Richmond Restaurants For Northeners
Long-time lurker, first time poster.
We've been living in Richmond for the past four years, and I've spent a great deal of time on Chow trying to find good places to eat. I've got to say that overall, it's been a real struggle. No matter what some have said on the board, Richmond food is generally not quite there yet - we prefer italian food, and are spoiled as we hail from the northeast. But even southern cuisine here is often disappointing! Because I've found reviews here to be relentlessly upbeat (as compared to boards up north) and because I figured maybe foodie visitors to town would want a more...outsider...perspective, I thought I'd write. These are the "highlights", not of course every place we've been to in town.
Hands down, it's gotta be Juleps. The mains are consistently great - especially stewed lamb shoulder (or osso bucco, depending on the night) and their beef. My wife thinks their fish is cooked to perfection. The fried tomatoes are the best in town, and the wine list is excellent. Overall, it's basically the place in town I'd go to if I wanted to spent $40+ per person, but feel like it was worth the investment, and it provides a hint of southern charm. Also, good cocktails. The only problem is that the place can be a bit loud, especially the upper floor, when it is crowded at night. I'll put it this way: if I had one night in Richmond, I'd go here. If I had two nights in richmond, I'd go here again. Maybe on the third night, I'd try...
Bacchus: to my mind, the best italian/value combo downtown.
Arcadia (excellent starters in particular)
Comfort (kind of fantastic roasted chicken, and friendly staff)
Can Can (meat and fries, crazy loud, but mostly fun)
And that's it, to my mind. Here are places you might be encouraged to go, but should avoid:
Edo's Squid. What can I say? Some people find it charming to wait 2 hours after the reservation time to get in, in a cramped space, with no one apparently in charge of the line. In fact, I've heard on the board here that this is an intentional business strategy! I just think it's silly, and fairly rude. The food is fine - you can find a hundred better italian restaurants near dupont circle, let alone in Philly or NY, where Edo's would be pedestrian going-out italian food. If you are from a town north of DC and East of Albany, you should not, I repeat not, waste your time or dollars. Indeed, we've never gone back after a several bad waiting experiences. If this restaurant was in a foodie town, it'd be out of business in two months flat. Same with Mama Zus, which doesn't even pretend to take reservations.
I just don't get it - I feel like the positive reviews of this place (on chow and yelp) illustrate stockholm syndrome in action. Seriously folks: no restaurant is worth regularly waiting for 2 hours in line to get into, and being treated like they are doing you a favor the whole time. Avoid at all costs.
Amici: Fine northern italian, yet it consistently is recommended as best-in-town. The ambiance could use a sprucing up.
Mortons: I know it is a chain, but for some reason this particular location is not as good as others I've been to. They overcooked our steaks, and the sauteed spinach had too much butter.
Zeus Gallery Cafe: Atmosphere - boo!
Maximo's and Europa. Neither tapas, nor edible. (At Maximo's, recently, we ordered fried vegetables. They had the consistency and taste of wet, unsweetened, funnel cake. I like real funnel cake, but this put me off the stuff for a while.) We went to Europa our first night in town. That, friends, was a grim evening.
Millies also tremendously overrated. They use much too much oil in their omelettes - you can feel it oozing out of you afterwards. And I I tend to think that their food is simply too heavy for brunch, their core meal - I never leave there without a bellyache. Lulus (same owner) is a better bet, even if it is less of a scene.
Bottom's Up Pizza: I know people say this is "unique" and I'm sure that's supposed to be praise. My view is that the dough and the cheese are both tasteless. Decent sauce, and a nice set of ingredients. But I would never actually eat there - you can never get through a meal without a train passing overhead and it's not actually relaxing. We've taken out a few times, and for downtown Richmond, it's probably your best pizza bet. But that's not exactly saying much!
I'll second, or third, the Roosevelt. Only been there a few times and most definitely a Portland vibe. Always inventive and the staff is enthusiastic about their offerings. I'm still pitching Enoteca on the North Side, on Bellevue. Outstanding wine list, interesting cheeses and always solid mains. Sampled Peter Chang's once but this will require several trips to fully assess. Great posts.
Portland transplant here, which is to say for five years I was spoiled more than I even knew with an embarrassment of riches. Richmond has been an adjustment but I've found plenty to love here.
I have to dispute the Roosevelt hate. It's by far my favorite place in Richmond, and it would be perfectly at home in Seattle, Portland, Brooklyn, etc. Emphasis on local, seasonal, lots of pig, tattooed bearded bartender, etc. Food is terrific, even for a vegetarian (you never know in the south, land of Ham In Everything)--inventive, well-executed, surprising, comforting. The space is great--an old pharmacy with tin ceilings, fireplaces, both open and cozy feeling. The cocktails are subtle and complex, many of them made with small-batch artisanal tonics and bitters that I'd roll my eyes and make fun of if I weren't so preoccupied with savoring every amazing sip.
Not sure what the parking issue is as I've always found a place within two blocks. There's no parking lot, but the surrounding neighborhoods seem to have plenty of spaces. I would recommend parking *south* of M Street, though, (toward Leigh/Clay/Marshall) as the neighborhood starts to get sketchier as you go north.
I also have to second the shout-out for Secco Wine Bar, my neighborhood joint, which has never failed to please. Unpretentious, super-knowledgable wine people who sell bottles off-sale too (great if you find one you like--you can buy a bottle and take it home.) The food is top-notch. The fried chickpeas as appetizer or sandwich side, the small plates, imaginative and perfectly balanced little salads, etc. I had a kale and homemade ricotta ravioli with fennel pollen and lemon oil that just about knocked me off my stool.
THE NILE also has terrific food. Ethopian. Nice, date-worthy ambience, with earthy red walls and low lighting. The shiro wot is maybe the best I've had anywhere. And they pour their wine generously. Family-run, wonderful service.
I found Mamma Zu's to be fine but is it really worth the hype? (And the *wait*?) I remain skeptical. It is solid Italian food, nothing transcendent. Another lauded place I found disappointing was Kuba Kuba. It was fine, but sort of filthy (we were seated at the counter and had an hourlong eyeful of more than we wanted to see) and the coffee was way overroasted. Maybe its colorful, cheerful, grubby-edged vibe would have appealed to me immensely as a college student. Maybe if I were a meat-eater I'd be more inclined to return. (But even as a vegetarian, I love Cuban food and am a loyal diner at Pambiche in Portland and VIctor's in Minneapolis.)
I'll definitely have to check out Julep's!
Stopped over in Richmond last Sunday 8/5/12 and stayed at the Omni with my family. We are NYers and love food so I read all the threads in anticipation but unfortunately it was a Sunday and many of the places were closed or served brunch only. We had a nice late brunch at Comfort which reminded me of Hominy Grill in Charleston with a bigger fancy for dark spirits. It was excellent except for the waitress who rushed us out but all's forgiven since I have worked in the restaurant biz and understand. Shrimp and grits, bbq pork sandwich, french toast and an eggs benedict with crayfish - all delicious! Went to Europa at night near the Omni bc it was close and though the food was average at best it was Sunday and all the tapas were 1/2 price and coming from NY it did make me smile when i saw the check. Thanks for the insight!
BTW we went to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach after and if I have time [usually don't] I will write about where i went there. Once again thanks for your help.
Got to give a shout out to Dana Craig who offered her kind assistance when I couldn't find an open restaurant. Can't contact the NY Times when you need help here!!
another yankee transplant here. queens, specifically. the hub and i like specific items from specific restaurants. and we like to eat cheap. so far:
the cluster of viet restaurants around horsepen: pho so 1, vietnam 1, tay do. take your pick. i appreciate that these restaurants are run by vietnamese folks. the viet places in nyc are all chinese owned. the pho is as good, if not better, here in RVA than NYC.
bbq: the hub likes bbq spare ribs, which we've only found at buz & ned's and alamo within city limits. you cannot get proper bbq spare ribs in NYC. i will miss this when i head back north.
catfish: mama j's and comfort are my favorites. will also miss a ton. i also like the atmosphere at croaker's spot.
take out italian: 8 1/2 reminds me of affordable, solid italian food back home. sure, it's not the best of the best, but it works for when i am too tired to cook and want something consistent and good.
uss brooklyn at black sheep.
country style doughnuts. the amish doughnuts at the south of the james market.
ricoto chicken and chicken fiesta for peruvian chicken and the ceviche at ricoto is great.
fried chicken blue plate at the hill cafe.
Very interesting discussion and maybe the title of the post is what we find a little unusual. I would venture that most of the contributors on here, while undoubtably influenced by regional food experiences, view their food preferences as non-regional specific. A great meal in DC is just as great, in it's own way, as a great meal in San Francisco. Maybe my standards are lower or my palate less sophisticated, but I love the food here! I'd be interested in the OP's take on some of our newer places like Acacia, the Roosevelt, Pasture, the new menu at Six Burner, Peter Chang?
I have not been to Pasture but love Six Burner's new menu. Have not been to Peter Chang's either. I like Acacia but it can be inconsistent, especially service wise.
The Roosevelt is IMO the most overrated restaurant in Richmond since Mezzanine and the defunct Dogwood Grill. Had a very mediocre meal, that we could barely see (I typically have no problem with dim restaurant lighting but this place was just this side of pitch dark), parking was a nightmare and we kept thinking of all the other places we could have been.
re: Janet from Richmond
Janet, your post is one of the things I love about this board. I have the exact opposite feeling about the Roosevelt! Incredible food, service, and drink. Our different experiences are each so valid; I totally respect your experience. It's nice to disagree with a fellow hounder I respect!!
Not the OP, but I love Peter Chang's. Since I work in the far west end, and live considerably further west than that, it has been one of my go-to places.
The dry fried eggplant app is not to be missed, but fair warning, they are spicy. I never knew eggplant could be like that (and no, it is not the same as a leftover unless you do something else with it, it does caramelize nicely if you put in a convection oven but doesn't go back to it's original crisp state. )
I feel lucky to have such a place in my own back yard for once, since between work and family obligations and a long commute in the "wrong" direction, I don't get down to the bottom, the fan, or anywhere east of Horsepen very often
Interesting discussion. I too am a transplant from the North, and I also found the food in Richmond lacking. Ten years later, I think the scene has grown tremenously. Totally dig Edo's and its older sister Mama Zus. The food is consistently good and straight-up Italian. No pretentions. You just have to learn how to deal with the wait. I'd also add Tastebuds on the North Side (McArthur Street), which offers creative food and dandy drinks at a reasonable price, and Enoteca, also on the North Side. The latter, down from the CVS at the corner of Brook Road and Bellevue, is again unadorned Italian. Insane wine list.
I've been to Stella's a couple times and while I certainly enjoy it, I'm not sure why it attracts such a crazy crowd. I also enjoy the Roosevelt for the drinks and their courageous menu. Acacia, I've found, is always good. On the West End, tried the Blue Goat a couple weeks back and found it a fun place for drinks and offbeat small plates.
Still have to try Chang's. Also yet to have a truly good Thai meal in town.
One final note: My Northern influences were Boston, Providence and Northampton, Mass., all pretty good but not spectacular food destinations suchas San Francisco or Portland.
We generally go to Edo's on a night other than Fri or Sat with a reservation and a wait is never an issue.
Millie's a a popular brunch spot, but brunch is not their "core" meal.
It seems you have found a number of places you enjoy and your post is more of a vent and slam on Richmond & Richmond restaurants than a request for help or insight. Perhaps I am wrong.
re: Janet from Richmond
Not, that's not right. Richmond is a great town, with (in my view) simply mediocre food. My point is that many of these restaurants are often praised on the board, and they shouldn't be. I've read many of *your* reviews over the years, and though I appreciate your knowledge and enthusiasm, I was trying to provide perspective from someone on the "outside" who nonetheless actually knows a bit about the local food scene.
On Edo's, it is better mid-week. But there is still zero excuse for a wait of more than 20 minutes if you have a reservation. None. Not because it is a weekend. And not even if the food was outstanding, which it is not. It is competent.
On Millies. I don't know - we live nearby. On weekends, there are regularly lines of an hour or more outside. It seems like a relatively classic brunch spot, and if you look on chow threads, it is always mentioned as a top 3 brunch place in town.
If you consider Morton's the local food scene, I really don't know what to say. I have not known one person who likes it or goes there when they want they type of meal (even at a franchise) in the Richmond area.
I've never waited 20 minutes at Edo's during the week. And I go there 2-3X month on average.
For Italian, I'll go there, Sensi, Azzurro or Mediterraneo.
Millie's is a great brunch place & definitely one of the top three in town. But it's also a great dinner place and that is where you really see their creativity and ability to push the envelope.
Bottom's Up is pizzaesque but no one I knows considers it a pizza place. If I'm downtown, I'm not having pizza, but if I was I'd probably try here http://settepizza.com/
re: Janet from Richmond
I don't consider Morton's a part of the local scene - I didn't say I did - of course it is a chain! My point is that out of towners sometimes go to places they know rather than experiment, and Morton is a known quantity. But this particular Mortons is bad. You should avoid it. On Chow boards in other cities, people try to occasionally discuss the local steakhouses, just to give visitors a sense of what's what.
Sensi and Azzurro are both fine - not great - Sensi in particular needs better decor, and last time I was there it smelled like stale smoke and was empty. Neither is something worth writing home about - which is why I didn't write about them.
We'll have to agree to disagree about Millies, and Edos. Again, it's well known that you like these places, and you've mentioned before knowing some of the chef/owners personally. You write most of the reviews about Richmond food on this board. Is it so bad for someone else to have a perspective?