Flying Iguana: Unexpected Latin flavors worth the drive to the Beach

Living on the Westside, it’s difficult to draw me out to our beaches, but Flying Iguana is a restaurant that fits both my criteria for a drive to the Beaches: excellent food, and you can’t get anything like it in Jacksonville proper. You’ll find the Flying Iguana at the Beaches Town Center, a little strip that’s split down the middle between Atlantic and Neptune Beaches. The area is a bit of a culinary oasis, with lots of variation in dining choices. It’s located where the old Sundog Diner used to be. The floor plan is far more open than it was before and it’s nothing like the diner/dive it was before. Instead, it’s colorful and well-curated, with exposed brick, selected tiling, dark wood and high-impact art. The only remnant of its Sundog days is the mirrored Aztec dog on the back right wall. Chef Josh Agan says he kept it as a bit of an homage to the old place, which was in the spot for over 20 years.

If you’re looking to label the Flying Iguana, it falls under modern Latin American cuisine, influenced by the flavors of the Southern U.S. The Flying Iguana brings unexpected flavors together, flavors that have known each other for a long time but never knew they were meant to be. Case in point: the Crispy Pork Belly Taco. Pork and watermelon are two very Southern things that show up at cookouts, but never in the same dish. In the Crispy Pork Belly Taco they come together like the two leads in 90s romantic comedy. They’re helped along by Cotija cheese (a dry Mexican cheese) and pickled onions, the secondary romantic leads.

It’s possible this sounds all too exotic for you. You might want something more like a standard taco. They can do those for you as well, but I highly recommend ordering three different tacos from their menu and giving innovation a chance. At $3-5 per taco, it’s not a huge gamble. I also love the fish tacos and the blackened shrimp. Neither of those are that exotic, but they are delish!

Their bar is well-stocked and their margaritas are tasty. Try the Swap Shop under specialty drinks. It’s pretty much a standard margarita, but you can choose what to flavor it with. Your choice of: Strawberry, Mango, Tamarind, Cactus/Prickly Pear, or Pomegranate. Tequila Flights are also available, as are local beers. The wine list is actually shorter than their extensive tequila and spirits list, but there’s enough variety to satisfy most people.

Chef Josh Agan has a storied background in cuisine, both in and out of Jacksonville. He began working through the restaurant ranks as a dishwasher, busboy, and server while at the University of Vermont. While finding his passion, he matriculated through Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and the New England Culinary Institute. For his culinary internship he helped open 9545 at The Inn at Lost Creek in Telluride, Colorado. He then worked as the lead line cook for Xanadu in Berkeley, Lark Creek Inn under Bradley Ogden. In Aspen he became sous chef at the St. Regis Hotel’s Olive under Chef Todd English, where Agan got to work with a number of celebrity chefs. Locally, he served as bb’s Executive Chef, before opening the Flying Iguana.

Tacos are probably the most popular items on the menu, but there’s far more their menu than that. Take a look at their entrees and you definitely won’t go home hungry if you order one. You can’t go wrong with the Peruvian Chicken and you will most likely find yourself ordering the Agave Brined Pork Chop more than once, after you try it the first time. The brining process makes for an especially succulent chop which sits atop a polenta cake. Unexpected notes of rosemary gently cut through the other flavors and textures, which include a flavorful ancho chile mole sauce, a lightly spicy and sweet jalapeno apple jam and a crispy slaw.

Their Antojitos or appetizers are also a great place to start, when you want to think outside the taco. For their Guacamole and Chips they use three avocados and make your guacamole fresh, right at your table (unless you sit outside, because there isn’t room for the mobile guac station). The Peruvian Ceviche is the best in the area, made with tender, local fish as well as surprising cubes of sweet potato and crispy little toasted corn kernels. Lime juice is the base, while aji amarillo peppers give it a little kick and the starchiness of Peruvian corn enforces an equilibrium of flavor. Those with an adventurous palate should seek out the Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes Starter. The sweet cakes are supported by an ancho chile sauce and topped with smoked salmon, crema, and chives.

If you’re there for lunch, I urge you to order the Cubana sandwich. It’s available until 3 pm on their lunch menu. This beauty is stuffed with shaved pork loin, slow roasted pork shoulder, pickled onion, gruyere and flavored with mojo mustard. It also seems to be a staff favorite!

After all the chips, salsa and your meal, you might find it difficult to save room for dessert. If you have to, make a special trip and order their delectable Plantains Foster. It’s everything you love about bananas foster, but with the firmer texture of plantains.

The Flying Iguana is going to be my go-to for out-of-towners looking to glimpse the beach. It’s everything you need, beach proximity, a full bar, a hip, fun atmosphere and a menu with items for eaters both bold and timid.

The Flying Iguana

207 Atlantic Blvd, Neptune Beach

853-5680

About Erin Thursby

april, 2022

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