Just when we think we've eaten everything good in town, Richmond restaurants continue to surprise us. While reporting this year's food-finds package, Hollister Lindley ate what she calls the city's best fried chicken at Philip's Continental Lounge, while Paul Spicer (who published a food and culture guide to the British Virgin Islands in 2007) discovered authentic Jamaican conch fritters on the South Side. These and our other 48 finds (presented in no particular order) are organized in categories this year: salads, handed-down recipes, street-cart cuisine, takeout spots, frozen desserts, seafood dishes and entrées worth a big-time calorie splurge. It's time to tuck in.
Calorie- Splurge Entrée
The Banana (Panini)
Lift Coffee Shop and Café, 218 W. Broad St., 344-5438
Revisit a childhood delight, and order up this banana-and-peanut-butter number drizzled with honey. Chase the hot, sticky peanut butter with the side of Granny Smith apple slices. Now that's a "happy plate."
Beef Tenderloin with Red Pepper-Maytag Blue Cheesecake
Patina Grill, 3416 Lauderdale Drive, 360-8217
Who says meat and potatoes can't be fabulous? Definitely not the kitchen whizzes manning the flame at Patina Grill. In fact, carnivores in the know seek out this 10-year-old eatery for their grilled beef tenderloin capped off with a red pepper-Maytag blue cheesecake and a port-blackberry reduction. Toss in roasted fingerling potatoes, and it's easy to see why this classic dish is among the most ordered plates in Short Pump.
Southern Fried Chicken
Philip's Continental Lounge, 5704 Grove Ave., 288-8687
Hot, crispy, crunchy and worth every calorie, this is what real fried chicken is all about! Set off by great coleslaw and the best limeade in town, Phil's version is an example of the sort of perfection to which every chicken aspires. Seasoned perfectly, there was not a morsel left on any plate.
Frank's West Ristorante Italiano, 11238 Patterson Ave., 754-8380
If you're going to do pasta night right, dig into this classic Italian dish — complete with egg yolks, cream and real bits of bacon. The creamy, smoky sauce is rich, but not so rich you'll want to quit before you hit bottom.
The North Pole, 1558 River Road, Crozier, 784-4222
Diners on the hunt for a hearty New York strip, rib-eye or filet will go all the way to The North Pole and back. The restaurant's seared rib-eye features a thin black crust and fills the plate with 18 ounces of melt-in-your-mouth goodness, unadorned by sauce or anything else to distract you from the meat.
Helen's, 2527 W. Main St., 358-4370
Chef Big John Bullen's take on osso bucco uses pork shank braised in cider for 12 hours, and the best part comes about three-quarters of the way through. By that time, the red-wine reduction mingles with the braised greens, apple salad and the smoked-gouda grits. Oh, those grits.
Bang-Bang Karee Curry
Thai Diner Too, 3028 W. Cary St., 353-9514
Your choice of tofu, chicken, pork, shrimp, squid, beef, mock duck, scallops or mussels comes combined with pineapple, carrots and potatoes topped by a creamy, spicy yellow curry sauce with coconut milk. The combination of the Thai spices, coconut milk and pineapple will leave you lapping up every last bit of sauce along with the accompanying steamed rice.
Jumbo Junkyard Dog
Benny's BBQ, 2919 Hathaway Road, 320-7447
"It's got everything on it but the kitchen sink," says Richard Cacciotti, owner of Benny's BBQ, a hidden South Side gem. While their 'cue may be all the rage, regulars don't shy away from the Jumbo Junkyard Dog, an oversize certified Angus beef dog that comes topped with chili, onions, cheddar cheese and coleslaw. As if the Junkyard weren't enough, Benny's fans can take their pick of hefty sides — the smart money is on Tuesday's "special," sweet-potato casserole.
Dolce Vita, 2401 Colony Crossing Place, Midlothian, 639-7411
A chicken breast topped with sautéed spinach, prosciutto and melted mozzarella, served over penne in an Alfredo sauce — needless to say, you will be full after you're finished with this generously portioned entrée, provided you can finish it.
Butcher's Block Market
1390-C Broad Street Road, Oilville, 784-3474
Paul Cruser's gourmet shop opened in 2007. The market now offers prepared dinners on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — call ahead, or join the e-mail list (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out what's on the menu. An Angus flatiron steak with a mushroom-merlot sauce, accompanied by mashed potatoes and green beans, was quite satisfying.
Yellow Umbrella Fresh Seafood
5600 Patterson Ave., 282-9591
Besides the de rigeur fish filets and raw shrimp, Yellow Umbrella has a fridge full of prepared dishes that provide enough food for two servings. Fettuccine with white-clam sauce was stocked with bivalves; a seafood gumbo with shrimp, grouper, tomato and okra looked tempting for a future visit.
The Fresh Market
1200 Huguenot Road, 897-0300; 1527 N. Parham Road, 282-3823
Try not to be overwhelmed by Fresh Market's tantalizing options: Will it be cooked shrimp with a loaf of crusty garlic bread, or fresh mozzarella and sundried-tomato pasta? The Bourbon Salmon Fillet was flavorful and moist, but the highlight was a piece of Molten Lava Cake. If microwaved for 15 to 30 seconds, the rich, semisweet chocolate sauce bubbles out like lava.
1201 W. Main St., 354-6011
Fast, hot, tasty and exotic — what more could you want from takeout? Ruchee Express sells vegetarian and non, with the $6.95 lunch-box special offering a real deal. Chicken tikka masala, rice pulao, a dal, vegetable curry, salad and hot naan right off the grill will fill you up. They're all well seasoned, cooked perfectly and reasonably priced. The full menu includes wraps and Tandoor cooking.
Mrs. Marshall's Carytown Cafe
3125 W. Cary St., 355-1305
In these budget-conscious times, we're fond of Mrs. Marshall's mini boxed lunch — half a sandwich, potato salad, a deviled egg and a small candy bar for just $5.41. On our most recent visit to the café owned by Frances Daniel (pictured), we ordered half a chicken-salad sandwich — not too heavy on the mayonnaise (much appreciated) and with a crisp crunch from all the tiny pieces of chopped celery. And yes, we added a homemade brownie for an additional $1.40. Hey, we're only human.
A Movable Feast
1318 E. Cary St., 644-3663
You'll see plenty of regulars at this Shockoe Slip mainstay, and once you try the food, you'll know why they're so loyal. The Pompeii features roasted red peppers, provolone, crisp tomatoes and lettuce, and a delicious mild pesto made with walnuts, all on sourdough — the resulting sandwich satisfies your hunger without weighing you down. But by all means, save room for dessert, whether you opt for the deliciously dense pound cake or the bittersweet chocolate mousse that's topped with delicate dots of whipped cream.
Straight From the Sea
Crab-and-Manchego-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
Bin 22 at Betsy's, 3200 W. Cary St., 358-4501
When you order the crab-stuffed piquillo peppers at Bin 22 and three delicate red peppers arrive on a bed of field greens, don't fret about size. The flavor packs a punch. The creamy, cheesy crab filling combines perfectly with the Spanish roasted red peppers for a satisfying seafood combination. The dish is even better when enjoyed on Bin 22's patio alongside a wine flight.
Sautéed Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Acacia Mid-Town, 2601 W. Cary St., 562-0138
Acacia's crab cakes are packed with chunky lump crabmeat, with a hint of creamy mustard flavor. The accompanying BLT sauce is hardly needed but adds a layer of buttery goodness with a hint of bacon. Along with the entrée comes fresh grilled vegetables and positively addictive local corn grits with flavorful crumbled sausage; be prepared to loosen your belt.
Zorba's, 9068 W. Broad St., 270-6026
We fall in love with one dish at Zorba's for a while, then we develop a crush on another. Pan-seared salmon — with a roasted-red-pepper sauce on top and thin slices of grilled zucchini on the side — may be the real thing. It started as a special but migrated to the permanent menu and into our hearts.
Croaker's Spot, 119 E. Leigh Street, 421-0560
This Jackson Ward favorite is all about seafood and soul food. The sought-after seafood chili brings a Mexican accent to its spicy blend of shrimp, scallops and fish simmered in a thick chili sauce. Manager Enjoli Moon says, "The chili has a soul-food edge because it's prepared with familiar spices and love, but it's mostly about the love."
Colossal Shrimp Alexander
Morton's the Steakhouse, 111 Virginia St., 648-1662
These shrimp are dusted with seasoned bread crumbs before being baked and served with a beurre blanc. You'll find the dish on both the appetizer menu and the list of entrées.
Carena's Jamaican Grille, 7102 Midlothian Turnpike, 422-5375
This restaurant is billed as a Jamaican-American hybrid, but it's the authentic Jamaican eats (and rum punch) that keep regulars lining up at the door. The massive conch fritters, easily the best version you'll find in Richmond, are fried to golden perfection and served with a creamy horseradish sauce that is smooth with just the right kick.
Pescados, 13124 Midlothian Turnpike, 379-7121
This entrée is all about presentation and taste. Served whole in an upright manner, the snapper is flaky and tender on the inside. The accompanying lemon-rosemary mojo gives the skin a sweet, almost-honey flavor. Be sure to bring your camera; it's worth a photo.
Miso-Glazed Alaskan Sablefish
Dd33 Asian Bistro, 3601 Cox Road, Suite A, 747-8333
David Du (pictured), owner of Dd33, watched his father, Dick Du, feed Richmonders for more than 30 years at Peking. But the younger Du cooks by the mantra, "This is not your father's Chinese restaurant." His broiled Alaskan sablefish with a tasty miso-honey glaze, wasabi mashed potatoes and sautéed shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy can serve as proof of this modern philosophy.
Michelle's at Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road,Hanover, 537-5250
This shrimp, scallop and oyster concoction has a taste of Southern comfort, with sausage succotash and hush-puppy dumplings in a creamy white sauce. Served all together in a deep bowl, the dish is chicken and dumplings meets ocean-fresh flavors.
Homemade Root Beer Float
Richbrau Brewing Company and Restaurant, 1214 E. Cary St., 644-3018
Fresh-brewed root beer can only get better with the addition of a scoop of vanilla, or at least that's what the folks at Richbrau have shown us. The spicy soda froths to perfection in thick barware and goes down quick and smooth.
White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake Gelato
Boyer's Ice Cream & Coffee, 5720 Patterson Ave., 288-4088
You can't go wrong with such an elegantly decadent combination as this. Small squares of white chocolate commingle with strawberry shavings in the dense, cheesecake-flavored ice cream, and the pie-crust crumbs sprinkled throughout provide an extra burst of sweetness. The local shop stocks this homemade gelato from another family-owned business, the Michigan-based Palazzolo's.
De Rochonnet Delights, 13228 Midlothian Turnpike, 794-1551
Substitute a trip to Italy with one taste of the gelato from de Rochonnet Delights in Midlothian, which serves traditional flavors such as the hazelnut chocolate (aka bacio) and a pure chocolate beyond belief. Great texture and amazing taste. Available at other locations; just call and ask where. But a trip south of the river is a small investment to make for this treasure.
Café Caturra, 5811 Grove Ave., 285-0690; 1282 Alverser Plaza, 897-4773; 13830 Village Place Drive, 378-4955
This shake blends scoops of vanilla ice cream with freshly brewed shots of espresso and pumps of vanilla flavoring. It carries a light but not overpowering coffee flavor, sweetened by the fluffy whipped-cream topping. Try ordering a large and asking them to split it in two cups, and don't forget a straw.
Ray's Italian Water Ice, 8023 W. Broad St., 290-4448; 3039 Lauderdale Drive, 360-8135
Enjoying a rocket from Ray's Italian Water Ice is all about how you bite it. The treat is made by layering your choice of Philadelphia-style water ice with chocolate or vanilla custard; getting a taste of both in one spoonful allows you to truly enjoy the combination. The fruity blast of ice combines with the custard for a creamy, sweet delight.
Birthday Cake Ice Cream
Bruster's Real Ice Cream, 8911-B Patterson Ave., 740-3414
Even though it isn't served with a candle on top, this sweet treat helps make any old day one worth celebrating. A ribbon of blue frosting swirls through the vanilla ice cream, and rainbow sprinkles showered throughout add pop and plenty of self-indulgent sugary-ness.
Key-Lime Pie Ice Cream
Heith's Ice Cream Factory, 7040 Woodlake Commons Loop, 639-4251; 10120 Chester Road, 796-5130
Notable for its refreshing balance between sweet and tangy flavors, this delicious frozen confection makes the perfect summer treat. Light swirls of graham-cracker crumbles add texture, and the whole thing reminds us, not surprisingly, of eating a cool slice of Key-lime pie. Also worth a try is the lemon-pie flavor, which is quite popular among regulars at the Chester location.
Fit for Life Shake
Ukrop's, 7035 Three Chopt Road, 288-5263; 10150 Brook Road, 261-6800
There are several Fit for Life flavor combinations available, and you'll find them only at the Ukrop's stores with ice cream at the coffee bar. The most popular blend is vanilla frozen yogurt, strawberries, bananas and granola. Will it make you fit for life? Maybe not, but the fruity flavor with added crunch from the granola makes it hard to put one down.
Bottega Bistro, 11400 West Huguenot Road, 379-9899
A classic Italian ice-cream creation, Tartufo elevates simple scoops of chocolate and vanilla into truffle territory by hiding a Maraschino cherry in each, then rolling them in almonds and semi-sweet chocolate. Consider splitting the dessert, since the scoops are extra large.
Homemade Coconut Gelato
The Farmhouse at Manakin Road, 1840 Manakin Road, 784-2224
Served in a margarita glass rimmed with caramel sauce and coconut shavings, this scoop of coconut gelato, made on the premises and topped with bits of macadamia nuts and toasted coconut, is refreshing.
Warm Cashew Chicken Salad
Spinnaker's Restaurant, 11500 Midlothian Turnpike, 794-0045; 5000 Commonwealth Centre Parkway, 744-6462
A bed of crisp iceberg lettuce meets chunks of grilled chicken with a light mesquite flavor, a generous serving of cashews and the highlight: a drizzle of tangy honey-poppyseed dressing served warm, complementing tomato, broccoli and mushrooms. A must-have with this summer salad is the honey-wheat flowerpot bread — baked in a terra-cotta flowerpot — and a glass of sweet iced tea.
Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Baker's Crust, 3553 W. Cary St., 213-0800
The lettuce was cold, crisp and fresh, but mostly cut romaine with some greens. The main attraction was the inclusion of two slices of avocado and four shrimp. The dressing was snappy with mustard, and the real bacon hadn't just left the fridge.
Tara Thai, 11800 W. Broad St., 360-0001
Looking for a salad that brings on the heat? The combination of thin strips of marinated grilled beef with red onions, carrots, cilantro and a super-spicy lime dressing kicks this one up a few notches. Family-style presentation allows you to serve yourself the perfect dose of citrus zing (between gulps of water).
Corn and Black Bean Salad
European Market & Café, 2001 1/2 W. Main St., 355-5182
Whenever you have a taste for Mexican food but don't want the calories — this salad does the trick. Along with corn kernels and black beans, it has avocado spread, sharp aged cheddar and grilled zucchini on a bed of mesclun and tomato, with an oil-and-vinegar dressing. Fresh and delicious.
Smoked Trout over Baby Lettuce
Julep's, 1719-21 E. Franklin St., 377-3968
Apples are cut in a fine julienne that brings a touch of tart to the silky smoked trout. Toasted pecans add crunch to great organic greens with simple, clean ingredients. The sharp, sweet Bourbon vinaigrette is the perfect foil for the rest of the salad. Simple, elegant ingredients at their best.
Thalhimer's Six-Layer Cake
Michaela Quality Bake Shop, 207 W. Brookland Park Boulevard, 321-0025
Owner Michael Hatcher (pictured) worked in the Thalhimer's Bakery for 12 years making that famed fudgy, yellow-batter piece of heaven. The signature cakes have been around, Hatcher estimates, for more than 70 years. "We can't keep them in the showcase," he says. "That cake has a huge following." The secret, which Hatcher doesn't care to spill, lies in the four different flavorings used in the batter. "We haven't made any modifications to the recipe over the years," he says.
Granny's Chicken Vegetable Soup
The County Seat, 3883 Old Buckingham Road, Powhatan, 598-5000
Granny (Mattie Clayton, 91); her daughter, Janie Dean; and granddaughter Tracy Cifers serve up platefuls of family recipes at their restaurant across from Powhatan Courthouse. This hardy mixture of chicken and vegetables is the same recipe Granny learned from her mother while growing up on a farm. The mild tomato base lets the tender bites of chicken, lima beans, potatoes, English peas, snap peas, carrots and corn (plus some other vegetables we might have missed) speak for themselves.
The Soble Burger
Star-lite Dining & Lounge, 2600 W. Main St., 254-2667
Star-lite's Soble Burger is an adaptation of the legendary patties Paul Soble turned out during 23 years in business in the Fan with his special blend of 80-20 beef and a perfectly seasoned grill. Soble's opened in 1976 on the corner of Floyd and Robinson (where Verbena is today) and later moved to Star-lite's location. Soble would be proud; Star-lite's rendition is a juicy, perfectly cooked patty slightly too big for its bun, with a generous crown of bacon and cheese.
Bull and Bear Club, 901 E. Cary St., 649-8431
Michael Hall learned to make a decadent English trifle when he was a chef at The Butlery, a former River Road dining destination. Hall prepares the same layered pound cake, raspberry jam and custard classic for The Bull and Bear Club, where he is executive chef. Otherwise known as "tipsy cake," sherry is the creamy dessert's lip-smacking ingredient.
Homemades by Suzanne, 102 N. Railroad Ave., Ashland, 798-8331
Owner Suzanne Wolstenholme borrowed this recipe from a neighbor when she opened her business in 1983. The Ashland caterer has been serving sandwiches on the yeast bread ever since. For most of that period, grandmother and baker Thelma Smithers has worked the dough to create each roll.
Miller & Rhoads' Missouri Club
Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Downtown, 501 E. Broad St., 344-4300
The interior of the new Hilton serves as a reminder of its forbear, the Miller & Rhoads department store, as does the menu of the hotel's grill. The Missouri Club sandwich piles turkey, Smithfield ham, bacon and white-cheese sauce on three slices of bread. On top is broiled cheddar cheese topped with a pickle spear on a toothpick (not the olive from the late retailer's Tea Room). Also on the menu: Miller & Rhoads' deviled crabs and its chocolate layer cake.
Street Carts We Desire
Bombay Express For comfort in a box, go to Bombay Express. Chef Khan has been dishing out creamy Indian goodness for two decades, and the proof's in the flavor. The daal makhani is creamy and filling; the curry chicken is tender and mildly spiced. All combinations come with a dollop of cool, minty raita that cuts perfectly through the rich entrées. Caribbean Grill Seek out this cart and order a combination plate to enjoy authentic cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. You'll get a taste of daily menu items like jerk chicken and tangy curry chicken, along with specials like oxtail and the spicy carnival chicken. Don't miss the grilled plantains that come with most dishes and combine chargrilled and sweet flavors. Christopher's Runaway Gourmet Christopher's Runaway Gourmet features simple dishes done right. A whopping serving of pasta with a zesty pesto sauce and roasted red peppers comes with a wedge of cheese and a crusty baguette slice. Salads such as tarragon chicken or lemon-and-dill tuna are paired with your choice of two sides and a baguette slice. Make sure you try the tangy marinated cucumbers. Taqueria Your meal at Taqueria is up to you. You choose chicken, pork or beef, then add black or pinto beans, rice, and toppings like fresh salsa, roasted corn, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, guacamole or jalapeños, and then decide if you want a big burrito, crispy tacos, nachos or a salad. It's a filling lunch that will get you through the afternoon. Caribbean Grill Seek out this cart and order a combination plate to enjoy authentic cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. You'll get a taste of daily menu items like jerk chicken and tangy curry chicken, along with specials like oxtail and the spicy carnival chicken. Don't miss the grilled plantains that come with most dishes and combine chargrilled and sweet flavors. Toasties It may take a few extra minutes to get your panini from Toasties, but that's because it's being grilled fresh. Choices range from the simple Caprese, with mozzarella, spinach and tomato, to the Cuban, with ham, turkey, mayo and tangy relish. The bread is your choice of sourdough, sunflower or flatbread. The best part is the dark, salty, extra-crispy homemade chips that accompany each sandwich.