When you think of fine dining in Florida, cities like Miami naturally spring to mind. But for foodies willing to venture a little off the eaten path, a surprisingly delicious reward awaits in the sea-front city of St Augustine. With a fascinating history, an abundance of fusion cuisine and readily available fresh ingredients, St Augustine is America's oldest city and a hidden gem for food or culture seekers who are looking to make their mealtimes more exciting.
About St Augustine
Founded in the 1560s, St. Augustine is America’s oldest constantly-inhabited city. It has a rich and complex history that has included pirate invasions, English colonies, Spanish rule and eventually a thriving tourism industry. These checkered influences are evident not only in the local food scene but in the diverse architecture and cultures present throughout the city - making it a fascinating holiday destination.
If St Augustine’s real history is full of exciting stories, its mythological one easily matches up. While today the city’s most popular watering holes are its many bars, it was once rumored to be the location of the infamous Fountain of Youth - and there remains an archaeological park there to this day. The park’s main attraction is the Spring House, which claims to house the Spring of Eternal Hope first imagined by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.
St Augustine’s long history as America's oldest city means that the current palate is a veritable smorgasbord of European flavors. The city has retained influences from its many historical settlers, and the result is a delicious mash-up of Spanish, British, Greek and Italian cuisine mixed up with today’s American menus.
St Augustine is also the city that has the longest standing ties with Cuba, thanks to its status as a trading town, which explains the prevalence of Cuban restaurants (and, of course, sandwiches) in the area. The Cuban culture has also contributed greatly to the nightlife in the area such as local bars and music joints.
Located on the Florida coast, the area is also well known for its fresh seafood, while the surrounding farmlands mean that many restaurant ingredients are locally sourced and come from sustainable areas.
When visiting a new city, there are some restaurants whose reputation proceeds them - and Terra & Acqua is one of those. The top of any Floridian foodie’s bucket list, this beach-side restaurant specializes in northern Italian cuisine with dishes such as piadine, pasta and - of course - pizza on the menu. The light and fresh seasoning makes it the perfect pairing with the sunny weather of St Augustine, and many of the key ingredients are locally sourced.
Another famous restaurant in the city is Catch 27. It’s best known for its fresh-catch seafood, which is delivered to the restaurant every day and offers a wide variety of options for keen connoisseurs. Visitors often rave about the scenery, particularly in the ivy-clad courtyard.
For dedicated foodies spending some time in St Augustine, there’s also the Cuban restaurant La Herenecia Café, whose breakfast comes highly recommended by both PBS and by well-known food blog Tasty Chomps. Here the theme is unfussy but satisfying food, with dishes such as frita sandwiches, tropical omelets and black beans and rice made from passed-down family recipes and served alongside strong coffees.
As a little treat, Tasty Chomps also recommends a gourmet ice pop from The Hyppo. While not an upscale dining experience, it’s certainly one you’ll be talking about for plenty of time to come. Flavors like Champagne Mango, Dark Roast Espresso, Kale Apple Cucumber and Chocolate Cheesecake will have your taste-buds tingling.
As any good traveler knows, to truly get to the heart of a city and find its hidden gems, you have to ask the locals. Food blogger and Florida resident Allie at Simply St Augustine has plenty of advice for tourists looking to explore the culinary scene in America's oldest city.
One of her top brunch recommendations is the high-end Costa Brava, which offers an elegant atmosphere as well as delicious food. The spread is served up in buffet form - great news for anyone who likes to sample a little bit of everything. As can be expected in the area, the seafood is one of the highlights. Try king crab leg and oysters, opt for a simple smoked salmon or go for the impressive paella. Other offerings include cheeses and charcuterie, eggs and salad, and a Sunday-special roast. For anyone who prefers individual portions, the venue also offers an á la carte menu.
If you’re looking for an elegant evening option, you can enjoy both the seafood and the scenery of St Augustine beach at La Cocina International. Billed as Latin-inspired American cuisine, La Cocina’s dinner menu is largely made up of a mixture of seafood and heartier meat entrees with innovative and fragrant flavorings. The restaurant is also known for its extensive wine list. The St Augustine branch is open from breakfast through to dinner, with its light soups and salads making popular lunch options.
For a truly opulent experience, try out Michael’s Tasting Room, which serves everything from steak to sandwiches on its casual fine dining menu. The real creme de la creme of this foodie’s favorite, however, is The Chef’s Table - a gourmet experience which includes five courses with wine matching. The menu is tailored to in-season ingredients, and can even be customized to suit individual guests.
Anybody with dietary restrictions will know the stress of trying to travel and find appropriate places to eat. Fortunately, St Augustine is no stranger to the gluten-free trend and has a wide range of options available for all sorts of needs, including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian.
Pescetarians will be perfectly at ease in America's oldest city, thanks to its high number of seafood restaurants. However, vegetarians needn’t worry. Most restaurants have vegetarian options, and there even dedicated destinations such as Present Moments Café. This popular restaurant covers all bases with a mostly vegan, mostly raw menu that includes everything from the classic (hummus and sushi rolls) to the more creative (portobello croquettes and cacao rum banana parfait). It’s a great place to pop in when you’re on the hunt for vegan desserts - although it faces some competition from The Hyppo (most of whose ice pops are vegan) as well as Hot Shot Bakery. While the menu isn’t necessarily vegan, the owner is happy to make accommodations and can create custom alternatives on request.
For a mixed group of omnivores and herbivores, The Floridian makes a great choice. This southern comfort-food restaurants is well known for its vegetarian selection, although it also provides a tasty range of meat dishes. There are clearly marked gluten-free and celiac-friendly options on the menu too, so it’s a great destination for a diverse dining party.
Gluten free diets are well catered for throughout St Augustine. Small-plates cocktail bar Cellar 6 has a special gluten-free menu, for those who like light dinners served with a side of jazz music. For those who don’t want to miss out on the area’s famous seafood, Fish Tales Market & Grill has a dedicated gluten-free menu, which was created by the owners to ensure that their celiac daughter could always find something to eat in town.
Greek or Italian; vegan or seafood; easy or upscale - whatever kind of food you’re looking for, the chances are you’ll find it in America's oldest city.