Best of C-VILLE 2017: Food & Drink

Best Restaurant: Lampo (Photo: Tom McGovern)

You know what they say: A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Luckily, outdated axioms don’t deter you from taking advantage of the best edibles, drinkables and make-at-homeables this town has to offer. Here are 38 of your favorites.



Runner-up: Tavola

Honorable mention: Citizen Burger Bar

A couple years back we wondered this: In an era where chefs vie to create the next big thing, who on earth wants to bind themselves to age-old rigid rules? The answer: The guys who’re making traditional Neapolitan pizza at this year’s best restaurant winner, Lampo, where chef Loren Mendosa makes sure nothing but the finest locally sourced ingredients grace your pie. But don’t worry if you’re not in the mood for ’za—the Belmont eatery has an excellent selection of antipasti, sandwiches and salads. And for goodness sake, leave room for zepolle: ricotta donuts with cinnamon, sugar and Meyer lemon. Almost everyone in the Lampo kitchen got his Charlottesville start down the street at second-place vote-getter Tavola, where the linguine alla carbonara, pappardelle bolognese and craft cocktails in the cicchetti bar not only get you in the door, but they keep you coming back.


Smoked Kitchen & Tap

Runner-up: Brasserie Saison

Honorable mention: The Fitzroy

Justin van der Linde and Kelley Tripp made beloved food truck Smoked BBQ Co. a brick-and-mortar reality in December, when they opened Smoked Kitchen & Tap, your fave new restaurant. Located on the ground floor of Crozet’s Piedmont Place, Smoked serves up slow-cooked, hickory-smoked barbecue, with secret dry rubs and sauces made from scratch, plus drool-worthy sandwiches, fried chicken, burgers and a variety of sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese, potato salad, coleslaw and dirty rice. The Downtown Mall’s Brasserie Saison comes in second, and specializes in Belgian cuisine and a carefully cur-ated beer list from its in-house brewing facilities.


The Alley Light

Runner-up: The Fitzroy

Honorable mention: Tavola

Tucked away just off the Downtown Mall on Second Street (look for the light above the door), The Alley Light, this year’s best bar winner, has an ever-changing menu of craft cocktails (Popo & Itzy or Boy Who Cried Wolf, anyone?). But you’re not the only ones who appreciate this local gem: The Washington Post called it “the source of some of Charlottesville’s finest cocktails.” The Fitzroy, with its exposed brick wall, black-and-white subway-style tile and a capital letter F behind the bar, comes in second for its fancy cocktails and preppy atmosphere.


Random Row Brewing

Runner-up: The Fitzroy

Honorable mention: Draft Taproom

What can we say about Random Row Brewing, your choice this year for best new drinking spot? Plenty, actually, including that you’ve given it a big cheers for its “random rows,” four different beers selected by a bartender and made in the big metal tanks you can see on the other side of the bar. You also enjoy the Lock and Keys, Kentucky Bucks and Chamomile Apricot Sours at The Fitzroy, the new-ish Downtown Mall hot spot, and this year’s second-place vote-getter.


Kardinal Hall

Runner-up: Wild Wing Café

Honorable mention: Citizen Burger Bar

Some people may not consider a board game a sport—clearly they’ve never seen the fierce level of competition at Kardinal Hall on Tuesday evenings, aka Chickapig Night. And those who voted the bierhaus their fave sports bar also pack the place to watch everything from the World Series and World Cup to the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and all manner of UVA sports. Over at Wild Wing Café, this year’s runner-up, every day is game day and you won’t miss a single play, thanks to dozens of TVs.

Photo: Bill LeSueur

Here, chicky chicky

Brown’s in Belmont has long been a mainstay on Charlottesville insiders’ “best fried chicken” list for many reasons, not the least of which is that you get a free piece of yard bird for every 10 gallons of gas purchased at the Avon Street spot. Gives new meaning to the term “fill ’er up,” don’t it?


Bluegrass Grill & Bakery

Runner-up: Beer Run

Honorable mention: MarieBette Café & Bakery

Bluegrass Grill & Bakery declares that its “mission is simple: serve delicious, homemade food that guests will want to return to week after week.” Mission accomplished, Bluegrass—there’s a crowd gathered outside in the parking lot every Saturday and Sunday morning to write their names on the waitlist behind the door and eventually dig into dishes like the Hungry Norman (poached eggs atop blackberry jam, goat cheese, sausage links and an English muffin) and bananas Foster pancakes. Over on Carlton Avenue, Beer Run’s brunch, with its avocado toast, Lalala French toast strata, pupusas and breakfast tacos (only on Saturdays!), offers a slightly spicier take on the most indulgent meal of the week.


Beer Run

Runner-up: Draft Taproom

Honorable mention: Kardinal Hall

You know the song—“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. You take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall,” and so on and so on, until all the beer is gone. Beer Run has at least 99 bottles of beer on its refrigerator-filled back wall at any point, but it also has a superb draft beer selection that changes almost daily, and chances are they’ll never run out. The same can be said for Draft Taproom, a serve-yourself bar that boasts more than 60 beers, wines and ciders on tap (about half of which are from Virginia), and claims to have the largest collection of local taps in the state.



Runner-up: The Local

Honorable mention: The Alley Light

Whether you’re a casual wine drinker looking for a glass of the house white to complement your handmade pasta dish, or a sommelier desiring a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005, you’ll find it at Tavola in Belmont. With upward of 50 options of sparkling, white, rosé, red, dessert and reserve wines, and the staff’s knowledge and expertise to boot, readers agree Tavola’s wine list is tops. And right next door, The Local offers a robust selection of reasonably priced wines from all over the world, from Virginia to Washington state, Germany, South Africa, Italy and elsewhere.


Brazos Tacos

Runner-up: Oakhart Social

Honorable mention: Citizen Burger Bar

What’s better than sitting at a big picnic table on a sunny day, eating Texas-style tacos in full view of IX Art Park and all its quirky statues and graffiti glory? Not much, apparently, because y’all think that Brazos Tacos, with its casual eats, laid-back atmosphere and ace playlist, has the best dining patio of 2017. For the slightly more sophisticated outdoor seat-seeker, there’s Oakhart Social’s patio (and soon-to-be rooftop bar), with big umbrellas, table candles and strings of Edison lights tucked behind a line of fluffy crepe myrtles on West Main Street.


Blue Mountain Brewery

Runner-up: Kardinal Hall

Honorable mention: Bold Rock Hard Cider

It’s no surprise that Blue Mountain Brewery’s drinking patio is Charlottesville’s favorite, mostly because it’s huge and has amazing Blue Ridge Mountain views perfect for sipping locally made brews. Kardinal Hall’s patio is less of a hike for those who live in town, but it’s no less of an experience, with big picnic tables, quick service and space for visitors of all ages to play bocce and Chickapig.


Caleb Warr (Tavola)

Runner-up: Craig Hartman (Barbeque Exchange)

Honorable mention: Bill Scatena (Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards)

For Caleb Warr, a Louisiana boy with no formal culinary training who cut his teeth in some of Charlottesville’s best kitchens before landing the head chef gig at Tavola, food isn’t just cooking and eating —food, especially when lovingly prepared and shared with others, is about living. That sort of passion for the craft informed his Italian-meets-Piedmont dishes like potato-stuffed tortelli topped with ground local rabbit and cured pork cheek sauce. (Warr moved to Cape Cod this spring, but readers agree he left an impression long after they finished licking their plates.) Best chef runner-up, Barbeque Exchange’s Craig Hartman, has won over stomachs and hearts in town and elsewhere, including that of Virginia barbecue historian Joe Haynes, who says Hartman’s is some of the most authentic Virginia barbecue in the commonwealth.

Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Bundles of joy

Cuddle up with a baby goat

The world can be a terrifying place. Lucky for us, Caromont Farm has a cure for what scares us: baby goat cuddling. It all started two winters ago when the farm, best known for its award-winning cheeses, used its Facebook page to recruit volunteers to snuggle and bottle-feed its baby goats, which are separated from their moms after birth so the mothers’ milk can be used for cheese. The post quickly went viral, and before farm owner Gail Hobbs-Page could say “goatapalooza,” more cuddlers than she could use during a dozen kidding seasons had signed up for four-hour shifts, which ran through the end of March. “Clearly people need to snuggle goats more than goats need snuggling,” Hobbs-Page recently said. “Beyond seeing where their food is made, people want to come out to Caromont because they see it as a place of peace, safety and love.” No kidding!


Micah LeMon (The Alley Light)

Runner-up: Steve Yang (Tavola)

Honorable mention: Carrie Hodgkins (Lost Saint)

On Second Street SE between Downtown Thai and Revolutionary Soup, there’s a tall black gate that swings open in the evenings. Walk through the gate and then the door to your left to find seasonal punches, improved whiskey cocktails, tiki drinks, pre-prohibition era concoctions with egg whites, all crafted with care and finesse by Alley Light bartender Micah LeMon, who’s been voted best bartender for three years running. Apparently restaurants here in town like to keep the good bartenders a little hidden—to find Steve Yang, this year’s runner- up, one must walk down a little alley to the left of Tavola and into its ground-level cicchetti bar.



Runner-up: Foods of All Nations

Honorable mention: JM Stock Provisions

Feast! on West Main Street is a place where a simple thing like picking out a wedge of cheese becomes an event—the place is full of crusty breads still warm from the bakery, jars of jams and relishes in flavors you never knew existed, exquisite local produce, eggs from hens raised in nearby fields, individually wrapped chocolates and caramels at the checkout counter…you’re bound to leave with more than just a wedge of cheese. While Feast! focuses on local specialties, Foods of All Nations on Ivy Road has, you guessed it, foods from all over the world (recommended: the international chocolate and candy selection placed strategically toward the front of the store).


King Family Vineyards

Runner-up: Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards

Honorable mention: Barboursville Vineyards

“Good wine is a necessity of life for me,” said Thomas Jefferson, and with more than 40 wineries in our vicinity, good wine seems to be a necessity for many. Crozet’s King Family Vineyards, makers of a favorite summer wine, the Crosé Rosé, is this year’s local fave, and not just for its stellar wines—its spacious, family-friendly lawn at the foot of the mountains is a fine place to spend an afternoon, and its weekly Sunday polo matches are a beloved local pastime. North Garden’s Pippin Hill is favored, too, for its wine and the views, which can be enjoyed from a big cushioned chair on the covered porch.


Three Notch’d Brewing Company

Runner-up: Blue Mountain Brewery

Honorable mention: Devils Backbone Brewing Co.

It’s getting to be that you can hardly take a drive in this town without passing a local brewery—and that’s just how readers like it. More options means better beer and, this year, you say there’s no better than Three Notch’d, the tucked-in brew spot on Grady Avenue (and forthcoming in the IX complex), in Harrisonburg and, as of September 2016, Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood. In second place is Nelson County’s Blue Mountain, which is undergoing some (patio) expansions of its own.


Bold Rock Hard Cider

Runner-up: Potter’s Craft Cider

Honorable mention: Albemarle CiderWorks

Apples were one of the earliest crops in America, and shortly after emigrants started growing them, they started drinking them —or, their nectar, rather. Hard cider is woven into the fabric of our country (which is why, when you visit the Nellysford cidery, you can run upstairs for a history lesson that overlooks the barrel room). This year readers say that, when it comes to hard cider, Bold Rock is the apple of their eye. Runner-up Potter’s Craft gave us exciting news this year: a Belmont tasting room in partnership with the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative.

Photo: Martyn Kyle

Bathroom etiquette

Are students getting busy at this 24-hour spot?

We know Littlejohn’s Delicatessen on the Corner as the place that feeds hungry students 24 hours a day—but does it feed other appetites as well? There’s a rumor that the LJ bathrooms are a rite of passage for certain extracurricular activities, so we checked it out for ourselves.

The most important factor in canoodling-on-location is discretion. Although three single bathrooms (one for men and two for women) are tucked away in a back hallway, there’s no way two people can enter the same room at once (it’s fairly difficult for even one person, if that’s more your speed). The door opens inward and immediately hits the toilet, so one person would have to slide in, close the door and…do some interesting acrobatics to make space for someone else. Imagine a porta-potty but with far less floor space.

One sign of romantic trysts—bathrooms, tree trunks, what have you—is bragging rights scrawled on various surfaces (“B+C forever,” “so-and-so wuz here”). But at Littlejohn’s, there’s nary an innuendo to be found—only an innocent flower and heart written in pink marker mars the wall.

The verdict? We’re putting these rumors to bed.



Runner-up: Sedona Taphouse

Honorable mention: The Fitzroy

Everybody likes a deal. But when that deal is $6 for a martini? In Charlottesville? Well, no wonder Bang! is best. The downtown Asian-inspired tapas spot offers an abbreviated menu of its food —kale tortellini, sesame tuna, goat cheese dumplings—and bevvies—the Diva, the Pink Squeeze, the Bangarita—for little more than a fiver every Wednesday evening. Behind Barracks Road Shopping Center, Sedona Taphouse offers even “Happier Hours” seven days a week.


MarieBette Café & Bakery

Runner-up: Albemarle Baking Co.

Honorable mention: Chandler’s Bakery

Yes, MarieBette brought us the bronut. And, yes, each of its mugs of hot cocoa is topped with a homemade marshmallow that starts off as a sheet of sugary goodness that gets sliced into perfect, gooey squares. But that’s all old news. This year, the bakery expanded its operations to a satellite kitchen across the street, essentially tripling its production capability and bringing us three times the baguettes, rolls and kouign amanns we’d been consuming over its last three years on the scene (bye-bye, thighs). Runner-up ABC sets the standard for baked goods, pies and cakes from its West Main Street space.


Monsoon Siam

Runner-up: Thai 99

Honorable mention: Lemongrass

We suspect readers have uncovered a secret about delicious Thai food: It tastes better when eaten in an old house. That’s one thing the No. 1 and No. 2 Thai spots have in common—one on Market Street and the other on Fontaine Avenue by UVA. And now that the downtown spot has set up its Togogo counter at Market Street Market, you can eat your Pad Garlic with beef in your own house. Wonder what that’s like.


Milan Indian Cuisine

Runner-up: Himalayan Fusion

Honorable mention: Maharaja

The restaurant’s name may be confusing (Milan is in Italy, no?), but readers are clear on one thing, at least: For nearly 15 years, Milan has been serving their favorite Indian cuisine at its lunch buffet and dinner service, from palak paneer to tandoori chicken. Downtown, Himalayan Fusion pleases hungry lunch crowds with a buffet of its own, combining Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine (and it’s open for dinner, too).



Runner-up: Brazos Tacos

Honorable mention: Al Carbon Chicken

Guadalajara, readers just can’t quit you: fajitas, tacos, quesadillas—you give them all the classics they crave from four different locations and with a side of rice, beans and guac. And the margs (oh, Guad, the margs). In second place, Austin-style Brazos Tacos, which aren’t Mexican, per se, but we guess Texas is close enough. Plus, it’s hard to resist a restaurant where you can order in advance online and pay in $2 bills.

Which parts of the piggy went to market? Almost all of them, we hear.

Everything but the squeaker

Parts shopping at Reid Super-Save

When it comes to pig parts, the meat department manager at Reid Super-Save Market doesn’t mess around. “We sell a lot of pig feet for stock,” Jean Norford says when told we’d heard the Preston Avenue market does a brisk business in more than thick-cut pork chops. “And people come to us for pig liver because we’re the only store in town that carries it.” She says many of her customers are fond of liver and onions, but some use the pig’s liver as a source for blood because “you can’t really buy blood.”

And while purchasing blood may sound like something from a Wes Craven movie, the iron-rich liquid is a traditional thickening agent in French cuisine, and it’s found in sauces, braises, soups and stews. In addition to liver, Norford says she sells pig snouts, stomachs and ears, all of which are used in tacos. Pork belly, she adds, “is a pretty popular menu item” at local restaurants.

Bizou is among the area eateries that buys from Reid’s, and if you’re familiar with the downtown restaurant’s appetizers, you know you can’t go wrong with the crispy pork belly lettuce wrap (house-cured pork, gem lettuce, pickled Southern veggies and spicy honey Dijon sauce). “We use a five-spice rub and sear the pork until it’s crispy on the outside and melt-in-your mouth delicious on the inside,” says Rachel Gendreau, Bizou’s general manager. “We prepare our moo shu pork the same way, and serve it with traditional rice-flour pancakes, a citrus-infused hoisin sauce and an Asian vegetable salad that we toss in a skillet for a few minutes. Both [appetizers] are super popular and staff favorites.”

Norford says pork belly is also good deep-fat fried. And so is pig skin, which is often purchased to make snack foods like chicharrones and cracklings.

Is there any part of the pig you can’t buy at Reid’s market? “Just the squeaker,” Norford says. “I sell everything else.”


Now & Zen

Runner-up: Ten

Honorable mention: Sakura

Though it’s only been on the scene for six years, Now & Zen already feels like an institution. Year after year, chef Toshi Sato continues to serve innovative, toothsome and, frankly, downright beautiful rolls—from a filet mignon roll to one that features tuna belly. You’ll find some classics on the menu, too, but at Sato’s expert hand, they feel brand new. On the mall, swanky spot Ten is your go-to for a special occasion (“ten” means celebration in Japanese), with upscale dishes and creative (read: addictive) cocktails for cheersing.



Runner-up: Lampo

Honorable mention: Bella’s Restaurant

One of the things that makes Charlottesville’s food scene so special is that our culinary landscape boasts chefs and restaurateurs with talent that far exceeds the expectations of a Virginia diner. In other words, some restaurants are probably just too good for us. Tavola is one such spot. The charming Belmont restaurant serves up classic Italian dishes that, readers say, could stand up to any plate in any market (even Italy itself!). Just down the road, Lampo shines with inventive Neapolitan pizzas and small plates worthy of applause.


Peter Chang China Grill

Runner-up: Red Lantern

Honorable mention: Taste of China

When Peter Chang’s eponymous Szechuan restaurant came to town, lines were long and press coverage was robust. Most stories (in the New York Times, the New Yorker, The Washingtonian, to name a few) about the former Chinese Embassy chef described him as elusive and his food—from scallion bubble pancakes to braised perch—among the best in America. The buzz may have died down in the last six years, but readers say the quality hasn’t, giving the Barracks Road spot top honors this year. In second place, reliable Red Lantern has Chinese staples and a lunch special until 3pm.


Downtown Grille

Runner-up: Aberdeen Barn

Honorable mention: Timbercreek Market

One of the truly American genres of cuisine, the steakhouse is meant to deliver on the finer things in life: cocktails and wine, atmosphere and, of course, steak. Again this year, readers say Downtown Grille has all that and more: They do rib- eyes, strips, mignons and porterhouses, expertly cooked and tender to the chew. (And don’t for-
get to order a glass of wine—the Downtown Mall restaurant has multiple Wine Spectator awards under its belt.) Firing into second place is Aberdeen Barn, a Charlottesville institution since 1965.


Revolutionary Soup

Runner-up: Brazos Tacos

Honorable mention: Bang!

With a menu that’s punctuated by notes for vegetarians, vegans and even folks who like (or, okay, need) to eat gluten-free, Rev Soup is a what we like to call an overachiever. That’s why the downtown and Corner restaurants get your vote for best veg-friendly spots again this year, with choices like spicy Senegalese peanut tofu soup (vegan, gluten-free) or a classic grilled cheese (vegetarian) and ingredients straight from owner Will Richey’s Red Row Farm in Esmont. At the IX complex, Texas-style taco shop Brazos is full of beans (and other veggie-friendly fare).


Wayside Fried Chicken

Runner-up: The Fitzroy

Honorable mention: The Whiskey Jar

On a list of Charlottesville’s signature dishes, Wayside would no doubt feature prominently. The JPA chicken stop’s been frying up juicy, crispy yard bird for more than 50 years—and better than anyone in the biz, say readers, who head to the place where “the chicken ‘clucks’” for them again this year. In second place, newcomer The Fitzroy wows at lunch, with an upscale take on a certain chicken chain’s signature sandwich, and at dinner, with crispy buttermilk-battered strips brushed with honey and hot sauce.

Photo: Bill LeSueur

Pop on

The joy of (cheap) Pepsi

No matter what you call it—pop, soda, soft drink—there’s nothing quite like hearing a cold can of it tumble down a vending machine chute on a hot day. And at a Pepsi-brand vending machine outside of the Wayside Fastmart, on the corner of Jefferson Park and Fontaine avenues, you can hear that sweet, sweet sound for just 35 cents. Yes, in 2017 you can get a can of soda for 35 cents. But there’s a catch: You don’t get to pick your poison.

Each of the machine’s buttons reads “SURPRISE” (twice, even), so when you drop in your change and make your selection, you never know what you’ll get. Usually it’s a lesser-loved Pepsi product, like Orange Crush or Mug Root Beer, but occasionally it’s a Mountain Dew, a Sierra Mist or, yes, even a Pepsi.


Citizen Burger Bar

Runner-up: Riverside Lunch

Honorable mention: Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint

Starting a burger restaurant had always been a dream of owner Andy McClure’s—he wanted to open a place that was family-friendly, but also hip; that used as many local ingredients as it could; and, of course, that served the best burgers. Color it a success. The Downtown Mall restaurant takes the top prize again this year, followed by tried-and-true Riverside.


Barbeque Exchange

Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue

Honorable mention: Smoked Kitchen & Tap

Some people may have thought Craig Hartman was a little nuts when he decided to open a barbecue restaurant in Gordonsville, having dominated the local food scene with much fancier cuisine for so many years at places like Clifton Inn and Fossett’s at Keswick Hall. But the joke’s on them —he’s elevated ’cue to an art form. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not fancy (there’s a roll of paper towels at every table, for crying out loud), but it’s the best. It even has its own festival (p.73) to prove it. The No. 2 pick, say readers, is at Ace, a Henry Avenue spot open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Wild Wing Café

Runner-up: Wings Over Charlottesville

Honorable mention: Barbeque Exchange

Karaoke, sports games, live music—there’s more to Wild Wing Café than just wings, though they’re certainly the star of the show. With 33 flavors of sauce (flaming Parmesan! Bubba’s BBQ! Flying fajita!) and chicken that’s never frozen or loaded with hormones or steroids, the wing spot in the Amtrak train station is your fave. On the other wing, Ivy Road spot Wings Over Charlottesville makes a tasty flapper, too. It takes the runner-up spot this year.



Runner-up: Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie

Honorable mention: Christian’s Pizza

Charlottesville is nearly 4,700 miles from Naples, Italy, but inside Lampo, you wouldn’t know it. The bite-sized Belmont spot prepares pies just like the Italians do—with “oo” flour for the dough and San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce, cooked in a wood-burning oven at 900 degrees Fahrenheit for no more than 90 seconds. For a more American ’za, readers head to North Garden for Dr. Ho’s (or they grab it on the go—the pizzeria launched the Dr. Ho’s Food Truck in June 2017).


Splendora’s Gelato

Runner-up: Chaps Ice Cream

Honorable mention: Crozet Creamery

You’re sweet on salted caramel and gianduia, sure, but true fans of the downtown gelateria know its magic is in the more daring and offbeat options. Owner PK Ross is a gelato wizard, crafting flavors from, well, just about anything that seems crazy enough to work: curry peach? Goat cheese honey fig? Pineapple Thai basil? She’ll try it all with some sleight of hand, and you’ll love it. Just down the street, Chaps takes second place with flavors from cheesecake to mocha chip, served in a waffle cone and—if you’re doing it right—consumed in one of its über-comfy booths.


Smoked BBQ Co.

Runner-up: Got Dumplings

Honorable mention: Bavarian Chef

Even though Justin van der Linde is busy at his smoker in Crozet after co-opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant—Smoked Kitchen & Tap—earlier this year, lucky lunchers on the Downtown Mall can sometimes catch him at his post by the Market Street garage, dishing out styrofoam containers of crazy good ’cue (and don’t forget the mac ‘n’ cheese). Meanwhile, Got Dumplings’ spot at UVA’s Amphitheater is always busy serving an abbreviated version of its Corner store menu of soups, bubble teas and, of course, dumplings.

Vegans rejoice: Beanfully delivers on environmentally friendly fare. Photo: Amy Jackson


For the love of legumes

Saving the environment, one bean at a time

Imagine pedaling about three and a half miles a day on a bike to work, but that bike is full of…beans. Mike Passaportis, owner of Beanfully, does just that to bring a sustainable, vegan lunch option to the Downtown Mall. He’s set up shop everywhere, from sidewalks to parking lots.

But…why beans? Because they can be combined with grains to form a full protein, they can replace meat, so those on the bean bandwagon can have an affordable and environmentally friendly fare. 

“It’s important for us to live frugally,” Passaportis says. “Why waste stuff if we don’t have to?”

A fan favorite, he says, is roasted sweet potatoes, edamame and brassica with a miso-sesame sauce. It’s the only option on the menu that’s roasted (“People have remarked on never having had roast edamame before,” Passaportis says).

The bean king creates vegan, mostly locally sourced combinations of beans with grains and other toppings to fit individual tastes. He’s looking to expand his operation in the future, and hopes to open a brick-and-mortar shop one day.


Downtown Grille

Runner-up: Tavola

Honorable mention: The Alley Light

There’s something about eating on the company’s dime that makes you feel a little “Mad Men,” no? In that case, readers say, Downtown Grille hits the spot. It’s the best place to order a rib-eye and an extra dry vodka martini, living it up like you’re gonna drive out of there in your Pontiac GTO with the windows rolled down and an Embassy cigarette dangling between your fingers. In second place, readers say they go totalmente Italiano, with a drink at Tavola’s cicchetti bar before snarfing a classic plate of pappardelle bolognese.


MarieBette Café & Bakery

Runner-up: Escafé

Honorable mention: Firefly

Here’s what we said when MarieBette opened in 2014: “One likes to cook, the other loves to bake. It was a match made in heaven…” And take one bite of baker Patrick Evans’ pain au chocolat or chef Jason Becton’s Morning Jorgensen, and you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Parents to young daughters Mariann and Betty—see what they did there? —the couple also makes wicked-good stuffed French toast, lemon ricotta pancakes and banana sourdough bread. For those who prefer to get their food (and dance!) groove on a little later in the day, runner-up Escafé serves up live music with dinner several nights a week. And last call doesn’t arrive until the wee hours at this Water Street LGBTQ hot spot.


Al Carbon Chicken

Runner-up: Darling

Honorable mention: ReThreads

It takes exactly one bite of Al Carbon’s rotisserie chicken (it’s marinated for 24 hours before being slowly roasted in a green charcoal oven that was imported from Peru) for you to say, “Please ma’am, I want some more.” Or perhaps you prefer a cemita (a Mexican sammie with avocado, meat of your choice, Oaxaca cheese, papalo, red onions and a slice of ham) with a side of fried plantains or green poblano rice. Over at consignment boutique Darling, which is also heavy on the girl power, you’ll find new and gently worn women’s clothing and accessories, plus products by local and global artisans.


Shenandoah Joe

Runner-up: Mudhouse

Honorable mention: Greenberry’s

Shenandoah Joe owner Dave Fafara estimates that during a typical summer week, his coffee shop’s four locations brew and serve more than 125 gallons of iced coffee alone—that’s not to mention the drip and pour-over hot coffee, lattes, Americanos, hot chocolates, espressos and more, which the Joe’s baristas skillfully turn out cup and cup again. They roast their own beans, too, much like Mudhouse Coffee Roasters, this year’s best local coffeehouse runner-up, which nabbed a pretty major award, 2017 Micro Roaster of the Year, from Roast magazine.



Runner-up: Fleurie

Honorable mention: The Alley Light

It’s a bit of a disservice to call Bizou—the successor to the popular French spot Metropolitain, which closed in 2002—strictly French. Certainly there are plenty of influences à la Republique, but each dish created at the Downtown Mall restaurant has a duality, thanks to its two chefs, one who is French and the other a native West Virginian. Readers say their approachable menu—herbes de Provence fried chicken with a Caesar salad; homemade meatloaf with chipotle ketchup; smoked salmon with fried green tomatoes—keeps their mouths watering. Runner-up Fleurie gives you a classic Française experience, with impeccable fare and a special-occasion vibe.