Spices Caribbean Restaurant in Arlington is a Jamaican eatery, serving up authentic island food full of flavorful spices and seasonings. Local favorites include curry shrimp with beans and rice or the eatery’s ever-popular cornbread and plantains. Vegetarian options are limited, the most one could get are a mix of the sides of okra, plantains, rice, and mixed vegetables. Rotating chalkboard specials bring other occasional meatless delights. Simple wood grain tables make for exceedingly casual dining, while reggae music lends a beachy vibe to Spices. Long a mom and pop secret for rich, spicy island fare, the word is largely out on Spices; waits can stretch past the front door during peak hours.
"Welcome to Moe's!” is the common refrain heard at this national chain. It’s pronounced loudly to every customer through the door, including the Moe’s Southwest Grill in Jacksonville’s East Arlington neighborhood. Home to the Homewrecker Burrito and the Art Vandalay Jr., a miniature version of the whopping vegetarian version found elsewhere on the menu. Outsized burritos, tacos and quesadillas are served with a bit of Southwestern flair, offered with a customer’s choice of protein, from all-natural chicken and sirloin beef to pulled pork and tofu. Beans, rice and accompanying vegetables round out the burritos, and each order comes with chips and salsa. The yellow, gold and red ambience, large ordering counter area and seating space comprise the bulk of the festive restaurant’s décor, along with an eclectic Moe’s playlist that plays overhead.
Hamburger Mary flipped her first burger in 1972 in San Francisco’s SOMA district. From her humble origins as the lovably eccentric icon for a late-night beer-and-burger joint, she has now crisscrossed the nation with her brand of family dining, which welcomes all open-minded people and focuses on members of the LGBT community. With cleverly mismatched dinnerware, diners dig into a menu rooted in Angus-beef burgers such as the Buffy the Burger Slayer or the 1-pound Proud Mary. Bold colors splash the walls, and colorful collages and artwork frame a fun, quirky space to encourage diners to get out of their comfort zone and finally attempt to bench-press their family members.
Blue Bamboo sits on Jacksonville’s south side, spinning hip Asian flavors with Southern comfort food inside their fresh, inviting space. Considered one of the best restaurants in town, you’ll find dishes like red curry shrimp & grits, honey-seared ahi tuna and peppercorn beef filet on offer at Blue Bamboo, which also holds cooking classes and does the occasional catering gig. Known for their dim sum Sundays and exotic cocktails like Thai-garitas and hand-muddled mojitos, the cream colored walls, white linen tables and red hanging paper lanterns give the place a comfortable feel. Don’t leave without trying the dragon whiskers (fried zucchini).
Big Pete’s Pizzeria is a brick behemoth in the heart of downtown Jacksonville, offering up New York-style pies in a homey pizza parlor reminiscent of a classic Brooklyn joint. The red walls, vinyl floors and a TV give the pizzeria a decidedly casual vibe. The large ordering counter houses self-serve soft drinks and teas, while simple black chairs and tables fill the space. The menu is a mix of traditional pizzas and specialty pies like the Taco Pizza, Eggplant Parmesan Pizza and Buffalo Chicken Pizza. Diners can also nosh on a host of subs and sandwiches, from pan-fried meatballs to Italian sausage. Pasta dishes, wraps and wings round out Big Pete’s Pizzeria’s selection, where the service is quick and friendly.
With entrées like Trailer Trash Special (smoked chopped pork sandwich, 15 piece lightly battered fried shrimp and fried green tomatoes) and Redneck Serf & Turf (smoked pork ribs and two dozen lightly battered fried shrimp), Checkers BBQ on the south side is the go-to spot for large plates of Southern-inspired cooking. There’s pork, turkey and seafood dinners complete with southern sides like fried corn, coleslaw and collard greens, as well as an assortment of traditional barbecue sandwiches. Friday and Saturday nights have an all-you-can-eat buffet that includes all their specialties. With its lime green walls, overhead cafeteria lighting and simple wood tables and chairs set up for large parties, Checkers BBQ is casual comfort food at its finest.