Jacksonville has no shortage of pizza places, but just-opened V Pizza is raising the bar. Wood-fired ovens handmade by third-generation artisan Stefano Ferrara turn out Neapolitan-style pizzas in under 4 minutes. The menu is strictly traditional (the restaurant has even applied for VPN certification), but the oven-roasted chicken wings with fresh lemon, rosemary, salt & pepper, and caramelized onions are fresh and exciting.
With a menu of sandwiches and entrees all under $20 owner Kiley Efron has succeeded in changing the perception that Taverna is only about expensive dining. So fret not, the white tablecloths have come off at Taverna.
Chef Tom Gray’s labor of love is still attracting crowds to the Town Center. In addition to the new daily happy hour and Saturday and Sunday brunch, constant updates to the seasonal menu ensure the experience always feels fresh. Recent specials have included cheese-stuffed fried squash blossoms and housemade sweet corn ice cream.
The usually quiet Mandarin area is now home to a sushi restaurant making a lot of noise. Kazu Japanese’s remodel of a former Thai restaurant has been an upgrade both in terms of the space and the cuisine. Tantalizingly fresh fish on the menu and sushi-making classes teach patrons to appreciate what this coastal city has to offer.
Jacksonville’s most hotly anticipated restaurant opening has now become one of its busiest. Small plates of street food from locales across Southeast Asia are attracting a near-constant stream of diners. Seats in front of the large windows which open onto Park Street are a great place to people-watch and enjoy the popular Malaysian roti cani.
Jacksonville's preeminent food truck has found a permanent home in the happening 5 Points area. The menu has grown from just “semi-swanky tacos” to include local craft beers on tap, sides (like black beans with country ham and porcini broth), and the added unpredictability of Whim Wednesdays, when chef/owner Chris Dickerson cooks up whatever’s fresh.
Chef José González is bringing high Tico cuisine to his farm-to-table exploration of traditional food, elevated with precise techniques using local and nearly forgotten ingredients. This Costa Rican dining destination is where fish of the day, a popular dish around town given the high-quality local catch, comes plated with regional corn, avocado, and grilled lime in a Caribbean sauce, and gets served alongside patacones, or mashed, fried plantains. González’s ceviche is cooked by in mix of rangpur lime and orange juices, and gets its distinct taste from culantro, a defining flavor in Costa Rican cuisine. [$$$]
The walls at this Argentine steakhouse are hung with framed photos of tango musicians, antique Italian liquor signs, and seltzer bottles, evoking all the allure of a bodegón in San Telmo, the tango district in Buenos Aires. Start with a salad dressed in a do-it-yourself dressing of vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, then move on to the grilled provoleta (Argentine provolone cheese) and perhaps some chitterlings or sweetbreads before your steak — a bife de chorizo (New York strip), entraña (outside skirt steak), or a vacío (flank steak) — with a nice malbec. [$$]
Local ingredients and the regional cuisines of Costa Rica are the core of the menu at chef Santiago Fernández Benedetto’s restaurant set in an old remodeled house in Barrio Amón. His caldosa, or corn chips with ceviche, features the day’s sustainable catch delicately cooked in Rangpur lime with ginger, avocado, chives, radishes, and daikon. He finishes his modern version of the street snack with a sardine mayo dressing. His empanadas are stuffed with ricotta cheese, chives, and egg yolks, and the Guanacaste-style arroz guacho, a risotto-like dish of rice and chayote topped with grilled chicken and shrimp. [$$$]
Although you’ll want to explore all of the vendors at San José’s Central Market, be sure not to miss Costa Rica’s most famous soda (traditional food stall) founded by Natalia Cervantes, affectionately called Tala, and now run by her family. The menu consists of savory antojitos (little cravings), like chorreadas, tortillas de queso (cheese and corn tortillas), and gallos (filled tortillas). The famed Tala Pintos are combo plates with gallo pinto, egg cakes, and the option of cheese, meat, or sausage with tortillas. The filling casados combine rice and beans with your choice of meat alongside picadillo (ground beef hash), salad, and spaghetti — all served with lots of chilera (Costa Rican hot sauce). [$]
Under the leadership of head chef Marco Leiva, this is San José’s take on the global steakhouse, with fine cuts of chateaubriand, Brazilian picanha, falda (flank steak) served with stick rice and bok choy, and porterhouse. Local Costa Rican products are central to dishes like the green papaya salad, octopus with cassava “charcoal,” and a saute of jumbo shrimp and poppies from the garden. Choose from a variety of sides, such as grilled asparagus, blacked yucca, and sweet potato puree, to accompany your steak, paired with wines from the Americas. [$$$]
After graduating from the School of Hospitality and Tourism in Madrid, chef Nene Murillo interned at prestigious Spanish restaurants including the two-Michelin-starred El Coque Restaurante and El Club Allard. But when she returned to her native Costa Rica, she dedicated her life to the raw-food lifestyle, and opened Raw Co Juicery & Food, a takeout operation specializing in vibrant dishes that emphasize the unadulterated produce of Costa Rica. When she’s not teaching classes on raw-food preparation, she’s whipping up juices like turmeric, lime, ginger, and honey; gluten-free, plant-based sushi and poke bowls; and colorful bowls of pureed dragon fruit or red banana topped with fresh berries.
Serving bistro classics — snails cooked in garlic butter, French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and duck a l’orange — and putting a Gallic spin on regional dishes, San Juan’s most acclaimed French restaurant has been satisfying travelers for more than 40 years. Costa Rican seafood offerings, like sea bream niçoise, seafood crepes, and jumbo shrimp cooked in lime, give this hotspot a local feel, but it’s still firmly rooted in France. [$$$]
Like the rest of the world, Costa Rica has embraced Peruvian food as one of its favorite cuisines of the moment. Chef Marco Antonio Ganoza’s modern Peruvian fusion restaurant is one of San Jose’s top destinations, with Nikkei-style (Japanese Peruvian) ceviches, grilled octopus in a balsamic vinaigrette reduction, and ají chicken risotto. Try the classic lomo saltado or Costa Rican pozol acriollado (hulled corn and pork soup) with a well-balanced pisco sour and views of trendy Avenida Escazu. [$$]
Born to Costa Rican and Taiwanese parents, and with a resume that includes stints in U.S., Spain, France, and Peru, chef Andrés Sandoval Tsao has composed a menu that reads like a biography. His pan-Asian-leaning menu features Taiwanese gua bao (bun sandwich), Vietnamese bo luc lac (shaking beef), pad Thai, and Peruvian chaufa. Some Costa Rican dishes and tacos are mixed in to Tsao’s relaxed tour of global street food. [$$]