.
1 S. Front St., Fernandina Beach, 261-2660
TRASCA & CO
Locally owned, Trasca & Co. Eatery is a one-of-a-kind, vintage-inspired, neighborhood eatery in Ponte Vedra Beach. Its roots trace back to 1974 ... and members of the Frasca family have been slinging the melted, golden-brown deliciousness of the heart of the menu—Panino—ever since. It all starts with a secret family dough recipe—made fresh daily. After rolling the dough nice and thin, the Frascas add the best quality meats and cheeses, fresh vegetables and housemade sauces.
Also on the menu: healthy yet indulgent breakfasts, Bold Bean Coffee, local craft beers, Puck’s sodas, appetizers, fresh salads and a famous mud pie. Trasca & Co. Eatery is owned and operated by residents Sara Frasca and Karina Coryell, who are delighted to serve hand-crafted meals to their neighbors and friends.
155 Tourside Dr., Ste. 1500, Ponte Vedra, 395-3989, trascaandco.com
GRASSROOTS NATURAL MARKET
People seek health foods for many reasons. Wellness and longevity, supporting a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, or just having a moment of clarity while horking back another Doritos-on-white-bread, eating better quality foods can only improve the overall quality of life.
Whatever the motivation, Grassroots Natural Market has you covered. The Five Points institution was opened by the Robison family in 2006. Organic produce, groceries and meats are readily available, as are deli sandwiches, scads of supplements, more soy items than you can shake a compassionately sourced stick at, and a boss fresh juice and smoothie bar (Best Smoothie, according to our Best of Jax 2018). Craft beers, organic wines, gourmet cheeses … too much to list here. They even share their recipes!
2007 Park St., Riverside, 384-4474, thegrassrootsmarket.com
This is ramen done right. Fred Brown and partner Bill Bryson opened the first Crane Ramen in Gainesville in 2014. It was a hit, so Fred decided to bring all that ramen joy to his hometown. Crane Ramen Jax, in the heart of Five Points, displays a crane in its logo—it’s the symbol for longevity and good luck. With the dishes offered here, however, this place doesn’t really need luck—it has Executive Chef Steve Grimes, who with Brown and Bryson, perfected a menu using fresh ingredients (mostly locally sourced) for its authentic dishes (most are from scratch), featuring otsumami (Japanese appetizers), ramen and craft cocktails. And no worries—vegetarian and vegan items, kimchi and gyoza are available. There’s a daily happy hour, too.
1029 Park St., Riverside, 253-3282, craneramen904.com
LARRY'S GIANT SUBS / FU PIZZA
Larry’s Giant Subs is one of the most popular and beloved restaurant franchises not only in Jacksonville but throughout Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Emphasizing hormone-free, sustainably farmed ingredients and using an eye-catching and distinctive New York-themed design, the sandwich chain has been a staple in the Jacksonville area for nearly 40 years. With staple sandwiches such as the Animal, the Mighty Mitch and the Destroyer, the company has become synonymous with quality, affordable food.
Now Larry’s has added a new, unique twist to their menu. According to Larry Raikes, franchise CEO, it all started when his sons Max and David took a trip to Italy a few years ago. “They fell in love with the pizza,” he said. They decided to open a new 3,500-square foot restaurant in Murray Hill that would be half dedicated to the traditional Larry’s Giant Subs and the other half to their latest venture, FU Pizza (for “fired up,” wink-wink).
Max and David didn’t just want to add any old pizza. They wanted to authentically recreate the Neapolitan pizza they loved in Italy. In addition to getting all their dough and sauce directly from Italy, they decided to install a $100,000 water system to replicate water from Brooklyn. “Brooklyn water is not as hard as in Florida and the taste was better,” Raikes said. “We tried all different kinds. They also hired one of the top pizza chefs in the world, Attilo Albachiara, to train the staff.
FU Pizza also offers a full liquor bar and hosts happy hours from 3-7 p.m. M-F, and M-Thurs 10-11 p.m. Raikes said business has been booming since they opened and that the happy hour always draws a crowd, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.
FU Pizza, 1050 Edgewood Ave. S., Murray Hill, 503-5142
HAWKERS ASIAN STREET FARE
With locations in Five Points and Neptune Beach, Hawkers Asian Street Fare has dominated the Asian food market in the Jacksonville area with recipes based on traditional Southeast Asian street food “hawkers.” From lettuce wraps, spring rolls, East Street Tacos and Roti Canai (a Malaysian flatbread served with curry sauce) to its famous dumplings, pad Thai and wok-seared Canton Cod, Hawkers serves authentic and affordable Asian food in a hip, casual atmosphere.
Antoinette Jonas, Hawkers’ brand manager, said the recipe for Po Po Lo’s Curry comes directly from co-founder Allen Lo’s family and is still served on the streets of Malaysia. “You can order the same thing in Malaysia as you would get in Jacksonville,” she said.
The Five Points location, which opened in 2013, has become so popular that co-founders Kaleb Harrell, Danny ‘Kin’ Ho, Allen Lo and Wayne Yung have decided to add about 900 more square feet by expanding into the space next door. They’re hoping to have the expansion wrapped up within a year, with a goal of adding a full liquor bar featuring a selection of Japanese whiskies and other cocktails.
“We’re also hoping to get really good artwork in the place,” said Jonas, referring to the posters and murals produced by Hawkers’ in-house design team.
Since the first Hawkers opened in Orlando in 2011, the company has expanded to St. Petersburg, Windemere and Charlotte, NC, with more locations—Atlanta, Delray Beach and Nashville—on the horizon.
Jonas said there are no immediate plans to close the restaurant during the expansion— the goal is to do as much of the work as possible overnight. “It should be a pretty seamless transition,” she said.
1001 Park St., Riverside, 508-0342; 241 N. Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach, 425-1025, eathawkers.com
“Hospitality is in our DNA,” says restaurateur George Triantafillopoulos. “We Greeks get connected through dining. … Going out to dinner is a way of having a good time with all the people in the room, not just our party. I wanted to bring that philosophy here.”
‘Here’ is the newish Baymeadows eatery, Athenian Owl, the only Hellenic restaurant in a sea of Indian spots. Gregarious Greek Triantafillopoulos offers a mix of classic and contemporary Greek fare. The usual suspects—pastitsio, moussaka, bifteki, souvlaki and gyro—are here, house-made. He’s quick to credit the skilled women behind the skillet. “Mama Georgia and my wife, Marilena, are responsible for the rave reviews,” he admits.
Mama’s dolmades aren’t your usual standard-issue grape leaves—they’re foliage-wrapped keftedakia (meatballs).
The Athenian Owl also serves pita sandwiches, lamb dishes, several souvlaki choices and vegetarian plates. Dessert? Baklava, galaktoboureko, kok and honeyed yogurt. Nóstima!
9551 Baymeadows Rd., Ste. 21-23, 503-3008, athenianowljaxfl.com
WHITEY'S FISH CAMP
There really was a person named Whitey—he worked for the U.S. Navy. In 1963, he and wife Ann Ham opened the humble fish camp—a real one, with bait and tackle, beer, sandwiches, gas and probably ice, for those hardy hopeful folks who docked there to get what they needed to hit the open water and catch a fish.
The place became popular as a stopover, and soon Whitey was expanding into a restaurant and even an RV campground.
These days, the place is an institution in Northeast Florida, where people take their Yankee relatives to show them the real Florida. It’s famous for its All-You-Can-Eat local wild-caught catfish, as well as oodles of seafood, steak, chicken and gator tail. There’s an outside Tiki bar and live music on the weekends, too. Come by boat, motorcycle or car.
2032 C.R. 220, Fleming Island, 269-4198, whiteysfishcamp.com
The French/Southern American bistro serves steak frites, mussels and Alsatian pork chops in an elegant setting, with an emphasis on locally grown, organic ingredients. Owner Jonathan Insetta, Wine Director Jason R. Eddy and Executive Chef Michael McKinney have successfully fused classic European cuisine, regional charm and contemporary American ambience. They’ve also earned Slow Food First Coast’s Snail of Approval, so you know the eats are good, clean and sustainably sourced. The raw bar is fresh seafood heaven.
And if a big dinner seems like too much, grab a seat in the lounge, drink rosé and craft cocktails, and eat oysters with your smartest pals. Happy hour at Orsay is where local professionals unwind after the day’s travails.
3630 Park St., Avondale, 381-0909, restaurantorsay.com
RAGTIME TAVERN, SEAFOOD & GRILL
An Atlantic Beach favorite for more than 35 years, Ragtime Tavern has earned numerous accolades for its creative cuisine, expertly handcrafted beers, outstanding service and lively atmosphere. Beginning in 1983 as a small neighborhood meeting place, with only 12 tables and a single bar, Ragtime has since grown into a hot spot that the locals and over-the-ditchers can’t stop raving about.
Over the years, the brewery, lounge and taproom have been added and the place is a favorite for live music and nightlife. Ragtime serves a variety of cuisines, including Cajun, fresh seafood, chicken and pasta, using only the freshest ingredients.
It’s been said Ragtime’s shrimp & grits is without equal and that may be true. We like the warm chicken sesame salad, too. And the Ragtime classic craft brews? Yikes—the choices! Dolphin’s Breath Lager, First Coast IPA and Red Brick Ale for starters. Cocktails include Goombay Smash and Dark & Stormy.
207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 241-7877, ragtimetavern.com
Chef Art Jennette’s passion for bringing people together is evident in his love of cooking and, maybe even more, his love of people. His simple recipes and his classic Southern cooking and boisterous persona have earned the chef fans among local dignitaries, whose photos he proudly displays, albeit in cracked frames, hung on Southern Charm’s walls and piled on the counter by the register. Everyone seems to know Jennette, and Jennette knows them.
Despite Southern Charm’s location—in an industrial district on St. Augustine Road, off Philips Highway—diners from all over the area come to the tiny landmark, especially on weekends—it’s reservations (and cash) only. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to your grandma’s kitchen: a place you can go alone without ever feeling alone. It’s simple, no frills. Just pure love in a skillet.
“I love this work. I love putting out authentic food. And I love people,” Jennette says. “With God’s blessing, I’ll keep on making Southern food until I drop dead.”
3566 St. Augustine Rd., Southside, 517-3637, artscrackercooking.com
A shiny new addition to what locals call The Corner, Coop 303 serves regional cuisine and a great whiskey selection. On weekends, head to the Parlor to tap your feet to the featured local musician while sipping on a frosty beverage. Manager JP Diedrich says, “The menus are thoughtfully created with respect, humility and joy. This is FUN dining. Bring your friends and make some new ones.” Share a plate of apps with mix-and-match choices like the house pickles, fresh popcorn and boiled peanuts, then dig into giant sandwiches and heaping portions of most every item. Leave room for dessert or get a signature cocktail, like Jim Beam Black Bourbon-based Unforgettable with muddled lemon, mint and blackberries. All this earned Coop 303 two distinctions in Folio Weekly’s Best of Jax 2018: Best New Restaurant and Best New Bar.
303 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 372-4507, coop303.com3
FLYING IGUANA TAQUERIA & TEQUILA BAR
Two words: tableside guac! This Neptune Beach Latin fusion joint is known for its top-shelf margaritas and fantastic guacamole. (In fact, Flying Iguana is a perennial Best of Jax winner in both categories.) The menu features Tostadas and entrées in a variety of carnivorous and vegetarian options, but The Iguana is most famous for its tacos. Choose from traditional faves, like slow-roasted carnitas, or more exotic choices, like the Junkyard with grilled chicken, roasted potato, queso, cabbage, charred corn and a signature flaming iguana sauce. Whatever you’re hangry for, there’s something to solve your urges. And if it’s a lovely day (or night), snag a table out on the patio.
207 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach, 853-5680, flyingiguana.com
THE HILLTOP CLUB & RESTAURANT
Old World charm meets wonderful fresh food in Orange Park. With several ballrooms and gardens, picturesque The Hilltop is a popular venue for weddings and parties. The Orange Park institution serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Its upscale menu features dishes like she-crab soup, New York strip, osso bucco and more.
Happy hour runs 4:30-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, in the Piano Lounge. There’s a special Easter Brunch menu—make your reservations now for an elegant holiday experience.
2030 Wells Rd., Orange Park, 272-5959, hilltop-club.com
HOUSE OF LEAF & BEAN
The brainchild of green entrepreneur Wen Raiti, House of Leaf & Bean opened in December 2017. It was—and is—one of a handful of vegan-oriented restaurants in Jacksonville. About 90 percent of Raiti’s entrées are vegan (though organic chicken can be added to some), and the restaurant aims to be 100 percent organic.
Everything is made in-house, from the tofu to the seasonings to the vegan cheese. Raiti’s No. 1 seller: the Leaf & Bean Rice Bowl. (Honorable mentions go to the vegan peanut butter cookies and handmade tofu dumplings.)
14474 Beach Blvd., 379-1291, houseofleafnbean.com