The year is coming to a close and as everyone knows I spend a lot of time not cooking. So it only seemed fitting to round up some of the best things I ate in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, this year.
The Best Sandwich in Richmond, Virginia: Lobster Roll from Yellow Umbrella Provisions
You can’t just waltz into Yellow Umbrella and find this sandwich any day of the week. You’ll need to follow the seafood market’s social media presences or pick up a monthly calendar to find out when this delicious pile of seafood will be hitting the lunch rotation. But it’s worth the stalking. Fresh hunks of lobster are piled into a perfectly buttery grilled bun. No mayo to muck up the flavorful seafood perfection. The combo is served with a side of coleslaw and kettle chips. I recommend eating poolside in the summer with a glass of champagne.
The Best Appetizers in Richmond, Virginia
Okay, this is always a hard pick for me because I’m known to prefer appetizers over a main course. I often find that the first course is where chefs get the most creative and have fun with flavors that might be too much on a main dish. When I went through my photos from the past year, there were four that stood out, so I’ve included them all.
Foie Gras from Shagbark
The exact preparation of Shagbark’s foie gras changes seasonally, but the perfectly seared nature of the foie and the sweet-savory combo is a standby. It’s usually accompanied by French toast, pancake, or bread, making for a sweet, savory, crunchy, bready combination that is ever changing and absolutely delicious. I always feel like I could eat four orders for my main course.
Smoked Salmon Appetizer from East Coast Provisions
A deep fried 5-minute egg that’s firm on the outside and runny in the middle is accompanied by creme fraiche, trout roe, pickled red onions, dill and crostini, so you can make your own little boats of salmon deliciousness. The combination of flavors and textures makes this a perfect way to start your meal. Again, ideally paired with champagne.
Lobster Pop Tart from Spoonbread Bistro
Need I say more here? Lobster and bechamel sauce tucked into a flaky phyllo exterior is every bit as rich and savory as you’d imagine.
Fried Chicken Skins from The Rogue Gentlemen
Okay, admittedly I love a skin when fried to crispy perfection. However, I was impressed with the Rogue Gentlemen’s take on chicken skins, which were fried to puffy perfection, perfectly crispy, and drizzled with the perfect amount of honey to make them salty sweet, but not soggy. I don’t think these are on the menu year round, but I hope they will return!
The Best Restaurant to Change a Friend’s Food Outlook: Lehja
Yes, I know I’m an adventurous eater. But it drives me crazy to know there are still people out there who blanket state they don’t like a genre of food when they have probably only tasted it a few times. And, it seems like this happens most with Indian food. Any time someone tells me they don’t like Indian food or that they really don’t know much about it, I immediately tell them they must go to Lehja ASAP and ask for Sunny (I’m sure he really appreciates this because he’s not already busy enough). This restaurant not only has some of the best food in Richmond (note I did not say Indian food), but Sunny Baweja’s knowledge about the cuisine and enthusiasm for educating others about it only makes it more delicious. If you go, make sure to try the Gobhi Manchurian featuring marinated cauliflower florets fried to perfection and coated in a soy-tomato glaze. I have written about this before as a vegetarian dish that will please meat lovers for its savory, hearty consistency.
Also not to be missed is the blue crab taka tak, a light and savory combination of blue crab, scallions, ginger and asparagus served with tandoori naan wedges.
Best Pasta: Torchio Pork Ragu from Nota Bene
Let me be clear, I was raised on pasta and grew up in Pittsburgh, a town where every other restaurant is Italian, and somehow I never enjoyed the magic of white bolognese until I visited Nota Bene. Although I had never tasted it before, one bite of this warm, comforting dish, and I was home. The pasta is perfectly al dente, the meat is hearty and savory, and the house-made ricotta is perfectly creamy, yet with lack of red sauce it remains light enough that you can keep cramming in one more bite.
The Best Treat Yo’ Self Dish: Surf and Turf from East Coast Provisions
I know, I know, Richmond has an array of amazing steakhouses, but last year when I was out to dinner and felt like being fancy, this dish just blew me away. While you may think of ECP for seafood, the special 900-degree broiler makes it a great destination for steaks as well. The surf and turf dish features a 6-ounce filet that’s seared to perfection, a lobster tail, Aligot potatoes (which are basically mashed potatoes whipped with an insane amount of butter to make them creamy and delicious) and broccolini, served with rosemary glace and drawn butter. This dish is the Hermes Kelly bag of entrees: high end, classic, and absolutely fabulous.
The Richmond Dish Worth Waiting All Year For: Soft Shell Crabs from Mekong
Every soft shell season I have to make at least one visit to Mekong for this platter of softie goodness. For the price (which varies with the market each year), it’s always one of the best deals in town. Choose your sauce–I generally go tamarind which is sweet and tangy, and then dig into this generous pile of perfectly crusted crustaceans. You will probably need two beers to wash it all down.
The Best Richmond Pop-Up: Mike Ledesma’s Jaunts Around Town
Ever since he announced the opening of Perch, Mike Ledesma has been busting his butt with pop-up restaurants all over Richmond and I’ve been lucky enough to attend several. I must say one of my favorites was his Cuban pop-up at Belle & James. Remember this ribeye?
Not to mention this hamachi crudo from his dinner at Lunch and Supper.
The next Belle & James Passport Pop Up by Ledesma is Hong Kong starting January 12. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
The Most Surprising Richmond Dish Hit: Sushi Burrito from Fighting Fish
I had seen sushi burritos on Facebook and kinda sorta dismissed them as a West Coast food trend. Then my friend ordered one at Fighting Fish. When this thing arrived at my table I was still not excited. I took a quick look and thought that big white blob near the top of the burrito was all rice. Let’s just say I was majorly wrong. Because this thing was majorly delicious. A blend of tuna and lump crab is served with a creamy wasabi sauce for dipping. At around $11 this thing is a terrific value, filling, fun, and a quality addition to Richmond’s dining scene.
Best New Richmond Restaurant: Brenner Pass
In Richmond we get few restaurants that are spacious, airy and modern. And Brenner Pass is all of these with a distinctive Alpine-inspired concept, a beautiful bar, and even a bakery and coffee shop for more casual dining. The restaurant is definitely fine dining, but the creations are worth the price tag. Think caviar, veal porterhouse steaks, one of the best steak au poivres I’ve had in town, wonderful cheese plates, and a handmade burger that’s hard to beat.
The Best Richmond Chinese Food: Peter Chang’s (Duh)
I know, I know, you’re thinking wow Megan, tell me something I didn’t know. But I put this restaurant on my list because of the specials that I’ve been noticing at the Scott’s Addition location this year. For example, the Peking duck. Yes, there are a few other places where you can find this delicacy in town, but when I’ve caught it on the menu at Peter Chang’s it’s consistently the freshest with the most glorious flavor and crispy skin. Also when you go, make sure to check out the seasonal drink specials. Around the holidays this year, I enjoyed an Asian take on eggnog featuring fresh matcha powder.
The Best Thai Food in Richmond, Va: Sabai and YaYa’s Cookbook
Yes, I’ve known about the lovely interior and classic Thai favorites at Sabai for a while, but only recently have I discovered some of the more innovative street-food-inspired selections at YaYa’s Cookbook in Short Pump. In particular, the various choices for whole fish are flavorful and fantastic deals.
I also have to give Sabai a shout out for the opening of the new speakeasy in the back of the restaurant. Don’t go here if you want a glass of wine or a very specific cocktail. This is a place to roll with the weekly changing menu on the wall. The atmosphere is small, exclusive and relaxed.
The Best Happy Hour in Richmond, Va: Rappahannock
Yes, I have written about this happy hour repeatedly, including in my list of The Best Dining and Drinking Deals in Richmond, Va, but I mean you can’t talk about delicious dollar oysters, cheap prosecco and Old Fashioneds too much can you? Also, if you decide to add a meal to your agenda, let me just throw in a nod to the paella. Cooked in a cast-iron skillet, the texture is a fantastic blend of crunchy and soft with plenty of seafood and sausage. It’s also great for sharing after several rounds of discounted oysters. Just sayin’.
Best Pizza: Pupatella
I love this new pizza addition in the Fan and the dine-in buy two pizza get $10 off a bottle of wine special (available any night) is one of the best deals in town as far as I’m concerned. I’ve tried a bunch of the pies here and so far my favorites are classic Margherita DOC, Pepperoni (oddly enough not a pizza topping I really like anywhere else, but here it’s not greasy and actually flavorful), and Buffala Bianca, which is topped with Buffalo mozzarella, Italian cream, basil and prosciutto di Parma.
Most Dependable Restaurants in Richmond, Va.
These restaurants provide outstanding meals whether it’s late night, brunch, or a busy dinner hour. I know I can depend on them to impress out-of-town guests or just when I want a fantastic meal in town.
Heritage excels in outstanding service, specials, cocktails, small, and large plates. Not to be missed are the labor intensive pork fries appetizer, the house-made pastas, the chicken and waffles brunch dish, and the deconstructed cheesecake dessert. I also am obsessed with the chicken liver pate.
The only thing not dependable about Stella’s is getting a table on a walk-in basis. But otherwise, from happy hour to small plates to full-on dinner, this restaurant is delicious. Try the hearty pastas, the lamb frites, the daily specials, the desserts, and you won’t be disappointed. This restaurant takes Richmond Greek food to a new level. I also visit the takeout market, Stella’s Grocery, almost weekly for dinner on the run.
Best Desserts in Richmond, Va.
Deciding what to include here was a serious struggle. I love so many of the concoctions around town. So, I decided to select two: one that absolutely blew me away and one that was my most unexpected dessert delight of 2017.
Glazed Donut Bread Pudding from Upper Shirley Vineyards
This is pretty much everything you want in a classic dessert. The bread pudding is just the right amount of sweet and gooey with a delectable soft texture. When I had it, it came topped with a cool scoop of vanilla ice cream, whiskey creme anglais, and chocolate ganache (I believe the toppings are different now). The whiskey creme anglais added that extra hint of boozy vanilla richness, the ice cream added a nice cool texture contrast, and the hint of chocolate just took the whole think up one more indulgent note. This plate almost got licked clean.
Bourbon Chocolate Mousse from The Stables at Belmont
I know, I know, some people get really excited about chocolate mousse type desserts. As a general rule, I’m not one of those people. I often feel like the chocolate flavor just isn’t rich enough and I could have just had some pudding from a plastic cup or something. So, when my dining companion ordered this bourbon chocolate mousse from The Stables at Belmont, my expectations were admittedly low. What arrived was a densely flavorful, rich and indulgent, silky smooth bowl of chocolate perfection with just the right hint of bourbon on the finish. The whipped cream and chocolate shavings punctuated the flavor perfectly and added to the texture. This dish made me rethink my opinions on the whole dessert category.