Runner-up: The Local
Honorable mention: Al Carbon
Good things, they say, come in small packages. And the best things come from Lampo. The pint-sized Neapolitan pizzeria opened in 2014 to rave reviews and since then has set the standard for just plain good food in our area. Don’t get us wrong—“just plain good” doesn’t mean boring. Somehow, the boys of Lampo (including this year’s best chef, Ian Redshaw) know just how to craft a dish—from antipasti to dolci—that straddles the line between familiar and exciting. Sure, you’ll find a traditional margherita pizza on the menu, but you’ll also be tempted by the Hellboy, a permanent special that combines salami and mozzarella with orange blossom honey and scorpion oil. Down the street at The Local, executive chef Matthew Hart serves a farm-to-table menu that showcases the best of the area, from Buffalo Creek short ribs to Appalachia Star greens.
Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery
Honorable mention: Iron Paffles & Coffee
By the time Three Notch’d opened its 17,400-square-foot space at IX, the craft brewery had already established three taprooms, plus locations in Harrisonburg and Richmond. What it didn’t have, the owners felt, was a flagship location—somewhere that served as an anchor for the brand. The new spot, which opened in fall 2017, expands the brewing operations and offers a full German brewpub menu. (Try the pretzel bites, which the restaurant pairs with a beer cheese made with its own 40 Mile IPA.) Long-awaited Junction, in Belmont, opened in late 2017 with a menu of inventive modern Mexican dishes at the hand of celebrated local chef Melissa Close-Hart.
The Alley Light
Runner-up: Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery
Honorable mention: Kardinal Hall
By now, you know the drill: Peek through the gate down the alley off Second Street SW and, if the light is on, The Alley Light is ready to serve. Once up the stairs, you’ll find bar manager Micah LeMon and his team serving up classics and originals, all with housemade ingredients (think tonics, bitters and syrups) that make each concoction one of a kind. If you’re looking for something a bit more caszh, pull up a yellow stool to Three Notch’d’s concrete bar, where the IX brewery pours its flagship and seasonal brews from more than 40 taps.
Citizen Burger Bar
Runner-up: Kardinal Hall
Honorable mention: Wild Wing Café
Walk into the Downtown Mall burger spot any given afternoon, and you’ll see a full bar of spectators with eyes trained on one of the many TVs behind it, their hands absentmindedly lifting a grass-fed burger to their lips. Golf, basketball, the World Cup—each goes down better with a beer and an American Classic. Readers say the combo is undeniable. At Kardinal Hall, choose from more than 50 beers on offer and take a seat in front of a big screen or play a game yourself. Kardinal’s home to popular board game Chickapig and an outdoor bocce court.
Honorable mention: MarieBette Café & Bakery
Bigger is better. That’s true of a cup of coffee and that’s true of Shenandoah Joe’s Preston Avenue coffee shop, which in late 2017 underwent a significant expansion. The resulting design capitalized on what caffeine fiends loved about the old space: a cozy area for lounging and sipping and a large section for the roastery (and the consequent waft of fresh brew). In the runner-up spot, Mudhouse shines with multiple locations, thoughtfully sourced beans and a few national awards under its lid.
MarieBette Café & Bakery
Runner-up: Bluegrass Grill & Bakery
Honorable mention: Tip Top
Whether you’re in the mood for sweet (try the stuffed French toast) or savory (recommended: simple baked eggs, enhanced with just herbs, cream and garlic), expect a wait outside this popular Rose Hill Drive eatery come brunch time. In the few years since they opened, owners Jason Becton and Patrick Evans have turned their bakery, named for their daughters Marian and Betty, into a must-visit spot for breakfast, lunch and take-home treats. In second place, a longstanding Charlottesville fave: Known for its signature muffiny-sconey biscuits, Bluegrass also often has a line snaking out the door. No matter: It’s worth the wait.
DRAFT BEER SELECTION
Runner-up: Beer Run
Honorable mention: Sedona Taphouse
It’s not exactly BYOB, but it is PYOB—pour your own beer. Downtown’s Draft Taproom offers 60 brews on tap, with a twist: Serve yourself. Fill up your pint (or take enough for a little taste) with Starr Hill, Champion or any number of featured breweries from around the country, and your card is automatically charged by the ounce. At Beer Run, expect a variety of choices: The popular Carlton Road spot offers tripels, stouts, IPAs and then some, plus weekday happy hours from 3- 6pm.
RESTAURANT WINE LIST
Runner-up: The Alley Light
Honorable mention: Fleurie
In the two years she’s been managing the wine program at Tavola, Priscilla Martin has enacted some significant changes, not only making the Belmont restaurant’s wine list more accessible and reasonably priced, but reaching out to others in the food community to create memorable collaborations, like helping to save an orphaned Pinot Gris from Michael Shaps Wineworks from extinction by bottling it and serving it at the restaurant. Downtown at The Alley Light, local wines take center stage on the extensive menu.
Blue Mountain Brewery
Runner-up: Brazos Tacos
Honorable mention: Kardinal Hall
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American is only spending 7 percent of her life outdoors. But does the EPA know about Blue Mountain? Because, listen, try to snag a spot on its patio on an autumn Saturday and all statistics go out the window. Whether you’re under the pergola or at a table beneath one of the brightly colored umbrellas (or, if you’re really trying to soak up some Vitamin D, down by the cornhole boards), readers say the Afton brewpub is the place to be. Back in town at IX, Brazos’ Austin-style tacos make the perfect companion to fresh air and sunshine.
Micah LeMon (The Alley Light)
Runner-up: Brett Harder (The Whiskey Jar)
Honorable mention: Josh Stevens (Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint)
No surprise here: You’ll find the best bartender behind the best bar. Micah LeMon’s been back there since the restaurant opened in 2014 and has taken this title each year since. Readers know he’s the local authority in everything from classics to inventive tiki drinks—and the go-to mixologist when it comes to helping you discover a new favorite. Down the street at The Whiskey Jar, Brett Harder pours from the restaurant’s list of 125+ ryes, whiskeys, bourbons and scotches, and then there’s the menu of craft cocktails.
SPECIALTY FOOD SHOP
Runner-up: Foods of All Nations
Honorable mention: The Pie Chest
The largest selection of cured meats in Virginia; local and international cheeses, hand-selected by award-winning cheesemongers; a homemade lunch menu of inventive sandwiches and salads. The list of reasons locals love Feast! is almost as long as its list of accolades. For 16 years, the Main Street Market shop has made readers believers in shopping (and tasting) local. Off Ivy Road, Foods of All Nations stocks imported and domestic fare, plus a deli counter with specialty meats like head cheese or Lachsschinken, a dry-cured pork loin that takes on the flavors of salmon when aged.
King Family Vineyards
Runner-up: Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards
Honorable mention: Barboursville Winery
Is it the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains? Is it Sunday polo matches? Is it the selection of wine, finely tuned by winemaker Matthieu Finot? Our best guess, it’s all of these things that keeps readers excited to try any and all of the Crozet winery’s creations. In second place, Pippin Hill’s six acres makes boutique wines from sauvignon blanc, petit verdot and viognier grapes, which the kitchen pairs with its celebrated farm-to-table menu.
Three Notch’d Brewing Company
Runner-up: Blue Mountain Brewery
Honorable mention: Devils Backbone Brewing Company
Harrisonburg, Richmond, Charlottesville and, soon, Roanoke? When readers choose Best Local Brewery, they choose one they’ll be able to visit—no matter how far they roam (except Rome)—for APAs, IPAs, sours and then some, each in the brew house’s signature rustic-industrial space. Up Route 151, Blue Mountain boasts 10 beers on tap and a robust menu with burgers, pizzas and sandwiches galore.
Bold Rock Hard Cider
Runner-up: Potter’s Craft Cider
Honorable mention: Albemarle CiderWorks
Make it all the way to the summit of Mount Bold Rock, an 801.5-foot elevation (don’t worry, it’s just a ramp from the parking lot to the front door), and you’ve earned a cold Virginia Apple. Or, if you prefer, one of the Nellysford cidery’s seasonal offerings—blackberry, blood orange or even rosé, which debuted in early 2018. City-side, find runner-up Potter’s Craft at its Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative tasting room and cider garden, and get your hands on a glass of grapefruit hibiscus or Farmhouse Dry.
MarieBette Café & Bakery
Runner-up: Albemarle Baking Co.
Honorable mention: Chandler’s Bakery
First came the brioche feuilletée (aka the bronut, a hybrid of brioche, donut and croissant, which earned mentions in Food & Wine and on Thrillist), then the prezzant (part pretzel, part croissant). There’s no telling what the French bakery will come up with next, but we’re happy to keep eating financiers in the meantime. Runner-up ABC charms with beautiful tarts, pastries and breads (not to mention the baked donuts —an impossibly fluffy-yet-dense confection generously dipped in sugar).
Runner-up: Thai 99 II
Honorable mention: Thai Cuisine & Noodle House
When Monsoon co-owner Kitty Ashi arrived in the United States in 2006, she had just $500 to her name. Hard work (and a partnership with a friend from art school) eventually grew that to $20,000, which enabled her to buy Monsoon and turn it into Charlottesville’s best Thai restaurant. It might even be Madison, Wisconsin’s best restaurant, too: In 2014, the business partners opened a second (remote) location. Thai 99 II up 29N nabs the runner-up spot with traditional favorites and specialty dishes like crispy duck and volcano chicken.
Milan Indian Cuisine
Runner-up: Himalayan Fusion
Honorable mention: Maharaja
Of course the Emmet Street restaurant serves reliable standards from biryani to vindaloo, but by all accounts, Milan’s lunch buffet is where the magic happens. First, two words: unlimited naan. Ordering the buffet comes with stacks on stacks of hot, fluffy naan right to the table. Next, vegetarian-friendly. Choose a pakora, paneer or a side of salad from the salad bar. Finally, dessert: Skip the mango lassi and indulge in Indian custard and rice pudding (also on the buffet) instead. In second place, Himalayan Fusion’s $9 lunch spread gives downtown diners a taste of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine.
Runner-up: La Michoacana
Honorable mention: Continental Divide
“Mexican food by Mexican folks,” the Guadalajara entry in C-VILLE’s dining guide has read for years. And you’d think it wouldn’t get much better than that, except that each of the restaurant’s four locations offers margs the size of a small fish bowl, complimentary chips and salsa to start and no one blinks an eye when you roll up with seven friends and spend the whole meal cackling over inside jokes (just us?). Runner-up La Michoacana earns your vote with traditional Mexican tacos, the kind Anthony Bourdain might have raved about—just meat, onion, cilantro and lime, served in a hole-in-the-wall spot off East High Street.
Now and Zen
Honorable mention: Sakura
The downtown-adjacent sushi spot from former Tokyo Rose chef Toshi Sato may be the size of a postage stamp (or, say, the size of a sushi roll?), but it packs a lot of flavor. Take, for instance, the crunch roll, a combo of tempura shrimp, avocado and crab stick, covered in tempura flakes with a side of eel sauce, or even the regular special blue crab miso soup, which includes half a crustacean in the salty broth. Runner-up Ten wows year after year with upscale Japanese dishes and popular cocktails.
Honorable mention: Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar
Next year, Tavola will celebrate its 10-year anniversary, and with it comes a number of greatest hits —hit recipes and interesting pop- ups (remember Marco Polo?) that demonstrate owner Michael Keaveny’s range and dynamic collaborations, as in 2016 when the restaurant partnered with a Tuscan chef from Charlottesville’s Italian sister city, Poggio a Caiano. Any restaurant-goer knows it’s innovation that keeps us curious, but a plate full of Tavola’s signature pappardelle doesn’t hurt either. A few blocks over, Neapolitan pizza joint Lampo nabs the second place spot for authentic pies and small plates.
Runner-up: MarieBette Café & Bakery
Honorable mention: Bizou
When Jose de Brito—the former Alley Light chef whose other local highlights include HotCakes and Ciboulette—left town to pick up an apron at the Inn at Little Washington, locals thought that might have been the last we’d hear of him. But when he returned in 2017, he landed right where he belongs: In the kitchen at Fleurie. A Charlottesville fine-dining standard-bearer, the downtown restaurant takes the win for its romantic atmosphere, beautiful plating and exquisite tasting menu. In second place is Euro-inspired MarieBette, where you can find Parisian treats from baguettes to pain au chocolat.
Peter Chang China Grill
Runner-up: Red Lantern
Honorable mention: Taste of China
It’s hard to mention Peter Chang China Grill without using the word “elusive”—for so long, its namesake chef was difficult to pin down, having moved from Fairfax to Georgia to Tennessee and then some. By the time he opened Peter Chang China Grill in Barracks Road North Wing in 2011, though, the jig was up: A preview of his award-winning skills at 29N’s Taste of China had already left diners anticipating the menu to come. Though Chang’s long gone, having opened seven more eponymous spots elsewhere in as many years, the Szechuan specialties at PCCG have been hard to top. In second place, Red Lantern is your choice for no-frills Chinese fare and reliable delivery.
Runner-up: Aberdeen Barn
Honorable mention: The Local
Even as new trends continue to pop up across the local dining scene, a great steak, we’d contend, never goes out of style. Around these parts, readers say the Downtown Grille, with its prime menu of ribeyes, strips and filets, is your pick for a classic T-bone and martini. Runner-up Aberdeen Barn has been cooking your Angus steaks and roast prime rib to perfection—over a charcoal hearth, no less—since 1965.
Runner-up: Roots Natural Kitchen
Honorable mention: Brazos Tacos
The Three Sisters soup, the Roquefort salad, the black bean and spinach wrap: Whatever your pleasure, readers agree Revolutionary Soup satisfies any number of meat- free cravings from both its downtown and Corner locations. And, in 2017, the restaurant re-introduced its poetry discount: Recite five lines from the work of a featured poet and get 10 percent off your order. On West Main Street, Roots offers a customizable salad bowl menu for even the pickiest of palates.
DIETARY- OR ALLERGY-FRIENDLY
The Juice Laundry
Runner-up: Burtons Grill
Honorable mention: Brazos Tacos
It’s easy to be dietary-friendly when your ingredients are 100 percent pure and 100 percent organic, as they are at The Juice Laundry. The Preston Avenue smoothie bar serves an impossibly delicious (sprouts, parsley, cilantro, jalapeño? We’ll never know why that works), all-natural menu of cold-pressed juices, bowls and cleanses to help you meet your daily nutrition requirements. Allergy-friendly chain Burtons Grill accommodates guests with specific restrictions (peanuts, gluten and then some) with an accessible menu and strict prep protocols.
Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie
Runner-up: Brazos Tacos
Honorable mention: Tip Top
Don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t eat with your elbows on the table—there are so many rules for kids come dinnertime. But even Emily Post knows that eating pizza with your hands is not only acceptable, it’s part of the experience (no foolin’, she says it’s A-okay). Dr. Ho’s gives families a reason to dig in, from cheeseburger pizza to the classic Humble Pie. Over at IX, youngsters grab a few Brazos tacos, then go play in the nearby grassy field while their parents sip a watermelon marg.
Wayside Fried Chicken
Runner-up: Michie Tavern
Honorable mention: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
In 2014, Malcolm Gladwell posed a theory that in order to become an expert in something, you need to have done that thing for 10,000 hours. That would explain, then, why Wayside is our area’s standard-bearer for crispy, juicy, classic fried chicken: The JPA spot has been serving its ole Virginia version for more than 50 years (translation: more than 100,000 hours). At historic Michie Tavern, try anything on the buffet of Southern staples—mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese, stewed tomatoes—but don’t skimp on the yard bird, baked or fried.
Citizen Burger Bar
Runner-up: Riverside Lunch
Honorable mention: Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint
You pledge allegiance to the grass-fed beef on the patty of Citizen’s burgers, and to the Albemarle Baking Co. bun on which it stands, one lunch special under a fried pickle, with mushrooms and Swiss cheese for all. In the runner-up spot, Riverside’s double cheeseburgers never diminish in your estimation.
Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
Honorable mention: Smoked Kitchen and Tap
Like pasta or pancakes, barbecue is a culinary minefield: It looks simple (just slow-roast it and you’re done, no?), but make one wrong step and you’re toast. Luckily, chef Craig Hartman has the chops to take his Gordonsville joint to the top of all the “best barbecue” lists. Since 2010, the former fancy-food chef has taken his fine dining know- how and applied it to pork belly, brisket and then some, earning repeat customers who travel from all over the state to get a taste. In town, hole-in-the-wall Ace offers a menu of from-scratch, down-home favorites.
Wild Wing Café
Runner-up: Wings Over Charlottesville
Honorable mention: Lazy Parrot Backyard BBQ
Menu hack: To get a taste of a restaurant’s menu, start by eating lunch there first. True, there aren’t many surprises here (it’s wings, man), but the Amtrak station spot offers a mean lunch deal: all-you-can-eat wings for $12.99. You start with 12, and if you think you can handle more, add on six by six with various flavors of sauce until you’re stuffed. Then come back for dinner. Wings Over Charlottesville takes second place with a wide variety of sauces, meaty wings and quick delivery.
Runner-up: Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie
Honorable mention: Christian’s Pizza
“Now who ever heard of cutting pizza with scissors?” you can hear your grandmother say. Of course, Lampo isn’t your grandmother’s pizza place…unless your grandmother’s Italian. The Neapolitan joint has been officially certified for authenticity by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which means it meets requirements for ingredients, cook time and temperature set forth by the Italian organization. It also, say readers, meets requirements for best pizza in the land. Over in North Garden, Dr. Ho’s takes a more Southern approach, with specialty pies and create-your-own concoctions.
Runner-up: Chaps Ice Cream
Honorable mention: La Flor Michoacana
Splendy’s, for those in the know, is more than just your average gelato shop. Owner PK Ross dreams up inventive recipes, like peach pie or yuzu, to push you outside of your chocolate-or-vanilla comfort zone. And, recently, Ross has expanded her offerings: Don’t miss gelato sandwiches, which combine the downtown shop owner’s unique flavors with cookies from Belmont’s found. market. Just down the mall, Chaps gives you that old-school ice cream shop experience, with oh-so-cozy booths and classic flavors like butter pecan or cherry vanilla.
ANNUAL FOOD AND DRINK EVENT
Runner-up: Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival
Honorable mention: Know Good Beer Festival
There’s a date in mid-February that gives us the warm-fuzzies. The world turns pork, er, pink and there’s love and hope in the air again. …Or is that the smell of smoking pig? We don’t mean Valentine’s Day (though love is certainly involved): Come rain or shine, BBQ Exchange’s annual Porkapolooza is February’s best day, readers say. Each year, chef Craig Hartman presents an all-you-can-eat menu for those willing to belly up to the Gordonsville restaurant for an $18 entrance fee. Monticello’s Wine Trail fest in May gives locals a sip of the AVA, with winemaker dinners, winery tours and a grand tasting event.
SPOT WHEN THE BOSS IS BUYING
The Alley Light
Runner-up: Hamiltons’ at First & Main
Honorable mention: Downtown Grille
Would it be considered a missed opportunity dining at a place where the plates are small and the cocktails plentiful? No, say readers. That’s just what you want when you’re out with your company’s head honcho. Whether you’re getting a raise or getting berated, everything goes down a little smoother with barkeep Micah LeMon’s classic Manhattan. Hamiltons’ keeps it classy with reliable service and the ever-popular Blue Plate Special (or, if you’re really going for it, may we recommend the crab cakes?).
MarieBette Café & Bakery
Honorable mention: Feast!
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, The Bard writes, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Pardon us, Bill, but we’d wager you’ve never tried a MarieBette baguette. Or an almond croissant. Or any number of things on the Rose Hill Drive patisserie’s menu. If you had, you’d know that baked goods are the food of love. They’re the great equalizer. Who cares who you’re into, as long as you love butter, sugar and flour? At Firefly, all are welcome to knock back a few local brews on draft or try their hand at a game of pinball.
Runner-up: Spring Creek EyeCare
Honorable mention: The Brow House
Opening a restaurant in Charlottesville is no easy feat; there are more than 400 in our area, so making an immediate impression on diners is paramount to success. Luckily for Myriam Hernandez and her husband, Claudio, their order-at-the-counter Mexican street food joint has just what we’ve all been craving. And, with their newest venture, Chew Chew Town, which opened in early 2018 just two doors down, the couple is expanding their reach to a younger set—kids come in, order a burrito and wait for their meal to arrive by train. In second place, Jaime Easton’s Spring Creek optometry practice provides quality care.
Ian Redshaw (Lampo)
Runner-up: Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)
Honorable mention: Dean Maupin (C&O)
Six years ago, before we’d barely even gotten a taste of his talents, then-l’étoile chef de cuisine Ian Redshaw told a C-VILLE writer that his five-year plan included opening a simple Italian restaurant serving authentic Roman food. And how would he get there? “Work hard and keep your head down.” That’s difficult to do when your menu includes the city’s best pizza (and then some) and folks can’t stop buzzing about it, but either way, his dream came true. Over in Gordonsville, Craig Hartman translates his fine-dining background to no-frills, real Virginia barbecue.
Honorable mention: Bang!
With a menu that’s rave-worthy from top to bottom (the Brussels sprouts! the wangz! the wood-fired oysters!), it’s almost a shame to call out Oakhart for its desserts alone. But the work chef Tristan Wraight and his team at Oakhart are doing for our sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) is certainly as noteworthy as the rest of the menu. Take, for instance, the uber-popular bread pudding, which is essentially a deconstructed s’more: A smear of chocolate pudding coats the plate and is accompanied by generous, lightly torched dollops of marshmallow, pillowy squares of bread and a few handfuls of puppy chow. At Fleurie, pastry chef Serge Torres creates French dinner-enders that are not only stunning in flavor, but almost—we said almost!—too pretty to eat.
Runner-up: BBQ Exchange
Honorable mention: Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint
To be considered true comfort food, experts (i.e. this writer) agree a dish must have two things: It must be warm (extra points if there’s a bit of grease involved) and it must be served somewhere without a hint of pretension. Riverside’s burgers—smashed, fried and served all the way, on a paper plate—hit the spot every time. Gordonsville barbecue spot BBQ Exchange checks both boxes, too, with a menu of Southern staples out of its barn-inspired interior.