How to Eat and Drink Well in Ocala/Marion County
A guide to some of our favorite restaurants and bars in Marion County Florida.
In Ocala/Marion County, you are never more than a short drive from sitting down to a memorable restaurant meal or sipping a lovingly brewed craft beer. Find a generous selection of locally-owned restaurants and bars, as well as, an award-winning destination brewery in the centrally located Historic Downtown Ocala.
You’ll find all the reliable chain restaurants throughout our destination, as well as some quirky Instagram-worthy independent places. On top of that, for unique waterfront eateries, stop into the western edge of Marion County and have a taste of Dunnellon.
A TASTE OF DOWNTOWN OCALA
If a traditional splurge is what you’re after, Mark’s Prime will fulfill your desires. Overlooking Ocala’s Downtown Square, the restaurant’s specialty is, of course, steak — cooked to perfection over a wood-fired grill. Not to be overlooked are Mark’s fresh seafood and top-shelf wine list.
Upscale options on the Square go beyond the steak house. Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille is a classy but casual place that specializes in New Orleans cuisine. It also features an inviting and economical craft cocktail menu. Katya Vineyards offers a four-course Wine and Gourmet Food Pairing, updated weekly, and serves authentic Russian caviar. The restaurant features its own brands of wine and even a world-traveling, in-house oenophile who goes by Dr. Wine.
Ivy on the Square features Southern-inspired food in a 1920s speakeasy ambiance. Servers wear newsboy hats and jazz plays on the sound system. With floor-to-ceiling windows and original brick interior walls, Ivy is a terrific daytime stop as well. Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar presents elevated barbecue and other Southern specialties. Its whiskey menu lists (not joking) 120 bourbons and 60 ryes.
Feeling continental? A couple of blocks west of the Square is La Cuisine, an unabashedly French restaurant. Owner and executive chef Patrice Perron was born and raised in Lyon, France, one of the country’s gastronomical hubs. La Cuisine’s bold red walls mark a striking contrast to its white tablecloths.
Feeling like pizza? Pi on Broadway is celebrated for its creative artisan pies, but is much more than that. The menu branches into other ethnic styles offering Bavarian soft pretzels, Greek salads and guacamole. At Pi, you can dine on the open-air rooftop while listening to live music, or opt for a more intimate experience in the downstairs dining room. This party spot’s motto is — appropriately enough —“Eat. Drink. Jam.”
If something a bit more earthy matches your cravings, stroll a block north of the Downtown Ocala Square to Sayulita Taqueria, named for a small surfing village in Mexico. The eatery, with an inviting industrial interior and outdoor courtyard, offers tacos and sides in a style it calls “modern street food.”
That’s just a tasting menu of the wonderful culinary experiences in Historic Downtown Ocala. Be sure to check out our many more restaurant options in Ocala/Marion County.
CRAFT BEER ON TAP
Infinite Ale Works, Ocala/Marion County’s linchpin craft brewery, started creating its own beer in 2015. Three years later, the Florida Beer Competition named the brewery’s quadruple ale, West Floridian, the No. 1 beer in the state. The place is a must-stop for beer aficionados exploring our destination. Make sure to eat before as Infinite is all about the beer and does not serve food. Set in a brick building with a covered patio, the place emphasizes Belgian-inspired beers, with head brewer Craig Birkmaier’s long list of creations joining a rotating selection of other crafts on tap. Infinite’s brands are also available to take away in 64-ounce growlers.
Just southwest of Historic Downtown Ocala on State Road 200, you’ll come upon Hiatus Brewing Company. The place, which opened in September 2019, bursts with color — bright blues, greens, yellows and oranges. Hiatus serves beer brewed in-house — including a Kölsch called Every Day is Saturday — as well as suds from other parts of Florida, and hard ciders, seltzers and iced teas from other parts of the country. The food menu includes bar munchies, salads and sandwiches.
A DUNNELLON DETOUR
Everyone knows beach bars, but how about river bars? Dunnellon, at the junction of the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers, 25 miles southwest of Ocala, has two restaurant/watering holes with terrific river views and swampy, Old Florida ambiance.
Swampy’s Bar & Grille, which sits on the sublime Rainbow River, is just north of Hwy 484 and an easy reach by car. You can also arrive by boat, kayak or tube. There are plenty of places to dock. Swampy’s looks as if plucked out of the Louisiana Bayou, which is reflected in the Cajun-focused menu. You can dig into a Gator PoBoy, Red Beans and Sausage, Red Fish Pontchartrain and other Louisiana favorites, as well as seafood, burgers and other bar fare. Swampy’s has the look of a backwater shack, with a large, partially covered deck, umbrella-covered picnic tables strewn about the grassy grounds and random chairs right at river’s edge. With the spring-fed Rainbow River rolling by, you’ll want to kick back and enjoy a leisurely meal and drinks.
A mile drive from Swampy’s, or a bit longer by paddle, you’ll find the Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant on the banks of the Withlacoochee. With a nautical-themed interior graced by walls of slatted blonde wood, the Blue Gator is still very much a river bar. The spacious outdoor deck overlooks the water, with a multitude of covered boat slips and other places to dock nearby. The vast menu focuses on seafood baskets and an array of sandwiches, wings, salads and more. The Blue Gator is casting distance of North Florida Avenue/U.S. 41 and shares a complex with the Angler’s Resort Motel, Captain Bob’s Airboat Tours and boat rentals.