Get your grub at Gainesville’s ethnic restaurants
By Whitney Butler
Located in the heart of north Florida, Gainesville is a rapidly growing city with an appetite to match. No matter what you’re in the mood for, it’s here and it’s affordable. Ethnic foods including Thai, Indian, Korean, Cantonese, Jamaican, Japanese, Mexican and Mediterranean are all represented in the emerging food scene of Gainesville, drawing out-of-town foodies from neighboring cities like Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Tampa and Orlando.
So pull up a chair, grab a menu and order up some culture on a plate. Here are some affordable recommendations to sample on your food escape to Gainesville.
Asian Fusion Combining several Asian food styles under one beautifully decorated roof, Liquid Ginger mixes Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese techniques and ingredients—so for a party of indecisive eaters, this downtown eatery is a good choice.
The dinner menu includes an impressive lineup of grilled entrées like ginger ribeye steak, glazed salmon and lobster tail; and also features traditional wok sautés, curries and noodles. The Japanese sushi bar highlights a range of signature rolls as well as fresh sashimi. Vegetarians will enjoy a very thoughtful menu of meatless dishes including stir-fried vegetable udon or coconut curry and tofu.
Another great option on the menu is the small tasting plates. Guests can sample a bit of everything from several Asian cultures at reasonable prices—most tasting plates are $6; all are less than $10.
Emiliano’s Café Pan-Latin
Since 1984, Emiliano’s Cafe has been serving authentic Latin cuisine to the community of Gainesville—showcasing its culture in a variety of preparations for lunch, dinner and a Sunday brunch. The ambiance is casual and inviting; occasional weeknights feature live music, which accents the ethnic fare.
Don’t miss exotic plates like mofongo, fried green plantains and yuca mashed with bacon and garlic-lime mojo, grilled steak and onion; or churrasco, an Argentinian-style grilled steak topped with chimichurri sauce: a vibrant cilantro, garlic and herb mixture that’s delicious on grilled meat.
Emiliano’s is a great place to enjoy small tasting plates, or Spanish-style tapas. They’re perfect with a cold beer or cocktail and are great for enjoying a long dining experience over good conversation. You can grab fresh ceviche, camarones, empanadas or tostones—all for less than $10 each.
If you’re interested in flavor from south of the border, then check out the locally owned 101 Cantina on University Avenue. In addition to unique specialty tacos like buffalo ranch or teriyaki, you’ll love Mexican classics like steak fajitas, quesadillas and chimichangas.
Fresh is always best and this restaurant prides itself on sourcing local ingredients for its house-made recipes. You might expect to pay more for fresh ingredients and homemade plates, but every entrée item is well priced with most under $11.
In addition to fresh food, guests will also enjoy handmade cocktails, particularly the distinct, salty rim of homemade margaritas. Nightly drink and food specials are another reason to stop by while you’re in Gainesville. You can score a delicious and affordable late-night snack while enjoying local nightlife.
The Fat Tuscan Café Italian
Located inside the historic 1908 Vidal house in the Gainesville downtown district, The Fat Tuscan is all about Italian hospitality and home cooking. The food here is fresh and slow-cooked, and caters to guests seeking the simple preparations of classic Italian fare.
Enjoy fresh-baked focaccia bread with entrees like spicy shrimp arrabiata, hand-stuffed spinach and ricotta shells or chicken fromage e hamon, a breast of chicken baked with honey ham, brie and caramelized shallots topped with creamy béchamel sauce. Hungry yet?
Daily baked goods are also available for sweet endings accompanied by espresso, French press coffee or cappuccino.
Dragonfly Sushi Japanese
You might not expect to find authentic Japanese cuisine in Florida, but Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Co. pulls it off deliciously and affordably. There’s a lot more happening at Dragonfly than just sashimi and hand rolls. Dragonfly’s Japanese-style ramen, for instance, is a must-eat on your trip to Gainesville.
The curated sushi roll list includes classic standards and signatures like the Godzilla: smoked eel, crab, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, strawberry and eel sauce. But there are other treasures to be had, like short-rib miso ramen, a noodle soup topped with braised short rib, bean sprouts, corn, cabbage, poached egg, seaweed and other tasty bits.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or just a night on the town, all your favorite ethnic foods are here served to order in Gainesville.