Top 5 Hidden Restaurant Gems of Clay County

In North East Florida the chain restaurant seems to be on every corner and that’s kinda ok (sometimes) because let’s face it, they’re predictable and you are generally prepared for what you get. They’re not really the places to go for something new or exceptional and the atmosphere is about as relevant as the food. In Clay County, especially the southern fringes, there’s not much more than the fast food chain or the family friendly local chain serving 1980s style fried foods in a 1970s decor so we set out to find what we think are the best hidden gems in Clay County that everyone looking for a good meal should try out.

1. Irie Diner

(Orange Park) 1177 Park Ave Ste 9

If you’re a fan of the kick of Caribbean food (we are) then this is the place to go. Start with the Irie Diner Wings then take your time looking through the menu to find that bit of the Caribbean that suits your mood. There’s plenty to choose from curries to wraps and deliciously spiced seafood dishes that will not leave you disappointed. There’s not much here for someone who doesn’t want caribbean spice but let’s be honest, there aren’t many of those around. There’s not much in the way of a dessert menu but there’s a kids menu with the usual kids choices so you’re safe there.

The atmosphere is light, warm and the service is friendly and it’s not hard to find a bit of an island breeze with a warm sun feel here. Beer and Wine are available and the prices are reasonable. You’ll leave feeling satisfied.

2. Spice

(Middleburg) 2475 Blanding Blvd Ste 7

Everyone wants to find that little local place where you can find amazing food at reasonable prices and it feels like you’re privy to a deep secret shared by just a few. Well my friends, this is that deep secret shared by just a few (and that’s a good thing because this place can only hold a few). This is a food lover’s type of place with dishes from all over the world, from casual to fine, from savory to decadent desserts. You’ll find American (try the ribs), German, English, Tex Mex, Indian and Thai and more. The proverbial something for everyone and it just might be the best version you’ve ever had. The War Fries should be your first choice.

Be warned though, this place is tiny at about 20 seats. That’s the only reason it’s not #1 on this list. The atmosphere is great date night with string lights everywhere and firefly like tea lights on the tables. There’s German and domestic beer and the usual range of wines. On the weekends we’d recommend you make a reservation just to make sure you get a table.

3. Grumpy’s

(Orange Park) 834 Kingsley Ave
(904) 215–1956

We weren’t sure we should include this in the list as this place is the oldest and best known on this list but we think it merits inclusion. We like to think of this as pure old florida; It’s relaxed, a bit country and all about comfort food. Serving until 2 pm every day, the focus is on it’s breakfast menu with a wide range to choose from and you won’t be disappointed with your choice. We love a good breakfast and this is our go-to place before some of the better known places around the way. Try some of the sandwiches or burgers if you’re not in the mood for breakfast (if that’s possible) or a salad. There’s plenty to choose from and we haven’t been disappointed yet.

The atmosphere is very casual (like NE Florida in general) and very friendly. It’s a good place to take the family for breakfast with some large seating options and a bigger menu. Does not serve alcohol for those looking for hair of the dog.

4. La Perla

(Orange Park) 104 College Dr
(904) 375–8051

The word authentic gets used a lot in the food industry and we hate it. There’s plenty of “authentic” food being made that is terrible and is authentically bad. La Perla isn’t one of those places. The food is Mexican and relatively simple but it’s fresh and delicious and better than many of the “Mexican” restaurants we’ve tried anywhere (note: we haven’t tried them all but we’ve tried a lot). The food here is familiar and very reasonably priced. It’s another hole-in-the-wall that should be getting more attention than it is but it’s in an out of the way place and no chihuahua advertising mascot. Try’ll find it “authentic” and downright delicious and well worth the visit. The tamales really stand out here as does the freshness of the food.

The atmosphere is pure hole-in-the-wall with flourescent lighting and white tile floors but the food makes up for any of that. There’s beer on the menu (didn’t see any wine and didn’t ask for it) and if you’re looking for casual Mexican spice with a cold beer, run don’t walk.

5. Mush Armenian Kitchen

(Green Cove Springs) 1600 Idlewild Ave
(904) 531–9203

This is one of those restaurants that you really wonder how it was created in the place that it was. You get 3 guesses and the first 2 don’t count. We’re guessing the space was cheap and close by where the owners live because other than that, it’s adjacent to a gas station across from a gas station next to no where in particular. Don’t let that scare you away though, the food here is very good. You’ll find some familiar dishes like Baba Ghanoush and Falafel along with Kebabs finished with Baklava and Namoura as your desserts. It’s not a fancy place by any means but the food is good and if you’re in the area, even just slightly, it’s worth the taste test. If you can get a bowl, try the Armenian Chicken Noodle soup and if you’re a fan of lamb, or just want to try, this is how you should be eating it all the time.

The atmosphere rivals that of La Perla for simplicity but again, that just adds to the charm. This is a little bit of a “why in the world is this here” but you won’t dwell on it too long as the food is good and the people are pleasant.