When you first visit a city and only have a few days, you’re trying to take it all in, see the main sites, and get a feel of its story. That’s what I did on my first visit to the USA’s oldest city. This time I wanted to move on to the second layer, especially taking a look at the Saint Augustine Food scene.
Instead of the Spanish fortress and the fountain of youth, I wanted a pile of seafood and craft beer taps. I’ll get to the beer in a later post because I hit every brewpub near the historic center. I’m hitting on some of the best food in St. Augustine in this post. I only had a few days for sampling, so I made the most of it with two unique experiences and by visiting several different restaurants for a full meal in between.
We managed to try five different places on The Tasting Tour of St. Augustine. We also got lucky with our timing and were in town for the Urban Asado Gaucho Night Experience. Last, we let a local guide us to some good spots for seafood. I’ve also included a couple of noteworthy places to try from my first visit earlier too.
A Tasting Tour in Saint Augustine Old Town
One of the best ways to get a sense of the local dining scene in a city you’re visiting is to book a food tour that samples multiple places. Not only is this a fun tour with a guide who can provide some background and answer questions, but it allows you to see if a dining spot is one where you’ll be happy at dinner time when you’re plopping down more money.
We went with the best-rated company for Saint Augustine food tours: The Tasting Tours. We met at their office in the city’s tallest building (which is not saying much) and ventured out from there on foot on our way to five dining spots.
Old City House Inn
Our first stop was the outdoor restaurant at Old City House Inn, a historic stone building just a couple blocks from the hotel we were in and near major attractions like Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel that became Flagler College and another hotel of his that is now the Lightner Museum.
There’s an attractive indoor restaurant at Old City House Inn too that serves breakfast for guests of the 7-room B&B for now, opening it back up for dinner when that’s safe again. See more on the inn here.
The little tasting I was expecting turned out to be more like a mini-meal. Juan the owner came out to say hi and supervised the serving of a veal meatloaf with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a glass of Malbec. We were off to a great start.
A Bit of Greek History at Athena
We then walked a few blocks back toward the Basilica park to visit Athena Greek Restaurant. It’s an attractive spot with lots of natural light and murals with scenes from Greece on the wall. There’s actually a long history of Greeks coming to Florida; they were recruited to work here hundreds of years ago because it was assumed they could more easily tolerate the heat. There’s a gorgeous Greek Orthodox shrine in a hidden spot about a five-minute walk away that’s worth a visit.
We started off with a crowd-pleaser: Saganaki, otherwise known as flaming cheese. It went well with the Greek wine we got a glass of, then we dove into gyros with beef and lamb. All delicious.
Lingering around a big indoor table as a group didn’t feel all that comfortable, plus we had other stops to get to, so we headed out the door for a needed walk and waddled our way to The Drunken Horse.
The Drunken Horse Dining in St. Augustine
The Drunken Horse was founded by a transplanted New York City wine bar owner looking for a more reasonably priced place to operate a second location. It’s a nice recent addition to the St. Augustine food scene, with a well-crafted wine list and a mouth-watering menu focused on fresh ingredients. They specialize in items that are good for nibbling with wine, like cheese boards, charcuterie platters, and salads. The kitchen also cooks up plenty of hot dishes too though like escargots, scallops, sea bass, and risotto.
We got our choice of a red or white French wine, both excellent, then sampled two flavorful items from the kitchen. We had a Tarte Racletta, a French flatbread with pickled tomatoes, carmelized onions, oyster mushrooms, and sharp cheese. The other was bruschetta with avocado and smoked salmon topped with baby greens. Based on what I had here, the Drunken Horse at 56 Charlotte Street will be my first brunch choice next time I’m in town. I know they’ll make it a delight.
Casa de Vino 57 With a Florida Garden
As you’d guess from the name, Casa de Vino is also focused on wine and they try to select the best independent, lesser-known wineries from around the world that are doing something special. We were in a private tasting room that’s available to groups, but the large outdoor wine garden (with cast-iron tables that have a grapevine motif) is a lovely place to sit and sip. There was a musician playing too in the afternoon we were there.
Most customers order wine with a cheese or charcuterie platter and the owners wanted to give us a taste of that experience–literally. This big platter of food was waiting for us and despite how much we had eaten already, we couldn’t resist.
There were different items that paired with different wines and we got to try out different combos as we tasted three wines of our choice. There was something for every palate to choose from among the eight, fruity to dry to loaded with tannins. The big hits with our crowd were the Sheep’s Creek Sauvignon Blanc and the Wild Thing Chardonnay.
I had never heard of any of them before so it was an interesting tasting. The wine menu here is full of surprises: there’s a Tannat from Uruguay, a Vinho Verde from Portugal, and a Noble 5 red blend from Romania.
If you try something you really like, they have bottles for sale to go. Casa de Vino 57 understands that not everyone is a wine lover though, so they have a few craft beers on tap, more in bottles, and offer some wine-based drinks like sangria and mimosas. They also have a few menu items that don’t involve animal products, like stuffed grape leaves and a vegan cheese board. See more at the official Casa de Vino website.
A Sweet Ending at Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company
We were stuffed and a bit woozy at this point, so we were kind of glad there was only one more stop. We got a short walk through some picturesque streets of the historic center, then ended up at a fascinating place for dessert: Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company.
Yes, the name comes from a place in Maine, a place so cold for much of the year that many escape to somewhere warmer for eight or nine months. So when the group of owners wanted to open a second location, they did it in Florida, where they could attract a crowd all year. This historic house with a “love tree” outside serves as a restaurant dishing out a surprising selection of savory items like a shopska salad, bison meatballs, and Walleye fish planks. We felt kind of bad because they had laid out a platter with house-made hummus, olives, and pita points, but we didn’t have any room left for that. We were primed for the cheesecake.
That certainly wasn’t a disappointment. They make around 100 different cheesecake flavors and have 30 or so in rotation at any given time. Based on what we sampled, you can’t go wrong with any of them that sound tasty to you. Our plate had one that was a butterscotch caramel swirl, a hazelnut chocolate one, and a Florida fave–a key lime cheesecake.
They paired the sampling with a Florida wine, which is usually going to be a disappointment if it’s made with grapes. This was a Rustic Raspberry fruit wine from Grove Winery in Kissimee though and it worked surprisingly well with what we were eating. They take their pairings seriously: no coffee is served here because the flavor is too overpowering for the cheesecake.
See all the flavors from Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company on their website here.
Our group members went our separate ways after that, ready for a nap. We loved this tour of some of the best restaurants in St. Augustine, FL. I’ve done food tours like this in Savannah, Greenville, and Ithaca, to name a few, but this Saint Augustine food tour really went above and beyond in every way. There was great variety, more than enough to be lunch and then some, and some great wine pairings with what we were eating. Our host Laura was fun and professional and did an admirable job of enabling some social distancing with the tables to keep the different parties safe, which I really appreciated.
It helps that this tour avoids busy St. George Street except to cross it. None of the places were too crowded when we visited mid-day and each time they had us set up in an area where we had some distance from the other diners. All the restaurants except one had some outdoor space too. The tour we went on, which is their most popular, is the Corks & Forks Strolling Tour. That one is $99 and you definitely get your money’s worth. They have some other tours that are by vehicle and some seasonal offerings, but St. Augustine is a compact and flat city that’s easy to walk in and you get more time to see what the guide is pointing out along the way than you would in a car or even a carriage.
See all the offerings at The Tasting Tours website.
An Outdoor Asado Dining Experience in Saint Augustine
Our most memorable dining experience in the historic city was one that only happens once a month or so. It’s the “Chef’s Collab” open-air dining experience hosted by the Urban Asado company, a maker of outdoor grills headed up by a transplanted Argentine.
The chef is a different one from Northeast Florida each time, but the common denominator is that almost everything is prepared outdoors on the Argentine-style grills. These are the kind you’ll find throughout Argentina and Uruguay, center of the weekend parilla action.
The setting itself is special before the food even comes out. On Riberia Street near where shrimp boats are docked, you sit at tables facing the water and the grill and eventually a sunset. All the while, the guest chef, the asador, and the helpers are getting everything prepared to feed the crowd. See the photo at the top of this post that kicked things off for what it looks like.
The guest chef when I attended was Matt Brown, former chef at Collage and Blackfly in St. Augustine. He now operates Leña catering. I was too busy soaking it all in while drinking Malbec and chatting to pay much attention to technique, but what came off the grills were some crispy sweetbreads, the array of grilled vegetables on greens pictured here, and a carved pork loin wrapped in pork belly with brussels sprouts and some kind of smoked apple chutney. Then for dessert we had a moist cake with grilled pineapple.
Snag tickets for this quickly if you’ll be in the area on the right date. It’s normally $49 per person and BYOB on whatever adult beverage you want to drink. It sells out quickly.
Other Options for Dining in St. Augustine, Florida
I won’t claim to be an expert on which are the “best restaurants in St. Augustine.” Probably the only people who can do that with authority are long-term residents that go out to eat a lot. Here are a few takes on where I have had a good experience there, however, from my two trips to the city and one to the nearby beach. I’d go back to any of these again.
Safe Harbor Seafood
Our first morning in the area on the last trip we went paddleboarding on Pacetti Creek at Faver-Dykes State Park. I gulped when I saw the alligator warnings with “no swimming,” but the people with us were locals and said not to worry. After we paddled through nature for a few hours and then packed up the vehicles, we were starving. So maybe anything would have tasted good, but we were very happy with what landed on the table at Safe Harbor Seafood Crescent Beach.
I can’t remember the name of this combo we scarfed down a few minutes flat, but it was french fries topped with barbecue and post-exercise, it hit the salty spot.
We then moved on to various seafood platters and felt fully sated. There’s nothing fancy about this place, just fresh seafood at reasonable prices. It’s at 6896 on the A1A and is open every day except Monday until 9 or 10:00 p.m.
Waterfront Kingfish Grill
One of the top St. Augustine waterfront restaurants is Kingfish Grill, located in the Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor area where a lot of pleasure boats are docked. It’s only a few minutes from downtown, but it feels quite secluded. There’s a nice view from many of the tables and as much seating outside as in.
This place has been around since 2005 and it’s one of the most reliable options in the city for fresh seafood. They buy it daily and they’re open seven days, so you know what you’re getting is fresh. They also source a lot of other ingredients from local farms and have a few Florida craft brews on tap.
If you’re not watching what you eat, you can order decadent items like shrimp & grits, shrimp and scallops in vodka sauce, or a Florida Cracker Platter: fried shrimp and barbecued smoked ribs. We went for a fried calamari appetizer, a horseradish encrusted mahi-mahi, and a seared tuna. It was too dark for photos when we were there, but you can see pics and menus on their website, including for brunch on the weekends.
St. Augustine Fish Camp
St. Augustine Fish Camp is also on the water, on Riberia Street near where we had our Urban Asado experience. This was the most popular restaurant we visited, so popular that we couldn’t even get a reservation on the weekend. So we ordered take-out instead to eat back in our hotel suite.
I was really glad in the end because the tables were packed and there was an unbroken line of diners and drinkers at the bar. Since Florida was still recording hundreds of virus deaths per day at that point, it all felt too close for comfort.
This post is all about the food though and that’s what really brings people to the St. Augustine Fish Camp. We ordered a big array of things to try, starting with a beet salad, crispy artichoke hearts, and Rick’s All Day Seafood Soup. Then we moved on to a fried seafood combo basket for me and a grilled octopus whitebean salad for her. It was a great feast that I would love to repeat when the dining room is not so busy. This restaurant opened in 2020 but they have three other Florida locations where they’ve been serving fresh oysters and fish for years: in Ponte Vedra Beach, Neptune Beach, and Jacksonville. See menus and more on the fish camp website.
Breakfast at Marker 8
The breakfast was fine at our hotel, delivered to our room in the morning, so we never made it to the place that usually gets all the raves about having the best breakfast in St. Augustine: Maple Street Biscuit Company. I have to take others’ word for it but I will say the photos look mouth-watering.
If a great breakfast is high on your priority list though, I can highly recommend booking a stay at Marker 8 Hotel, just on the other side of the Lions Bridge. You have a terrific view of the water and downtown St. Augustine from the second-floor restaurant that has windows all around. The food is just as pretty, however, and the chef obviously takes pride in presenting something memorable each morning. Here was my breakfast berries waffle with fruit and applewood bacon.
See my full review of Marker 8 Hotel here.
Oh, and the nearby tacos down the street at Osprey Tacos are great too. My healthy-eating sister-in-law loved the place so much she went back again the next night. Even better, it’s right next to Old Coast Ales brewery, at 300 Anastasia Blvd.
Barbecue at the Fountain of Youth
If you saw a barbecue place next to a major tourist attraction, would you think it’s going to be any good? I was a bit skeptical about Smoked Southern BBQ, which is just steps away from the ticket office for the fountain park. A few bites into it though, I was sold.
Smoked is the real deal, getting its hogs from a specific farm and serving meats that have been slow-cooked over a wood fire for many hours. It’s owned by a company that has two more upscale restaurants in the area–Preserved and the Chop House–and they have the same commitment to good food here. The pulled pork I got there was terrific and unlike with a lot of BBQ places I’ve been to all over the south, the sides measured up well too, especially the seasoned fries. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Last, we attended the local Saturday farmers’ market by the amphitheater near the lighthouse and while it wasn’t all that big, there was quite a bit of good food to eat or take home when I was there. Maybe pick up something made with the local dalit peppers or get some honey from local bees.
As I said before, I can’t really tell you where to get the best lunch in St. Augustine or which restaurants are absolutely “the best.” I’ll leave that to the local polls and the residents’ opinions. But you should find a few places worth checking out from this rundown. For others, start with the Food & Drink section of the official St. Augustine Historic Coast Tourism website.
How about you? Where did you find some great food in Saint Augustine?