The Best Things I Ate in Richmond, Virginia, in 2019

Shocker: I dined out a lot in 2019. What’s a year of eating in Richmond, Virginia, without sharing my favorites? Here are the dishes that stand out in my mind as I look back on the year in RVAdine.

 

The Best Pork: Perch

Chef Mike Ledesma of Perch in Richmond, Va., with a whole roasted pig.
Chef Mike Ledesma with a whole roasted pig.

From whole roasted pig to pork terrine, Mike Ledesma of Perch takes me to hog heaven. I had the privilege of enjoying his roasted pork three times this year, twice at parties I hosted and once at Perch’s one-year anniversary party. It’s cooked to tender meaty deliciousness every time. I also can’t forget the pulled pork rilette I sampled at a Reservoir Distillery dinner. The crispy top and savory interior was so indulgent. Put it on the menu, Mike!

 

The Best Meal for Two: Steak at Aloi

 

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The perfect Valentine’s Day (or any day) indulgence is the Seven Hills Tomahawk Ribeye at Aloi. It is tender when grilled to a medium-rare perfection and the rich black garlic demi glace adds to the umami flavors. The accompanying pommes darphin are like the crunchiest, most savory tater tots you’ve ever tasted, and the Brussels sprouts add a crunchy hint of green so you can pretend you’re eating something healthy. A word of warning: don’t overdo it on the appetizers if you go for this dish. It is appropriately giant.

 

Hidden Hero Cocktail List: ZZQ

 

 

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ZZQ is Richmond’s latest greatest spot for meaty goodness and savory sides, but don’t expect the drinks at this barbecue joint to be limited to beer. The cocktail list is creative and changes seasonally. Most recently, I loved The Chihuahuan, made with mezcal, orange, carrot, turmeric, Peychaud’s Bitters and lime. The fresh and smoky flavors managed to contrast and complement the barbecue all at one time.

 

Food That Should Be Talked About More: Entrees at Rappahannock

 

 

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People always rave about the oysters and appetizers at Rappahannock, but I sometimes think they forget how delicious the entrees are. Last year I savored some expertly grilled, creamy scallops. The plump, creamy seafood was wonderfully contrasted by crunchy jicama carrot salad and pistachios. It’s a good thing the dish was served with a spoon, because I drank every bit of the coconut broth it all was swimming in like soup. Other favorites on the entrees menu include paella, pasta and anything lamb.

 

Best Pop-Up Dinner: Royal Pig

Mmm Prahok Ktiss pork belly dish by Royal Pig

 

When Vanna Hem, GM at Weezie’s Kitchen, decided to team up with Adam Stull, bar manager of Bingo Beer Co., and occasionally Brandon MacConnell, chef de cuisine of Shagbark, and Austin Jones, sous chef of Weezie’s Kitchen to create Cambodia comfort food like his grandmother used to make, magic ensued. I attended a couple of pop-ups, but the absolute best was a small multi-course meal at The Broken Tulip. Platters of fish, pork, and veggies exploded with fresh and multi-layered flavors. I still dream about the Mmm Prahok Ktiss, a rich pork belly dip that was served with veggies. It was hearty, bright and rich, with a depth of flavor like few things I’ve tasted. Also, I just heard The Royal Pig will be popping up at Secco on January 26. Mark it on your calendar!

 

Best Pop-Up That is No Longer: Our Table Supper Club

 

 

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Chefs Kyle and David may have moved on to other endeavors, but I can’t end the year without giving a shout-out to the fun and delicious private dinners they hosted as Our Table Supper Club. Each meal was expertly crafted. One of my favorite dishes was the short rib “lasagna” made with thin layers of tender beef and thinly sliced, roasted root vegetables. The dish was finished with King Trumpet mushrooms, cipollini onions, balsamic and basil for a hearty take on a traditional dish. You can still taste some of chef Kyle’s creations in his new sausage venture, The Mayor Meats.

 

Appetizer You Might Need Two Of: Fried Broccoli at Heritage

 

There’s a reason Heritage is one of the few restaurants in Richmond where you consistently need a reservation. You can depend on quality execution and stellar service every time. One of my favorite dishes is the fried broccoli. By some Joe Sparatta magic, it’s crunchy without being breaded. A slather of tangy Japanese mayo citrusy, savory yuzu kosho finish the dish. I sent some coworkers who were in from Chicago to Heritage recently and they liked this small plate so much they ordered a second one.

 

Best Ice Cream Flavor: Golden Almond Ice Cream from Gelati Celesti

Golden Almond Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone

Crunchy almonds, warming turmeric, tangy ginger, I couldn’t get enough of this special scoop from Gelati Celesti. It’s rich and creamy with a pleasant spice-filled finish.

 

Dish to Wait All Year For: Ramp Pizza from Billy Pie

 

 

Each Spring as I drive home from work, Billy Pie’s ramp pizza calls to me. The pungent little onion-garlic hybrids are piled atop a white pizza with Billy’s delectably thin crust. The rich flavors of the ramp mingle with the pungent cheese for a strong irresistible flavor. Don’t forget to order a cream puff for dessert.

 

Best Savory Breakfast Treat:  Carbonara Brioche from Chairlift

 

I mean it’s a brioche bun with peas, thick bacon and creamy melty cheese. Order it to eat in-house so it can be reheated in the oven and you can really relish the decadent flavors.

 

Best Vegetable Dishes: Saison

Cauliflower Small Plate from Saison
Cauliflower small plate from Saison

 

Grilled broccolini with spiced yogurt, confited egg yolk, white anchovies and almonds. Fried Brussels sprouts with brown butter, chevre, almond, preserved lemon, and pickled mustard. The vegetables on the menu at Saison are consistently creative and delicious. I tend to lean toward meat on menus, but not here.

 

Best Use of Melted Cheese: Pecorino Fondue at Dutch & Company

Made with Charlottesville-based Twenty Paces Pecorino, Dutch & Co.’s fondue is basically a pungent, thick cheese sauce. Instead of being served with carbs, it was lovingly poured over a bright combination of mango, spicy capicola and mixed lettuces, then topped with ginger crumble. If you go and it’s not on the menu, order the beef tartare, which may be the best in the city.

 

 

Best Lamb: Lamb Chops at Peter Chang’s

 

 

The lamb chops at Peter Chang’s are marinated, pan-seared, and finished with a spicy, savory cumin and chili powder spice blend. The seasoning will leave your mouth tingling and the texture of the lamb will bring you back for more.

 

Best Whole Fish: Nota Bene

Roased whole branzino from Nota Bene

 

In general, I love a whole fish. However, Nota Bene takes it up a notch with whole-roasted branzino topped with zesty traditional Italian Salmoriglio sauce featuring lemon, garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs. It’s served with tender cannelini beans and grilled lemons, making a fresh and complete meal. Order it for the table to share alongside some of Nota Bene’s pizza and pasta, or eat the whole thing yourself.

 

Best Food at a Wine Dinner: The Broken Tulip

Pozole with homemade tortillas from The Broken Tulip
Pozole with homemade tortillas from The Broken Tulip

 

You can depend on The Broken Tulip for interesting dining events. When I saw they were hosting a Mexican wine dinner, I had to investigate. The Mexican wines sourced by Salveto Wine Distributors were interesting and tasty, but I left dreaming of The Broken Tulip’s mole sauce that was so rich and comforting. Not to mention the pozole served with homemade tortillas. Follow The Broken Tulip on Facebook or Instagram to find out about more events like this.

 

Best Snack: Foie Gras Parfait from Grisette

 

 

When you go to Grisette, look at the regular menu, but also don’t forget to consult the menu of cheeses, meats, snacks and specials on the wall next to the kitchen. If you see foie gras parfait, order it. Layers of smooth and creamy meaty goodness are sandwiched between a decadent but not too sweet grape jelly. Add an order of fries for dipping and a glass of bubbly to wash it all down.

 

Best Charcuterie Board: Secco

 

Cheese and meat at Secco

 

For the full-on spread of cheese and meats, Secco remains the best. Selections of meat and cheese are ever changing and are always accompanied by a tasty house-made sweet spread and a high-quality mustard. It’s classic, dependable and delicious.

 

Best Soul-Warming Soup: Marisco El Barco

Seafood soup and tortillas from Marisco el Barco

 

The Mares soup at Marisco El Barco may cost $18, but the giant brothy bowl of tomato goodness is jam-packed with crab legs, mussels, clams, octopus, shrimp, fish and scallops is totally worth it. Add some fresh limes and maybe a dash of hot sauce. You’ll taste the love.

 

Brunch Indulgence: Disco Fries at Laura Lee’s

Disco Fries from Laura Lee's

 

You could call this the perfect hangover dish, but I want to order it no matter what condition I arrive at Laura Lee’s in. Cheese fries smothered in sausage gravy and baked in the oven are gooey, creamy, cheesy and crunchy. Basically they’re brunch perfection.

 

Best Desserts: Adarra

Cheesecake and ice cream from Adarra

 

When Adarra opened, I had a feeling I’d love the selection of small plates that make me feel like I’m in Portugal. I also suspected I’d be all about the menu of natural wines. I did not expect Adarra to become one of my favorite dessert destinations. The Basque-inspired sweets are decadent without being overly sugary. From olive oil cake with smoked ice cream to a Basque-style cheesecake that was light and airy, I can’t get enough.

 

Wings at Billy Jack’s

Wings and celery at Billy Jack's Shack in Shockoe Slip

 

I have been singing the praises of the wings at Billy Jack’s to anyone who will listen. They are soaked in duck fat for a tender wing that’s wonderfully crispy and savory when cooked. Ask for them Backyard Style, which means grilled and dressed in your choice of sauce. My favorites include Classic Buffalo and Caribbean Icky Sticky. Ricky Bobby style features a smoky dry rub and white Alabama sauce.

Best for a Place to Sneak Out for Lunch: Lehja

 

 

Lehja’s lunch menu is only available Monday through Friday, so you’ll have to make the trek to Short Pump Town Center on a weekday. Available from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the selection includes a range of traditional and chef-crafted entrees that come with soup or salad, plus free refills on rice and naan. I love the light tomato-coconut soup that’s a bit sour and a bit tropical. Indian food newbies should order Chicken Tikka Masala with a creamy tomato-fenugreek sauce. My most recent favorite is duck a la Pondicherry. Duck is confted, then cooked with portabella mushrooms in a fragrant Pondicherry spice blend. If you aren’t going back to work, add a glass of rose from India.

 

Best Happy Hour: Stella’s

 

You’re going to have to sneak out of the office early to hit Stella’s happy hour Monday-Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Your reward will be a special menu of discounted snacks like fig and goat cheese crostini, grilled octopus, and grilled shrimp with skordalia garlic sauce. Drink specials span a discounted cocktail du jour, $10 carafes of house wine, beer specials, and even an ouzo tray! See more happy hour picks.

 

 

The best things I ate in Richmond, Virginia, in 2019 List

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