Best of C-VILLE 2012: Food & Drink

Drink up: New Downtown spot Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar takes the lead for best bartender and best bar. Photo: Andrea Hubbell Drink up: New Downtown spot Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar takes the lead for best bartender and best bar. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

From your favorite Bloody Mary to the best place for French fries, here’s the best from the local food scene.

New restaurant
Hangover menu
Sandwich spot
Vegetarian menu
Meal under $10
Beer selection
Restaurant wine list
Outdoor dining
Bloody Mary
French fries
Frozen treat
Comfort food
Family-friendly restaurant

501 Monticello Rd., 979-0990
Runner-up: C&O Restaurant
515 E. Water St., 971-7044
Mae West once said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Clearly, readers agree, as perennial winner MAS takes the lead once again this year. What’s not to like about tapas and sangria? At runner-up C&O, former Keswick Hall Executive Chef Dean Maupin has taken the reins in the kitchen. Could the Downtown spot be poised for a win next year? Or will an upstart chef muscle in?
The Whiskey Jar
227 W. Main St., 202-1549
Runner-up: Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
422 E. Main St., 202-7728
Foodies, this was your year. Last fall, Alex George opened his swanky spot at the corner of East Main and Fifth streets, bringing a rooftop bar, a street-level patio, and a swoon-worthy menu to the Downtown food scene. At the other end of the Mall, winner Whiskey Jar took Escafé’s space this past January. The Jar serves 46 different varieties of whiskey and the kitchen fixes down-home lunch and dinner menus with instant favorites like pan-seared catfish, fried chicken with collards, and, to finish, pecan (pronounced “pee-can” here in Virginnie, folks) pie.
213 W. Main St., 984-6833
5793 The Square (Crozet), 823-2240
2401 Ivy Rd., 977-0222
1345 Parham Cir., 984-1996
Runner-up: Shenandoah Joe
945 Preston Ave., 295-4563
2214 Ivy Rd., 923-4563
230 W. Main St., 258-0028
What’s the buzz at your favorite coffee joints this year? Mudhouse fixed up its Downtown Mall shop and turned it into a rustic art gallery where grad students grind away for hours. SJ’s Preston location is the Rose Hill/Rugby Avenue study lounge.
Bodo’s Bagels
1418 Emmet St., 977-9598
505 Preston Ave., 293-5224
1609 University Ave., 293-6021
Runner-up: Blue Moon Diner
512 W. Main St., 980-6666
Nothing quite takes the sting out of last night’s overindulgence like a Bodo’s Caesar salad…and maybe an everything bagel with eggs and bacon. And cheddar. And a cup of coffee. At runner-up Blue Moon Diner? There’s just one solution: pancakes with a tall glass of hair of the dog. And a Bloody Mary on the side. With a chaser.
Bodo’s Bagels
1418 Emmet St., 977-9598
505 Preston Ave., 293-5224
1609 University Ave., 293-6021
Runner-up: Bellair Market
2401 Ivy Rd., 971-6608
Build-your-own is the name of the game at Bodo’s, where you can pile your bagel high with your choice of meats (everything from smoked turkey breast or Cajun roast beef to capicola ham or liverwurst) and toppings. At Bellair, a brown bag lunch gets a gourmet twist with choices like the Walnut Creek (Deli chicken, pepperjack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato on whole grain ciabatta) or the Keswick (Kite’s Country ham, Swiss, honey mustard, lettuce, tomato, and herb mayonnaise on French bread). Each sammy comes with a bag of chips, cookie, and a soda.
Bodo’s Bagels
1418 Emmet St., 977-9598
505 Preston Ave., 293-5224
1609 University Ave., 293-6021
Runner-up: Bluegrass Grill & Bakery
313 Second St. SE #105, 295-9700
Bodo’s, Bodo’s, Bodo’s! The bagel bakery wins the breakfast battle again, this time over Bluegrass Grill & Bakery. Readers say nothing beats a bagel with schmear. Bluegrass, which nabs the runner-up spot, appeals to the slow-moving morning crowd with yummy dishes like the “Tugboat”—bacon hollandaise over poached eggs and sliced salmon on English muffins with a side of home fries.
Revolutionary Soup
108 Second St. SW, 296-7687
104 14th St. NW #4, 979-9988
Runner-up: Eppie’s
412 E. Main St., 963-9900
With more than 15 items on the menu at the soup joint’s Downtown and Corner locations, vegetarians (and vegans) have no problem finding something to nosh for lunch and dinner. A fan favorite? The spicy Senegalese peanut tofu soup, which will warm the belly on a winter day. And on the Downtown Mall at Eppie’s, we have just three words for you: brie apple sandwich.
Bodo’s Bagels
1418 Emmet St., 977-9598
505 Preston Ave., 293-5224
1609 University Ave., 293-6021
Runner-up: Sticks Kebob Shop
917 Preston Ave., 295-5262
1820 Abbey Rd., 295-5212
What will $10 get you at runner-up Sticks Kebob Shop? We recommend a rosemary rubbed leg of lamb platter, which comes with a side, a sauce, and grilled flatbread for $9.99. In fact, that’s the most expensive thing on the menu, so you can pretty much get anything at the Pantops or Preston Avenue eatery for no more than a 10 spot. And at winner Bodo’s? You can get a heckuva lot of bagels.
Beer Run
156 Carlton Rd. #203, 984-2337
Runner-up: Blue Mountain Brewery
9519 Critzer Shop Rd., 456-8020
Drink up! Your winner has more than 15 beers on draft and stocks (or can have readily available) more than 400 bottled beers. …That’s a lotta brew to keep your growler full. Blue Mountain keeps up with the pace—if not the encyclopedia-length selection—offering more than 15 brews on draft and views of the Rockfish Valley. The folks at BMB stock about that many in bottles, too, including the brewery’s own Full Nelson, Evil 8, and Kolsch 151 (among others).
C&O Restaurant
515 E. Water St., 971-7044
Runner-up: MAS
501 Monticello Rd., 979-0990
The once-handwritten wine list at Downtown mainstay C&O is one of the classic old-school charms of Charlottesville. Of course, without change, there is no progress, so C&O is livening up the list this year, with new varietals and a fresh format. At MAS, count on a delicious sampling of Spanish wines, from Tempranillo and Graciano to Granacha and Mazuelo.
Milan Indian Cuisine
1817 Emmet St. N, 984-2828
Runner-up: Himalayan Fusion
520 E. Main St., 293-3120
The best thing about a buffet? It’s a great way to sample everything on a restaurant’s menu. That’s especially true at these two spots, where you can try all the masalas and paneers your heart desires over lunch. At Milan, get a taste of the vegetarian dishes on offer for $8.95. At runner-up Himalayan, find traditional Tandoori, plus Nepalese curries and salad for $7.62 with tax.
Blue Mountain Brewery
9519 Critzer Shop Rd., 456-8020
Runner-up: MAS
501 Monticello Rd., 979-0990
The patio at the Afton brewery affords incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains—something you won’t get from, say, a seat on the Downtown Mall. In town, MAS offers a picturesque view right up Hinton Avenue from its perch in the heart of Belmont, plus a patio full of the beautiful people. Put on your sunnies, grab a spot under a giant yellow umbrella, and stay cool —in every sense of the word.
Nick Crutchfield at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
Runner-up: Drew Carroll at Beer Run
Ah, that’s refreshing. We’re referring, of course, to newcomers Nick and Drew, whom you’ll find behind the bar at two of the area’s best restaurants. Of course, they’re not new to the area—Nick’s been on beer duty since 2010, when he was the sales manager for Afton Mountain Vineyards, and Drew is a well-known face in local music, acting as guitarist for local rock ‘n’ roll outfit Infinite Jets.
Tomas Rahal at MAS
501 Monticello Rd., 979-0990
Runner-up: Michael Keaveny at tavola
826 Hinton Ave., 972-9463
Back in May, C-VILLE asked these two mighty Belmont-based chefs to reveal their dirty little secrets—what they indulge in when no one’s watching. Said Keaveny, “Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies and Kelt Cognac.” And your winner? He went local: “Blueberry Spudnuts and Steaz green tea with mint.” Good thing they get a little fancier than that back in the kitchen at their eateries. Though, we’d never turn up our nose at Spudnuts, there’s something great about having Iron Chefs from Italy and Spain on the same block.
King Family Vineyards
6550 Roseland Farm, 823-7800
Runner-up: Veritas Vineyard & Winery
151 Veritas Ln., 456-8000
It’s no secret—you like your wine tasting ($5 at both winner and runner-up) with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At King Family in Crozet, you might also take in an art exhibit on display, or a polo match, which KFV hosts every Sunday from Memorial Day through mid-October. At Veritas in Afton, visit in the summer for its popular Starry Nights concert series and jam to the Beatles while staring at the zodiac.
Blue Mountain Brewery
9519 Critzer Shop Rd., 456-8020
Runner-up: Devils Backbone Brewery
200 Mosbys Run (Roseland), 361-1001
Blue Mountain will do just about anything to get you out to Nelson—including, as it were, helping you plan your trip. Call ahead and the folks at BM will arrange transportation, provide a brewery tour, a flight of beer, and a pizza party for you and your guests. Of course, once you’re there, it’s hard to leave—what with the quality restaurant menu and outdoor patio to boot. As for the runner-up, you know what they say: better the Devils Backbone you know… Readers know the Roseland brewery for its award-winning beers, pub atmosphere, and its commitment to all things local (the brewpub hosts the annual three-day music event, The Festy Experience, on its concert grounds, too).
Beer Run
156 Carlton Rd. #203, 984-2337
Runner-up: Fellini’s #9
200 W. Market St., 979-4279
Hail Marys! Odd that a beer joint is your pick for a spicy tomato cocktail around here. Beer Run’s version is generous with the seasoning, and comes packed with a veritable salad on top (green beans!?), so the drink is also a meal. At Fellini’s, the whole thing levels up during Sunday brunch when diners can mash up their mix with a gauntlet of garnishes including a “who’s who” of hot sauces, A-1 Steak Sauce, a fistful of horseradish, and a drizzle of pure pickle juice.
Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
422 E. Main St., 202-7728
Runner-up: Beer Run
156 Carlton Rd. #203, 984-2337
Every notable bar needs two things: Atmosphere and a ’tender worth his shaker of salt. Readers know the latter is true for both of these locales (see best bartender). As for the atmosphere, Commonwealth and Beer Run have it in spades—albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Skybar, for instance, is somewhere you’d expect to see Posh and Becks. Beer Run, Jeff Bridges. Both have their charms, which is why you put these two in the top spots this year.
Albemarle Baking Company
418 W. Main St., 293-6456
Runner-up: Chandler’s Bakery
Albemarle Square Shopping Center, 975-2253
When Gerry Newman and Millie Carson opened ABC in 1995, the goal was “to be the best bread and pastry bakers we can be each day.” Seventeen years later, the couple is still achieving that goal, readers say. The Main Street Market bakery takes the lead again this year. Old school sweet shop Chandler’s takes the cake in the No. 2 spot. The Albemarle Square biz serves up desserts large and small, from cookies and cupcakes to bon bons and crème puffs.
Basil Mediterranean Bistro
109 14th St., 977-5700
Runner-up: Jimmy John’s
1309 W. Main St., 984-3131
1650 Rio Rd. E, 975-2100
It’s no surprise that readers have chosen the two places in town where the delivery menu defies all expectation. You won’t find cheapo take-out containers here. Basil delivers hot, fresh, restaurant-quality meals right to ya. Runner-up Jimmy John’s, uh, delivers on its promise of bringing food to your door “freaky fast.” Even more confounding (more than the fact that it seems unlikely they’re using anything but witchcraft to fashion sandwiches at such speed), is that much of the delivery staff travels by bike.
Downtown Grille
201 W. Main St., 817-7080
Runner-up: Aberdeen Barn
2018 Holiday Dr., 296-4630
Hungry? The Downtown Mall classic offers eight different cuts, from an 8 oz. filet mignon to a 24 oz. Porterhouse, in a Rat Pack scene with formal service and spot-on drinks. At the Barn, this year’s runner-up, cowboy up to one of the chef’s specials, like the charcoal-grilled ribeye, which comes to the table topped with blue cheese butter. Almost sounds too good to be true.
Peter Chang’s China Grill
Barracks Road Shopping Center, 244-9818
Runner-up: Red Lantern
221 Carlton Rd., 979-9968
Mystery chef Peter Chang may not be around Charlottesville much anymore (he lives with his family in Richmond these days), but his eponymous eatery continues to sting the tongues of readers with its signature spicy Sichuan classics, cementing itself as the best Chinese spot in the area. In the runner-up slot, Red Lantern, the Carlton Avenue joint that can also bring the heat (try the Hunan Chicken!).
120 E. Main St., 295-6691
Runner-up: Sakura
Hollymead Town Center, 872-0099
105 14th St. NW, 923-0238
In Japanese, the word for “ten” translates to “sky” or “heaven” in English. That explains, then, why eating at the Downtown Mall restaurant is somewhat of a religious experience. In addition to its popular sushi selection (see best sushi), your winner serves up tasty yakitori, airy tempura, and a killer cocktail list. As for your runner-up, we’re not totally clear whether you mean Sakura Japanese Steak & Seafood House at Hollymead or Sakura Sushi & Noodle on 14th Street. Luckily, both menus impress.
Thai ’99
2210 Fontaine Ave., 245-5263
Thai ’99 II
915 Gardens Blvd., 964-1212
Runner-up: Lime Leaf
Rio Hill Shopping Center, 245-8884
There are two independent Thai ’99s, and they always win this category together. Each offers savory, authentic Thai cuisine in a relaxed bistro atmosphere, and each has a legion of dedicated fans. If that doesn’t settle it, then try Lime Leaf in the Rio Hill Center. This tucked-away treasure is on the short list of best-kept secrets in town. We hear the soups are fawned over by true Thai aficionados. Consider yourself now “in the know.”
2206 Fontaine Ave., 979-2424
395 Greenbrier Dr., 978-4313
108 Town Country Ln., 293-3538
805 E. Market St., 977-2676
3450 Seminole Trail #101, 977-2677
Runner-up: Continental Divide
811 W. Main St., 984-0143
We said “Mexican,” not “margaritas,” you lushes. Guadalajara, with its five locations, is a standby chips-n-margs joint with a giant menu. On West Main, Continental Divide’s southwest menu mixes it up, literally, with its fresh ’ritas (always on the rocks, never frozen) and entrées like the tuna tostada, but you can still get chicken enchiladas or fajitas.
826 Hinton Ave., 972-9463
Runner-up: Vivace
2244 Ivy Rd., 979-0994
The key to a fresh, lively menu is, perhaps most importantly, experimentation. This past April, tavola’s chef/owner Michael Keaveny experimented so much that, for one night only, he turned tavola into pan-Asian restaurant sensation Marco Polo, serving up small plates like miso-marinated black cod with Asian pear and daikon radish. But it’s his nightly menu that draws the no-reservations crowd (and readers’ votes two years running). Over on Ivy Road, Vivace’s Executive Chef Landon Saul serves classics like bolognese and bruschetta, as well as group meals, so you can eat family-style.
817 W. Main St., 979-7957
Runner-up: Petit Pois
201 Main St., 979-7647
Aptly named, l’étoile (it means “the star”) shines in this category again, marrying fresh, local ingredients with an inventive menu from chef/owner Mark Gresge. The intimate space makes it feel like Paris. Downtown, pint-sized Petit Pois takes the runner-up spot, no doubt because it’s the perfect place for a crisp glass of white wine and a salad niçoise. Bon appétit!
Blue Light Grill
120 E. Main St., 295-1223
Runner-up: Bonefish Grill
Hollymead Town Center, 975-3475
Does something seem fishy to you? It’s your dinner. And it’s delicious. Once again, readers say the Downtown Mall’s Blue Light Grill—with its oysters on the half shell and fried calamari—serves up the fruit of the sea most expertly. Meanwhile, Hollymead’s Bonefish Grill pleases the Key West crowd with its ever-reliable Bang Bang Shrimp and fresh catch specials.
Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar
416 W. Main St., 975-6796
Runner-up: Basil Mediterranean Bistro
109 14th St., 977-5700
If you’re eating at Orzo in the Main Street Market on a Tuesday, rest assured you’re not just benefitting your empty tummy. On that night of the week, 10 percent of the restaurant’s profits goes to a local charity. If you happen to be there any other night, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re about to indulge in a very delicious meal. Basil Mediterranean, on the Corner, will serve up a mean pasta or panini at the restaurant or at your door (they deliver!).
Milan Indian Cuisine
1817 Emmet St. N, 984-2828
Runner-up: Maharaja
139 Zan Rd., 973-1110
In Milpitas, California, roughly 15 minutes north of San Jose, there is a Milan Indian Cuisine that some Yelp reviewers deemed “not great,” “sucktastic,” and, strangely, “not very hygiene.” Our own Milan, characterized by its top-class Northern Indian food and tandoori, however, garnered these words of praise on the site: “Superb service,” “excellent food,” and “MMMMMMMNummy!” The readers have spoken, and we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Runner-up Maharaja, in the Seminole Square Shopping Center, has been serving up biryanis and other favorites since 1991.
Wild Wing Café
820 W. Main St., 979-9464
Runner-up: Buffalo Wild Wings
1935 Arlington Blvd., 977-1882
The Buffalo wing got its start in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, when the restaurant’s owner fried up a batch of leftover chicken wings for her son and his friends. Since then, people have been searching for the perfect balance between texture, flavor, and heat. These days, wings come in all shapes, sizes, and, most importantly, flavors. At winner Wild Wing, choose from 35 sauces ranging in heat from “Virgin” to “Habanero Hot.” At runner-up Buffalo Wild Wings, “Blazin’” packs the most heat at the Arlington Boulevard location.
Boylan Heights
102 14th St. NW, 984-5707
Runner-up: Riverside Lunch
1429 Hazel St., 971-3546
Most folks don’t like to think about going back to high school. But, you’re willing to put those fears aside for a burger from prep school-themed Boylan. Try the build-your-own option by grabbing a Scantron sheet and filling out your favorite toppings. Or, if you’ve an indecisive streak, go with the popular Room 21 (organic beef burger, Bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomato, bacon, diced onions, American cheese, and Boylan sauce, served on a house roll). Like your high school prom date, it’s a sure thing. At Riverside, on Hazel Street, you’ll get a classic burger just like they’ve served ’em since 1935, and a sense of place, with fries and a soda if you want ’em.
Five Guys
323 E. Main St. Suite B, 293-2847
Barracks Road Shopping Center, 975-4897
Hollymead Town Center, 963-4897
Runners-up: Riverside Lunch and Boylan Heights (tie)
2429 Hazel St., 971-3546
102 14th St. NW, 984-5707
What’s the secret to a good fry? Presumably, the oil in which it’s cooked. At winner Five Guys, spuds are fried in pure peanut oil, rendering them slightly crispy on the outside and perfectly mushy on the inside. Get ’em plain or Cajun-style (with a whole buncha seasoning), large or regular—they’re tasty either way. Riverside cuts theirs thin and cooks them in veggie oil, and Boylan offers ’em up with bacon, chili, or cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the sweet potato variety.
Belmont BBQ
816 Hinton Ave., 979-7427
Runner-up: Barbeque Exchange
102 Martinsburg Ave. (Gordonsville), 832-0227
Down in Belmont, chef Wes Wright serves up his signature “crazy good” Q from a pint-sized Hinton Avenue shop with a neighborhood feel. Meanwhile, when high-falutin’ Culinary Institute-trained chef Craig Hartman traded in his saucepan for a slow cooker, many wondered why he suddenly decided to slum it over a smoker. Now, it’s become clear: Hartman’s love of food translates no matter what he’s cooking. His Gordonsville eatery was an instant destination from its opening date in 2010.
118 W. Main St., 977-9688
100 14th St. NW, 872-0436
1880 Abbey Rd., 293-6788
3442 Seminole Trail, 973-7280
Runner-up: Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie
3586 Monacan Trail Rd., 245-0000
Once a winner, always a winner. At least, that’s the case with perennial best pizza spot Christian’s. Dr. Ho’s in North Garden provides stiff competition though, serving up piping hot slices of unique pies like the “Popeye” (spinach, carmelized onions, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, mozzarella, cheddar, and feta), “Don Juan” (three cheeses, portobello mushrooms, and oven-roasted tomatoes), and “Annie Oakley” (spicy buffalo chicken breast, pineapple, pickled jalapeño peppers, mozzarella, and cheddar).
120 E. Main St., 295-6691
Runner-up: Now & Zen
202 Second St. NW, 971-1177
Bottom feeders up! According to you guys, there’re only two places to go in this town for some souped-up sushi: Ten, your winner, where Pei Chang slices up more than 45 different kinds of rolls, in addition to cutting premium sashimi specials. Now & Zen, located off the Downtown Mall on Second Street NW, nabs the runner-up spot after less than two years in business. Owner Toshi Sato, formerly of Tokyo Rose, opened his bite-sized take-out restaurant in early 2011 and serves up large amounts of fresh sushi, with pitch-perfect lunch deals.
Sweet Frog
219 W. Main St., 293-7123
Barracks Road Shopping Center, 293-1130
Hollymead Town Center, 975-3764
Runner-up: Splendora’s
317 E. Main St., 296-8555
Creativity is the main ingredient at Sweet Frog—the Downtown, Hollymead and Barracks Road froyo shop boasts more than 10 flavors of ice cream and over 30 toppings for your mixing-and-matching pleasure. And on the Downtown Mall at Splendora’s, owner P.K. Ross has been getting a bit experimental, trying out flavors like goat cheese and fig, blueberry and rosemary, and birthday cake, in addition to offering regular favorites like chocolate sorbet and gianduia.
Wayside Fried Chicken
2203 Jefferson Park Ave., 977-5000
Runner-up: Eppie’s
412 E. Main St., 963-9900
Charlottesville might be short on soul food joints, but lots of restaurants are drawing on “Southern inspired” cuisine. Let’s face it, you can’t beat history. Wayside Takeout & Catering has been around for about 40 years, and was a “first clucker up” in our recent fried chicken tasting contest. Downtown, Eppie’s has everybody’s favorites—from meatloaf and mac-n-cheese to tenders and curry chicken salad.
C&O Restaurant
515 E. Water St., 971-7044
Runner-up: tavola
826 Hinton Ave., 972-9463
Good service is about good training, and Dave Simpson has set the bar at C&O for decades. In Belmont, an experienced foodie staff can tell you exactly what you need to know.
Tip Top Restaurant
1420 Richmond Rd., 244-3424
Runner-up: Eppie’s
412 E. Main St., 963-9900
Charlottesville, like any college town, has more than a few “breakfast and Italian diner” options. But, Tip Top is a family favorite, and with good reason. The prices are nostalgic, the service is brisk, and the menu has everything. If you stop into Eppie’s on the Downtown Mall, you will notice one thing immediately: kids, kids, kids. Moms and dads love to pop in for the fast service and agreeable selection for mere dollars. Perhaps the restaurant needs to add a playground.

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