The New International Food Trail You Must Experience in North Carolina

Whether you’re planning a trip to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, driving US Highway 17 between Wilmington and New Bern, or visiting loved ones at Camp Lejeune, dining in Jacksonville is a must, and it got even better with the launch of the new Jacksonville International Food Trail. Jacksonville is a true melting pot of people, culture and food and is an outstanding hidden culinary gem.

Note: Thanks to Visit Jacksonville for hosting our visit. The opinions expressed are mine (and a little those of my husband).

Origins of the Food Trail

Jacksonville wanted a way to reflect and showcase the diversity of its community. They’ve found their way through an abundance of authentic cuisine in and around Jacksonville. The various restaurateurs here have a great passion for their culture, traditions and food – and it shows. Hailing from countries and regions like Jamaica, South America, Taiwan, the Mediterranean, and the Philippines, to name a few, they bring their cultural ties (and family recipes) with them.

Home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, military forces from around the world come regularly for military training and exercises. Due to the area’s coastal location, great weather, and abundance of activities, many staff members choose to retire in Jacksonville and make it their home. Many restaurants on the International Food Trail are owned by veterans.

What is the Jacksonville International Food Trail?

The Tourism Development Authority recently launched its International Food Trail, not only to make it easier for visitors to find an abundance of hidden culinary gems, but to give foodies like me a handy checklist for “eating around the world” in a fantastic little town. Truly authentic cuisine, and a wide variety of it, is rarely found in cities the size of Jacksonville.

Phase I of the route presents 13 restaurants:

  1. Agave Azul Modern Mex & Cantina at Sneads Ferry
  2. At Elsa’s
  3. Filipino cuisine
  4. Havana 58 Cafe
  5. Colombian restaurant and bakery Liliana’s
  6. Mediterranean cuisine from Marrakech
  7. Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant (three locations)
  8. The milk route
  9. The old Siam
  10. Olea Mediterranean Cuisine in Swansboro
  11. Paleteria Deya ice cream shop
  12. Pho 7
  13. Pollos Head

More will be added later in the year with Phase II.

My favorite stops on the Jacksonville International Food Trail

With so many fantastic restaurants, some of which aren’t even on the trail yet, it’s hard to name just a few of my favorites. On my last trip to Jacksonville, I tried some foods I had never tasted before. I decided to include three places here based on the dishes that I felt had outstanding flavors, the ones that made me say “oooh” and “aaah” with every bite.

Filipino Cuisine Lumpia

Photo credit: Loretta Berry

Filipino cuisine

What to order: Beef adobo, chicken curry, pork sinigang (sour soup)

Honestly you can’t go wrong with anything on Filipino cuisineon the menu — lumpia, chicken curry, pancit bihon. Oh, and try the Snow Bubble Boba taro. So good!

I didn’t know any of these dishes. Behind the counter, Charles patiently answered all my questions and even let me taste a few things before ordering.

Tom kha (soup), salad and fried wontons at Old Siam

Tom kha (soup), salad and fried wontons at Old Siam

Photo credit: Loretta Berry

The old Siam

What to order: Vegetable panang curry (or choice of beef, chicken, pork, prawns), tom yum (sweet and sour) or tom kha (coconut milk) soup, beef steak with peppers

Watcharin Thaveevittayarak (Chef Eddie), owner and head chef of The Old Siam for almost 20 years, was trained in Thailand and knows his stuff. Our server, Sand (“like San with advertisement”), is a hoot and very kind. I would go back almost just to visit him. I will also do my best to work my way through their eight-page menu.

The dining room of Marrakech Mediterranean cuisine

The dining room of Marrakech Mediterranean cuisine

Photo credit: Loretta Berry

Mediterranean cuisine from Marrakech

What to order: Stuffed grape leaves, falafel, hummus, shawarma, skewers or a sampler platter to try it all

Ahmad Rahman and his family owned and operated Marrakesh since 2010. You won’t find better and more authentic Mediterranean cuisine anywhere.

Pro tip: Some Food Trail restaurants may not have websites or social media pages. Calling ahead to confirm opening days and times is recommended. Refer to the map above or this list for addresses and phone numbers.

Unexpected Big City Food in Jacksonville

Some of the restaurants on Jacksonville’s International Food Trail are located in strip malls with unassuming storefronts. You won’t find white linen tablecloths or waiters dressed in black at these places, but don’t let appearances fool you.

What you will be find are adult children happily taking food orders and patiently explaining particular dishes. Mom and Dad will stick their heads out of the kitchen, come say hello, and ask how your meal is. At each location, you’ll feel like you’re their most important customer of the day – and you are.

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