Best & Worst 2020: Food & Drink – Richmond magazine

MULTICATEGORY WINNER

8 1/2

With its original location on Strawberry Street and a second spot in Church Hill, this venture from the Mamma ’Zu, Edo’s Squid and Dinamo squad has earned its stripes as a takeout go-to over the past decade. The wafting smells of fresh dough welcome you, and pizza is always the move here, with the breakfast pie and classic red calling our names. Don’t forget to peep their deli case and cooler: Tiramisu and broccoletti, canned wine and cold San Pellegrinos await.

Best takeout

1. 8 1/2

2. Peter Chang

3. Stella’s (restaurant or grocery)

Best pizza

1. 8 1/2

2. Mary Angela’s 

3. Belmont Pizzeria

Best outdoor dining

Portico

12506 River Road, 804-784-4800

Though it’s less than 30 minutes outside the city, Portico’s large stone terrace seems a world away, nestled behind the charming cottage-style restaurant and surrounded by fresh herb and flower gardens. In cooler weather, a stone fireplace beckons and heaters keep things toasty. The al fresco spot is in high demand as a diners seek safe outdoor options during the pandemic. 

2. The Boathouse (all locations)  

3. Legend Brewing Co.

Best food delivery service

Chop Chop

Delivery had been a growing preference for diners even prior to the pandemic. Founder Chris Chandler’s emphasis on local restaurants and willingness to work with their owners to set up personalized protocols ― from delivery radius to specific time frames ― has given the Richmond-based app an edge.

2. Quickness RVA    

3. DoorDash

Best restaurant for groups

Tazza Kitchen

Though co-owner Susan Davenport says the restaurant is currently only serving tables of four to six diners, the Richmond area’s three Tazza locations were designed to accommodate groups. “If someone had a larger group of 15 or more, we have designed a seating space that is still part of the restaurant, which we believe helps maintain the energy and spirit of the restaurant,” she says. 

2. Tie: The Daily Kitchen & Bar; Zorba’s 

Best new restaurant

Grisette

3119 E. Marshall St., 804-562-6207

In less than a year, Grisette has made quite the impression on Church Hill. Owners Donnie and Megan Glass, ever present in the restaurant, have fully embraced their French bouchon concept, delivering palate-pleasing food at reasonable prices in a place that feels like home. “Being affordable was really important,” Donnie says. “We want people to come here every single night if they want to.” 

2. Gersi       

3. Restaurant Adarra

MULTICATEGORY WINNER

Stella’s

1012 Lafayette St., 804-358-2011

Stella Dikos, matriarch of Stella’s restaurant and markets, has been sharing her Greek specialties with the city for the past 50 years. Earning a triple crown of recognition, the restaurant’s food and its familial atmosphere are fit for any occasion, from a birthday brunch to a night on the town with your No. 1. Order meze-style for a feast that reminds diners of Stella’s roots in rustic Greek comfort food.

Best restaurant overall

1. Stella’s

2. Lemaire  

3. Alewife

Best Mediterranean 

1. Stella’s

2. Tie: Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen; Zorba’s 

3. The Crazy Greek

Best specialty market

Stella’s Grocery

Entering Stella’s Grocery is a test of self-control. A basket can quickly brim with frozen spanakopita, Stella’s signature olive oil, avgolemono soup and lima bean salad by the quart-load. Add in hot foods and household items, and you’ve got a market that blends modernity and neighborhood vibes seamlessly. Look for a forthcoming fourth iteration on Forest Hill Avenue.

2. Ellwood Thompson’s   

3. Yellow Umbrella Provisions

Best date-night restaurant 

1. Stella’s

2. Lemaire  

3. L’Opposum

Best bagels

Nate’s Bagels

21 S. Allen Ave., 804-939-5311

Does it take an engineer to craft a great bagel? We have no proof, but the business’ namesake, Nate Mathews, happens to be a former civil engineer. Communication is also key, as is having a top-notch staff; all elements that have helped his business adjust in recent months. “Staff has done an incredible job changing almost daily what we do, and with so many bumps in the road with no crystal ball to go by,” Mathews says. 

2. Cupertino’s NY Bagels     

3. Einstein Bros. Bagels 

Best local tacos

En Su Boca

1001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd., 804-359-0768

Inspired by taquerias in the Mission District of San Francisco, En Su Boca’s tacos have been a touted menu item since the restaurant opened, says co-owner Patrick Stamper. The basic formula: two warm, handmade corn tortillas, protein, a choice of slaw, and salsa or sauce. “Everything’s about the proteins at En Su Boca,” Stamper says. “This stuff is slow-roasted and slow-braised, and it takes a lot of time.” 

2. Don’t Look Back    

3. Soul Taco  

Best steaks

Buckhead’s Chop House

8510 Patterson Ave., 804-750-2000

With more than 25 years under owner Mark Herndon’s belt, Buckhead’s has gained a reputation as the premier steak outpost in the region. Doubling as co-owner of The Roosevelt since 2018, Herndon, a Culinary Institute of America grad, got creative during the pandemic, rolling out family-style meals for curbside pickup along with burger and fried chicken pop-ups. 

2. Ruth’s Chris Steak House  

3. Hondos Steak House

Best BBQ

ZZQ

3201 W. Moore St., 804-528-5648

Selected as one of the best new barbecue restaurants in the South by Garden & Gun magazine and Best BBQ in Virginia by Food & Wine, the accolades keep pouring in for ZZQ. “We were blessed from the beginning with an incredible community that reciprocates our love by supporting us and sharing their love of ZZQ with others,” says co-owner and pitmaster Chris Fultz. 

2. Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue    

3. Deep Run Roadhouse 

Best new pizza

Pizza & Beer of Richmond

2553 W. Cary St.,  804-242-0889

While Pizza & Beer of Richmond is celebrating its second anniversary, Director of Hospitality and Marketing for EAT Restaurant Partners Chris Staples says Richmonders continue to discover this Cary Street pizza spot. “I think our pizza is elevated,” he says. “We use fresh ingredients and cook in a real Marra Forni oven [sourced] from Naples. It’s a real Italian brick oven pizza.” 

2. Zorch Pizza    

3. Tie: Benny Ventano’s; The Hop Craft Pizza & Beer; Pupatella

Best local ice cream shop

Gelati Celesti

This is the place for ice cream made in small batches, with a menu of a couple dozen favorites supplemented by 85 flavors rotated in throughout the year. Dense, decadent and creamy, the cool treats are crafted using specialized equipment from Italy that minimizes air. “We take great care to make our ice cream special,” says Heidi Z. LaSalata, marketing manager.

2. Charm School Social Club  

3. Scoop

Best cupcakes

Pearl’s Bake Shoppe

5811 Patterson Ave., 804-285-2553

What can be more comforting in difficult times than cupcakes? Pearl’s Bake Shoppe serves up confectionary delights such as its Top Hat, chocolate buttercream icing over a vanilla cupcake, that have earned the Westhampton bakery multiple appearances on our best-of listings. Fresh and local; “it’s just a feel-good product,” says owner Laurie Blakey. 

2. Carytown Cupcakes    

3. Sally Bell’s Kitchen

MULTICATEGORY WINNER

Burger Bach

Grass-fed bovines from New Zealand are the source of the beef behind the winning burgers at this eatery’s three metro Richmond locations (Carytown, Midlothian and Short Pump) and its restaurants in Charlottesville and Durham, North Carolina. Burgers come with a salad, but the fries and the 14 house-made dipping sauces have earned accolades of their own. 

Best burgers

1. Burger Bach

2. Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint 

3. Beauvine Burger Concept 

Best french fries

1. Burger Bach

2. Can Can Brasserie 

3. Five Guys 

Best Latin American/Mexican fare

Mexico Restaurant 

It’s not high-end or cutting edge ― it’s Richmond’s version of Mexican comfort food. Inexpensive, consistent and extremely fast, Mexico is high on the list for a lunch outing with co-workers or a quick family dinner. It also makes the list of places to go after a bad day when the only cure is a massive yet affordable margarita.  

2. Tie: Casa del Barco; Lalo’s Cocina 

3. Kuba Kuba/Kuba Kuba Dos 

Best sushi

Akida

606 N. Sheppard St., 804-359-8036

In a snug but efficient Museum District nook, Akida delivers consistent, approachable Japanese cuisine from udon to donburi. The 30-seat restaurant packs in a crowd of sushi snobs who swear by the hideaway’s sublime miso soup, exhaustive maki offerings and deceptively filling chirashi bowls. Their in-house-only special is a steal, combining two starters and two rolls for under $18. 

2. Osaka Sushi & Steak

3. Tie: Fighting Fish; Red Salt Chophouse & Sushi

Best Vietnamese

Mekong

6004 W. Broad St., 804-288-8929

Owner An Bui opened Mekong 25 years ago with his sister Truyen Tran in the kitchen. Five years later she was joined by another sister, Trang Bui, with both  women still helming the kitchen to this day, turning out steaming bowls of pho and refreshing rice noodle bowls, aka bun. “Bun with grilled pork and spring roll is the most popular,” An says. “For a lot of people, it’s what they always get.”

2. Vietnam 1    

3. Pho Tay Do 

Best Korean

J KOGI

325 N. Second St., 804-225-8734

J KOGI recently reopened after refreshing its Second Street eatery during the coronavirus shutdown with new floors, fresh paint and more seating. Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes are the house bulgogi bowl and the classic kimbap. Other than good food, what brings people back? “Definitely the vibe. We’re all a tight-knit family here,” says Chef Catrina Ransom. “We treat our customers that way.”  

2. K-town Kitchen & Bar     

3. Tie: Bonchon; Gogi Bibimbap 

Best Indian

Lemon Cuisine of India

3215 W. Broad St., 804-204-1800

This family-run eatery and prime to-go spot has quietly been expanding since opening on Broad Street in 2012. Blending Latin and Indian fare, Lemon co-owners launched Bombay Company at Rocketts Landing last summer. Favorites include chicken tikka masala, palak paneer and plenty of fluffy naan for cleaning your plate.

2. Lehja

3. Anokha 

Best Chinese

Peter Chang

Peter Chang’s West End restaurant closed after Christmas 2019, moving a few doors down into a remodeled space and reopening just before the pandemic hit.  Fortunately, Chinese food, and Peter Chang particularly, have long been takeout staples. Fans can indulge cravings for the James Beard Award-nominated chef’s signature tofu skins, scallion bubble pancakes and crispy pork belly stir-fried with Szechuan peppercorns, from both the Short Pump and Scott’s Addition locations.

2. Fat Dragon    

3. Yen Ching 

Best Thai

Sabai

2727 W. Broad St., 804-367-4992

In an age where cutting corners is all too common, creating dishes from scratch helps Sabai stand out. “We joke about the sheer volume of vegetables we cut by hand every day,” says General Manager Sarah Saifnijad. Spring rolls are homemade, and meats are trimmed and ground in house daily by the expert hands of the all-Thai kitchen staff.

2. Ginger Thai Taste  

3. Thai Diner/Thai Diner Too

Best Carytown restaurant

Can Can Brasserie 

3120 W. Cary St., 804-358-7274

With its grand mirrored bar and relaxed brasserie ambiance, Can Can is a sortie to Paris via Carytown. The eatery’s happy hour delivers serious joie de vivre with half-priced oysters and carafes of rosé, plus towering $10 burgers gilded with Gruyere. Snag a bar stool and ask Wine Director and sommelier Evan Morse for his libation recommendations.  

2. The Daily Kitchen & Bar     

3. East Coast Provisions 

Best Shockoe restaurant

Hot Chick

7th N. 17th St., 804-596-9988

Spicy. Crispy. Is there anything else you need in a chicken sandwich? Maybe a sweet Asian sauce for contrast or a tangy Carolina BBQ sauce for some Southern-inspired goodness. And, yes, you can get your chicken with a waffle. Don’t leave your vegetarian friend at home, though, Hot Chick can make all their sandwiches with the plant-based substitute Gardein.

2. Tie: Bottoms Up Pizza; Nota Bene  

3. The Tobacco Company 

Best Jackson Ward restaurant 

Mama J’s

415 N. First St., 804-225-7449

Velma, aka “Mama J,” and son Lester Johnson started their restaurant on the foundation of family. Of Jackson Ward, the restaurant’s home for the past decade, Lester says, “I think the most unique part [of this neighborhood] is the history, being that it’s an African American community.” The duo hope to continue their legacy with a possible second location in the future. 

2. Lucy’s Restaurant     

3. Restaurant Adarra 

MULTICATEGORY WINNER

Joe’s Inn

Joe’s Inn moved to Shields Avenue in 1952. Owner Joe Mencarini lived with his family above the restaurant, a soda fountain-style establishment that also served Italian food. Looking at an original menu, current owner Tina Kafantaris says a “surprising amount” of those dishes are still available today. “It’s a lot of bang for your buck, it’s big portions, it’s comfort food,” she says. “Joe’s has been called the community living room … it definitely feels like that’s it’s staying power.”

Best Fan restaurant 

1. Joe’s Inn

2. Heritage

3. Kuba Kuba  

Best affordable restaurant/best value

1. Joe’s Inn

2. Tie: Chuy’s; Dot’s Back Inn  

3. Tie: Mamma Zu; Tazza Kitchen 

Best Scott’s Addition restaurant 

Lunch & Supper

1215 Summit Ave., 804-353-0111

Long before the city flocked to brunch at Brunch, Rick Lyons opened a tiny slip of a place called Lunch. The original bacon-centric menu has evolved ― there were even bacon desserts ― and Lunch became Lunch & Supper as they expanded into the building next door. Today, there’s a beer/brunch garden outside and an event space. You’ll still find a loyal group of regulars having breakfast most every weekday as they’ve done for years. 

2. Tazza Kitchen     

3. ZZQ

Best downtown restaurant 

TIE: Perly’s; Rappahannock

Perly’s, 320 E. Grace St., 804-545-0565;

Rappahannock, 111 E. Grace St., 804-912-1560

Originally established in 1961 by the Perlsteins, Perly’s is still visited by family members to this day. Beyond history, chef-owner Kevin Roberts, who says his standing order is a hot pastrami, believes the modern Jewish deli offers a “cool comfort” that resonates with diners. “People from all walks of life frequent Perly’s,” he says. Further down East Grace Street, Rappahannock showcases a bounty of seafood from Virginia waters. If you’re grabbing bivalves to bring home, they also bottle their own signature hot sauce to take it up a notch.

2. Lemaire 

3. Julep’s 

Best Church Hill restaurant 

Alewife

3120 W. Marshall St., 804-325-3426

Home to a bounteous seafood sampler served on a lazy Susan and dubbed the Siren Song, this standout Church Hill eatery earned a spot on Esquire’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants list last year. Chef-owner Lee Gregory steers the ship,  while Bar Director and FOH Manager Katy Best, Executive Chef Bobo Catoe Jr. and Sous Chef Amanda Sanders are the mates on deck.

2. The Hill Cafe  

3. The Roosevelt

Best South Side restaurant 

Southbound

3036 Stony Point Road, 804-918-5431

“We really try to bring elevated food to Bon Air,” says Lee Gregory, chef and co-owner of Southbound. That goal has made the restaurant a favorite not only of the commuter set, fond of the craft cocktail program, but also of families ― especially these days, with their popular to-go boxes, like the pimento cheese and deviled egg “Snack Pack,” likely to remain even beyond the pandemic. 

2. Little Nickel     

3. Laura Lee’s 

MULTICATEGORY WINNER

The Mill on MacArthur

4023 MacArthur Ave., 804-716-1196

MacArthur Avenue might be the North Side’s worst-kept secret. A long block of casual dining and coffee shops where neighbors walk, shop and dine as well as a jumping-off point for family-oriented events. Right in the middle is The Mill, a quirky little place with a big menu. From a late breakfast through dinner they’ve got a dish for just about everyone, from Southern classics like a country-fried chicken biscuit to gluten-free pizza and vegan options. The pickiest kid, or adult, can find something here to excite their taste buds. 

Best North Side restaurant 

1. The Mill on MacArthur

2. Dot’s Back Inn  

3. Tie: Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen; Hobnob 

Best restaurant for families and kids

1. The Mill on MacArthur

2. Tie: Chuy’s; Mellow Mushroom 

Best restaurant in Hanover

Iron Horse Restaurant

100 S. Railroad Ave., 804-752-6410

Smack dab in “The Center of the Universe” and housed in the former Cox’s department store, Iron Horse Restaurant embodies a rustic, small-city charm. There’s something timeless about dining on this Ashland landmark’s patio, enjoying a towering Pullman Club Car sandwich while watching a train cruise by, and washing it all down with a cold one.

2. Kreggers Tap and Table   

3. Industrial Taphouse

Best restaurant in Chesterfield 

Latitude Seafood Co.

The global supply chain allows us to enjoy seafood from around the world, but there is something special about tastes that originate a little closer to home. Latitude’s seafood and shellfish travel from Hampton Roads, bringing the freshness of the Chesapeake Bay and summer vacation memories back to Richmond. 

2. Tazza Kitchen  

3. Tie: Island Shrimp Co.; Pepe’s; Ruth’s Chris Steak House 

Best Far West End/Short Pump restaurant 

Lejha

11800 W. Broad St., Suite 910, 804-364-1111

With his warm hospitality and in-depth knowledge of Indian cuisine, James Beard Award semifinalist Sunny Baweja has given us a reason to journey to Short Pump Town Center any day of the week. Lehja’s menu offers contemporary riffs on classic Indian cuisine from across the continent, including supple kofta, delicate biryani and fiery Goan lamb vin d’alho. 

2. Tie: Red Salt Chophouse & Sushi; Tazza Kitchen    

3. Anokha

Best locally owned beer and/or wine store

Once Upon a Vine

Want to track down some thirst-quenching sips from around the globe? Once Upon a Vine’s North Side and Stratford Hills shops boast an international lineup of brews, from historic German porters to Belgian lambics, along with plenty of wine. Before opening, owner Bob Kocher checked his neighbors’ recycling bins to gauge their interest in quality sips ― that was 15 years ago.

2. Barrel Thief Wine Shop & Cafe  

3. Corks & Kegs

Best local brewery

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Best friends and beer lovers Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh are a true sudsy success story. After almost a decade on the scene, the owners of Hardywood have solidified the brewery’s reputation, earning national and global accolades. Recent developments include a forthcoming restaurant helmed by Heritage and Southbound chef Joe Sparatta, a Hardywood cider and snazzy renovations at the original location.

2. Triple Crossing Beer

3. Ardent Craft Ales 

Best local cidery

Blue Bee Cider

1320 Summit Ave., 804-231-0280

Courtney Mailey has a knack for taking tart and juicy Virginia heirloom apples and making them sing. The Scott’s Addition cidery Blue Bee is her magnum opus, with a rotating lineup of ciders by the glass to quaff in the open-air courtyard. Blue Bee’s not-so-secret hidden gem: The wee cheese shop Truckle Cheesemongers, nestled in the cidery’s stone walls, offering cider-friendly cheesy snacks aplenty.  

2. Buskey Cider   

3. Courthouse Creek Cider 

Best local distillery

Belle Isle Moonshine

615 Maury St., 804-723-1030

Since its founding in 2013, Belle Isle has expanded distribution to 14 states, but, according to Marketing Director Brandon Day, “We’re all about RVA.”  Go to most any food event in the city and you’ll find the Belle Isle team testing out new flavor combinations with the most popular often going into production. Their newest drop: an effervescent Honey Habenero Pineapple canned cocktail. 

2. Reservoir Distillery    

3. Cirrus Vodka 

Best happy hour

3 Monkeys

2525 W Main St., 804-204-2525

Advertising happy hours became legal in Virginia just last year, and 3 Monkeys has embraced the end of prohibition with daily four-hour festivities that make imbibing easy on the wallet.  “It’s a fun atmosphere, a neighborhood hangout for after-work decompression or pregaming for an evening out,” says Elizabeth Hatzimanolis, whose family has owned the restaurant since 2014. 

2. Tie: Latitude Seafood Co.; VMFA      

3. Tie: Fat Dragon; Joe’s Inn; Sedona Taphouse; Tarrant’s

Restaurant with the best customer service

Lemaire

101 W. Franklin St., 804-649-4629

Beyond the timeless white tablecloths and Virginia-proud dishes from Executive Chef Patrick Willis, at the heart of The Jefferson Hotel’s Lemaire is a devotion to service. Jennifer Crisp, public relations manager for the 125-year-old hotel that houses the restaurant, explains that customer service “is not a one-size-fits-all formula, so our team brings with them a unique set of personality traits that cannot be taught but are intrinsic.”

2. Shagbark

3. Perch 

Best caterer

Mosaic Catering

3001 Cutshaw Ave., 804-525-2190

After almost 25 years of events, Mosaic remains focused on hyper-local ingredients, due in part to the efforts of longtime Director of Catering Ryan Traylor. Mosaic opened a second location in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and they’ve gotten creative since the pandemic, debuting keto-friendly meals, take-and-bake family-style packages and movie-night eats.

2. Cater 2 Events      

3. Homemades by Suzanne

Best locally owned juice/smoothie cafe

North End Juice Co.

Early mornings, the original North End location on Cleveland Street transforms into a bustling smoothie sanctuary. Pouring up turmeric- and cayenne-laced wellness shots dubbed “Fuego,” or protein-packed concoctions like the “Arnold,” owner Channing Miller continues to grow his business. A Midlothian location opened a few years ago, and Church Hill is the site of the newest spot, debuting soon at 2402 Jefferson Ave. 

2. Ginger Juice   

3. The Pit and the Peel 

Best vegetarian restaurant 

Ipanema Cafe

917 W. Grace St., 804-213-0190

The big question at hand after restaurateur Kendra Feather sold this Grace Street staple to a new owner in January after 20 years: Would the established vegetarian restaurant hold onto its plant-friendly roots? First-time restaurant owner and University of Virginia graduate Seth Campbell made sure of it. Menu mainstays and new additions have joined forces in harmony.

2. The Daily Kitchen & Bar    

3. Fresca on Addison

Best food truck

Boka Tako

The Boka Tako truck runs a weekday route throughout the city, their “takos” blending Asian, Mexican and American flavors. Owner Stephanie Hoke says The Gauntlet, a trifecta of tacos featuring an Asian-style beef, Mexican chicken and American barbecue pork, is the crowd favorite. Find Boka’s two trucks cruising through town or visit the brick-and-mortar Boka Grill off Forest Hill Avenue.

2. Tie: River City Wood Fire Pizza; Zorch Pizza  

3. Goatocado 

Best place for gluten-free options

WPA Bakery

2707 E. Marshall St., 804-716-9797; 3414 Semmes Ave., 804- 477-6449

Gluten-free bites, especially baked goods, can get a bad rap, but at WPA Bakery, they steal the spotlight. “My favorite thing is when a non-gluten-free person tries something gluten-free and likes it better than the ‘regular’ version, or at least can’t tell the difference,” says owner David Rohrer of his Church Hill and South Side bakeries.

2. The Daily Kitchen & Bar      

3. Tie: Fresca on Addison; Idle Hands Bread Co.