Everyone knows one of the best parts of any vacation is the food. In Florida, we certainly know all about that. If you’re planning a trip, or if you’re already here and just looking for a weekend gastronomic adventure, this is the list for you. Here are 12 can’t-miss food experiences that are uniquely Florida:
1. Perdido Key: Sip a Bushwacker and see a live band at Flora-Bama
Is it Florida? Is it Alabama? Who cares?! Flora-Bama bills itself as the “most famous beach bar in the country” and we’re inclined believe them. If you go, you’re in for a big, loud, good time. Straddling the state line between Perdido Key and Orange Beach, Alabama, the property has five stages for music, two restaurants and, of course, Bushwackers! If you’re not familiar with this summery, booze-infused milkshake, we suggest you remedy that.
2. Ybor City: Have a Cuban sandwich at the original Columbia Restaurant
Occupying a full city block and going strong for more than 100 years, the Columbia has found itself on more than one list of places to get authentic Cuban food in the U.S. The restaurant has its roots in serving Ybor City’s then-largely-Cuban population around the turn of the 20th century, and the current menu doesn’t skimp on those traditional flavors. And you certainly won’t be bored – visitors enjoy live music and can see a Flamenco dance show.
3. Cape Canaveral: Suck down raw oysters and watch the cruise ships at Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar
It’s hard to understand how huge a cruise ship is unless you’ve seen one up close. Watching the massive vessels come and go from Port Canaveral is entertainment enough by itself, but when you add fresh oysters and good company, you have an afternoon to remember.
Rusty’s was founded by Rusty Fischer, nephew of Bernard Fischer, the owner of the iconic Bernard’s Surf restaurant in Cocoa Beach. While Bernard’s has since closed its doors, Rusty’s remains a favorite or locals and tourists alike. You can get oysters on the half shell as fresh as they come, and if raw oysters aren’t your thing, the seafood menu is impressive (ahem, crab legs) and the view alone is worth the trip.
More: Dinner with a view: Here are our 5 faves (plus a few extra) for Brevard waterfront dining
4. Orlando: Hope for a layover so you can grab lunch at Cask & Larder in the Orlando International Airport
Airport food. That phrase probably doesn’t get your mouth watering. But Cask & Larder is not airport food. It’s a restaurant run by James Beard-nominated chefs that just so happens to be inside the Orlando International Airport.
Cask & Larder offers a twist on Sourthen cuisine that keeps things interesting without losing any of the comfort factor one expects from much-beloved staples like shrimp n’ grits and jambalaya. And if you’re looking to unwind before taking to the skies, they have a mighty fine cocktail menu, too.
5. Lighthouse Point: Dine where gangsters, politicians and rum-runners once gathered at Cap’s Place
This is one for the history buffs. Cap’s Place started out as a casino and rum-runner speakeasy in the 1920s. According to their website, “Cap’s has been visited by the famous and infamous for decades.”
It seems like just about everyone who was anyone stopped by at some point. Notables include Al Capone, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Errol Flynn and the Rockefellers. In later decades, the restaurant hosted The Temptations, George Harrison, Mariah Carey and Joe Namath, among many others. There’s good reason for all the celebrity attention: the food is great. Cap’s serves a fine selection of classic Florida seafood, prepared the way we do it here—the right way. One thing to note: the restaurant buys their ingredients locally and in limited quantities. When they’re out, they’re out, so get there early.
6. St. Augustine: Experience the cocktail magic at Odd Birds
A new trend is taking hold in the heart of America’s oldest city. Craft cocktails are the thing to have right now, and Odd Birds Bar has them in spades. According to their website, “the rule is oddness,” and we must say we’re intrigued. The bar boasts a collection of craft spirits from all over the world and a team of masterful mixologists ready to concoct them into just about anything you can imagine.
If you’re lucky, you might swing by on one of Odd Birds’ “Bartender Diplomacy Nights,” when they host a diverse collection of guest bartenders from cities around the world in a bid to embrace all things new and different. If you’re looking for something new, this is definitely for you.
7. Disney World: Indulge in some world-class dining at Victoria and Albert’s
If you mention Victoria and Albert’s to anyone in Central Florida, you’ll likely get some oohs and aahs. This is not your average date night restaurant. For most people, one of Victoria and Albert’s multi-course meals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Located on Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian resort, the AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant is ready to give guests the royal treatment. The restaurant describes the cuisine as modern American, and imports ingredients from all over the country and the world. The pix-fixe menus and pre-selected wine pairings (optional) take the guess work out of ordering.
8. Tampa: Enjoy a steak and a glass of wine at the iconic Bern’s Steak House
The walls are red. The wine list is extensive. The steak is perfect. Bern’s knows how to do it right. This restaurant delivers on date night, or any night you just want an awesome steak. With their theatrically appointed dining room, special dessert room and not-fooling-around menu, you can’t really have a bad time at Bern’s.
Bern’s sources their produce locally—from their own farm, to be exact. The wine cellar (yes, they have one) offers more then 6,800 selections and has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award. And that dessert room we mentioned? A dream come true for those who love to linger over sweets and drinks.
9. Captiva: Let them eat cake, lots of cake at the Bubble Room
Let’s admit it: Floridians can only take themselves seriously for so long. With that in mind, you might not be surprised to find a restaurant in Captiva that’s always decorated for Christmas, full of toys, and specializes in dessert. It’s time to let your inner child have some fun.
The Bubble Room began as a tiny restaurant with a display of the owners’ vintage toy collection. That collection grew, and the restaurant created more theme rooms, until the place became famous for its wild décor and great food. So famous, in fact, that the walls are also adorned with photos of the many celebrities who have visited. The Bubble Room specializes in sumptuous desserts, so bring your sweet tooth. Everything comes from an on-site bakery, and those famous cakes are almost too pretty to eat.
More: Treat yo’ self: 7 outrageously decadent desserts in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples
10. Miami Beach: Fill up on seafood and old Florida charm at Joe’s Stone Crab
The story of Joe’s Restaurant is as colorful as they come. Opened in the home of Joe and Jennie Weiss in the pre-prohibition years, it was the only place to eat on Miami Beach. According to the restaurant’s website, the restaurant and its fish sandwiches garnered quite a reputation over the years and became the place to be at Miami Beach. Like Cap’s Place, Joe’s has a long list of famous and infamous visitors (yes, Al Capone).
As the legend goes, Joe was the first restauranteur to figure out how to prepare and serve stone crab—a common local crustacean than no one thought was edible. And thus, Joe’s Stone Crab was born. The restaurant is still run by Joe’s family and still cooking food the way the always have. You owe it to yourself to try the original Florida stone crab at this institution.
11. Coral Gables: Settle for nothing less than perfection at Palme d’Or
This list wouldn’t be complete without a fancy French entry and Palme d’Or at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables is just about the fanciest fancy that ever fancied. In all seriousness, this is one of the most highly-awarded fine dining establishments in the Southeastern U.S. Boasting both multiple AAA Five Diamond Awards and four stars from Forbes Travel Guide, you can expect a truly lavish experience here.
12. Cross Creek: Eat like a Florida cracker at The Yearling
Fans of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ description of old Florida in the classic novel The Yearling can find a taste of that world on Cross Creek, not far outside Gainesville. Here, a restaurant named for that novel serves hard-to-find regional wild game dishes that will take you back in time.
Gator, frog legs, venison and quail are on the menu, at The Yearling. These unique dishes are more than a curiosity for tourists—the food here is a tribute to Florida cracker culture and regional history. You can also find classic sour orange pie, the elusive cousin of our better-known key lime pie.
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