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When thinking about the five best Jacksonville food experiences, start from the fact that the city’s food scene extends far past the typical restaurant dining room. Give your taste buds something to write home about at these River City originals.
1. Open-air food court. Each Saturday between March and December, the Riverside Arts Market pops up under the Fuller Warren Bridge on the bank of the St. Johns River. Vendors sell everything from fresh produce to handmade gifts, but plenty of attendees come just to sample goods from the food court near the water. Sweet kettle corn, Maryland-style crabcakes, hot coffee, BBQ pork sliders, fusion tacos and fresh-squeezed lemonade are just a few of the options that keep regulars coming back each week.
2. Quirky cinema kitchens. Dinner and a movie gets a whole new meaning at two historic theaters in Jacksonville. Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville’s Five Points district has gone through several name changes since it opened as the Park Street Theater in 1927. These days, the modern cinema offers a full menu of eclectic eats, including vegan-friendly pizza, hummus with chips or seasonal veggies and “knick knack sticks” (breadsticks served with marinara, hummus or queso). Across town, one can find the funky San Marco Theater in an Art Deco building that dates back to 1938. Luckily, the kitchen serves modern options like a turkey and guacamole panino and a barbecue chicken quesadilla. Both theaters offer beer and wine, too.
3. Florida’s oldest farmers market. Farmers in Northeast Florida benefit from a generous year-round growing season, and shoppers at the Jacksonville Farmers Market reap all of the rewards. Fresh fruits and vegetables have been sold out of this massive outdoor market since 1938; on any given day, shoppers can select their goods from over 200 farmers and vendors. Prices are notoriously low, with most products ranging anywhere from 50 cents to a few dollars.
4. Sugary sweets. Floridians love their sugar, as evidenced by one sip of authentic sweet tea. The region's sweet tooth is often satisfied by Peterbrooke Chocolatier, a Southern franchise with Jacksonville roots dating back to 1983. The chain’s chocolate-covered popcorn is a simple, yet addictive treat that has been a local favorite for decades.
5. Southern fried chicken. No trip to the South is complete without sampling a plate of crispy, golden-fried chicken. When visiting Jacksonville with a large group, a stop at Beach Road Chicken Dinners is a must. The dining room may not look like much, but the home-style portions of biscuits, cream peas, coleslaw and mashed potatoes have kept families well fed since 1939.