It’s been a big year for food in Jax. We’ve had some tried-and-true favorites depart and we’ve made friends with the new kids on the block. The food scene is ever-changing here, and that means exciting options throughout the region nearly every day.
I’ve eaten a lot of food this year (personally and professionally) and some dishes are clear favorites I still crave. Here are my top picks of new-to-me dishes I tried in 2018! If you were introduced to something delectable this year, I want to know!
SNOW NA-DA at SNOWGENIX
Dessert first! The Taiwanese shaved ice and liquid nitrogen ice cream shop in Baymeadows are delicious, but the Snow Na-Da is the apex of all frozen treats. The composition is simple. Kinda sorta. A cup of mango “snow” is layered with freshly diced mango, with a healthy shake of chamoy “hot” sauce, topped with a tamarind straw. Many cultures add a spicy element to fresh fruit like papaya, mango, pineapple and other tropical produce and it’s time we got on board! Chamoy’s traditional spicy-sour recipe is designed to go with fruit. The tamarind straw’s texture is like a grown-up fruit roll-up. Sweetened tamarind paste is dipped in a little extra spice and formed around a plastic straw (to get at it, nibble from the side). Each spoonful of this spicy, sweet, refreshing, clean choice is a masterpiece.
Snowgenix 9932 Old Baymeadows Rd., Southside, 503-5992, facebook.com/snowgenix
SISIG at FIL-AM EATERY & BBQ
I’ll always remember 2018 as the year I was introduced to some killer Filipino/Asian fare by Agnes Lopez, a local photographer who specializes in shooting weddings and food, not necessarily at the same time. Sisig is every bit the sizzling, crispy, rich masterpiece it was said to be. You must order it “sizzling,” which simply means it’s served on a skillet, bubbling hot, with a single, beautiful raw egg cracked in the middle. It doesn’t stay raw for long. Mix it up so the egg coats everything evenly. The combination of tender meat, fresh ginger, crispy bites and spices, egg yolk richness and fresh pepper spiciness make devouring sisig a pleasure nonpareil. It’s sooo good.
Fil-Am Eatery & BBQ 14185 Beach Blvd., Ste. 3, Jax Beach, 992-9893, filambbq.com
GREEN CURRY MUSSELS at LULU’S at THE THOMPSON HOUSE
If I could have steamed mussels with Thai green curry every day, I would. The marvy mollusks arrive piled high and steaming hot in the caldera pot where they were cooked. The day I ordered the mussels, the darlings of the briny deep were notably huge. From Maine’s famed Bangs Island, these behemoths would cower the Incredible Hulk. Add coconut milk and green curry paste and it’s a happy little party. LuLu’s really gives you a lot in an appetizer. All the mussel shells were open—that should be a given, but it ain’t always so. Call for another order of crusty bread and you’ve got a full meal!
LuLu’s 11 S. Seventh St., Fernandina Beach, 432-8394, lulusamelia.com
YELLOWTAIL COLLAR at SUSHI BEAR
This is a neighborhood sushi joint. Like a lot of places in town, it has the usual rolls, hibachi, and so on. The rolls are good, but direct your attention to the app menu. There’s a dish there called Hamachi Kama, aka roasted yellowtail tuna collar ($12.95). Encountering this one was an angelic food moment for me—you know, that brief flash of time when you can hear seraphim and cherubim harmonizing. It was like I was in Ollivanders and the dinner chose the diner. I’d never had such an amazing piece of fish. It was the most moist, tender, succulent, juicy seafood that ever crossed my lips. The collar—the part just behind the head and gills—is protected by a fairly pliable bone. The bit of effort you exert for that perfect bite is worth it. It’s oven-roasted and basted with a light, citrus soy sauce that just kisses the delicate flavor of the fish. I can’t say this often enough: Go try it!
Sushi Bear Japanese Restaurant 4530 St. Johns Ave., Ste. 9, Avondale, 503-0690, sushibearjax.com
TACOS at LOS PORTALES
Tacos are a dime a dozen in this area, but Los Portales is a mecca for the practitioners of the cult religion of Corn-or-Flour Shells. The taco shell is replete with shredded pork, imbued with bits of flavorful, well-seasoned fat that melts on your tongue. The carnitas are among the very finest in town. It was so well-spiced, I thought I detected a tinge of cinnamon, but the server said they just cook the meat down with some good Mexican beer, slow and low! There are myriad other variations on the humble taco and plenty more authentic fare, but I need the carnitas like Eva needs Juan. Don’t cry for me—I’m goin’ to Los Portales!
Los Portales 4100 Belfort Rd., Ste. 4, Southside, 332-4610, 2245 C.R. 210, St. Augustine, 819-1486, losportalesgrill.com
JAPANESE A5 WAGYU at MATTHEW’S RESTAURANT
It seems foolish to go to one of the fanciest restaurants in all of Northeast Florida and order an appetizer you’ve made yourself, but this delicacy is worth the trip. The dish features a hot stone (on which you sear each side), fried garlic, wasabi and smoked shoyu soy sauce and thinly sliced rectangles of marbled wagyu. The cooking set-up has a variety of salts: truffle, matcha and smoked. Why is wagyu so revered? It’s a breed of Japanese cattle. ‘Wagyu’ refers to all Japanese beef cattle; literally, ‘wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow. It has higher fat or marbling content and a finer grain, resulting in a traditional buttery texture and excellent flavor.
Matthew’s Restaurant 2107 Hendricks Ave., San Marco, 396-9922, matthewsrestaurant.com
As we dig into 2019, we’ll find some exciting changes! We’ll be discovering more about what moves and shakes around Northeast Florida’s culinary sphere. So embrace the changes and try new things … and happy dining!