Chain restaurants are not without their merit. They’re quick, predictable and usually at every exit off the interstate. But if you’re looking for something a little different, then we’ve got just what you’re craving. Although they all offer incredible flavors and unique menus, these 13 restaurants in Virginia aren’t all about 5-star dining. What they offer instead is an experience you just can’t find anywhere else.
So if you’re hungry for a change of pace – and an atmosphere that makes the food taste that much better – check out these amazing Virginia restaurants. We think you’ll be glad you did.
1. Pink Cadillac, Natural Bridge
Even if it wasn’t painted bright pink to match the antique Cadillac parked outside, the giant King Kong statue clutching an airplane that serves as a landmark makes it kind of hard to miss this old-school diner. Complete with a life-sized Elvis Presley statue to welcome you at the door, this quaint 1950s throwback leaves no surface undecorated and no customer hungry. Located just off I-81, the Pink Cadillac serves up diner classics, with an atmosphere fit for “The King” himself.
2. Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs, Wytheville
Skeeter’s has been a Wythevilles staple since 1925. With lunch counter service and a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce on every table, this classic joint is a favorite, not just for their tasty southern-style “red” hot dogs, but for the toppings that include minced onion, homemade chili and classic southern slaw.
3. Mama J’s Kitchen, Richmond
Located in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, Mama J’s is soul food at its finest. Owner and founder, Velma Johnson, grew up as 1 of 14 children in the surrounding neighborhood. Her belief is that meals are for family and friends – so she serves up down home favorites like catfish, cornbread, mac n’ cheese and collard greens in a family-style environment that makes dining out feel like coming home.
4. Bar PX, Alexandria
Long gone are the days of the speak-easy and fancy dress cocktails just because. Until Bar PX. This intimate, little bar in Alexandria brings back the flavor of the roaring ‘20s with premium cocktails served in a limited seating establishment (reservations are required) – where men are expected to wear jackets and women “know what to do” when it comes to finery. Once you have a reserveation, simply knock to be let in…you’ll know you have the right place by the blue light in front of an otherwise non-descript door.
5. Hunter’s Head Tavern, Upperville
Easily identified by its authentic London phone box, the Hunter’s Head Tavern is true delight. This English pub serves up proper British fare and beverages in the beautiful Loudoun County countryside where patrons can cozy up to the fire in the dark-wood paneled dining room, or enjoy the lush gardens on the patio. All of their meats and produce are locally sourced and organic, so you know you’re getting great meal you can feel great about eating.
6. Döner Bistro at the Mighty Midget Kitchen, Leesburg
Authentic German food and a Biergarten? I’m sold. The Döner Bistro in downtown Leesburg started as a food truck making Germany’s number one fast food – the Döner, a Turkish meat kebab adapted in Germany to include flat bread, salad and sauce. These handheld “meat cones”, German beer “served in the right glasses” and German radio piped through the homey dining room combine to make a meal at Döner feel like a European getaway.
7. The Swinging Bridge Restaurant at the Paint Bank General Store, Paint Bank
Step in The Swinging Bridge Restaurant and you’ll have to wonder if you’ve somehow ended up in an old fashioned hunting lodge. Timber and log walls, decorated with more than just a few hunting trophies, a lodge-style fireplace and the centerpiece, an actual wood-and-rope swinging bridge, are just a few of the things that make this restaurant a one-of-a-kind experience. With Southern food so good that you’ll want to “slap your mama ‘cause she don’t cook like this no more”, The Swinging Bridge is worth the visit…time and again.
8. The Tavern, Abingdon
Built in 1779, The Tavern has a history as interesting and rich as its food. As Abingdon’s oldest historic building, The Tavern was originally a tavern and stagecoach inn, but has since served as a bank, bakery, general store, cabinet shop, barber shop, private residence, post office, antique shop and restaurant, as well as a Civil War hospital. Today, visitors can step back in time while enjoying a European-inspired menu in a beautifully preserved piece of history.
9. Gadsby’s Tavern, Old Towne Alexandria
Did you ever wonder where George Washington used to hang out? Ok, probably not, but if you did, the answer would be Gadsby’s Tavern. The historic tavern, which is also home to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, consists of two buildings, a 1785 tavern and a 1792 City Hotel. Both establishments were run by John Gadsby from 1796-1808, during which time they served as the social and political hubs of Old Towne. George Washington and many of the other founding fathers lodged and ate often at Gadsby’s while attending balls and social and political functions. Today, you can enjoy the same fine dining in rooms that still look almost exactly as they would have during America’s early years.
10. Michie Tavern, Charlottesville
For more than 200 years, Michie Tavern has welcomed visitors with proper home style Southern cooking. Located just down the mountain from Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Michie’s servers help to recreate the look and feel of this Colonial tavern with period costumes and some of the best fried chicken, pulled pork, stewed tomatoes and cornbread anywhere. Michie’s is only open for midday meals (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and special events, so be sure to get there in time.
11. Havana 59, Richmond
Step into Havana 59 in downtown Richmond and you’ll think you’ve stepped into Cuba itself. Palm trees, ceiling fans, rustic décor and peeling paint on the walls are just the setting for some of the best Cuban food outside of Havana. Cigars and salsa dancing are just icing on the tres leches cake – so to speak.
12. Medieval Madness, Alexandria
In case you’re in the mood for an authentic medieval meal, complete with knights, ladies and jesters, look no farther than Medieval Madness. This dinner-show establishment in Alexandria dishes up proper 15th century fare over four courses, including ale, wine and meade, along with hilariously funny entertainment that will keep the whole family happy.
13. Southern Kitchen, New Market
If you want a taste of real Virginia food, the Southern Kitchen is the place to go. Country ham, fried chicken and homemade pies are great places to start. But the big draw for this old-fashioned southern classic is the real-deal Virginia peanut soup. If you’ve ever wondered what could possibly be good about peanuts in soup, just try it – you’ll understand.
We love hearing about restaurants that do things just a little differently — the kinds of places you can only find in Virginia. Tell us about any unique or unusual restaurants you like to go to and why!