Central Florida isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of “The Sunshine State”.
There are no sandy beaches and poolside condos, but there’s plenty to love in Lightning Alley. Gainesville has been one of the busier cities in Central Florida since it’s founding in the mid 19th century. Since then, the University of Florida has been the main attraction in town. Students and alumni have created a thriving music scene over the years, along with great bars and incredible restaurants. Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida, but there’s way more flavor than that in Gainesville. Check out our full guide below.
BAGELS and BREAKFAST
620 S Main St, Gainesville, FL 32601
UF Masters Student Luke Vescovi used his mother’s 30 year old, New York style bagel recipe to open this popular bagel shop. Vescovi claims that it’s the only bagel shop that uses New York water, by replicating the NYC water mineral composition using Gainesville water through a custom watermarker. The bagels are thick, hearty and a great breakfast for hungry students.
231 NW 10th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
With one of the best brunch menus in Gainesville, Saturday and Sunday brunch crowds are always bumping at Afternoon. Try the Dutch Baby pancake with Florida Oranges and thyme for something sweet, or the Shakshuka – tomato baked eggs, za’atar seasoning, sourdough toast and herbs – for something new.
3275 SW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32608
Some of the best comfort food classics in the area, Peach Valley Cafe is a breakfast all day spot with some of the best egg dishes in town. They’ve got great Benedicts, steak and eggs, omelettes and more. And of course, you’ve gotta have their most iconic dish – Chicken and Waffles. Also make sure to pick up some of their apple fritters to finish off breakfast or take to go.
1222 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
We weren’t sure whether or not to put this in the breakfast or Asian category, since frankly they do both really well. We’ll stick them in breakfast for now, since the name starts with bagels. They’ve got tons of great, savory spread options for their bagels, including a smoked hot pepper spread, apple cinnamon, lox and more (they even do pizza bagels). They’re also popular as a delivery/takeout spot for dinner, with great Pho, Pad Thai, Fried Katsu, Miso soup and tons of other Asian options.
30 N Main St, Gainesville, FL 32601
When it comes to going out and getting something good to eat, there may be no place hipper in Gainesville than The Top hub. They take modern approaches to classic dishes, like burgers, tuna melts and chicken tenders, while using new ingredients to take vegetarian and vegan approaches to bar food, like their Kimchi Cauliflower, Fried Tofu Triangles and alternative meat options for the burgers. Don’t sleep on their entrees – the Pecan Tofu, Belgian Trout and Pesto Gnocchi are all dishes you’d expect to find in five star restaurants.
120 SW 1st Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
Loosey’s keeps it casual, with a great atmosphere and mouthwatering burgers. They use local Angus beef but have some impossible burger options as well, along with great snacks like Mac and cheese, Brussels and Chimichurri fries. When it comes to drinks, they have great rotating beer options, along with some specialty cocktails with a kick, like the Florida Mule and the Blueberry Smash.
1000 NE 16th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
Public and General feels like a blast from the past. With a vintage-chic approach to decor, and a menu focused on salads and sandwiches, it’s like stepping onto the 19th hole after a great round with friends. They have a small menu, but everything on it is great – we had a Brisket sandwich on our visit along with Gulf Oysters and fried turnips. It’s a great place to have a great meal outside with friends.
1017 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
Every college should have a great Irish pub nearby and for students at UF, they can always head to Mother’s. They’ve got classic bar fare, but we loved some of the more creative approaches, like the Sloppy tacos – tacos with nacho cheese smothered on top – along with the Irish and Italian style egg rolls, with corned beef and Swiss, and Italian Beef and provolone. With dozens of great beer options (of course) they also do a brilliant breakfast for that pre-game day meal.
1712 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603
The Salty Dog saloon may just have a handful of items on its menu, but man are they all good. Their appetizers have everything from broccoli cheese bites, to corn nuggets to wings fried to perfection. They also have one of the best brick oven pizzas in the area and have a great meatball and chicken parm sandwiches. Plus, they have the most international beers in the area – check their site for the latest list.
125 NW 23rd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609
Carribbean and Latino communities have been thriving in Central Florida for decades, so it only stands to reason that Gainesville should have good Latin food! La Cocina de Abuela provides just that. Abuela’s moved up form Miami 16 years ago and now serves up classic Latino dishes daily, including Rope Vieja, Mojo Pulled Pork, and sandwiches like the Medianoche and Cubano. They’ve also got chicharrones, tostones and all the classic sides you’d find in a Cuban dish.
114 SW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32607
Another delicious Cuban restaurant in the area, Mi App makes all the Cuban classics we love, with one added bonus – they do a Latin breakfast, too. Try the Rope Vieja with eggs, the bistec with eggs or the Cuban bread Roll with a side of incredible Cuban coffee.
619 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
While Reggae Shack isn’t serving Latin dishes, the flavors of the Caribbean are there. A Jamaican native, Omar Oselimo used his experience in culinary school, entertainment and hospitality to create one of the best restaurants in Gainesville. Their Jamaican jerk chicken wings are of course delicious, but they also have other great Jamaican classics like Oxtail, Curry Goat and more.
BURGER and DRIVE THRU
129 NW 10th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
There are a few classic, humble burger drive-thrus and take-out spots around the Gainesville area, and Mac’s Drive Thru has been one of the best since the late 80’s. The menu is very straightforward – you can get a hamburger or cheeseburger (or a double of each) with topping options including bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, mayo and pickles. They aren’t reinventing the wheel at Mac’s which is why it’s perfect.
110 NE 16th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
The owners of Mac’s also own this Sandwich forward shop, which is the oldest locally owned restaurant in Gainesville since 1963. It’s got a much larger menu than Mac’s – in addition to delicious burgers, they also have great sandwiches like the Patty Melt, Country Fried Steak and Philly Steak. They’ve also got some hand dipped ice cream and shakes for that classic drive thru feel.
15010 N Main St, Alachua, FL 32615
With two locations in Alachua County since the 80’s, Bev’s has been making mouthwatering burgers for Gainesville residents for decades. We’re big fans of the bacon, egg and cheese burger, but Bev’s also has tons of other non burger options, like BBQ plates, sloppy joe’s, fried gator and more.
412 SW 4th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
The most recent entry to the drive thru burger battle in Gainesville, Dick Mondell’s was created by two students from the CIA at Greystone in California (that’s culinary institute, not spooks). The concept was part of a school project that they wanted to make into reality, and they’ve been thriving since 2019, with great options like their Original Big Dick burger with two beef patties, lettuce, pickle onion and a house sauce and their Herbed Chicken Burger with lettuce, pickle, onion and mayo. Also, no Dick Mondell is not a real person.
ASIAN and SUSHI
3832 West Newberry Road, Gainesville, FL 32607
150 Northwest 13th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601
3841 SW Archer Rd, Gainesville, FL 32608
This multi unit restaurant chain is well known in Florida, as they have locations throughout the state. But they are also a reliably good Asian meal no matter the location. With everything from sushi to poke bowls to boba teas and bento boxes, they’ve taken a lot of the best elements from Japan, Hawaii and other Pacific locales to create a truly incredible menu.
101 SE 2nd Pl, Gainesville, FL 32601
Another Pan Asian restaurant with delicious options, Liquid Ginger has everything from Miso Soup and Teriyaki Beef to Pad Thai, Crab Rangoons and Korean potstickers. They have dozens of sushi options and a great delivery menu, but we prefer to eat on the premises since that’s the best way to enjoy their Clay Pot dinners. We really enjoyed the Seafood and Tofu Clay Pot, with shrimp, squid, crab meat, scallop, mussel, bok chop, mushroom, bamboo shoots, snow peas and red pepper.
201 SE 2nd Ave #104, Gainesville, FL 32601
One of the fancier Asian restaurants in the Gainesville area, Dragonfly is sushi and sake forward. They have dozens of creative roll options and great Japanese classics like steamed buns and ramen. They also have nearly two dozen Sake options, along with great premade, bagged cocktails you can pick up to go!
16 SW 1st Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601
A humble craft ramen restaurant in Gainesville, Crane focuses on local ingredients. Their meat, eggs and poultry are local whenever possible and almost all of their veggies come from farms within a 100 mile radius of Gainesville. They have 7 incredible Ramen dishes along with nearly a dozen great appetizer and side options. Don’t sleep on the beverages, either – they have great alcoholic and non-alcoholic options like the Yuzu & Hib Soda, the Strawberry Ramune and the Jarritos Mandarin.
3545 SW 34th St A, Gainesville, FL 32608
Every good college town should have a classic steakhouse – after all where are parents going to take the kids during a big even in town? While Ember’s is more modest than your big city steakhouses, the service and food are still top notch. With incredible cuts and unbelievable appetizers like the Crispy Florida Gator Tail and the Pan Seared Foie Gras, a dinner at Embers is a one of a kind steakhouse experience.
1728A W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603
There’s nothing better after a night out at the bars than a slice of greasy, cheesy, delicious pizza. Outside of New York and a handful of other big cities, that slice can be hard to find. Luckily, Gainesville has one of their own thanks to Joel Mills, who moved from Staten Island to Central Florida in 2001 and brought New York City pizza culture with him.
1800 NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609
Can a pizza place be an art installation at the same time? At Satchel’s it can. This eclectic pizza place opened in Gainesville in 2003, and has been slinging slices along with a Catch-pan pizza – a unique pie with caramelized edges and a buttery crust. They also have great Calzones and can make crusts for those who are gluten sensitive with their millet and flax pizza. Plan to spend some time looking at the Glass, Mosaic and Paintings, or bring your kids and let them enjoy the playground!
521 NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609
5121 NW 39th Ave, Gainesville, FL 32606
One of the best BBQ places in Gainesville has been around since the 70’s, with a legacy carried on by owner Brian Hood from original founder David Reber. David’s BBQ has mouthwatering Ribs, Brisket, Chicken and more. Stop by for breakfast, where you can get everything from pancakes to sausage patties or use them for your next big party – their catering team is top notch.
2204 SW 13th St, Gainesville, FL 32608
Despite a large Latino population, great Mexican food can be kind of hard to find. Luckily for Gainesville, this no frills Mexican restaurant and grocery is the most delicious and authentic Mexican food in the area, hands down. They can do any protein for your taco – from Al Pastor (marinated pork cooked on a spit) to Cabeza (beef cheek) to Chiro (pulled goat). The Platos Fuertes are well, fuerte, too. We like the Chorizo con Queso and the Mojarra Frita (whole fried tilapia) best.
232 SE 1st St, Gainesville, FL 32601
For the best Mexican restaurant in downtown Gainesville, look no further than Boca Fiesta. The tacos, burritos and bowl options are top notch – you can get anything from gator to steak as your protein – and the specialties are great too, with huge chimichanga and enchilada entrees. The secret weapon on the menu though is something that blends Caribbean Latino and Mexican food – the empanadas with Green Chile Chicken and Queso Beef.
407 NW 13th St, Gainesville, FL 32601
For 30 years, El Indio has been bringing reliably delicious Mexican food to the Gainesville community. They make everything in house from scratch and it shows – their food is some of the freshest in the entire city. They have great tacos, burritos and bowls, with tons of delicious protein options including lengua carnitas and other street taco flavors. Our favorite thing on the menu might be the breakfast burrito though – it’s filled with scrambled eggs, potato chunks, cheese and your choice of salsa verde, salsa fresca or no salsa. Pro tip – we love throwing in a little chorizo and chicken in ours.
15 SW 2nd St, Gainesville, FL 32601
With a farm to table approach to French cooking, Alpin Bistro may be the most high class restaurant in Hoggtown. With a beautiful garden and a bespoke approach to cocktails, it’s the perfect place for a date night in Gainesville. The menu changes regularly (you know, Farm to Table) but expect French classics like crepes, quiches, croques, tarts and more.
To learn more about the delicious food spots at other SEC schools, check out our Best Restaurants in the SEC guide, which includes all 14 college towns and their amazing eateries.