Richmond, Virginia is a city close to my heart. I lived there for most of my twenties, and its small but passionate culinary community is what really ignited my lifetime love of (and career in) food. While there have always been great places to eat in the city, in recent years the culinary scene has exploded—it's now a dining destination that draws food-loving travelers from up and down the East Coast with its own food festival; world-class chefs like Dylan Fultineer, Jason Alley, and Peter Chang; and a supportive network of artisans making incredible products from the region's bounty of produce, grains, and locally-raised meats and seafood. Yes, you'll find fancified pimento cheese, biscuits, and shrimp & grits—all of it done very well—but there's so much more to discover here than updated Southern cuisine: Think top-notch Sichuan dishes, Liberian-inspired soul food, and bakeries sourcing heirloom grains and milling their own flours. There's never been a better time to visit RVA. —LS
Mamma Zu or sister restaurant Edo’s Squid is always one of my first stops when I get into town—often straight from the airport, having spent most of my time on the plane dreaming about their heavenly, heavy-on-the-garlic Italian food. It’s the kind of place you go with friends to eat pasta family-style and have loud, boisterous conversations over bottles of the house red. I always get the squid, white bean, and arugula salad, with perfectly cooked rings of squid, creamy beans, arugula, and slivers of red onion, all of it slicked with plenty of olive oil and garlic.
501 S Pine St, Richmond, VA 23220
Sub Rosa Bakery
From a seat in the sunny front window of this bakery in Church Hill you can watch baker Evrim Dogu churn out some of the best bread in the city. Everything comes from the wood-fired oven built right into the back of the shop, and they mill much of the flour they use themselves (often incorporating heritage grain from local farmers). For breakfast, nothing beats a couple slices of their chewy, lightly sour classic loaf (their take on a pain au levain, made with a natural starter Evrim himself began 4 years ago) dipped in a little olive oil and honey. Or pick up one of their seeded braids—strands of flaky croissant dough braided and topped with nigella and sesame seeds (a tribute to the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, which Sub Rosa often merges with traditional Italian and French pastry).
620 N 25th St, Richmond, VA 23223
Chef MaMusu's Africanne
A native of Liberia, chef Ida Daniels has been serving her fusion of West African, Caribbean, and Southern soul food out of a small café on Main Street for almost 20 years. She recently opened a second, larger spot on the south side of the city, which has table service and is open for dinner. Dine on sweet cornbread, jollof rice, curry-fried lake trout, greens, and more; wash it all down with sweet, housemade ginger tea.
Chef MaMusu's Africanne
3514 Forest Hill Ave, Richmond,VA 23225
Peter Chang China Café
Tucked away in a strip mall in Short Pump, a suburb on the western edge of Richmond, you'll find this unassuming spot serving high-quality Sichuan dishes. I suggest going with a big group of people; the menu is so packed with good stuff that you'll inevitably order more dishes than you can realistically eat. My favorites: a meatless version of the classic mapo tofu; lightly-fried bamboo fish dusted with cumin; and giant, hollow scallion bubble pancakes that arrive on the table looking like otherworldly orbs.
Peter Chang China Café
11424 W Broad St, Glen Allen, VA 23060
You could eat very well at Rappahannock dining solely on oysters and prosecco, but the oyster company’s Richmond restaurant has plenty more to offer, like irresistibly crispy wood-grilled octopus, braised lamb, and other expertly done plates by executive chef Dylan Fultineer.
320 East Grace St., Richmond, VA
Ed Vasaio (also of Mamma Zu) and his team craft pizzas with chewy crusts and crisp edges at this tiny takeout joint in the heart of the city's Fan district. In addition to a small selection of red- and white-sauce pies you'll find antipasti, heroes, garlicky pastas, and entrées like eggplant parmigiana, but the pizza is the star. Order one to go, then stop by Video Fan, the independent video rental shop next door, to pick up a movie to watch while you eat.
401 Strawberry St, Richmond, VA 23220
Country Style Donuts
For the best donuts in the city, check out the offerings at Country Style Donuts, a tiny shop located near Richmond's airport that's been serving classic cake and yeasted donuts for over 40 years. It's open 24 hours a day; at any given time on a Sunday, you'll see everyone from churchgoers to frequent fliers to college students come through for their weekly fix, ordering assortments of treats in flavors like buttermilk, maple, coconut cake, and peanut.
Country Style Donuts
4300 Williamsburg Rd., Richmond, VA 23231
Richmond has its share of coffee shops and roasters, but my favorite is this little shop hidden a few blocks behind Main Street, in the heart of the Fan district. Named after the tall bicycles that were used to light lamps at the turn of the century, at first glance it seems like one of those impossibly hip joints where you’ll be sneered at by a barista. Thankfully, the only attitude you’ll get here is Southern—i.e. impossibly friendly. The food is good, but the real draw here is their excellent coffee, which they roast by hand in small, 10-lb. batches.
Lamplighter Roasting Company
116 S Addison St, Richmond, VA 23220
"Why wouldn't you want to drink in such opulence?" cried a friend of mine about Lemaire, the restaurant inside the city's historic, five-star Jefferson Hotel. If you want to feel fancy while you drink your Negroni, this is the place to go—thankfully, the quality of the drinks matches the atmosphere. Lemaire has a small selection of house cocktails like the River City Waltz, a mix of rye, green Chartreuse, amaro, and orange bitters, as well as a make-your-own Manhattan menu, where the bartender will suggest combinations from their menu of ryes and bourbons, seven different vermouths and amaros, and a variety of bitters. And don't miss the bronze alligators stationed throughout the hotel: they're a tribute to when real alligators, the abandoned pets of wealthy guests, roamed Palm Court.
The Jefferson Hotel
101 W Franklin St., Richmond, VA 23220
Near the Jefferson you’ll find another of the city’s best spots for a cocktail—the bar at Saison. There, a team of talented bartenders presides over a massive list of expertly crafted—and artfully named—drinks. Go for a classic (my Sazerac was perfect) or try one of their custom drinks, like the Nimble Kitten Parade (apple brandy, rye, Cocchi Americano, MY amaro, Cynar) or the Alpha Black Lotus, “a magical gathering of rare complexity” that combines rye, mezcal, Cynar, Cardamaro, Jagermeister, and a habanero shrub.
23 W Marshall St. Richmond, VA 23220
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