New restaurant: Parallel 38
Runner-up: The Alley Light
Honorable mention: Public Fish & Oyster
The Mediterranean lifestyle is awash in slim physiques and blue skies, and even though winning restaurant Parallel 38 can’t promise the same, it offers a trip to the islands on every small plate. Indulge in tapas-style delicacies like goat meatballs, Lebanese yogurt, and creamy feta and wash it down with a selection from this modern urban space’s fascinating wine list. Owner and advanced sommelier Justin Ross will likely shake your hand when you do, and you can even follow your three-course meal with a movie by walking around the corner to Regal Cinema. Prompt, attentive service and a fascinating wine list round out. Part of runner-up The Alley Light’s allure is its sophisticated speakeasy atmosphere: You have to know what you’re looking for to find the entrance to the second-story walk-up space just off the Downtown Mall. Pitch-perfect nouvelle cuisine plus well-crafted cocktails equals lots of love from readers.
Honorable mention: Beer Run
When Thomas Jefferson drafted his Declaration, he stressed every man’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of good cheese (or happiness, if you want to split hairs). With its emphasis on slow artisanal foods and wines, multi-year winner MAS took the good boy’s advice to heart, dishing up Spanish-inspired small plates that would make American royalty drool. Belmont neighbor tavola serves rustic Italian glamour alongside deliciously simple entrées, showcasing savor-worthy marriages of traditional ingredients and flavors.
Runner-up: Shenandoah Joe
Honorable mention: C’ville Coffee
With chalk drawings of aliens on the sandwich board, “you are beautiful” stickers pasted to the front door, and that one barista with bright blue hair, Mudhouse kills it with personality long before the first pour. The coffee itself has just as much flavor, making good on the promise to open your eyes and pique your buzz-craving taste buds, too. Up Preston Avenue, every cup is a journey at Shenandoah Joe, where you can trace your brew from its green origin to in-house small batches of hand-roasted beans to the espresso bar itself.
Breakfast/brunch: Bodo’s Bagels
Runner-up: Bluegrass Grill & Bakery
Honorable mention: Blue Moon Diner
Whether your hangover/early morning demands light and healthy, greasy and cheesy, sweet, or salty, Bodo’s Bagels has your back. With three locations around the city, you’ll find 10 kinds of all-natural, made-from-scratch “NY-style” bagels covered with a variety of schmears and toppings, including eggs, bacon, cheese, sausage, and No Bull burgers. Runner-up Bluegrass Grill & Bakery offers the best of Southern grubbin’ with flaky biscuits, creamy grits, homemade bread, and bacon in just about every form imaginable.
Diner: Blue Moon Diner
Runner-up: Riverside Lunch
Honorable mention: Tip Top Restaurant
This is how you do a diner down South: A menu piled high with local duck egg omelets (breakfast all day, y’all) and backyard greens, a bartender who will pour you a Cheerwine and bourbon, and Elvis spinning on the record player. And Blue Moon is more than just a place to fill you up. Don’t miss the live music in the evenings every Wednesday through Friday, and the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers events regularly held in the diner’s parking lot. We’d call it Charlottesville’s favorite greasy spoon (since 1935!), but who uses a spoon to eat the perfect burger? If you like your food on a bun and your sides fried, you cannot go wrong at second place vote-getter Riverside.
Butcher shop: JM Stock Provisions & Supply
Runner-up: The Organic Butcher
Honorable mention: Reid Super Save Market
Charlottesville’s first whole-animal butcher shop opened on West Main in October 2013 with the philosophy that meat raised with care ought to be processed with the same kind of care. You’re buying it, along with JM Stock’s choice and more unusual cuts of locally produced pork and beef, made-on-premises sausage, and fancy Southern specialty foods. Only a handful of votes kept The Organic Butcher, brothers-in-law Don Roden and Ryan Ford’s local farm-to-table enterprise, from the winning seat.
Draft beer selection: Beer Run
Runner-up: Sedona Taphouse
Honorable mention: Blue Mountain Brewery
Beer Run’s tap selections on a given night hit that sweet spot where variety and familiarity meet. Weird milk stout you’ve never tried? Sip on 10 ounces, see if you like it. Towering 16-ounce glass of Natty Boh? Got that, too. Bored with all that? Get the server on the other side of the copper bar to pour you a beer cocktail of PBR and Bloody Mary mix. Go ahead. You never know. Over at Sedona Taphouse, you’ll find four dozen drafts, including lots of locals, all available in growlers. Yes, please.
Restaurant wine list: C&O
Runner-up: Parallel 38
Honorable mention: tavola
If you’re told to look for a door between flaming torches just beside the train tracks, and if you descend through a darkened passway to a narrow bar, you might expect the wines to be rich and varied, as if you’d literally gone into a cellar. Winner C&O does not disappoint, clearing the top yet again with its vinos for all occasions. Over at Parallel 38, a list of 100 bottles from the world’s top wine regions is great—and having nearly all of them available by the glass is even better.
Virginia wine: Octagon (Barboursville Vineyards)
Runner-up: Meritage (King Family Vineyards)
Honorable mention: Meritage (Pollak Vineyards)
In the wild world of winemaking, our area hosts a bevy of competitive beverages, but Barboursville’s Octagon continues to delight enthusiasts and casual sippers alike. At its heart are consistent core varietals Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which flourish in Jefferson’s Piedmont, naturally complement one another, and highlight winemaker Luca Paschina’s finesse. Coming in second, every King Family Meritage is the product of that vintage’s pick of the vineyard, made with mostly Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot grapes grown on the estate’s local acreage, aged in oak, and made to take a nap for six years or so before you pop the cork.
Local brew: Vienna Lager (Devils Backbone Brewing Co.)
Runner-up: 40 Mile IPA (Three Notch’d Brewing Co.)
Honorable mention: Blonde Hunny Ale (Wild Wolf Brewing Co.)
Everybody loves the girl next door, and Devils Backbone’s Vienna Lager is the Mila Kunis of local beer: smooth, approachable, and generally appealing to even the fussiest palates. Its win is one of many for the chestnut lager, which took gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup. And as you sip the low-key scene stealer from the brewpub with mountain views, it’s easy to see why so many people want to take it home. This year’s runner-up was named for hyperlocal trivia linchpin Jack Jouett and his ride, and Three Notch’d Brewing Co.’s 40 Mile IPA is a powerhouse West Coast-style beer with punchy tropical flavors, big citrus notes, and enough hoppy complexity to impress your friends.
Outdoor dining: Blue Mountain Brewery
Runner-up: Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
Honorable mention: MAS
This Nelson County brewery helped lead the charge to turn rural Route 151 into a booze and dining destination, and it’s still a crowd-pleaser. Play some cornhole, sidle up to the outdoor bar, or kick back at a picnic table with your dog at your feet and take in the unbeatable Blue Ridge view. The open-air upstairs over the posh Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar lets you sip and sup al fresco and get above it all at the same time.
Bartender: Ted Norris (Maya)
Runner-up: Micah LeMon (The Alley Light)
Honorable mention: Deidre Carpenter (Citizen Burger Bar)
Norris, who tended bar at TEN before coming to Maya, is a top-notch mixologist, can pour with flair, knows his local booze, is great for a chat over the bar, and has a fantastic head of hair to boot. Skip your usual and ask him what new concoction he’s been shaking up lately. You won’t be disappointed. When downtown restaurant scene vet Will Richey opened The Alley Light in a speakeasy-like space a story above Second Street SW, he had the good sense to bring this year’s runner-up, Micah LeMon, onboard. LeMon’s care and craftsmanship behind the bar is perfectly suited to the old-school glamour of the place.
Chef: Craig Hartman (The Barbeque Exchange)
Runner-up: Tomas Rahal (MAS)
Honorable mention: Dean Maupin (C&O)
You could say Craig Hartman has chops. At 33, with some impressive fine-dining kitchen experience already behind him, he helped create the Clifton Inn’s now-famous restaurant. But in 2010, after nearly four decades of fine dining, he and wife Donna did the chef’s equivalent of retiring to the country. At Hartman’s now-beloved (see page 129) Barbeque Exchange in Gordonsville, he puts the knowledge gleaned from pit masters around the country to good use. Runner-up Tomas Rahal was already a local kitchen veteran when he opened his Spanish tapas fine dining restaurant in Belmont in early 2003, and in the last decade, he’s built MAS into an institution famed for its carefully crafted small plates.
Bar: The Whiskey Jar
Runner-up: Citizen Burger Bar
Honorable mention: Beer Run
Local drafts, a whiskey and bourbon list a mile long, late-night Southern noshes, live bluegrass, people watching through fold-away windows that open onto the Downtown Mall—no wonder you like The Whiskey Jar best. Don’t ignore the cocktails, though: The mostly whiskey-based mixes have classic roots and clever twists, and the barkeeps pour well. Style meets substance at second place vote-getter Citizen Burger Bar, which has serious eats, good service, plenty of screens, and a generous draft list.
Happy hour: Citizen Burger Bar
Honorable mention: Sedona Taphouse
With a daily rotation of creative sliders, a lively patio and TV-fueled bar, and more than 100 choices for the C’ville beer lover, Citizen Burger Bar’s 4-6pm happy hour is a red-blooded celebration of the working person’s American dream. It’s also the perfect jumping-off point for every Pavilion/First Fridays/Jefferson/Southern/Paramount/Main Street Arena event you plan to wear business duds to. If “wine o’clock” starts just about when the kids get out of school, grab a seat on Miller’s patio for some open-air imbibing, where you’ve got four solid hours of drinking time under the trees on the Downtown Mall.
Runner-up: Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
Honorable mention: The Alley Light
Downtown’s fancy fusion restaurant has the kind of cocktail list that makes you feel like dressing up in silk ties and Louboutins. (The sexy lighting doesn’t hurt, either.) The 30-odd cleverly named martinis at Bang! taste as posh as they look, with fresh fruit purées and unusual liquors. Some of the standbys: The raspberry-sweet Wisteria Lane, the velvety smooth White Chocolate Tini, and Bang!’s version of the classic Lemon Drop. Commonwealth is your second-favorite place to go for perfectly executed classics. Get upstairs to Skybar for seasonal Southern mixed drinks.
Bakery: Albemarle Baking Co.
Honorable mention: Paradox Pastry
Even if baby games and pastel balloons give you the creeps, baby showers become irresistible when Albemarle Baking Company’s princess cake appears. Ditto the birthdays, weddings, and holidays enlivened by the Main Street shop’s pastries. Between its gorgeous bread loaves, fruit tarts, and chocolate croissants, the bakery will convince you that handmade savories and sweets are not only for special occasions. On West Main, Sweethaus is loaded with colorful malt balls, assorted bulk candies, and a case of fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcakes. It certainly earns its name—and second place this year.
Caterer: Harvest Moon Catering
Runner-up: The Barbeque Exchange
Honorable mention: The Local
Harvest Moon Catering has led the pack of local foodies-for-hire for several years running. With thoughtful attention to detail, excellent service, and a willingness to customize the menu for its clients, Mark Hahn and Rob Gustafson’s 16-year-old operation is available for weddings, corporate events, and galas of all sizes. Looking for the best barbeque in bulk at your party? The Barbeque Exchange’s website says it all: “Whether you are looking for 10 pounds or 100 pounds, we’ve got your pork!”
Chinese: Peter Chang China Grill
Runner-up: Red Lantern
Honorable mention: Taste of China
Pepper master Peter Chang may have left Charlottesville in 2010, but his legacy of fiery Szechwan excellence lives on in Barracks Road. The celebrity chef’s mystique and pop-up appearances lend a sophisticated ambiance to an addictive menu that strikes the perfect balance between sweet and savory, fried and fresh, vegetarian and meaty. Runner-up Red Lantern is Chinese takeout at its finest, offering the best General Tso’s chicken lunch this side of the Mississippi, especially when you consider that speedy delivery plus soup and a drink will set you back less than a Hamilton.
Thai: Thai ’99
Runner-up: Monsoon Siam
Honorable mention: Pad Thai
Charlottesville’s got a glut of Thai restaurants, and this one’s a perennial favorite. The Fontaine eatery serves up classic flavorful noodle dishes, savory curries, and Thai iced tea and coffee—and it won’t empty your wallet. Indoor-outdoor dining and a great lunch combo menu make Monsoon this year’s runner-up. We’ve got two words for you: cigar rolls.
Mexican: Continental Divide
Honorable mention: La Michoacana
You can’t help but obey the “Get in here!” sign that connotes what locals will tell you: Continental Divide is an oasis of fine tequila and TexMex delectables that put an upscale twist on traditional fare, like catfish tacos, salmon quesadillas, nachos drizzled in black beans and goat cheese. Standing room at the bar means the inevitable wait won’t get you, but all that tequila might. When you just need a fix of queso and a jumbo margarita, runner-up Guadalajara has got you covered in five colorful locations around town.
Japanese: Now & Zen
Honorable mention: Sakura
This downtown spot has swum into C’ville sushi-lovers’ hearts since opening in 2011 under former Tokyo Rose chef Toshi Sato. There’s a tight coziness to the place that goes well with a menu designed for sharing—hot and cold noodles, small plates of traditional-with-a-twist appetizers, and giant, colorful rolls. Contemporary and cool, TEN, your pick this year for runner-up, has a menu that hits all the right points: Well-executed sushi and sashimi, complex and savory soups, and a stylishly tasty cocktail list.
Runner-up: Bella’s Restaurant
Honorable mention: Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar
In a brick-faced alcove on Hinton Avenue in Belmont, tavola celebrates the romance of Italy with an intimate space, elegant ambiance, and rustic fare ranging from housemade pappardelle bolognese and fresh melanzane alla parmigiana to rich chocolate torte and an irresistible piatto di formaggio. At runner-up Roman Italian restaurant Bella’s, the family-style service means you’ll never feast alone.
Runner-up: Petit Pois
Honorable mention: l’étoile
Our city is lucky to have its pick of Paris, and winner Fleurie offers a modern take on classic cuisine that includes foie gras, vol au vent of mushrooms, and stuffed quail, not to mention famous French wines and cheeses. Next time you head to a show on the Downtown Mall with your darling, order for two from the prix fixe menu and bask in your own elegance. In second place, Petit Pois is the place for Bistro French downtown. Get simple, classic entrées in the sweet, small indoor space, or eat on the bricks and people watch. Don’t miss the inexpensive weekday lunch.
Indian: Milan Indian Cuisine
Runner-up: Himalayan Fusion
Honorable mention: Maharaja
When you pull off Route 29 into Milan Indian Cuisine’s unassuming front lot, you might not expect the calm ambiance and colorful cuisine that await you. Made fresh every day with newly ground herbs and spices, traditional Indian dishes include options for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike, offering a spectrum of flavors from savory to sweet, rich to light, and (of course) mild to “Indian hot.” Lunchtime buffets are the staple of Indian food lovers’ workweeks, and runner-up Himalayan Fusion serves up curries, tandoori, and Tibetan specialties on the Downtown Mall.
Vegetarian-friendly: Revolutionary Soup
Honorable mention: Beer Run
Champions of local food and flavorful twists on the sandwich/salad/soup combo, Rev Soup continues its reign as the king of vegetarian options for meal-seekers downtown and on the Corner. Even vegans can get their fix, with tasty choices like Tuscan white bean salad, and made-from-scratch spicy Senegalese peanut tofu soup. And if you’re in the mood for fresh-steamed veggies, creamed corn and spinach, and baked sweet potato, vegetarian sides make a meal at runner-up Eppie’s.
Fried chicken: Wayside Chicken
Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
Honorable mention: The Whiskey Jar
Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Always. The classic joint at the corner of Fontaine and JPA is a Charlottesville institution, and with good reason. There’s nothing quite like the perfectly seasoned, crispy-skinned legs and thighs served from behind the old-school counter. But we all know the right way to enjoy Wayside is out of a giant foil catering tray balanced on a tailgate. The only way to improve on great fried chicken? Put it on one of runner-up Ace’s freshly baked biscuits.
Burger: Citizen Burger Bar
Runner-up: Riverside Lunch
Honorable mention: Boylan Heights
With more than double the votes of its runners-up, Citizen Burger Bar has the Downtown Mall on lockdown with juicy patties you can feel good about. Made from locally raised beef and ingredients from nearby farms (try the pickles!), these burgers are stacked and served high, so come hungry. Taking second this year, Riverside Lunch has been serving greasy spoon goodness from its perch on Hazel Street for what seems like forever. Its celebrated burgers are served with a side of unpretentious mom-and-pop friendliness.
BBQ: The Barbeque Exchange
Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
Honorable mention: Belmont Bar-b-que
You know a place is special when it wins in this contest by a landslide even though it’s 20 miles from Charlottesville proper. Never mind the distance; Barbeque Exchange’s smoked meats, sweet and spicy sauces, and Southern sides (the hushpuppies—be still, our hearts) would still be worth the drive if they were twice as far away. There’s even tofu-que for the vegetarians. This year’s runner-up is the real thing and it’s right down the street: Get your fix of pulled pork and pit-cooked bottom round at Ace Biscuit & Barbecue—and for goodness sake, don’t forget the collards.
Wings: Wild Wing Café
Runner-up: Buffalo Wild Wings
Honorable mention: The Lazy Parrot Grill
Wing-eating competitions may only appeal to a certain segment of the population, but Wild Wing Café is a triple threat designed to please all who like their chicken saucy. A restaurant, bar, and open deck allow couples, kids, and frat guys with something to prove to consume in total comfort (unless they order Braveheart, the hottest of 35 sauces, in which case, bring ice and a trash bag). Runner-up B-Dubs has 21 sauces and seasonings and surround sound TVs that broadcast athletic events from across the country.
Pizza: Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie
Runner-up: Christian’s Pizza
Honorable mention: Mellow Mushroom
How do you make a pizza that Charlottesville will vote its favorite? Pile it high with fresh, local arugula. Yes, we’re having a laugh at our collective expense there. But don’t you want to grab your keys and go pick up a Bellissima from Dr. Ho’s now? Thought so. The North Garden restaurant recently expanded and opened a bigger, freshly made-over seating area, but it’s still got its signature quirky charm and killer pie menu. Christian’s is downtown’s go-to slice spot, with quick service, piled-high toppings, and a loyal following.
Ice cream/froyo/gelato: Splendora’s Gelato
Honorable mention: Sweet Frog
Splendora’s Gelato continues to stand out from the crowd with densely flavorful, creamy, and inventive desserts. Pink peppercorn strawberry, peach curry, blueberry lemon zest, gianduia and dulce de leche—you can taste the world in more than 24 spoonfuls. Sundaes, milkshakes, scoops in sugar cones: Chaps serves the ice cream you dreamed of as a child, making summer nostalgia so much sweeter.
Kids’ menu: Eppie’s
Runner-up: Timberwood Grill
Honorable mention: Tip Top
Real exchange overheard on the Mall: “What do you kids want for dinner?” “Can you just get Eppie’s pasta?” The list of offerings for the young ones at this downtown favorite isn’t long, but it’s got the simple, but still not boring, meals they want, and in inexpensive, small portions. They can eat like the babysitter made them something decadent on the sly (Nutella-and-fluff sandwich, anyone?) or like a grownup (half-portion of penne and pesto, please). Up 29 North, you’ll find the Timberwood Grill, this year’s runner-up. Family-friendly, fun, crowd-pleasing options? Check. Crayons? Yep. Great variety of drafts for the grownups? Bonus!
Food truck: Carpe Donut
Runner-up: South Fork
Honorable mention: Smoked BBQ Co.
The only downside to deep-fried dough is its limited scale of production. When state fair funnel cakes and New Orleans beignets seem impossibly out of reach, food truck champion Carpe Donut swoops in like an angel of organic desserts. Its sweet treats are made with pronounceable ingredients, so owners Matt Roh-die and Jen Downey offer this piece of hilariously unnecessary advice: Make sure to refrigerate what you don’t eat within a couple of hours. Local farms and bakeries power the goods at South Fork, too. Indulge your inner food snob and late night munchaholic with the prettiest Southern-inspired cuisine you’ve ever eaten standing up.
Place to watch the game: Citizen Burger Bar
Runner-up: Boylan Heights
Honorable mention: Wild Wing Café
Citizen is the well-dressed grownup version of the neighborhood sports bar, where you can swap out your Bud Light for a quality local Kolsch and your potato skins for some truffle fries (seriously, don’t miss them). The expansive bar faces a long row of high-def screens, and a generous happy hour sweetens the deal. Boylan Heights, Charlottesville’s original burger-and-ballgame joint, is a favorite among students. Ask to watch a specific game on one of the 20 TVs, and the staff will likely hook you up.
Background music: Fellini’s #9
Honorable mention: Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
Fellini’s #9 serves its meals in the key of jazz. You’ll be hard-pressed to dine without tableside accompaniment by Charlottesville’s local stars, including regulars John D’earth, Travis Elwick, and “88 Keys” Wilson. You can even serenade your loved ones during live band karaoke on the first and third Thursday of every month. Miller’s hosts rock-ready locals who jam in a variety of styles, so you can curb your late-night cravings with a full kitchen open ’til 2am and Americana, acoustic with attitude, and occasional jazz and blues.
Spot when the boss is buying: C&O
Runner-up: Clifton Inn
Honorable mention: Downtown Grille
How do you define your “favorite” restaurant? Is it where you end up most often, or is it where you’d eat every day if you weren’t so broke? For you readers, if it’s the latter, it’s C&O. Charlottesville’s “first best” restaurant is still the go-to when you want a white-tablecloth meal worth lingering over—especially when somebody else is footing the bill. Just outside city limits, Clifton Inn, your pick for second place, has gorgeous grounds, wine cellar and terrace seating, and a chef’s tasting menu that shifts with the seasons.
Place to drown your sorrows: Miller’s
Runner-up: The Whiskey Jar
Honorable mention: Durty Nelly’s
“We were not a hugging people,” funnyman David Sedaris writes of his family in Naked, his career-launching essay collection. “In terms of emotional comfort, it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well-made cocktail.” For you readers, ambience matters, too. Miller’s dark wood and darker corners—not to mention its bountiful and inexpensive drink menu—make it a good place to lick your wounds while you nurse a beer. And cheer up—the bluegrass band is setting up at runner-up The Whiskey Jar, and in another hour, that bar will be three deep with cute singles. Order another Bulleit Rye on the rocks and call us in the morning.
Bathroom graffiti: Mono Loco
Honorable mention: Pasture
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila and you’re doodling on a chalkboard above a toilet around a hand-drawn promotion for fish. The colorful Lotería card-laden walls of Mono Loco’s bathroom mimic its exterior in a way that invites you to sit and stay awhile. Or recite Spanish nouns while drawing La Chupacabra in gold paint on the mirror. You might not learn who hates AAA, loves pizza, or believes “dead don’t lie!,” but the bathroom at Miller’s offers a little slice of what percolates through the minds of Charlottesville’s late-night crowd. (Or, at least, what used to because on our last trip to the loo, we couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the graffiti had been removed.)