Charlottesville is not only known for being home to the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson, its beautiful fall hikes situated in the Shenandoah Valley, and of course, the many wineries and breweries around the area. The city is largely known for its food scene, to the great excitement of any foodie, advertising the most restaurants per capita. A self-proclaimed foodie, I can honestly say without shame that Charlottesville’s large food scene was definitely a factor when deciding to attend UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. I have made it my mission this year in Charlottesville to try all of the city’s classic eats, experience fresh farm to table service, and discover some of C’ville’s hidden holes in the walls. Whether you’re just visiting Charlottesville for the weekend or looking for new places to try after four years of your go-to Roots bowl, these restaurants should have a bit of something for everyone.
If it weren’t for the cheeky green neon sign hinting for passersby to “Get in here!” it would be hard to tell there was a Mexican-fusion restaurant operating behind the sole window draped with Christmas lights and dangling greenery. The dim lighting and barstools full of locals debating whether to try the daily special (mashed potatoes and chorizo quesadilla?!) make you feel like you’ve discovered a well-kept secret. I highly recommend trying the el pastor tacos. The kitchen slowly cooks the pork and sears it in a pan right before serving to develop the crispy ends we all love. If you’re a margarita drinker, try adding a little bit of spice—don’t be scared off when they dash in a few drops of their homemade hot sauce!
Pair tapas-sized portions with traditional Asian dishes, and Bang! You’ve got a classic C’ville concept. Go with a group, and order multiple plates to share—specifically, the chicken sriracha empanada, goat cheese cilantro dumplings, pork belly bun, drunken noodles, and the fried Brussels sprouts. You also won’t regret dabbling in their cocktail menu, with over 140 drinks accordingly named “The Bang Bible”; bartenders are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement before learning it. If 140 cocktails are a bit overwhelming, you can’t go wrong with The Joe or The Sin City.
While the disco ball and pirate flag may throw you off, don’t let the peculiar wall decor prevent you from going into Jack Brown’s and trying one of their smashburgers. If you choose to get a classic Jack Brown burger or try one of their specialties like The Elvis (peanut butter bacon burger), don’t forget to ask for JB sauce. If Jack’s won you over the first time, open up a beer card on your next visit and try a pint of one of the weekly rotating drafts.
Oakhurst Inn Café
Oakhurst Inn Café is the perfect place to sit outside for a slow morning. The cobblestoned back patio transports you to a Parisian sidewalk café—except with avocado toast.
Ace’s Biscuit & Barbeque
Whether you try one of their biscuit sandwiches or build your own, it’s necessary to try Ace’s smoked meats. Brisket, pulled pork, pastrami, it doesn’t matter—they are all incredible. The Tommy Pastrami is one of their top sellers and with good reason. Homemade pastrami, egg, cheese, and spicy brown mustard all loaded onto a flaky biscuit. Simply divine.
Kardinal Hall is the beer hall that has it all. Homemade sausages and steins larger than your head, board games piled mile high on a bookcase tucked in the corner, a bocce ball court for those looking to be more active in their game choices, and arguably the most comprehensive beer list in the Charlottesville area. The atmosphere is overarchingly attractive to all—from bachelorette parties to toddlers teetering around the picnic benches and M.S. in Commerce students meeting up for a beer after a long week of group projects.
Blue Moon Diner
Tucked away on Main Street, this blues diner feels like a traditional ’50s diner inside but is serving up very nontraditional dishes like baked egg shakshuka and sweet chili tofu scramble. For any less adventurous brunchers, they still have classic fan favorites, including a mean pancake stack.
The matte black coffee cups and pale flamingo hue of the small cafe’s exterior make this spot exactly what it claims to be—quirky. Attached to the Quirk Hotel on Main Street, the cafe’s expansive leather couches upstairs and insanely strong coffee make this the perfect place to study off campus.
Ivy Provisions is not only known for their creatively named gourmet sandwiches (Notorious P.I.G. and the Cuban Pickle Crisis? I mean, come on, that is good), breakfast biscuits, and warm soups, but also their stocked cooler of prepared foods and vast array of homemade dips. Order the Gobbstopper with roasted turkey, pepperjack, pickles, spicy mayo, and arugula on toasted sourdough, and sit on their side porch. Insider tip: Make sure to go early or order ahead, as it can get busy later in the day, especially on weekends.
Oakhart Social is the epitome of farm to table, utilizing fresh and locally sourced ingredients from the Albemarle area in innovative ways. In no other restaurant can you find wood-fired pizza, XO sauce carbonara, tuna crudo, and a double-smash burger all on the same menu. And to have them all actually taste good. Oakhart Social somehow defies this tradeoff, concocting unusual takes on crowd-favorite dishes. While all dishes are meant to share and come out as they are ready, plates are large enough to make an entrée out of.
Take It Away Sandwich Shop
Take It Away is a Charlottesville icon. Students and faculty alike race to the Corner to wait in line in the packed Elliewood location. The Wertland Italian and Elliewood Club are two of the most popular sandwiches, but try making your own or adding turkey to the Very Veggie (my personal favorite). An insider tip: If you’re ever having friends over for dinner or a charcuterie board, pick up a bag of bread ends for $0.75.