It’s been three years since we last chipped in our two cents and dished out our favorite food finds, and trust us, we’ve done a lot of eating since then. From our many culinary explorations, we’ve narrowed down 50 items — comfort foods, sugar-coma-inducing desserts, spicy salsa, you name it — that you might not have heard about but you’ve just got to try. So plate up!
1. Volcano Roll
Haru Sushi, 7019-G Three Chopt Road, 288-5030
Maybe we’ve just gotten too used to large restaurant portions, but sometimes sushi isn’t all that filling. Haru Sushi’s volcano roll defies that claim. Crabmeat and cooked tuna are rolled with rice in a sheet of nori, fried with a tempura coating and sliced on an angle. This roll’s served with a show, too. Sushi chef Michael Mai hollows out a small piece of carrot and inserts wine and tempura flame, lighting the insides on fire to create a volcano effect (get it?).
2. Asian Pot Sticker Salad
Chez Foushee, 203 N. Foushee St., 648-3225
The Asian pot sticker salad at Chez Foushee rose from the popularity of the dumplings on the restaurant’s catering menu. Owner Andrew Hardie says people loved them so much, he decided to convert them into a hearty spring salad: “It’s very satisfying. You have both the hot and the cold.” The shrimp and pork pot stickers are served over a mesclun mix and topped with soy dressing, chopped peanuts, red peppers, cilantro and a nest of crispy wonton noodles.
Shish Kabab, 3417 Old Parham Road, 967-9868
One of Richmond’s handful of Pakistani restaurants, this hole-in-a-strip-mall has one of the best buffets in town. And with everything you get a side of naan, a puffy and still-warm flatbread that’s to die for. Make sure you ask for a side of cucumber sauce, and use the doused naan to fend off the heat from the papri chaat.
4. Brussels Sprouts With Walnuts
Various Ukrop’s locations
Mama always said Brussels sprouts were good for you, but did we listen? At Ukrop’s deli, though, the bright-green vegetables, cooked in a sweet maple sauce and accompanied by walnuts, call out even to skeptics. You’re rewarded with a toothsome crunch and not a hint of the bitterness you may recall from childhood.
5. Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf
Charles City Tavern, 9220 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City, 829-5004
Michael Macknight brought with him to Charles City Tavern his famed meatloaf creation, which he formerly served at the now-defunct Café Lafayette in the Near West End. This tasty European-influenced meatloaf — made from ground lamb, veal and pork — is wrapped in bacon and served with a sherry mushroom sauce. Crème-fraîche mashed potatoes and crispy onions round out the popular order. Save room for Macknight’s Champaign Poppy Seed Hooch Cake, which has graced our Food Finds list in the past.
6. Shrimp and Crab Ball
Janice’s Kitchen, 3319 Williamsburg Road, 222-3474; B&B Seafood, 3312 Williamsburg Road, 222-2357
The shrimp and crab ball made by hand at Janice’s Kitchen is a party standard that’s been around “forever,” says catering manager Christine Milleker. Available in half-pound or full-pound versions, these balls of shrimp, crab, cream cheese and a spice blend are also available across the street at B&B Seafood. The ball’s a no-brainer, but what’s the proper delivery vehicle? Many loyal patrons opt for Captain’s Wafers, but Milleker prefers Pepperidge Farms’ Quartet crackers.
7. Homemade Ice Cream
Siam Paragon Thai Cuisine, 10445 Midlothian Turnpike, 272-9011
The homemade ice cream at Siam Paragon Thai Cuisine comes in four flavors: coconut with chunks of jackfruit (a Thai fruit similar to pineapple); Thai tea (tea blended with sweet half and half); green tea; and lychee, which owner Jennifer Jiab says has a sweet and sour taste. You can order any flavor alone or get a sampler of all four, but Jiab calls the banana à la mode the “most wanted dessert.” “It’s a crispy banana with two scoops of ice cream in any flavor topped with honey,” she says.
8. Turkish Delight
Bubbling, 1712 E. Main St., 780-3020
Unlike Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you don’t have to worry about being tricked into enjoying Turkish delight at Bubbling in Shockoe Bottom. This imported confection, which has a gelatin-like consistency, is made from caramel, pistachio nuts, honey, sugar, starch and rose water, then covered with powdered sugar.
9. Arugula Salad, Sfogliatelle and Eggplant Penne
8 1/2, 401 Strawberry St., 358-8505
8 1/2 is the perfect option for gourmands on the prowl for tasty takeout. Make a meal out of the arugula salad, prepared simply with salt, pepper and shaved Italian Parmesan; sfogliatelle, a ricotta-cheese-stuffed pastry; and eggplant penne, a pasta dish of fried eggplant and classic marinara sauce. “I didn’t invent any of those things,” says owner Ed Vasaio. “But we use better olive oils, better cheeses, better tomatoes ... That’s what makes the difference.”
10. Roasted Duck and Noodle Soup
Full Kee Restaurant, 6400 Horsepen Road, 673-2233
Full Kee’s Peking duck has a cult following, but it’s too much for one person. A way to get in your quack-quack if you’re on your own is to order the roasted duck and noodle soup, with tender chunks of meat (watch the bones) in a light, fragrant broth and enough noodles for a satisfying meal. Owner Paul Chau notes that the roasting process, which differs from that of the Peking duck, takes only 45 minutes. It’s true comfort food.
11. Nate’s Special Hot Sauce
Louisiana Flair, 322 E. Grace St., 497-4575
A few months ago, Nathaniel Sams, co-owner of Louisiana Flair, took a trip to Florida and visited a restaurant with homemade hot sauces. He came back determined to make his own, testing different combinations of peppers and spices and using regulars as taste-testers. “One day a guy screamed, ‘That’s it!’ ” Sams says, and he’s been concocting the special blend of seven peppers and Cajun spices once a week ever since. Right now the stuff isn’t for sale alone, but you’ll get all the free samples you want with your meal.
12. Philly Cheesesteak
Aladdin Express, 801 W. Broad St., 359-8500
The Philly cheesesteak from Aladdin Express is no ordinary sandwich. Somewhere within the 10 inches of homemade Italian bread, slathered with mayo and piled high with lightly seasoned shaved beef, cheese, and fresh lettuce and tomato, awaits something tangy, something different. “The secret is the special seasoning for the steak,” says manager Al Homsi. And this genie’s not letting the secret out of the bottle.
13. Tacos al Pastor
La Milpa, 6925 Hull Street Road, 276-3391
In Richmond all of the real foodies work the fringes, and most know La Milpa, an authentic alternative to mundane Mexican strip-mall fare. No lie: cactus salad, head cheese and tongue subs (in Spanish they sound ravishing) grace the menu, but you cannot beat the Tacos al Pastor, piled with spicy beef cut from a standing spit and covered in onions and cilantro. Grab a wedge of lime, get your hands dirty and dig into one of the best, least-known delights in the city.
14. Parisian-style Macarons
Veronica Perez is well ahead of the curve in Richmond. Her Web-based company Petites Bouchées launched in February, bringing Parisian-style macarons to town. “The food blogs are all about macarons because they’re really big in Paris,” she says. Don’t confuse these confections with the more familiar coconut macaroons. Parisian-style macarons have a nut-and-egg-white base, but no coconut. The wafers are slightly chewy, with a filling sandwiched in between. Perez offers several flavors, including vanilla, hazelnut with salted caramel filling (the most popular) and pistachio with chocolate ganache filling. Online orders are $35 for two dozen and $18 for one dozen. Or visit Perez at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, where you can pick up a box of three macarons for $4.50.
15. The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Roll
Sumo San, 1725 E. Main St., 643-6500
To get the best of the best at Shockoe Bottom’s Sumo San, you have to go off the menu. The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon roll, named for the 2000 movie, features a crunchy shrimp-tempura-and-cucumber roll topped with avocado, peppercorn-seared tuna and various sweet and spicy sauces. “It’s definitely our most popular roll, even though it’s never been on the menu, “says manager Kerry McGee.
Emilio’s Westlake, 7016 Woodlake Commons Loop, 639-8099
It may take 45 minutes for your paella to hit the dinner table at Emilio’s Westlake, but that’s part of the magic of Valencia-born owner Emilio Peiro’s family recipe. “It uses slow-absorbing rice, which allows the rice to take on all the flavors of the meat and vegetables that are in there,” says manager Slip Dourden. “That’s what makes it so tasty.”
17. Shrimp and Grits
O’Banks, 10392 Leadbetter Road, 550-3888
The shrimp and grits at O’Banks are locally made, starting with white corn that’s ground into grits at a nearby mill in Ashland. “We cook them nice and slow with herbs, butter, Parmesan cheese and heavy cream,” says cook Nicole Chapman. Then she adds seared shrimp, garlic, more heavy cream and butter: “It’s easy and good. Sometimes it seems like that’s all we sell.”
18. Pizza Sub
Penn Station, 10424 Midlothian Turnpike, 267-7366
Penn Station’s pizza sub is the perfect hybrid between a hot, cheesy pizza and an old-fashioned sub sandwich. Toasty, homemade French bread is topped with ham, pepperoni, pizza sauce, a double dose of provolone and Parmesan cheeses, and a shake of oregano. “It starts with the bread,” says general manager Mike Lawyer. “If you have good bread, you’re going to have a good sub.”
Northside Grille, 1217 Bellevue Ave., 266-4403
Shannan Chambers, Northside Grille’s part-Filipino owner, went into her own recipe box to produce the restaurant’s popular lumpia appetizer. The dish, a traditional Filipino pastry, consists of an egg roll stuffed with a mixture of sausage, ground beef, cabbage and carrots and served with a sweet but spicy Thai garlic chili sauce. In a word: Delish.
20. Ayib Tiki
The Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, 309 N. Laurel St., 225-5544
Not all Ethiopian food is super spicy, but this appetizer sure is. Homemade Ethiopian cheese, crafted by using buttermilk, is combined with olive oil and mitmita, a mixture of chili peppers, cardamom seed, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, ginger and salt. The spicy blend is spread onto injera (a gluten-free sourdough flatbread made from teff flour), rolled up and cut into pieces.
21. Fried Oysters
Weezie’s Kitchen, 3123 W. Cary St., 726-1270
Beaux Hobbs, the chef at Weezie’s Kitchen, says the key to his fried-oyster appetizer is a perfectly crisp exterior and a lightly cooked interior: “It’s a simple dish.” The bivalves are lightly coated with flour and fried, then served with homemade Cajun mayonnaise. If you want to try them, you’d better head in soon. Prime oyster time is almost over, so this dish will soon disappear until next winter.
Flour Garden Bakery, various locations, 261-5757
Just after midnight, Michael Calogerakis, of the Flour Garden Bakery, starts baking his rustic artisan bread that he peddles throughout Greater Richmond by daybreak. You’ve most likely sampled his unbeatable baguettes, as well as other baked goods, at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, Six Burner, Pomegranate, Edo’s Squid and The Jefferson. Calogerakis, an old-school baker, says the secret is to keep things simple — no preservatives and a slow, 18-hour fermentation process.
23. Chocolate Peanut Butter Coffee Drink
Bin 22 at Betsy’s, 3200 W. Cary St., 358-4501
The folks at Bin 22 at Betsy’s looked beyond the typical iced latte when they invented the immensely satisfying frozen chocolate peanut butter coffee drink, a blend of 2 percent milk, Ghirardelli chocolate, espresso and peanut butter. “It’s almost like a milkshake,” says owner Greg Pullen. “But it’s got that shot of espresso in there to give you a jolt of caffeine.”
24. Cilantro and Basil
Tan-A Supermarket, 6221 W. Broad St., 285-3569
If you’re heading into the kitchen to whip up some spicy salsa or homemade pesto, make a pit stop at Tan-A Supermarket, known as a haven for hard-to-find Asian cuisine ingredients, for a robust bag of luscious cilantro or basil, priced amazingly at $1 a pop. Not only do the green herbs look fresher than your usual supermarket fare, but the hearty portions will last you for days.
25. Jalapeno Pimento Cheese
The Fresh Market, 1527 N. Parham Road, 282-3823
For a new twist on a Southern favorite, try Fresh Market’s jalapeño pimento cheese. Grated cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and spices are brightly dotted with red pimentos and then kicked up with finely diced jalapeño peppers. It’s creamy with a hint of heat. According to store manager John Tisdale, “It’s the perfect mix: a little spice, a little flavor on something traditional.”
Café Rustica, 414 E. Main St., 225-8811
Andy Howell, owner of Café Rustica, says the popular sauerbraten with ginger sauce is a traditional German recipe. It starts with beef butt sirloin that’s marinated for three days, then seared and braised for about four hours. Once cooled, it’s topped with a special sauce made from a reduction of the marinade with ginger snaps. “It almost always sells out,” Howell says.
27. Utah Crab Bisque
Christie’s Lunchbox, 10th and Cary streets; Marshall Street near VCU’s Gateway Building, 643-7361
When June Jarrett took over Christie’s Lunchbox, a catering company with two sandwich carts downtown, she kept the business’ name and menu pretty much the same, including the Utah Crab Bisque. “Don’t even ask me how he came up with the name,” she says of former owner Curtis Sheeley, who passed away last year. Milk, crabmeat, carrots, celery, onion, butter, flour, heavy cream and potatoes are kicked up a notch with white pepper, a lobster base and Old Bay.
GlobeHopper, 2100 E. Main St., 523-8083
Nestled at the foot of Church Hill is the newly opened GlobeHopper Coffeehouse & Lounge (look for the freshly painted Ed Trask mural of jazz great Nina Simone). Inside the colorful digs, baristas offer River City its first taste of Poffertjes (pronounced POFF-er-jus), miniature Dutch puff pastries ($3.95) made in a European cast-iron griddle. Topped off with powdered sugar and a butter curl, these goodies are as addictive as they are fun to eat.
29. Mushroom and Brie Soup
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Café, 200 N. Boulevard, 340-1400
When perusing masterpieces at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, make a point to indulge in culinary art at the VMFA Café. The café’s popular mushroom and brie soup is made from a variety of sautéed wild fungi, beef stock, half-and-half, and decadent brie. As Cathy Turner, director of food service, puts it, “How can you really go wrong with that combination?”
30. Spoon Bread
Lemaire, 101 W. Franklin St., 649-4644
The gourmet offerings at Lemaire constantly have foodies in a tizzy, but it’s the chef’s special spoon bread recipe that’s the real showstopper. A gastronomic tradition since the first settlers of Jamestown, spoon bread is a very rich, dense cornbread that is not to be missed. Chef Walter Bundy offers his version to all lucky diners with the presentation of their entrée.
Ellwood Thompson’s, 4 N. Thompson St., 359-7525
These traditional Russian cookies hit Ellwood’s shelves earlier this spring when Nellie Michalski’s business, Roscabans Valley Delights, got off its feet with the help of the New Visions New Ventures’ Breadwinners program. The prianiki, which come in mint, lemon and ginger flavors, are made with two types of rice flour and two kinds of lentil flour; they contain no preservatives and are gluten-free and vegan.
32. Black and Bleu Burger
Honey Whyte’s, 2116 E. Main St., 643-6022
If you’re looking for a hamburger that’s as good as — scratch that, better than — burgers you’ll find at a backyard cookout, try the Black and Bleu Burger from Honey Whyte’s in Shockoe Bottom. Black pepper, blue cheese and “secret seasoning” are added to the Black Angus patties, which are formed fresh daily, says owner John Jingluski, who also does 95 percent of the restaurant’s cooking. Whether you order the quarter- or half-pound version, you’ll need extra napkins for this juicy monster.
33. Low Country Grilled Cheese
The Dining Room at The Berkeley, 1200 E. Cary St., 780-1300
A grilled-cheese sandwich will usually run you about $3 — but not at the Dining Room at The Berkeley. Here, the Low Country Grilled Cheese is $8, but rightly so, considering there’s more to this lunchtime fave than bread and cheese. Between slices of homemade potato bread lie salty country ham and a slice of sweet, crisp fried green tomato, plus the cheddar cheese, making this a sandwich fit for a hungry Southern gentleman (or lady).
Westhampton Pastry Shop, 5728 Patterson Ave., 282-4413
Whether you prefer chocolate-covered or plain glazed, you need to get to Westhampton Pastry Shop early before the doughnuts sell out. Owner Boots Rogers worked on a secret, special blend of spices for six years before reaching perfection. A cross between a cake doughnut and the light-as-air Krispy Kreme, they’ll transport you to Homer Simpson Land, able only to repeat the word “dohhh-nut.” “These things just take it somewhere else,” Rogers says.
35. Steamed Dumplings
The Eatery, 3000 W. Cary St., 353-6171
While Carytown’s The Eatery seems to offer a taste of every cultural cuisine under the sun, its Asian fare is what keeps us coming back for more. The steamed dumplings, a simple but savory combination of pork, bok choy and garlic, will likely send you straight into a sluggish, mid-day slump — but, boy, are they worth it.
36. Cakes by Mill Street Sweets
Available at Once Upon a Vine, 2817 Hathaway Road, 864-9463; order directly at (434) 392-1566
Tommy Graziano’s sweet treats found at Once Upon a Vine South have added an extra zip to the wine and beer superstore. Graziano’s wholesale biz, known as Mill Street Sweets, was hatched just months ago, yet Richmonders can’t seem to get enough of his customized desserts. Standouts include the top-selling carrot cake ($4.25 a slice), with sun-dried cranberries, as well as the seasonal strawberry roulade.
37. Breakfast Burrito
deLux, 2229 W. Main St., 353-2424
DeLux’s breakfast burrito is not for the faint of appetite. The hefty grilled flour tortilla is stuffed with scrambled eggs, slow-roasted pulled pork, black beans, tomatoes, onions and peppers, then topped with sour cream and a slightly spicy salsa. “It’s definitely a large portion,” says manager Tony Deyerle. “It’s one of those things people get for brunch and then go home and take a nap.”
38. Chocolate Mousse
Comfort, 200 W. Broad St., 780-0004
Comfort’s chocolate mousse, a fluffy concoction of heavy cream, sugar, butter, eggs and bitter dark chocolate, is the epitome of sinful deliciousness. “It’s just the methodology, really,” explains co-owner Chris Chandler. “It’s a very simple recipe, like most of the things that we do here. It’s made with stuff that tastes really good, and if you do it properly, you have a nice, smooth, fluffy mousse.”
39. Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Que Pasa, 623 N. 25th St., 402-7502
The mashed sweet potatoes at Que Pasa are as close to Thanksgiving as you can get — minus the bickering and family drama — and Richmonders have taken notice. “If you’re not here by 7:30, it’s over; there’s just none left,” says owner John Sanchez. The secret to the decadent side dish, he says, is that the topping (brown sugar, butter, walnuts, pecans) is baked on after the potatoes are cooked, leaving the crust with just the right amount of crunch.
40. Vegan Cookies
Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream, 3600 Forest Hill Ave., 231-2030; 26 N. Morris St., 355-3559
Eating vegan doesn’t mean you have to forgo delicious treats that typically contain milk and eggs. Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream chef Jeff Kroll points out that butter can be replaced with silken tofu, while soy milk or applesauce can substitute for cow’s milk. At Crossroads, Michelle Webb’s vegan repertoire includes massive, soft chocolate-chunk, apple and fresh-berry cookies. They’re seriously huge, as in two servings, folks.
41. Key Lime Pie
Relish, 101 S. 15th St., # 105, 648-2233
Unofficially pegged the “Zen cafeteria” by its lunchtime regulars, Relish dishes up more than its famed salad bar. Pastry chef Leigh Rodgers has been cranking out a mean version of Key lime pie that has proven to be a hot-ticket item. Rodgers’ authentic version ($3.99 per slice) uses real Key lime (not just food coloring and lime juice like many knockoffs) and fresh whipped cream.
42. Sausage and Black-eyed Pea Soup
Various Ukrop’s locations
Ukrop’s executive chef Tom Pearce, developed the Smoked Sausage and Black-eyed Pea Soup using one of his mother’s recipes as a starting point. He particularly likes how it “finishes with a little smoky heat from the chipotle peppers.” The hearty, low-fat meal’s all natural ingredients also include nitrate-free smoked sausage, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, herbs and spices.
43. Seafood Lasagna
Byram’s Lobster House, 3215 W. Broad St., 355-9193
When it comes to fresh, homemade cuisine, it doesn’t get any better than the seafood lasagna at Byram’s Lobster House. The rich pasta dish features fresh shrimp, jumbo backfin crabmeat and scallops, layered with homemade lasagna noodles, a white alfredo cream sauce and mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar cheeses. “It’s a trademark,” says owner Gus Nikiforos.
44. Root Beer Float Shooter
Curbside Café, 2525 Hanover Ave., 355-7008
When Curbside Café made the wise decision to offer root beer on tap, its longtime bartender Darin Sullivan quickly created the Root Beer Float Shooter. Known as “Sir Sully” by his many fans, Sullivan makes this sought-after elixir with Baileys, Absolut Vanilla vodka and Old Dominion Root Beer.
The White Dog, 2329 W. Main St., 340-1975
One taste of The White Dog’s bread pudding, and you’ll be hooked for life. Chef Beverly Juniper’s secret recipe involves soaking French baguettes overnight in a sweetened milk mixture and topping the final baked product with a warm caramel glaze and whiskey hard sauce. “It’s all about the perfect textures,” explains co-owner Roslyn Pruitt, “and the sauces, which are served hot.”
46. Potato Cakes
Liberty Valance, 7017 Forest Hill Ave., 233-1940
The potato cakes often pull a disappearing act at Liberty Valance — they get ordered up fast, even though breakfast is served daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We have to bake the potatoes the night before, so we’re always running out,” owner Bab Stout says. In order to make these crunchy treats, the staff bakes potatoes, shreds them and then fries ’em crisp.
47. Rabbit Empanadas
Verbena, 2526 Floyd Ave., 359-3122
Whether you order them as a small plate upstairs in the lounge or as part of the Mexican Rabbit Three Ways entrée downstairs in the dining room, these savory pastries are a delight. Chef Todd Richardson breaks down fresh rabbit and braises the legs in a mole sauce of peppers, chocolate, chicken stock and spices for four to five hours. The pulled meat, the mole and the plantains are then fried crisp inside pastry dough.
48. Peanut Butter Pie and Strawberry Shortcake
Lulu’s, 21 N. 17th St., 343-9771
Amy Hardin, manager of Lulu’s, says the deep-dish peanut-butter pie and the strawberry shortcake are made daily because they sell out so quickly: “It doesn’t get much fresher than that.” The peanut-butter pie’s ground-cookie crust features a peanut-butter pie filling and is topped with chocolate ganache. On the lighter side is the strawberry shortcake, featuring layered moist cake, fresh strawberries and whipped cream all drizzled with chocolate.
The Boathouse at Sunday Park, 4602 Millridge Parkway, 744-2545
Kevin Healy, owner of The Boathouse at Sunday Park, credits the medium-rare texture of the restaurant’s signature Pizzookie for making it so darn irresistible. That perfect gooey consistency, achieved by baking homemade cookie dough in a pizza oven just so, turns what could be a regular ol’ cookie into a veritable chocolate-chip masterpiece, complete with vanilla ice cream, dark-chocolate sauce and homemade whipped cream.
Little Mexico, 1328 W. Cary St., 525-4216
The salsa at Little Mexico, a restaurant from the second generation of the family behind the local Mexico Restaurant chain, is made fresh every day, which explains its tantalizing — and ever-changing — flavor. “Every day it’s different,” says owner Jose Garcia of the finely chopped blend of tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. “Some days it’s spicier than others; it all depends on the jalapeños.”
—Kate Andrews, Susan Early, Katherine Houstoun, Megan Marconyak, Dave McCormack, Sarah K. McDonald and Paul Spicer