Life is too short to be a picky eater. By trying food from unfamiliar places, you gain a better understanding and appreciation for different customs around the world, leaving you more culturally aware, empathetic and satisfyingly full. Gainesville is a flavorful, diverse melting-pot composed of people from all over the world, and it’s only fitting to have our restaurants reflect that. All located within a 2-mile radius from UF, a variety of restaurants were handpicked where Gainesville residents can enjoy authentic worldly cuisine without having to trek far.
Crane Ramen: 16 SW First Ave.
Crane Ramen brings a taste of Japan to downtown Gainesville. While anyone can go to the nearest supermarket and buy ramen in bulk, Crane Ramen has made a name for itself serving fresh, affordable ramen that makes you feel as if you’re dining in a high-end Japanese restaurant. For those who have never tried ramen, the menu is simple and affordable. There’s a variety of delicious otsumami (appetizers) you can choose from, as well as an assortment of seven $12 ramen dishes to get you started on your culinary journey.
Suggestions: As someone who has only eaten store-bought ramen, the market veggie miso was the perfect first dip into the world of real ramen noodles.
Reggae Shack Cafe: 619 W University Ave.
Since opening on Sept. 18, 2003, Reggae Shack Cafe has quickly made itself a legend within the local community. Jamaican-born restaurateur and chef Omar Oselimo said the restaurant prides itself in serving only the freshest ingredients, purchasing from local vendors for the most quality organic and GMO-free products. “When you go to a bunch of restaurants and they’re using the same products that everyone else is using — pre-packaged, pre-mixed stuff — the chefs don’t really have any control over the flavor,” said Oselimo. “There’s really not much you can do to it when it’s already prepared that way, so are you truly expressing yourself as a chef? It’s important to me to keep it unique and just do something that I know that my competitors might be able mimic, might be able emulate, but they’ll never be able to make it like how I make it.”
Suggestions: Oselimo recommends the brown stew fish, a fresh snapper fried crispy and then simmered in a sweet brown stew sauce with vegetables and Scotch bonnet peppers. It’s a dish that he feels best represents his experience growing up in rural Jamaica.
Tamal: 439 S Main St.
Tamal is the type of restaurant where everyone who goes to eat there wishes they discovered it years earlier. The line is usually out the door due to the rising popularity of the restaurant and their first-come, first-serve basis. Because they primarily make tamales, a traditional Mexican dish made of seasoned meat filling wrapped in a cornmeal dough, entirely from scratch, their hours are limited. Tamal’s menu is constantly adding new items, which is why it’s good to check their Facebook for any changes as the restaurant is interactive with their customers and fans.
Suggestions: You can’t beat what they’re known for; the veg tamale, which is stuffed with poblano, cheddar and tomato, is a delicious gateway into the world of tamales and a winner for vegetarians as well.
Flaco’s Cuban Bakery: 200 W University Ave.
While Flaco’s always attracts a horde, they’ve become a fan favorite for the late-night crowd as well. Why grab some generic fast-food after a long night when you could opt for some delicious Cuban fare at Flaco’s, which is open until 2:30 a.m.? Justin Kurian, a 26-year-old UF biochemistry and molecular biology graduate student, said it’s the perfect place to go for rich, savory Cuban food late at night, plus, it’s the only place open that’s not selling pizza. “In Gainesville alone, I don’t know if there is another place like Flaco’s that has the same kind of sandwiches, the same kind of pastries,” said Kurian. From freshly pressed sandwiches to Cuban coffee, Flaco’s can be a much-needed start to your morning or the perfect end to your night.
Suggestions: Kurian recommends their famous quesito, a pastry filled with cream cheese.
Alpin Bistro: 15 SW 2nd St.
When customers come to eat at Alpin Bistro it’s almost as if they’re teleported to a quaint, bustling restaurant in the burrows of France. At Alpin, they still make sure to celebrate and give back to Gainesville, while adding in authentic French traditions and delicacies. All of their chocolate, cheese, meat, beer and wine are carefully selected and imported from France, while their bread and produce come from Gainesville bakeries and farms. Elizabeth Cobb, a 23-year-old UF psychology alumna, said she chose to try the restaurant because she was looking for a place to eat that didn’t have the stereotypical college sports bar atmosphere. Cobb said the food immediately exceeded her expectations. “They had a nice selection of wines and a good variety of foods,” Cobb said. “It was delicious, and I would definitely go back.”
Suggestions: Cobb recommends trying their bacon red pepper quiche. However, because Alpin Bistro makes everything fresh every day, the menu is constantly evolving.
Sababa: 101 SE Second Place
Sababa owners Riley and Yael Goldstein stick to their Israeli roots by serving dishes genuine to their home country. Misty Kar, a 23-year-old UF neurobiological science alumna, said she appreciates the authenticity of the food, stating that she goes there because it does a good job at being flavorful and affordable. “One thing I really hate is when restaurants dilute the taste to make it seem less exotic, but I feel like Sababa didn’t do that,” Kar said. Sababa reinforces this notion by allowing people to taste Israel in every bite. “Food is a huge part of every culture and respecting that builds respect for the culture itself, so having different representations helps to create a shared experience,” Kar said. “I know that, personally, a place feels more like home if I feel represented there.”
Suggestions: Kar recommends the chicken shawarma, which, according to Sababa’s menu, is a diced chicken breast sautéed with a special blend of Israeli seasoning, served with a pita and your choice of a side and salad.
Beque Holic: 3812 W Newberry Road
At Beque Holic, more is merrier and sharing is a part of the experience. According to their website, the restaurant can accommodate up to 200 people, serving the freshest meats for their all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue. Flora Mae Haberkorn, a 22-year-old UF economics senior, said she chose to eat at Beque Holic as one of her last meals before traveling to study abroad in China because she wanted to compare it to Korean barbecue in Beijing. “Compared to the two Korean barbecue places I went in Beijing, it is really similar,” Haberkorn said. “They could probably open up in Beijing and the main change they would only have to do is their drink menu.” Haberkorn stressed not only is their food delicious, but it’s the intimacy of sharing authentic Korean food that makes her feel nostalgic for Asian culture. “Individuality when eating is almost never the case, it’s always about sharing with everyone at the table,” said Haberkorn.
Suggestions: Haberkorn advises to get the all-you-can-eat menu and bring a group of people. According to their website, there are three menu options, each with a variety of different meats to cook and taste. For a side dish, Haberkorn recommends the kimchi side and their flavorful pork belly.