Neptune Beach, Florida, part of Duval County, part of the Jacksonville Beaches communities, retains its own unique flare.
In town for a conference, we stayed at the One Ocean Resort and Spa, right on the Atlantic Ocean at the end of Atlantic Boulevard (SR10/ US90) that crosses two massive bridges (including The Mathews Bridge) and along the highway that gets you from Jacksonville (JAX) to the beach. Access to St. Augustine is an easy 45-minute drive down A1A.
As you drive into town, you see Neptune Beach to the south, and Atlantic Beach to the north (check out my article on Atlantic Beach restaurants next!). These two beach towns have wonderful restaurants close to the beach. And even more several blocks inland.
With a local guiding me, once again, I ate my way through the town, picking up some pretty fun stories along the way.
Visiting other destinations in Florida? Check out our other guides:
- 9 Must-Try Marco Island Restaurants
- 13 Fun Things To Do In San Marco Island
- The 9 Best Amelia Island Restaurants
- 13 Best Disney Springs Restaurants
- 7 Best Kissimmee Restaurants
- 9 Must-Try Restaurants In Atlantic Beach FL
The 7 Best Neptune Beach Restaurants
207 Atlantic Blvd. // (904) 853-5680
Open daily with a “Let the good times fly” motto, this restaurant features Mexican and Southwestern food with plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
A few blocks inland, the food here is worth the trip away from the beach for just a little while. In addition to their awesome food, they serve over 100 tequilas and a large selection of craft beers so you’ll be glad you’re within walking distance to your hotel.
There for lunch, we started with the guacamole with chips. The guacamole is spicier than I’d expected. Turns out they add jalapenos and red onion as well as tomato, cilantro, and lime juice to the avocado dish. Prepared tableside, it’s nice for a show and an introduction to the staff. They’ve weathered the pandemic but are very glad to be getting tourists back to town.
When I come next, I may have to check out the chorizo and potato empanadas, or the queso blanco dip. Favorite daughter may like the shrimp ceviche, and the esquites look good, too. They’re char-grilled Mexican street corn served on the cob, with chipotle aioli, chives, and cotija cheese. Reminds me of La Calle in Midtown Houston. Favorite daughter may also choose the grilled stuffed avocado since it includes shrimp escabeche.
They offer six soups and salads. My companion had the sweet potato bisque and declared it “ah-maze-ing!” The Peruvian chicken salad, with spiced pepitas and an aji verde dressing, did remind me of the flavors we’d experienced in Cusco. It’s so nice to have the different flavor profiles available to us in the United States. We’re very lucky.
Then, things took a turn for the serious. The Flying Iguana only offers their Tortas, Mexican Griddle Baked Sandwiches, until 4 pm. What to choose? The Bahn Mi Mexico? The Cubana? Calabacitas (favorite daughter’s choice)? Mexican Cheese Steak? Tostones Burger?
My companion chose the Bahn Mi Mexico, a marinated and grilled all-natural chicken with a chipotle aioli, house-made escabeche, cucumber, jalapeno, and cilantro. You can substitute shrimp for chicken.
Tacos on offer have great names – like “Dirty South,” a fried green tomato, black-eyed “peaco” de gallo, queso sauce and baby arugula, the “Junkyard,” grilled chicken, roasted potato, queso sauce, cabbage, charred corn, and flaming iguana sauce (it is HOT!), and “Meat ‘N’ Potato,” a spicy ground beef tinga, roasted red potato, grilled corn, and Chihuahua cheese – as well as wonderful familiar dishes like carnitas, blackened shrimp, Baja fish taco (beer-battered cod), steak taco, crispy pork belly, flying fish taco (today’s catch!), farm-to-table-taco, seared scallop taco, and the vegan.
I elected to go with the flying fish taco since I can’t get enough of great fish tacos anymore. It was delicious. Gone before I remembered to take a photo. The fish was served a la plancha with shaved cabbage, aji Amarillo, and salsa criolla. I could have had more than one, but the guacamole and chips were filling.
By the way, I don’t care for the taste of the water in the area, so became fairly fluent in the liquid love languages on offer. They serve Coke products here, and Barq’s Root beer, Mr. Pibb, Lemonade, Fanta Orange, and both sweet and unsweet tea. I found the perfect combination to be half-sweet, half-unsweet tea, and learned quickly to ask them to put the unsweet tea on the bottom half.
Additional entrees included a traditional slow-roasted pulled pork (cochinita pibil), pollo a la brasa, Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken, the daily catch, and chimichurri steak.
Desserts include stuffed churros (tres leches), Nutella bread pudding, and guava cheesecake.
100 1st Street // (904) 249-3474
Located caddy-corner to One Ocean, this restaurant comes highly recommended by business and pleasure visitors alike. The choice of indoor seating or out allows optimal choice. You can’t see the beach from here, but you can smell it, that saltwater flavored breeze is lovely once the sun actually comes out (I was there during a King Tide and a Nor’easter – didn’t see the sun for three days).
Whether you’re indoors or out, this restaurant has the casual elegance I often crave on a business trip. The menu matches it well.
Featured starters include a spicy pimento cheese spread, crispy artichoke hearts, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese, ceviche of the day, fried New England Clam Bellies, Roasted Beet salad, and an Asian chopped tuna salad.
But wait, there’s more …
Additional starters include oysters on the half shell (by the half dozen or dozen), crispy calamari with pecorino cheese and spicy tomato sauce, fried gator tail (!) with Cowgill’s Datil Pepper Aioli, smoked fish spread with toasted melba, abaco conch fritters with lemon aioli, New England-style clam chowder, Greek salad with olives and feta, fried clams with fish camp tartar sauce, grilled octopus and white bean salad, iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing, peel and eat shrimp (spicy or regular), Rick’s all-day seafood soup (by the cup or bowl) and broiled scallops with bacon, sun-dried tomato, and spinach cream.
Since it is SUCH a seafood place, I’m glad some of my fellow conference-goers have more developed palates than I do.
One gentleman started with the octopus, while one lady had the gator tail. I know they both “taste like chicken” but I couldn’t do it. I have had five-way alligator in New Orleans, but that’s as much as I could do. Their plates emptied quickly. They highly recommend each dish.
On to the Mains (that phrase made me feel more like I was back in Dublin), they offer a fried fish sandwich, fish camp shrimp and grits, spicy shrimp linguini, Baja style fish tacos with cod, blue crab cakes with caper dill aioli, bacon cheddar Angus beef burgers, buttermilk pan-fried chicken with grits, grilled salmon BLT with Carol’s pickled zucchini and fish camp tartar sauce, salt and pepper seared tuna with toasted sesame salad, fried oyster po’ boy, low boil for two (shrimp, clams, andouille, corn, broccoli, mushrooms, onions), royal red shrimp roll with shrimp salad, and whole fried market fish.
The tough choice became the Baja fish tacos vs. the fried seafood baskets. Many from my group chose the seafood baskets. They’re offered with deviled crab, oysters, shrimp, scallops, clam strips, fish filet, and combinations thereof.
Two people decided to share the seafood platter for two with scallops, oysters, clam strips, shrimp, and fish filet. It was beautifully presented and quickly eaten. And all within our 90-minute lunch break.
The Baja fish tacos were fresh and flaky. I stuck with the cod (you can “upgrade” to mahi) and it was a delicious flavor profile with the salsa fresca and adobe sour cream. Refreshing and on my list for my next visit as well.
The northerners who hadn’t tried grits before really enjoyed the creamy grits offered at this delightful restaurant. Other sides include parsley potatoes, collard greens, and tomatoes and okra. Definitely not things I’d see at home.
Desserts are hard to pass up here. They offer a signature white chocolate bread pudding, sweet and salty chocolate torte (the hit of half the table), key lime pie, vanilla ice cream, or Reese’s pie (the hit of the other half of the table).
I think the best way to have dessert is to have several people and share. If you’re with relative strangers, cutting the dessert in half or thirds worked really well for us. The staff at North Beach Fish Camp are happy to supply additional plates.
110 1st Street // (904) 249-5573
The choice of one of my screenwriter friends, this restaurant is open in the evening, and known for its romance. Locally owned, this Italian restaurant has elegant tablecloths and silverware as well as a more relaxed outdoor courtyard seating (closed during the Nor’easter).
The chef has been with them for nearly five years and has created a menu that can also be taken away. They’ve created online ordering to make the process easier for you.
Appetizers include Burrata, Sesame Crusted Seared Tuna, Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Truffle Fries, Lamb Lollipops (another best-selling author’s favorite), P.E.I. Mussels, meatballs, citrus salmon cakes, cheese plate, or steak tartare.
I went for the best-of salads. They offer a Mezza salad (mixed greens, berries, roasted nuts, orange segments, champagne vinaigrette), arugula prosciutto salad, baby iceberg, and Caesar. The baby iceberg came with crispy shallots, marinated sun-dried tomatoes (I did not know they could taste that good), and bacon. I held the blue cheese dressing.
Entrees include fresh catch cioppino, orange glazed salmon, fresh fettuccine, pan-seared diver scallops, linguine and clams, fresh pappardelle, pan-seared branzino, grilled filet mignon (my next time choice), braised pork shank, grilled NY steak, or lasagna (sausage and beef). The other author went with the Cioppino. It came with mussels, clams, shrimp, stewed tomato, fennel, and crostini. He declared it “superb.”
They offer pizza, fresh from the wood-fired oven and the smell of fresh dough baking wafts through the restaurant. Yum!
There was no room for dessert after my meal, but they do tempt you mightily. Bread pudding, seasonally inspired crème brulee, chocolate nut brownie, vanilla layer cake, chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache, NY style cheesecake, Affogato al café, and a cheese plate.
They offer flavored coffees and even dessert martinis. They’re famous for their grasshopper, a light crème de cacao, green crème de menthe, brandy, and cream and have key lime and espresso. If you try them, let me know what you think.
106 1st Street // (904) 853-6943
Highly recommended by our hotel staff, they give a modest discount for guests at the hotel. The restaurant describes its style as “New American” and changes its menu regularly and by the season.
The menu is fairly straightforward, first course, second course, sides, dessert, wine, and beer. So it’s easy to focus on your friends and family and your meal.
When I was there, they offered a minestrone, romaine lettuce salad, simple greens salad, persimmons and kale salad, burrata, tomato jam, brussel sprout leaves, and everything tulle (no joke, when I first read that, I thought it said futile), jonati crab salad, charred octopus, pork schnitzel, and ahi tuna ohitashi sea lettuce. I’m so glad the people I was with had more adventurous appetites. I stuck with the simple greens salad and was glad I had the ginger dressing on the side, The others enjoyed the octopus, the burrata, and the ahi tuna. It’s so nice to see how much they enjoyed it.
Second course options include chicken dijonaise, grilled snapper, vegetable harira, roasted duck breast, sea scallops, market fish of the day, crispy short ribs, roast lamb loin, or a grilled ribeye. While the others stuck with their scallops and duck and lamb, I chose the grilled snapper. As delicious as I found when I was in Belize, here it was accompanied by roasted zucchini, roast pepper, olive and celery relish. Taking a bite of each with the snapper is a perfect dish.
Desserts include key lime panna cotta, Doro-made vanilla ice cream or sorbet of the day, chocolate pot de crème with fresh whipped cream, or a strawberry rhubarb a la mode.
Looking around the restaurant, I think some people came just for the dessert. It’s that good.
241 Atlantic Blvd. // (904)425-1025
This small plate Asian restaurant was the first place I heard the phrase “the ditch!” At first, I thought they were referring to Atlantic Boulevard, the dividing street between Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. Turns out, the ditch refers to the water traversed by the Mathews Bridge to get to the Jacksonville Beaches communities.
Inside, you’ll enjoy the bar and busyness, but outside, on a nice day, you’ll have fresh air and sunshine. Open at 11 am each morning, you can go to the beach for the day and run into town the two blocks to grab a meal and a beer, or soda.
The dishes are so distinctly different, you may want to try everything. The servers here were especially helpful and well-informed. If you want to try a few things, do! Take a few friends and share it, dim sum style.
They describe their food as “flavors are bold and unapologetic.” The recipes, passed down from generation to generation, match the wok techniques, something I’d like to be able to reproduce at home.
Going into the restaurant, they do a great job engaging all five senses. Sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. All awesome.
Their small plates are divided between handhelds, dim sum, meat and seafood, light, rice and curry, noodles, noodle soups, and sweets.
Don’t hesitate to start with the sweets. The Jo-He Bag O’ Donuts are delicious. I recommend that before your meal and the cinnamon Roti a la mode as your after-meal dessert.
Oh, and they have a happy hour Monday thru Friday from 3 to 6 pm. And a late-night offering from 9 pm to close Sunday thru Thursday. And cater. They’re happy to help with all your needs.
And, after the Jo-He Bag O-Donuts, we started ordering. And ordering.
They offer Roti Canai, Seoul Hot Chicken Baos (a VERY tasty bao), pork belly bao, spring rolls (yum!), summer rolls, and chicken egg rolls.
We started with the Seoul Hot Chicken Baos and the spring rolls. They were gone so quickly, it was a good thing they deliver things as they’re ready. Just remember to slow down enough to know when you’re actually full.
Dim sum offerings include Yi-Yi’s chicken dumplings (yes, please! This is their Auntie’s classic recipe and Auntie has skills), Sichuan wontons (chicken, shrimp in a peanut chili sauce), and golden wonton (filled with chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms). The first ones lasted only minutes.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly you can eat what takes others so much time to prepare?
Meat and seafood choices include street skewers (beef, chicken, or satay chicken), hawkers wings, Korean twice-fried wings, Siu Yoke, Char Siu, and coconut shrimp. Favorite daughter would have enjoyed the coconut shrimp. It comes with a curry dipping sauce.
The light dishes include Hawker’s Delight (tofu), green papaya and shrimp salad, and crispy tofu bites. Favorite daughter would have loved all of those. I went with the edamame. I still don’t quite understand why they put a chile and garlic sauce on the outside of the pods but eventually, the sauce gets to a bit of the “bean.” Their five-spice green beans are lightly battered, and the Viet Bun salad is a lemongrass pork.
I’m not a curry person but the others really enjoyed the Chow Faan, Basil fried rice, Po Po Lo’s curry, Kimchi fried rice and I enjoyed the jasmine rice with some of my other selections. My daughter lived with a lovely group of students from India during graduate school and I can imagine the fun they’d have here.
Noodle dishes include Chee Cheng’s Char Kway Teow, Singapore Mei Fun, Yaki Udon, Pad Thai, Beef Haw Fun, Chicken Lo Mein, Hokkien Mee, Tom Yum, Hong Kong Wonton, Curry Laksa and Ramen.
Finishing with the cinnamon Roti a la mode was a little more difficult than expected – because we were that full.
But you can eat the ice cream and take the dessert version of their famous roti home with you. It doesn’t need to be reheated so, even at One Ocean, they have a refrigerator in each room but no microwave so you’re all set.
301 Atlantic Blvd. // (904) 372-9791
There’s a “The Local” where I lived in Prescott, Arizona, that could learn a lot from this restaurant, including the signage. Turns out they’re not related in business, but have a similar attitude about awesome, healthy food. They’ve not been here long, only since 2017, and they’re three blocks from the beach so don’t have much traffic as they deserve, but I have a feeling that will change.
They have a twist on just about everything, from the drinks to the dishes. The music is energetic and fun, and the staff is so helpful. Do what my daughter does, ask how much they like it, and let them lead your choice.
They’re open for brunch Friday through Sunday and for lunch and dinner the entire week.
Their small plates and starters include oysters New Orleans, The Blue Goat (blueberry bread pudding with whipped goat cheese … see what I mean? A definite twist), chicken nuggets (the Jax sauce is the twist), conch fritters (key lime aioli), ahi tuna poke nachos, and Korean short rib fries.
Their lighter side options include healthy crunch (granola), Belgian waffle, local toast (goat cheese, avocado, and sesame seeds with a sunny side up egg).
Local classics are where I headed. Eggs benedict, hurricane plate, the full dival, and the local plate. And I headed on to specials. I’m not an egg person, except in my morning egg salad, and don’t eat bacon or ham, so these were enjoyed by my colleagues. They are large dishes and great for getting you off to a strong start to your day.
Specials include hot chicken and waffle (I like that it has a fried chicken breast with honey hot sauce), breakfast Tostados, Korean Short Rib Benedict (a favorite at the table), The Wandering Cajun, Gumby’s Bowl, Short Rib Hash. The stop in midtown Houston at the Breakfast Klub and the Coop in Atlantic Beach make me feel like I’m beginning to be an expert on this soul food.
Their sandwiches and burgers are served with home fries, chips, fries, or sweet potato home fries. I love their take on things; the “Average Joe,” chicken club, Breakfast BLAT (that’s avocado added to your BLT), short rib and collard melt, fried chicken, the local club, Beyond Veggie burger, and the Brunch burger.
If you want to combine a salad with a meal, I recommend the arugula fig prosciutto and the chicken and waffles. It was recommended by my server and was a surprisingly good combination.
Other salads include the tuna poke salad and goatacado, an arugula, chickpea, quinoa, tomato, cucumber, goat cheese, avocado, toasted crostini with green goddess dressing.
For brunch, you can add a bloody Mary, mimosa, Irish coffee, or a hand-made lemonade or limeade.
If I were to come back for lunch, I think I’d start with the hot honey chicken bites, favorite daughter would have the Mayport shrimp, and the Mediterranean fish tacos, a blackened mahi with sazon lime wonton chips.
They do offer a Two for Ten with a combination of sandwich, salad, and bowl of their home-made soup of the day.
Later in the day, they offer signature hand-made cocktails, beer in bottles, cans, or on tap, hard cider, seltzers, and canned cocktails, and a special happy hour and late-night menu.
117 1st Street // (904) 249-9158
This bar, non-descript behind white siding on the left-hand side of 1st street, has a wonderful party for Thanksgiving that practically shuts down the street.
Open from 10 am to 2 am each day, it’s been family-owned and operated since 1933. Passed down through five generations, Pete’s Bar was the first to open in Duval County after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Before that, though, it was known as Jensen’s Market, opened in the 1920s before the city was formed in 1931. Peter Jensen passed the bar to his son, William Jensen.
When William died in 1979, his wife, Clara Jensen, who had created the atmosphere that persists today, took over and continued as “Godmother” to the community. She’s said to have treated everyone as if they were her very own children. She left this legacy in good hands when she retired with her daughter, Nancy Jensen.
Nancy now runs the business with her four children: Tom, Steve, John, and Nancy Jo. Other than renovations (like the bathroom!), their secret has been to change nothing else about the bar. It makes old-timers and newcomers all feel welcome.
They think their ongoing attraction is due to the 25-cent pool and the cheap drinks.
While they aren’t a restaurant, I included them in this list because it really is a place you should visit. Even if you don’t play pool (it’s a great place to learn).
I wish I was going to be here for Thanksgiving. Let me know if you get there.
Which of the Neptune Beach restaurants do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!
Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid traveler, she happily goes on new adventures, especially on birthdays. Multi-generational travel remains a treasured pastime. She divides her time between Ireland and the U.S. You can find her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.