The rumors are true: Virginia’s capital city is one of the best culinary destinations in the South, and, if we may be so bold, the United States. Home to chef-driven restaurants featuring everything from gourmet southern comfort food to inspired international dishes, a craft beer revolution, and an uber trendy cocktail scene, any traveler visiting this historical haven should be prepared to have plenty of hard-to-nab reservations booked. If you’re heading to Richmond and bringing your appetite along with you, these are the places that need to be on your list.
The brainchild of three-time James Beard semifinalist Lee Gregory, this eclectic restaurant prominently features mid-Atlantic seafood, with almost everything on the menu sourced from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Located in the city’s historic Church Hill district, dishes like rock shrimp escovitch with citrus, habanero, and puffed rice or scallops with lentils, oyster mushrooms, and pork broth are standouts, and the restaurant’s cocktail list is among the best in the city.
The arrival of numerous breweries and distilleries has led to a revival of Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood in recent years, and chef Brittanny Anderson’s Brenner Pass has been no exception. Also a James Beard semifinalist, Anderson has been serving up Alpine-style menu items like flammkuchen, veal schnitzel, and a fondue burger since the restaurant’s opening in 2017. Apres gems like hot mulled cider and The Snow Bunny—comprised of vodka, lemon, pineapple and lavender syrup, green chartreuse, Cocchi Americano, and sparkling wine—light up the cocktail list. For beer lovers, order a pint of the restaurant’s house beer, The Veil.
A major player in Richmond’s food renaissance, executive chef David Shannon delights diners nightly at this French staple. Aside from entertaining dishes like the Faberge egg “bedazzled” with caviar and dill cured salmon and the “succulent, young, and nubile” chicken jus, the restaurant itself is a theatrical experience. A life-size reproduction of Michelangelo’s "David" greets you at the entrance, Andy Warhol wallpaper reveals itself under glass tables, and oysters arrive to the table shrouded in a mist of absinthe. The dark red dining room feels like a scene out of "Twin Peaks," and any fan of the show should be sure to order the Laura Palmer, made with gin, crushed cherries, and Dolin Blanc vermouth.
This Basque-inspired restaurant celebrates the unique flavors of the northern Spanish region with shareable plates such as chorizo Iberico picante, gnocchi with stuffed shrimp and white beans, octopus stew, and gildas (skewers of anchovy, pickled guindilla pepper, and a single olive). Husband and wife owners Randall and Lyne Doetzer are both sommeliers, and the extensive wine list features a number of natural and biodynamic wines.
A shining example of the mash-up of international cuisines that Richmond is known for, head chef Mike Ledesma cooks up Southern comfort food with a Pacific twist at this island-inspired restaurant. The Flipino-style seafood-tamarind bouillabaisse shares the menu with Huli-Huli chicken, a classic Hawaiian street food, spicy Malaysian shrimp, and a fried chicken banh mi. Funky desserts include a jalapeño creme brulee and a tres leches bread pudding, and a tropical cocktail list goes heavy on rum and gin.
Tucked south on the river in Richmond’s Forest Hill, neighborhood favorite Laura Lee’s features contemporary American dishes in a playful, plant-filled space. Owner Kendra Feather and her executive chef Scott Lewis put a modern spin on traditional Southern classics like confit chicken thighs with cheddar hominy grits and smoked pork ribs with a spicy honey glaze and Virginia peanuts. Order the Dirty Bird cocktail, made with Belle Isle coffee moonshine, Campari, and lime. If you’re there for brunch, the fried chicken thigh with funnel cake and raspberry compote is not to be missed.
The rapidly revitalizing neighborhood of Manchester got a new gem last year when this fast-casual spot serving waffles and milkshakes arrived. Owner Ajay “A.J.” Brewer uses the space to dish out both sweet and savory waffles—seven combinations of which are named after local Richmond public schools—as well as to host community events and art shows in the neighboring art gallery. Savory fans should dig into The Overby, a cornbread waffle topped with jalapeño, sage, and whipped honey butter, while fans of sweets should nab The Holton, made with strawberry streusel, creme anglais, and peppermint dust. Make sure to order a milkshake, alcoholic options are available, to pair it with.
This classic Jewish delicatessen puts a fun spin on traditional staples like matzoh ball soup and latkes with takes such as the “Jewbano,” a Cubano sandwich with sliced tongue and beef brisket instead of the traditional ham and pork, or “Jewish Egg Rolls” which are filled with corned beef, kishka, and sauerkraut. The entire wine list is kosher, and the cocktail menu features gems such as the Larry David, a sipper made with your choice of vodka or gin alongside housemade celery soda, celery seed, and a sugar rim.
This chic spot once cut its teeth as a Sunday night pop-up at Richmond favorite Sub Rosa Bakery, but is now considered one of the hottest reservations in the city. Its minimalist menu only has 11 items each night, beckoning diners to keep their focus on the food. In the true spirit of New American dining, the menu features cuisine inspired by Latin America, Japan, Europe, and other global cuisines. Standouts include roasted guinea hen with beluga lentils, Kyoto carrots, and foie sauce, as well as the grilled pork tenderloin with matcha seeds and shiitake mushrooms.
Marrying Southern staples like cornmeal-crusted catfish and black-eyed peas to traditional Tex-Mex, Soul Taco is the place to go to find a truly unique twist on the taco. From chicken-fried carne asada tacos to hush puppy nachos, this menu will have something for everyone, depending on how daring a diner is willing to be. Chow down on tacos as well as Southern and Mexican fusion snacks like pulled pork carnitas while taking in the cozy storefront’s vibrant artwork, including a pop art treatment of Frida Kahlo.
Located in the Jefferson Hotel, Lemaire is considered among the city’s very best in fine dining. Named after Etienne Lemaire, Thomas Jefferson’s former maitre d’, the spot takes Southern cooking upscale with dishes like spice rubbed salmon, braised lamb shank with grits and pistachio, and a tuna tartare served in a martini glass with avocado and a lotus root chip. Committed to sustainability, everything on the menu is sourced from farms within a 90 mile radius of the restaurant.
A Richmond institution, this Greek gem has undergone multiple iterations since first opening in 1983 but still has ties to its owner and matriarch, Stella Dikos. Classic Greek dishes like spanakopita and dolmades sit alongside elevated versions of braised lamb shank, shrimp ouzo, and souvlaki. A number of the restaurant’s ingredients and prepared specialities are available at Stella’s Grocery, a gourmet outpost which has since expanded to locations in Malvern Gardens, Scott’s Addition, and Downtown Richmond.
A classic Italian meal can be had at Edo’s, where a table during prime dinner time can be hard to nab. Heaping plates of spaghetti alla puttanesca, grilled branzino, and seafood penne can easily be split into two meals, but the restaurant’s friendly atmosphere and flowing glasses of wine make diners want to kick back and stay awhile, almost as if you’re eating at a friend’s home. Like the child of an old-school osteria and an Italian speakeasy, Edo’s is hidden behind a staircase and unmarked door, but despite its entrance, there’s no pretension here; just like its ingredients, this spot knows how to keep it simple.
ZZQ Texas Craft Barbecue
Texas native Chris Fultz opened this barbecue hotspot in 2018 to immediate acclaim from smoked meat connoisseurs across the south. While traditional Carolinean pulled pork is on the menu, brisket is the star of the show here, and the “Texas trinity” of brisket, a half a rack of spare ribs and several links of house-made sausages tends to sell out fast. Meats are sold by the pound, alongside a few sandwich options, side dishes like jalapeño mac and cheese, and a daily selection of desserts. And yes, the restaurant’s name pays homage to legendary Texas rock band ZZ Top.
This bistro-style Cuban cafe is a local favorite and has gained so much popularity over the years that owner Manny Mendez finally expanded into a second location, Kuba Kuba Dos, in 2015. Both locations present a bodega-like atmosphere, with counter service offering a pit stop for a cup of Cuban coffee or glass of wine, as well as booths set aside for breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. The Kubanaso—a Cuban featuring a healthy portion of chorizo—is a stand out sandwich, and the restaurant’s extensive brunch menu tends to pack in the crowds on weekends.