Unique Eats
February 24, 2008 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some unique dining experiences in Richmond, VA and the Hampton Roads area.

My boyfriend lives in Richmond, and I live in Chesapeake, and we both love new and interesting restaurants. Our favorites are unique experiences -- The Melting Pot, for fondue, Europa, for tapas, Cajun Bangkok, for an eclectic mix of cooking styles, Freemason Abbey for the beautiful and unusual atmosphere, etc. These are just a few of the restaurants we really enjoy, but hopefully it gives you a good idea of what I mean by "unique."

The price range doesn't really matter -- anything from fine dining to BYOB is OK, as long as we get something new from the experience. (: Can you tell me some of your favorite places to go when you want something out of the ordinary? As I live in Chesapeake, I'd prefer any Hampton Roads restaurants to be in the Chesapeake/Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, and of course Richmond is self-explanatory. Thank you in advance for your help!
posted by srrh to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well! Right smack dab in between you is Williamsburg, and I highly recommend The Trellis. Williamsburg is full of tourist traps, but this restaurant is excellent. The food is very good - the desserts are fantastic - and the restaurant is located right on the strip between the main campus building of William and Mary and the main drag up Colonial Williamsburg. This street is a nice place to eat, and a beautiful place for a walk before or after dinner. There are also some restaurants within Colonial Williamsburg, and while I can't remember the names, I recall that the high end establishment is both delicious and possessing of historical charm.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:42 PM on February 24, 2008

Oh man, I went to college in Richmond and my absolute favorite restaurant was Kuba Kuba. It's on Lombardi and absolutely amazing. The owner is a Cuban-born immigrant who will cook you a great meal and then hang out with you outside and talk about his experiences. It's pretty casual, but small.

Other good ones are Secura (sp?) on Broad, Carytown Burgers in Carytown, and the Thai Diner in Carytown.

One more is a local institution: Casa Grande on Broad near UR. It's the best (you know because you have to fight native Mexicans to get a seat) and cheapest Mexican food you'll find.

posted by lockestockbarrel at 10:47 PM on February 24, 2008

I have to post again and second The Trellis. Excellent restaurant. Another good and expensive Williamsburg restaurant is Le Yaca. Amazing French cooking -- a good special occasion place.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 10:49 PM on February 24, 2008

I would like to second Thai Diner in Carytown. While I don't really consider myself a Thai food expert, I've eaten plenty of Thai food at plenty of places and I still regard it as one of the best.

Former VCU students tend to speak fondly of Panda Garden on Grace Street, which is mostly (if not all) vegetarian Chinese food (fairly casual from my memories of it). I have have no idea if it's still there, though.

While it's not the most "unique," I have good memories of Strawberry Street Cafe. It's good, honest food and a lovely location.
posted by darksong at 11:17 PM on February 24, 2008

I live in Richmond and I'm going to second Kuba Kuba and Thai Diner. Also Farouk's in Carytown has some awesomely delicious indian food. The Panda Garden that darksong speaks of is no longer there. They moved locations and are called Panda Veg now, at the corner of Grace and Harrison. I'm not a fan of mexican food, but I've heard numerous people rave about Su Casa on Broad St. I'll post back here later on in the day when I've thought of other restaurants.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:35 AM on February 25, 2008

I lived in Richmond for a while and did my best to eat at most of the restaurants in the downtown and Fan areas. I can nth Kuba Kuba for its fantastic food, huge portions, and great ambiance.

Despite what I've heard are merely ok online reviews, the White Dog is an absolute treasure and voted best restaurant in the Fan several times. Quiet and intimate setting with spectacular southern-grounded cuisine. The owner is always there to welcome you and the service couldn't be better.

Avenue 805 is an interesting, albeit inconsistent, choice tucked in on N. Davis. I believe they have a mid-week 'cheap date' night, where you can get salad or appetizer, entree, dessert, and wine for ~$20 pp.

Richmond is a great town for food, and getting mugged there is so much better when you have a full stomach.
posted by There's No I In Meme at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2008

Kuba Kuba and Thai Diner are two of my favorite restaurants in Richmond, so more ups for those. Also Comfort downtown on Broad St. (ooh, look -- they have a Portsmouth location now) for upscale southern home-style cooking. You'll pay $16 for a plate of meatloaf and mac 'n cheese and love every bite, I swear. I've also had several excellent meals at 27, which has great food and a pretty unique interior with huge floor-to-ceiling windows.
posted by junkbox at 6:03 AM on February 25, 2008

Finally, a question I actually know something about! I'll just focus on Richmond, since I haven't lived in Virginia Beach for years now.

Nthing Kuba Kuba and Thai Diner. Both places are not at all expensive, but interesting and good. Thai Diner has been a favorite of ours for ages, but I must admit that I find myself choosing Tara Thai when I feel like Thai food more and more these days.

Probably the most unique high-end dining in Richmond is Millie's Diner which has awesome food in a decidedly unstuffy atmosphere. Always creative, they had a few bad years but have been in full form the past year or two. Everyone I send there loves it.

Edo's Squid and its cousin Mamma Zus are probably the best Italian food in town. Mamma Zu's is something of a Richmond staple, as renowned for its bohemian atmosphere and somewhat eclectic service. Edo's is more normal in style, but still quite good.

Sticky Rice sounds to me like it might be up your alley. It is a Japanese fusion joint that is sort of a poor man's Nobu. They always have some cool sushi-themed food with a hipster vibe in the fan.

The Third Street Diner is a 3:00AM breakfast served by goth waitstaff kind of place that everyone should do in a drunken stupor if that is your kind of thing.

Full Kee is the best Chinese place in Richmond and better than many big city Chinatown spots. If you dare, they have totally authentic cuisine like duck feet and more exotic organ meats. If your tastes are a bit more Western, they still make the best stuff around.

For some reason, Richmond has a lot of Vietnamese joints. Saigon near VCU and Mekong on the West End are the best bets in that genre.

Even more inexplicable is the lack of really great BBQ in Richmond. Extra-Billy's is probably the best, but Pierce's in Williamsburg is far better. Good road food when you are making the trip, too. Some folks swear by Buzz & Ned's but I think it is also just so-so.

You have to do Sunday brunch at the Jefferson at least once. Over the top in every possible way.

Helens is to me the quintessential little Fan spot that tries to be FINE DINING. Sometimes they get there.

I used to be a huge fan of The Trellis, but in my opinion it has not been great in 6 or 7 years. Le Yaca is a much better bet in Williamsburg, IMO. Plus, last time I went there they had a review I wrote for the W&M paper framed on their wall, so I will love them forever. I'm pretty sure Marcel wasn't going to frame my review of The Trellis.

On preview: Oh yeah! How could I forget White Dog. Another great fan spot. Much better than Helens.
posted by Lame_username at 6:21 AM on February 25, 2008

I have enjoyed Freemason Abbey in Norfolk.
posted by tomwheeler at 6:23 AM on February 25, 2008

Oops — re-reading your original question, I see you already know about Freemason Abbey. Well, I am out of ideas then :-(
posted by tomwheeler at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2008

I love La Grotta in Richmond--excellent fresh Italian in Shockoe Slip.

I second Millie's, a great Richmond experience!

I've never been there, but if you're interested in unique dining experiences, the Positive Vibe Cafe in the Stratford Hills shopping center on Forest Hill Ave is a must--I hear the food is good, and most (maybe even all) of the employees are disabled in some way.

My college roomie and I meet up occasionally in Williamsburg (she lives in Va Beach, and I live in Richmond) and we love going to the Blue Talon Bistro in Market Square!
posted by uvaleg at 6:53 AM on February 25, 2008

In Virginia Beach, I enjoy The Purple Cow and Beach Bully. I love Chick's Oyster Bar in the Lynnhaven Shores part of town. It is tucked away and hidden between a marina and some condos.
posted by onhazier at 6:57 AM on February 25, 2008

I love La Grotta in Richmond--excellent fresh Italian in Shockoe Slip.
If you like La Grotta, you'll love Amici Ristorante in Carytown. Amici is run by the same people as La Grotta and is their original and flagship spot. The menu is smaller and concentrates on the Northern Italian stuff. They also have some nice outdoor tables when the weather is nice.
posted by Lame_username at 7:37 AM on February 25, 2008

After moving here from DC, my wife and I found the dining to be a bit limited. (Don't mean to sound snooty, but hey—it's DC.) We've found a few good places though. Imperio Inca on Colley in Norfolk is great, offering lots of very unique and fresh Peruvian dishes. The ceviche is fantastic, and the lomo and pollo saltado are both delicious. Interestingly, there's a good Thai place across the street called Siam 21; they have above average pho, and average larb gai. I think most of our other favorites are a bit of a hike for you, as they're in the Outer Banks—like Kelly's Tavern.

Honestly, I'm excited to see how people answer this question, since I'm still looking for a truly great meal in the Hampton Roads area. We are awash in a sea of apostrophe restaurants here, and high-concept "fine dining" restaurants. Still pining for Ethiopian or truly great Indian food here.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:58 AM on February 25, 2008

My parents live in the Richmond area and recently visited a Mongolian restuarant that my mom described as "an experience". I don't recall the name of the place, but the experience she described sounds like the Ghengis Kahn Mongolian Grill in Richmond.
posted by geeky at 9:41 AM on February 25, 2008

Still pining for Ethiopian or truly great Indian food here.
I haven't been in a while, but Rajput in Ghent used to do pretty good Northern Indian (less spicy, more subtle than southern based places). I couldn't call it great, but it was as good as there was in the area when I was a regular diner down there. I've never had Ethiopian in Tidewater at all and certainly nothing to compare with Etete or Queen Makeda.
posted by Lame_username at 11:05 AM on February 25, 2008

a few norfolk restaurants worth hitting:

the boot on 21st street in ghent offers awesome eats made from locally sourced foods. there are also cool bands many nights. it's good place to experience a bit of a much cooler city in norfolk.

fellini's on colley ave a classic favorite. get a greek salad and gourmet pizza to share.

no frill grill on colley in ghent is another staple. enjoy a great meal before catching a show at the naro, one of the area's only independent old movie houses.

if you want fancier fare, check out any of the restaurants on granby downtown. there are some really great places opening up.
posted by sacho at 3:51 PM on February 25, 2008

There's a Lebanese restaurant called "Grapeleaf" on Three Chopt near UR. Delicious.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:14 PM on February 25, 2008

I used to go down to Richmond a lot to visit friends, and my favorite places (besides Kuba Kuba) were Tarrant's (just recently opened on Broad Street) and Avalon on Main St near the intersection of Main and North Boulevard. And Nara on Main Street for sushi, always good.
posted by eskers at 12:03 AM on March 5, 2008

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