Updated: Jul 10
Charlottesville’s Foodie Scene is ripe for discovery!
Here is a look at 15 fabulous restaurants across town. Each is well-known for at a signature dish, the one that brings patrons back time and again. Here’s an in-depth look at what’s most memorable at each place, peppered with commentary and insight from the kitchen pros. Bon Appetite!
Quality Pie If you’re looking for really exquisite food, there’s no place better than a seat at the master’s table. How many of us have heard locals say that their favorite eateries are usually the hidden gems? Well, this restaurant is far from hidden, but it certainly fits into the “don’t judge a book by its cover” category. Quality Pie, located in the historic building that once housed famed donut shop Spudnuts, offers much more than pie! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner abound in this diner-style joint with the kind of personality that townies love in our restaurant-filled city. Bursting at the seams with charm, Chef/Owners Tomas Rahal, Anna Zaragoza, and Mary Evans all agree that this establishment’s signature dish is the Tortilla Española. According to Rahal, it’s simple, satisfying, and delicious, but this lover of all things that come out of this man’s kitchen would beg to differ. It’s more than that. It is home. It’s tantalizing. It is simple, yes, but it’s the kind of thing that you know you can only get one way and that’s from Tomas and his partners at Quality Pie. Made with organic eggs, potatoes, and onions, the Tortilla Española is pan-cooked and served with chunky gray sea salt and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (evoo). Checking all the boxes, with fresh, local eggs, tender potatoes, and the fragrant evoo from Alicante, España, it’s both traditional and perfect for on-the-go diners. This gem of a dish is served sliced and at room temp, but if you want it warmed, just ask nicely! To top it off, Quality Pie is now serving incredible community-inspired dinners with a beautiful victory garden just outside this small, quaint diner. Don’t let that fool you…the menu is on par with any of the best restaurants in Cville. Smyrna If we’re talking diamond-in-the-rough-we’re-just-lucky-to-be-graced-with-this-restaurant’s-presence, then we’re talking Smyrna. It’s actually quite simple: ask many of the restaurant staff around Cville where they’ve been eating in between shifts, and they’ll tell you it’s Smyrna. Run by two friends from Turkey, Executive Chef Tarik Sengul and General Manager Orhun Bartu Dikmen, they cut their teeth in New York before choosing Charlottesville to call home, and aren’t we lucky?! Anything on the menu is a good choice, but this establishment’s signature dish is the Manti Dumplings. These aren’t the dumplings you’re imagining, trust us. Aegean meets Mediterranean cuisine with these teeny tiny, pillowy fresh pasta dumplings that have been meticulously formed by hand. Inside, the stuffing is vibrant and light, yet hearty. With bright flavors of local Sharondale mushrooms, oregano, mint, and more, all bathing in a decadent housemade garlic yogurt sauce and topped with dehydrated (think sundried) tomatoes, the end result is a dish (and dish) that you will 100% be licking clean. Restoration Restoration, located within the Old Trail Golf Club in Crozet, Virginia, is the perfect spot to stop on your way to—or back from—a day touring western Charlottesville’s wineries, breweries, or even after a round of golf. Its expansive restaurant space features a beautiful outdoor dining area with unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The staff are friendly, parking is easy, and the menu is classic American with great offerings, including their signature dish: Crab Cakes. Pictured here is the ever-popular Crab Cakes Benedict with a perfectly poached egg and a rich hollandaise sauce atop a toasted English muffin and sautéed spinach. Make sure to order this dish, or any other featuring Chef Shane’s crab cakes, as they have no filler, are 98% crab meat, and reflect the chef’s creativity and prowess both in the kitchen and on his ever-changing seasonal menu. C&O A tried (and tried, and tried) and true local establishment that has serious legs, C&O is the go-to for celebration dinners, special occasions, and significant second dates. It’s been around longer than most of the restaurants in Charlottesville and for very good reason. The food is always excellent, the staff is fabulous, and you get a sense when you’re here that you’re being taken care of. Dean Maupin, Owner and Chef, makes sure of this. With the large following that C&O has, it’s impossible to either complain or mess with the menu that’s been on for years, so Maupin doesn’t worry about that. Sure, you can always try something new, but the signature dish in this incredibly well-reputed restaurant is (and always has been) the Duck Confit with ultra-fluffy ricotta gnocchi, rich duck jus, tender butternut squash, arugula, and duck cracklings. It’s everything you’d want and expect in a dish coming out of a kitchen of this caliber: it’s decadent, sure. It’s rich, sure. The duck is perfectly cooked, sure. But it’s the whole experience. Enjoy your time and don’t rush your way out of this beautiful restaurant, situated in a historic downtown building and full of charm. This is a spot to fall in love, eat languorously, and truly enjoy each morsel for what it is: perfection on a plate. Public Fish & Oyster There’s nothing quite like sitting in Public at 3:45 PM and watching folks line up outside the front door. By 4 o’clock the rugs are laid out, the doors unlocked, and the bar is instantly full. That’s when you want to come if you’re after the best happy hour food in town. While Public’s menu is delightful in every way, this restaurant is Charlottesville’s best and only dedicated spot for fresh seafood and oysters. The happy-hour-only menu is what we’re focusing on here, with signature dishes that include Lobster Rolls two ways (Maine and Connecticut), and Raw Oysters on the Half Shell brought in daily from the very best regions around. While it’s certain that any experience at Public will be incredibly memorable, thanks to this restaurant’s talented Executive Chef Dylan Allwood and Owner Daniel Kaufman, make sure to visit often, and early, if you don’t have a reservation (which is highly recommended) since the restaurant is full on any given night. Come with a partner and order one of everything on the happy hour menu. Sharing a Maine Lobster Roll (served cold) and the Connecticut-style Lobster Roll (served warm) is the way to go. The Maine Roll is perfectly toasted, light, sweet, and refreshing, with a smooth balance of mayo and celery seed. The Connecticut Roll is a favorite, served with large butter-poached lobster meat. Order with either a side of Belgian-style frites or an impossibly fresh house salad, and do not leave without also placing an order for oysters, shucked in house and served with housemade mignonette, cocktail sauce, and lemon. Check the chalkboard for a daily selection, since oysters on offer are based on availability and rotate often. If you’re just in town for a short time, visit this spot first. You’ll likely want to return each day of your visit! Bizou Bizou has been a staple for business lunches and evening dinners for so long now that it has proven to the Charlottesville food community that it’s got some serious chops. Started by local restaurateur, Vincent Derquenne, it is the longest standing of his fine list of restaurants, and is a must-try if you’re looking for simple, good food with a French flair. According to Derquenne, his Grilled Banana Bread is a signature dish because, “It’s honestly a mind-bending combination” of flavors. He goes on to say that, “Our homemade banana bread is grilled until crisp and brûléed along the edges, topped with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. The interplay of hot (the homemade banana bread, which essentially becomes the best French toast imaginable when griddled in butter) and cold, creamy vanilla ice cream, topped with the salty/sugary sauce” is a decadent dessert. It offers a crunchy and caramelized interplay, served with perfect warm house-made caramel sauce. The banana bread isn’t overly sweet, which helps in combination with the other sweet additions. The cooling touch of the ice cream helps smooth out the richness of this dish, which incidentally comes with two slices and is perfect for sharing. The bread itself is toothsome and certainly breadier (as opposed to cakier) than a traditional quick bread made at home. It’s robust and perfect even as a stand alone breakfast treat…too bad Bizou doesn’t open until 11:30. This dish is perfect if you’re sharing with someone who likes the crunchy to your chewy. Botanical A newer addition to the Charlottesville food scene, Botanical is a plant-based food lovers’ dream come true. With vibrant menu offerings and something for everyone, food is served up in a beautiful space with plenty of outdoor dining. Owner Ryan Becklund and her talented team invite you to join the party in enjoying Bontanical’s signature dish, the Crispy Cauliflower Bowl. This approachable dish challenges the foods-can’t-touch folks, but in the best way. This dish is truly a flavor explosion! Served with crispy cauliflower florets and just the right amount of spice, alongside soft white beans, diced fresh mango, and pickled cabbage, it’s one of those meals that you can’t stop eating. The cauliflower gets its crunch from a tempura-sibling of a coating, and it holds its crunch even under the sweet and sour glaze. The chili flake garnish on the mango really pops and the subtle coconut rice is a great base for all of the robust flavors of the bowl. This is one of those dishes, and places, that you’ll start and end your meal before you were ever truly aware you were eating a vegan dish. Botanical will succeed in getting everyone to eat their veggies! Umma’s If there was a good word for Umma’s, we’d use it, but this wordsmith is coming up short. Think trendy, fresh, honorable, and intelligent. This is the food and vibe at Umma’s. It’s not your Korean Grandma’s fried chicken joint, or is it? That depends on your Grandma, but for the sake of argument, this new Korean-inspired restaurant is, for lack of a better word, woke. It’s got hot Grandma vibes, and even hotter fried chicken vibes. Upon arrival, you can order easily from your table via a QR code, or approach the counter. Order ev-er-y-thing, and then don’t forget to grab a jar—or three—of housemade pickles from the cooler on your way out. Arrive with a group and take your time, but you don’t leave without trying Umma’s signature dish: the Korean Fried Chicken. Firstly, it’s got massive crunch appeal (fried twice for extra crunch), if that’s something you’re into. Make sure to bring a friend who likes soggy food so you can have all the crunchies to yourself. Seriously though, you’ll take a bite and wish you had the recipe so you could make this every night. But why would you when you could just come back to this reasonably priced and fast-ish food joint. Not only is the fried chicken amazing, but Umma’s Chefs and Owners, Kelsey Naylor, Jennifer Naylor, and Anna Gardner, put their own spin on it by saucing it up just right. This sweet, salty, and spicy drizzle of sweet Soy/Gochujang sauce is just what you need to cut the richness of the fried chicken, and surprising enough in its flavor profile that you’ll end up fighting over the last piece of chicken, only to realize that you can always order more in a blink. What’s more, this dish is paired with house-pickled daikon radish cubes, which get a little playful after a while and really help to amp up the experience of eating what would normally be deemed as regular ol’ fried chicken. Make no mistake, this is anything but. It’s the perfect combination of crunchy and juicy, and is sure to please every palate. Vu Noodles Umami is the name of the game at this fabulous plant-based establishment. While small in size (it sits in a tiny kitchen space with window service and limited outdoor seating), the flavors that come out of Julie Vu’s namesake restaurant are packed with the punchy kind that furtive vegans and vegetarians have come to expect out of a brick and mortar touting veggie-forward options. In fact, says Vu, the only option that isn’t vegan on the menu is a condiment, and one that can be ordered on or off: fish sauce. Vu Noodles’ signature dish is none other than their distinctive and highly flavorful Pho. With a hearty mushrooms base (you won’t believe the flavor), it comes loaded with all the usual suspects (thin-sliced jalapenos, bean sprouts, chile sauce on the side, and rice noodles, of course), but what you’ll absolutely love are the additions of bright and crunchy snow peas (so green), marinated shiitake mushrooms, and chiffonade basil (instead of the usual leaves), which, as Vu points out, simply makes this dish easier to eat on the go. She’s right, but not just about this. Her whole take on fast plant-based food is spot on. No wonder, therefore, that she’s been in business in various spots around town (including as a start in wholesaling) for 10 years. If you’re looking to sit outside and enjoy her delicious offerings on the go, or simply want to stop in and see what all the fuss is about, Vu Noodles is your spot! Tonic With Executive Chef Emerson Ross and Owner Courtenay Tyler at the helm, this inspired restaurant is different from any other spot in Charlottesville. Tonic is casual and fun, offering dishes that change often to reflect the best of what Central Virginia has to offer. It boasts gorgeous outdoor dining, with inside seating when the weather isn’t happy. The menu is made up of a smattering of options from small plates to larger entrées. Think locally and seasonally-inspired fare here. Sure, you can order a dish all to yourself, but the menu (and experience) really shines when you can order from a number of dishes meant to be shared in a communal way. While this restaurant’s Snack Boards are inventive, curious, and creative beyond anything you’ve likely seen in your food travels, Tonic’s signature dish is the Smoked Katsu Style Pork Chop, and for excellent reason. Served with coffee & maple-glazed baby carrots, cumin, cilantro, and sauerkraut aioli, this dish is delicious, simple, satisfying, and really reflects the values of Tonic’s kitchen. Fermentation and pickling is a big part of its philosophy and cooking style, which is why they cook seasonally, and pickle or ferment to preserve the seasons. This dish features a generations-old recipe for sauerkraut scattered throughout the sauerkraut aioli. In fact, Chef Emerson Ross travels back home to Pittsburgh to help his family make and ferment the cabbage that is a part of this dish. It is quite the process, with a standing mandoline made from refurbished forklift parts! Months later, Tonic gets the finished sauerkraut; crispy & tart. The dish also reflects the collaborative nature of Tonic. Everyone works as a collective, and is encouraged to participate in the creative process. This particular dish started as an idea from one of their cooks, David Guevara. He and Emerson worked on it for months, trying different ideas until they landed on the winning combination of flavors that made it perfect. The pork chop itself is amazing: crunchy on the outside, like a schnitzel, but with a breading that is slightly sweet. Its flavors will surprise you and you’ll find yourself reaching for bite after bite. Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar Ne’er has a customer been misguided in choosing to dine at this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant (think a mélange of Greek, Italian, and Spanish cuisines). When it comes to discovering, and rediscovering, a menu that is tried and true, meet Orzo. Located in the heart of the Main Street Market, Orzo is sandwiched between the Downtown Mall and the Midtown area leading up to the Corner on UVA Grounds. Make sure to reserve a spot, because this restaurant is constantly buzzing with casual dining foodies anxious to get a seat at the table. Since Orzo has survived the rise and fall of the restaurant scene in Charlottesville since 2006, it is certainly safe to say that it’s an eatery that holds true to excellence. For Orzo’s signature dish, there are two options that will complete any meal, and they’ve been around as staples since the restaurant opened. It is for good reason, in fact, that these dishes have both withstood the test of time and discerning palates that choose to return again and again. Chef and Partner Adam Spaar works alongside Chef and Partner Pete Evans to deliver both the Peasant Beef and Pork Bolognese (a customer favorite for 16 years) and the Seared Greek Halloumi Cheese, two dishes that you won’t want to miss. The traditional Bologna, Italy, Bolognese is crafted using ground Angus beef and Duroc pork, slow simmered with fresh tomato sauce. After a splash of cream and chili flakes, it gets tossed with al dente rigatoni and topped with a fresh basil garnish. The Halloumi is served perfectly seared atop a bed of fresh grape tomatoes in an Ouzo reduction sauce. As if you didn’t already need one reason to visit Orzo, now you have two. Ivy Inn Walking into the Ivy Inn, this much beloved Charlottesville fine dining restaurant, feels like coming home. This quaint historic house-turned-restaurant (once part of the “Faulkner House”) is a top local pick for celebrating any milestone, or perfect for a romantic dinner. The locally inspired seasonal American menu reflects Chef Angelo Vangelopoulos’s expertise in interweaving both local and seasonal ingredients into an experience where no diner can go wrong. Every morsel is carefully tended to and is, in no uncertain terms, complete perfection. Here we highlight the Ivy Inn’s signature dish: Shrimp & Grits. As a starter, or even as a light main dish, the Shrimp & Grits couldn’t be better. The grits are rich and full of flavor from the country ham butter sauce and are perfectly cooked and subtly sublime. The shrimp are the best around, and the dish has an all-around quality of smooth flavors with delightful surprises like the tender diced tomato and exquisite crispy onion. The onions add a sweet sense with that crisp bite that you never knew you were looking for in the soft texture typically associated with this dish, along with a touch of spice and a velvety texture. Not only is Angelo a master of his craft, but the foundation that the Ivy Inn has built after decades in business represents the kind of success that any Charlottesville restaurant aspires to. The Ridley Slowly arriving to the bustling food scene in Charlottesville, this is the tortoise, not the hare, folks. Located on the ground level of The Draftsman Hotel near the Corner, The Ridley’s kitchen and restaurant are run by a talented team of chefs and staff. The ambiance of this establishment is not what you’d expect from the typical old building turned food haven. In fact, since the construction is fairly new by Charlottesville standards, what you get is a space that’s modern, light, airy, and perfect if you’re searching for a swanky dining experience with a traditional Southern menu, elevated to taste of course. For The Ridley’s signature dish, we have in combination two fabulously Southern dishes that will certainly heighten your dining experience. Both the Skillet Corn Bread and Shrimp & Grits are loaded with sweet Southern charm, plus a touch of spice, of course. One begets the other, therefore it’s a fabulous plan to come hungry and linger over the robust flavors of both dishes in conjunction with one another. Plan to share (or not) and make sure you fit in a stroll on UVA Grounds after dining with The Ridley. As one of Charlottesville’s Black-owned restaurants, The Ridley pays homage to Dr. Walter Ridley, the first Black student to graduate from UVA and receive a graduate degree from any major historically white public university in the South. The menu was designed with a simple question in mind—what would a modern Southern restaurant look like if it were designed around the idea of inclusivity? At The Ridley, you’ll discover destination drinks that showcase our best local makers (wineries, breweries, distilleries) and crave-worthy food crafted from local ingredients whenever possible. The menu is fun and approachable with delicious twists on familiar classics alongside Southern-inspired dishes that represent our heritage. In total, the experience at this restaurant is perfect for the family visiting for a college tour, a couple celebrating an anniversary, or even just a long-awaited date night by Cville locals in a new spot that may not be on your radar, even though it most definitely should be. Thyme & Co. This Mediterranean eatery is a must not miss spot. If you’re looking for something fresh, handmade, and most importantly, made with love, this is your number one destination. Pay no mind to the fact that it’s tucked behind the main row of restaurants across from the UVA Hospital on the Corner. In fact, this is a blessing in disguise. It means on most days you won’t have to wait in long lines, and can in fact chat to the owner, Rami Daniel, while you order and wait for your food to be made in front of you. That’s right: every single menu item is made fresh daily and made to order, which includes the delectable Manousheh flatbread, which is prepared by Daniel himself each morning, and rolled out and baked in the traditional salt-insulated, fired baking hearth that came to Thyme & Co. directly from Lebanon. Daniel even admitted to having to take down the front doors to fit the oven in upon delivery and prior to opening! His bread is filled with a litany of different toppings and comes out warm, wrapped, and served immediately to his [salivating] guests. Daniel, born of Lebanese and Palestinian parents, uses only the finest imported ingredients from Turkey, Lebanon, and beyond. Even his sesame paste for his hummus comes from afar, and all to an important end: he wants your experience to be authentic. As Charlottesvillians who are apt to hold on to best kept secrets, this is admittedly tough to share, but if you’re as passionate about Mediterranean food as we are at the Guide, then this spot is for you. Grab your food to go or sit at one of two community tables inside, as well as a few outdoor tables that are perfect for people watching. It’s hard to choose just one signature dish, but the Thyme & Cheese Flatbread is the best of all worlds, and certainly represents what Thyme & Co. strives for. Made with Daniel’s bread, it is filled with Za’atar paste, Sumac (a ground red berry that offers a mixed taste of salt and lemon), and Attawi cheese, a specialty imported Lebanese cheese that is salty, toothsome, and crumbled. Together, with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, and mint leaves, then rolled up into a wrap and sliced in half, this sandwich is the absolute perfect antidote for those of you weary travelers looking for healthy comfort food that can be eaten on the go and à la carte. Gordonsville Ice House Craig Hartman, Chef and Owner (of BBQ Exchange fame), has created a beautiful space whose focus is all about two of the area’s most favorite things: community and fried chicken. Set in historic Gordonsville, a quick hop, skip, and jump from downtown Charlottesville, the Ice House was once the Gordonsville Town office and community center. It hosted dances, Santa Claus visits, movies, bowling, and more. Many locals have warm memories of their youth here. The Ice House’s signature dish is the Southern Style Fried Chicken, complete with delicious platter sides of Buttered Green Beans and Edna Lewis-style Hoppin’ John over soft Carolina Rice. Their fried chicken is certainly something to call home about, so how perfectly fitting then, that Gordonsville was once known as the Fried Chicken Capital of the world! Touted as the best bone-in fried chicken around, the breading is crisp, dark, rich, and flavorful. The meat is tender and flavorful as well, falling off the bone in just the right way, with plenty of Hot Honey for dipping. This also appears to be perfectly adequate for the biscuit, which is obviously made in house and tastes like it’s been basted in butter in the best way. Served with homemade Apple Butter, it’s hard to argue that any meal at the Ice House could be better, although there are plenty of folks who would prove this theory wrong. This Fried Chicken Platter is complete with the aforementioned sides, whose richness and delicate preparation combine to form a perfect Saturday meal spent with loved ones watching a local band perform while sitting under string lights and stars.