Gainesville is home to one of Florida’s most famous colleges, the University of Florida, but did you know that it also boasts a great food scene? This southern gal did!
9 Places You Must Eat in Gainesville, Florida
I have followed Gainesville’s culinary scene for a few years through my Southern cooking magazine subscriptions. Due to the city’s significant growth, Gainesville is home to many trendy and high-end restaurants. Here are nine places that my daughter, Taylor, and I visited in Gainesville, Florida, that we think you should try.
**This article was originally published in May, 2017, but has been updated as of January 2020.
#1 Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company, 201 SE 2nd Avenue
Taylor and I were immediately impressed with the sleek and contemporary look and feel at Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Co. For starters, we had the exquisite crispy Wontons (krab, cream cheese, and peach/apricot sauce), light and billowy with just the right ratio of cream cheese to crab. Taylor ordered the Grilled Shrimp Skewers and a side salad, served with a tangy ginger dressing.
I ventured out of my comfort zone and had ramen for the first time. Bean sprouts, corn, cabbage, scallions, and a bunch of things that I am not familiar with, made up my Short Rib Miso Ramen dish. It was served in a large bowl with a poached egg floating on the top and looked lovely. Our waiter explained how to eat the ramen, and I dug in as best as I could with my children’s “chopstick helper.” The pork broth splashed all over my face while I attempted to eat it. We laughed at how silly I looked, but it was fun trying something new.
#2 Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que, 12 SE 2nd Avenue
I love a good barbecue joint, especially when the side dishes are as delicious as the meat selection. You’ll find the best of both worlds at Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que, a downtown eatery. Juicy and tasty grilled turkey and pulled pork made up my two-meat combination platter, which I paired with homemade sides of collards and sweet potato mash. It also came with a big piece of Texas toast.
I loved the selection of barbecue sauces to choose from that were at the table, but the meat was flavorful on its own. I certainly didn’t expect to find collards this good in Florida, but they ranked up there with Mississippi and Georgia. The sweet potato mash was the star of my plate, a little chunky, and just the right amount of sweetness.
If you are hungry enough (unfortunately, I wasn’t), start with the Disco Fries, topped with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, and brisket debris gravy. Yum!
Note: There are 8 locations of Mojo restaurants around Florida.
#3 Emiliano’s Cafe, 7 SE 1st Avenue
Emiliano’s Cafe, a Pan-Latin eatery, will surprise you. I loved everything about it! From the cute street-front outdoor patio to the fun-loving server, and the unique menu items that were wonderful to sink my teeth into, Emiliano’s Cafe is the real deal. They consider themselves the “spearhead for downtown Gainesville’s renaissance,” which has now become the true entertainment part of the city.
Taylor and I began our dinner with two items from Emiliano’s tapas menu: Beef Empanadas and Warm Brie with a spicy mango glaze. The empanada shell was a bit heavy, but the taste combined with the beef was spot on. The baked brie, with a kicked up fruity spread, was velvety and had just the right amount of spice. I devoured them both!
Next came the best dish that I have eaten all year. The Pollo Isleño’s chicken was pounded thin and marinated with zesty flavors and topped with a tangy guava jalapeño sauce. It was unlike anything that I had ever eaten and sat on a bed of sautéed spinach and corn arepas, which perfectly complimented the chicken dish. The best part was a dollop of chèvre on top of the chicken, which added a creamy element. My Pollo Isleño was truly sensational! Emiliano’s Cafe is one restaurant not to be missed.
#4 Maple Street Biscuit Company, 3904 SW Archer Road
Breakfast will never be the same after trying this stellar eatery. At Gainesville’s Maple Street Biscuit Company, both sweet and savory biscuits will win your taste buds over with just one bite. Everything that I ate was good, but the Squawking Goat was so over the top that it blew me away! The flaky biscuit topped with all-natural fried chicken breast, a fried goat cheese medallion, and house-made pepper jelly was incredible.
Taylor had The Farmer, a biscuit with cheddar cheese, pecan smoked bacon, fried chicken breast, and house-made apple butter. What I was too stuffed to try but sounded fabulous, was The Ralphie (a biscuit with sausage or shiitake mushroom gravy). Make your biscuit a deluxe, topped with an over-easy egg. A popular side item is the Hashup: home fries with smoked ham, peppers, onions, and melted cheese. I opted for the Hashbrown Cake, which had Smoked Gouda cheese and chives. Nom!
I can see why locals love Maple Street Biscuit Company. I appreciated that the manager checked on all of his patrons at one point during their meal. This management style only adds to Maple Street Biscuit’s popularity.
#5 Liquid Ginger, 101 SE 2nd Place
If you love Asian fusion, you are going to really enjoy a visit to Liquid Ginger, found in the Sun Center. Their approach to quality foods makes for a delightful meal. You’ll find most of your favorite dishes on the menu, but the Chicken Pad Thai is the way to go. It was so full of flavor that I swear my eyes rolled back in my head! The Pad Thai came with Miso soup (or you can choose spinach & tofu), rice, and a vegetarian spring roll. Lunch prices are just right at Liquid Ginger; you’ll love how reasonable they are.
Don’t skip the starters, such as Korean Potstickers with chili-oil or the lightly fried Vegetable Tempura. You may also want to try one of the 25+ pots of tea that are offered.
#6 Blue Gill, 1310 SW 13th Street
I first heard about Blue Gill Quality Food from a Southern Living Magazine article. I couldn’t wait to try it. Taylor and I went for Sunday brunch, which had a special menu and so many delicious southern-style items to choose from. We started with Blue Gill’s Fried Green Tomatoes with a smoked bacon dressing. Perfecto! The Pimento Cheese with house-made pickles was scrumptious, too.
For our main course, Taylor had a Belgian waffle and was happy as a claim. I picked perfectly, too, because my heapin’ big platter of luscious breakfast items was so incredible that it made my Best Eats of the year list! The plate had fried eggs, a biscuit with gravy, country ham (salty and so good!), and a roasted potato dish that had a hot-bacon dressing over it that will knock your socks off. OMG, it was so fantastic!
Other eye-catching menu items include brisket tacos, sloppy tempeh Joe, deviled crab and scallop cakes, and tuna melt, just to give you something to think about. Blue Gill also serves lunch and dinner, but the breakfast was what I went for.
#7 The Top, North Main Street, Downtown Gainesville
Gainesville’s The Top has been a local’s favorite restaurant for years, and I loved the eclectic and buzzing atmosphere. The Top’s menu is full of healthy choices, comfort foods, and original items that at first threw me for a loop. I happily decided on the Kimchi Cauliflower, which was fabulous and full of flavor. It was paired with a side of sriracha mayo. For dinner, I opted to try the Peruvian Black Bean Bowl, which seemed to have all sorts of healthy things going on. It was so good! The mix of roasted sweet potatoes, kale, rice, quinoa, and Aji verde sauce was magical!
The Top has 33 rotating craft beer lines, a killer craft-cocktail menu, is vegan friendly, and definitely one of the places you must eat in Gainesville.
#8 Satchel’s Pizza, 1800 NE 23rd Avenue
You are in for a treat when you visit this oddly eccentric pizza joint a little off of the beaten path. I had to take a few minutes to enjoy all of the funky decors before I could wrap my head around checking out Satchel’s Pizza menu. This Gainesville restaurant is colorful, artsy, and just plain fun!
We had to start with a bowl of Satchel’s salad after hearing locals rave about it. This creative salad features carrots, apples, cucumbers, red onion, almonds, tomatoes, Romano cheese, and sunflower seeds; all tossed in a house-made vinaigrette. It was fresh and fabulous! You could make a meal out of this salad alone, but why would anyone skip Satchel’s pizza?
Pizza is available by the slice or as a whole pizza. Taylor and I opted for individual slices. I am not a big pizza fan, but Satchel’s was extraordinary. I loved the flavor combination as well as the thin and well-done crust. My pizza paired perfectly with my cane sugar-sweetened craft soda flight, featuring six sodas (cola, diet, root beer, lemon-lime, lemonade, and ginger ale). I enjoyed them all!
I will not spoil the surprise for you, but you cannot skip dessert. Portions are small and affordable, which makes the tasty items hard to say no to. Satchel’s Pizza only takes cash, but an ATM is available onsite. For an even more unique experience, dine in the retro bus. Visit Satchel’s website for their live music schedule.
#9 Loosey’s Downtown, 120 SW 1st Avenue
Loosey’s is known for having fantastic burgers, so of course, that is just what I had. I preferred to sit at the bar where I could watch all of the action and check out the huge line-up of draft beers.
My 1/2 pound Angus burger also had pickled red onion, bleu cheese crumbles, applewood smoked bacon, and garlic aioli. Mmmm, this is one really great place to have a burger! The crispy hand-cut fries were delicious, too! Keep in mind that Wednesday’s are burger nights at Loosey’s Downtown and only $6 between the hours of 4 to 9 PM. Other popular menu items are wings, buffalo chicken egg rolls, smoked fish dip, and hand-dipped corn dogs.
Gainesville Wowed My Taste Buds
When I visited Gainesville, I had no idea what an impact their food would have on me. I expected delicious, but it was so much more. Perhaps the recipe for their success is a combination of excellent service, food quality, and originality of dishes. Indeed, one that I an anxious to share with our readers.
Gainesville is a city that is growing by leaps and bounds and certainly putting its mark on Florida’s culinary scene. I can’t wait to go back and try even more of their restaurants!
What is your favorite Gainesville eatery?
A big thanks to Visit Gainesville for offering us many complimentary meals on our travels. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% ours and unbiased.
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