Columbia Restaurant has long been a definitive and iconic restaurant for visitors to downtown St. Augustine and true local culinary enthusiasts.
The oldest continually operating restaurant in Florida, it sits in the center of downtown by the Matanzas River and not too far from our St. Augustine rentals.
The location is convenient, but the century-old family menu, formulated and slowly perfected over decades, has brought a clear reigning status for this historic restaurant in St. Augustine.
History of Columbia Restaurant
Columbia Restaurant did not originate in St. Augustine; it started in the hands of Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr. over a century ago near Tampa – the same family that owns it to this day.
The first restaurant was founded in Ybor City, just east of Tampa, with a simple goal: to make authentic Cuban sandwiches that appealed to the local cigar plant workers.
Of course, the family had loftier aspirations. They upgraded by taking over the restaurant next door to add more dining room space. They installed an air-conditioner (considered the first dining room to do so in Tampa) and they added rich Cuban dishes to the menu and artistic fervor to the building.
The Hernandez family was persistent at keeping the restaurant open through challenging times in the 50s and 60s and even built a showroom to attract Latin dancers and talent.
The latest generation of the Hernandez family combined their love for historic Cuba in a place where a historic design made perfect sense: St. Augustine.
The St. Augustine location opened in 1983, but only after the restaurant had already been expanded to a Sarasota location at St. Armands Circle in 1959.
Throughout the years, Columbia Restaurant has become a favored Florida dining destination for some of the most famous athletes and celebrities in American history – an impressive roster that includes Rocky Marciano, Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter, Evander Holyfield, Marilyn Monroe, Steven Tyler and many others.
Classic Cuban family recipes fill the menu at Columbia Restaurant and have been integral to its success over the decades.
The seafood menu features the freshest ingredients from the Gulf of Mexico and plenty of unique dishes such as the Red Snapper “Alicante” made with Casimiro Hernandez Jr’s recipe, or the Paella “a la Valenciana,” a Valencia rice based bowl with seafood, vegetables, and beans.
Several other satisfying seafood and vegetarian paellas are on the menu, a variety of pollo (chicken) entrees, a “Carnes” menu with beef specialties such as filet mignon made with a signature 121 proof bourbon, a prime New York strip steak that was Babe Ruth’s favorite, tapas, mahi, salmon, grouper, shrimp and much more to cater to all taste preferences.
Rounding out the Cuban themed menu is a vast list of beverages and cocktails including the locally famous mojitos served tableside by the pitcher, a variety of signature cocktails, craft beers and family wines.
The two-story building contains an open patio on the top, overlooking the heart of St. Augustine along St. George Street. Hand-painted tiles coat the walls, collected and decorated over the years from friends and family of the Hernandez’s.
The downstairs lobby features a gorgeous and sprawling Spanish-style fountain. It’s an enrapturing beauty, and the soft sprinkle of water makes a comfortable patter for guests.
Out of the many classic St. Augustine restaurants, Columbia has long been a fixture and standout for many reasons – its premiere location, stunning interior décor, and a menu to represent the pinnacle of Cuban dining in the ancient city.
You won’t want to miss this incredible and historic restaurant during your next St. Augustine vacation. It’s located at 98 St George St, just about 15 minutes from our beachside resort in St. Augustine. Call ahead for reservations at 1-904-824-3341.