Best Tapas in Jacksonville
As someone who’s always heard “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”, I often find myself wanting to try as much of the menu as possible, but don’t quite have the bandwidth to conquer everything without taking home a bag full of to-go boxes. Although I’m an advocate of leftovers, I’d much rather share some smaller portions with friends and get a chance
to sample the lot. Due to this constant and very real struggle, I love restaurants with small plates and tapas. Luckily, Jacksonville has plenty of spots that boast a wide array of small plates, for which I (and my stomach) are eternally grateful.
While there are so many great places I could go on and on about, I want to highlight four of my top Small Plate/Tapa hot spots here in Jacksonville that I frequent. If you’re like me and deal with overestimating your stomach capacity or with indecisiveness/large-menu- phobia, these should be on your must-try list!
Riverside Liquors & The Restaurant in Riverside
Unless you’re a restaurant regular, you may not notice Riverside Liquors as you drive down King Street in Riverside. Referred to as RSL by the “locals”, the building exterior might not be much to look at, but it’s definitely one of the hidden gems in the area. The front of the store appears to be your standard liquor/package store, but if you wander towards the back of the building, you’ll find a variety of tables scattered about (high tops and tables made from wine barrels), as well as a dark and cozy bar area. As a wine enthusiast, one of the things I love about RSL is that you can pick any wine off the shelf in their retail store and bring it back to the bar to drink. Although they have some fantastic craft cocktails and a large variety of draft and bottled craft beers, wine will always have my heart, so picking out bottles of wine in the store is always exciting for me. RSL has a fantastic selection of small plates and tapas. The Chorizo Stuffed Dates, Bacon Sea Scallops, and their Beer Cheese & Pretzel Rounds are always crowd pleasers, but one of my absolute favorite items on the menu is their Deviled Egg Flight. It comes with 4 half-slices of deviled eggs that include a traditional deviled egg, a Cobb style, a Hummus variation, and last but certainly not least, the Tequila picked deviled egg. Don’t let the bright pink color put you off….it’s soooo good!
Fridays happen to be my favorite day to visit RSL for three simple words: Complimentary. Wine. Tasting. Each week, RSL hosts a free wine tasting in their retail store area between 5-8 PM with an offering of 5 to 6 different red and white varietals from various regions around the world. They also run a promotion where they’ll waive the corkage fee for any wine you purchase and drink that night from the wines offered during the wine tasting.
The Rundown: Great small plates and beverage options. The restaurant/bar doesn’t open until 4 PM each day.
Wednesdays = no-corkage on all wine. Fridays = free wine. Closed Sundays.
Pictured: The Deviled Egg Flight from Riverside Liquors
Located on the corner of Stockton and College, this spot is small and intimate but packs loud, bold flavors. You may have heard of 13 Gypsies thanks to a little show called Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Even Guy Fieri had to check out what they were putting down! This is the first place that comes to my mind when I think Tapas. Although not all of their dishes are solely Spanish-style tapas, they definitely focus on plates of food with a Mediterranean flair. Due to the intimate size of 13 Gypsies, I would HIGHLY recommend making reservations. Although you can get lucky sometimes on slower nights, most of the time they’re booked solid for dinner (there’s 7 tables and about five seats at the bar).
Dishes that are must try’s: Definitely order their Risotto of the Day. It’s always rotating but I’ve never had a bad one! Their Honey Garlic Hummus, although seemingly simple, is a great option. I always order the Crispy Potatoes, which come doused in a curry puree that’s pure perfection. One of my absolute favorite dishes to order is their Garlic Shrimp, which is served with a corn relish and a chimi sauce that’s on point. Even something as simple as their Grilled Housemade Peasant Bread is a home run, served with Spanish sea salted olive oil. The
Rundown: Very small, so make those reservations. Bring your squad to tackle the whole menu; you won’t be disappointed! $10 corkage fee if you want to bring your own bottle of wine. Closed Sundays & Mondays.
Pictured: Garlic Shrimp with a roasted corn relish from 13 Gypsies
Deep in the heart of Avondale off Park Street, one might not naturally think of Restaurant Orsay as ideal for small plates, I am absolutely obsessed with their Cocktail Hour menu as it has a little bit of something for everyone. The menu is essentially their Happy Hour menu, but has an expanded menu of small plate options for extremely reasonable prices and discounts on their various craft cocktails. On Saturdays, they have Cocktail Hour from 11 AM – 7 PM, so naturally, that’s my favorite day to hit up Orsay. Amongst these small plate options includes their always delicious Potato Croquettes, the very popular Steak Tartare, and incredible Oyster’s Orsay, topped with smoked salmon roe, crème fraiche, lemon, and finished with micro greens.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight my favorite small plate on their menu, the Mac ‘N’ Cheese with black truffles and Mornay sauce, which comes in an adorable miniature cast iron pot with oozy cheesy goodness that’s brought out hot and bubbling. This is a must-order dish!
If you can’t make it for Cocktail Hour, have no fear….they still have plenty of small plate options available as appetizers on their standard dinner menu that are sure to leave you satisfied. In addition to their superb raw bar offerings (tartare, oysters, calamari, etc.), they also have a lot of the same options that are on the Cocktail Hour menu (although with a steeper price-tag attached unfortunately).
The Rundown: Saturday brunch = winning. I’d highly advise making reservations (you can make them through Open Table), especially for brunch. For all of the small plate fans out there, try to stick to the Cocktail Hour menu so you have a wide variety of options (and your wallet won’t feel the pain). Cocktail hour = 4-7 PM daily & on Saturdays = 11 AM-7PM.
Pictured: Restaurant Orsay’s Mac ‘N’ Cheese with black truffles and Mornay sauce
Royal Palm Village Wine & Tapas
Wrapping up the top four and nestled back in Neptune Beach across town is Royal Palm Village Wine & Tapas, known for great tapas, amazing wines, and top-notch service. They have roughly 14-15 tables of various sizes hoisted up by wine barrels, and the entire seating area is surrounded by over a thousand bottles of wine you can either buy retail or enjoy right off the shelf with your tapas for a $10 corkage fee. Their wine selection is very extensive and split up by regions around the world, which makes it very easy to shop. I really enjoy that they always have a staff member very knowledge about wine walking about the shop, who can assist those unsure of what wine to purchase, based on your palette preferences. I tend to make my own selections, but every now and then, I’ll ask for suggestions and haven’t received a bad recommendation yet!
Royal Palm, similar to RSL, also has complimentary wine tastings on Fridays between 5-8 PM, providing you with samples of 5-6 wines, and they also waive corkage fees for any bottles featured during the tasting that are enjoyed in-house that night. Additionally, they’ll highlight certain bottles on special around the store with labels that have no corkage fee, so I always take a look at those first (most are solid options recommended by the staff).
Their tapas menu is very impressive and I always have a difficult time deciding which plates to go with, since they have such a great variety of options. Their offerings on the Cheese & Charcuterie plate change regularly and it’s always a perfect dish for sharing, as well as their Warm Prosciutto & Manchego Stuffed Dates. They also offer plenty of meat focused tapas, seafood choices, veggie and dip selections (check out the Warm Spinach & Feta Dip), as well as weekly rotating menu of specials. I recently went and got a chance to try their Broiled Oysters special, served by the half-dozen and covered in bacon, spinach, with a delicious cream sauce and sprinkled cheese. They were extremely decedent and deserved an A+ in my book. I always suggest trying out the specials when ordering here, as I’ve never ordered a bad
dish and everything always sounds great!
Pictured: The Broiled Oysters Special from Royal Palm
The Rundown: Best menu of tapa options and wine selections out of all four locations covered. Free wine-tasting Fridays from 5-8 + free corkage on those selections of wine. Monday nights = no corkage fee for any bottle. Closed Sundays.