10 Best Eats in Historic St. Augustine
By Shelley Preston
St. Augustine Local Expert
St. Augustine has many allures: an ancient city founded by the Spanish in 1565, a striking bay front setting complete with a 400 year-old stone fort and national treasure, the Castillo San Marcos at the water's edge. It's not uncommon to see men an women in Colonial garb wander their street and hear cannon blasts from weaponry demonstrations pierce the air.
As America's oldest continuously occupied city—450 years old this year, as a matter of fact—it's restaurant scene is far from stuffy and predictable. St Augustine's cuisine scene is growing, offering fresh and diverse options for dining.
You can sample authentic Spanish foods such as grab-and-go empanadas or a sophisticated meal of tapas paired with wine. The farm to table movement is also emerging with chefs eagerly embracing Florida's amazing, seasonal produce.
For something more casual or a treat to keep you going on you walk through the Old City, local coffee shops, locally made chocolate, gourmet icy treats and fresh, hot waffles tempt your resilience when you catch a whiff or a glimpse of all the tasty things practically spilling out onto the streets.
We show you 10 restaurants, bakeries and sweet stops to savor on your visit to this beautiful and historic city.
As founder Stephen DiMare tells it, his inspiration for gourmet ice pops came on a flight home to St. Augustine. He told the woman next to him that he was thinking of opening a coffee shop. The stranger suggested gourmet Mexican style popsicles, paletas, which "contain anything from cucumbers to fresh pineapple to jalapeños." Especially great on a warm Florida day, but delectable anytime, The Hyppo, offers fresh, homemade ice pops in all sorts of flavors. Although the flavors change sometimes, some notable combinations include Mexican Hot Chocolate (cocoa, cayenne and cinnamon), Key Lime and Elvis Presley (peanut butter, banana and honey). Even better, all ice pops are made from local ingredients. (904-217-7853)
This small bakery located in a courtyard smack dab in the middle of one of St. Augustine's most historic streets, St. George Street, serves cheap but tasty Spanish bites. Only open for lunch, the limit menu serves rustic baked goods like savory empanadas stuffed with beef ($4), smoked sausage wrapped in a baked biscuit dough ($4)and homemade chicken soup. Sweets include giant cinnamon rolls ($2) and scones. There is no formal seating, but you can enjoy your snack at a picnic table under the shade of a leafy tree or take it with you as fuel for your exploration of the historic quarter.
Part of St. Augustine (in some form) since 1888, this establishment is full of history. Once called The Hotel Alcazar, it was home to a casino and the world's largest indoor swimming pool (which secretly played host to many monarchs and presidents). Nowadays, the deep end of the former swimming pool holds the cafe that is open daily for lunch. Menu items include escargot, curried chicken salad sandwich, shrimp Giovanni and a Florida favorite, key lime pie. Most dishes range from $8-$15. While you eat, look up to the elegant balconies above where spectators used to view the swimmers in pool below, which is now you lunch spot. ((904) 825-9948)
This cool distillery that makes award-winning craft spirits in house is also an excellent restaurant with a funky, old-fashioned hipster vibe. Come for lunch and have an Old City Melt with Gruyére, mozzarella, cheddar, tomato and caramelized onion on multigrain bread ($9) or the meatloaf sandwich ($13). Bar snacks to go with your craft cocktail include smoked fish dip and bacon wrapped dates. Dinner entree range from $14 for the burger to $28 for the pan-seared scallops with Handmade black pepper tagliatelle pasta.Of course you hae to have a cocktail made with their New World Gin or Distillery Vodka. Stay late if you wish, the bar closes at 2 a.m. (904-829-6553)
The Floridain's owner and chef husband-and wife team, Jeff McNally and Genie Kepner have embraced not only native ingredients but Florida's Southern foods heritage as well, albeit lighter and fresher. The grit cakes, for example, is fried polenta topped with seasonal salsa ($8) and the Shrimp and Sausage Pilau ($16) is made with local shrimp sauteed with onions and peppers and simmered in a spicy Datil-tomato and sausage "gravy." Datil, by the way, is St. Augustine's native pepper. The Floridian makes a great effort to provide lots of vegetarian and vegan options such as the 'n Grits, which can be ordered with the traditional remoulade shrimp or tofu ($14). The seasonal Florida Sunshine salad with Florida strawberries, roasted sweet potatoes and candied pecans has the option of being topped with tempeh ($13). There are even gluten free options on the menu. (904-829-0655)
Harry's Seafood, Bar & Grille
Located in one of the oldest bay front houses in St. Augustine, Harry's furnishes tasty New Orleans-style dishes such as crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, burgers, po' boy sandwiches and salads. The casual and festive dining room is a cozy place to dine with companions, but many diners are drawn to the outside patio, stung with romantic and cozy white lights and overlooking the bay front Harry's is known for its family friendly atmosphere with a children's menu and Mardi Gras beads for the youngsters in tow. New Orleans-style libations are also on the menu such as Hurricanes and Bayou Bloody Marys. Live music in the courtyard happens almost every evening. (904-824-7765)
Michael's Tasting Room
Michael's Tasting Room, which an a is a great fit for St. Augustine, a city full of Spanish influence. The fare is inspired by the Mediterranean region and traditional Spanish cuisine, In addition to the dishes that range from tapas to entrees/big plates, this restaurant has an extensive, award-winning wine list. Seasonal and expertly sourced meats and seafood are always the focus and served with gorgeous presentation. To compliment your meal, choose from over 70 different Spanish wines, with several available in tasting flights. Add to that some authentic, live Spanish music and you have the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner or special occasion. (9048102400)
If you're waking up on the beachside of St. Augustine, take your rumbling tummy here for a hearty breakfast or brunch. Piles of bacon and home fries compliment fresh egg sandwiches or scrambles smothered with cheese and fresh veggies. Sandwiches, salads and beers on tap are available from morning till 9 p.m. On certain evenings, the café becomes a music venue. The outside of the restaurant is in an unassuming strip mall, but inside you'll find hip locals tucking into a healthy acai bowl or huevos rancheros after a long night out. In the early evening, come for a glass of beer or wine and plot your night out.
Elegant Moroccan decor, fine wine and an eclectic mix of international cuisines define the 95 Cordova Restaurant, situated on the first floor of the splendidly restored Casa Monica Hotel. The restaurant is a favorite for romantic evenings, business dinners and other social occasions. Chef Aaron Chavarria offers a delicious tasting menu and changes the savory full course menu with the seasons. As you may expect from a fancy hotel restaurant, dinner entrees range from $23 to $32. if you're on a budget and still want to take in the elegant ambiance of the hotel and eat fabulous food, come for lunch or dinner. In the morning, try the Orange Maple Marmalade French Toast for $11 or, in the afternoon, a stone oven baked pizza with prosciutto (thinly-sliced ham), mozzarella and fresh arugula for $12. (904-810-6810)
One of the most raved about sea food restaurants in historic St. Augustine, Catch 27 is definitely special. Their dedication to serving fresh, locally caught seafood from Florida water along with seasonal ingredients and local produce makes the menu outstanding. The atmosphere is chic and modern but casual. For lunch, try the seared blue crab cake sandwich or shrimp tacos, both $12. Landlubbers have a choice of a Cuban sandwich or the lemon chicken sandwich. Special entrees like the Rustic Fish ($20), is the fresh catch of the day served simply with salt, pepper and finished with a lemon garlic butter, or try the decadent shrimp and grits ($20). (904-217—8190)