Gainesville, Florida is a charming city probably known best for being home to Florida’s top university and one of the most recognizable school mascots in history, the University of Florida Gators. But besides being the hometown of this iconic educational institution, Gainesville has a lot to offer visitors from all over the U.S.
After living there for four years, and visiting again last week for a cousin’s graduation, I felt it was only fitting to share some tips on what to do in Gainesville, Florida. Part one of this post is a guide to some of my favorite food spots in the Gainesville area. Part two features all the must-see sites Gainesville has to offer.
Breakfast is my favorite meal, and no day of exploring can begin without a fulfilling start at one of my favorite eateries.
Flying Biscuit – 4150 NW 16th Blvd, Gainesville, FL 32605
Indulge in southern comfort and soulful dining at Flying Biscuit Cafe. Though biscuits are this spot’s name sake (and they bake about 5,000 per week), the menu is well-rounded with plethora of egg-celent omlette and scramble options as well as oatmeal pancakes, creamy grits and fried green tomatoes. My personal fave is the Southern-Style Biscuit Benedict with pimento cheese, well-done turkey bacon and basil.
Peach Valley Cafe – 3275 SW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32608
I’m pretty sure I took my parents here every time they came to visit me in college (sorry, not sorry guys because it is that good). This delicious cafe serves up a variety of breakfast classics, though the carb-loaded ones are perhaps what they’re best known for. Kick things off with the apple fritters dusted with powdered sugar, followed up by a stack of pancakes (I recommend banana chocolate chip).
East End Eatery – 1202 NE 8th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
The food and decor of this quaint locally-owned eatery makes you feel like you’re having breakfast at grandma’s house (clutter and all). Everything is made from scratch with local ingredients reflective of the season, including herbs from their own garden. East End Eatery’s menu also includes vegetarian and gluten free options – the gluten free blueberry waffles are delicious. (P.S. – only cash or checks are accepted here so come prepared.)
Casual local lunch spots are ideal for refueling. With iconic dishes to satisfy all your cravings, you can’t go wrong with any of these options.
Satchel’s Pizza – 1800 NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609
Satchel’s is a pizza-lover’s paradise. As a native New Yorker, my pizza standards are pretty high, and this joint never disappoints. With 31 toppings to choose from, the perfect pizza is available for every palate. Besides the amazing food, Satchel’s is also known for it’s eclectic mix of decor, with it’s own junk museum. If you can, grab a seat in the 1965 Ford Falcon van to chow down. I personally love loading up toppings on the Pesto Pie, which includes homemade pesto as the pizza base instead of traditional sauce. (Be sure to bring cash, as they don’t accept credit cards.)
The Top – 30 N Main St, Gainesville, FL 32601
This quirky local restaurant features a unique array of menu items and decor, and is a favorite for many locals (especially given its nightly drink specials). It’s classified as both an American and vegetarian restaurant, with each equally as popular to patrons. Satisfy your taste buds with the savory Pecan-Crusted Tofu or build-your-own grassfed burger.
The Swamp Restaurant – 1642 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603
A popular weekend hangout for the college age students, The Swamp is a Gainesville staple and the perfect spot to grab a quick bite and catch the sports scores. I would describe it as a glorified sports bar with delicious bar food. The Gator Club with a side of sweet potato fries is my standard go-to. If you’re feeling the Gator pride, dig into a basket of Gator Bites – marinated and crispy gatortail bites with a mango-chili puree.
This is a must because let’s be real, who can make it through the day with only one cup?
Bay Island – 3270 SW 35th Blvd, Gainesville, FL 32608
What I always describe as the most amazing business concept ever, this easily missed coffee stand (for you certainly can’t call it a shop) is located in the middle of a shopping center parking lot with one side for drive-up orders and the other for walk-up window orders. There is barely enough room for an employee inside and if you go at popular times be prepared to wait – though I promise it’s worth it! Don’t let the size of Bay Island fool you as it’s been proudly brewing what I believe is Gainesville’s most delicious coffee for over 20 years. I especially love getting their frozen coffees on a warm day – refreshing and tasty!
Volta Coffee – 48 SW 2nd St, Gainesville, FL 32641
Like its full name indicates, Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate serves up scrumptious coffees and an array of high-class domestic and international chocolate in a cafe setting. Open ’til 9 PM, this coffee shop is extremely well-versed in the world’s best coffee. Volta features some amazing and flavorful brews in season and served within two weeks of their roasting date to ensure the coffee is top-notch. Worldly espressos are typically available as well. For example, this week’s offerings, according to Volta’s Facebook page, is the Ruby’s Ethiopia Konga, which is heavy with floral flavors (and ideal for a cappuccino) and Peru Selvestre Tello, full of base notes of all fig and raisin with a touch of walnut.
After a long day, treat yourself to the areas best cuisine. From sushi and steakhouses to home-style Italian, Gainesville has something to delight everyone’s tastebuds.
Dragonfly – 201 SE 2nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
Not only does Dragonfly have the best sushi in Gainesville, but it has some of the best sushi I’ve ever had throughout all my travels. If you’re looking for fresh sushi and Japanese-style tapas, this is the dinner spot for you. Whether you select a classic dish like the Miso Black Cod or unique flairs of flavor like a Tuna Flatbread or Sunshine Roll (tuna, apple, cucumber, mint, lemon, topped with avocado, japanese scallop and more) you literally can’t go wrong.
Mildred’s – 3445 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32607
Fresh, locally grown or sourced ingredients make up all the dishes served up at this establishment since 1999. From the fish caught in Florida to the vegetables grown sustainably by farmers nearby, all the options at Mildred’s are cooked to perfection. I actually used to take my parents here during every visit as it’s definitely not your average college-town grub. Try the Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Creme Fraiche for a light and delectable dinner.
Amelia’s – 235 S Main St, Gainesville, FL 32601
My roommate and I came to Amelia’s at least once a month for hearty, authentic Italian food and handmade pasta. Every dish is cooked from scratch (the head chef actually touts the fact that there’s no microwave in his kitchen), and the restaurant has been satisfying Gainesville patrons for over 20 years with home-style deliciousness. Though everything on the menu is great, I highly recommend indulging in the Ravioli al Forno and Pollo Marsala.
Embers – 3545 SW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32608
For a more fine dining experience in this characteristically casual town, Embers is the place to be. All meats are USDA Prime and are grilled over a hickory, pecan and cherry wood grill (hence the name Embers). You can even book a reservation for the Chef’s Table if you’re looking for a personalized dining experience with individual wine pairings.
Sabore – 13005 SW 1 Rd, Newberry, FL 32669
I actually tried this restaurant for the first time last week, and boy was I missing out the whole time I lived in Gainesville. This tapas-style restaurant has an eclectic mix of plates that are bursting with flavor. Plus, the small plates give you the opportunity to try multiple dishes on the menu. My two favorites? The Coconut Risotto, which is actually served in a coconut, and the Tuna Toston, served on a green plantain crostini. Don’t forget to save room for the Nitro Smore’s Experience at the end!
Because who said dinner should be the last meal of the day?
Midnight Cookies – Delivery Service
These fresh baked cookies are even better than the ones you used to make at grandma’s house. Baked at the moment you place the order and delivered right to your door, these treats are the perfect late-night snack (they’re open until 2 AM) to satisfy your sweet tooth. Cookies ‘n’ Cream, Birthday Cake and classic Chocolate Chip are a must in your order.
Pizza by the Slice – 1728 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603
Tucked in between the bars of midtown, “Pizza By the Slice” or Italian Gator Pizza as it’s really called, has the best standard pizza in town. Eating this pizza, is like eating a slice of New York. Open until 2:30 AM, this literal hole-in-the-wall, is a window with pizza ovens inside, serving up slices (or pies) to go.
These are just a few of my recommendations to chow down during your next trip to Gainesville. Be on the lookout for Part 2 (coming soon!) for the area’s best activities.