It’s great to be a Florida Gator. There’s the school spirit, warm weather, and the prestigious university accolades (one of the top public universities in the country). The University of Florida (UF) is in the small city of Gainesville, Florida, and the local food scene is thriving. Charming brunch spots perfect for your Instagram pictures, casual dinner places ideal for students balling on a budget, and cuisines from many different cultures are around this town. Sadly, some Gainesville classics like The Swamp Restaurant, Leonardo’s By The Slice, Larry’s Giant Subs, and Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria have closed due to the pandemic, reports The Gainesville Sun (though The Swamp is luckily being rebuilt in a different part of town). These places and others will all be missed. If you graduated from UF a few years ago and are wondering what the best spots in town are (that are still open or new spots) and want to avoid rolling up to Felipe’s only to find it closed, this article is for you.
If you’re going to be a new student at UF this fall and are looking to try some spots not in the Reitz Union or in Midtown, here are the best local food spots you need to check out with your parents during a move-in weekend or with friends. Exploring the city’s best places will make you feel more at home, and you can try some amazing food. Here are the 10 best restaurants in Gainesville, Florida.
If you walk through Downtown Gainesville at 11 a.m. and notice people with mimosas and plates full of delectable brunch tacos, eggs, and avocado toast, you’re looking at Original American Kitchen (OAK). This place has delicious brunch and dinner with elevated classics like wild mushroom ravioli, the best grilled cheese and tomato soup ever (no, seriously), fried green tomato sliders, and bottomless mimosas. Satisfy your sweet tooth with desserts like homemade bread pudding, pecan pie, and fried Oreos. You can sit either inside, outside, or at the bar if you choose.
Wherever you sit, you can bet the decor will be rustic and sweet. Tons of unique mirrors create a gallery wall at the back of the restaurant, a wall on the right features mason jars filled with flowers, and a large chalkboard wall has doodles and menu details. OAK is an absolute delight that will leave you coming back for more delicious meals and photos with friends. It’s also conveniently located Downtown, so once those mimosas and brunch food have filled you up, take a stroll around town and appreciate historic Gainesville. Pop in a record store, get an iced coffee from Wyatt’s Coffee, and scope out where you want to go for dinner later (or where to order from). What a perfect Saturday morning.
This restaurant is for all the folks who look forward to Publix’s $5 Wednesday sushi rolls (yum). One of the fancier dinner spots in town, this place has some of the highest quality sushi you’ll ever have (it also features a vegetarian menu, which provides options for a wide range of people). Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company (commonly called Dragonfly Sushi) is not budget-friendly like most other places on this list, but it’s perfect for your special occasions. For example, when your family pops into town for parents’ weekend, graduation, or a football game, go to Dragonfly Sushi with them. It’ll be nice to get an elevated meal after months of Panda Express, Chipotle, and Wawa (absolutely no shade to any of those places, though). If you go with family, taking them to a local spot will make you feel like a local and probably impress them.
Set in Downtown, Dragonfly Sushi sits on an ideal corner right in the middle of everything. After getting absolutely stuffed from sushi, seafood dishes, and a few drinks, pop next door to The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops for some light and refreshing fruit pops. They come in unique flavors like blueberry lavender lemonade and mango cheesecake. Or, if you’re more of a dinner-and-a-show type, check out what’s playing at the Hippodrome Theatre one block away from the restaurant, as there is always a new show to see there.
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food, La Tienda has the best in Gainesville. If you’re a new student looking to impress the friends you just made by taking them to a great local Mexican restaurant that’s not Chuy’s (sorry Chuy’s, we really do love you), go to La Tienda. You won’t have to stress about navigating the mildly stressful drive-through situation at El Indio (it has delicious Mexican food, but with only a few tables outside, it’s not a sit-down place). The food at La Tienda is affordable and offers high value. Though usually packed with hungry people ready for food, it is worth scoping out a table here because the tacos are unmatched.
This spot is on SW 13th Street past Shands Hospital, so it’s not super walkable from campus, but it’s a short two-minute drive (or hop on a scooter to get there quickly). We recommend getting either the enchiladas, soft tacos, or a burrito. La Tienda also has a vegetarian menu, so bring your veggie friends! Get an order of chips, salsa, and queso to share. You won’t regret it. La Tienda is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. If you don’t have time to stop here, you can always order the food to-go or opt for delivery!
Satchel’s Pizza is one of those places that you almost don’t believe exists until you see it for yourself. Mosaic tiling covers every inch of this pizza joint, from the floor to the ceiling. Tiles line the inside spaces, the exterior, the patio area, all the outdoor tables, and even the converted van. Getting a van seat is a coveted experience and a great photo opportunity. However, Satchel’s isn’t just about the quirky aesthetics — the food is incredible. If you’re a New York or New Jersey native who has found themselves in Florida, Satchel’s Pizza might have the best pizza in the state. Not only is the pie high-quality, but the sodas are homemade, and the desserts are decadent. Even if you’re not hungry for dessert, you have to ask for the dessert menu. It actually comes in a View-Master toy that you hold up to your eyes and use to click through images of the dessert options.
This restaurant is almost on the edge of town, near the airport, but it is worth the extra ten minutes of driving. Satchel’s also frequently hosts live music, so if you want the best pizza in town for an affordable price, a unique and fun atmosphere that will heal your inner child, and an experience you’ll be talking about for weeks to come, head to Satchel’s Pizza.
Just because Gainesville is two hours from the coast doesn’t mean you can’t find great seafood here. Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille is a New Orleans-inspired spot with delicious seafood and steaks perfect for a celebratory dinner with family or friends. This restaurant is one of the more upscale ones in town, so it’s ideal for a birthday dinner, graduation celebration, or when family comes into town to visit. Located Downtown (can you tell how many good spots are Downtown?), Harry’s has signature crab cakes that are authentic and to-die-for. The New Orleans ribeye is tender and juicy, and the French-baked scallops are delicious.
If you don’t mind eating dinner a little earlier than the average person or are a big “linner” enthusiast, take advantage of Harry’s happy hour from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. All draft beer is $3, premium cocktails and glasses of wine are $4, and many more discounts await. From the bar menu, we recommend the Bayou Bloody Mary for those who love a little kick or The Front Porch (made with Southern iced tea, bourbon, orange liqueur, and muddled mint) for people craving a sweeter beverage (it’s a spiked sweet tea). For dessert, sink into the mouthwatering bananas foster, key lime pie, or Oreo beignets. No matter what you order from the menu, it will be delicious at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Flaco’s Cuban Bakery is serving up top-notch lunches and dinners. The Cuban sandwiches are the perfect simple lunch, and the arepas are a surefire hangover cure. Flaco’s, as it’s lovingly referred to, is the ideal drunk food if you’re out Downtown. After a Downtown bar crawl (Midtown is a different story), going from UC (University Club) to Arcade Bar to Cry Baby’s to Downtown Fats, end your night on a high note at Flaco’s. With a closing time of 2:30 a.m., this establishment knows that people need some delicious arepas, Cuban sandwiches, tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, or empanadas to settle their stomachs and end the night right. If you’re choosing Taco Bell instead of Flaco’s at 2 a.m., sorry, we’re judging you.
If you’re not a night owl, don’t worry because Flaco’s opens at 11 a.m., the perfect time for lunch on a sunny Gainesville day. Another great thing to note about Flaco’s is that it’s an ideal spot for students, with menu items averaging around $10. Not bad at all! If you’re out studying at a coffee shop Downtown and start to want something a bit more substantial than coffee, go to Flaco’s. You won’t be disappointed.
If the line wrapped around Luke’s New York Bagel Shop every morning is any indication, this small Gainesville bagel shop serves the most authentic New York bagels and breakfast sandwiches around. The shop exterior recently got a fire engine red facelift, so if you’re driving around trying to find the shop, you can’t miss it. Be sure to park in the neighboring lot, as the parking lot at Luke’s will feature a line of people waiting for their coffee and bagels. If you want the authentic Gainesville experience, park your car for free in the Depot Park parking lot right across the street. Then, walk over to Luke’s, grab your food, and set up a blanket in idyllic Depot Park to sit and make a picnic out of breakfast (don’t worry if you forgot a blanket; there are plenty of picnic tables in the park).
If you want Luke’s full range of bagel flavors, cream cheeses, and breakfast sandwiches, make a point to get there early, before 9 a.m. The breakfast spot opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m., and if you’re an early riser anyway, the line isn’t too long at opening time. Around 8 a.m. is when it is the longest. But no matter the length of the line, the food will be worth it. Authentic, huge New York bagels with generous amounts of cream cheese await.
Mi Apá Latin Café (casually referred to as Mi Apá) is a sensation. Located right off NW 34th Street, Mi Apá is perfect for an after-class pick-me-up. If you’re going there for breakfast, get the cafe con leche and stuffed arepa (with scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese inside). If you’re popping by for lunch or dinner, we recommend ordering one of the entrees and definitely getting rice and beans on the side (if they don’t come with your meal already). The menu is vast but not overwhelming, meaning everyone will find something they like. Mi Apá’s prices are very student-friendly, and the drive-through line is efficient and easy, so if you’re a busy student on the go, this restaurant is perfect.
If you’re looking for a place to rejuvenate after some shopping on 34th Street, Mi Apá is right near all the shops and is the perfect place to stop and get a bite to eat. If you want to do something fun with your friends after lunch at Mi Apá, stop by Corks & Colors Studio to paint some pottery (located right in the same plaza). All in all, Mi Apá is a great local spot to check out if you’re on 34th Street or want to find good Cuban food in Gainesville.
Weekend brunch in Gainesville can mean you’re fighting everyone else to get a reservation somewhere, but the short wait at Afternoon is always worth it. This brunch spot is hidden away on NW 10th Avenue, but the quality is well-known to most people in town. Afternoon is a Pinterest girl’s dream. Mint green accents in the decor, rose gold fixtures, a record player churning out tunes, and a beautiful feature wall are just a few things that make the vibe in this restaurant excellent. However, the good vibes don’t stop at the decor; the food here is also phenomenal. The coffee options are top-tier, and the unique brunch options are incredible. For drinks apart from coffee, we recommend the matcha tea latte, a spritz (an alcoholic fizzy cocktail), or a butterfly flower lemonade. For your main course, some tried-and-true items are the Dutch baby, mushroom tartine, poached eggs, shakshuka, or the classic breakfast.
After your brunch at Afternoon, keep your car parked and walk over to the other side of the plaza into Serpentine Plants + Provisions. Owned by the same folks as Afternoon, this plant and gift shop is just as charming as the restaurant, and you’ll find some great coffee table books, wine, earrings, candle holders, and plants here.
Football isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay. If you’re not a football fan, you might not know the name Steve Spurrier. Spurrier is one of the most famous University of Florida football players in history, and he even won the legendary Heisman Trophy in 1966, per Heisman Trophy. After his playing days, he went on to be a college football coach. He eventually came back and coached at his alma mater and guided the Gators to win the SEC championship in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2000. Spurrier is basically a Gainesville legend.
Steve Spurrier has since retired from coaching, but he wasn’t done with Gainesville just yet. In 2021, he opened Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille, a classy restaurant in the Celebration Point plaza. He does food as well as football. This upscale place offers to-die-for cocktails and appetizers (the orange and blue shrimp are great), and the entrees are just as unforgettable. This eatery is a bit pricey for students, but it’s the perfect place to bring your family members who were there to witness Steve Spurrier’s career. The food is excellent, and we recommend the Emory & Henry Seafood Pasta, Spurrier’s bacon cheeseburger, or a steak cooked to your liking. Desserts include cheesecake, lemon tarts, and chocolate chip cookies. The bar menu is extensive, even featuring signature cocktails and mocktails. We recommend the raspberry lemon drop martini or the spicy mango mocktail. Spurrier’s is also an ideal spot for those who are gluten-free.