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Best Of Norfolk, Virginia

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About a year ago, there were several messages describing some of the readers' favorite restaurants in Norfolk, Virginia. Being that it has been over a year since I have seen any messages describing Norfolk restaurants, I thought I would try to resurrect this thread.

I live in the Ghent section of Norfolk. Following are my top three restaurants in Ghent:

1) No Frill Grill. I usually order the fresh fish chalkboard special, and it is usually delicious. The chalkboard menu changes every Friday.

2) Luna Maya. This place, in my opinion, has gotten even better during the past year. One reader complained about the watery salsa last year. Granted, I will agree that the salsa isn't that inspiring, and the chips taste like they were dumped from one of those bulk bags from Sam's Club. But everything else is wonderful. My favorite appetizer is the Tequila Salmon. My favorite entree is the Chicken Enchiladas.
This is one place that doesn't serve those yucky lumpy pinto beans with their plates. Instead, you get those wonderful creamy black beans. Also, they serve the best martinis I've ever had in my life, specifically The Margatini, rimmed with chipole chili salt.

3) Crackers. A tapas restaurant. In my opinion, Crackers is better than its sister restaurant, Empire, located in downtown Norfolk.

Some readers have given high accolades to The Wild Monkey. Sorry, but I just don't like this place. I've given it several tries. Just not my style, I guess. For example, a lot of their dishes come with a large side order of "Black Eyed Pea Hash", which just doesn't agree with me at all.

Ghent Restaurants To Avoid:

1) The New Belmont--Not too bad when it opened up a few months ago, but it has gone straight downhill. In fact, I ate there a few nights ago, and it was just plain Yuck! The catfish was greasy and overcooked, as well as the squash. Most of the entrees have a Southern touch and are too sweet for my tastes.

2) Szechuan In Ghent--Some of the sorriest Chinese food I have ever had anywhere. I am personally embarrased to have this place in Ghent. By the way, the best Chinese in Ghent is a carry out place called Kin's Wok.

3) The Max--People who eat here just don't know any better.

In downtown Norfolk, my favorite restaurants are as follows:

1) Todd Jurich's Bistro. Wonderful. But getting ready to move to a different downtown location. Maybe it's moved already.

2) The 219. I love the Potstickers for an appetizer and the Asian Tuna for an entree. This is probably my favorite appetizer-entree combo in all of Norfolk.

3) The Empire. A tapas restaurant affiliated with Crackers in Ghent. Personally, I like Crackers much better. But I'm a bit biased, as I live in Ghent and eat more often in Ghent.

Another place that is not bad is Havana. Great drinks and snack style foods. Sometimes, I will stop in here for a snack and a drink after eating at the 219.

Downtown Restaurants To Avoid:

1) Club Soda--A very pretentious and trendy bar type restaurant with ridiculous prices. Such as $15 for a bowl of pate de fois dumblings in lemongrass broth. A tiny little bowl about the size of the smallest bowl of wonton soup you have probably ever had. Three or four bits and it's all gone!

Okay, I'll stop.

I'll let somebody else take a turn at describing some of their favorite Norfolk restaurants. And feel free to disagree with anything I've said.


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  1. I will agree with most of your suggstions...
    Luna Maya desperately needs new chips...does not belong on the same table with that great guac...and the tuna tacos this summer were wonderful

    Ate at the Max for the first time & had quite a good chicken curry, more West Indies Island than Southeast Asia India...and a yummy strawberry cake...the place reminds me of a Jersey diner

    How does San Antonio Sam's stay in business...horrible

    And why doesn't Norfolk have any Vietnamese? We are sick of driving to Va Beach Blvd
    Love Crackers!!!

    5 Replies
    1. re: JeanPrince

      I am enjoying reading the reviews and thought I'd add some of my own. I also live in Ghent.

      The newly re-opened Cogan's is now a great cool friendly neighborhood restaurant/pub. The pizza is VERY good and you can get a whole pie or a huge slice the way you like it. They also have a good (but not great) selection of beer on tap, including (as of this writing, Feb 2003) Aventinus and Allagash Double.

      Best new news is the Taphouse in Ghent has doubled the number of great beers on tap, and as of this writing has 5 Belgians on tap (McChouffe, Maredsous, Delerium Tremens, etc.) and a great selection of American microbrews. They also have Aventinus. Their selection is hands-down better than Cogans. The food is at best serviceable, but they do have some vegan items, decent nachos, and with the awesome beer selection you may not care.

      I also love No Frill Bar & Grill, not for the beer but for the food and friendly atmosphere.

      1. re: Diane

        just moved here but already checking out the restaurants. So far: have had one great experience and one awful experience at Bardo. Two great experiences (for lunch) and one bad experience (late night dessert) at Baker's Crust, A fabulous experience at Blue Hippo! So excited about that (but pricey!). Bardo could be great, but service was so bad, it was ruined. 219 is a great standby, fun atmosphere and good food. Mi Hogar--great mexican!

        1. re: alsky

          Baker's Crust is rapidly sliding downhill. The crepes seem to be the big draw, but everything else is only fair. Salads are full of wilted iceberg and soups are small and uninteresting. The prices are also quite high for low to average diner quality food.

      2. re: JeanPrince

        It's 2006 and although Luna Maya is still great, it also still needs better chips to go with its terrific drinks and food.

        1. re: JeanPrince

          I love Vietnamese! Are you talking about Pho 79?

        2. Another complaint for Club Soda is against the service. Waitresses are more likely to try for a date with you then to take your order down right.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Texan

            The best coffee house around town would have to be Elliott's Farigrounds! Simply Delicious!!

          2. A.W. Schuck's has really great comfort food.. Its a new restaurant opened by the lovely Mike Davis and when returning to Ghent to visit in September, a friend brought me to eat there... I had wonderful pan-fried oysters with some amazing side dishes!! The raw bar menu looks fabulous also!

            1. Agree with much of your review, but think you should give Club Soda another try. I'm not crazy about the "Saturday Night Fever" atmosphere, but three of us all had outstanding dinners there last month.

              1 Reply
              1. re: LolaZelda

                I think the Carriage House (now Omar's?) is fantastic, a great setting too. I also used to love the Painted Lady, but I think it changed hands

              2. has anyone been to Sterling's Steakhouse on Granby? Someone suggested that for dinner and I've never been, and can't find any reviews on the board...


                1 Reply
                1. re: thbunny

                  Luna Maya is still amazing! The corn casserole and taquitos are to die for.

                  I also like 219, it has changed owners but it is still yummy. The Asian chicken is as good as ever.

                  Vintage Kitchen is also worth a try.

                2. My wife and I have had great experiences at BARDO. You have to tell them you want to chill there and order the tapas plates in shifts so your table is not over run with stuff.

                  I was surprised there have been no mentions for the Wine House! Love it, although you need to stick to simple dishes because sometimes they can get a little crazy.

                  I want to create a complete list of the Ghent/Norfolk dinning deal. . .I know there are a lot but all I can think of now is:

                  1. Winehouse - Sunday night 1/2 price entrees

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: dinerdave

                    I used to go to the wine house at least twice a week. Love it in 2006. It has totally gone downhill and I won't go there anymore.

                    Went to Bobbywood tonight. Very good and cool scene. Love Crackers in the new location. AW Shucks is always good, as is Luna Maya.

                    1. re: dinerdave

                      2. Sunday night $5 huge pizza at Cogan's
                      3. Monday night $2 American Drafts at The Taphouse

                    2. I love trying all the different restaruants in Ghent. No Frill and Bella are two of my favorite selections. I recently had a terrible experience at Bardo though, I just wanted to share it with everyone...
                      I have been frequenting Bardo for several years now as I have known one of the owners and a server through some friends. I recently went to Bardo last week and was absolutely appalled by the unprofessionalism and lack of taste both the owner and his server had towards me and my out of town guest. Due to family problems this owner and server (who are dating) are having with my friends' family, I was told by the owner "that I did not have to leave, but I was not welcome there" and then verbally attacked by the server raising her voice and continuously calling me fat in front of the crowded restaurant. She even threatened to pour water all over me if I stayed in the restaurant. Just because I am friends with people the owner and server are having problems with, absolutely under no circumstance, should mean that I would be treated so poorly and so disrespectfully in a place of business. I will never recommend this restaurant to anyone. Their lack of understanding the difference between professional business and personal issues has not only embarrassed and upset me, but has ruined my image of the entire restaurant.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: angelapangela

                        Wow that is very interesting. I think Bardo gets a lot of undeserved praise. I have never had a good experience there. Another reason not to go...

                      2. I like the Surf Rider's Crab Cakes! I even found the recipie online. Yum!

                        1 Reply
                        1. I agree with Luna Maya, but think Crackers is just average if not disapointing, love Jade Villa for the Dim sum on weekends, agree that Surfrider's (on Shore) crabcakes are the best in the area and absolutly love Taqueria El Rey in Chesapeake blvd... they hand make their corn torrillas...heaven! The best restaruant in Norfolk in my oppinion is Razo in OV. I love that its unpretntious, delicious and serves good simple itallian food. Other Favorites are Great Saigon for Pho and Bankok garden's lunch specials are always good, my favorite being the masman curry.
                          Ps. my favoirite shooter in Norfolk is Shuck's oyster shooter....mmmmmm!

                          1. six years later, there is always room for additions. VP last week touted Jessy's Taqueria, 3201 E Ocean View. As the state of Mexican food in HR is generally awful, I am always on the look for a solution to my TexMex jones. Jessy's fits the bill perfectly. Great menu, with a full range from breakfast (huevos rancheros, chorizo con con huevos, all served with hot flour tortillas), tortas (hot sandwiches with a variety of fillings -- steak, pork carnitas, milanesa) and a full range of enchiladas -- mole to green. I chose the green -- house made corn tortillas, wrapped around shredded stewed chicken, and covered with a tomatillo based green sauce, grated queso asadero, and mexican crema (halfway between sour cream, and creme frache). Drinks include the classic mexican choices -- jamaica, tamarindo, and horchata. Everything in ths place (except the flour tortillas) is made here -- including the salsas, a fairly mild jalapeno based sauce with no tomatoes, and a spicer chile arbol. Even the excellently flavored frijoles refritos are made from scratch. Jessy's is food prepared with love and passion, and if comes through in every mouthful.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: 23451bum

                              I totally agree with the state of Mexican food in HR! Can't wait to give Jesse's a try. I go to Guadalajara on Shore, but the only thing I will order there is the sopes, either carinitas or pork al pastor(they're actually pretty good and they serve a tomatillo and red chile salsa w/ that's yummy). I order my top shelf margarita with sour mix on the side. I haven't found any place here (except mi casa) that makes their margarita's with good tequila(Herradura Blanco), triple sec and lime juice, solomente! Rosa Mexicana in NYC has the most authentic Mexican food (besides the little taquerias) that I've had on the east coast. They opened one in DC although I haven't been there yet.

                              1. re: marianyb

                                Have you tried the Margs at Tortilla west in Norfolk? they use agave juice as a sweetener and have many dif flavors.

                              2. re: 23451bum

                                I’m so excited to hear this! I saw the article and live in OV so I plan to eat here soon! I was really excited about El Desorden...anyone tried it? is it any good? I was super excited when I found Taqueria El Rey and can't wait to try Jessy's...thanks for the tip.
                                Ps. for great Italian, try Razzo's across the street!

                                1. re: 23451bum

                                  There is plenty of good Mexican at 3 Amigos in Chesapeake (Battlefield Blvd.)!

                                2. Also had a chance to visit Mannino’s Italian Bistro, 4402 Princess Anne Rd. Good solid neighborhood slightly upscale Italian bistro -- better than the pizza and pasta places, everything we had was made with skill and love. Started with the biscotti crusted fried green tomatoes -- a fantastic cross cuisine treat. DW had a beautiful green salad, with a tasty house made gorgonzola dressing. She followed with the side dish penne with bolognese sause -- meaty and filling. I had the Pollo Giovanni -- thinly pounded, pan sauteed chicken with red bell pepper strips and artichoke hearts, in a white wine sauce. Desserts were the only disappointment -- cannoli had been filled earlier that day, so the shell was slightly "un-crisp". I made a mistake and had the cheesecake -- I deserve it. How good was it? Good, not great. If it were in our neighborhood, would be a favorite. Just a little too far - like I said, it is a neighborhood place. If we lived nearby, we would be regulars. If it is your neighborhood (Kempsville), then you are very fortunate.

                                  1. We're coming from NYC and staying in Colonial Williamsburg with 3 teens for a week. I would love to bring my family by the water for a change of pace to dine. We'ver never been here and need some guidance. We love seafood! Any recommendatiions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: mushimushi427

                                      I am not familiar with many places on the peninsula but know quite a few good places in Norfolk and in Va beach (about 45min drive) how far are you willing to drive?