DINING OUT IN GREATER GAINESVILLE
Not feeling like leftovers or creating some concoction out of the dry goods you have left in the pantry? What’s not to love about being served something you want to eat and not having to cook or clean up? Once the easier decision has been made to go out to eat, the difficult follow-up question arises, “Where should we go?” Beware, as this decision can take from 5 minutes to much longer depending on what kind of mood you are in and what you have already eaten that week. Everyone has his or her favorites, but Greater Gainesville’s food scene is so diverse, there is something for everyone or any mood.
This region is very different from its neighboring metropolitan areas of Tampa Bay, Orlando, or Jacksonville but if you are attracted to a big-city vibe with upscale food, there are a few locations to satisfy your fix. Dragonfly is a downtown sushi + sake restaurant that has so much more to offer than just the busy lounge vibe. They have a great seasonal Omakase menu, a large variety of sake, and creative sushi rolls that will have you finding room to order more. Downtown Crane Ramen is another restaurant that has an incredible vibe to accompany its hipster Japanese cuisine. Great cocktails, insane ramen broths, and pillowy steamed buns are a few reasons why they have a waitlist almost every Friday and Saturday night. Midtown is Golden Spoon Hall of Fame winner Mildred’s Big City Food. Mildred’s offers a fresh, seasonal, local menu. Produce comes from local farms and seafood caught off the Florida coast. If you are looking for simple yet elegant, Mildred’s is the place for you.
If you are looking for food cooked slow and low but don’t have the patience or the time to use your pellet smoker, we have some smokin’ BBQ places that require two or three wet naps once you tap out and call it quits. Adams Rib Co. is a local BBQ restaurant that has all your favorite fixings at inexpensive prices. They have two locations but if you are looking to wash down your food with a refreshing libation, the south location is one of the two restaurants that serve beer. Ordering a dish of burnt ends at MOJO Hogtown Bar-B-Que downtown may have you reconsidering it as a shared plate. Smoked meats are not all that is offered on their menu. If you are a brown water lover, this place has an extensive bourbon inventory filling shelves as long as the restaurant and as high as the ceiling. I promise that they even have something new for the bourbon experts to try.
Dim lights, a glass of wine, and sizzling grilled steaks is the perfect setting for when you really want to impress that special someone. We have a few full-service American steakhouses in town. Shulas Steak House, located across from the UF Performing Arts Center in the Hilton Hotel, is where you can dine in sophisticated ambiance with modern décor and order from their large selection of premium Angus beef, hand-selected and aged just right. They also have a fantastic bar in the hotel lobby where you can order a drink either before a show or simply meet up with friends. Embers, located on SW 34th street, has the most extensive wine list the city has to offer, with impeccable service by their sommeliers to match. If steaks aren’t your jam, try the escargot, grilled Caesar salad, or diver scallops. They are delicious and you won’t regret trying something different. They have a sister restaurant next door called Spark that has a more intimate, yet fun vibe with a limited gastro bar type menu. Mark’s Prime Steakhouse has two locations, but the one in Gainesville is located downtown and has a great bar scene. They have a full menu of wood-fired steaks served simply with salt, pepper, and butter. They also have a nice selection of fresh seafood, appetizers like “Lobster Escargot” and a moderate list of premium wines.
If you know how to use chopsticks and are looking for something light and fresh, there are a variety of sushi restaurants that will feast your fancy. Volcanic Sushi + Sake is your neighborhood sushi spot that never disappoints. The service is incredible, and they aren’t afraid to accommodate your request to customize a roll. They have two locations, one in Haile Plantation and the other at Hunters Crossing. If It Is Kitchen & Cafe has just as creative of a name as their sushi rolls on the menu. If you sit at the sushi bar, their friendly sushi chef will entertain you with his knife skills and bubbly personality. Now, while this next restaurant may not serve sushi, they are wildly popular in this community for their dim sum. Yummy House is your local Chinese restaurant creating classic dishes that everyone craves. If you like Thai food, Bangkok Square is a must-try. Their soups are amazingly flavorful and perfect for when you’re feeling under the weather or on a cool winter evening.
Butler Plaza is known for hosting some of the best-recognized restaurant brands, including; Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Bonefish Grill, 4 Rivers BBQ, Grub Kitchen & Bar, Zoe’s Kitchen, Starbucks, Jersey Mike’s, Yogurtology, Outback Steakhouse, Firehouse Subs, Chili’s Grill and Bar, TGIFridays, Bahama Breeze, Jimmy Johns, Bolay, Tijuana Flats, Keke’s Breakfast Café and many more. There are some other locally known franchises like McCalisters, Zaxby’s, Maple Street Biscuit Company, and Gigi’s Cupcakes. While there are a few mom-and-pop joints located in the Butler area, the food chain market dominates this region.
With our toes in the water and butt in the sand, Floridians know a thing or two about good seafood. You can pick up something fresh at Northwest Seafood Inc. to cook at home or you could head out to a few of our local favorites. Ballyhoo Grill serves fresh seafood, oysters, and sushi, along with some of their fan favorites, including their homemade Sangria and their she-crab soup. The bananas foster prepared table-side is a sweet treat you do not want to miss. Blue Gill Quality Food is another local favorite for those looking for a southern twist on classic contemporary food. It’s fresh, it’s local and they have delicious crafted cocktails to match.
The smell of garlic can excite just about anyone’s taste buds and after eating at one of our local Italian joints, you might want to hurry home and use some mouthwash…. make that twice. Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza, Blue Highway Pizza, Amelia’s Italian Restaurant, Pomodoro Café, Leonardo’s pizza of Milhopper, and O Sole Mio offer a delicious array of pastas, pizzas, and all kinds of other Italian goodness on their menus. We can promise that eating at any one of these establishments will put you in a carb-induced food coma, wishing you had not reached for that last cannoli.
From Mexican to Cuban, the Latin food scene here is perfect for those looking for authentic and inexpensive eats. Flaco’s Cuban Bakery is very popular, and their late-night crowds wrap around the building after all the downtown bars shut down. Mi Apa Latin Café has two locations, one in Gainesville and one in Alachua. They have killer coffee and delicious Latin pastries that will fill your bellies and keep you alert for hours. If you are looking for classic homemade Cuban dishes, you must visit Abuelas. They give you big portions and at great prices! Las Margaritas and Boca Fiesta both provide traditional, delicious tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. And, if you are looking for another Greater Gainesville local favorite, head to Cilantro Tacos in Town of Tioga Center.
Dreaming of the Mediterranean Sea and the fabulous smells that come out of these international restaurants? Tucked away in the Sun Center downtown, Sababa offers homemade authentic Israeli cuisine. The owners take pride in their fresh ingredients and you can feel the love they put into it with every bite. Serving all of Gainesville since 1984 and located in Butler Plaza, Falafel King offers classic Lebanese food. This one-stop offers authentic falafels, gyros, and baklava, and if you look in the back, there is a small little market where you can buy international grocery items.
Rise and Shine! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so don’t skip on some of these gems that will fill your bellies first thing in the morning. Halo Potato Donuts, Luke’s New York Bagel Shop, The Flying Biscuit Café, 43rd Street Deli, Metro Diner, and Peach Valley Café have something for everyone with their variety of egg dishes or sweet stacks. East End Eatery, Afternoon and Daybreak on Pleasant Street are located downtown off the beaten path but worth the trip.
Vegan options can be difficult to find in some places but not in this town! The Top, Daily Green and Karma Cream all offer many options to indulge. Typically, you find restaurants that have a vegan option or two but not a lot of places focus on this style of cooking. Check out these restaurants with extensive selections of vegan food including delicious homemade desserts.
While Gainesville hosts many fantastic food options, all nine municipalities have something great to offer. Some of this region’s fan favorites include Headwaters and The Great Outdoors in High Springs; El Toro and Main Street Pie in Alachua; Woodyard Grill and Villaggios Pizzeria in Newberry; Blue Water Bay in Melrose; The Yearling in Cross Creek; and PJ’s Café in Hawthorne.
Whatever you are in the mood for, Greater Gainesville has many options to choose from. Check out a complete listing of all our restaurants on our online Guide Directory.
For a complete listing of restaurants in Greater Gainesville visit guidetogreatergainesville.com/directory.
Everyone has his or her favorites, but Greater Gainesville’s food scene is so diverse, there is something for everyone or any mood.