With its fast-growing dining scene, the capital city of Virginia is garnering attention among foodies. Southern touches mingle with global style in restaurants in trendy neighborhoods that offer loads of shopping, art and history in between meals. These are some of Richmond’s best restaurants right now.
Sunday afternoons are hopping at this upscale Southern restaurant in the leafy Fan District. Waitstaff whisk through a brick-walled space lined with Basquiat-style paintings bringing hefty, traditional dishes made with unique twists. Ginger adds an Asian note to sausage gravy ladled over fluffy biscuits. Cayenne, paprika and bacon fat amp up the hollandaise draped over duck hash. It’s rib-sticking, delicious and especially welcome if you’re rough around the edges from the night before. You can also keep the party going with an adventurous eye-opener like the gin-and-sake Does This Spark Joy? cocktail, brightened with yuzu and shiso oil. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended.
1627 West Main Street. Tel. (804) 353-4060
Amid the grandeur of the Jefferson Hotel — chandeliers, proscenium curtains, elaborate plasterwork — this dining room offers friendly service and a meal that combines haute cuisine with down-home favorites. On the high end: luxuriously creamy onion bisque. On the homespun side: chicken-fried oysters, with country ham and snappy pickles to gild the lily. The wine list includes reserve glass pours, and a white Burgundy goes with both high and low dishes. The kitchen focuses on the local and seasonal. In warm weather, enormous scallops, burnished with a deep, caramelized sear, sit amid snappy spring vegetables. Tilefish isn’t as pretty, but with a mustardy crust and an oyster sauce atop farro verde (a heritage wheat, picked young and tender), it offers savory depth. Humble pineapple upside-down cake is dense and moist, while impressive coils of toasted meringue over almond sponge cake beside a whoosh of honey gussies up the meal’s end. Reservations recommended.
101 West Franklin Street. Tel. (804) 649-4629
The oysters come straight from the owners’ 100-year-old farm. Have them unadorned, topped with a sweet-briny trout roe and lemon granita or roasted with garlicky basil gremolata. Every way, they’re creamy, mild and deep-cupped. They alone make this a great place to linger with a cocktail, like the snappy anise-apple-and-celery “Mixed Greens.” High ceilings, picture windows and the delicious scent of wood smoke make it even more inviting. Keep eating and find happy riffs on standards: The local fish sandwich comes banh mi style on a good baguette with plenty of pickled vegetables and mild chile heat. Plump mussels come swimming in a dashi laced with fennel and Balkan sausage, an East-meets-West bowl of brilliance. Reservations recommended.
320 East Grace Street. Tel. (804) 545-0565
The restaurant’s namesake is famed for his Szechwan cooking but also, as chronicled in a Calvin Trillin classic for the New Yorker, for his propensity to go missing. Fortunately, Chang has settled down, and though his hip Scott’s Addition location can be inconsistent, when it’s on, wow, is it on. “Hot and numbing” shredded tofu skin comes cut like tagliatelle, slicked in sesame oil tingly with Szechwan peppercorns. You could eat it all day. But move on to chilled wood ear mushrooms, crunchy, garlicky and sweet-sour with black vinegar. The soup bun gets a kitschy straw for slurping, but the broth offers serious funk. Sliced nearly all the way through, braised Asian eggplant is arranged in rings that make it look almost reptilian (in China this dish is called dragon eggplant). It’s tender, juicy and almost meaty — an entrée that dukes it out with the carnivore dishes. Speaking of, the tea-smoked duck makes for a swarthy, fat-rich indulgence. Go for it, but be warned: Portions are huge. No reservations.
2816 West Broad Street. Tel. (804) 728-1820
With its Scandinavian-style furnishings and loads of natural light, chef Brittanny Anderson’s airy paean to the Alps has an après-ski feel at lunchtime. Indeed, you can order fondue right here in Scott’s Addition. Politely pungent, it comes with cubes from a crusty boule, fingerling potatoes, sheets of prosciutto, plus lots of cornichons to refresh the palate. Along with a fino off the terrific sherry list, it’s a cheery way to start a meal. After that, thank the nicoise for inspiring the chef to throw a pan bagnat on the lunch menu, or pamper yourself judiciously with a springy sage omelet luxurious with lump crabmeat and gorgeous fresh herbs. The chef likes in-season garden sprigs; purple basil leaves pair with gold leaf on a stracciatella semifreddo almost too dainty for its chocolatey base. Closed Sunday. Reservations recommended.
3200 Rockbridge Street. Tel. (804) 658-9868
It’s a seafood house, but at this happening spot tucked in historic Church Hill, some of the vegetable dishes are so exciting you might forget the ocean. Crunchy asparagus, for instance, cut into coins and hunks tossed with herbs, bittersweet burnt honey and almonds, all set atop creamy goat cheese, vibrates with seasonal freshness. Still, a warm squid salad, in a phenomenal broth reminiscent of a Thai green curry, brings you right back to the sea. Dainty fried crab claws with Old Bay aioli — a spicy cousin of comeback sauce — are a playful nod to the Gulf Coast. A meaty, crispy-skinned mackerel fillet goes Alsatian atop a phenomenal mushroomy sauerkraut. If you sit at the bar, you can enjoy it all served on a Lazy Susan. That’s fun, but make sure to check the specials board; the staff might neglect to fill you in on the dailies. And do get dessert: Banana pudding provides a luscious palate cleansing. Reservations recommended.
3120 East Marshall Street. Tel. (804) 325-3426
At Mamma Zu, a Richmond icon, crowds suffer brusque employees and long waits for bona fide Italian feasting. This downtown cousin is far friendlier for a quiet, late lunch. Crostini of gamy chopped liver and Parmesan-laced fava puree play yin and yang. Salad feels virtuous before the pasta onslaught. Hunks of roast beets mingle with shaved fennel and greens in a rich balsamic dressing enriched with plenty of a key Dinamo ingredient: garlic. You can add feta cheese, but the dish is satisfying without it — and massive. Bring a crowd if you can; everything — pizza, pasta, salad — is meant to share. Wild garlic, aka ramps, shows up in a luscious pesto glistening atop housemade rigatoni. Squid-ink fettucine and loads of calamari swim in a Napoletana sauce, an umami-packed tomato elixir you’ll want to drink straight from the bowl. Finish with a booze-soaked tiramisu, and you’ll be set for an afternoon nap. Closed Sunday. Reservations recommended.
821 West Cary Street. Tel. (804) 678-9706
With its sleek gray-on-gray interior and inventive fare, this restaurant is more highfalutin and exciting than any other in town. Take the newfangled Old-Fashioned: With vodka instead of whiskey, and salt-cured-strawberry simple syrup, it’s weighty, weird and wonderful. Exemplifying a trend in fancy Southern restaurants a farm’s worth of seeds — from chia to pumpkin to sunflower — is lavished in fontina fondue and strewed with herbs and flowers for the Seeds Risotto. Smoked, sliced pork rib is hidden beneath deliciously pungent sheets of cabbage kimchi dusted in black onion powder. Crisp-skinned and pudding-tender, arctic char is all the more opulent for its accompaniments: shiitake butter, plus chestnut and parsnip purees. The showstopper, though, is foie gras. Whipped to a mousse, crowned with a globe of ginger foam and girded by hazelnuts and grapefruit made crumbly with liquid nitrogen, it’s a study in outrageous contrasts. Cherrywood-smoked vanilla ice cream with fig compote and black walnut mousse is a treat. But you can skip dessert after that foie. Closed Sunday. Reservations recommended.
2939 West Clay Street. Tel. (804) 308-3497
A 2019 James Beard Awards semifinalist, chef Sandeep “Sunny” Baweja has made a destination of this suburban-mall restaurant. The service and space aren’t fancy, but the regional Indian cooking is great. Chaat is a category of street snack, and the kitchen does a different one every day — perhaps chickpeas loaded with tamarind sauce, yogurt and heat. When French fare came to India, in the 1600s, Indians zhuzhed it. Nodding to that history, duck à la Pondicherry gets a panoply of spices — curry leaf, mustard seed, peppercorns, chiles. Portobello mushrooms add meatiness to the toothsome confit; scoop it up with pillowy naan. Nilgiri korma evokes India’s southern coast, where coconut milk, mountain herbs and crab and scallops are foraged for this fragrant stew. The wine list is award winning, but try a mocktail. Versions of the cumin-, saffron-, tamarind-laced refreshers you find in Northern Indian cities, they’re new to American palates but irresistible. Reservations recommended.
Short Pump Town Center, 11800 West Broad Street, Suite 910. Tel. (804) 364-1111