15 Restaurant Innovations in Charlottesville Guide

15 Restaurant Innovations in Charlottesville

What’s new in Charlottesville’s restaurant scene? Here are 15 “food innovations” across the town’s dining landscape as discovered by culinary expert Lynsie Steele. And while this list is flush, it’s hardly comprehensive. We estimate there to be over 200 independent restaurants here. As you know, one of the sweetest aspects of travel is exploring the culture and taste of new places. Go out and discover Charlottesville’s amazing food scene today!

Innovation 1. Pancake Art at Blue Moon Diner

It’s a record shop and a breakfast joint. Or is it a breakfast shop and a record joint? No matter: the Blue Moon Diner on West Main Street is bursting with character and old Charlottesville charm. If it wasn’t on the main drag, no one but townies would ever know about it. Luckily for us it has been around since the 1950s and for good reason.

Its exposed brick walls, and overall brick-a-brack are a testament to the easy experience that is enjoying a weekday or weekend breakfast in one of the city’s most charming and beloved spots. Go at your own speed with what you love the most, but you’d be remiss not to order the pancakes, which often come with powdered sugar art on top, courtesy of the master stenciler who creates pop culture images like the twins from The Shining, Frida Kahlo, and more. Make sure to ask for something special when you order.

Overall, the vintage vibe and reggae music may not be for everyone, but if you’re hoping to walk away from Cville with a piece of memorabilia, don’t forget to purchase a mug or two with the diner’s namesake speckled on the side. These are really great mugs, and will remind you of your trip to Charlottesville and this really, really great breakfast spot.

Innovation 2. Ace Biscuit and Barbecue — Biscuits made from scratch

To say that these folks make the best biscuits in town would be accurate, and they’ve been doing it for long enough that their staying power is clear; oh, and they also do some of the best barbecue around. Located off the beaten path (but not far) you’ll find this joint in our up-and-coming warehouse district along Harris Street.

What sticks out on the menu? The Ol’ Dirty Biscuit, that’s what! If dining in, leave everything as is, but if you’re taking this mammoth of a chicken biscuit out with you, ask for the gravy on the side.

What I love the most about this sandwich is the crunch of the house-made bread and butter pickles with the delicately fried chicken. The briny finish from the pickles helps to cut the richness of the gravy, and when you add all of this together with this spot’s famous homemade biscuits, you’ve got a combination that will make you feel like you’ve never known comfort food until the moment you knew Ace.

Innovation 3. MarieBette’s Brioche

This perfect little surprise of a bakery on Rose Hill Drive took the Charlottesville community (and beyond) by storm when the owners opened their doors back in 2014. You literally cannot go wrong with anything in the bakery case, but might I suggest the ever-popular and much-raged about Brioche Feuilletée. Part Brioche, part croissant, this delicacy comes filled with a praline combination of almond, hazelnut, and chocolate, as well as another cream-filled flavor on a monthly rotation.

As mentioned, there is nothing that the chef/owners don’t get spot-on, so make sure to sample a smattering of viennoiserie, or grab a baguette or two to-go for a snack to enjoy later at a vineyard or on a hike.

Innovation 4. Petit Pois’ Local & Sustainable

While often thought of for a pre-show dinner downtown, this restaurant, oddly enough, is rarely thought of as a lunch spot. How lucky for us! Not only are the lunch prices completely reasonable, but the experience of sitting inside this small Parisian-themed cafe, or outside in the rose garden on the patio, is only comparable to the exquisite menu.

Similar to the dinner menu but with smaller portions, the lunch offerings range from vegetarian and pescatarian to seasonal dishes that are light and enjoyable. Petit Pois has been innovative from the start in its decision to source its ingredients locally, and this is a standard that has never changed. Try the Trout Amandine, my personal favorite, or go with a light beet salad and lobster bisque.

No matter the menu item, I have no doubt you’ll find something to love in this gem of a restaurant.

Innovation 5. Multiverse Kitchens’ 7 Restaurants-in-1

Hidden in a way that only Charlottesville knows best, this gem of a spot down Allied Street is perfect for the group that can’t decide what to eat or where to go. Comprised of seven different restaurant concepts in one, it’s the best place I can think of to get all of your food hankerings fulfilled in one sweet location.

Make sure to plan ahead, because you could swing by to order breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, emphasis on the ‘and/or’. My suggestion would be to start with the salads, since finding a good salad for eat-in or takeout can be tough.

The Cold Fried Chicken Salad is perfect, and bursts with the crisp flavor that only fresh coriander leaves (cilantro), grilled avocado, pickled carrot, thinly sliced jalapenos, and a light herb dressing (read: ranch) can provide. If you’re looking for something heartier, try the fried chicken options, brunch items, or baked goods, and don’t miss the kid’s menu if there are younger diners in your group.

Innovation 6. Kanak

This new-to-Charlottesville Indian restaurant isn’t something you’d just happen upon while touring the city or its outlying county. In fact, it’s in a strip mall. At first glance, one might think it’s a chain, but that would be a poor assumption. The food here is not only exquisite; the location is perfect if you have other errands on your list.

You can stock up your AirBnB at Wegmans, hit the pet store for Fido’s extra bag of car snacks, and even take in a movie if you’re looking for a chill night. Once inside Kanak, however, pay close attention to the menu. It will be challenging to pick just one thing, and I’d urge you to go with something new.

The staff is friendly and well versed in Indian cuisine, so grab an opinion or two before placing your order. A delightful dish on the menu which is much more than meets the eye is the Sweet Aloo Chaat. The combination of sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter flavors from the assortment of surprising ingredients is, simply put, one of the best dishes I have ever had the pleasure of trying.  

Innovation 7. Crush Pad Wines and Luce

The father-son gastronomical experience of Crush Pad Wines and Luce, just around the corner, is brought downtown by one of our longest-thriving restaurateurs, with the help of a longtime Cville restaurant staple. In other words, you know it’s going to be good. Crush Pad, with a decor that mimics art nouveau/mid mod with a jungle theme, is an on-brand throwback to the types of wine bars that used to be scattered around Cville (enoteca) but with small plates offered that will delight and impress.

Try a plate of the gratin potatoes. If you like pickles, you should order this deconstructed lunch plate simply for this reason. They are bright and light and a perfect palate cleanser. If you need further enticement, the gratin potatoes are stuffed with big chunks of perfectly salted ham, with more shaved ham on the side to be enjoyed atop house-made focaccia with a schmear of piquant Dijon mustard.

Lastly, the whole board comes with a light and perfectly dressed leafy green salad à la française. Looking for a heartier dish to go with your favorite red? The handmade pastas and other menu items from Luce, a self-described “literal hole in the wall,” can be ordered from Crush Pad and delivered to your table, or purchased to go for a hotel late-night bite. If you’re lucky, you may even catch some French being spoken at the bar, wafting through the air like music.

Innovation 8. Brazos Tacos where “I love you so much”

Making tacos popular since before they were popular. Well, that’s not really accurate, but when this fast food-esque taco restaurant came on the scene at Ix Park it certainly raised taco awareness city-wide, and also made taco lovers really, really happy. 

Every menu item is well thought out and truly unique. You can order anything that satisfies, and I’d suggest going with three tacos at a time, along with a watermelon margarita, of course. My favorite taco on the menu is a great mélange between breakfast and lunch called the “I Love You So Much.”

Maybe it’s just because it’s fun to order, but it certainly is a must try. Complete with eggs, puréed potatoes, and more, I suggest ordering it on a flour tortilla with a shooter of green salsa on the side.

Innovation 9. South & Central — Everything is cooked on an open-fire

Steak and decor, steak and decor. Go here if you’re looking for a heightened dining experience in a beautifully decorated space on the west end of the Dairy Market, Cville’s newest food hall. The flank steak is a flagship menu item, and one that doesn’t need much fuss. Its presentation is beautiful and stark/simple, with flavors that bounce around long enough to make you wish you could enjoy this menu item over and over again.

The flank steak comes to the table flaming atop a carved wooden board with hand-hewn grooves. Already sliced just after cooking over an open wood-fired flame, its juices slowly dribble into the wooden creases. With chimichurri (just as you’d expect, except seemingly hand-ground with a brighter than normal flavor brought on by extra vinegar), one bite of the steak with a swipe of sauce and a dip into the maldon salt pile in the corner, and you’re basically in heaven.

All of the flavors play together so nicely, that the experience of enjoying this meal is a rare treat and a calming nod toward South American cuisine.

Innovation 10. Café Frank

A bistro-brasserie-cafe triple cross, this subtle and cozy downtown dining spot run by a veteran French chef and restaurateur is sure to please anyone who has spent time in France long enough to understand that food is significant and should be enjoyed delicately, with a laissez-faire cadence.

Don’t try to adjust any menu items to fit your needs simply because each item on the menu is perfect just as it is.

There’s nothing that we wouldn’t recommend, but the poached egg and seafood platter are trusty places to start. Keep in mind that the menu is seasonal and based on available (and best looking) ingredients, so check out the menu before you go or plan on some sweet surprises.

Innovation 11. Tavola

Tucked into Belmont, and one of the founding restaurants of the Charlottesville borough, Tavola is as authentic as it gets for Italian food in the city. It’s so cozy that you’ll forget for an instant that you’re not in a mom and pop restaurant in an alley in Rome. The food is not only outstanding, the pastas are made from scratch.

If you happen to stop by and find the front of the restaurant full, walk around the facade down a small alleyway that will lead you to a hidden gem, Cicchetti, Tavola’s bar that offers small bites. This is where you’ll find my favorite dish on the menu: Carciofo (fried artichokes).

You can also get these in the main dining room, but if you’re coming just for these, they are best enjoyed at the beginning or end of an evening with a fine cocktail (try the gimlet) from the bar.

Innovation 12. Cake Bloom — dessert is the main course

A certifiable twist on a traditional tea shoppe, this new spot offers luxury cakes and sparkling wine all in one go. It’s decadent in theory, yet also the perfect place to stop after a long day of tourist-ing. Cake Bloom’s decor is very well suited to its vibe, and transports the visitor easily into a safe space to indulge guilt-free. It’s location on the West Main Street corridor, perfectly sandwiched between the Downtown Mall and the Corner, is walkable from hotels and inns at either end. While every menu item is sure to please the palate of someone in your company, our suggestion is the cake plate: an arrangement of five slices of your choosing.

Be sure to include the Seasonal Citrus or a slice of the Floral Funfetti with a side of bubbles if you can. Also important to note is that Cake Bloom doesn’t just offer day-long dessert; they are a great spot to stop for a light lunch or dinner.

Innovation 13. Lampo — authentic Neapolitan pizza

If you’re still on an Italian streak after Tavola, and you fancy yourself a pizza connoisseur, then run, don’t walk, to Lampo. Charlottesville’s only place for truly authentic Italian pizza, the crust is thin and blackened by the wood fire, and the ingredients are delightfully simple. My favorite is (and has always been) The Hellboy. It’s a play on a pepperoni pizza with a surprising twist: a sweet/hot honey drizzle that adds just enough pizzazz to encourage bite after sweet and spicy bite.

Of course, there are many more offerings, and not just pizzas, so take your time with the menu and make sure to order online and early. These pies tend to sell out fast and are only available for takeout from their Ix Park kitchen, which makes them the perfect meal to be enjoyed al fresco.

Innovation 14. Gearharts — pioneers of chocolate

A mainstay in Cville for almost 20 years, and the area’s first artisanal chocolatier, Tim Gearhart has been producing the finest chocolates in the
Commonwealth for a long time. He’s got a beautiful shop, and it would behoove you to carve out some time to peruse his many boxed and à la
carte offerings. Our favorite? The Earl Grey. The bergamot is just subtle enough to satisfy and the creamy tempered chocolate filling is smooth and
delicate. We suggest picking up a box and getting on their mailing list, as Gearhart’s does ship!

Innovation 15. Siren — the woman behind the restaurant

The biggest food innovation here isn’t one of the many delicious and vibrant menu items, but rather the woman behind the restaurant. Laura Fonner is a Charlottesville staple, known for her long career at Duner’s (an Ivy restaurant favorite) and her more recent appearances on the Food Network. Local fame aside, her food is just plain good. Every time. When locals think of where to eat, she undoubtedly pops to mind more often than not, and she’s got a fabulous new restaurant on Ridge McIntire in partnership with Champion Brewing Company.

When (not if) you visit, I’d suggest the following menu. Begin with the Bait & Switch, a smooth and extremely well-balanced cocktail. If you weren’t yet a fan of ouzo you will be now. Next, try the Chicken Gyro Dumplings. It’s the tzatziki, pickled onion, and poached tomato that really sell this dish. The briny richness from the tomato is a perfect balance to the heartiness of the dumpling, something that Laura is known for. And, for the perfect finish, it’s the Vanilla Labneh, with blood orange tartness, basil sharpness, and mint + toasted almonds drizzled with honey. Make sure to try this with a pour of house-made limoncello. Its smooth tartness balances the bitterness of the yogurt.  

See our comprehensive Charlottesville Guide to Dining here.