Plan for lunch or dinner at The Floridian (39 Cordova St., 829-0655) across from Flagler College. The cozy restaurant serves generous Southern-inspired portions featuring locally sourced ingredients. Popular menu items include homemade pimento cheese, fried green tomato hoagie and shrimp with triangular polenta cakes. Some of the salads use unexpected ingredients, like black-eyed pea relish, sweet potato, quinoa and apples — and all salad dressings are made in-house. Wash it down with sweet tea served in a Mason jar.
Near the hub of the historic district tourist scene, you’ll discover Columbia Restaurant (98 St. George St., 824-3341) for a glass of red or white sangria and plates of Spanish tapas. Among the outdoor fountains and colorful Spanish tiles are Cuban and Spanish favorites like paella, empanadas, bacalla, pollo riojana and flan. The signature 1905 Salad, named for the year when the original restaurant opened in Ybor City, is prepared tableside with iceberg lettuce, Swiss cheese, baked ham, tomato, red onion, manzanilla (green) olives, garlic, lemon, Worcestershire sauce and white wine vinaigrette, and topped with Romano cheese. Make a reservation — this family-owned restaurant gets crowded quickly due to its tourist appeal and central location.
Don’t miss The Hyppo (48 Charlotte St., 217-7853) for a gourmet frozen popstick or “paleta” in its vibrant, expanded location. These pops are handcrafted onsite using fresh ingredients to create the treats ranging from the sweet and spicy datil strawberry to the refreshing, summery pineapple cilantro. The texture is not icy, like you’d expect from traditional boxed pops. Try to pick just one of the countless concoctions like horchata, pumpkin cheesecake, lavender lemonade, sangria pear, Key lime pie and creamy pistachio coconut. If you’re a “chocophile,” have your paleta dipped in chocolate for an extra dollar. And look for the adorable little hippopotamus on the stick.
Collage (60 Hypolita St., 829-0055) provides an upscale, intimate setting perfect for what it calls artful global dining. Start with warm macadamia nut-crusted goat cheese and breaded artichoke salad with a brown butter vanilla bean vinaigrette over mixed greens; it’s packed with texture and flavor. Whenever possible, Collage uses locally grown produce and herbs. With options like filet mignon, lobster tail and an extensive wine list, Collage is a special-occasion destination. Pair a nice glass of wine with lobster ravioli prepared al dente with pesto cream sauce, and slowly savor the perfectly cooked 5-ounce lobster tail. Then go for homemade-style toasted coconut ice cream partnered with a warm slice of buttered-rum vanilla cake with sweet butter glaze and whipped cream.
Slightly off the beaten path, The Present Moment Café (224 W. King St., 827-4499) has a simple décor flooded with natural light. Everything is organic, vegan and raw — meaning no meat or dairy — and nothing is cooked above 115 degrees, but a “meataholic” with an open mind will enjoy this unique spot. The plating is artistic, and the gourmet food is fresh, local and colorful. Go for the collard wraps with a slightly sweet almond-ginger dipping sauce, pad Thai (made with kelp noodles and a cashew-based sauce) or white truffle pesto pasta (made from freshly cut zucchini) with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nut “parmesan.” Keep dessert in mind: smooth, delicious pumpkin pie or a banana split with homemade cashew vanilla ice cream. You won’t even notice the lack of dairy, eggs or butter. If you love your experience, grab a copy of the “Handmade in The Present Moment” cookbook on your way out.