According to me, anyway. And let’s be honest, I have one of the most sophisticated palates of anyone in the greater Charlottesville area who was born in June, is over 35 but under 45, loves the Cincinnati Reds, lost their hair a little earlier that they would’ve preferred, knows every Garth Brooks song by heart, and absolutely dominates some Sushi King multiple times per month (apologies to the King, you didn’t make the list). I didn’t judge the winners on taste alone. Service and atmosphere mean just as much. So buckle up and let me take you on whirlwind tour of Charlottesville’s top restaurants!
In no particular order:
826 Hinton Ave
Tavola is Charlottesville’s answer to all the out-of-town, “yeah but New York is SOOO much better” types. Get them inside (and to their third glass of wine) and they might even become downright pleasant! Commence your culinary caper by crashing Cicchetti, a craft cocktail bar in the back of Tavola’s dining room. After having your mind blown by a couple cocktails (sleight of hand is a personal favorite) head on into the main room for no less than three courses of absolutely word class cuisine. You can’t go wrong with any of the handmade pasta dishes, but don’t sleep on the pan-seared rockfish either. The fantastic waitstaff will gladly recommend wines to pair with each course. Save some room for dessert, if that’s even possible, then hit the back bar for your preferred digestif and be one your way – to an Uber, I hope.
1521 University Ave
Around since 1923, the Virginian has been a staple on UVA’s Corner longer than income taxes have existed. I may be slightly biased, having worked there awhile in my younger years, but that doesn’t make the experience any less fantastic! This place is all about the atmosphere. The Virg is a long, narrow hallway, with tables on one side and the bar and kitchen on the left. You can expect top-notch service from there uber attentive waitstaff, loads of local drink options, and down-home comfort food that my mamaw would say just “sticks to your ribs”. If you can only order one thing, it’s gotta be the mac n’ cheese. If you can only order one drink, it does NOT have to be an Irish trash can – but you can be sure more than a few undergrads will be slamming one down during your visit.
205 Monticello Rd
Not going out on any limbs here. Lampo seems to win an award for one of Charlottesville’s top restaurants every year. The ambiance is amazing, with such a tiny space making the diner feel they’re truly part of the experience. Lampo keeps the staff small, so the same handful of folks are breaking their backs to make consistently excellent Italian every night. There’s been very little turnover in the waitstaff as well, a testament to the family-like atmosphere ownership tries to promote. Being a carnivore myself, I go hard in the paint on their polpettine al forno (sinfully good meatballs) and proscuitto pizza. But their cavoletti di bruxelles (shaved Brussels sprouts salad) might be the most fantastic dish in the city. The Lampo experience is nearly as legendary as how they got their oven into the building in the first place. Be sure to ask!
So there you are, my choices for Charlottesville’s top restaurants. If you live in the area and haven’t been to these spots, you have some homework to do. And if you’re visiting soon or planning a move – you’re welcome!
*Opinions are based on non-COVID times when restaurants were allowed to be restaurants. If you’re in the position to do so, ordering takeout and buying gift certificates are great ways to support our local F&B folks during these strange times.