As of May 2019

KEN'S BEST-OF LIST

Best Restaurant ($$$-$$$$)

Dragonfly - 201 SE 2nd Ave. #104

Still the hottest best spot in town, it's hard to ignore Chef Jeffrey Allen and his team stepping up their game. Their seasonal omakase menu where it's at for date night, and they have a strong bar program as well. These seasoned pros are one of the most well-rounded restaurants in North Florida. They also take home Best Cocktail Bar and Best Japanese categories as well.

 

 

Best Restaurant ($-$$)
Crane Ramen - 16 SW 1st Ave.

You'll find me in here several times a week. It's the restaurant I frequent the most. One of the most beautiful dining rooms in Gainesville is only topped by the tremendous care and love put into each bowl of ramen. Crane is an important step in Gainesville's culinary scene, as it signifies the acceptance of specialty restaurants. Something that is found in bigger cities, but not a small college town in North Florida. It's only the beginning, and there will be many more like them. Locally sourced ingredients, almost everything made from scratch in house, and noodles sourced from the premiere noodle maker in America make them one of the best. Full Review

 

 

Best New Restaurant of 2018
Arepas Milko - 285 SW 250th Street Newberry, FL (formerly at 405 NW 13th Street and 17010 W Newberry Road)

Despite limited hours (Friday to Sunday) and being out far out on the west edge of town, this modest food truck transports you to street-side vendors of Venezuela serving arepas, patacones, tequenos, empanadas, and flan that is worth the long lines. The food is hot, fresh, and served by a very personable and friendly family. After your meal, grab a gelato from the Lulu's truck parked in the same lot, and enjoy a delicious affordable meal outdoors. Full Review

 

Best Bakery

Uppercrust - 4118 NW 16 Blvd.

Fresh breads and pastries baked every single day. This is the best place to go for some delicious flaky, buttery croissants, or rich, decadent eclairs, and some of the best loafs of bread, baguettes, and pretzels. Using only the best ingredients, these are true artisans who care about their craft. They've been around since 1981, and are still going strong, this is a true Gainesville institution. Full Review

 
Best Bar (Cocktails)

Madrina's - 9 W. University Ave.

Ok, who didn't see this one coming? By far the best cocktail bar in town, this Cuban-inspired bar from the fine folks who brought you Crane Ramen and the venerable TJ Palmieri (formerly of 2nd Street Speakeasy) has not only assembled a crew of some of the best bartenders in town, but also feature guest spots from big industry names like Julio Cabrera and Christian Delpech. Try any of their delicious daiquiris, the infamous "Chupacabra", or if you're really feeling saucy...get the "Supercabra." Full Review
 

Best Bar (Beer)

House of Beer - 19 W. University Ave.

It's all about the beer here, and it has the character that places like World of Beer and Brass Tap so severely lack. Also, there's no terrible live music. 40+ rotating taps of some of the tastiest stuff in town priced accordingly, and that's it. It's a beer lover's paradise, and ever since Stubbies & Steins closed, this is now the best spot to go. Wednesday night trivia is always fun, and you can always find out what's currently on tap at the bar on the House of Beer website. Pretty cool eh?

 

Best BBQ

Mojo Hogtown BBQ - 12 SE 2nd Ave.
I may take some heat for this one, but being the only BBQ joint in town who hand-built their own true wood-burning smoker is enough to win me over. The tasty smoked wings, brisket, pork, and hot sausage don't hurt either. The onion rings are as big as your face, and the Brunswick Stew isn't half bad either. Did I mention the huge selection of whiskey and one of the nicest dining rooms downtown that respects its own history? This is a restaurant that does justice to a building that once housed a storied Gainesville eatery.

 

Best Burger (Sit-Down)

Public & General - 1000 NE 16th Ave.

At last, Public & General makes an appearance on my list supplanting Loosey's for best burger. This Golden Spoon Award-winning restaurant is hidden away deep in the east side of town. Its delicious food is your reward for making the trip. Their burger in particular is simple, absolutely fantastic, and starts at only $6. The best french fries in town and a cold beer are the perfect complement. Go on a Tuesday where each burger comes with a free beer. The specials on their chalkboard menu are fantastic as well! Full Review

 

Best Burger (Fast-Food)

Mac's Drive-Thru - 129 NW 10th Ave.

Mac’s is the best damn fast food burger in town (Bev’s in Alachua is wonderful too). For a bit above the price of a McDonald’s Big Sad, you get ground beef patties with actual meat in them, and the softest most tastiest buns known to mankind. A Double Cheeseburger will run you $4.49, a single is $3.09. Fries are $1.59 a bag, and their super delicious sweet tea is $1.99 for a jumbo size. They’re open Monday through Friday, from 9 AM to 5 PM…because who doesn’t want a burger at 9 AM? Go during non-peak hours, the drive-thru line gets out of control! Cash only.

 

Best Breakfast

43rd Street Deli - 4401 NW 25th Pl. & 3483 Williston Rd.

If you pop your head into 43rd Street Deli at Williston Road on a weekend, there's a good chance you'll find me eating breakfast there. Nothing fancy about this place, just good ol' fashioned breakfast foods done well and an ever-rotating lineup of awesome specials. In ten years of eating here, I've never been disappointed. Try one of the "Busters" with toppings piled on a bed of potatoes, the "Big Boy" breakfast, or the "One Heck of a Mess". Anything off the specials menu is usually not going to disappoint.

 

Best Brunch

Leonardo's 706 - 706 W. University Ave.

This Gainesville institution has long been one of the best places not just for brunch, but for dinner service as well. While the buffet has a plethora of choices, I suggest ordering off the menu here. The Challah bread French Toast is phenomenal, as are any of the benedict choices. Save room for bonus goodies as the owners walk the restaurant floor passing out mini muffins and homemade latkes. Every table also receives some of their famous brunch punch (non-alcoholic).

 

Best Chinese

Yummy House - 3102 SW 34th Street

This is really an unfair choice because no one else in town serves any dim sum that's remotely close to the real thing. Yummy House is the only place that's Cantonese operated, serving legit dim sum complete with cart service and all. Served every day from 11 AM to 2:30 PM, you better get there early or they'll run out quick. Out of their new larger location on 34th Street, you'll find all the classics like egg tarts, dumplings, roasted pork buns, shumai, and more. For authentic Chinese cooking, this is the spot to go. Full Review

 

Best Coffeehouse

Volta - 48 SW 2nd St.

With apologies to Maude's, CYM, and Curia on the Drag...Volta is just the best. These are people who are passionate about coffee and truly care about their craft. Don't confuse standards with snobbery. From their cupping events and ever-changing lineup of the best stuff out there, to their fresh baked pastries and desserts, this is place is every bit deserving of its regular appearance on "Top Coffee Shop" lists on the interweb.

 

Best Date Night

Alpin Bistro - 15 SW 2nd St.

Intimate, hip French bistro that features small plates, beer, and a well-curated wine list makes for a great date night spot. Sit at the bar and watch the open kitchen work their magic, or find a quiet spot in their outdoor alcove. The menu does change often, but you'll find dishes like escargot, charcuterie plates, croque madame and croque monsieur, and quiche. It's a gem of a spot in downtown Gainesville. Full Review
 

Best Fried Chicken

Metro Diner - 2130 SW 34th St.

Good fried chicken is surprisingly hard to come by in this town. The massive portions at Metro Diner are a winner though, and is one of the many reasons why this Jacksonville area chain is so beloved by DUUVAAALLL. Hot, juicy, crispy seasoned breading coating the outside, and extremely generous in its portions, this breakfast stalwart is the place to go for everyone's favorite poultry. A half-portion order is more than enough to feed the average human.

Best Ice Cream

Sweet Dreams - 3437 W University Ave.

If you haven't been to their Chocolate Night (42 flavors of chocolate) or Crazy Flavor Night, you're missing out. There's a big selection of crazy flavors here, 24 to be exact. With all of their ice cream made in-house, it doesn't get any better around here. If you want any indication of their ice cream madness, they do one with Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Johnnie Walker for their Crazy Flavor Night. They're also one of the active community members who never shy away from donating or hosting events for local charities and causes.

 

Best Italian

Manuel's Vintage Room - 6 South Main St.

Small and unassuming in the heart of downtown is this intimate restaurant complete with over 150+ wines and a fabulous menu. Some of the best service you'll find anywhere in town along with items like the Vintage Duck, Veal Porcini, and housemade Gnocchi are a great treat. With what is probably the most romantic dining room of any restaurant in town, this is the absolute perfect date spot. Full Review

 

Best Japanese

Dragonfly Sushi - 201 SE 2nd Ave. #104

Another Gainesville institution that gets packed on most nights, and for good reason. No other Japanese restaurant in town does it better, or sexier. Sushi menu includes items like the Black 'N Bleu (New York Strip, spinach, red onions, bleu cheese, jalapenos, honey-wasabi mayo), and the Cobra-Kai (red onions, tomato, krab, tempura flakes, lemon slices, salmon, garlic-shiso pesto, berry balsamic). Non-sushi items include my favorite Pork Belly Ramen (pork belly, bok choy, bean sprouts, poached egg, mayu, negi, beni shoga, menma, nori, and tonkotsu broth) and Braised Short Ribs (served with pickled veggies and sweet soy dashi). Great date spot as well, but can get loud! Full Review

 

Best Late Night

Midnight Cookies - 3345 SW 34th St. Suite 1

It's late at night, you're either drunk or burnt out from studying, what do you crave? I go straight for the cookies. Fresh, hot, and baked-to-order...these cookies and some milk has kept my belly happy many many late nights. Open until 2 AM most nights, they'll even deliver these sweet treats right to your door. Favorites include the bananas fosters cookie, cookies & cream, and Oreo crunch. Full Review

 

Best Liquor Store

Dorn's Liquors - 4140 NW 16th Blvd.
By far the best selection of high quality liquor in town, a large wine selection, and cheese/charcuterie available as well. Dorn's has been open in Gainesville for over 30 years, and it's not hard to see why. Basically, if there's any spirit worth a damn, they carry it. If not, their knowledgable and friendly staff will order it for you, and it's always reasonably priced. Any bartender or cocktail lover in town worth their salt will tell you this is the only place to go.

 
Best Lunch Spot

La Cocina de Abuela - 125 NW 23rd Ave.
You just can't beat the lunch deal here. A piping hot plate of delicious Latin food for $10 with a drink at lunch time is just too good to pass up. There's a reason why so many of the blue collar workers in the area swarm this place for lunch every day of the week. Be prepared to ask questions if you're unfamiliar with Latin food as none of the food is labeled, but rest assured it's all delicious. Mondays are the move here as they serve a mostly Venezuelan menu that includes the best tostones in town. Full Review

 
Best Mediterranean

Sababa - 101 SE 2nd Pl. (Sun Center)

The best falafel this side of the hemisphere. A true family owned restaurant with family recipes that serves some really fresh, colorful, and tasty food that is filling but not awful for you. Their $5 falafel sandwiches may be one of the best meal deals in town. Don't forget about their schnitzels and bourekas either. The rugelach and babka here are tasty as well. All recipes are from family matriarch, Liora, who can sometimes be found at the restaurant and is everyone's favorite Jewish mother! This is the second Sun Center restaurant to appear on this list. Full Review

 
Best Mexican

Cilantro Tacos - 12921 SW 1st Road Newberry, FL

While the food truck is ran separately and has suffered from some pretty awful outings, this is the original and much better across the board. A true mom and pop shop, this place serves up the best tacos in the area, and is now located even closer in Town of Tioga. Get the Al Pastor made "Nathan Style" , some house-made horchata, and flan. Be forewarned though, the space is small so seating is hard to find during peak hours, plan to take your food to-go. Don't want to make the trip out here? La Pasadita in town is a VERY close 2nd, and has some wonderful tacos as well. Full Review

 

Best Pizza

I'll have this one shortly. Need to do some additional...research.

 

Best Sandwich
Dave's New York Deli - 12921 SW 1st Rd.

With apologies to the Cuban at Hogan's, there are many tasty sandwiches at Dave's. The Rueben, Corned Beef, and Grinders are all fantastic. But for me, it's all about the New York New York (New York Sized). That's a mouthful, and it's fitting because the sandwich is gargantumous. Hot pastrami and corned beef piled high in between rye bread with deli mustard, make sure you add some swiss to it. Also, try their matzoh ball soup! Full Review

 
Best Steak

Ember's - 3545 SW 34th St.

With apologies to Mark's downtown, this is a better value with delicious wood grilled steaks. Check out the 20 ounce bone-in cowboy cut ribeye or the 10 ounce filet, and choose from sides like lobster mashed potatoes, truffle mac & cheese, or grilled asparagus with béarnaise. The gator tail appetizer is one of the best, and the desserts (get the cookies) are fantastic as well. This is another great date spot as well. What they do here isn't rocket science, but they sure do it well.

 

Best Thai

Bangkok Square - 6500 SW Archer Rd.

There's no other competition in town. This is far and away the best Thai in Gainesville. One taste of the Pad Thai or the curry here, and you'll be hooked. The dining room is beautiful, which is a rarity amongst most Asian restaurants. I recommend the Crispy Duck Pad Thai, which is a tremendous value during lunch time at $11. Not just one of the best restaurants on the west side of town, but one of the best in town. Best of all? There's never a headache when it comes to parking. Full Review

 
Best Vietnamese

Faith Vietnamese - 808 W. University Ave.
Due to a glitch in the matrix, I incorrectly reported Faith as closed.  They are in fact open and were only closed for the holidays. This is the spot. This is the best place in town to get a bowl of Pho. Family run and sparsely decorated, it's all about the food as is most good Vietnamese restaurants. Definitely try one of their giant delicious Banh Mi sandwiches, a Viet favorite!

 

Best Wings

Loosey's 2725 SW 91st St. & 120 SW 1st Ave.

They may have lost their hold on best burger, but still fend off V Pizza and Big Lou's Pizzeria (not kidding) for best wings. Fried and finished on the grill to perfection, big, juicy, and always flavorful, these are most definitely my favorite in town. Make sure you try the Sriracha-Garlic-Cilantro-Lime flavor and the Buffalo Garlic. Go to the downtown location if you want to grab a beer and listen to some live music, the Haile Plantation location is more of a traditional restaurant and family friendly.

 

 

© 2020 by Ken Peng & Ken Eats, LLC. Title image courtesy of Jesse Adrian Scanlon Media.

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