Tallahassee is place of crossroads and contrast. Twenty miles from the Georgia state line, about twenty five miles from Gulf Coast waters, home the state capitol and its associated agencies as well as two major universities. Set in the rolling hills and forests of far north Florida, it is at its heart a southern city which balances between being laid back and progressive. All that makes it a very interesting place to eat, too. Autumn is a fine time to visit, to experience fall in the deep south. Next time you find yourself in the capitol city of the sunshine state, here are three restaurants to try.

The Catfish Pad, over on the west side of town, is in an unassuming building in an unassuming neighborhood. It’s the laid back side of things, where you may just as likely eat your food with plastic as silverware, and where what you’ll be eating couldn’t taste fresher or be prepared with more care. Catfish is a star, and there are also mullet, whitefish, shrimp, oysters, and other creatures of the sea, served up as single choices and in varied combinations. Vegetarians will have to choose carefully, but there are salads and sides which can make a good meal. Burgers and chicken are on hand if you feel the need to steer way from fish, too. Prices reflect the low key down home atmosphere.

The atmosphere at the Mockingbird Cafe, in a part of Tallahassee just north of downtown which is becoming known for its range of restaurants, is welcoming too. For a budget meal, you’ll do best to come for lunch or stick to the starter menu in the evening. Both choices will offer you a fine selection of tasty and at times unexpected flavors, and if you’re up for spending a bit more the full range of the chefs’ choice will be available to you. A starter might consist of roasted butternut squash and chevre ravioli with curried apple cream or sweet potato fries with bourbon sauce, while mains could include seared duck breast, grouper, and rotini putanesca style. Live music is often on offer too, most often of the acoustic sort with local musicians earlier in the evening, and at times touring players (with a cover charge) later in the night.

Andrew’s Capital Grill is just a few steps from the state capitol building and across the street from city hall, so it’s no surprise that a number of the menu items are named after politicians and other public figures. You have no need to know that the eggplant wrap comes by its name from one of Tallahassee’s state house representatives, or that a burger takes its nickname from the head football coach at the university down the hill to enjoy either one of them, though the names on the menu can prove conversation starters for local residents and visitors alike. You could also try the buffet, which includes favorites such as house recipe Ollie’s fried chicken, a range of salad fixings, mac and cheese, and mains which may include vegetarian lasagna and chicken pot pie. The atmosphere often buzzes, especially when the legislature is in session, but the vibe remains welcoming, largewindows give a view of the state house, and in good weather, you may choose to eat outside as well.

photograph of autumn leaves in Tallahassee is by Kerry Dexter, and is copyrighted. thank you for respecting this.