Photo by Adam Ewing
Flounder with salt-baked celery root, sweetbreads, roasted persimmon, black sesame purée, kale and pomegranate anchioade.
Restaurants in Richmond are like popcorn: Suddenly they appear, bright and white and full of promise, until out of nowhere, a crow snatches them up, and that new place on the corner is dark, with a for-sale sign in the window.
During the last year, the popcorn-like pace has continued, but the crows seem to be occupied elsewhere. When we looked throughout the region to discover which new restaurants we thought were the best, we realized that we had a whole new problem — so many good places are going strong. It's a great problem for a town to have.
It makes it hard to choose, though. Ultimately, we were able to settle on those new places that surprised us, delighted us and made us want to come back. We tried to find restaurants across the spectrum, low to high, comfort food to cutting-edge cuisine. In the following pages, we hope you'll discover places you didn't know about or will become inspired to try ones you had on your mental list, but hadn't quite found the time to check off yet.
1400 N. 27th St., Richmond, Virginia 23223
The triumvirate of Caleb Shriver, wife Michelle Peake and partner Phil Perrow have proven again that the hottest neighborhood in Richmond is Church Hill, north of Broad Street. At first glance, the high, tin ceilings and long bar at Dutch & Co. might cause Fan District déjà vu, but the food pushes beyond the city's boundaries. A seasonal menu that might include rabbit loin and belly roulade or a "pig face" and pickled mushroom terrine is forward-looking, but sacrifices nothing to theory in its celebration of taste.
Italian Futurism may have emphasized technology and totalitarian authority, but like Rob Womack's painting of the word "futurismo" written backward that hangs on the restaurant's Venetian plaster wall, Dinamo subverts the notion of rigid menus and hardline adherence to concept. Chef Brad Wein chooses what's freshest and what strikes his fancy to create a changing menu that keeps a few Italian favorites like a spectacular garlicky seafood salad in rotation, but also throws in non-Italian wild cards like matzo ball soup and duck confit. Consistency is key here — consistently good food, each dish, every time.
34348 Pouncey Tract Road, Glen Allen, Virginia 23059
It's the little details that set this Mexican spot apart from the pack — pomegranate and pumpkin seeds garnishing bang-on guacamole; mandarin orange and crispy sweet potato highlighting the ceviche; and painstakingly prepared salsas, sauces and relishes. Major points for their mole, which might shock you even if you think you've had mole before: Those layers of smoky sweetness can only be achieved with time, patience and real culinary acuity. You can spend $10 and get a revved-up version of the usual Mexican fare like tacos, quesadillas and flautas, or you can spend $20 and be rewarded with creative plates you won't find anywhere else — when was the last time you had lump crab chile relleno with roasted tomato sauce?
It begins with the guacamole, sparking and smoky with chipotle chilies. But don't expect Mexican food. Instead, Estilo brings the vivid flavors of South and Central America to an unassuming storefront in the Village Shopping Center. There are tacos, but you'll find them stuffed with scallops, shrimp or pork in a sauce from Costa Rica. Try the charquicán, a beef stew from Chile, thick with rice and topped with a poached egg, or snack on spicy pepitas while sipping one of their eight wines on tap. Add bonus points for a completely gluten-free menu.
Curry Craft is a roiling fondue of cultural influences. Here, chef/owner Mel Oza dips traditional Indian curries into a hot pot of French, Mongolian and Portuguese technique. Plates are Indian at their well-seasoned center, but served with global awareness. You must try the Tellichery chicken "rotti" style. Deboned white meat and a thin mango purée replaces the familiar, dark-meat-in-a-sauce dish that we've come to expect and is as lively to the eye as the Kerala spices are to the palate.
62043 W. Broad St., Richmond, Virginia 23220
Let there be craft beer! Holy grain proclamation or half-life trend — that's to be determined. Richmond is in the midst of a tap takeover. The Savory Grain, with its dozens of drafts and chef-driven menu, could choose to brand itself as a gastropub — but it doesn't. Instead, hungry urbanites call the shots here. Whether to fill a growler with the latest hoptastic something-something or to stuff face with a slab of chef Sean Murphy's meatloaf, diners know that souped-up comfort food only gets better with beer.
Saison hits all of the marks we expect in RVA's foodist 2.0 paradigm: seasonal craft cocktails, a generous nod to farmers, a menu of snacks/medium-size/large plates and sexy environs. And with a name like that, we also expect a thoughtfully curated beer list with proper glassware and serving temperatures. They nailed it. What's unexpected are the unfussy tasting notes in Twitter speak: "baller," "killer," "ridonculously good" and Latino touches (pozole, chicharrón and habañero) inspired by chef Adam Hall's trip to Oaxaca. Bless my heart, does Southern food marry well with Latin American flavors? Hell, sí!
The quality, prices and gorgeous build-out with tin, tile and dark wood say fancy, but the portions, hospitality and comes-with-a-salad entrées say friendly. From the owner of Tarrant's Café, Max's operates in the date-night-meets-family-outing niche and elevates it. Max's isn't breaking the brasserie mold, but it's very well executed (and serves the best moules-frites I've had in Richmond), making for a happy addition that's guaranteed to become a downtown institution. True to its Belgian bones, the beer list is solid, and the wine list, though short on local vino, is smartly assembled. Take your out-of-town family here to remind them how cool Richmond is.
93332 Pump Road, Richmond, Virginia 23226
If you haven't yet been to Short Pump's Tazza Kitchen, you're going to wonder what you were thinking when you get there, especially if you sit by one of the big, stone fireplaces with a plate of meatballs — locally sourced, responsible meatballs. These guys know what they're doing across the board and onto the other board right next to it. Their salads are beautifully balanced (try the crunchy potato and arugula with smoked mozzarella), their pizza is a combo of classic New York-style and chef-y creative (think spicy sausage with black-pepper honey), and their prosciutto-stuffed chicken might be the best-prepared poultry dish in Richmond. The olive oil-laced chocolate budino is a must for dessert.
If you're not looking, you might miss Deep Run Roadhouse, just off Gayton Road, deep in Henrico County. It may have a humble strip-mall exterior, but this casual joint is a dream realized for owner Paul Hubbard of Alamo BBQ fame. His passion for barbecue runs deep, and his new venture rolls out a substantial spread of wood-smoked barbecue daily. Brisket, pulled pork and spare ribs are the stars of the chalkboard menu, along with a satisfying blend of Tex-Mex and comfort food, including grilled burritos and bison burgers. Even if you're not in the mood for barbecue, come here for the sides. The jalapeño mac 'n' cheese doesn't mess around, nor does the cornbread with honey butter.
11320 E. Grace St., Richmond, Virginia 23219
The ever-expanding restaurant empire of Travis and Ryan Croxton started as an oyster "tasting room," Merroir, near the beds of their oyster farm, Rappahannock River Oysters. That first toe dip rapidly became a portfolio of four restaurants, including Richmond's Rappahannock. Chef Dylan Fultineer, of Chicago's Blackbird and the Hungry Cat in California, was brought east, and he's upped the dining scene's ante with an innovative, seafood-focused menu that includes dishes like squid stuffed with lamb sausage, scallops and octopus from the grill, and raw oysters from the farm topped with a Bourbon-citrus granita and trout caviar.
This Southern-inspired gastropub manages to ride the fine line between having a wide variety of options and doing them all well. You can mix-and-match creative small plates like tequila-braised short rib tacos and lobster lollipops; eat light with a perfectly composed beet salad laced with grapefruit oil; or get a steak trimmed with crispy shallots, spinach and garlic-truffle mashers for just $25. The clincher — where else can you end a meal with a toasted marshmallow milkshake with chocolate and graham cracker bits?
Dining at Postbellum keeps the conversational fire burning. An intriguing menu spins vegetable side dishes through chef Jen Mindell's creative centrifuge and spits them out as "ducky mushrooms" and "grown-up spinach." Don't you want to know what those are? There's noise and a bit of a flow problem, but you'll forget about those after you've debated who'll share the salmon belly and smoke-aged rib-eye from the affordable menu (most dinners are less than $20) and noticed the antlers mounted above the well-stocked bar, the wall of outsider art and vintage window seat. Then, walk to the adjacent retail shop and show your date the bottle of Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo you'd like to take home for later.
147927 W. Broad St., Richmond, Virginia 23294
Beneath the über-cool décor of West End newcomer Tay-Ho is a sturdy foundation of old-fashioned Vietnamese tradition. Restaurateur Kim Tu and her two siblings draw heavily on the cuisine that they were taught by their parents (owners of Asian market mainstay Tan-A) and grandparents, using their own kitchens for extensive recipe refinement in the months before the restaurant opened on Broad Street. Fans of authentic Vietnamese food won't have to leave their love of American mixology at the door, as Tay-Ho's granite bar features a host of original cocktails painstakingly crafted by Tu herself.
It's easy to overlook this place, where the entrance is a few steps down from the sidewalk. But don't, especially if you like delicious and plentiful Southern fare. We can vouch for the extremely tender, flavorful pork chops smothered in peppery gravy, the zippy collard greens and the juicy chicken wings in a zesty coating that will have you licking your fingers — good thing that they give you steaming hot towels afterward. While we were there, co-owner Lady D. Kindle and her husband, chef Kenneth Kindle, both stopped by our table to say hello. The one tiny disappointment was the grits, which came to the table surprisingly dry. Given their prominent place in the restaurant's name, we expected more. Still, we'll be back to try the meatloaf, fried catfish and maybe even some oxtails or chitterlings.