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Recs for Virginia Beach / Norfolk area?

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Hey Chowhounders!

I'll be visiting Virginia Beach for a week and a half and I'm looking for restaurant recommendations in and around Virginia Beach, perhaps up to a 30 min. driving radius away, which I understand includes Norfolk. They also don't have to be restaurants, specifically; they could simply be eating experiences (e.g. going to a picking farm, crab fishermen, cheese maker, etc.).

I'm just as comfortable eating in a dingy stall on the side of the road or straight off a fishing line on a boat as I am at a white table cloth fine dining establishment. I don't have any dietary restrictions or dislike any particular cuisines, though I do have a preference for authentic cooking. I'm pretty much open to anything!

I just like finding and tasting what different regions have to offer in terms of local culture, unique offerings, or higher quality than most other places. So I'd love to hear recommendations that fit any of those criteria for the Virginia Beach area:
- Food most locals would identify as part of their culture, eaten commonly, OR
- unique food I probably wouldn't find in many places outside of the area, OR
- food that's done particularly well or of higher quality there than most other places.

Thanks so much!

P.S. I'm also a bit of a locavore, so if anyone knows of places that focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients that may not quite fit into any of those categories above, I'd still love to hear those recs, too.

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  1. OK -- for each of your categories:

    Food done well -- Terrapin at the oceanfront, or Sonoma at VB Town Center. Terrapin is cozy, reservations usually required (uses Open Table). Chef owned, it features local ingredients of the highest quality. Sonoma is just barely behind them (dined at both in the last month). Both would fall in the "new American" category quite well.

    Unique food -- not easily definable here. Probably a good bet for simply prepared seafood is any of the Surf Rider locations -- two in VB, I would choose the seasonal location at Marina Shores (call for directions 757-481-5646). Probably the best example of "funky seafood" in the area. Well known for crab cakes -- not a speck of filler in them. The hand breaded fried shrimp are also one of my favorites. Don't miss the steamed broccoli for your side -- a way to ease your healthy eating regrets as you munch on the fried shrimp!

    Food locals ID -- only thing that comes to mind is the crab cakes. This is an incredibly transient area, thanks to the large military presence, so food tradition is thin, and not given high importance. Incredible, when you consider that Smithfield hams, America's proscuitto, are from just west of here. Might as well be from the moon, for the presence on local menus. (except at Vintage Kitchen, which is too far away to recommend).

    1. I'd like to share 3 of my favorite places in the beach area. Waterman's is located at the south end on the boardwalk and has a fabulous Sunday brunch. One of the best local's restaurants is Croaker's, located on Shore Drive near the Lestner Bridge and is only open for dinner. It's a casual place but has wonderful seafood. The last place is Nara Sushi, which is a beach secret. They've just moved to Haygood Shopping Center on Independence Boulevard, between Pembroke Mall and Shore Drive for reference points. People come from Richmond and DC to eat at their place! Enjoy your stay.

      1. I second Surf Rider. Fabulous seafood and the crabcakes are to die for. My favorite Surf Rider, also the original I believe, is in East Ocean View (Norfolk) on Shore Drive. For a great taste of the Chesapeake Bay, try the Crab Pot. It has crab legs, clams, shrimp, corn, and kielbasa all cooked in Old Bay. You can't go wrong with the fried Oysters either :)

        1. Thanks for the recommendations, everyone!

          I'm visiting friends and there will be lots of time spent with their families, but I'll see if I can interest anyone in going to any of these places.

          So far I'm getting loud and clear that seafood is what I should be looking for, especially crab cakes and assorted other fried shrimp, fried oysters, crab boils, etc. Simply prepared seafood at a Surf Rider sounds pretty good, so thanks for that 234 and kris.

          pem, are both Waterman's and Croaker's generally seafood/American, as well? Also, thanks for the Nara rec, I always have space for sushi. :)

          A question for anyone in general -- from what I understand most people in VA Beach don't really consider it "the South", but are there any places one would go for more traditional Southern cooking?

          Thank you to all who has or will post. :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: tangerz

            The reason most people don't consider VB the south, is because it isn't. Native southerner (Texan), schooled in SC -- I think I can recognize what is and isn't southern (not trying to sound too stuck on myself here, but you asked). Like they say about Mexico, too close to the US, too far from God. Well, substitute New Jersey for Mexico, and you can describe VB. Again, love living here, but just explaining why it isn't anything like the South, even NC.

            Only good, reliable source for Southern comfort food, is probably 35 minutes from the oceanfront in downtown Portsmouth -- called, appropriately, Comfort. All of the standards --- meatloaf, fried catfish, sweet corn, mac and cheese, fried okra -- done to perfection. Old Town Portsmouth is a gem, and worth the drive.

          2. You won't find much 'traditional southern cooking' in Virginia Beach. The majority of the population of Virginia Beach is not from Virginia at all, or even the South - it's a *huge* military area and most people you meet there will either be in the Navy or Air Force or work for them in some capacity. In the 12 years I lived there, I met only two or three people who had been born and raised in the area.

            Large numbers of people from other areas of the country moving in and out just isn't conducive to developing any sort of food tradition. Really the closest you are going to get will be the seafood, hence your recommendations so far.

            If you are willing to go upscale, you could try either Swan Terrace or the Hunt Room at the Founder's Inn - they do a few things that are considered traditionally southern, like shrimp and grits and corn chowder. They also serve a number of dishes that include Virginia ham and/or bacon. But not surprisingly there's a number of seafood items on the menu too.

            1. Surfrider is great for local, simply done seafood (by the way, the original was on 17th st at the beach and is no longer around). AW Shucks is also great for seafood in Norfolk. The best crab cakes (voted best by New York Times) are at The Lucky Star in Va Beach. It's more "fine dining" (but not too pretentious) and all of the food is very good. In terms of this area being "the south" or not, technically it is--and I am a local--grew up here, parents/grandparents grew up here, and we are pretty southern. I grew up eating southern food and a lot of restaurants--even those categorized as "new american" like Bobbywood, for example--definitely tie flavors from the south into their menus. So, it may not be Alabama or NC, but it is still the south. Virginia also has their own style of BBQ, which is definitely part of our culture (great BBQ can be found at Malbon's BBQ that is actually in a gas station on Dam Neck Rd in VB).

              I haven't been there but Vintage Tavern in Suffolk gets amazing reviews for it's southern inspired cooking. They have a website if you're interested--it's also more fine dining....

              Enjoy! :)