El Galeon at Sunrise in St. Augustine, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine, photo by Stacey Sather
Photo by Stacey Sather

An Insider’s Guide to St. Augustine, Florida

SO THIS IS WHAT THE LOCALS KNOW

Around St. Augustine you’ll see bumper stickers that call us “a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” That’s cute and all, but the truth is living in St. Augustine is not as charming as outsiders think. Trolleys are constantly in your way, the whole place smells like horse piss, and sometimes when you live here you feel like you live in Disney World. There are always more tourists than locals.

But a New St. Augustine is rising. The abandoned and forgotten Lincolnville neighborhood in Downtown’s backyard is being rejuvenated by hipsters, and it’s starting to look like a more tropical version of Brooklyn 10 years ago. And the millennials that grew up here have banded with some of the cool people Flagler College has brought here to start businesses that seem a lot less synthetic than the slogan tees and pirate themes of the rest of the city. St. Augustine is developing an authentic culture of its own, and it is making our city feel more like ours to locals.

EAT

Arnold’s

North St. Augustine • 3912 N Ponce De Leon Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-8738

Arnold's_signWhen you first walk into this place, you will think we’ve made a mistake putting it on this list. First you have to understand that on most nights Arnold’s is a highly local bar where smoking is frequent and food is not available. But there is a secret: every Thursday is Steak Night, and steak night is magical.

Menu Highlights: The waitresses will ask you if you are eating tonight. YOU SAY YES! They will ask you one question: how do you want your steak cooked? They only serve one dish, and they only do it once a week, and it is worth it. The ribeye steak is grilled to perfection, delicious, and less than $15. It always comes with a baked potato, green beans and corn on the cob. Have a cocktail while they grill your steak. Hell, have a cigarette. You’ll get the second-hand smoke anyway.

Insider Tip: Bring your date right around 7:30. They will be surprised and delighted when Country Karaoke starts right around 8pm.

Aunt Kate's

Aunt Kate’s

Vilano Beach • 612 Euclid Ave, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 829-1105

There is a nationally renowned restaurant in Vilano Beach, just a click north of Aunt Kate’s along the Tolomato River called Cap’s. But eating there costs twice what a nice, casual, southern dinner costs at Aunt Kate’s with an equally impressive view.

Menu Highlights: They are widely known for their chowder (and rumor has it their shrimp challenges O’Steen’s, a St. Augustine institution).

Insider Tip: Sorry, Kate’s doesn’t have raw oysters. They have great deals on steamed oysters, but if you want this view and raw oysters, you’re gonna have to go to Cap’s.

Back 40

West King • 40 S Dixie Hwy, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-0227

An “urban cafe” located on South Dixie Highway inside of an old house, this little, local favorite has a moderate price point and a variety of options, most of which are southwestern in nature but appeal to vegetarians and omnivores alike. West King isn’t a huge destination for foodies in St. Augustine, but this restaurant is one of its few treasures.

Menu Highlights: They are best known for their tacos and wet burritos, but don’t discredit the Island Bowl. Made with marinated jerk chicken or avocado over black beans and brown rice with shredded cheese and tomatoes, topped with a dollop of sour cream, green onions, fresh cilantro and jalapenos; this meal has such fresh ingredients that you couldn’t do better at the Farmers Market.

Insider Tip: Bring your dog! Park around back and enjoy outdoor dining with your dog.

Beachcomber Restaurant

The Beachcomber Restaurant

St. Augustine Beach • 2 A St, St. Augustine, FL 32080 (904) 471-3744

The Beachcomber is the only restaurant in St. Augustine where you eat right on the beach. The food is inexpensive and casual.

Menu Highlights: They are widely known for their cajun shrimp, and you will find good blackened and fried fish, but mostly this is just the best place to go when you’ve been soaking in the sun all day and want a cold beer and a burger.

Insider Tip: All fresh food, and great specials daily, and it is cheap and delicious. Get to the beach!

Black Molly’s

West St. Augustine • 504 W Geoffrey St, St. Augustine, FL 32086 (904) 547-2723

Located in Cobblestone Plaza, Black Molly’s is a locally owned seafood joint nested inside what looks like it may have once been a chain restaurant, but is now one of the city’s best kept local secrets. They always have incredibly fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways and mussels, crab, steaks and even pasta.

Menu Highlights: The Datil Chicken Sandwich is a grilled chicken breast topped with a slab of goat cheese and a sweet-spicy datil pepper jelly. Take this and put it in your mouth. You won’t be sorry.

Blue Hen Cafe

Lincolnville • 117 M L King Ave, Saint Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 217-3777

Blue Hen Cafe, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine,Not long ago a little, hipster breakfast place opened on King Street between the city police station and the post office called The Yardbird. It moved into Lincolnville and changed its name. Lincolnville is quickly becoming a hipster haven, and Blue Hen is one of the first restaurants to participate in the hipstering of that neighborhood.

Menu Highlights: The biscuits are amazing. The peach butter makes them even more mystifying. So when their chicken biscuits hit your tongue, you’re going to be blown away. But don’t get stuck on them. The Corned Beef Hash is unparalleled, and the Fried Green Tomato Burger does not disappoint. Honestly, I can’t find a bad thing on their menu, and I live up the street and eat there often.

Insider Tips: Get an iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. It’s brilliant and delicious. Also, while you’re there, grab a bottle of Cowgill’s datil sauce, because it is one of the 3 best datil sauces in town (datil peppers are a St. Augustine delicacy).

 

Cap's On the Water, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine

Cap’s on the Water

Vilano Beach • 4325 Myrtle St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-8794

This place gets national press, and they live up to it. Their menu is a little on the broad side, but most of their dishes are surprisingly elegant and deftly executed in spite of the lack of focus. Cap’s is pricey for St. Augustine, which makes it even pricier for Vilano Beach, but nothing beats eating delicious raw oysters at their Sunset Bar at dusk.

Menu Highlights: Try the panko herb crusted catch over potato parsnip puree and grilled asparagus in a lemon caper beurre blanc. Or just have oysters and cocktails. You won’t go wrong here.

Insider Tip: Don’t tell them someone in your party isn’t there yet. They won’t seat you. Just let them seat you and ask your waiter for more chairs when the rest of your party arrives.

Casa Maya

Downtown • 22 Hypolita St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 823-0787

This family-owned restaurant is a downtown treasure. Although their guacamole isn’t what it used to be, their Ropa Vieja will always be unparalleled. From sangria to sweet potato pancakes, Casa Maya always has the freshest ingredients, and they know how to use them.

Menu Highlights: Vegetarian? Get the tempeh tacos. Carnivore? Get the Ropa Vieja. They’ve been slow-cooking that pork for you all day.

Insider Tip: Their breakfast. Eat on the balcony overlooking Hypolita street and have the Los Huevos de Popeye, which is scrambled eggs with cherry tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese. Too much? You should try the Apocalypto Sandwich. Their bread is amazeballs!

Conch House, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine

Conch House

North Davis Shores on Anastasia Island • 57 Comares Avenue, St. Augustine, FL 32080 (800) 940-6256

Conch House-2_diningThe thing is, their food isn’t great. I mean, it’s passable, but it isn’t going to prompt a TripAdvisor review. What will prompt your involuntary Internet gushing is the atmosphere. Conch House is a resort with a restaurant perched right on the edge of Salt Run with a cool bar out on the marina. Drinks aren’t cheap, but the tikki tables are the coolest dining atmosphere in town. And they have an alligator habitat. (I’m not sure if they harvest their gator tail in-house or not.)

Menu Highlights: Their conch fritters are really good. Like hushpuppies with cooked mollusk in the middle.

Insider Tip: Avoid on Sundays. They have this terrible The Purge-like event called Reggae Sundays. Believe me, you want no part of it. If you don’t believe me, Google “Reggae Sunday at the Conch House” and read the first result not published on the restaurant’s own website.

 Cousteau's Waffle & Milkshake Bar, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine, photo by Rachel Henley

Cousteau’s Waffle & Milkshake Bar 

Downtown • 15 Hypolita St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 342-5627

Do we really need to say anything other than waffle and milkshake bar? Their waffles aren’t your garden variety Belgian waffles with a light center and a crispy exterior; they are more like cake. But they are delicious. And what could be more St. Augustine-hipster than a Wes Anderson theme? Cousteau’s employees dress like crew members of The Bellafonte from the Anderson film The Life Aquatic.

Menu Highlights: Cold brew coffee.

image (3)Flavors Eatery 

Lincolnville • 125 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-4221

On the edge of Lincolnville and Flagler is a little, family-owned restaurant with terrible logo that makes some of the best lunches in town. Flavors has incredible wraps and salads with super fresh ingredients.

Menu Highlights: Their smoothies are the best in town. Possibly the best in the world.

 

Hot Shot Bakery and Cafe

Downtown • 8 Granada St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-7898

A family-owned spot Downtown with reasonable prices and a creative menu. They have great sandwiches, and their specials are usually outstanding.

Menu Highlights: The Bufis Wrap for breakfast (I’m a sucker for datil pepper jelly) or the Skirt Steak Panini (with red pepper pesto, provolone, mushrooms, spinach, onions, and green peppers) for lunch.

Insider Tip: The Hot Shot datil sauce. Pick your heat level. They’ll let you taste. Ask about the chocolate-covered datil pepper challenge.

Manatee Cafe

Westgate Plaza • 525 SR 16 Suite 106, Westgate Plaza, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 826-0210

Located in a strange strip mall halfway between Downtown and the outlet malls is a little cafe with terrible decor, negligible atmosphere and mediocre service. So why tell you about it? Because their food is seriously good. They bill themselves as a primarily vegan and vegetarian restaurant. So bring that friend who always condescends to you about your eating habits and be a hero. Their snobbery will match the lackluster attention, but nobody can deny the quality of their dairy-free, gluten-free vegan wrap.

Menu Highlight: Their veggie breakfast burrito is the best thing ever. Ever. (NOTE: Ignore your vegan friend and order it with goat cheese. In fact, ask them if they have chorizo.)

Mojo Tacos 

Davis Shores & Vilano Beach • 551 Anastasia Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32080 (904) 829-1665

If they aren’t out surfing, they’ll make you a great taco. There is an unspoken rivalry in St. Augustine between taco shops, and the top two competitors are Burrito Works Taco Shop and Mojo’s Tacos. Burrito Works is open late and so gets a lot of credit, but Mojo’s is hands down the better purveyor. Their critical hangups are: 1) They are cash only. That sucks. I don’t care that you don’t want to pay credit card fees; I don’t want to pay ATM fees to buy your food. Cash is so last century. 2) They seem to close whenever they want. I have friends that find this genuine. I find it annoying.

Menu Highlights: They have tacos on crunchy shells, incredible salsa, and they use jasmine rice in their burritos.

Insider Tip: They have incredible breakfast tacos. I don’t think anyone knows this. You’re welcome.

Ned's Southside Kitchen, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine

Ned’s Southside Kitchen

 St. Augustine South • 2450 U.S. 1, St. Augustine, FL 32086 (904) 794-2088

WAY off the beaten path, Ned’s is THE local secret. As a chef, Ned got locally famous when he opened Gypsy Cab Company in Davis Shores decades ago. But he sold that and moved away. Then he came back and opened up a restaurant inside a building over by Wal-Mart, and nothing from the outside looks appealing. But inside is some of the best food in St. Augustine. With the exception of their Flounder Hemingway, everything I’ve had there has been tops. Their fish of the day is always especially good.

Menu Highlight: Seriously, just get the pork chops.

Present Moment Cafe, Pad Thai, An Insider's Guide to St. Augustine
Present Moment Pad Thai

Present Moment

West King • 224 W King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 827-4499

Not only was Present Moment among the pioneers of the development of the West King neighborhood, they are an institution for conscientious eaters. Started as an exclusively raw, vegan foods establishment, they recently introduced cooked vegetarian offerings to their menu. And seriously, you wouldn’t even miss the animal products because their flavorful food stands up to any in town.

Menu Highlights: The Pad Thai is so amazing, you won’t even believe it’s made from raw foods.

Insider Tips: They carry a selection of vegan alcohol drinks, and they serve delicious cucumber water.

About Jon Bosworth