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I would like recommendations for Charlottesville, VA, please

Hello. I will be visiting Charlottesville, VA in October for the first time. I've done some research, but my best tips have always come from this site, so here I am again.

We are looking for places to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Primary consideration is the noise level - it has to be low to moderate. What is considered "average" noise for restaurants these days is more than I care to pay to sit through. I would also like to avoid stairs, please.

I would love to find local specialties. Is Charlottesville too far North for traditional Southern food? One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Hominy in Charleston, SC. If there is anything like this in Charlottesville, please steer me to it!

Another favorite cuisine is Italian. Does Charlottesville have an especially good one?

A place with spectacular desserts, especially beyond the same old cheesecake, tiramisu, flourless chocolate cake merry-go-round would be appreciated. On that note, are there any good bakeries or chocolate shops?

The menu for Local is very tempting, but multiple yelp reviews slam the service - should I risk it?

I would like to try Peter Chang's restaurant, but the web site does not list the hours. Do they serve dim sum on weekend mornings? If I order carefully, can I avoid spicy food or is everything there hot?

I love a bargain as much as anyone, but I am used to big city restaurant prices, so cost is not an issue here.

Thanks so much for any suggestions.

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  1. I have 3 sections - Chang's, Bakeries, and General/Noise

    == Chang's == I have not been to Chang's in Charlottesville, so I can't answer about the dim sum. I have been to the one in Richmond 5 or 6 times, and it is not really what I would call quiet.

    However the menu in the Richmond location does have numerous non spicy options and the servers in Richmond are only too happy to work with you to either reduce spice or avoid it altogether, I dont suspect it is much different in the Charlottesville location.
    == Bakeries ==

    As far as bakeries, Charlottesville has a number of them. One place to check out would be just west of the Pedestrian Mall at 418 West Main Street is the Albermarle Baking Company. http://www.albemarlebakingco.com/ It forms part of the front of a building called the Main Street Market, and I also beleive there is a chocolate store called Gearhardts ( http://gearhartschocolates.com/v/abou... ) right next to the bakery

    Inside the Main street Market (have you enter a separate door to see most of the market) there is a place called Feast ( http://www.feastvirginia.com ) and very small organic butcher as well as a seafood place and a flower shop. Feast has some darn good sandwiches and has a story that is generally a foodie paradise, a good place to pick up a picnic lunch, for example. there are a few tables to eat at, as well.

    Getting back to bakeries - A more traditional old-school type bakery is to be found on the north side of town along US 29 , Chandler's Bakery. http://chandlersbakery.com/ Not sure if it foody material, but my kids love it (I don't eat lot of sweets )

    I hear that the Bluegrass Bakery and Grill has some great stuff, but it is always so crowded every time I have gone I have never even gotten in the door. Last time, there as literally a line to get in line.

    The best apple pie I have gotten in Virginia was from Carter Mountain Orchard , just south of Charlottesville. In the summer they are open daily, but your car needs to be capable of driving up the small mountain (its not that tough really, but I know the cars I drove when I was in college, for example, wouldnt have done well lol

    )

    == general / noise ==
    As far general recommendations by noise level, that may be tough, with Charlottesville being a college town.

    I have eaten that the Tip Top Restaurant before (they have all day breakfast but you have to ask for the breakfast menu if it is outside regular breakfast hours) and it was pretty quiet. Basic diner fare, nothing special really but service was quick and everything was as expected. Definitely not a place I would normally recommend on chowhound, but it worked for when my family was hungry, needed something quick, and didn't want to go to a chain. Plus, it was inexpensive.

    Probably along the Pedestrian mall, the smaller places are going have a noise level more to your liking. Avoid the Hardware Store, I would say, both times I have been there it has been noisy, and the food aggressively mediocre (and not especially cheap)

    Also mentioned above under Bakeries (because it is right near the Albermarle Baking Company) is Feast - a decent place to grab sandwiches for lunch, and usually not loud at all.

    1. Can't answer all of your questions, but here are a couple of comments: Peter Chang's isn't connected with the Chang's that the previous poster mentioned--as you probably know, it isn't part of a franchise but is one of a kind. I don't know about dim sum, but they have extensive hours and you can definitely get plenty of dishes that aren't spicy. Do ask for a waiter whose English is fluent; my sons and I had an interesting experience there when we couldn't really get a clear sense of what we were ordering. Great food, though.

      Re: Italian, a new place called "Bella's" on West Main Street is said to be superb. We also like Vivace, on the west side of town as you head toward Ivy on route 250. You can request downstairs seating.

      For bakery/chocolate places: As the poster above mentions, Gearhart's is a wonderful chocolatier, and there's a nearby small bakery called Sweethaus that gets rave reviews from everyone I know; those are both on West Main, toward the downtown mall from Bella's. In the warehouse district, Baker's Palette is also excellent. Bear in mind that Charlottesville is a university town, so places tend to be crowded & noisy, especially in the UVa/downtown areas. In all seriousness, I'd suggest you check the UVa home football schedule--if your October visit coincides with a game (or with parents' weekend), you may have to deal with some noisy crowds and traffic. If you can get reservations at Clifton, that might satisfy your needs! Good luck. It's beautiful here at that time of year.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jmoorecoll

        Actually Peter Chang's China Grill in Charlottesville is owned by the same 2 people - Peter Chang and Gen Lee , who own Peter Chang's China Cafe in Richmond. They are quite connected, even if the menus are slightly different.

        1. re: PenskeFan

          Aha, good to know! Thanks for that info!

      2. Orignial poster here. The responses so far have been great. I wanted to add a request for places to get hard cider, which I have been told is a regional specialty.

        Also, how is the service at Local? The menu looks wonderful, but Yelp reviews repeatedly criticize the service as slow and unprofessional. Any info regarding the noise level at Local would be appreciated.

        And I checked and the weekend I will be there in September is not a football weekend.

        Thanks so much.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bay Gelldawg

          We dine frequently at Peter Chang's China Grill in Charlottesville, & it's FABULOUS!! After many visits, we've yet to be disappointed by one single thing. I will say though, that I've yet to see any Dim Sum at the Charlottesville location - I'm not sure if they offer them there. At least not since our last visit a couple of months ago.

          That said, the menu is clearly marked with the usual one, two, or three "chili pepper" notations so that you can clearly tell how spicy (or not) something is likely to be. And it's pretty accurate. I normally order 2-3 "chili pepper" dishes, & 2 peppers is definitely spicy while 3 peppers can definitely be blow-the-top-of-your-head off hot sometimes. I would think a 1-pepper dish would be nice for someone who likes it a little spicy, & you'll have no problems with a "no pepper"-notation dish, as we've enjoyed some of those as well. Not spicy at all, but still well-flavored.

          As for hours, I believe they open at 11:00 or 11:30 a.m. & go straight through dinner hours. Don't recall closing time, but I'd doubt it's before 10 p.m.

          There are tons of people who will be jealous of you getting to dine at Chang's. I'd definitely make time for either a lunch or dinner there. :)

          1. re: Bay Gelldawg

            For hard cider, your best bet is to visit the cideries for a tasting. Albemarle Ciderworks is excellent, and Bold Rock Cidery in Nellysford is very good too. If you can't make it out there, I think the Whole Foods in C'ville carries one or both of them. (BTW some of the local wineries are excellent as well.)

          2. I'd argue that Charlottesville's classic breakfast spot is our local chain of bagel shops, Bodo's. It is certainly popular at all hours of the day. http://www.bodosbagels.com/

            I might recommend Maya for a dinner. They offer outdoor dining on pleasant days and that is far quieter than the indoor seating which is mostly in a upstairs area. Of note is their price fix menu on Tuesdays. http://www.maya-restaurant.com/

            I don't know that I'd rank any of Charlottesville's Italian as being destination worthy. Nothing has impressed me as of yet.

            If you are expecting the dim sum carts at Peter Chang's, think again. I don't know of anywhere in Charlottesville that provides that service. The closest would be in Richmond or DC area. With that said, the food is quite tasty and certainly you can avoid spicy food.

            Two alternative bakery options are Spudnuts and Carpe Donut, both doing a particularly tasty donut. http://www.carpedonut.org/

            In terms of local hard cider, http://www.albemarleciderworks.com/ but really we have a lot of options when it comes to cider, wine and beer. http://www.hilltopberrywine.com/ would be another place that does meads and berry wines. If you prefer to concentrate on the non alcoholic options, I can recommend http://www.saundersbrothers.com/ for excellent local apples at their farmer's market. A drive out of town, but scenic.

            1. We've enjoyed dinner at The Local and Maya many times. Both source most of their food locally and serve what you could call upscale southern comfort food. Both have nice patios and bars. FYI, the dining space downstairs at Local is around the bar, so get there early for a quieter meal. You have to go upstairs for both patio and main dining. Maya's patio is ground level and they have one dining room on the ground floor apart from the bar area. It's not always open but you can call ahead.

              As to service: Charlottesville has great restaurants with great food, but most restaurants have pretty casual service. We actually choose to dine at the bar most of the time and have gotten to know the staff at many places and thus get excellent, prompt service. But the bar isn't for everyone. I again suggest dining early to get the best service and a quiet meal.

              No idea on desserts as we'd rather take in local beers for extra calories.

              1. If you want quiet and you want good food, the C&O is hands-down your best bet. Make a dinner reservation so that you’re seated in the dining room (the bistro/bar is great, but won’t be as quiet). It’s a C'ville classic: http://www.candorestaurant.com/.

                I would skip The Local, which is just ok, and go next-door to Tavola. It's the best Italian I've had in town (to be fair, I haven't tried Bella's yet), http://www.tavolavino.com/. The dining room is very small and they don't take reservations, so there is always a wait. I suggest getting there when they open at 5pm. If you can't get in right away, have a drink at The Local while you wait.

                Don't miss Gearhart's Fine Chocolates in the Main Street Market - they're all handmade on site.

                Lastly, I agree that, in general, the service in C'ville doesn't live up to the food.

                2 Replies
                1. re: stevsie

                  The only problem with the C&O is that it has stairs everywhere.

                  If you don't mind walking, the restaurants on the downtown mall are pretty good. Many of them have outdoor dining, which can help manage the noise level.

                  1. re: DCheesi

                    Fleurie is far and away the best upscale French restaurant that ever happened to C-ville.

                    Tucked away on a side street, not everyone knows about it.

                    Their loss!
                    http://www.fleurierestaurant.com/menu...

                2. Hello. Original poster here, reporting back. I was in Charlottesville for two days. The best food experience was the sticky bun at Albemarle Baking Company. Not to be confused with their cinnamon roll, which was also good, but the sticky bun, which might be called a morning bun in California, was out of this world perfect goodness. Not all that sticky, it was crisp and crunchy at the edges and chewy and moist in the middle. Loved it! Their quiche was also good and the staff was friendly. I had to make a special effort to get there and appreciated that they were open early in the morning on a Saturday.

                  Maya was a good dining experience. Excellent service, really nice waitress who took good care of us. I loved the trout, cornbread, and collard greens. Extra points for a very creative dessert menu. I can't remember now what was on it, but they were items I had not seen offered anywhere else, and I study the dessert menu everywhere I go. We didn't order dessert, but I was nevertheless impressed by what they offered. The outdoor seating was nice. Would have been better without the cover over the entire patio. I would go back here to try the other sides, all of which looked good.

                  The Local was another good experience. The place was more casual that I expected and the people at the bar were talking a bit too loudly, but it was Saturday night. They have an awkward reservation process - five back and forth emails before it was finally confirmed.

                  I had trout again and enjoyed it. But The Local's dessert menu was things one could very easily make at home. e.g. brownie sundae, banana split. Clearly, they didn't spring for a pastry chef. A good meal, but I would return to Maya before going back here.

                  The big disappointment was Peter Chang's. Perhaps it is better suited for folks who like spicy food and can order his specialties. We had tea smoked duck, seafood in a bird's nest (a gimmick - the bird's nest was an inedible, premade bowl of dried noodles), a vegetable dish, soup dumplings, and scallion pancakes.

                  The scallion pancakes were the greasiest thing I have every eaten anywhere. They were OK. The duck was good, but I sat there waiting to eat it because were were only given spoons. When our waitress finally came back, we got forks and chopsticks, but because duck was on the bone, we really needed knives. The vegetable dish was the exact same combination of veggies that accompanied the seafood. If the waitress had given us a heads up, we would have ordered a different vegetable dish. They did not have brown rice. Also jarring to see white people working in a Chinese restaurant.

                  The soup dumplings arrived last, even though they are an appetizer. We were told when we ordered them that they would take 15 minutes and we said we were OK with that. The food should have been paced so we received these first, then the entrees.

                  It really surprised me that the restaurant was empty on a Thursday night. It's a large place, and there was only one other table that was occupied. With the famous name and everything I had read, I had been worried that we would not get in!

                  They seemed to do a brisk take out business. Everything on the menu seemed overpriced for Chinese food. I would not go back. I just don't think I am the right audience for this place.

                  Also visited Carter Orchard and loved the view. The cider (non-alcoholic) that they sold there was not from their farm.

                  My biggest regret is that I didn't make it to Gearharts Chocolates or to Berry Hill Farms.

                  Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions and for anwering my questions.