While we typically don’t gravitate towards chain restaurants, we do get excited when we find a pretty good one that is worth a visit. We can appreciate more locally-grown operations that feel like a one-of-a-kind place, and that is exactly what Jimmy Hula’s is. Jimmy Hula’s is a franchise that started out in Winter Park, Florida. It is mostly a Florida chain, with all but one of their locations being in the Sunshine State. The other one is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I imagine it also has a distinct Florida feel to it. Our Jacksonville location opened in early 2015 and a new Orange Park location just opened on Blanding Boulevard earlier this year. We pass by our local Jimmy Hula’s at Atlantic and Hodges pretty frequently and recently decided to stop in and give it a try.
The inside is quirky and colorful with a festive, beachy feel. Surfboards and tiki accents adorn every surface. It is kitschy, but in a good way. The boat seat booths are an especially fun touch, particularly for the kiddos. The large roll-up doors bring the outside in, making it feel open and airy and like you’re sitting on the deck outside. Add to that the live music performed by an actual talented musician and it was a pleasant, enjoyable, and kid friendly setting for a casual meal.
The staff, despite being on the young side (think high school/college age) was extremely warm and welcoming. We were greeted with a smile and given menus as soon as we walked in. We looked over our menus for a few minutes, then headed up to the counter to place our order. Jimmy Hula’s is a fast casual restaurant, so you order at the counter then have a seat and your food is brought out to you. The staff members at the counter were helpful in placing our order, letting us know what all our options were and then taking their time to double check and confirm everything. The menu at Jimmy Hula’s is extensive…tacos, burgers, appetizers, and more. And dishes can be personalized in a lot of ways. So it was great service to have them go back over our order to make sure it was just right.
Our food came out quickly and was brought over a little at a time, as it was ready. This is great if you have kids. There was no need to entertain our energetic toddler – her food came out first and she dug right in while we waited a few more minutes for ours. If you’re dining with grownups, just be prepared and know ahead of time that all your food might not come out together.
Our kiddo absolutely loved her Cheese Quesadilla kid’s meal ($5.49), which also came with mac and cheese and fresh pineapple chunks. The quesadilla can be ordered with meat, but our little cheese-loving girl decided to keep it simple. Her quesadilla was overflowing with gooey cheese and was nicely toasted on the outside. The mac and cheese was also surprisingly good. It’s not gourmet mac and cheese, but it was certainly better than a lot of other mac and cheese I’ve had in town. It was creamy and cheesy and there was a lot of it. The portion size on this kid’s meal was generous – definitely enough for two kiddos to share. And I loved that it came with fresh fruit. The pineapple was fresh and juicy and was a good healthy addition to the meal.
As an appetizer, we went with the Fire Roasted Avocado ($3.29). It was simply prepared and came dusted with cotija cheese with Sriracha on the side and a huge bed of tortilla chips. I’m going to need all my avocados fire roasted from now on. Wow. The fire roasting brought out a nice smokiness and an incredible depth of flavor. It was such a simply prepared appetizer, but so tasty and super affordable.
While the menu at Jimmy Hula’s features all sorts of dishes, from bowls to burgers, tacos to sides and apps, we honed in on the tacos right away. There is a wide variety of options on this menu and while we stuck with tacos this time around, we will definitely be going back to try out some of their burgers. For my tacos, I chose the Tree Hugger ($3.89) and the Baja ($3.95) tacos. The Tree Hugger is a veggie taco with mushrooms, zucchini, black beans, onions, and peppers. The veggies were super flavorful and everything worked well together. The cotija cheese on top also added a nice tang that complemented the grilled vegetables. My only complaint about this taco was that, despite it being a vegetarian option, in my first bite I got a big piece of pulled pork. My husband had ordered a taco with pulled pork on it, so I imagine that the ingredients for all our tacos were put in close proximity on the grill. Since I’m not a vegetarian (and because the meat was pretty tasty), it didn’t bother me too much. But if you are strictly vegetarian, you might want to ask for yours to be prepared totally apart from the non-vegetarian dishes.
My Baha taco was also pretty good. It is just one of a handful of fish taco options that can all be prepared to your liking – blackened, grilled, or crispy. I chose crispy. The batter was light and perfectly crispy. The fish itself was cooked well and was light and flaky. This taco was loaded with toppings – so much so that it was a little messy to eat. But I suppose that’s what the bed of chips underneath was for, to scoop up whatever fell off your tacos. The pineapple mango salsa on top was especially flavorful and added a nice sweet citrusy contrast.
Our other tacos were equally tasty. The Steak Jimichurri ($3.95) was tasty with its flavorful chimichurri sauce and fresh cilantro. The steak was tender and nicely prepared on this one. The Malibu ($3.95) was also good. Hubby chose to have the fish on this one served blackened and again, this fish was cooked well and was flaky and flavorful. The guacamole on this taco added nice rich flavor and freshness. The winner for creativity, however, was the Johnny Utah ($4.25). This standout taco came piled high with juicy pulled pork, then topped with creamy mac and cheese, bbq sauce, and crispy bacon. The dill pickles nestled underneath the pork added a nice crunch and tanginess. Again, the main drawback of all of our tacos (if you can call it a drawback, really) was that they had too much on them. They were so stuffed with toppings that they were a little messy and tough to eat. But the flavors of each one worked and the ingredients were fresh and tasty. It was just a lot more food that we had bargained for, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
Overall our experience at Jimmy Hula’s was great. The menu has a lot of items with plenty of options for everyone. For it being a fast casual restaurant, service was top notch. We were checked on no less than five times, and everyone was genuinely pleasant, polite, and helpful. We’ve been to some upscale eateries in town and not had service nearly as professional and attentive. While Jimmy Hula’s may not use the most premium, locally sourced ingredients, the quality is good, the portions are generous, and the prices are reasonable. Can you get a better taco here in Jacksonville? Probably. But can you get it as quickly and at the same price point in a perfect family friendly setting? Doubtful. If you’re looking for gourmet upscale tacos, there are other places in town to look. But for an affordable, quick meal that is laid back and family friendly, Jimmy Hula’s is a good middle-of-the-road option with big portions and an even bigger personality.
For this review we welcome a member of the JRR family: Rhonda Kovar grew up in the heart of North Carolina before moving to Florida after getting hitched in 2002. She is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and a lover of all things crafty, musical, or edible. Rhonda loves finding new and delicious ways to turn her two tiny picky eaters into future foodies. You can follow her on Instagram.