Known for scenic wineries and steeped in early American history, Charlottesville, Virginia has a simmering food scene that’s totally worthy of a road trip. In a town where many of the best restaurants are known as ‘institutions,’ new faces and new flavors are making their presence felt in a surprising variety of delicious ways. From the bold Oaxacan menu at Conmole in Belmont to the ethereal beauty of the plates at Broadcloth, Charlottesville has plenty of hidden gems if you know where to look for them.Read More
25 Essential Restaurants in Charlottesville, Virginia
Go beyond the town’s scenic wineries with these dining gems
1. Cou Cou Rachou
In the back of an unassuming shopping center, Cou Cou Rachou is a jewel of European pastries, with freshly baked boules, batards, and baguettes emitting a warm, yeasty aroma into the parking lot. Owner and baker Rachel De Jong studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before going on to work under Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington and Ludo Lefevbre at Petit Trois in Los Angeles, and her pedigree is on proud display in each flaky pastry. Plan to stock up on (and perhaps even share) the galette des rois, almond croissants, and a croissant version of French onion soup.
2. Dairy Market Charlottesville
The historic Monticello Dairy Building reopened in 2019 as a sprawling food hall with wide-ranging options for Filipino fare (Manila Street) to soul food (Angelica’s Kitchen), plus local beer (Crozet’s Starr Hill) and ice cream (Remington’s Moo Thru Ice Cream). You can easily spend a day here nibbling and shopping your way through the dozens of food and artisan vendors, making this the perfect destination for any foodie.
3. MarieBette Café and Bakery
Bread lovers will want to beeline it to Marie Bette open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch with tasty baguette sandwiches plus French-style pastries, like the innovative prezzant salted, a pretzel-croissant hybrid and the banana sourdough, a sweet loaf with roasted bananas, apricot glaze and a touch of coconut.
4. Bodo's Bagels
If you visit Charlottesville without a stop at Bodo’s Bagels, you have missed something special. Don’t let it happen. Instead, belly up to the line (that moves briskly no matter how long it looks) and try a bagel so fresh they don’t need toasting (and Bodo’s famously won’t toast them even if you ask nicely). Order a dozen to-go, because you’ll want them all over again once you get back home. Don’t miss the “deli-egg” on a bagel either, an original concoction filled with diced deli meats and cheeses. There are two additional Bodo’s Bagels locations.
5. Bowerbird Bakeshop
The menu at Bowerbird is an eclectic and creative collection of European-inspired pastries, from classic croissants to cardamom knots, including an impressive vegan selection. But it’s the big, craggy cookies like salted toffee chocolate chip and peanut butter miso that keeps customers coming back. Don’t skip the macarons, one of owner Earl Vallery’s specialties. Go for rotating seasonal flavors like pistachio cardamom, earl grey ganache, and blood orange hibiscus.
6. Riverside Lunch
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Riverside Lunch has been serving smash burgers long before the term “smash burger” even existed. For more than 85 years, this Charlottesville institution beloved by the city’s chefs has been putting out a consistently perfect burger with a side of friendly service, the kind that feels like a throwback. A double cheeseburger all the way (lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, onions, and relish) is a comforting, foolproof order — a good old friend who never changes.
7. The Ridley
Situated inside the Draftsman Hotel, The Ridley is immersed in history. Its namesake, Dr. Walter N. Ridley, is the first Black student to graduate from The University of Virginia and receive a graduate degree from any major historically white public university in the South. The Ridley’s lunch and dinner menus feature riffs on Southern classics, including deviled eggs, Cajun oysters, and shrimp and grits.
8. Siren Restaurant
Head to Siren when you are craving seafood that feels though it were prepared just for you, with love. The vision of multiple-time Guy’s Grocery Games champ Chef Laura Fonner, Siren’s menu riffs on Mediterranean flavors in dishes like the chicken gyro dumplings, a specialty of Fonner’s that combine all the familiar elements of a gyro in a magically light housemade dumpling wrapper. Hop over to Siren’s veranda for drinks and shareable plates like panko-fried oysters with herb aioli, plus occasional live music.
Led by a culinary team cooking side-by-side for a decade, this French-Southern restaurant oozes consistency. Pimento cheese fritters are legendary and worthy of their reputation, but make equal time for the simple and exquisite pan-seared rainbow trout with caper brown butter. Every entree comes with two sides: just make sure one of them is Maya’s mac and cheese.
10. Public Fish & Oyster
On the half shell or fried, Public Fish & Oyster does shellfish a service with expert treatment. Chef Lee Siegrist sends out three types of moules frites. Even if you don’t order the mussels, make sure to get an order of the Belgian-style fries to share. But the real move here is happy hour, where diners can find oyster shooters and Connecticut-style lobster rolls. But be forewarned, the lobster rolls (which are available only during happy hour) are known to sell out fast.
11. Oakhart Social
You think you know fried chicken, but chef Tristan Wraight’s version, with Thai basil and fish sauce vinaigrette will give you a whole new bird to love. Though exceedingly competent with meat-based dishes, Wraight, inspired by his vegetarian wife, puts out some of the finest plant-based offerings (looking at you, charred carrots) you’ll find anywhere. Save room for both pizza and dessert because you wouldn’t want to miss the sausage pizza or the coconut sundae.
Bizou is well-loved for serving up locally-sourced comfort food in diner digs on the Downtown Mall. While both lunch and dinner are remarkable in their own right, if you only get one meal at Bizou, make it brunch, where dishes like spanikopita quiche and birria biscuits show off the creativity of the culinary team, lead by owners Vincent Derquenne and Tim Burgess. Visit sister restaurant Bang! for clever cocktails and Asian street food-inspired bites.
13. Brasserie Saison
With its fun but sophisticated beer-adjacent menu, Brasserie Saison is a smart choice for dinner with a group of friends in the Downtown Mall. Owner Hunter Smith also owns Champion Brewing, so you can expect to find Champion’s Belgian-style beers headlining the beverage program. From the loaded charcuterie board to the Mushroom Wellington, Brasserie Saison’s entire menu will pair perfectly with whatever you choose to imbibe.
14. The Petit Pois Restaurant
Pull up a chair on Petit Pois’ charming shady patio for a lunch that transports diners to France with dishes like PEI Mussels in butter, white wine and garlic or skate wing with roasted potatoes, green beans, and tomato. Open for lunch and dinner in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, this is the perfect place to gather with friends who share your interest in a midday bottle of rosé. For an even more elegant variation on the theme, visit sister restaurant Fleurie, just a block away.
15. Little Star Restaurant
With a Spanish-Mexican menu divided by foods that are ‘grown’ and ‘raised,’ Little Star executive chef and co-owner Ryan Collins shows off his chops earned while working for José Andres at spots like Oyamel and Jaleo. Not only satisfying to say, “Shibbity Dibbities,” a straightforward app of roasted shishitos with romesco, is an enjoyably spicy way to start the meal.
16. The Alley Light
They Alley Light is a tucked away restaurant and bar with limited space (which means you’ll need a reservation) and a menu focuses on classic French-shared plates, like lamb carpaccio and duck breast with seared foie gras. You must also order a cocktail, which includes several house-made and seasonal drinks, plus a wide selection of small-grower wines from the surrounding Virginia region.
At this chic sushi spot on the Downtown Mall, Pei Jen Chang flexes his refined technique and attention to detail in every last grain of rice. Don’t miss the kushiyaki featuring skewered meats like wagyu skirt steak or yakitori, and for maki-lovers, the spicy toro roll is the ticket. This is perhaps the only option for omakase sushi in town, served in a serene, zen-like dining room.
Baja California is found on the Downtown Mall thanks to Passiflora, which comes from the Champion Hospitality Group. Fish Baja tacos, enchiladas served with braised pork or jack fruit, and elote on this menu which channels south-of-the-border vibes. The bar is also worth a trip if only for the mezcal martini, but also the bright and citrusy rum and tequila tiki-ish cocktails.
19. C & O
C & O’s humble exterior belies the sophisticated white tablecloth dining at one of Charlottesville’s most beloved restaurants. Stop off at the sprawling, well-stocked bar for a classic cocktail before flying through Chef Dean Maupin’s seasonal, globe-trotting menu with roots in the French countryside. Perfect for a candlelit dinner with someone special, try the truffled beef sirloin carpaccio, the glazed duck breast with parsnip-potato puree, and the sticky toffee pudding with medjool dates.
20. Sultan Kebab
A Turkish restaurant with owners hailing from Adana and Izmir, Sultan Kebab is feast-worthy, so come hungry. One of the best lunch options in the city, it’s hard to beat the massive sandwiches, (including a true Döner kebab), plus a Turkish coffee for a little afternoon pick-me-up. For dinner, start with the Yogurtlu Kizartma, thin and crispy eggplant and potatoes doused in a garlicky yogurt sauce, before digging into one of the platters, all of which are winners.
Come for Chef Benos Bustamante’s family mole recipes and stay for the rest of his Oaxacan-Mexican menu, including a soul-settling pork posole rojo; a crispy and well-spiced aguacate relleno; and flaky, stuffed empanadas. Almost every menu item includes a vegetarian counterpart at this newer Belmont spot, which features a sunny patio and is mercifully open for dinner on Monday.
The housemade pasta, whether crowned with a pancetta-laced meatball or given the carbonara treatment, is the star of the show at Tavola, an Italian bistro in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood. Tavola’s back patio offers a quiet moment away from the din of the dining room, perfect for a bottle of wine and an order of fried artichokes. With dinner service on Mondays, Tavola is a solid option on a night when other restaurants tend to be shuttered.
Chef Tucker Yoder cooks with the seasons at Broadcloth, an elegant, modern dining destination tucked in a converted wool mill. Expect exceptional, detailed service and often Asian-inspired cuisine with nods to French technique—dishes like koshihikari rice with smoked duck leg and roasted duck breast or seared rockfish with fried eggplant, chili garlic crisp, and jasmine rice. As such, the menu changes often, but at least the dining style relieves guests of guess work. Simply choose a 4-course, 6-course, or 8-10-course chef’s tasting menu, and sit back while Yoder does the rest. Open Friday and Saturday nights, reservations are highly suggested.
24. Marigold by Jean-Georges
When a chef as esteemed as Jean-Georges Vongerichten opens an outpost in Virginia, it’s cause for celebration (and a road trip). Just 15 minutes outside of Charlottesville, Vongerichten’s Marigold at Keswick Hall embraces seasonality. The restaurant within the luxury resort features produce grown on the grounds of Keswick, with a nod to the Asian cuisine that inspires Vongerichten (as seen in dishes like pumpkin and basil potstickers). Now serving breakfast (for hotel guests only), lunch, and dinner, Marigold’s menu marries fine dining with a Southern sensibility. But what’s perhaps most exciting is the attention paid to plant-based dining, which the menu delivers in dishes like the whole roasted cauliflower with turmeric tahini, a standout even among omnivorous options.
25. Al Carbon 5th. St. Station
Charlottesville, VA 22902
The charcoal-fired version at Al Carbon is a stellar example of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. For solo diners, it’s hard to beat the cemitas: massive, jam-packed sandwiches (try the chorizo) with a scandalous amount of shredded Oaxaca cheese. Owners Myriam and Claudio Hernandez hail from Mexico, and their traditional takes on tamales and huaraches don’t disappoint. Don’t skip the fun soft serve margaritas. There’s another location at 1875 Seminole Trail.