Florida cuisine is so much more than grouper sandwiches and plates of oysters. Each region of Florida has its own beloved restaurants—longtime institutions that offer their own spin on our state’s prized ingredients. Here are Florida’s most revered restaurants and the dishes that made them famous.
Joe’s Stone Crabs
Zagats, in its review of this South Florida institution, bestows on Joe’s words like “heavenly,” “magnificent” and “delightful.” Indeed, no trip to this part of Florida is complete without a plate of their stone crab claws, a seasonal specialty beloved by so many Floridians. First-timers should consider Joe’s “Classic Meal” of stone crab claws, cole slaw, hash-browned potatoes, creamed spinach and a slice of key lime pie.
11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139 joesstonecrab.com
It began in 1905 as a simple cafe in Tampa’s Latin quarter, feeding Cuban sandwiches and cafe con leche to hungry cigar-factory workers. Today, the Columbia is Florida’s oldest restaurant and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. While the Columbia has locations around the state, a visit to the original Ybor City location is a must—if only for the ambiance and nightly flamenco dance shows. As for picking a signature dish, good luck: It’s hard to sample the black bean soup, 1905 salad, paella, red snapper “A La Rusa” and sangria in just one visit.
2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605 columbiarestaurant.com
Bern’s Steak House
Like Joe’s Stone Crabs in Miami, the name Bern’s Steak House is synonymous with its signature dish: steak. Opened in 1956, Bern’s is a fixture on any Top 10 list of steak houses in the United States. Here, dry-aged meat is the specialty. But the restaurant is equally famous for its massive wine list and private dessert room.
1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606 bernssteakhouse.com
The Beach Bistro is a frequent recipient of Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award and has been chosen for the Golden Spoon Hall of Fame. Here, locals and well-informed tourists dine upon “Floribbean grouper,” bistro bouillabaisse and butter-poached lobster with pan-roasted gulf shrimp.
6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217 beachbistro.com
Food fresh from the sea is the specialty at this East Coast institution and that starts with the rock shrimp—a variety with a tougher shell but sweeter meat. Unlike meals at other institutions in our list, dishes at Dixie Crossroads are more often served in a basket than on fine china. But the end result is equally spectacular.
1475 Garden St, Titusville, FL 32796 dixiecrossroads.com
What’s more famous here—the food, the drinks or the entertainment? No matter how you answer, it’s all served with a heavy dose of grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts, and kitsch. (Oddly enough, even the Mai-Kai’s restrooms recently were a finalist for the finest washrooms in the land. Tropical drinks here are ranked by strength – something to consider when deciding whether to drive or take an Uber to the Mai-Kai.
3599 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308 maikai.com
Cap’s Place Island Restaurant
Cap’s Place is not only Broward County’s oldest restaurant. It’s probably the only restaurant on this list that is only reachable via boat. Famous names such as Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill (and even Al Capone) have visited Cap’s to dine on the fresh seafood, house-made fish dip and their famous fresh Okeechobee hearts of palm salad.
2765 NE 28th Ct, Lighthouse Point, FL 33064 capsplace.com
Louie’s Backyard was born in 1971 behind an oceanfront Victorian home. It’s come a long way from its original seating for just a dozen. Today, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and serves up dishes like Florida lobster braised in truffle butter and sesame-crusted king salmon with yuzu syrup and coconut rice cake. Save room for the obligatory slice of key lime pie with a distinctive gingersnap crust.
700 Waddell Ave, Key West, FL 33040 louiesbackyard.com
Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber
Robert Heilman opened the Beachcomber in 1948 and began serving “Back to the Farm” fried chicken dinners when Clearwater Beach was still an under-developed sandy strip along Florida’s Gulf Coast. A fire would gut the restaurant a decade later, but the Beachcomber was rebuilt and the chicken dinners are still an attraction. So is its infamous relish tray—cups of applesauce, cottage cheese, corn relish, and beets—that begins each meal. Longtime fans covet it while newbies will find their solace in classic American dishes such as prime rib, fresh fish, crab cakes and the obligatory baked Alaska for dessert.
447 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767 bobheilmansbeachcomber.com
Captain Anderson’s Restaurant
Check the calendar before heading out to Capt. Anderson’s, which is open for an 8-month season each year. Opened in 1967, the Panama City Beach institution serves up fresh seafood from nearby waters but also works with local fisherman and environmentalists to preserve the underwater ecology of the region. Salute their work with a bowl of she-crab soup and the famous seafood platter (packed with stuffed Florida lobster, shrimp, scallops, fish and deviled crab).
5551 N Lagoon Dr, Panama City, FL 32408 captanderson.com
The history of Florida’s Panhandle is reflected in the name and location of Jackson’s Steakhouse. The restaurant sits on the ground floor of an 1860s mercantile building that overlooks Plaza Ferdinand where Andrew Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida to the United States from Spain. These days, the tables of Jackson’s are busy accepting plates of bone-in chicken schnitzel, Deep South-braised oxtail and Saltine cracker-crusted red snapper along with an extensive menu of wet-aged, grain-fed steaks and chops.
400 S Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502 jacksonsrestaurant.com
While Marker 32 might not have the rich history of its sister restaurants on our list, it nonetheless has made its mark on Jacksonville since opening in 1992. Critics and locals alike praise its menu, infused with Southern and Pacific Rim influences. Dishes that dazzle include the local catch Hoppin’ John (with black eye peas and basil pesto rice tomato compote), a wood-grilled Atlantic salmon with beet puree and the seared New Bedford scallops with collard greens and creamy grits.
14549 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32250 marker32.com
Like its college students who flood the North Florida town and the politicians who invade each legislative session, Tallahassee is a city where the old must make room for the new. Thus, the Cypress Restaurant—a family-owned affair that opened in 2000—has become the go-to institution for fine dining with a pronounced Southern accent. Here plates of fried chicken livers co-mingle with blue crab cakes and cypress oysters with biscuits. Heartier appetites seek out the sugar cane mopped beef ribeye or the braised ham hock with ricotta ravioli.
320 E Tennessee St, Tallahassee, FL 32301 cypressrestaurant.com
Did your town’s favorite restaurant miss our list? Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions.