Eat Well In Richmond, Virginia: Eastern Shore Seafood To One Fancy Arby's

Looking for an indicator of how different — and slightly left field and forward-thinking — the dining scene is in Richmond, Virginia? How about the fact that a local Arby's serves beer and wine in addition to really decent barbacoa burritos? That's right, the franchise in the Short Pump neighborhood (great name, eh?) is one of the highest grossing locations in the entire country thanks to its eclectic menu, southwestern decor with soaring 20-foot ceilings and location next to a popular mall.

But the "Super Arby's" is just the fast food manifestation of the emphasis that Richmond diners and restaurateurs place on unique dining experiences. And we aren't here to talk about fast food. In fact, the Southern Foodways Alliance has planned their first ever Summer Symposium as a field trip to the capital of the Commonwealth to explore their 2013 programming theme of "Women, Work and Food." If you don't want to take this sort of academic approach to your visit, here are some insider suggestions where you can just find a damn fine meal:

  • Jason Alley is one of Richmond's favorite chef sons, and his two restaurants (Comfort and Pasture) are some of the finest examples of the farm-to-table locavorism in the city. Comfort features exactly the kind of "stick to your ribs" fare that you would expect from the restaurant's name, while Pasture concentrates more on tapas-size Southern delicacies like deviled eggs topped with house-cured rockfish roe and scrapple with a fried egg served on toast with mustard. Alley is opening a new Pasture in Charlottesville soon so that the students of Mr. Jefferson's University of Virginia can get their Wahoo on.
  • Another miniature restaurant empire in Richmond focuses more on regional Italy than the Deep South. Mamma `Zu and Edo's Squid might not be the most descriptive restaurant names in the world, but to Richmond residents they indicate the best in homemade Italian. Mamma `Zu, located in the city's transitioning Oregon Hill neighborhood, is known for its family-style service, where plate after plate of Old World pastas and seasonal seafood (do not sleep on the fritto misto) cover the table until there's barely room for silverware. Pack cash and a little patience, because they don't take plastic and waits can extend over an hour during prime hours.
  • Edo's Squid concentrates mostly on the seafood specialties. The small dining room is tucked away at the top of a set of stairs, but once you find it you'll be rewarded with plates of scungilli (conch with lemon and deeply flavorful olive oil) and fried oysters pulled from local waters. A sister restaurant to these two named Dinamo has just opened with a Futurismo décor and short, focused menu of Judeo-Italian specials.
  • Another popular midtown spot is Acacia, where Dale Reitzer applies his relationships with local fishermen to bring some of the best Eastern Shore seafood to Richmond. When seasonal softshell crabs are on the menu, look no further. Served with fried green tomatoes and a sweet corn and red pepper relish, they are the clear choice.
  • Not all Richmond dining is this upscale, though. Mama J's Kitchen serves down home classics in an atmosphere like Sunday supper at Grandma's house. Mama J comes honestly by her reputation as a family feeder since she was raised as one of fourteen children in a Richmond household. With that many brothers and sisters, cooking great Southern food in bulk is a way of life. At Croaker's Spot, the food is soulful with an emphasis on fried seafood. Fish, shrimp and crabs all emerge from the fryer golden, crispy and delicious, and there is even an unusual seafood chili on the menu. But make sure to save room for the ultimate soul food dessert, a bean pie. This flaky sweet custardy creation is made with mashed navy beans and is steeped in history since the days when Elijah Muhammad advocated that the members of the Nation of Islam eat these instead of richer, less healthy pies — while selling them as part of fundraising efforts for the Nation.
  • In addition to these dining options, Richmond offers plenty of places for visitors to find liquid sustenance. Though Thomas Jefferson is known as "The Farmer of American Winemaking," he couldn't grow grapes worth squat at Monticello. Luckily, his apple orchard made for some great cider and the tradition continues across the state. At Blue Bee Cider in the heart of the Old Manchester district downtown on the James River, Courtney Mailey is producing, serving and selling her first example of small batch cider made from several varieties of local Virginia apples. Future plans include a high alcohol apple brandy made in collaboration with Catoctin Creek, a Northern Virginia distillery as well as an assortment of new cider recipes.
  • Right next door to Blue Bee is Legend Brewing, the oldest and largest microbrewery in Virginia. The craft brewer will celebrate 20 years of operation in 2014. Not known as a very hop-centric brewery, 2/3 of Legend's production is their very popular Brown Ale. This full-bodied British Brown is a year-round beer, best enjoyed on the expansive patio attached to Legend's brewpub located over the production facility. This vista offers one of the best views of downtown Richmond and the James River, which is an outdoors enthusiast's dream since it is the only urban river in the country with Class IV and V rapids for the recreational boater.
  • Less scenic but equally impressive is the brewing facility at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Tucked away in an industrial park that is actually in the historic center of the German brewing district of Richmond, Hardywood Park is named after the sheep station in New South Wales, Australia where brewery founders Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh had their "epiphany beer" together as they enjoyed a local's home brew. They decided then and there to devote themselves to seeking out and producing the finest craft beers in the world, and Hardywood's selection of naturally conditioned, unpasteurized, and unfiltered IPA's and Stouts have won them great acclaim. They have a particular talent for barrel-aged beers, so be sure to ask for something oaky.
  • Addresses and phone numbers for restaurants and bars mentioned above:


    4250 Pouncey Tract Rd

    Glen Allen, VA 23060

    (804) 360-8022


    200 W Broad St

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 780-0004


    416 E Grace St

    Richmond, VA 23219

    (804) 780-0416

    Mamma 'Zu

    501 S Pine St

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 788-4205

    Edo's Squid

    411 N Harrison St

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 864-5488


    821 W Cary St

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 678-9706

    Acacia Midtown

    2601 W Cary St

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 562-0138

    Mama J's Kitchen

    415 N 1st St

    Richmond, VA 23219

    (804) 225-7449

    Croaker's Spot

    1020 Hull St

    Richmond, VA 23224

    (804) 269-0464

    Blue Bee Cider

    212 W 6th Street

    Richmond, VA

    (804) 231-0280

    Legend Brewing Co.

    321 W 7th St

    Richmond, VA 23224

    (804) 232-3446

    Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

    2408 Ownby Ln

    Richmond, VA 23220

    (804) 420-2420

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