Where to fuel up in Florida? Jacksonville, of course! We’ve partnered with world traveler (and foodie) Angie Orth of Angie Away as she shares her four favorite dining spots in her own hometown.

For a variety of reasons, my home base of Jacksonville, Fla., is like the overlooked middle child of Florida cities. Miami & Orlando get all the attention and Jacksonville is just up here doing its thing without a lot of fanfare. As I traveled around the world and told folks I was from Florida, they immediately thought of either Dexter or the Magic Kingdom. No one thought of good old J-ville, our snaking river, seven colorful bridges, miles of beaches or tasty food scene.

Tasty food scene?! In Jacksonville?

I grew up in Jacksonville eating at all the best restaurants: Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster & Chick-Fil-A. I was thrilled when I returned from my palate-enhancing adventures in Atlanta, NYC and to find my hometown’s dining options have grown up in a very organic, under-the-radar kind of way. Now it’s just a question of deciding where to eat in Jacksonville. The options are many!

I only chose a few to write about today, but don’t worry  – it’s enough to wreck all your food-related New Year’s resolutions. Read on for some of my favorites!

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails, located in the St. Johns Town Center, recently celebrated its 2nd anniversary. What I love most about Moxie, aside from the restaurant’s dangerous proximity to Angie Away Base Camp, is the commitment to sustainability. Chef/Owner Tom Gray, a two-time James Beard Award Best Chef South nominee, works with local farmers and artisan suppliers to create an extremely varied, seasonally changing menu. You can take a group of people with different tastes and everyone will find something delicious on the ever-changing menu.

His skilled team creates some interesting handcrafted cocktails, too, made from artisan and small batch liquors, housemade fruit shrubs and freshly squeezed juices. There are also handmade sodas, like the Moxie Crush with orange shrub, cilantro and vanilla. Yum!

Moxie’s Sloppy Joe. Photo courtesy: Moxie Kitchen & Cocktails

Moxie’s Sloppy Joe. Photo courtesy: Moxie Kitchen & Cocktails

My favorite dishes: Pimento Cheese Toast, Sloppy Joe with brisket & shortrib, Chicken & Waffles with waffle pudding, pepper jelly & maple mousse

When to go: lunch, brunch or dinner

Where: 4972 Big Island Drive

Reservations: 904.998.9744

Sbraga & Co.

You know your town’s food scene is finally coming into its own when a Top Chef winner opens up a restaurant. Welcome to Sbraga & Co., Jacksonville’s newest upscale dining experience, created by the Bravo show’s season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga. Chef Kevin traveled all over the South to create a bountiful menu of family-style grilled meat, ceviche and cocktails.

I popped in for dinner shortly after the grand opening back in November and ordered WAY too much! There were just too many curious creations to sample, like the Fried Pickle platter with okra, cucumber, cauliflower & ranch and the Shrimp Ceviche.

The restaurant occupies a gorgeous space in brand-new Unity Plaza with a chef’s counter, bakery and open kitchen featuring reclaimed wood. It’s a very Instagrammable location.

Sbraga & Co. New York Strip. Photo courtesy: Sbraga & Co.

Sbraga & Co. New York Strip. Photo courtesy: Sbraga & Co.

My favorite dishes: Grilled Octopus with hot okra, mint & field pea salad; Smoked Meat Platter; Chocolate Molasses Pie

When to go: brunch, lunch, dinner

Where: Unity Plaza, Riverside; 220 Riverside Ave.

Reservations: 904.746.0909

Candy Apple Café & Cocktails

The cutest little date night in town can be found in a restored historic building near Hemming Plaza, but I warn you, it’s kryptonite for New Year’s resolutions. Eh, who cares?

Don’t be fooled by the name – there’s much more to The Candy Apple Café than sweets. It’s actually a full service restaurant featuring French cuisine with Southern influences, Sweet Pete’s candy shop filled with housemade confections, a full bar and a dessert counter.

Opened in 2014, The Candy Apple Café is located in the former Historic Seminole Club Building, now remodeled in bright colors, oversized chairs and whimsical chandeliers. The wrap-around porches remain and you’ll find folks socializing during weekly Porch Parties. It’s one of my favorite spots to take out-of-town-guests because there’s nowhere like it in Jacksonville.

Candy Apple Cafe – Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Photo courtesy: Candy Apple Cafe.

Candy Apple Cafe – Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Photo courtesy: Candy Apple Cafe.

My favorite dishes: Rock Shrimp Crepe with tomatillo, crème fraiche, pepperjack & baby spinach; Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with strawberry compote & sweet cream

When to go: brunch, lunch, dinner

Where: Downtown Jacksonville; 400 N. Hogan Street

Reservations: 904.376.7161

Il Desco

Just up the road from Sbraga, Il Desco occupies the space vacated by Pele’s Woodfire Grill in 2015. Il Desco offers a “modern take on classic Italian cuisine” featuring all sorts of flavor combinations I never would’ve considered. There’s a Raw Bar with fresh oysters, clams and local fish; spaghetti tacos and rabbit lasagna with sage béchamel – and the pasta is all made in-house every day. Intriguing stuff, right?

Dining at Il Desco is as close as you can get in Jacksonville to a culinary pilgrimage to Italy. Check out the communal table to connect with other guests and just savor the variety of taste sensations.

Il Desco Oysters. Photo courtesy Il Desco

Il Desco Oysters. Photo courtesy Il Desco

My favorite dishes: Spaghetti Tacos with braised short-rib ragu & escarole; Lobster Cavatelli with Fresno peppers, lobster cream & herbs; Riverside Oysters with bone marrow, herb butter & Parmigiano-Reggiano

When to go: brunch, lunch, dinner

Where: Riverside; 2665 Park St.

Reservations: 904.290.6711

Since putting down roots once again in the 904, I’ve made it my mission to eat at all the new restaurants I can, so if you live in Jacksonville or are just popping in for a business visit or wedding, check out some of these recommendations & let me know what you think! And, if you’re up in arms that I’ve left out your favorite dining spot, let me know in the comments. I consider it a happy challenge to continue researching this important topic.

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