From ramen to fine Italian dining, Downtown Gainesville brings me back to my New York roots…
Crane Ramen is Gainesville’s first craft ramen restaurant, and my favorite in the world. This trendy spot prepares its dishes from locally sourced ingredients. The small menu includes both Otsumami and Ramen selections. My top three picks from the Otsumami menu include the chicken steamed buns, agedashi tofu steamed buns and gyoza. The kara-age chicken is tossed in a spicy rayu mayonnaise and topped with pickled radish. The soy-marinated tofu is wrapped in nori and flash-fried with sweet potato soy sauce. Both the pork and veggie gyoza dishes are pan-fried to perfection, ready to be dipped in the house gyoza sauce.
Ramen bowls, which are only $10 on Tuesdays, are the Crane staple. My two favorite ramen bowls are the Paitan and the Shio. The Paitan includes ginger-scented chicken broth with lemon chicken, bok choy, oven-roasted tomato, soy-marinated egg, pickled onion, nori and scallions. The Shio includes a sea salt flavor chicken and dashi broth, topped with snow crab, a six-minute egg, nori, mushrooms, scallions and garlic oil. Add any meat, egg, hot sauce or extra noodles to your bowl. My favorite is adding a soy-marinated egg because the yolk adds a little sweetness. Want to learn how to eat ramen from a Crane cartoon? Click here.
Boca Fiesta is serving Gainesville’s most eclectic tacos until 2 AM. Besides being open daily for dinner and late nights, the Mexican fare is served for lunch on Fridays and brunch on Sundays. The quesadillas, both steak and chicken, will change your life. Don’t forget to start with an order of queso and build-your-own guacamole.
Humble Wood Fire is a food truck known for their artisanal, wood-fired pizzas. Using their dough made from scratch, the food truck prepares bagels on Friday mornings from 8 AM until 1 PM or until they are sold out. There is a variety of hand-rolled, wood-fired bagels with a choice of many different toppings and spreads. My Friday morning fix was cream cheese and tomato on a plain bagel and a Nitro cold brew coffee on the side.
Manuel’s Vintage Room is Gainesville’s most authentic Italian restaurant. Plan ahead to get a reservation and experience a fine food and wine experience. The Pear Purses took me back to my Italian summer in Florence. The dish is a poached pear and ricotta-filled tortelloni in a herbed brown butter cream sauce. For a main course, you can create your own pasta, the Pasta Della Casa. Choose your noodles and sauce, I chose linguini in a truffle sauce!
OAK brings Southern fare with modern flair to downtown Gainesville. Their craft cocktails and comfort food makes for the perfect night out. Order the wings and Bavarian pretzel to snack on. The warm pretzel comes with a kale + artichoke dip. For a sweet taste, order the bird + pancake. The fried chicken is placed on top of a sweet potato pancake with whipped mango butter and bourbon maple syrup.
Liquid Ginger serves quality sushi at a great price. For the lunch special, start with a soup and salad, then enjoy 2 sushi rolls ($9 total) or 3 sushi rolls ($12 total). For dinner, their long list of signature rolls is tough to choose from. My top two are the Valentine Roll and the Tuna Amazing Roll. The heart-shaped Valentine Roll has spicy crunch tuna and avocado inside, and is topped with fresh tuna. The Tuna Amazing Roll, for when I’m feeling spicy, has white tuna tempura and spicy tuna inside, and is topped with avocado, peppered tuna, mango, eel sauce.