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May 30, 2008 08:05 AM

Charlottesville, VA: HELP!

Am visiting Charlottesville for a week and need lots of help about good food locations. In particular, am interested in *authentic* Italian (especially if there is a true Margherita pizza place), as well as French and/or Mediterranean. Good wine list is very helpful too. Food quality and authenticity is the most imporant aspect of the restaurants that I hope to hear about. Thanks for helping....

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  1. hey hercules,

    Charlottesville has a lot to offer food wise and here are my suggestions:

    Italian; Enoteca Wine & Panini Bar. They feature an all Italian wine list with close to 20 wines by the glass & half-glass. The food offerings are smaller bites (in the Italian Enoteca tradition) with authentic prosciutto crudo, finocchiona, as well as real Parm-Regg (they get it in 30 pd. wheels), bra tenero and an amazing caciotta al tartufo. These items are the backbone for bruschette offerings with fresh pestos, roasted vegetables, etc as well as panini's made on a panini press w/locally made bread. The staff is knowledgeable (especially the manager - Megan who is studying for her master sommelier at the moment) and it has a sweet vibe. * Disclaimer, I worked as a cook at Enoteca in the past.

    I don't think there's a true place to get a Margherita pizza, or really any notable Italian that I've been to, but Christian's Pizza on the downtown mall does make a pretty good pie with some cool toppings like fresh avocado and feta, etc.

    French; There are a lot of options here.
    - L'Etoile, a smaller more intimate restaurant with a Virginia twist on French cuisine. I've had some really good dishes here, nice wine list and alot of seasonal focus as well as the local items. Expect to spend about $50 a person after tip, I know they just came up with a new menu and you will enjoy your meal.
    - Hamilton's; This is an old stand by and a virtual institution on the downtown mall, they are always packed. They also place an emphasis on local food and have a good relationship with Polyface Farm (famous from the Omnivore's Dilemma book) and this new American joint is reasonably priced. *** TIP Especially for Lunch, you can have a great meal with entrees between $10 and $15, with similar items offered for dinner with bigger portions and nearly double the prices.
    - Fleurie; I have never been here but this is quintessential French fine dining. Everything I've heard and read is that this is amazing food, with snooty service.

    This is a little bit of a stretch but you really have to go to MAS. It is an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant that sources alot of produce locally, takes no reservations and is always packed. You can eat real Serrano Ham & Manchego cheese, try things as simple as sauteed Spring Onions, to braised veal shank with bone marrow or a beef tongue sandwich. ** Must try's are goat cheese & artichoke dip, Tuna or Strip Steak with Smoked Tomato Aioli, Boquerones (Anchovies in garlic and lemon), anything braised, and the wood oven baked bread they offer. Try to go early or real late though (serve til 1) since they are ALWAYS packed.

    Those are my main recs. There are some other foodie things to consider outside your particular interests.
    - Continental Divide; Tex-Mex fare on a tiny menu with great tequila and reasonable prices ($8-13) entrees is sweet.
    - Ten; Authentic Sushi & Japanese Kaiseki Cuisine. Everything from fresh lobster tempura, to kobe beef cooked on a sizzling rock to chicken terikayki skewers.
    - Bluegrass Grill & Bakery; Open daily til 2 this kickback country hot spot does no reservations and serves amazing brunch consistently. Nothing is more than $10 and you can get life changing pancakes w/real maple syrup, omelettes, home-style potatoes, and homemade granola.
    - MAIN STREET MARKET; This cornucopia of foodie heaven features a chocolatier, awesome bakery, fishmonger, butcher, cheese and produce store, kitchenware store, Mediterranean Restaurant & Wine Bar, and Italian Gelato & Espresso shop. It's a great place to browse, eat, and shop.

    Haha that's all I've got for now. I hope you make it halfway through this and enjoy your stay in Charlottesville. Let me know if you have any more questions.

    2 Replies
    1. re: uvahustla

      Best and most comprehensive suggestions yet. Thank you so much for your time and insights. I truly appreciate them.

      1. re: herculesmulligan

        liked enoteca (since i have no affiliation i thought i'd chip in) when we visited. great cheese and salumi and breadsticks. others looked good but didn't try. nice place to stop and sit for a bit on the mall.
        fun place to try wine.
        and i usually have bad luck in charlottesville - always seem to remember/pick wrong! LOL

    2. "Authentic" is tough in Charlottesville - and most of Virginia for that matter. However:

      Enoteca is a nice choice. Small plates. Great taste combinations. Good wine list. (


      Zocalo has great upscale latin-inspired food. The mussels, scallops, and duck are all wonderful. Good Spanish wine list and specialty drinks (


      L'etoile is extraordinary. Probably the best French dinner in the state (


      Ten does have good to great food, though folks argue over whether the cost is worth it compared to other local finds (


      Cannot recommend Mas in that everything I've ever had there has been drowned in olive oil. I like olive oil, but enough is enough. Agree that Continental Divide is a jewel for the money. Bodo's Bagels, Sticks Kebobs and Christian's Pizza are all good cheap eats.

      1. We recently visited Charlottesville and went out of our way to have dinner at l'etoile, because we had remembered having an enjoyable lunch there several years ago.

        Regrettably, it was a VERY poor experience from every aspect. Our main course (fish) was tasteless, the very small salad not fresh tasting, the service indifferent and VERY slow.

        We felt trapped because we had our 8 year old grandchild with us and he was very tired, so we didn't complain and leave to find another restaurant.


        1. I agree with a lot of what is said below, especially the lack of good, authentic Italian. In particular, Continental Divide, Zocalo and Mas are favorites when we have a sitter. We also like Orzo at the Main Street Markets (and Feast is my fave shop there). On the inexpensive side, have to agree with Christian's and Bodo's. I'll add a plug for breakfast (omelettes) at the Tip Top Restaurant - a traditional diner a little east of downtown.

          Speaking of Polyface Farm, 100% of the pork served at Chipotle (yes, the chain) in Barracks Road is from that farm.

          I'd recommend a trip to the City Market if you are in town on Saturday. Grab a fresh made donut, a cup of coffee from Shenandoah Joe and thread your way through the crowd for "free" goat cheese and other foods.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Cville Mel

            Has Chipotle made the switch to 100% Polyface now? I remember talking to the guy in charge of the project a couple months ago and they were doing every other week (putting a sign up when it was Polyface). Regardless, it's DEFINITELY worth a try. GO TO THE FARMERS MARKET!! and Bluegrass Grill for awesome brunch.

            Sorry to hear about your L'Etoile experience. I had one fantastic meal there, but the next one wasn't the same. I can see an 8 year old really struggling ther

            1. re: uvahustla

              An article from March in the Washington Post about the local C'ville's Chipotle efforts to use 100% Polyface Farms pork.

              Doesn't look like they were definitely 100% at the time, but "hope[d] to serve 100% Polyface pork in Charlottesville" by the end of March of this year.

              Sounds like they'd be really happy to talk about it, though! I'm just back to town permanently and will have to go get some carnitas and see how they are.

          2. I ahve to recomend Duners I used to work In Waynesbor 4 years ago and went to Duners and had some of the best mussels ever. I went back this week and awas almost scared to order them because I had just a fond memory of them. They were just as good as I remembered. Also had the crab cakes and soft shell crab. Amazing! I don't post a lot but Duners is worthy

            1 Reply
            1. re: ttheohary

              ^^^^ me too, I don't post alot but I was going to post that aside from Italian etc., I would go to Duner's.

              The place is great and they have lots of unique items like Boar on the menu.