The locally owned Wildman’s Restaurant steakhouse is nestled in downtown Pensacola, where it draws diners inside with the aroma of sizzling steaks, po' boys, and seafood. On weekdays, chefs add new items to an ever-metamorphosing menu of lunch specials—from Monday’s butter chicken to Friday’s barbecue pork ribs. Throughout the day, chefs pair burgers and sandwiches with french fries, while carefully hand-cutting and grilling rib eye, filet mignon, peppercorn, and New York strip steaks. The menu is about more than deep frying American favorites, however. Wildman's also participates in the Escambia Healthy Choices Restaurant program, striving to promote healthy habits by presenting steamed or grilled alternatives to fried entrees. An example is the grilled rib-eye steak, which weighs in at 12 ounces—one ounce for each way to hilariously attach a steak to a windshield—duct tape, scotch tape, glue, ribbon, magnet, rope, string, silly string, caramel, maple syrup, Vermont maple syrup, holding it there forever.
Blue Dot Barbeque doesn’t need to be flashy or showy. One small sign hangs beside the blue-brick building’s front door—no flashing lights, no giant marquee, and absolutely no skywriting. The owner chose the name in honor of his aunt and uncle—Blue and Dorothy Robinson—and this casual, down-home inspiration influences the hole-in-the-wall eatery’s spirit.
Surrounded by nondescript white walls, patrons snag a stool at the counter or grab a seat at one of the diner-style wooden tables. Orders of grill-fresh hamburgers and rib sandwiches emerge from the kitchen tightly wrapped in foil paper, releasing a burst of savory aromas as soon as they’re opened.
Many people argue that Blue Dot's burgers are the best in the area. In fact, a group of nine friends on a quest to find the best burger in Northwest Florida embarked on the NWFL Burger Tour in 2012. After sampling burgers from 14 different local and chain restaurants, the group rated Blue Dot as the best.
At India Palace, blending and calibrating spices becomes an art as the chefs combine ginger, cardamom, and peppers to craft Indian entrees. The culinary experts draw inspiration from all around the subcontinent, paying homage to Goa by simmering shrimp curries and giving a nod to Kashmir with rogan josh’s tender cubes of lamb. They create their own cheese, nestling fresh chunks of it in tomato-based cream sauce or spinach, and take a lesson from Chinese culinary traditions for Manchurian-style cauliflower and marinated chicken spiced with soy and hot-pepper sauces.
After a spicy meal, diners don’t need to resort to eating a snowman alive—they can cool their palates with sips of mango lassi or swallows of indian beer. As they savor their drinks at tables draped in red tablecloths, they glance around at the wood-paneled dining room and framed art illuminated by overhead wheels that dangle six lanterns each.
This culinary emporium's owners, Paras and Tamara Arora, know that palates can be choosy. So in early 2012, the couple opened Beyond India, an Indo-American fusion restaurant that combines traditional recipes from both cultures. Drawing on 20 years of experience cooking traditional Indian cuisine—specifically from North India—Punjabi chef Singh populates tables with pub-style golden appetizers and more exotic starters of delicately fried paneer pakora. The team bakes entrees such as seafood and tandoori lamb in an oven that reaches 900 degrees, almost exactly twice the temperature at which books and firefighting manuals burn. After sopping up a curry dish from the endless lunch buffet, patrons can cool off taste buds with a sweet slice of key-lime pie.
Alongside its Mediterranean platters, Jordan Valley Restaurant serves up ample hospitality. The restaurant strives to be a social space where friends and new acquaintances can mingle amongst Middle Eastern spices, or chat on the porch over hookahs. The kitchen’s staples include kebabs, gyros, and a variety of pitas filled with kafta, tandoori chicken, or meatballs.
The Leisure Club stocks and serves an inventive selection of wine, craft beer, coffee, and pairable edibles. Start sleepy mornings with freshly brewed Intelligentsia coffee ($2.50–$3) or up the barista artistry with a frothy cappuccino ($3.50–$4). For lunch or on-the-go munchy thoughts, nibblers can snag a custom grilled cheese ($6) or an equally grippable and grain-laden selection, such as the hammed up Amore sandwich ($9). Leisure Club's drink list has 20 vintages available by the glass ($7–$10), half glass ($4–$6), or bottomless glass ($32–$44), in addition to craft beers poured with care, compassion, and the assistance of gravity ($2.75–$6.50).