Unique Dining Experiences

The culinary scene in St. Augustine is as storied as its history. Thanks to its fearless chefs.

February 24, 2020
asado grilling

There’s something magical about St. Augustine, from its twinkling lights at dusk, to the dancing dolphins in the calm waters of the Matanzas River. There is a sense of life, local pride and adventure flourishing as you explore every street. It’s as though you can feel this city’s pulse and energy, especially in the fearless chefs spearheading the culinary movement within. Not just rich with history, St. Augustine is a city ripe with an abundance of edible treasures.

Local Favorites

On any given day, you can explore a dozen curated coffee spots, go on an ice cream crawl from one scoop to the next, pop by the fresh farmers market, and enjoy samples of small-batch spirits made in a refurbished historic ice warehouse. The fusion of Spanish, Minorcan, Island, and far off global aromas collide in an array of flavors. And at local staples like The Floridian, southern classics mingle with fresh salads made from local produce and hearty portions served in cast iron skillets.

Those with a genuine craving for something sweet won’t be remiss to find Peace Pies filling crisp cookies with outlandish freshly churned flavors. Just in case you hadn’t stopped by the Whetstone Factory yet, there are also thick fluffy doughnuts topped with fruity swirls and pastry fillings at Swillerbees, and handcrafted chocolate confections right next door at Claude’s Chocolate.

Watering holes from familiar dive bars to wineries are in no short supply either as Happy Hour hits. These hip intimate spots for sipping libations are sprinkled throughout St Augustine in every nook and cranny. From Casa De Vino 57, a fresh wine bar with nightly live music, to Odd Birds Bar with a posh seating area and regular sightings of guest bartenders whipping out creative cocktails take place. There are brew pubs with craft beers, like Dog Rose Brewing, tiki bars, and plenty of perfectly balanced cocktails for any celebration. Fine dining is not overlooked for this easygoing beach town. Replete with landmarks like The Cafe Alcazar, located in what was once the indoor swimming pool of the historic Alcazar Hotel. For a perfect intimate dinner, there is The Raintree Restaurant, serving traditional classics like beef welling and rack of lamb to a well-honed perfection. And just down the street, Chef Michael Lugo’s namesake Michael’s is tempting guests with a savory menu filled with must-try temptations like goat cheese terrine with salty olives, and fresh herbaceous pesto. There is a place for every night if you were really looking for one, and the variety of the menus doesn’t disappoint. Many of them are regularly adapting each season fluidly to celebrate what’s new to harvest.

A Global Dining Experience Brought by World-Class

The food scene in St. Augustine is one of the most diverse and inspiring you will find in the country, but it’s hard not to notice that there’s an invisible thread tying this whole city together as you meander through the town. It’s as if behind the historic gates there’s a sense of local pride deeply engraved in the very bricks that line the streets. And anyone and everyone that makes their home St. Augustine embraces it.

These talented chefs aren’t just hiding behind their projects and busy schedules perfecting their owns kitchens; they are uniting and giving back to the city in many ways. You could easily bump into chef Cesar Diaz as you stroll through the Tuesday night farmers market. He’ll be hand pressing arepas with his daughters as hungry patrons stand in line waiting for the taste of Latin-American inspired street food handed over in parchment paper. He’s also the creative mind behind Odd Birds. A theme you will see pop up all over as you navigate around the city. No one here is doing just one thing. They are all pushing the community first, showing up to fundraisers, events and even other kitchens.

As you get to know St. Augustine, stop and talk with the staff. You’ll notice similar stories of the young leaders that got their start in places like the kitchen of The Floridian. At the same time, they honed their skills and focused on their dreams while growing up here. And there are even a few that chose to make St. Augustine home and business headquarters after graduating from the local college. There’s very much a welcoming spirit to the city, and as America’s oldest, it seems appropriately fitting. There’s even a chance, if you are lucky, you can witness true camaraderie in action as St. Augustine's most acclaimed chefs break bread, share laughs, and give back with a sincere local love at one of their monthly fireside cookouts.

Urban Asado and the Chefs Collaborative

These were spearheaded by Chef Lugo, who saw how brutally the behind-the-scenes hustle of managing restaurants was taking its toll on acclaimed members of the industry like idol Bourdain. Noting a need, Lugo set out to create an opportunity to lean on one another’s strengths and give everyone a chance to work together--to form bonds outside of the confines of their own kitchens and learn from one another. With a true “Rising Tides Lift All Boats” mentality, the St. Augustine Chefs Collaborative is the start of what hopes to be a much bigger movement where culinary professionals can be mentors and friends to one another.

The team descends upon a quiet San Sebastian waterfront warehouse location with string lights and a gravel parking lot. It’s the unassuming headquarters of Urban Asado, where another local food entrepreneur of a different nature, Nick Carerra, is custom building Asado-style grills inspired by South American culture. Live-fire cooking is as deeply rooted in the Patagonian lifestyle as the love of sharing food is in this community. Nick’s one-of-a-kind builds are all created in his warehouse and then shipped worldwide. To show off just how fun these grills are to cook on, and how he can custom build one for any location, he and Chef Lugo started dreaming up something big.

Circumstances would continue to bring the two together until the moment was right to spark the idea of Sunday Asado; a once a month gathering at the Urban Asado location featuring a unique menu inspired by the chefs. It’s a fun family atmosphere with outside community tables. The Asado grills are all ablaze and there is a rotating mix of local pros, like Chef Matt Brown from Blackfly, Llama’s own Marcel Vizcarra, and local Tash Olivera, to name just a few of the members you could spot in action as they maneuver from grill to grill. Each menu is built around the collaborative’s ideas. And the dishes are family-style smorgasbord, showcasing savory eats, vegetarian options, wine tastings, and even grilled desserts.

View this post on Instagram

Thanks @girlcarnivore for this awesome post. It was a pleasure sharing our story with you. #urbanasado #experiencegrilling #asadolife #michaelsstaugustine @chefmichaellugo @nickc827 @michaelsstaugustine Repost from @girlcarnivore using @_repostplus • There's a spot right on the San Sebastian river in St Augustine that's turning out hand crafted Asado grills. #partner The folks behind these grills through years of hard work keeps bumping into the same people with big visions and it seemed fate was pushing for something. Now, local chef Michael Lugo and asador master Nick Carrera spearhead the community driven live fire Urban Asado pop up experiences. There are a rotation of hard working chefs that have formed the foundation of the chefs collaborative that come together to seamlessly craft menus and meals for the neighborhood. They work to highlight and lift up one another in an otherwise exhausting industry. You can see the passions for the community as you share meals and mingle with everyone through the evening. More than just dinner, this is hard work and big dreams in action. And the grills are pretty amazing to see in action as well. If you are visiting At Augustine this is a uniquely local must experience event. Tickets go fast! You may not know what's on the menu, but grab one. You wont leave hungry! #livefire #asado #grilling #traveleats #lovefl #staugustine #eatlocal #foodie #foodislove #livefirecooking #travelstoke #satw #ifwtwa #natja

A post shared by Urban Asado (@urbanasado) on

The Urban Asado Pop Ups are St. Augustine's most rapidly growing foodie hotspot. The monthly events have even inspired more formal occasional pop-up dinners with slightly high-end menus, featuring passed appetizers and whiskey tastings. As an example, dishes like grilled branzino, quail, rack of lamb, roasted Brussels sprouts, a massive salad, and grilled bread pudding made up one menu. No two experiences are the same, though, and you won’t know ahead of time what will be featured. It’s safe to gamble that you won’t leave hungry.

You will mingle with other locals and talk with the chefs as they tend to the embers and keep the fires blazing until the dinner bell is rung, and everyone lines up to fill their plates and bellies. Chef Lugo reminds and encourages guests to share their best wines with friends at this bring your own cooler party, otherwise what occasion are those bottles waiting for? And that mentality is shared by every chef that shows up. Share the food and fun with friends. The Urban Asado Pop Up Dinners are genuinely a magical spectacle, custom fit to St. Augustine’s atmosphere.

The event isn’t getting any smaller, and tickets go quickly. Make sure to sign up to their email list so you don’t miss the chance to experience the heart and soul of St. Augustine in action, creating an experience as unique as the historic city itself.

kid with telescope and balloons
St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches