The Best Food and Drink in Virginia from The Best Food and Drink in Virginia Gallery
The Best Food and Drink in Virginia Gallery
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The Best Food and Drink in Virginia
Virginia is for lovers … especially food and drink lovers. From the Chesapeake Bay to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia is bursting with local delicacies, historic foods, and incredible wine. To celebrate all the great food and drink that our country’s 10th state has to offer, we’ve rounded up 22 of Old Dominion’s claims to culinary fame as part of our first-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Take a taste of history in Virginia. The state is the East Coast’s largest producer of seafood, and leads in oyster production. One of its most famous oysters is the Rappahannock from the Chesapeake Bay, which can be enjoyed at Merroir on the Rappahannock River. Though grapes have been grown since the days of Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia wine industry has exploded in recent decades, and now claims the fifth-highest number of wineries in the country. Virginia is the home of Barboursville Vineyards, considered one of the nation’s top wineries. And where would good wine be without a tasty, salty snack to pair with it? Virginia country hams are famous the world over, and the delicious Ham and Biscuits sandwich (a version of the state’s original breakfast sandwich) from Early Bird Biscuit Co. and Bakery in Richmond is stuffed full of Crabill’s ham from the Shenandoah Valley. Virginia is equally famous for peanuts, which can be enjoyed in soup form at the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg, which opened for business in 1772.
Virginia is home to many iconic foods, and over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and grocery store to its best dive bar and rib joint in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs.
Best Bar: PX, Alexandria
If you’re walking down King Street in Alexandria and you see a blue light outside PX (Person Extraordinaire) or a pirate flag at full mast, that’s your signal that the 1920s-style lounge above Eamonn’s, A Dublin Chipper (owned by Eat Good Food Group, the folks also behind PX) is open. Sommelier and mixologist Todd Thrasher, a native Virginian, handcrafts memorable cocktails at this intimate, 38-seat place. The limited hours (it’s open Wednesday to Saturday nights only), the dress code (jackets required for men), and the fact that reservations are strongly encouraged give PX an air of exclusivity and glamour. The 18 seasonally changing “avant farm” drinks like the This Is Snow Cream! (Buffalo Trace bourbon and vanilla whey) and the Grog and Sweet Basil (a mix of rum and lemon verbena tea served in a pirate’s mug with a see-through bottom), are equally classy and memorable. Be sure to try the Irish-style fish and chips served with a choice of seven different house-made sauces.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Best Beer: Kentucky Christmas Morning
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Gingerbread Stout is aged in bourbon barrels to make the brewery’s finest beer: Kentucky Christmas Morning. Notes of vanilla, coconut, and coffee come through to this beautiful ginger-spiced beer for a drink that’s perfect for the most wonderful time of year.
Photo by Linda C. via Yelp
Best Chinese Restaurant: Peking Gourmet Inn, Falls Church
A banquet hall in the style of Beijing’s grand eateries, this paean to Peking duck roasts one killer bird — and certainly the best in the D.C. area. Granted, it will run you $40, but it easily feeds three hungry diners so the end cost isn’t absurd even by takeout standards. Another standout item is the Szechuan Beef Proper with crispy shredded meat glazed, glistening, and covered in sesame seeds.
Photo by Cheryl L. via Yelp
Best Cupcake: Buzz Bakeshop, Alexandria
Over the years, Buzz Bakeshop has become known for its amazing cakes and cupcakes. Not only are they gorgeously executed, the signature flavors leave a lasting impression. We recommend trying out the Cookie Monster or the Buzz Signature for a cupcake that you won’t soon forget.
J David H./Yelp
Best Dive Bar: Lynnhaven Pub, Virginia Beach
Lynnhaven Pub is a dark, dank hole-in-the-wall in Virginia Beach with a surprisingly incredible craft beer can selection. If that isn’t enough to get you through the door and into this dive, come for their barbecue. Their tacos are a thing of legend.
Best Doughnuts: Sugar Shack, Arlington
Best Fish and Chips: Eamonn’s, Alexandria
Eamonn’s calls itself a “Dublin chipper,” setting a lofty bar for itself and succeeding with flying colors. Located in Old Town Alexandria, this 20-seat takeaway serves fresh cod, prawns, grouper, fish of the day, and ray (“Eat the bones if you’re brave,” the menu reads), served alongside hand-cut chips and a variety of sauces, including curry, hot chili, tartar, and “fronch.” The simple baking soda-kicked batter lends a light, airy crunch that highlights the fish’s tenderness; it’s all served in a brown paper bag that the menu implores you not to close at the risk of steaming what’s inside. Chef Cathal Armstrong (who also happens to be a James Beard nominee and helms Restaurant Eve, one of the town’s finest restaurants) named the shop after his son, and the Dublin native brings a deft, masterful hand to a dish that he clearly holds dear.
Photo by Ellwood Thompson’s via Yelp
Best Grocery Store: Ellwood Thompson’s, Richmond
Easily the best reviewed store in Richmond, Ellwood Thompson’s handily sweeps the title in Virginia. Google reviewer Eric Asplund said, “Ellwood Thompson’s is a mainstay of Richmond Grocery Stores. It has seemingly been around forever. They sell high-quality organic and health foods, as well as a wide selection of delicious prepared foods. This is a high-end grocery store, but you will find that the prices are worth it.”
Best Hot Dog: Martinsville Speedway, Ridgeway
If you thought that a hot dog served at a racetrack had no shot at making this list, think again. Eating a chili dog at the Martinsville Speedway is a rite of passage for racecar drivers and fans alike, and this iconic hot dog also happens to be really tasty. Over one weekend, more than 50,000 of the hot dogs are sold, and at just two bucks a pop, they’re a steal. These dogs have been served for more than 60 years in the same way: a soft bun, slaw, cheese, hand-chopped onions, and a secret-recipe chili, wrapped in waxed paper. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has claimed to eat three or four a day on race weekends. When the speedway switched hot dog suppliers (for the first time in nearly 70 years) from Jesse Jones to Smithfield-owned Valleydale Foods a couple years ago, there was a major uproar, but even die-hards say they can’t tell the difference.
Yelp/ Dustin T.
Best Inexpensive Steakhouse: Ray’s The Steaks, Arlington
This casual Northern Virginia steakhouse offers some truly awesome steaks, cooked in ways you don’t often see — Brazilian picanha (top loin cap) is served with a spicy sauce, for instance, and The Diablo is a top sirloin glazed with a smoky sauce and topped with garlic — and all steaks are rubbed with a secret spice mix and grilled over an open flame. They’re also quite affordable; L’onglet (a hanger steak) only costs $19.99, and all steaks are served with endless homemade mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.
Best Italian Restaurant: Graffiato, Richmond
Top Chef star Mike Isabella gave Richmonders a real treat when he opened a new location of his popular D.C. Italian spot Graffiato in a former furniture showroom there. The wood-burning oven is the centerpiece, with some amazing pizzas (including a must-order with black truffle, fontina, and soft-cooked egg) emerging from it, as well as seasonal vegetable dishes like carrots with cumin, salsa verde, and hazelnuts. The menu focuses on seasonal small plates, vegetables, pizzas, and pastas, and must-orders include butternut squash agnolotti; short rib ravioli with trumpet mushrooms and ricotta salata; gnocchi with pork ragù and whipped ricotta; prosciutto and apple with mint and pickled Fresno chile; and bone marrow with bacon, lemon, and pistachio. Add in a variety of classic and creative cocktails, and a trip to Graffiato is destined to be a fun (and tasty) time.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Taqueria Tres Reyes, Manassas
The unassuming Tacos Tres Reyes in Manassas is completely off-the-radar – or, at least it was until The Washington Post’s Tim Carman deemed it worthy of a pilgrimage back in 2003. The fare here is essentially flawless, perfect representations of down-home Mexican cuisine. Huaraches, chiles rellenos, crisp gorditas, chicken mole enchiladas, cemitas, tacos, tortas, roast chickens, soups, fried fish, coctel de camarones, barbacoa, cecina, carne asada … Tres Reyes is like a greatest hits of the most legendary Mexican dishes, and each one hits the nail right on the head.
Most Expensive Restaurant: The Inn at Little Washington, Washington
Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington, located in the Colonial village of Washington, Virginia, is about as good a restaurant as you’ll ever encounter. There are three different tasting menus you can choose from, but they all have the same price tag: $218, or $343 if you include wines.
Yelp/ Emily C.
Best Over-the-Top Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Grilled Cheese Mania, Harrisonburg
This local favorite offers eight specialty grilled cheeses, including Casey Snowcap (roast beef and fresh mozzarella on a garlic butter baguette); Triple Lindy (Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, fresh spinach, bacon, and butter); and Philipo’s Pepperoni Strips (pepperoni and mozzarella grilled on flatbread, cut into strips and served with a shot of tomato soup for dipping). Be sure to drop by on Tuesdays, when the daily special is Taylor ham, American cheese, and honey barbecue chips on country white bread.
Yelp/ Jozef V.
Best Pasta Dish: Dal Grano, McLean: Bucatini Al’Amatriciana
Dal Grano has only been in business for about a year, but it’s already made waves in Northern Virginia for its wide selection of house-made pastas. Dozens of raw pastas are available for purchase, but if you decide to eat in they’re turning out some truly show-stopping dishes. The bucatini all’Amatriciana is a spot-on rendition of the classic Central Italian pasta dish, with fresh bucatini and a traditional sauce that combines tomato, pancetta, onion, and pecorino.
Pupatella Neapolitan Pizza
Best Pizza: Pupatella Neapolitan Pizza, Arlington
Pupatella originated as a food truck in 2007 and went brick-and-mortar three years later. This two-room storefront with the sign out front that warns “Pizza Addicts Only” is the D.C. culmination of Enzo Algarme’s experience hanging around some 200 or so pizzerias in Naples where he was born. Pupatella, a name borrowed from a late relative (“what everybody called my grandmother in Italy,” he told The Washington Post), is run by Algarme and his life (and business partner) Anastasiya Laufenberg. Their oven’s bricks were built using volcanic ash from Vesuvius — hard to get more authentic than that outside Naples. They offer red and white pies — mostly the former — with accoutrements like ham and mushroom, prosciutto and arugula, chorizo, sausage and onion, eggplant and red pepper on top. But Pupatella’s most popular pie is the Capricciosa (featuring sautéed mushrooms, marinated artichokes, prosciutto cotto, and fresh mozzarella). Algarme’s website is charming enough to win over even the most skeptical — his FAQ explains what bufala mozzarella is, why there are leopard spots on your crust, why a real Margherita is wet in the middle and never crispy, and why you’ll never see a Neapolitan tossing dough. And they “love foodie bloggers.”
The Inn at Little Washington
Best Restaurant: Inn at Little Washington, Washington
Self-taught chef Patrick O’Connell opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a small-town garage, about an hour’s drive from D.C. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable, and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. Menu items at The Inn at Little Washington might include classics like American ossetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillettes, napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with pommes Anna, and veal “Shenandoah” (prosciutto-wrapped loin with country ham ravioli and fontina); there are also vegetarian creations like apple rutabaga soup and cauliflower steak with yellow Indian curry, along with indulgences like hot and cold foie gras with sauternes gelée and quince marmalade. The Inn, a member of the Relais & Châteaux group, has a much-deserved AAA Five Diamond rating.
Best Ribs: Alamo BBQ, Richmond
Photo by Kim T. via Yelp
Best Sandwich: The Black Sheep, Richmond: U.S.S. Brooklyn
Located in Richmond’s historic Carver District is The Black Sheep. Opened in 2009, this shop mixes Southern and Cajun flavors to create some legendary sandwiches. Perhaps most fabled is their next-level sub sandwich, which they call the Battleship.
The two-foot-long Battleship definitely sinks your average sub. This massive sandwich weighs in at two and a half pounds and comes in nine different variations. One of the most famous is the U.S.S. Brooklyn, made with jerk barbecued chicken loaded onto a French baguette with shredded cabbage, roasted banana ketchup (!), and peach chutney.
Yelp/ Todd P.
Best Soup: King’s Arms Tavern, Williamsburg: Peanut Soup
Virginia is renowned for its peanuts, but not many people outside of the region think to make them the main ingredient in a soup. Plenty of restaurants in Virginia make a mean peanut soup, but you’ll find the best version at the King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, which first opened for business in 1772. The soup starts with a basic roux, to which onion, celery, and chicken stock are added. The thickened mixture is strained before smooth peanut butter and cream are added, and it’s garnished with fresh peanuts.
Facebook/Rays The Steaks
Best Steakhouse: Ray’s The Steaks, Arlington
Restaurateur Michael Landrum is, as far as most people are concerned, a king of the Arlington culinary scene. He serves the state’s best steaks at Ray’s The Steaks, and that’s not even exaggerating. Steaks here are dry-aged for 45 days before being hand-trimmed, seasoned with their signature rub, and grilled over an open flame. A variety of cuts and styles are available, but you can’t go wrong with the New York strip, available in either the “classic” or “steakhouse” cut. The prices are also insanely reasonable; a classic cut strip with aged Roquefort-port wine sauce will only set you back $29.99 (which is why Ray’s also wins for the state’s best inexpensive steakhouse).
Photo by Chuck N. via Yelp
Best Taco: Tacos El Chilango, Arlington: Chorizo
The best tacos in Virginia can be found at a food truck in Arlington, right outside D.C. This unassuming truck, located on the side of a residential road, is serving a traditional variety of $2 tacos: steak, chicken, tongue, al pastor, and chorizo, all grilled on a flat-top to order and served atop two flour tortillas with onion, cilantro, and homemade hot sauce if you want it (you want it). Go for the chorizo: It’s just spicy enough, just oily enough, and insanely flavorful with a perfect crisp from the grill. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.