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The 11 Essential Jacksonville Restaurants, 2024

The must-try spots in Jacksonville every local knows about

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When dining in Jacksonville, locals will always fight for their favorite restaurants. Whether it’s a fantastic Italian spot tucked away in a strip mall, a fried chicken joint in the middle of one of Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods, or an Indian restaurant that’s drawing in crowds for its season menus, the food scene in Jacksonville seems to get better and better as the years go by.

If any of the places on our Jacksonville essentials list ever closed, food lovers in the River City would lament the closure of a local icon and a place that makes the city's culture even more vibrant than it already is. These are the 11 essential restaurants in Jacksonville.

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Mesa has been making waves in town for its top-notch Indian cuisine, offering diners a choice between a seasonally-driven, five-course tasting menu and a la carte options. Notably, the tasting menu is vegetarian-friendly, a rarity in the city. For those opting for a la carte, the chicken wings on the small plate menu are a must-try, featuring a delightfully sweet, sticky, and tangy tamarind-ginger glaze.

Restaurant Orsay

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Expect a solid happy hour and a meal featuring inventive bistro classics at Restaurant Orsay. Inspired by French cuisine and its Southern surroundings, the menu includes pan-roasted fish with grits and mussels frites. Beyond its impressive happy hour and dinner service, Restaurant Orsay offers weekend brunch, showcasing roasted oysters with bacon, spinach, parmesan cheese, Southern-style biscuits and gravy, and bourbon-orange infused French toast. As this is one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in town, book a table far in advance.

Carolina Jax

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From a food truck to a bustling burger joint, Carolina Jax shines with inventive smash burgers and loaded fries. The standout Hurricane burger combines a house beef blend, white American cheese, jalapenos, macaroni, bacon, and chipotle sauce, while the Riverside burger blends sweet, spicy, creamy, and smoky flavors with Key lime, and datil pepper aioli, goat cheese, and orange marmalade on a smash burger. Besides burgers, there’s a selection of sandwiches and hot dogs, including a Hurricane Dog topped with the same lavish ingredients as the Hurricane burger.

Cowford Chophouse

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Cowford Chophouse, located in River City and named after Jacksonville’s original moniker, Cowford, occupies a historic building from 1902. This steakhouse boasts a stunning rooftop offering views of the St. Johns River, Southbank, and Downtown Jacksonville, enhancing the dining experience. The menu features classic steakhouse selections, including starters like tuna tartare and roasted bone marrow. Guests can choose from a variety of a la carte steaks and seafood, ranging from a sharable 40-ounce porterhouse to an eight-ounce American Wagyu filet. Additionally, a wide selection of add-ons, sauces, and sides allows diners to tailor their perfect meal.

Silkie's Chicken and Champagne Bar

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At Silkies Chicken and Champagne Bar, chef Kenny Gilbert elevates Southern cuisine with fried chicken, biscuits, and champagne cocktails. The Flavor Bomb chicken sandwich, a favorite of Oprah Winfrey’s, features a truffle and gouda biscuit with fried chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce. The weekend brunch highlights include chicken and waffles like the OG Weekend CW with tequila orange blossom honey butter sauce and the Mexico City plate with churro-style waffles and Spanish hot chocolate sauce. For sides, the truffle smoked gouda macaroni and cheese is a must, offering a perfect cheese pull to complement the meal.

The French Pantry

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Upon entering the French Pantry, guests are immediately captivated by its old-world French charm. Known for its sandwiches and bruschetta, the restaurant boasts a wide range of unique ingredient combinations. The Reuben sandwich, often hailed as the best in town, features hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing, and tangy sauerkraut. As patrons queue to order, they are greeted by a display of homemade cakes and desserts, with the wedding cake adorned with white frosting and strawberries standing out as a crowd favorite. Despite potential lines out the door, the efficient service ensures a swift wait, promising a dining experience worth the patience.

Blue Bamboo

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Blue Bamboo serves traditional Cantonese cuisine, offering a menu that features favorites like stir-fried noodles and fried rice, ideal for sharing. The highlight, however, is the Cantonese-style roasted duck, known for its crispy skin and tender meat. Another standout is the Chinese barbecue spareribs, a testament to chef Dennis Chan’s culinary heritage, prepared from a closely guarded family recipe that once propelled his family’s restaurant to sell 6,000 pounds of ribs weekly. For dessert, the Mandarin orange cake, crowned with cream cheese frosting, offers a perfect end to the meal.

norikase

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Jacksonville locals know that Norikase is a hard-to-get-but-worth-it reservation. This handroll and cocktail bar features a cozy nine-seat sushi bar, where patrons can indulge in a chef’s tasting omakase dinner. Norikase also offers a quaint dining room and an inviting outdoor patio for those who prefer a different setting.

The seafood, a staple across the menu, is directly sourced from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market, ensuring freshness and quality. A must-try is the Luxury Roll, a lavish combination of Alaskan king crab, king salmon, and bluefin tuna, enhanced with cucumber, honey wasabi aioli, and truffle adorned with gold dust.

Catullo’s Italian (Multiple Locations)

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Transitioning from a Jacksonville food truck to brick-and-mortar acclaim, this Italian eatery now graces a modest strip mall in Jacksonville and a location in Ponte Vedra. The menu celebrates Italian cuisine with dishes like lasagna featuring hand-rolled pasta, delicate gnocchi, variously filled ravioli, and the beloved pear Fiocchi, a blend of pears and cheese. A pro tip for diners: To avoid waiting, aim to arrive as the restaurant opens, given the limited seating at both venues. The bar operates on a first-come, first-served basis, offering an opportunity to snag a seat if one is available.

Dos Vatos Tacos

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Located just minutes from Neptune Beach, Dos Vatos Tacos stands out as one of Jacksonville’s premier taco destinations. The roadside joint boasts an impressive selection of over a dozen tacos alongside a concise menu of appetizers. The quesa birria taco, complete with a rich consommé, ranks as the most sought-after choice. For those searching for a unique taco twist, the goat cheese relleno taco, a creation inspired by Tim Felver, owner of The French Pantry, features a goat cheese-stuffed poblano pepper wrapped in a flour tortilla, adorned with arugula in lemon vinaigrette and complemented by a sweet and earthy golden beet salsa.

Lucky Cat Dim Sum

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Lucky Cat Dim Sum is known for its in-house dim sum preparation, including steamed buns, dumplings, and more. The menu offers an array of classics, such as barbecue pork buns and pork shu mai, alongside innovative creations like the cheeseburger shu mai, a clever twist that mirrors the taste of the iconic American sandwich. Additionally, guests are encouraged to indulge in the sweet dim sum selections, featuring creme brûlée tarts and tropical pineapple buns, rounding off the dining experience with delightful flavors.

Mesa

Mesa has been making waves in town for its top-notch Indian cuisine, offering diners a choice between a seasonally-driven, five-course tasting menu and a la carte options. Notably, the tasting menu is vegetarian-friendly, a rarity in the city. For those opting for a la carte, the chicken wings on the small plate menu are a must-try, featuring a delightfully sweet, sticky, and tangy tamarind-ginger glaze.

Restaurant Orsay

Expect a solid happy hour and a meal featuring inventive bistro classics at Restaurant Orsay. Inspired by French cuisine and its Southern surroundings, the menu includes pan-roasted fish with grits and mussels frites. Beyond its impressive happy hour and dinner service, Restaurant Orsay offers weekend brunch, showcasing roasted oysters with bacon, spinach, parmesan cheese, Southern-style biscuits and gravy, and bourbon-orange infused French toast. As this is one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in town, book a table far in advance.

Carolina Jax

From a food truck to a bustling burger joint, Carolina Jax shines with inventive smash burgers and loaded fries. The standout Hurricane burger combines a house beef blend, white American cheese, jalapenos, macaroni, bacon, and chipotle sauce, while the Riverside burger blends sweet, spicy, creamy, and smoky flavors with Key lime, and datil pepper aioli, goat cheese, and orange marmalade on a smash burger. Besides burgers, there’s a selection of sandwiches and hot dogs, including a Hurricane Dog topped with the same lavish ingredients as the Hurricane burger.

Cowford Chophouse

Cowford Chophouse, located in River City and named after Jacksonville’s original moniker, Cowford, occupies a historic building from 1902. This steakhouse boasts a stunning rooftop offering views of the St. Johns River, Southbank, and Downtown Jacksonville, enhancing the dining experience. The menu features classic steakhouse selections, including starters like tuna tartare and roasted bone marrow. Guests can choose from a variety of a la carte steaks and seafood, ranging from a sharable 40-ounce porterhouse to an eight-ounce American Wagyu filet. Additionally, a wide selection of add-ons, sauces, and sides allows diners to tailor their perfect meal.

Silkie's Chicken and Champagne Bar

At Silkies Chicken and Champagne Bar, chef Kenny Gilbert elevates Southern cuisine with fried chicken, biscuits, and champagne cocktails. The Flavor Bomb chicken sandwich, a favorite of Oprah Winfrey’s, features a truffle and gouda biscuit with fried chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce. The weekend brunch highlights include chicken and waffles like the OG Weekend CW with tequila orange blossom honey butter sauce and the Mexico City plate with churro-style waffles and Spanish hot chocolate sauce. For sides, the truffle smoked gouda macaroni and cheese is a must, offering a perfect cheese pull to complement the meal.

The French Pantry

Upon entering the French Pantry, guests are immediately captivated by its old-world French charm. Known for its sandwiches and bruschetta, the restaurant boasts a wide range of unique ingredient combinations. The Reuben sandwich, often hailed as the best in town, features hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing, and tangy sauerkraut. As patrons queue to order, they are greeted by a display of homemade cakes and desserts, with the wedding cake adorned with white frosting and strawberries standing out as a crowd favorite. Despite potential lines out the door, the efficient service ensures a swift wait, promising a dining experience worth the patience.

Blue Bamboo

Blue Bamboo serves traditional Cantonese cuisine, offering a menu that features favorites like stir-fried noodles and fried rice, ideal for sharing. The highlight, however, is the Cantonese-style roasted duck, known for its crispy skin and tender meat. Another standout is the Chinese barbecue spareribs, a testament to chef Dennis Chan’s culinary heritage, prepared from a closely guarded family recipe that once propelled his family’s restaurant to sell 6,000 pounds of ribs weekly. For dessert, the Mandarin orange cake, crowned with cream cheese frosting, offers a perfect end to the meal.

norikase

Jacksonville locals know that Norikase is a hard-to-get-but-worth-it reservation. This handroll and cocktail bar features a cozy nine-seat sushi bar, where patrons can indulge in a chef’s tasting omakase dinner. Norikase also offers a quaint dining room and an inviting outdoor patio for those who prefer a different setting.

The seafood, a staple across the menu, is directly sourced from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market, ensuring freshness and quality. A must-try is the Luxury Roll, a lavish combination of Alaskan king crab, king salmon, and bluefin tuna, enhanced with cucumber, honey wasabi aioli, and truffle adorned with gold dust.

Catullo’s Italian (Multiple Locations)

Transitioning from a Jacksonville food truck to brick-and-mortar acclaim, this Italian eatery now graces a modest strip mall in Jacksonville and a location in Ponte Vedra. The menu celebrates Italian cuisine with dishes like lasagna featuring hand-rolled pasta, delicate gnocchi, variously filled ravioli, and the beloved pear Fiocchi, a blend of pears and cheese. A pro tip for diners: To avoid waiting, aim to arrive as the restaurant opens, given the limited seating at both venues. The bar operates on a first-come, first-served basis, offering an opportunity to snag a seat if one is available.

Dos Vatos Tacos

Located just minutes from Neptune Beach, Dos Vatos Tacos stands out as one of Jacksonville’s premier taco destinations. The roadside joint boasts an impressive selection of over a dozen tacos alongside a concise menu of appetizers. The quesa birria taco, complete with a rich consommé, ranks as the most sought-after choice. For those searching for a unique taco twist, the goat cheese relleno taco, a creation inspired by Tim Felver, owner of The French Pantry, features a goat cheese-stuffed poblano pepper wrapped in a flour tortilla, adorned with arugula in lemon vinaigrette and complemented by a sweet and earthy golden beet salsa.

Lucky Cat Dim Sum

Lucky Cat Dim Sum is known for its in-house dim sum preparation, including steamed buns, dumplings, and more. The menu offers an array of classics, such as barbecue pork buns and pork shu mai, alongside innovative creations like the cheeseburger shu mai, a clever twist that mirrors the taste of the iconic American sandwich. Additionally, guests are encouraged to indulge in the sweet dim sum selections, featuring creme brûlée tarts and tropical pineapple buns, rounding off the dining experience with delightful flavors.

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