The food scene in Jacksonville, NC is quite amazing. The city offers a cornucopia of international cuisine that will surprise and delight you. With hidden culinary gems rarely found in a city of its size (population over 74,000) visitors can experience dining around the world.
Recently, the city launched an International Food Trail which provides visitors with a list of some of the best food around. Restaurant owners in Jacksonville have come from around the world, immigrating from places like Thailand, the Bahamas, Vietnam, South America, the Mediterranean, and the Philippines. They have brought with them their culture, traditions, and yes, their recipes.
The restaurants on my list are based on the overall dining experience. Not all are on the Jacksonville International Food Trail, but many are. They are not listed in any particular order.
Thank you to Visit Jacksonville for hosting our visit. The opinions offered are my own (and a bit of my husband’s).
1. Marrakesh Mediterranean
The minute you walk through the doors of Marrakesh, you feel as though you are in an exotic Mediterranean city somewhere on the other side of the world. The vibrant colors and authentic decor, soft sounds of traditional music, and the smells wafting from the kitchen — no wonder Marrakesh is one of Jacksonville’s most popular restaurants.
Immigrating from Jerusalem in 1967, Ahmad Rahman opened Marrakesh in 2010 with his sons. Today it is truly a “family affair” as traditions and family recipes are handed down to second and third generations. The authentic Mediterranean dishes are made with fresh, locally sourced, and imported ingredients.
What To Order At Marrakesh:
Stuffed grape leaves were ordered with our wine as soon as we sat down (as was recommended by a local). Next, starters of falafels and hummus with fresh-baked pita bread. From there came platters of traditional kefta, shawarma, spinach sleeves, lamb skewers, and baklava for dessert.
Pro Tip: Reservations are recommended if you have a large group or during peak hours.
2. Liliana’s Colombian Restaurant And Bakery
Liliana Rios and her mother Aura Marie, born and raised in Columbia, are co-owners. Together, they create all the homemade dishes on the menu at Liliana’s Columbian Restaurant and Bakery.
We arrived early — being a bakery we thought we’d stop for a quick cup of coffee and a pastry. Then, we met Gustavo. When we told him it was our first visit, our menus were swept away and we were treated to dish after dish of amazing food — two, maybe three hours later our bellies were full. We heard some great family stories, learned a bit about Colombian food, and were delighted to have made some new friends.
What To Order At Liliana’s
We asked to try whatever the family would be eating if they were cooking at home. We were served bandeja paisa (Colombian country-style platter), sancocho (hen soup),and tres leches cake with authentic Colombian coffee for dessert.
3. The Old Siam
A staple in Jacksonville, The Old Siam has been open at the same location since 2002. Owner and Head Chef Watcharin Thaveevittayarak, “Chef Eddie”, was trained in his craft in Thailand. He is a master.
What To Order At The Old Siam
The food here did not disappoint. I was pleased to see some old favorites on the menu — fried wonton, beef salad with lime dressing, and sweet and sour soup. The impressive eight-page menu held several different curry dishes, many we’d never heard of. Our server, Sand, was sweet and entertaining, but also informative as she sat down at the table next to us and patiently explained all the different curries and their distinct flavors.
4. Southern Harvest Soul Food
We’ve heard so much about Southern Harvest and although not on the trail, it is a Jacksonville must-try. It is veteran and family-owned, open for almost four years. “Serving the hearts and souls of people, one plate at a time” is Terrance and Tameka Tallie’s motto and mission.
What To Order At Southern Soul
Classic southern breakfast is served all day long. Mississippi shrimp and grits and slap yo mama chicken and waffles served with their signature homemade bourbon-infused maple syrup.
Craving a real, down-home southern lunch? Look no further. Fried chicken, pork chops, and fried catfish served with all the classic southern sides. Alright y’all, I’m getting hungry! Daily specials vary and they have a great kids’ menu too.
Pro Tip: Southern Soul is sadly only open Wednesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. There is always a line out the door on Saturday mornings, so get there early.
5. Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs, And Shakes
Jeff’s Burgers is one of the oldest burger joints in North Carolina and one of the first places we ever ate at in Jacksonville. I can’t say enough about this “little burger joint.” It is always fresh and made to order.
What To Order At Jeff’s
Hand-cut fries and handmade burger patties are what Jeff’s is best known for. Jumbo all-beef grilled dogs are award-winning and come topped any way you like. I ordered mine with mustard, kraut, tomatoes, and dill pickles (so good) while my husband devoured his saloon cheese burger that includes bacon, barbecue sauce, and an onion ring. Oh, did I mention Jeff’s famous shakes?
Pro Tip: When you order, be sure to mention if you are a “mature traveler.” If so, a drink and regular fries come with your meal (kids’ meals also).
6. Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant
Mi Cabana opened its first restaurant in Jacksonville in 2001 and has since grown to three locations across town. We dined at the Yopp Road location and were delighted upon entering. The festive atmosphere was bright and colorful with traditional Mexican décor and music. We were greeted at the door with a big smile by Ed, our server.
What To Order At Mi Cabana
Serving traditional Mexican fare, you can’t go wrong with anything on the extensive menu. Just for fun, I ordered enchiladas Mexicanas, chicken enchiladas topped with an array of sauces to represent the Mexican flag accompanied by the biggest and best margarita I’ve ever had.
Pro Tip: If you are not greeted by Ed, do ask for him. He is a delight! Also, be sure to ask for a magic trick or balloon animal.
7. Filipino Cuisine
Hands down, the food at Filipino Cuisine is some of the most flavorful food I have ever tasted. My husband and I were not familiar with most of the dishes steaming in pots behind the counter. Charles was a fabulous host and patiently explained what each one was, let us taste a few things, and brought everything to our table with a genuine smile.
What To Order At Filipino Cuisine
Some of our favorite dishes include beefsteak adobo, chicken curry, pork sinigang (sour soup), pancit bihon (noodles), and lumpia made fresh to order.
Pro Tip: Be sure to order a snow bubble boba. So good! You can thank me later.
8. Pollos Tete
From the outside, Pollos Tete is an unassuming storefront, but don’t let appearances deceive you. Inside, it’s packed full of delicious food made lovingly by a wonderful family. While serving our table, son Alex described how his parents, Jalmar and Karla, both grew up in Bolivia not two hours from each other but didn’t meet until years later after both had come to the United States. Veteran-owned and family-operated, dining at Pollos Tete is a real treat.
What To Order At Pollos Tete
Their specialty is infusing flavors with spices hand-picked from several South American countries. We asked for their most popular dish. I was delighted with my arroz chaufa — flavorful fried rice and pulled rotisserie chicken. Being a steak eater, my husband ordered the lomo saltado.
Later, I noticed ceviche de pescado on the menu and mentioned that I wished I had seen it before ordering. In a matter of minutes, Karla had come out of the kitchen with a small sample plate that included a side of sliced sweet potatoes, which she explained is how they eat ceviche in Bolivia. Make sure to order the ceviche!
9. Mike’s Farm
Located 19 miles from our downtown hotel, Mike’s Farm is worth the short drive. The restaurant is a favorite of locals and visitors alike, as well as the bakery and gift shop which houses the largest selection of North Carolina-made products in the state. Mike’s has a colorful history dating back to 1945 when it was a small family-owned tobacco farm.
The restaurant takes pride in serving up the best of “down-home” cooking in a great atmosphere. You’ll find rows of large, inviting farm tables and walls covered with an eclectic mix of antiques and photos of years gone by from around the local area.
What To Order At Mike’s Farm
At Mike’s Farm, you only get one thing — good food and plenty of it — all-you-can-eat fried chicken, pork loin and gravy, country ham biscuits, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, green beans, corn, and a sweet dessert. Remember that food trail restaurants may not have websites or social media pages. It’s recommended to call ahead (see Jacksonville Food Trail above) for contact information. Remember that food trail restaurants may not have websites or social media pages. It’s recommended to call ahead (see Jacksonville Food Trail above) for contact information.
Pro Tip: Plan accordingly. The restaurant is open for dinner only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The gift shop and full-service bakery are open at noon on the same days.
Jacksonville is a true foodie’s paradise. Whether you are planning a trip to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, driving on US Highway 17 between Wilmington and New Bern, or visiting loved ones at Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville is easy to get to and worth the visit.
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