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The diversity of ingredients and preparations in ethnic cuisines can transport you around the world with their unique flavors. And the décor can enhance the journey. That’s where Bowl of Pho comes in.

Pho is a staple in Vietnamese diets. Along with rice noodles and beef broth, traditional pho contains varieties of meat including rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon (connective tissue that’s cooked for a long time at a slow temperature, becoming pliable and gelatinous like beef fat), tripe (stomach of a domesticated animal) and meatballs. A large, colorful plate of garnishes is served alongside the oversized bowl. Toss in as much as you’d like of raw jalapeño slices, saw-leaf herb (leaf-like, with a flavor similar to cilantro but stronger), fragrant Thai basil, crunchy bean sprouts, chopped green onion and cilantro. Add some hot chili sauce and a squeeze of lime wedge and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. A bib is recommended but not necessary — for some.

Warning: Bowl of Pho’s menu is expansive. I mix up my order each time I visit. At my rate, I’ll be 87 by the time I’ve worked my way through the menu.

With plenty of appetizers from which to choose, start with the light spring rolls: Shrimp and pork meet vermicelli (thin rice noodles served in many Asian cuisines, from Chinese Cantonese noodles to Filipino pancit), lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and cilantro. Everything is carefully tucked into pliable rice paper and rolled. It’s proper form to dip these beauties into the side of hoisin-peanut sauce. For pep, add a dash of siracha.

On a recent trip, I diverged from the pho column and ordered from the “egg/rice noodle soup” list. Unlike the beef broth in the pho varieties, these selections offer chicken and pork broth. The barbecue pork with wonton egg noodles (mi hoanh thanh, if you prefer to order in Vietnamese) was a winner: For $7.50, I counted six oversized pork wontons swimming peacefully with tender slices of …   More

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Ever wished you could escape to a fish camp but don't live near the water? Step out of the suburbs and into an authentic fish market and casual dining experience. At Sid & Linda's, you'll be greeted by colorful artwork of palm trees, sailboats, scuba divers, herons and various fish in a newly expanded dining room.

Prompted by the fall weather, I started with a bowl of creamy New England clam chowder. An abundance of chewy clams reminded me of the tasty chowdah I'd experienced on a recent Boston trip.

Next I ordered two tacos — one shrimp and one fish ($2.95 each), which I upgraded to snapper for an additional $1.95. Corn tortillas contained seafood atop minced coleslaw, then sprinkled with cheese and a heavy drizzle of datil pepper sauce. Thumbs up.

Dining at a seafood market begs for a basket of comforting fried shrimp, fries and hushpuppies ($10.95). The shrimp were abundant and fresh and accompanied by a trio of sauces — a tangy rémoulade, spicy cocktail and creamy tartar. The ping-pong-sized puppies were fried golden crisp on the outside and sweet on the inside. We also ordered seafood mac — elbow pasta salad with crunchy celery, red bell pepper, red onion and diced shrimp — as an additional side ($2.95).

From the chef's specials, the Hawaiian glazed, wild-caught mahi-mahi ($14.95) is easily enough for two meals: peppery green beans tossed with diced tomatoes and sautéed onions, two hushpuppies, cole slaw and choice of side. Our waitress recommended the spinach cake — a mound of spinach mixed with asiago cheese lightly breaded then fried. It was so good I considered hugging, or perhaps high-fiving, our waitress.

Sid & Linda's serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Open since April, the restaurant expanded into the adjacent space in October, more than doubling its dining area. The fish market is roomy, and the staff is happy to cook your seafood selection before you head out the door. …   More

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For breakfast, there’s the hip Cool Moose Café (2708 Park St., 381-4242), a laid-back spot serving inexpensive coffee, breakfast sandwiches (opt for the scrambled egg, apple chutney and melted cheese on croissant), omelets, eggs Benedict, pancakes and two-for-one mimosas on Sundays. When the weather’s just right, grab one of several outdoor tables.

Nearby, you’ll stumble upon Whiteway Delicatessen (1237 King St., 389-0355), a long-standing weekday breakfast and lunch locale. Owner Sam Salem likely will commit your name and order to memory if you become a regular. The no-frills spot has been around since 1927, earning it the honor of being Jacksonville’s oldest deli. The menu, crowded with quirky sandwich names, is posted on individually printed sheets of paper hung on the wall. Some are named for area professionals (Dr. Stone, Dr. Long, Tom Bishop and Anne Beard). The rider sandwiches, with the fillings spilling out of a pita, are a popular choice. Try the Late Bloomer: a pressed pita stuffed with shaved turkey, provolone, tabouli, avocado spread, banana peppers and crispy bacon. It’s named after Bloomers, a legendary lingerie store at Park and King streets. The honor system governs the Whiteway coffers: Pay at the register when you leave, and Sam will eagerly snap your picture and upload it to the deli’s Facebook page. Before the popularity of digital cameras, he’d snap your picture, develop it and post it on the wall or add it to one of many shoebox archives full of regulars.

Newbie neighbor Sweet Theory Baking Co. (1243 King St., 387-1001) creates organic and vegan — no eggs or dairy — baked treats that are also soy- and peanut-free. There are warm doughnuts in drool-worthy flavors like salted caramel, chai, strawberry, pineapple and root beer. Hand-crafted whoopie pies, cookies, frosted cupcakes, biscuits, Brooklyn egg cream sodas and local Bold Bean coffee are also on the menu.

Food …   More

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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 …   More

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In a back corner of The Lemon Bar, a popular Neptune Beach watering hole, is where Chris Dickerson's Corner Taco got its start three years ago. After succeeding in that oceanfront spot, he took the leap into the food truck scene, buying a 1965 Airstream trailer to peddle his self-proclaimed "semi-swanky tacos."

That's all history now. Dickerson's dream of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant came true in February. Occupying the former Gina's Deli location, his 5 Points eatery touts fare made of fresh ingredients, local craft beers on draft, plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and decorative strings of globe lights to replicate that singular food truck experience.

Every morning, the staff cranks up a tortilla maker, one of only two in the state (the other is at EPCOT), sending through a mound of fresh dough; moments later, a pile of fresh corn tortillas is born. No preservatives here, folks.

As the name suggests, get the tacos: $3.45 nabs you a carnitas (cooked for 24 hours!), crispy Dijon buttermilk-fried chicken, jerk chicken or local Artie's tempeh taco. For another buck, you can snag a semi-swanktacular taco — brisket, seared asparagus with flaked Maldon sea salt, mahi or a vegan hummus-and-tabouli taco aptly dubbed The 5 Points. Tacos come atop shredded red cabbage, sweet chile-lemon sauce and sprigs of cilantro, with lime wedges to squeeze. The portions are modest, but Corner Taco aims to leave you satisfied, not stuffed. There's also no cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce or diced pico de gallo like you find at other taco joints around town.

The Dyno-Mite ($9.95, plus $3.45 for added protein) is a hefty mound of crispy Dijon buttermilk fried chicken, marinated chicken or carnitas atop tortilla chips smothered with a homemade creamy white cheddar and brie fondue, chopped piquillo peppers, halved grape tomatoes, lime wedges and fresh cilantro. It's smart to share.

Sides clock in from $2.95 to $4.95. The Carolina rice pilaf, quinoa, and black …   More

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Three years ago, when notorious Food Network host Guy Fieri of "Diners, 
Drive-ins and Dives" rode into historic Riverside to film an episode at already-popular 13 Gypsies, he catapulted the tiny restaurant onto the larger culinary map. Reservations are highly recommended (even for lunch), since there are only a handful of tables and just two chefs. And while the restaurant itself may be small, the tapas-style offerings are huge on variety and flavor.

Owner and chef Howard Kirk, who grew up in Spain, ensures that his Spanish dishes are created from scratch with quality ingredients. All of the bread is made in-house each morning. While items may be slightly pricey, it's worth the splurge for date night or a small dinner with friends. You've been warned: Popular menu items sell out. Share a carafe of fruity red wine sangria or unwind by ordering a glass of vino from the wine list.

If you order just one item (and you'll want to order several, trust me!), the risotto of the day is always a must. Made from short-grain Arborio rice, it's thick, creamy and perfectly cooked. On a recent visit, I all but licked our plate of pork shoulder risotto clean.

Another frontrunner is the Mushroom Seville. Pieces of toast topped with a light spread of goat cheese are served with a cup of creamy brandy, garlic and herb sauce chockfull of sautéed mushrooms, perfect for spooning onto the toast.

The shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper, proved to be a simple yet flavorful dish with a little kick. With five jumbo shrimp, there were enough to share.

One unique tapas on a list of more than two dozen is the Roman-style gnocchi: Rectangular planks of flat Semolina flour gnocchi are pan-seared, then topped with a garlicky cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheeses.

Relatively new to the menu are the savory crêpes. With five to choose from, it's hard to go wrong. We enjoyed the ham and …   More

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En route to Chicago for Memorial Day 
 weekend, I grabbed a copy of June's Food & Wine from the airport bookshop, because this is what I do. And while thumbing though Food & Wine, I landed on a small feature called "Where to Find America's Best Biscuits," and noticed happily that our very own Maple Street Biscuit Company (410 N. Third St., Jax Beach and 2004 San Marco Blvd.) was featured alongside noteworthy spots in the Big Apple, Asheville, Portland and — hey, what do you know? — Chicago. Touted as sour cream-based biscuits that are baked hourly, Chicago's Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits was quickly added to my must-eat trip list — along with tacos at Big Star, anything and everything at Girl & the Goat, dessert at Mindy's Hot Chocolate, deep dish pizza at Pequod's and Asian fusion at Sunda.

As I waited in line for Bang Bang to open Sunday morning, the smell of butter wafted through the air. Inside, Bang Bang is small, with large windows, brick walls and an open kitchen, with seating for only about 10. A spacious backyard courtyard with two rows of white picnic tables offers another 40 seats. The spot feels rural and charming, a relaxed vibe for your pending calorie-bender.

While noshing on the Bacon Biscuit, I had a thought: What if I pitted these two caloric champions, Bang Bang and Maple Street, against each other? How would our local fare compare to that of the Windy City, a place with (supposedly) a much richer foodie culture?

In this corner was my Maple Street go-to, the Garden Egg, made with butter only — no lard — and served stacked with collard greens, a fried egg and a drizzle of hot sauce. In the other corner was Bang Bang's Bacon Biscuit, served open-face with thick strips of candied Applewood smoked bacon, collard greens, homemade Fresno chili hot sauce and a sunny-side-up poached egg — noticeably larger and much denser (perhaps from the sour cream?) than Maple Street's Southern-style biscuit. …   More

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If you're like me — and you are, right? — you spent your New Year's Day deep in thought, pondering the eternal mysteries of our existence. And if the cronut thing is here to stay. (Answer: Yes!) For my fellow foodies out there, here's a quick list of the things and trends I'm betting will go off this year. Get your taste buds ready:

Donuts. Cupcakes seem soooo 2012, right? The popularity of the donut has steadily risen (no pun intended), with even Jacksonville offering the highly sought-after cronut, a hybrid of a croissant and donut born in NYC. Cinotti's Bakery in Jax Beach does a limited run of pumpkin donuts that we all go crazy for each fall, and The Donut Shoppe on University is a Jacksonville institution. Its Apple Ugly, a misshapen donut-like fritter made from leftover dough, is worth every single delicious calorie. And at newcomer Sweet Theory Baking Co. in Riverside, the options are endless. Its unique vegan (no eggs or dairy) donut offerings include varieties like dreamsicle, root beer, banana French toast bacon and eggnog.

Biscuits. Even carb-conscious Southerners enjoy a great biscuit every now and then. (It's in your genes, people. Deal with it.) With the addition of a second Maple Street Biscuit Co. in Jacksonville Beach, the biscuit frenzy is here to stay. The Blind Fig in Riverside recently offered a spin on chicken pot pie, placing a flaky biscuit on top. Look for biscuits used in unique ways — incorporated into dishes and topped with both savory and sweet concoctions.

Unusual ingredient pairings. There's been national uproar over the arrival of the ramen burger — a burger sandwiched between a "bun" of fried noodles — and here in Jacksonville, local chefs are combining unusual ingredients, too. Five Points' Sun-Ray Cinema offers a pizza topped with a fried egg and spicy Korean kimchi, a blend of fermented cabbage and vegetables. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at St. Johns Town Center features popped kettle corn …   More

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Arriving at this tucked away spot along Roscoe Road gives the feeling you have discovered a hidden gem in North Florida’s dining scene. A lengthy line of patrons eagerly awaiting a table will quickly remind you that this secret has spread quickly. Call in a reservation, and you’ll be golden.

The interior features soothing pastels, large windows that draw abundant natural lighting and a simple open layout that allows for gazing at the intracoastal waterway. This comfortable, laid-back atmosphere blends seamlessly with a menu that focuses on using simple ingredients to concoct complex flavor combinations at reasonable prices. The result is quintessential Ponte Vedra: a refined personification of traditional Coastal Florida cuisine infused with influences of the traditional farming roots of Palm Valley and a reliance on ingredients like the datil pepper.

The specials are carefully written across a blackboard in colored chalk, and several vie for attention. The fried artichoke hearts with a creamy lemony aioli and lemon wedge are a must; bite-sized with a light cornmeal crust and sprinkled generously with shaved parmesan, they're light enough not to ruin your appetite for dinner.

The grilled octopus and white bean salad with a slightly spicy but not overwhelming datil pepper vinaigrette is a flavor and texture explosion: Chewy, warm pieces of seasoned octopus contrast the creamy oversized white beans served atop mixed greens, colorful julienned carrots and chunks of tomato. If you’ve never had octopus, I urge you to give it a try. The Asian-inspired chopped tuna salad combines almond slivers, tomato, black sesame seeds and chopped seared ahi tuna drizzled with spicy Siracha and wasabi.

The pan-fried cod sandwich is a big piece of fresh flaky white fish resting between thick tomato slices, crisp lettuce and a toasted hoagie roll accompanied by a light turnip slaw and pile of seasoned wedge fries, which I enjoy dousing with tangy malt …   More

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A Beaches-must, Cinotti’s Bakery (1523 Penman Road, Jax Beach, 246-1728) is a fifth-generation bakery, dating back more than 65 years, arriving in Northeast Florida in 1964. Old-timers can recall its First Avenue North location, steps from the ocean. With über-popular seasonal pumpkin, maple bacon, coffee and key lime donuts, the "new" Penman Road spot serves other bakery confections and deli sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Cinotti’s cases are overflowing with trays of cookies, pastries, cupcakes and chocolate truffles. Grab a decadent donut or two and a cup of coffee — and a box of assorted goodies to keep your home team happy.

Minutes from the beach is the wildly popular TacoLu (1712 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach, 249-8226), which locals quickly dubbed “NuLu” after a recent relocation. The larger ’Lu, with additional parking and valet service, has an expanded bar area and an outdoor patio with seating for 40, complete with a colorful mural on the building's side, painted by local artist Jessica Becker. You can feel full after just looking at the menu of quesadillas, enchiladas, salads and tacos. The bangin’ shrimp taco is most popular, but the carne royale — carne asada with melted brie and grape salsa — is uniquely delicious. A relatively new weekend brunch service helps fans forgive that the ’Lu is closed on Mondays. Well, that and the impressive 120-plus choices of tequila. Even the sour mix is made in-house, with fresh-squeezed citrus and homemade simple syrup. Margarita, anyone?

For a healthful breakfast or lunch, look for the bee. At Delicomb (1131 Third St. N., Jax Beach, 372-4192), within walking distance from the beach, you’ll find menu standouts like strong iced coffee, antioxidant-packed acai bowls, vegan tempeh Reubens and spicy kim chi.

Often crowded with seafood lovers, Sliders Seafood Grille (218 First St., Neptune Beach, 246-0881) provides a relaxed atmosphere that's …   More

 
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