When it comes to restaurants, a fancy exterior and flashy signs will only get your so far. What really matters is the food. And without a doubt, some of the best food in Virginia comes from the most unexpected places. While every community has its favorites, those little neighborhood dives that only the locals know about, we’ve found 13 spots around the state that you won’t want to miss next time you’re in the area. From unexpectedly upscale to good ol’ fashioned hot dogs and burgers, these places may not have all the flash and flair on the outside, but trust me, they make up for it on the inside.
1. Spacebar, Falls Church
Located in a non-descript storefront in Downtown Falls Church, SpaceBar is easy to miss. But don’t miss it. Please. It’s only the best grilled cheese menu you’ll ever find. Spacebar offers 20 grilled cheese sandwich options from vegan (don’t ask me to explain) to pulled pork. Oh. And there’s beer. Lots of beer. Choose from a 24-tap selection that changes daily or get it to go in a sealed Mason jar. The only other things you’ll find on the menu are a few salads and tater tots. It’s minimalist perfection.
2. Bel-Air Market, Charlottesville
When you go inside a gas station market, what are you expecting to find? Probably not one of the best deli sandwiches you’ve ever had. But stop by the Bel-Air Market at Tiger Fuel and that’s exactly what you’ll get. The market on Ivy Road in Charlottesville has been a long time favorite of University of Virginia students and locals alike with their fresh breads, meats, and cheeses. Try one of their specialty sandwiches or build your own. Either way, you’ll look forward to coming back.
3. Pupatella, Arlington
Named the state’s best pizza in TripAdvisor’s FlipKey.com poll, Pupatella is known for fabulously authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas. It may not look like much on the outside…and the parking situation gets a bad rap, but the pizza wins time and again. Some things are just worth it.
4. Horseshoe Restaurant, South Hill
Looks can be deceiving, so don’t let the hole-in-the-wall appearance fool you. This place serves a seriously amazing menu and has the Virginia is for Lovers Culinary Challenge Finalist 2015 plaque and Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor to prove it. With fresh ingredients, many of them locally sourced, and an ever-changing diverse menu, the Horseshoe is gourmet where you least expect it.
5. The Apple House, Linden
Since 1963, The Apple House has been a go-to for Warren County locals and visitors alike. Known for their outstanding BBQ and Zagat-rated Apple Butter donuts, this family-owned business sits just at the start of the Skyline Drive. Stop in anytime for great food and great service - and don’t forget to visit the gift shop for amazing goodies to-go.
6. The Palisades, Eggleston
Housed in an historic old General Store that operated from 1926-2000, The Palisades is a pleasant surprise. You might not expect handcrafted foods prepared in a brick oven imported from Italy in the heart of Giles County. But after one taste of this incredibly unique menu, you won’t be surprised by anything The Palisades serves up – and most importantly, you’ll never be disappointed. Enjoy live music, an impressive wine and port selection, incredible food, and a warm and cozy atmosphere that will keep you coming back time and again.
7. Buffalo and More, Riner
Like the name implies, Buffalo and More serves more than just buffalo – but not a lot. On the menu you’ll find buffalo cheesesteak, buffalo loaded fries, buffalo burgers, pulled buffalo barbecue, buffalo hot dogs, and quesadillas with…you guessed it…buffalo. The owners show a clear passion for their work and supply all of the meat from their own buffalo farm just 15 minutes away. Once you’ve had your fill of the main course, be sure to try a dessert – all of which are homemade by the owner’s mother.
8. Chick N Little, Abingdon
The exterior may not be grandiose, but it doesn’t need to be. Once you step inside, you’ll see that Chick N Little is all about homestyle goodness. Known for their great food, great service and great prices, this diner-style family restaurant is a local favorite with items like made-to-order fried chicken, okra, homemade mashed potatoes, and loaded omelets.
9. The Handsome Biscuit, Norfolk
What this little joint lacks in size, they make up for in taste. Featuring a menu of Sweet Potato Biscuit sandwiches and a handful of tasty homemade sides and desserts, the Handsome Biscuit serves up specials like the Hella Fitzgerald ( fried chicken with bacon, cheddar, and red eye sausage gravy) and the A.C. Slawter (pulled pork BBQ, apple coleslaw, and Lupo hot sauce). Fortunately, this small space can accommodate a large appetite – so bring it.
10. Kuba Kuba, Richmond
The original Kuba Kuba sits on an unassuming block in The Fan district of Richmond. Surrounded by neighborhood homes and parks, this Cuban-themed bodega is a treasure you won’t want to miss. Since opening in 1998, this little restaurant has received big reviews. Featuring authentic Cuban foods, Kuba Kuba serves up mind-blowing flavors in a funky atmosphere. And good news for you “West Enders”, Kuba Kuba is now open on Lombardy in Henrico.
11. 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.
12. King’s BBQ Restaurant, Petersburg
There are those that would argue that King’s BBQ could take anyone in a head-to-head BBQ battle. As a long time favorite, King’s has been serving up hand-cut, slow-smoked pork for more than 75 years. Don’t let the humble outside fool you, King’s is fit for royalty.
13. Texas Tavern, Roanoke
The Texas Tavern has been serving up great meals at great prices since the 1930s. Not only is it a local favorite with $1.30 hamburgers and hot dogs, it even has it’s own language for ordering. “A bowl” is their famous chili and “with” means you want onions. Tell them you’re “walkin’” for a to-go order and ask for “sissy sauce”
if you want ketchup.
Tell us about your favorite local dive, hole-in-the-wall, or unexpected surprise-of-a-restaurant. We would love to check it out for ourselves! Let us know in the comments below and in the meantime, happy eating!