I invited my friend and foodie blogger over at Drift Cville to write about all her favorite dishes in town. Here is Elizabeth with the best places to eat in Cville!
I love being able to call Charlottesville home and I am always encouraging people to visit this great town. While a lot of people know it for the University of Virginia, it’s also a popular destination for tourists due to its history (home to three presidential homes!), beautiful wineries, craft beers and – my personal favorite – the incredible food scene.
From small family owned spots to world class cuisine, there is honestly something for everyone’s taste and the weather here is so mild you can often take advantage of outdoor dining and drinking from spring through fall.
Always be sure to check on reservations, as several locations in town tend to fill up quickly, especially around UVA related events and wedding season.
With so many great options it can be hard to narrow down a list but I am excited to share my go to dishes at some of my favorite Charlottesville restaurants with you.
Best Places To Eat in Cville
Belmont/Woolen Mills Neighborhood
Restaurant: Southern Crescent
Favorite Dish: Whole Steamed Artichoke
Southern Crescent brings a fun New Orleans inspired menu into the heart of the Belmont neighborhood. This low key spot is a great choice for a group, as the menu is made up of shared plates, and the drink options fit the Big Easy theme perfectly (Sazerac anyone?). With great outdoor porch seating, this space is all about celebration.
I like several items on their Cajun & Creole style menu but my absolute favorite is their whole steamed artichoke. The key to this dish is simplicity – the artichoke is performing solo so there’s not a whole lot it can hide behind. Served whole with their house vinaigrette, it is perfectly cooked and dressed. I was in such a state of euphoria while eating that I ate the entire thing myself.
Favorite Dish: Ceviche
Next door to Southern Crescent, Conmole focuses on Oaxaca – Mexican food. You’ll notice a huge selection of Moles on their menu but I personally love their Ceviche. Simple and refreshing, their ceviche consists of two tostadas topped with fresh halibut, avocado and cucumber pico de gallo.
Add a Paloma and an order of the Carnitas and you’ve got a fantastic combination – especially if you are sitting on their patio on a nice evening!
The rest of the menu is perfect for sharing if you are on a date or with a small group. It’s another intimate space (a lot of the Belmont restaurants tend to be smaller in size) so reservations are recommended.
Restaurant: Mas Tapas
Favorite Dish: Tamates Asados
Most Charlottesville residents will tell you Mas Tapas is the place to go for shared plates. Located directly in Belmont, they follow a traditional Spanish style tapas menu with simple but delicious food. Most locals go crazy for their Datil con Tocino (bacon wrapped dates) but my personal favorite item on the menu is the Tamates Asados – hot smoked Roma Tomatoes with Arbequina-Picual Olive Oil (which is a bit more robust), Herbs and Grey Sea Salt.
They also have a great wine selection or, if you are sitting outside on a perfect evening, a nice sangria for the table. This spot will definitely satisfy those looking for a great shared plate experience.
Favorite Dish: Burrata
Another great restaurant in Belmont, Tavola is the go to spot in town for Italian and is perfect for a nicer date night. The Burrata is my favorite item to get – the creamy cheese absorbs the flavor from the arugula pesto and sun-dried tomatoes to create the perfect bite. You also can’t go wrong with their house made pastas like the spicy Bucatini All’Amatriciana. The space is intimate and fills up quickly so it’s best to make reservations.
Restaurant: Selvedge Brewing at the Wool Factory
Favorite Dish: Smashburger with Cheese
Selvedge Brewing is a taproom located within the restored Wool Factory in Woolen Mills. It’s a very cool casual spot with great beer and dog friendly outdoor seating.
Most of their menu items are sourced locally, including my personal favorite the Smashburger with Cheese. Calling this the best burger in Charlottesville is a hill I am willing to die on. It is exactly what a burger should be: simple with quality beef and good flavors. They add caramelized onion, cheese sauce and pickles on a Martin’s potato roll for the perfect combination. While I could eat multiple, I limit myself to one – though I’ve been known to add on an order of mac and cheese. After all, they add garlic herb crumble to the cheesy goodness and that is why I’m willing to clog my arteries for this meal.
Restaurant: Beer Run
Favorite Dish: Nachos
Known for their huge selection of beer (they have an actual beer market in the restaurant), Beer Run is also a great place for food.
They have several crowd pleasing items like baked chicken wings (fall off the bone good) and a delicious kimchi pork wrap, but their nachos are my favorite item.
When it comes to nachos, the plate is a battlefield and it is every man for himself. Beer Run’s nachos are for the pacifists in your crew: fully loaded with each chip completely smothered in toppings so there is no need to fight. Sitting outside on their dog friendly patio with an order of these and a good beer makes for a pretty great night.
Downtown Mall Neighborhood
Restaurant: Crush Pad
Favorite Dish: Cacio de Pepe Popcorn
Crush Pad believes wine should be fun and they succeed in this mission. Located on the Downtown Mall, you can expect to find a huge selection to choose from at this cute wine bar. Not sure which wine to order? Definitely ask – they love helping you find the right wine for whatever your tastes or mood may be.
Another nice perk of Crush Pad is you can order pasta from their sister restaurant Luce and they will deliver it directly to your table. If you aren’t feeling pasta, they have great small plates perfect for sharing. My personal favorite is the Cacio de Pepe Popcorn. Add a glass of champagne and you are set!
Restaurant: Iron Paffles & Coffee
Favorite Dish: The Iron Maiden
Iron Paffles & Coffee offers up a unique treat: The Paffle. A puff pastry waffle sandwich, you can have your pick between sweet (Cannoli!) and savory (Fried Chicken!) but my favorite is getting the Maiden (nutella and organic banana) for breakfast because the kid in me will always love chocolate in the morning.
This counter service restaurant also has a full coffee bar so you can fuel up on sugar and caffeine. Honestly, it’s the best for a Saturday morning treat to enjoy while walking around the Downtown Mall.
Restaurant: Petite Marie Bette
Favorite Dish: Everything Prezzant
Petite Marie Bette is perfect if you want to feel like you are being transported to France from the Downtown Mall. They also have fantastic pastries. Years ago my friend Caroline told me the Everything Prezzant would change my life. Once I had one I realized this was no exaggeration. The flaky goodness of a pretzel combined with a croissant is brilliant and the everything seasoning just adds to the deliciousness.
I often recommend it to anyone visiting and they are always glad, albeit a bit sad they can’t have it on a regular basis. Pair it with one of their great coffees and you’ll have a perfect start to your day.
Restaurant: Citizen Burger Bar
Favorite Dish: Crispy Fried Pickles
For most people in Charlottesville, Citizen Burger Bar is going to be their go to for grabbing a burger. They don’t take reservations so the wait for a table can be long on busy nights, but the plus side is they offer a fair amount of outdoor seating and are right in the heart of the Downtown Mall.
Citizen also has a ton of options on the menu, including building your own burger and multiple styles of fries: regular, sweet potato and truffle. They even have good salads and an extensive beer menu but all of these things are not why I go to this burger spot.
I go to Citizen Burger Bar for their Crispy Fried Pickles because they have the best ones in Charlottesville. They are perfectly fried beer-battered spears served with a sriracha mayo and I will eat an entire order myself even though no human should ever do that. If you like pickles you’ll want to add this to your order here – I personally recommend the Dar Salad because I like a little balance in my life but you also can’t beat a mini with pepper jack, avocado and jalapeños.
Restaurant: Brasserie Saison
Favorite Dish: Moules Frites
Brasserie Saison is a classic Brasserie (brewery but made into a cute neighborhood restaurant) located right on the Downtown Mall. They pull their inspiration from France and Belgium and, while they are the product of Champion Brewery (always solid beer choices), I would recommend getting one of their cocktails because they do a great job with these as well.
Their food is a bit elevated and it makes for a fantastic date night spot. My favorite dish to get is the classic Moules Frites because the mussels are delicious and they also have some of the best fries in town. If I’m not getting Moules Frites, their salads and their scallops are also amazing.
Favorite Dish: Sweet Potato Bowl
Botanical is one of my favorite places on the Downtown Mall for spots serving lunch and dinner. Not only is it nice having options for both meals – it’s nice having plant-based options for both.
This fast casual restaurant is free of meat, dairy and peanuts but can also accommodate other food allergies. Even more important, though, is the fare they offer up is fresh and delicious. I love a good sweet potato dish and their Sweet Potato Bowl has chili cashews and BBQ drizzle, which is the combination I never knew I needed until now. I could drink their Rosemary Lemonade everyday, but they also offer wine, local beer and cocktails.
For those feeling a little scared of trying plant-based – I am a full on carnivore who loves their delicious food and I often find myself feeling like I could change my ways while eating here.
Favorite Dish: Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich
Tucked away just off of the Downtown Mall, this counter service space is a great farm to table spot. Tonic offers a unique menu, with snack boards for sharing and seasonal craft cocktails made with love.
They also have the best patio in Charlottesville; it’s beautiful, covered and dog friendly. If I’m going with a group I like to order their Caromont Farms feta spread and grilled sourdough but if I’m ordering for myself I am going Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich with a simple salad on the side. I love cauliflower and the tamarind flavor is fantastic.
Honorable mention goes to their Brussels and Grits, as they are delicious and hearty. This is a great stop for enjoying truly local items in a lovely setting.
Restaurant: Sultan Kebab
Favorite Dish: Grilled Halloumi
Sultan Kebab is a great option for both lunch and dinner. The traditional Turkish menu boasts delicious dolmas, Lahmacun (a thin and crispy pizza with ground beef, vegetable and herbs) and hummus but my recommendation is the Grilled Halloumi Cheese. Served with seasonal greens, it is so simple but so perfect. Add on a Turkish coffee and you’ll have a perfect afternoon treat to get you through the rest of your day.
Restaurant: Public Fish & Oyster
Favorite Dish: Lobster Roll
I love oysters and I’ll eat them in most ways: grilled, fried, roasted or raw. A good and fresh raw oyster is my favorite and Public Fish & Oyster is the best place in Cville to get them but my absolute favorite thing to get here is their Lobster Roll (Maine Style is my preference, but they offer Connecticut Style as well). They only offer it during happy hour (4-6 pm) so you have to be strategic when planning your visit but it is worth it.
The buttered brioche to lobster ratio is always exactly as it should be (with an abundance of lobster, of course) and it’s perfectly prepared. Plus, their fries are delicious. It’s not a light meal by any stretch but it’s worth the splurge.
Also worth the splurge? Their classic moules frites are delicious and their amazing key lime pie with graham cracker crust and chantilly cream is incredible.
Restaurant: Oakhart Social
Favorite Dish: Little Gem Salad
I’m a small plates enthusiast because I love trying a bit of everything. Oakhart Social is a great setting for sharing. Located on West Main (right next door to Public Fish & Oyster), I love this spot for a small group of fellow food lovers. Their Little Gem Salad is something I always order multiple of because otherwise no one I’m with will get any – it is that good. I have a thing for everything seasoning and this is the most unexpected way I’ve seen it used.
The pickled onion and buttermilk dressing give it a nice tang and the toasted panko with the everything seasoning gives it the perfect amount of crunch. Honestly, I would eat this salad regularly if I could and I’d pair it with their seasonal Crudo and Wood Fired Oysters (another great use of toasted panko). They also offer a well rounded assortment of plates, from fried chicken to delicious pizza. Even if you have a picky eater in your midst you should be covered. Don’t forget to save room for dessert – the S’mores Bread Pudding includes puppy chow and it is delicious.
Restaurant: Cake Bloom
Favorite Dish: Cake
What could possibly be better than having a glass of sparkling wine with a piece of cake on a Saturday afternoon? Located on West Main near UVA, Cake Bloom is a cute bakery offering daily assortments of cakes by the slice, as well as cookies and savory menu options. Fun and unique, the best part is their cakes are also really delicious and the space is adorable.
I love this spot for a catch up session with a friend or for an unexpected place to take visitors. I’ve tried several of the food items and I’ve enjoyed everything, but they always have an amazing selection of cake slices to choose from, including seasonal varieties. Plus, I’m a buttercream fiend and Cake Bloom does it right.
Favorite Dish: El Cubano
Surprisingly, you can get a great classic Cuban sandwich in Charlottesville at Guajiros. This Miami style eatery is a fantastic addition to the restaurant scene and the owners make you feel like you are family the minute you walk inside. Popular with UVA Students, this counter service spot is great for breakfast and lunch.
The El Cubano is my go to and is the perfect combination of ham, Cuban seasoned pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and – my favorite part – pickles. Served with a side of plantain chips, this sandwich brings a spot of Florida sunshine to Virginia. Pair it with their Iced Cafe Con Leche to feel fully transported.
Restaurant: Farm Bell Kitchen
Favorite Dish: Creole Shrimp & Grits
I love a good Farm to Table restaurant with a good grasp on Southern Cooking. Located on Main Street near the UVA, Farm Bell Kitchen is the go to for brunch and one of their best menu items is their Creole Shrimp and Grits served with Carolina Jumbo Shrimp, Trinity Vegetables, and Tomato Broth over Woodson Mill Grits with ABC (Albemarle Baking Co) Baguette.
Add a Mic Drop Bloody Mary served with bacon and a pickle spear and you have yourself a lovely start to your morning. One thing to note is this place gets busy so reservations are definitely recommended.
Restaurant: Quirk Rooftop
Favorite Dish: Shishitos
Few things are better than enjoying a fantastic cocktail and good food while taking in a beautiful view. Quirk Rooftop offers the best rooftop experience in Charlottesville.
With shareable starters like charcuterie and hummus to their many pizzas, you’ll be able to find something to make everyone happy. However, I most recommend their amazing shishito peppers (the breadcrumbs and aioli make this dish). Order these along with the Su Casa Margarita and you have a perfectly balanced (and spicy) food and drink combination.
Add in those views and you’ll have an extremely Instagrammable moment.
Restaurant: Bodo’s Bagels
Favorite Dish: Everything Bagel with Lox, Tomato, Onion and Herbed Cream Cheese
A stop at Bodo’s is a given when you come to Charlottesville, VA – it’s a Charlottesville staple. Their huge selection of bagels, cream cheeses and fixings make this the perfect spot for grabbing a quick breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee to fuel you for the day.
The mornings tend to be busy but they are professionals and the line moves quickly. My personal favorite combination is the everything bagel with lox, tomato, onion and herbed cream cheese.
Restaurant: Grn Burger
Favorite Dish: Make it Hot Burger
The Dairy Market is a cool and unique addition to Charlottesville. Located in what was once the Monticello Dairy, this renovated space has become a fun food hall with 18 vendors in total. As a majority of the vendors are restaurants, this means there is something for everyone if you are in a group that can’t seem to agree.
One of my favorite vendors is Grn Burger. I’m clearly a carnivore but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate plant based offerings and I’m a big fan of the Make it Hot burger. It’s the habanero street sauce for me – it has the perfect level of heat where it is spicy and delicious but not so overly hot you can’t taste or enjoy the burger itself.
Pair it with their Super Salad for a lighter touch or go with their fries if you want a classic touch. You won’t go wrong with either. Plus, since it’s located in the Dairy Market that means it’s near one of my favorite Breweries, Starr Hill. You can grab a burger and head over there for a beer and create a match made in Heaven.
Restaurant: South & Central
Favorite Dish: Filet Mignon
This one is a bit of a splurge but so worth it. It is also located in the Dairy Market but is their only full service restaurant and it is fantastic. I never understood people commenting on steak melting in your mouth until I had my first filet at South & Central; I don’t even like letting my husband have a bite because I want the full 8 oz for myself.
They cook their meat over wood fire and it gives such a great flavor. Plus, they put a lot of care in ensuring they get the best cuts of meat, rotating out suppliers for best quality, and know how to cook a steak to the exact right temperature.
While I honestly think it’s good enough without any sauce they do offer many options, like chimichurri and Aji Amarillo Aioli. This is also a fun spot for Saturday or Sunday brunch.
Restaurant: Moo Thru
Favorite Dish: Cake Batter Ice Cream with Rainbow Sprinkles
I wasn’t lying when I said Dairy Market has it all – and of course they would have an Ice Cream spot! Moo Thru is “real ice cream from real dairy farmers” who got their start when they wanted an outlet to sell their dairy products and it took off. After all, who else would you trust to bring you ice cream? It’s creamy and delicious and they have a ton of options regarding flavors and toppings. On any given night you’ll see a mix of families, UVA students, and people grabbing a sweet treat at Moo Thru and then strolling around the space.
Jefferson Parkway Avenue Neighborhood
Restaurant: Wayside Chicken
Favorite Dish: Fried Chicken
Every single time I have fried chicken at someone’s house in Charlottesville they always get it from Wayside Chicken. It is everything you want fried chicken to be – crispy deliciousness where you can still taste the chicken. They’ve been serving up fried chicken to the community for over 50 years so they have it down to a science and they offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not downtown and it’s not a sit down but if you want quality Southern fried chicken this is the spot.
I hope you are all drooling and hungry now! Come visit Charlottesville!!
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