When the USF Bulls head to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators at noon Saturday, many a hot dog will hit the grill as tailgaters take over the town. But football fans looking for game-day fare beyond the parking lot will find this college town has plenty to offer. From authentic international fare to avant-garde tacos, here's a guide to dining options near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Fancy football fare
If you have access to a postgame shower and change of clothes, the world is your oyster, or, more accurately, your smoked octopus. At the downtown restaurant Ti Amo (12 SE Second Ave.; (352) 378-6307), the latter is served with paprika potatoes and Spanish olives as part of its Mediterranean-inspired small-plate menu. Entrees include steaks, smoked duck and Mayport shrimp, and locavores will notice that Ti Amo's commitment to local food goes beyond veggies: Even the lamb is homegrown.
Just around the corner is Emiliano's (7 SE First Ave.; (352) 375-7381), where patio dining and pan-Latin cuisine draw a crowd. The menu includes tapas and entrees from arepas Napoleon to paella for two. The creative cocktails — martinis and mojitos spiked with fresh fruit — command as much attention as the sky-high slices of cake in the dessert case.
Come as you are
A penchant for the outlandish isn't a prerequisite for enjoying the tacos at Boca Fiesta (232 SE First St.; (352) 336-8226), but it sure helps if you're ordering off the "Weird Meat of the Month" menu. Past offerings have included jackalope — a mix of smoked rabbit and ground antelope, topped with cactus salsa and hickory-smoked pumpkin — and tequila-marinated ostrich. Boca Fiesta has a full bar and stays open until 2 a.m. on Saturdays (actually Sunday!), so you can bet the ostrich won't be the only thing soaked in tequila. If wild game isn't your bag, try the steak, swordfish or tempeh tacos with the house-made green salsa.
Another late-night dinner spot is the Top (30 N Main St.; (352) 337-1188) where the decor is hipster kitsch, the lights are low and bar offerings are as diverse at the town itself. (Don't miss the locally brewed Swamp Head on draft.) Entrees span the globe, from chimichurri to pesto gnocchi.
Eat globally, locally
The University of Florida's international students and faculty lend Gainesville a multicultural flair you might not expect to find in a city of 125,000. Reggae Shack Café (619 W University Ave.; (352) 377-5464) grows its own hot peppers for an eye-watering jerk sauce that mingles pain and pleasure better than the piercing parlor across the street. Cool the fire with a Red Stripe or a tropical-fruit smoothie. Along with the oxtail and saltfish, Reggae Shack serves up plenty of vegetarian options: Most entrees are available with tofu or tempeh in place of meat.
Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company (201 SE Second Ave.; (352) 371-3359) is the epicenter of the see-and-be-seen crowd, and the food merits the wait. But the new downtown location of Ichiban Sushi (15 SE First Ave.; (352) 376-8220) — a longtime favorite in the suburbs — is a worthwhile alternative, with Korean and Thai dishes rounding out the extensive sushi menu.
While the exterior of Indian Cuisine (3550 SW 34th St., Suite M; (352) 271-1190) is unpretentious in the extreme — it shares a strip mall with a fraternity-supply shop and an adult-video store — this sit-down restaurant is one of Gainesville's best-kept secrets. Situated between campus and Interstate 75, it's ideal for avoiding the parking headaches of downtown after the game, or for a last hurrah on your way out of town. The Sunday lunch buffet runs from noon to 3 p.m.
Alisson Clark teaches feature writing at the University of Florida and blogs about family travel at OutThereWithKids.blogspot.com.