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Jan 26, 2009 09:45 AM

Just moved to JAX... need to eat! =0)

My husband and I just moved to Jacksonville and we are a bunch of food snobs =0). We are very picky about the restaurants we go to so we need some good recommendations. We came from Southern CA where we had some awesome food to choose from. We had a choice of authentic Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Korean just to name a few. These are the types of cuisines we are looking for. We don't care how far we have to drive (well as long as its not an hour away), we just want good food! Please help!

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  1. Click on my tag, and you see a bunch of reviews and pointers for a variety of local places. Here's a list of my favorites of some of the types you see listed above.

    Chinese: Bamboo Creek at Tinseltown - good Chinese from the menu, and HK style dim sum. No carts for dinner, but all dim sum is available from the dim sum menu. The best Chinese in town, IMO. You will miss SoCal, but this is quite good, really.

    Korean - Sam Won Garden on University Blvd. - it's about the only Korean place I know of locally, and I like it. That's about all I can say. We have BBQ on every corner, but it's not Korean BBQ. :)

    Thai - I like Thai Garden in Orange Park, but you'll see lots of Thai available around town. Sala Thai is nice neighborhood Thai on the Southside, and Basil Thai is more upscale in San Marco.

    Mexican - lots around, none authentic. You can get a decent Tacos Al Pastor at La Nopalera (several around town.) I like the one on Hendricks in San Marco. It's a dive, but the food is good, and everybody cooking is Mexican, honest to God.

    Japanese - lots of Sushi everywhere, and some of it is even OK. We like our neighborhood places - Sumo Sushi and Sushi Cafe, both in Riverside. Teppanyaki is ubiquitous, all are about the same. Nothing special, but you know what you're going to get. Authentic Japanese? If you find some, please post here.

    I invite you to develop a taste for BBQ, and southern homestyle meat and veg. Finding this here is like finding great Chinese in greater LA - there are all sorts of goodies to enjoy. Lots of recommendations for local joints - just check my board and search the Florida board for Jacksonville. You'll get a sense of where to avoid. Never eat a bite at the Jacksonville Landing, if you can help it. Not a bite of anything there is edible.

    Welcome to town! Try lots of stuff, and please post your impressions pro or con right here. We love it here, and we never go hungry. :)

    Bamboo Creek
    9734 Deer Lake Ct, Jacksonville, FL

    Sumo Sushi
    2726 Park St, Jacksonville, FL 32205

    Thai Garden Restaurant
    10 Blanding Blvd Ste B, Orange Park, FL 32073

    La Nopalera
    1930 Kingsley Ave, Orange Park, FL

    La Nopalera
    11700 San Jose Blvd # 4, Jacksonville, FL

    Sushi Cafe
    2025 Riverside Ave Ste 204, Jacksonville, FL 32204

    9 Replies
    1. re: mezzrow

      Thank you so much!! This helps a lot! Ill be sure to try these places out and let you know how we liked them! =0)

      1. re: mezzrow

        Okay so... The first restaurant we tried going to was Sangria House which was today (Monday) and we didn't know it was closed on Mondays so now we will have to try that place another day thats not a Monday. So we decided on a place that was close by, this was Sala Thai.
        Sorry to say but this Thai restaurant was a BIG disappointment. Now my husband is Vietnamese and the only thing he liked at this restaurant was the Thai Tea. I didn't like anything!
        This is what we had:
        1. Papaya Salad: Way TOO much Fish Sauce! We couldn't even taste the Papaya there was so much fish sauce.
        2. Tom Yum Soup: Watered Down and huge chunks of Mushrooms which are not suppose to be so big.
        3. Black Bean Snapper: Traditionally its suppose to be a whole fish and not a fillet. That wasn't so bad.
        4. Pad Thai: Very very bland, no flavor whatsoever (we actually took this to go, which I am glad cause now we can add our own spices to it to taste better).
        5. Thai Tea: Which my husband approved
        6. Thai Ice Coffee: Gross. It was like Thai Ice tea and coffee mixed together.

        So there you go. I'm sorry if I was harsh, but it had to be said.
        When we start to crave Thai, we will be sure to check out Thai Garden. =0)

        1. re: mezzrow

          Well mmtrinh1223 is my wife and well to be frank, I just got off the toilet after eating its food. Now to those who think I can't handle my "spicy/ethnic" food, just let me tell you that I'm a first-generation Vietnamese guy who grew up in Orange County, California eating Vietnamese dishes created by my mum (yes, that means tripe, duck's/pig's blood, and other beautiful offal prepared beautifully). I'm 22 years old and have eaten in hole-in-the-wall establishments in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, England, France, Spain, and halal street food in Manhattan. I eat food on naval ships for months on end so I've had some of the worst and some of the best. I can handle most gastronomical endeavors.

          Sala Thai was a default after stopping at Sangria House and realizing it was closed on Mondays after we checked its website on my mobile.

          I will elaborate on what my wife has said.

          Papaya salad: Really? Really now?! How hard is it to throttle back on the fish sauce. I'm Vietnamese. We KNOW fish sauce and we use it like its going out of style (which it apparently hasn't). Find a balance, Sala Thai! Dousing the salad with the fish sauce doesn't tout your Asian-ness.

          Tom Yum Goong/Kung: It was weak with quartered button mushrooms. I was confused. Very weak with lemongrass notes pattering away.

          Black bean snapper: As is true with southern states that serve seafood; it was battered and fried. Not crispy as if it were scored and submerged/ladled with hot oil to cook. This was the only thing worth eating (that and the rice it was served with).

          Thai tea: It was a bit sweet but it was quite acceptable. My palate isn't as skilled for this drink.

          Thai coffee: I've never had it and I had to ask. It sounded interesting. Best way to describe it? Dirty rendition of thai tea with coffee instead of tea.

          The ambiance was not too bad (I don't really care about an establishment's ambiance in general) but the lighting (which I do mind) was a bit too dark for me. The waitstaff was extremely courteous.

          The dishes we had at Sala Thai would NOT be considered Chowhound worthy.

          1. re: ChristDriven

            Sorry about the bad experience, CD. My experience w/ Sala is limited to an occasional quick lunch, and my background in Asian chow isn't nearly as deep as yours. Sounds like you got the equivalent of chicken fried steak w/ brown gravy - unacceptable. They're really nice folks, and the panang curry for lunch tends to be quick and tasty. I'm not a Thai tea guy, so YMMV, I suppose. Better Thai can be had at Thai Garden in OP, my favorite in the area.

            BTW, should you find something really authentic for Asian of any kind, please let us know here. Sorry you missed the tapas. A note - the son of the folks at Sangria House has a hole in the wall place in Riverside, and he cooks a much less traditional tapas menu than his Mom. Just a note - look for 13 Gypsies in Jacksonville. I think he's closed on Monday as well.

            1. re: mezzrow

              Funny you say that because despite all I've eaten...::lowers voice::...i _like_ chicken fried steak. =D
              Thai Garden will be an option we'll look towards when we're up for Thai again.

              For Vietnamese, we stumbled upon Saigon Cafe (622 Cassat Ave.) from a previous Jacksonville post. I didn't have pho but my wife did. She enjoyed it. I tasted a bit of it but I wasn't up for pho that day so my opinion was biased. Decor was okay (not great) and prices are a bit more than in Westminster, CA (which is where mmtrinh1223 and I are from). The prices were still very reasonable considering the small population of Vietnamese in Jacksonville. My general rules for mom and pop Vietnamese restaurants are that the decor SHOULD be bad. If I see a "fusion" Vietnamese restaurant with trendy decor, I generally stay away because their market focus is not on the Vietnamese-everyman/woman. That upscale decor also signifies high prices for food that is NOT supposed to be expensive.

              I'm taking note of 13 Gypsies joint. Spanish tapas are also one of my most favorite cuisines (grammar check, anyone?).

              Anyone else who is serious about food, check out Coulter Kirkpatrick's blog ( at the Florida-Times Union website. He seems to be as serious about food as anyone else. If you do decide to read his blog, I comment on there as JonathanN.

              1. re: ChristDriven

                Thanks so much for the link to the Foodie Jerk's online column! Too bad he doesn't have a column in the regular print food section on Thursdays. I don't care for spicy Mexican food, but am tempted to try Pepe's after reading his review and seeing the market pics!

              2. re: mezzrow

                Okay so today we went to try that Bamboo Creek restaurant and this is what I have to say about that:
                My husband and I decided to try this place out today and were pretty satisfied by the end of the meal.

                We arrived at around 11:40am and got sat right away. What made this place promising was that there were other Asians (Chinese and Vietnamese) in the restaurant. Made me miss home to hear loud Vietnamese people chattering away =0) All of the food came out fresh and on those carts! =0)

                Anyways this is what we had:
                1. Hot Jasmine Tea
                2. Char Siu Bao- Steamed buns with BBQ pork (one of my favorite things to eat!)
                3. Fung Jeow- Chicken Feet
                4. Sui Mai- Pork/shrimp dumplings
                5. Har Gau- Shrimp dumplings
                6. Fried Taro
                I think that was it. I am sad to say there were some stuff we really wanted (Egg Custard and Tendon) that they didn't have. Our waiter said that they were understaff in the kitchen and said that a lot of their customers ask for those items. My husband just couldn't understand why if some items are in high demand they just don't make those first. Oh well.

                This place is good, but since I've had better in CA its not great. We will take what we can get =0) We will come back to this place most def.

                Thanks for the tip! More food to eat and more reviewing to come! =0)

                BTW: That Vietnamese Restaurant my husband was talking about (ChrisDriven), is pretty good, you should check it out!

                1. re: mmtrinh1223

                  re: Saigon Cafe - will do... Looking for a cold day to put away a nice bowl of pho. Thanks!

                  I've driven past Saigon Cafe for years and never stopped. Big thanks for the link to the Foodie Jerk site at the T-U. This is new to me.

                  Westside Taco Trucks? I'm there!! Weekends too??

                  Dos tacos al pastor, gracias...

                  1. re: mezzrow

                    There's another Vietnamese place called Saigon Bistro on 3546 St. Johns Bluff, JAX. We went to this place the other night, and thought it was pretty good as well. I have to say their broth was better than the Saigon Cafe place BUT Saigon Cafe gives more meat than this place. I think we will probably go to Saigon Bistro more just because its closer to where we live.

                    Also we ate at that Sushi Cafe this past Sunday. The fish was good, we were surprised about that, but its kinda weird knowing that our fish is being prepared and served by Chinese people lol. Oh and what is with that 1pc deal? That kinda got to me haha. Sorry I guess I am a big critic when it comes to Sushi joints just because I lived in Japan.

                    We shall try Sumo Sushi the next time we want a sushi fix =0)

          2. Welcome to Jax ... we, too, moved from SoCal (San Diego), and miss our cuisine choices! I agree w/ everything Mezzrow posted ... and would add these (not sure where you are living ... but most of these should be closer than an hour from any side of town): For nice tapas, Sangria House on Southside boulevard ... not much atmosphere, but good, homemade food;
            for Thai, I like Pattaya Thai on Baymeadows (although I haven't been there in a while); Middle Eastern, Hala's on University .. again, not somewhere to go for the atmosphere, but good, solid hummus, tabouli, and the standards;
            Bistro Aix in San Marco is yummy - excellent desserts and wonderful fresh-tossed salads ... some of the entrees are hit or miss;
            good BBQ - Mojo's on University ... homemade sides and nice meats (not preprocessed stuff);
            The Brick in Riverside ... especially nice to sit outside and enjoy some fine weather; also in Riverside, Biscotti's for nice desserts and good food (albeit small-ish portions, which isn't great for a really hungry husband)
            Al's Pizza (several around town) for a pretty good pizza - don't really recommend the pasta dishes ... excellent grilled chicken salad
            For lunch - the French Pantry on Powers (don't let the outside fool you .. very yummy food)
            Havana Jax on Beach (in San Marco) ... pretty good cuban (very good mojito's)

            That should get you started. Stick to the mom and pop places ... you'll find some good stuff. For real Mexican (like we're used to) - basically forget it! I haven't yet found good fish tacos or a good carne asada around here ....

            Good luck!

            1. I worked in JAX for a few months, and the best restaurant I found by far was called Matthews. Surprisingly good food for the area, but quite pricey... suitable for a special meal or one on an expense acct!

              1 Reply
              1. re: miami2boston

                For the best food in Jacksonville, non-chain, just three words:

                Beach Road Chicken

                Southern cooking and hospitality....

              2. My favorite Thai place just closed - Old Siam at the beaches (Pom why did you leave us????). I would love to hear when you find a great place for Thai. PK Noodles on beach is good pho.
                I second French Pantry - hidden inside a warehouse and Bamboo Creek. Worth going to Blue Bamboo a little further north on Southside Boulevard.
                New good stuff at the beach include Taco Lu's - fun, cheap tacos, loud and Fish Market for the hot and spicy shrimp (shells on boiled) with fresh rolls!

                Keep us posted with you findings!

                1 Reply
                1. re: meginAB

                  Had a very nice lunch at Bistro Aix in San Marco. The calamari app was enough for 4, really and the sauce was super garlicky. Sandwiches were big and tasty. Best dish was the proscuitto and goat chees salad. I loved the big crispy piece of proscuitto for a garnish.
                  Didn't like: I think they put the bread in the microwave! What's up with that?
                  Wait staff is a little pushy about selling extras.
                  For sure, they put the brownie in the microwave. Who wants to eat a scalding hot, albeit delicious when it cooled, brownie?

                  My advice--forget the microwave--you have good food!

                2. I have lived on the Southside of Jacksonville for 22 years, coming originally from NYC/Manhattan. I REALLY miss the authentic ethnic foods there and have honestly found nothing comparable in Jacksonville. To get a memorable meal, you generally have to go with either fine dining like Matthew's, or stick to seafood at the beaches or real southern or Florida Cracker food that is well prepared. An exception is Bamboo Creek, which has been mentioned for dim sum.

                  One place I love is actually just south of St. Augustine Beach, Saltwater Cowboy's. It's about a 40 min. drive and a little hard to find, but well worth the well as the long wait for a table the night we went. They have been in business 35 yrs., with the current owners there for over 20 yrs. It features authentic Florida Cracker food (gator tail, frog legs, soft shell turtle), as well as ribs, seafood, and chicken, prepared very well and in a wonderful atmosphere over salt marshes. Heres a link:
                  Note: I have no vested interest in this place--just a happy diner. Prices are moderate.