We all make New Year’s resolutions. And most of us have probably already broken a few. So, I’m here to give you one that you will WANT to keep. In fact, it may be the best one you’ve ever made. It’s simple, it’s delicious and, in Virginia, it’s easy. Are you ready for it? Ok, here it is: TRY NEW FOODS.
It may sound elementary, but how many times have we talked about wanting to mix things up or discover a new restaurant? Maybe it’s just what you need to spice up your life, literally or figuratively. With Northern Virginia already touted as one of the best places in the country for ethnic foods, both in quality and variety, we’ve looked around the rest of the state and found some of Virginia’s best ethnic foods in every corner.
1. South African: The Shebeen Pub & Braai, Charlottesville
For a true taste of South Africa, you only need to travel as far as this hometown favorite in Charlottesville. For more than a dozen years, Shebeen owner, Walter Slawski, has been serving up some of the finest South African flavors this side of the International Date Line. With authentic dishes like Peri-Peri Chicken, Lamb Curry Potjie (pronounced poy-ghee) and Sosatie, The Shebeen Pub and Braai is a favorite for even the most discerning palates. With elegantly casual African décor, outdoor seating and a full catering menu, The Shebeen is one place you won’t want to miss. And here’s a tip, be sure to try the Cape Bay Mussels in cream sauce. You can thank me later. Stop by the Shebeen at 247 Ridge McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903 – just off the downtown mall.
2. New Zealand: Proper Pie Co., Richmond
Featuring sweet AND savory pies, this little shop has been making big waves in Richmond since opening in November 2012. Chef and owner Neil Smith started Proper Pie Co. as a way to recreate the savory pies of his native New Zealand, but doesn’t skimp on the sweet offerings, either. Praised for their perfectly flaky crusts, Proper Pie Co. lives up to its name with fresh fillings like pork and chili verde, chicken and kumara (a kind of sweet potato) and steak, cheese and tomato. So whether you’re looking for sweet, savory or a little bit of both, stop by Proper Pie Co. at 2505 E Broad Street #100, Richmond, VA 23223. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Indian: Bollywood Masala, Dahlgren
One way to set your restaurant apart is to have a presence. And that’s exactly what Raj of Bollywood Masala does. Known for greeting people at the door and asking personal preferences before orders are placed, Raj ensures customer satisfaction time and again. Of course, an excellent menu brimming with perfectly prepared Indian delicacies doesn’t hurt either. Try the Palak Paneer or Chicken Bollywood Special for a meal that won’t disappoint. But really, anything paired with the light, buttery naan bread will be sure to please. Stop by Bollywood Masala in King George County anytime at 4589 James Madison Parkway.
4. Thai: Thai Winchester Restaurant, Winchester
After owning her own restaurant in Thailand for five years, then spending 17 years as a well known chef in the DC Metro area, Chef Thipphawan set out on her own once again. After three years in Culpeper, she opened Thai Winchester just across from the Old Town Mall. Since opening, she has earned two “People’s Choice Awards” for best restaurant and it’s easy to see why. With a menu that focuses on the freshest ingredients and traditional flavor combinations, Thai Winchester offers Thai favorites like Pad Prik King, Drunken Noodles, Tom Yum soup and, of course, classic Pad Thai. Now with a second location near Apple Blossom Corners, you have even more choices for authentic Thai taste in Winchester. Visit Thai Winchester at 24 S. Loudoun Street, or Thai Winchester II at 2166 S Pleasant Valley Road.
5. Japanese: Massaki Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, Staunton
While sushi might not be for everyone (and others just can’t get enough), few people don’t appreciate the fun and flavor of a traditional Japanese steakhouse. At Massaki in Staunton, you can get the best of both worlds with a complete sushi and sashimi menu…or steak and seafood cooked to perfection using traditional Japanese techniques. At the teppenyaki tables, trained Hibachi chefs turn eating into an entertainment experience while delivering a perfectly cooked meal complete with the finest ingredients and house made sauces. Find out why Massaki is a Staunton favorite at 1027 Richmond Ave., Staunton, VA 24401.
6. Irish: Fiona’s Irish Pub, Alexandria
We might not always think of Irish food as “exotic” like some of the other flavors on this list, but there’s no denying that the Irish have a style – and flavor – that’s one-of-a-kind. At Fiona’s Irish Pub in Alexandria, the style AND flavor of Irish food comes out in full force. Although it’s only been open since May 2014, Fiona’s is already a local favorite, thanks to their commitment to authenticity. The Irish-born owners, Martin and Shirley White, both grew up in the food industry in Ireland and they bring their experience to Fiona’s with a lively environment and classic Irish comfort foods like fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage and Guiness Irish stew. Try a little bit of Irish for yourself at Fiona’s, located at 5810 Kingstowne Center, Alexandria, VA 22315.
7. Mexican: The Patron, Mechanicsville
With an abundance of Mexican restaurants to choose from, it’s understandable that everyone might have their favorite – and that those favorites won’t always match up. So, to get a 5-star rating on Google is a pretty impressive feat. The Patron serves up authentic Mexican recipes, with a commitment to “un-Americanized” menus that stay true to old family traditions. With fast, friendly service, fresh ingredients and crowd favorites like their table-side guacamole and perfectly spiced carnitas, The Patron is definitely worth the visit. Try them out at 7610 Left Flank Rd, Mechanicsville, VA 23116.
8. German: The Bavarian Chef, Madison and Fredericksburg
In 1974, Eckhard and Bruni Thalwitz opened the first Bavarian Chef along Route 29 near the small town of Madison. Since then, this iconic German restaurant has been a favorite destination for locals and travelers alike. Known for its delicious traditional foods, large portions and family-style atmosphere, The Bavarian Chef brings a taste of the “old country” to Virginia with dishes like schnitzel and rippchen. Acclaimed for their mouthwatering menu by Bon Appetit Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Virginian-Pilot, their most recent success was a second site in 2010 at the historic downtown Fredericksburg train station. Be sure to try a classic taste of Germany for yourself at their Madison restaurant (pictured here), located at 5102 S. Seminole Trail, or in Fredericksburg at 200 Lafayette Blvd.
9. Cuban: Cuban Island Restaurant, Roanoke
While Cuban food shares an influence from both Spain and the Caribbean, at the end of the day, it has a unique flavor all its own. And no one captures that flavor better than Cuban Island Restaurant in Roanoke. From empanadas to Island Chicken with black beans, rice and plantains, the food carries the flavor of the island straight to Southwest Virginia. Be sure to try the ropa vieja, a traditional Cuban stew of shredded meat and vegetables whose name literally means “old clothes,” but whose flavors are out-of-this-world. Visit Cuban Island Restaurant at 3150 Williamson Road, Roanoke, VA 24012.
10. Lebanese: BELKOOM Authentic Lebanese Restaurant, Blacksburg
This casual, counter-service restaurant in Blacksburg has a name that inspires. “Belkoom,” an Arabic slang word meaning “a large, mouthful of food” accurately describes what you’ll want once you taste their distinct flavors and fresh ingredients. Owned and operated by the Salamoun Family, Belkoom’s menu includes traditional Lebanese items like Shawarmas, Baba Ghanouj, Falafels and, of course, freshly-baked airy pita bread, a perfect pairing with their creamy hummus. Featuring online ordering, a party menu and “quick grab” takeaways, Belkoom is destined to be a Blacksburg classic. Try Belkoom for yourself at 1301 S. Main Street, Blacksburg, VA 24060.
11. Korean: Asahi Restaurant, Virginia Beach
It’s not just mouth-watering authentic Korean food that brings people back to Asahi time and again. Their service and friendly staff rank nearly as high as their food. But the food…that’s worth talking about. Although they’re known for their tantalizing bulgogi (barbecue) and traditional bi bim bap (mixed rice or noodle bowls), there are few dishes on the menu that don’t get rave reviews. From steamed dumpling to braised short ribs, Asahi’s distinct, authentic Korean flavors are the perfect way to add some variety to your palate this year. Visit them at 1628 N. Independence Blvd., Suite 1528, Virginia Beach, VA 23455.
12. Ethiopian: Addis Ethiopian Restaurant, Richmond
Revered by its faithful fans for having the freshest, leanest ingredients, Addis Ethiopian Restaurant offers complex flavors and ambiance in abundance. Located in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Bottom, Addis delivers an authentic Ethiopian experience, which means that you won’t get silverware, but you’ll get plenty of fresh injera (Ehthiopian bread) that’s perfect for scooping up Addis’ flavorful dishes, from lamb tibs to vegetarian concoctions. Visit them at 9 N. 17th Street, Richmond, VA 23219.
13. Chinese: Peking Gourmet Inn, Falls Church
Named one of the 50 Best Chinese Restaurants in the U.S. by
, Peking Gourmet Inn earns its place in the rankings with the freshest meats, vegetables and wild-caught seafood served up with flavorful sauces that are made-to-order. Specializing in family style dining, the Peking Gourmet has been a favorite for locals – and a destination dining spot for out-of-towners – since 1978. Be sure to try the Peking Duck…but don’t just take my word for it. Not only is it their signature dish, it was also featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” with a 5-star review from celebrity chef, Duff Goldman. That’s a review you don’t take lightly. Visit Peking Gourmet Inn at 6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 2204.
Do you have a favorite ethnic restaurant? If there’s one you think should be added to the list, tell us about it in the comments below and we’ll be sure to check it out!