Known for scenic wineries and steeped in early American history, Charlottesville, Virginia has a simmering food scene that’s totally road trip-worthy. 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 riotously joy-filled menu at Umma’s to the ethereal beauty of the plates at Broadcloth, or bagels at Bodo’s and European pastries at Bowerbird Bakeshop, Charlottesville has plenty of hidden gems if you know where to look for them.Read More
18 Essential Restaurants in Charlottesville, Virginia
Go beyond the town’s scenic wineries with these dining gems
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 French onion soup croissant. You’d be lucky to find a French onion soup so satisfying in a restaurant, but it’s not in a restaurant, it’s in a croissant, and it’s magical.
Chicken is the star of the show here, and what a chicken it is. Local, free-range, organic, and rotisseried to perfection the whole, half, and quarter birds cozy up to a selection of sides including a sublime celery and olive salad, Thanksgiving-worthy potato gratin, and a local favorite green pozole.
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), 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 an array of food and artisan vendors, making this the perfect destination for any foodie.
MarieBette Café and Bakery
Bread lovers will want to beeline it to MarieBette 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.
Riverside Lunch has been serving smash burgers long before the term ‘smash burger’ even existed. For over 85 years, the 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.
Situated inside the Draftsman Hotel, The Ridley is immersed in history, especially that of its namesake, Dr. Walter N. Ridley, “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.
Chef Tarik Sengul draws on his Turkish heritage and his impressive fine dining chops at this Aegean restaurant in the heart of the city. Watch chefs prepare beguilingly seasoned skewers of lamb, beef, and chicken from the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant, and don’t dare make a visit without trying Smyrna’s signature manti dumplings, stuffed with local Sharondale mushrooms.
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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, Wright, 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 foods.
Petit Pois Restaurant
Pull up a chair on Petit Pois’ charming shady patio for a lunch that transports diners to France with dishes like P.E.I. mussels in butter, white wine, and garlic and 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.
Umma’s brilliantly combines Japanese and Korean influences with an updated American twist. Think Korean fried chicken and Japanese karaage—both crispy and satisfying—or a silken kimchi carbonara tteokbokki. The restaurant sources their vegetables from their own farm just up the road. Don’t miss the small fridge loaded with banchan to take back home.
C & O
Its 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.
Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria
A purist’s vision of a Neapolitan pizzeria, Lampo specializes in a wood-fired, thinner-crust, chewy pizza with an expert balance of toppings. Lampo’s cozy dining room offers a menu of antipasti, panuozzi (sandwiches), salads, and pizzas, which are also available at its takeout location at the IX Art Park. (Cop a pair of these pizza scissors to dish up your pie the Lampo way.) Pizza is the draw, but don’t sleep on their humdinger of a chopped salad, loaded with radicchio, peppers, provolone, finocchiona, and olives.
Come to Conmole for family mole recipes and stay for the rest of the Oaxacan-Mexican menu, including a soul-settling pork posole rojo, well-spiced aguacate relleno, and flaky, stuffed empanadas. Almost every menu item includes a vegetarian counterpart at this Belmont spot, which features a sunny patio that’s 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.
A vibrant, bustling spot that feels lively no matter when you go or where you sit, Mas excels at presenting the unfussy flavors of Spanish tapas. Get your fingers messy with the gambas a la parilla—shell-on shrimp with garlic aioli, and pay your respects to foods of origin like Jamon Serrano Reserva and Manchego. You can learn all you need to know about a tapas place by its Tortilla Espanola, and the one at Mas is best in its class, with soft potatoes and sweet onions suspended in fluffy eggs.
Chef Tucker Yoder cooks with the seasons at Broadcloth, an elegant, modern dining destination tucked in a converted wool mill. There, you can 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 up to 10-course chef’s tasting menu, and sit back while Yoder does the rest.
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, at Marigold at Keswick Hall, Vongerichten embraces seasonality, featuring produce grown on the grounds of Keswick, with a nod, in dishes like pumpkin and basil potstickers, to the Asian cuisine that inspires him. Now serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the grounds of the luxury resort, 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.