The neighborhood surrounding the Greater Richmond Convention Center hasn’t traditionally been considered a trendy dining destination. But this district, with its vintage storefronts that recall a time when men wore fedoras and women wore white gloves, is experiencing a remarkable renaissance. Cosmopolitan eateries are popping up left and right, bringing more people -- and restaurants -- to the area at a rapid clip. Here, you’ll now find everything from the perfect over-easy eggs to small-plates and fine dining hot spots, each optimizing the ingredients and rich culinary traditions of the region. So if it’s been a while since you’ve visited Virginia’s capital city, do yourself a favor and make time to savor Richmond’s delicious downtown revival.
Courtesy of Jefferson Hotel
The tiny dining room inside Richmond’s opulent, historic Jefferson Hotel may be decked with ornate moldings, white tablecloths and elegant, silk taffeta curtains, but the kitchen maintains its buzz by changing with the times. Chef Walter Bundy embraces the farm-to-table mentality, even planting his own small garden on the premises and installing beehives on the hotel’s rooftop. The menu changes seasonally, but insiders know that oysters are always a good bet, as is the pork-loin chop, often served with greens and macaroni and cheese.
If you’re in the mood for a post-conference nibble or a well-crafted cocktail, sit at the mahogany and granite bar and graze on small plates from the bar menu. Choices include pimento cheese served with local bread, a filet mignon burger and sushi-grade ahi tuna crudo -- 3 bar dishes that show just how versatile this kitchen can be.
This might just be the prettiest little soul-food restaurant around, with warm tones of orange, yellow and wood gracing the walls, white tablecloths and occasional fresh flower sprays on each table. The “Welcome to Our Home” sign on the bar is a preview of servers who treat you like family, and for many diners, the cooking of Velma Johnson, aka “Mama J,” is better than anything they would get at home. Try the perfectly seasoned fried catfish with sides of greens and candied yams, and save room for a slice of layered cake, which comes in such rotating flavors as pineapple coconut and double chocolate.
The $8 weekday lunch special might bring chicken and dumplings, beef tips or barbecued chicken, and usually includes a side and a drink. If you plan to stay and eat at the bar or one of the few tables, be prepared to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Takeout is always an option, but most people agree that either way, it’s worth the wait.
You’ll know you’ve arrived at Pasture when you see the cutout of a metal cow above the door -- or on sunny days, when you spy the stylish locals sipping preciously crafted cocktails on this restaurant’s sidewalk patio. Inside, the minimalist space is mostly outfitted with wood and metal, with occasional shots of sea foam and mint, tapping into that popular “industrial barn” look.
This place is smoking hot at the moment, so reservations are recommended if you’re tempted by chef Jason Alley’s local, Southern-inspired shareable small plates and entrees, or the bar’s all-draft beer selection. Two popular options are the pimento cheese spread served with Ritz crackers and the cheeseburger; a seafood stew with house-made seafood sausage also has been flying out of the kitchen. But keep in mind that local cooking means the menu changes with the seasons. Desserts also rotate: Be on the lookout for the South Boston cream pie or the seasonal candy bar, such as their elevated take on the Mounds.
Ask anyone where to get a good, filling, cheap breakfast in Richmond, and you will hear one word over and over: Perly’s. This old-school, Southern-style breakfast and deli lunch counter is particularly beloved by locals for its biscuits, which are made with beer and cream; as well as for its breakfast sandwiches and its egg platters. For lunch, The Downtowner sandwich with turkey, bacon and Muenster on croissant is the top choice; the no-frills, Grandma-style chicken salad club is another winner.
Open for breakfast and lunch only, this diner, decked with old-timey wooden booths and pendant lights, abounds with charming touches: Each table has its own vintage lamp, and your waitress might call you “Hon’” or “Sweet Pea” as she refills your coffee. Food comes out fast, and breakfast is served all day. You also might catch a star noshing on those beloved biscuits – word has it that actor Paul Giamatti became a fan of Perly’s while filming the HBO series John Adams in the Richmond area. Can you blame him?
This is the third restaurant by the cousins who revived Rappahannock Oyster Co., which sustainably harvests the famous Chesapeake Bay bivalves and sells them to some of the country’s top restaurants. You get your first inkling that Richmond is no sleepy Southern town when walking up to the large-windowed space that twinkles with soft lighting and buzzes with the happy crowd inside. Your second clue will hit you when you order a thoughtfully crafted cocktail created by a beverage director with serious street cred.
While this is a seafood-focused restaurant, chef Dylan Fultineer is no one-trick-pony; he’s equally adept at cooking non-seafood items on the open kitchen’s wood-fire grill. But a visit here would be incomplete without a sampling of the masterfully prepared oysters, and perhaps octopus or a beautiful Kona Kampachi crudo with beets and basil. Dessert is a simple affair here, with usually only 2 offerings and a cheese plate on the menu -- although there are plans to add more to the lineup, which means you’ll just have to come back.