History buffs aren’t the only ones drawn to the Virginia capital — now foodies have plenty to savor, too.
By Alicia Valenski
A one-hour flight or a four-and-a-half hour drive — whichever mode of transportation you choose, getting to Richmond from Charlotte doesn’t take long. The Virginia capital has always been a go-to destination for history lovers. Founded in 1737, it is one of the oldest metropolitan areas in the country, and it served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Only in recent years has Richmond earned a newfound reputation as a hot spot for foodies. The River City’s bar and restaurant scenes experienced explosive growth in the late 2000s with the development of entertainment district Scott’s Addition. The revitalization of the former industrial area supplements established eateries in nearby neighborhoods such as The Fan and Carytown for an impressive variety of mixological and culinary options all in one charming, not-too-big city. Earlier this year, review site Yelp named Richmond a top 10 U.S. destination for food lovers.
Whatever your interests are — from shopping to craft beverages to outdoor activities or museums — Richmond has something to offer every type of traveler.
At Quirk Hotel in the city’s arts and design district, you’ll find bright-and-airy accommodations and an ever-changing art gallery, adorable lobby coffee shop, award-winning restaurant and a rooftop bar with twinkling string lights and sweeping views of the city.
Since opening in 2015, Quirk has become a popular spot not only for travelers but for locals as well. At Maple & Pine, executive chef David Dunlap’s menu emphasizes ingredients sourced from local farms and artisans. Dunlap is a former executive sous chef at acclaimed The Inn at Little Washington and spent three years as chef at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Va. Sip cocktails such as “A Rose By Any Other Name” — made with rosé vodka, violet rose shrub, lemon, cucumbers, strawberries and prosecco — while lounging in the outdoor courtyard or perched on pink velvet stools at the bar.
The friendly and knowledgeable staff encourage guests to go out and explore the city — the hotel even offers bike rentals and route maps so you can experience the River City on two wheels.
Kick things off with a morning trip to Lamplighter Coffee Roasters. Make your way to the original Lamplighter location on Addison Street for a bagel or a croissant and a cup of the signature Tall Bike blend — and maybe grab a bag of beans to go as a souvenir for your caffeine-loving friends back home.
For lunch (or any other meal of the day), take a step back in time at Perly’s, a midcentury modern Jewish restaurant and delicatessen with the tagline, “It’s Yiddish for delicious!” Choose from a selection of smoked fish, matzo ball soup, schnitzel, brisket, latkes and all the deli sandwiches you can imagine — and prepare to be almost uncomfortably full by the time you leave.
Indulge your foodie side with dinner at Heritage, an upscale American eatery in The Fan district. Menu favorites crafted by award-winning Chef Joe Sparatta include house-made gemelli pasta with local tomatoes, corn, chanterelle mushrooms, confit onion, roasted garlic and ricotta salata; scallops with ratatouille, polenta, basil and fried garlic; and Virginia flat iron steak with roasted potatoes, arugula, piquillo peppers, cipollini onions and almond Romesco.
End the evening with something sweet from Shyndigz, a dessert cafe that’s open until midnight on weekends. The Carytown cafe is known for its comically large cake slices, big enough to share with at least one of your travel partners. Try the salted chocolate caramel cake (chocolate cake layered with chocolate buttercream icing, house-made caramel sauce and fleur de sel) or the fresh fruit cake (vanilla cake with cream cheese icing layered with fresh blackberries, strawberries and pineapple).
If you’re looking for a good drink with an even better view, you can’t beat the Q Rooftop Bar at Quirk Hotel. Sip something almost as pretty as the 360-view of the Richmond skyline at this open-air bar, like the Ms. Crenshaw — Aperol, elderflower and prosecco — or the Purple Rain, made with gin, mint, blackberry and lemon.
Serious cocktail drinkers will want to head to The Jasper, where the motto is “Full Pours & Honest Prices.” Find the little black door with the sign that simply says “Bar” in Carytown, settle into a leather armchair or grab a seat at the bar and prepare to order a mixology masterpiece such as The Limited Edition (absinthe, pineapple, lemon, vanilla, spiced rum and bitters), Unintended Consequences (gin, amontillado sherry, East India sherry, lemon, ginger and plum bitters) or any of the other concoctions on the ever-changing drink list. If you party includes any beer drinkers or oenophiles, The Jasper also offers both bottles and wine by-the-glass along with a wide beer selection.
Speaking of beer drinkers, they’ll be right at home in Richmond, which is home to dozens of craft breweries, as well as cideries and meaderies. Scott’s Addition is walkable and jam-packed with breweries, so it’s easy to hop from one spot to the next. Hopheads might want to start at The Veil Brewing Co., but tread carefully — this popular taproom and brewery specializes in high gravity beers, so be sure to pay attention to the ABV before you toss back several double- or even triple-
IPAs. Try something hop-forward like Steady Incline, a double IPA brewed with Citra, Galaxy, Amarillo, Simcoe and Mosaic hops, or opt for something on the tart side like the Never Give Up, a gose made with blackberry and passionfruit purée.
If you’re not a beer person, make your way to Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s first urban cidery. Their naturally gluten-free ciders are brewed with Virginia heirloom apples, made with raw juice that is fermented straight off the press. Try the Harrison for a more fruit-forward cider, or opt for the Aragon 1904 for something on the dryer side.
If you’re ready to get adventurous, you can walk over to Black Heath Meadery to try their selection of meads, all made with Virginia honey in an effort to support the region’s beekeepers and aid in the establishment of hives to sustain the bee population. While mead is known as the world’s oldest fermented beverage, the folks at Black Heath add a modern twist with flavors such as Red Razz (fermented with Virginia raspberries) or Blue Angel (fermented with Virginia apple juice from Blue Bee Cider).
If you like staying active or spending time outside, you’ll love the activities offered along the James River. Swim or wade in the water, run or bike on the bridges, enjoy a picnic at Belle Isle, go kayaking or paddleboarding, or raft the Class III and IV rapids — however you prefer to get moving on or in the water, chances are you can do it at the James.
Those who love exploring nature at a more leisurely pace might consider a trip to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Lauded by USA Today as one of the top four botanical gardens in the country, Lewis Ginter boasts more than 50 acres, including themed gardens such as the Rose Garden, Cherry Tree Walk, Asian Valley and the Children’s Garden. Beyond the gardens themselves, you’ll also find dining options, shops and a conservatory.
Soak up some culture at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which houses art from all around the globe. General admission to the VMFA is always free and includes access to all of the museum’s permanent collections — but the museum does charge admission fees for some of its rotating exhibitions. Edward Hopper and the American Hotel debuts at the museum this month and runs through Feb. 23.
History buffs can visit The American Civil War Museum, which comprises three separate locations, including two in Richmond. The Historic Tredegar houses temporary and permanent exhibits on the riverfront near Brown’s Island and Belle Isle. The White House of the Confederacy, located in the historic Court End neighborhood just a few blocks from the State Capitol, offers self-guided tours to learn about Richmond’s role in the Civil War.
Round out your Richmond experience with a shopping tour of the city’s Carytown neighborhood, where you can peruse books, clothing, antiques, jewelry, home furnishings, toys and more along Cary Street. Shop for women’s apparel and accessories at high-end consignment shop Clementine, vinyl albums at Plan 9 Records, cooking and entertaining needs at Ladles & Linens Kitchen Shoppe and local and regional art at The Carytown Collective. SP
Photographs provided by Richmond Region Tourism