Of all the foodie areas of Florida, many will be shocked to hear that Gainesville is one of them! For a while, I thought this was a typical college town, more focused on binge drinking than cuisine. However, after a trip in 2018, I realized all the excellent dining options it has to offer! Since then, I have visited a few times determined to find the best Gainesville restaurants.
I have now compiled this list with 30 different places to eat in Gainesville. I have broken up into cheap, often counter-service restaurants, moderately priced sit downs and splurge meals. This covers all sorts of cuisines and dining styles, from coffee shops to fine dining and everything in between. Whether you are visiting to attend a UF game or check out the nearby springs, keep this guide handy for the best Gainesville restaurants!
Best Gainesville Restaurants for a Budget
One of the best parts of the Gainesville foodie scene is that it caters to students, meaning most places are affordable! I have gotten used to Orlando and Tampa pricing, so visiting Gainesville was a pleasant surprise when I could get an excellent meal under $10. This first section looks at the best Gainesville restaurants for those on a budget and contains plenty of options for whatever mood you are in. This includes lots of food trucks, coffee shops and casual cafes.
Cilantro’s Taco Truck
The first meal I had in Gainesville was at the Cilantro’s Tacos Food Truck and the tasty memories have stayed with me ever since! They now have a freestanding store in Newberry in addition to their Taco Truck which makes frequent stops around Gainesville. Here you can find their authentic or signature Nate Style Tacos where the tortillas are dipped in pork stock and grilled, loaded up with chicken barbacoa or carnitas. Their salsa and guacamoles are irresistible as well, so make sure you bring plenty of room for chips!
Gainesville has no shortage of excellent coffee shops, but Wyatt’s Coffee is near the top of my list. Located right downtown, Wyatt’s is the place to get a cold brew, latte, or a chai tea. They also have fresh pastries if you need a bite, most notably Blueberry Frosted Scones
For flavorful island cuisine, Caribbean Spice is a big favorite here. This cozy strip mall spot serves up jerk and curried meats with rice and veggies for lunch and dinner. The lunch specials are especially popular, as you can get a huge serving for less than $10 a meal. If you can spare a couple more dollars, make sure to get the coco bread on the side to compliment the spices in each dish!
Another perk of this college town is an abundance of cuisines from all over the world. One of the best Gainesville restaurants to try exotic dishes is the Cambodian spot, Prum’s Kitchen. Here you can find skewers, noodle bowls and more loaded with Cambodian flavors like lemon grass and kafir lime. Their Vermicelli rice noodle dishes are a huge hit and can be enjoyed in the restaurant, but are also just as good to-go.
Maple Street Biscuit Company
I know I have mentioned Maple Street Biscuit Company before, but it continues to be one of my favorite Florida spots for breakfast! They have sprouted up all over North Florida now, making it a go-to for many craving fried chicken on a biscuit. I can never turn down a goat cheese and pepper jelly chicken biscuit, which may sound weird, but once it melts in your mouth, I promise you won’t go back! They also have waffles, garden bowls and a kid’s menu, but the biscuits are the true star of the show here for lunch or breakfast.
Halo Potato Donuts
If you have a sweet tooth, Halo Potato Donuts is practically a mandatory stop for anyone around Gainesville. What started as a food truck is now a Gainesville staple with their spot-on Main Street. These potato donuts are known to be drool worthy, especially with their Vanilla or Maple Glaze. If you want to try their signature combination, make sure you get a Thirsty Donut, where you get a donut on top of your Sweetwater Iced Coffee!
For those seeking southern food with a delectable twist, Swamp Religion is the food truck to look for. This black-owned business makes arguably the best wings in towns with mouthwatering sauces like Jalapeno Huli Huli and Garlic Parmesan. You can also find classics like a Cajun Burger or a Soft Shell Crab Sandwich with all sorts of indulgent toppings. The menu varies with whatever crazy combinations they can come up with, so make sure to check out their Facebook to find out their location of the day.
Stubbies Pop-Up Sausages
Another one of the best Gainesville food trucks is Stubbies Pop-Up Sausages. They frequent many breweries in the area and we found their Debrizener sausages to be the perfect meal alongside a pint of High Springs Brewing beer! The menu has nine different options for a simple sausage on a roll that is less than $10. It is fast, cheap and so delicious, which is just the kind of food I look for in a college town!
If you are looking for traditional Mexican food like Mole and Enchiladas, La Tienda is the place to go. This counter service spot is consistently ranked as one of the best Gainesville restaurants, but still manages to feel like a hidden gem. The menu is large with everything from tacos to Huevos Rancheros, but care and quality come through in every dish.
Doxa Coffee Co.
One other coffee spot I have to mention is Doxa Coffee Co. Though it is in Alachua and a bit out of the way from Gainesville, it is very much worth the drive. They are always serving the best beans from all over the world that cover a variety of roasts and flavors. I definitely recommend a pour over here, though the Cappuccinos, Lattes and Lemonade are excellent too. This is an especially convenient stop for a morning brew on the way to one of Gainesville’s nearby freshwater Springs!
Moderately Priced Gainesville Restaurants
Though there are a lot of cheap eats in Gainesville, most fall into this moderately priced section. This contains the Best Gainesville restaurants for eating a meal around $20 per person. You could easily stick to this and the budget section and get the full foodie experience of the area. Here is where I recommend for experiencing a moderately priced meal in Gainesville.
Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que
Being so close to “the South”, Gainesville has plenty of barbecue options, however none live up to Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que. This joint offers each type of regional barbecue from St. Louis Spareribs to North Carolina Pulled Pork. I recommend sharing a combination platter loaded with sides, so the whole table can try a variety. In addition to every type of sauce you could want, they also have an excellent bourbon and craft beer selection too.
Loves of ramen should look no further than Crane Ramen to get their fix. This is hands down one of the best Gainesville restaurants and it is located conveniently in downtown. They have over a dozen ramen dishes from classic Tonkotsu to a Snow Crab Shio, as well as gyoza, bao buns and kimchi. Just because you are in a college town, doesn’t mean you have to settle for a basic cup o’noodles!
One Love Café
If you are looking for a Gainesville restaurant with food as wholesome as their mission, One Love Café is the ideal choice. We love the large spacious patio here to enjoy a fire pit or live music while munching on a sandwich. They have everything from pasta to sandwiches to salads, most with vegan or gluten-free options. Between this and a huge beer and cocktail list, you will want to relax here all day!
Reggae Shack Café
If you haven’t been to Gainesville, you may be surprised that you can find a place serving Jamaican and Vegetarian food. However, this town really is a melting pot with so much to offer and Reggae Shack Café is the epitome of that. This tropical black-owned business specializes in tender meats with sweet and savory seasoning, as well plant based takes on island food. I would be hard pressed to find another place serving curry tempeh or seitan like this, and they even have vegan carrot cake to finish off the meal.
Mi Apa Latin Café
The most regrettable meal I had on my recent trip to Gainesville was at Mi Apa Latin Café, but it’s not for why you think! We went for breakfast and I opted for a simple Egg and Cheese Sandwich on Cuban Bread, which was very satisfying. However, Andrew had the Steak and Egg Bowls and would only spare a couple of bites with me, because it was literally an explosion of flavors! I seriously have never been so impressed with a breakfast bowl in my life and instantly regretted not ordering it! Even worse, we went right before departing from our trip, so there was no time for a repeat visit. If this is how good the breakfast is, I can only imagine how amazing the lunch and dinner is. Don’t be like us and go here early and bring your appetite so you can try as much as possible! This Cuban spot is a true gem.
Gainesville may not be known for its seafood like so many other Florida cities, but if you are craving it, 4 Paume’s is one of the best options. This food truck serves traditional southern seafood like crab and shrimp boils daily for lunch and dinner. The Snow Crab Clusters are known to be a big hit and come with potatoes, corn and sausage all doused in a variety of spices. For land lovers, there are fried chicken wings too!
Big Top Brewing
I do not often recommend breweries for food, as I prefer to focus on the beer there, but I will make an exception for Big Top Brewing in Gainesville. We went here for a snack and ended up getting more than few appetizer’s, thanks to the excellent atmosphere, beer and menu. The food is here is typical brewery food, like tacos and sandwiches, but they really upgrade all these guilty pleasures. Don’t miss the tater tot nachos or the brewhouse quesadilla if you come here for a drink!
You truly have not been to Gainesville until you have dined at the famous pizza spot, Satchel’s this quirky patio embodies the UF spirit, with all sorts of fun touches, including some seating in a van. Because of it’s popularity, it can be challenging to get a seat, but it is well worth the wait, especially if live music is playing The menu at Satchel’s is simple with just a salad, pizza and calzones, but the quality speaks for itself. Between the pizza lunch special, the homemade sodas and the large beer list, this is easily one of the top five Gainesville restaurants.
Chef’s Empowerment Underground Kitchen
There is nothing better than being able to support a good cause and enjoy great food! At Chef’s Empowerment Underground Kitchen you can get both, as this restaurant is a pivotal part of the community. They offer vocational training in the kitchen to students in the community while operating this superb Southern kitchen. You can either indulge in the dining room on favorites like Crispy Yardbird with Mac and Cheese and BBQ Cauliflower, or just as easily get it to go.
The Flying Biscuit Cafe
The Flying Biscuit Café gets the most rave reviews for breakfast in Gainesville, to the point where I was skeptical by its strip mall appearance. However, though the brunch here was no frills, the food was deliciously unforgettable. We split the Biscuits and Gravy and the Hangover Hash and were in heaven eating these two savory dishes! They also serve burgers, sandwiches and bowls for lunch, but I strongly suggest getting the breakfast that is served all day.
Places to Splurge in Gainesville
This last section was a challenge to put together because there are not a ton of expensive restaurants in Gainesville! Usually, this section of my restaurant guides includes places that cost at least $30 per person, but you can definitely dine at these next ten spots for less if you want! Though these next ten Gainesville restaurants may not be super fancy, they are all great options for an elevated meal or to celebrate a special occasion.
Original American Kitchen (OAK)
For an upscale meal with food that appeals to all, Original American Kitchen (aka OAK) is a Gainesville favorite. This spot is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch serving up locally sourced comfort food and craft cocktails. There is an excellent mix of options for carnivores, like Sweet Tea Short Rib or the OAK filet, as well as herbivores, with options like Wild Mushroom Ravioli or the Cauliflower Tacos. No matter your preference, everyone is sure to love the southern style cocktails and sides!
One of the many renowned places for fine dining is Gainesville is Paramount Grill, where Mediterranean cuisine is served for lunch and dinner. The menu changes seasonally, so you can always enjoy the freshest produce available. Main dishes are seafood focused like a Shrimp and Lobster Heirloom Tomato Saute, although they usually offer at least one turf and one vegan option. The menu is smaller than most places, but you can be sure each dish is highly curated.
Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company
There is no denying that Dragonfly is one of the best Gainesville restaurants for sushi! This is obvious by the frequent wait time just to get in this place on a weekend. However, it is very worth trying to get in, as the sushi is some of the most unique and decadent that you can find. Though we ordered as many Maki rolls as we could devour, Dragonfly also serves grilled meat and fish with Japanese flavors, as well as soups and salads. With rolls in the $10-$15 range, you can definitely eat here on a budget, but it hard not to go all out with rolls and cocktails.
Gainesville’s The Top is a pretty casual spot for this part of the list, but it is a crow pleaser for celebrating and has dishes that span many preferences. You can keep it simple with one of their famous burgers or pasta dishes, each with varying toppings. However, their Chimichurri Grill or Black Pepper Steak are also worth splurging for. There is a stunning amount of vegan and gluten-free options on here and a huge bar selection, that has also made The Top popular. Don’t visit this one expecting anything fancy, but do expect to be wowed by your meal!
If a steakhouse meal is what you are after, Embers is the place, especially for date night or graduation meals. Their wood grill cooks each steak to perfection whether you order a pepper crusted New York Strip or a 22-ounce Cowboy Cut Ribeye. There are plenty of seafood options too, and a whole lineup of veggie and starchy sides. For an extra touch of romance, be sure to sit on the back patio and try the cinnamon beignets for dessert!
Another great spot for that white tablecloth experience, is Amelia’s, the finest of the Gainesville restaurants for Italian dining. Regardless of which pasta you like, they offer the best, including Fettucini Alfredo, Lasagna al Forno, and Fra Diavlo. Many dishes include chicken, seafood or veal, but most don’t need it, as the scratch sauce and hand made pasta are the stars! You can also grab a casual soup and salad lunch here, but I just love the evening ambiance.
The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors is another stretch for the splurge portion of this list, but this seems like Southern style fine dining to me. The food is here is award-winning, with mouthwatering options like Bacon-Wrapped Filet and Bronzed Salmon. They also offer flatbreads and fun appetizers like brisket nachos. You can enjoy all this in their rustic dining room, or the best way, outside by the fire.
Mark’s Prime Steakhouse & Seafood
I am pretty sure Mark’s Prime is the fanciest restaurant on this list, with everything from valet parking to sommeliers. However, it is worth putting on heels or a tie for their surf and turf. The Butter Poached Lobster Tails are unbeatable, as well as the Delmonico Ribeye. They even have Escargot and French Onion Soup for that touch of gourmet experience.
If you want a meal to remember, Beque Holic is really something else. This is a Korean BBQ restaurant where you cook the meal at your table. For $29 per person, you can try all the Beef Bulgogi, Pork Belly, and Tempura Rolls you like. This includes all the tasty fermented side dishes (called Banchan) too. Though this may not be what you expect for a splurge meal, the experience, atmosphere and cuisine make it worth it.
There is one more seafood restaurant I have to mention and that is the family-owned Northwest Grille. They specialize in everything that comes from the water, from Bay Scallops to Gator Tail. What I especially love here is the variety of ways to order fish and the different seasonings available. It’s just the spot to satisfy any seafood craving, and they even have steak, chicken and pasta too.
Know Before You Go: The Best Restaurants in Gainesville FL
Whether you are a local or from out of town, I hope this guide to the best Gainesville restaurants introduced you to something new. Most of this list covers places to eat near the Main UF campus, but it is also worth checking out the places in Alachua and High Springs too. Being in the middle of North Florida, Gainesville continues to be a haven for foodies of any cuisine or type of diet. Here’s a few tips before dining out in Gainesville, Florida.
- It is customary to tip at least 15% in Gainesville and most restaurants do not include this in the final bill.
- Very few restaurants take reservations here, so get there early on weekends if you do not want to wait.
- Though it is relatively affordable to eat out in Gainesville, going out during Happy Hour is the best way to save on drinks and appetizers.
- You can dress casually at almost every restaurant on this list. You probably want to dress up for the steakhouse options, but the rest are fine with casual attire.
- Most restaurants in the area have free parking, but if you plan to enjoy drinks with your meal, taking an Uber/Lyft is safe and convenient.
- Support Black-Owned Restaurants! Black-Owned restaurants included in this list are: Chef’s Empowerment Underground Kitchen, Swamp Religion, 4 Paume’s, Caribbean Spice, Maple Street Biscuit Company
Have you been to Gainesville before? Let me know if your favorite restaurant is on the list! For more ideas for things to do in Gainesville, check out my Guide to the Springs and Our Tiny House Stay here.