There are areas of town where restaurants always seem to congregate: the Fan, Downtown, Short Pump. You could head to any one of those spots, throw a stone, and find a great little restaurant to grab a bite (although I don’t recommend actual stone throwing in these crowded neighborhoods.) But if you’re willing to stray into uncharted waters (or, say to Midlothian or Church Hill) there are some hidden gems just waiting to amaze and delight your tastebuds.
One of my favorite discoveries is Belle Vie in Midlothian. It’s a smallish place that’s been open for just a few years and calls itself a European Bistro. I’d characterize it as more French than anything, with a crazy extensive Belgian beer selection. They do take reservations, and if you want to sit at a table, I suggest you make one. However, if you’re open to a more casual experience, I love sitting at the bar. It’s nicely situated with plenty of room for you to eat a full meal and enjoy the hospitality of the friendly bartenders. Service is quicker, the refills nearly immediate, and the atmosphere overall is warm and inviting. And the food! Let’s not forget the food. I’ve ordered many different meals and enjoyed all of them. The filet comes perfectly cooked with your choice of five sauces. My favorite is the Archiduc, a creamy mushroom sauce that I would eat as a soup and possibly bathe in if that wasn’t frowned upon. Their nut potatoes are gloriously fluffy little potato croquettes fried with a crisp outer shell and served with a zingy dipping sauce. Belle Vie also has great Moules Frites (mussels and fries) in a variety of preparations, and all-you-can-eat mussels every Wednesday. It’s the kind of restaurant you can go back to again and again, order something different each time, and rest assured that it will always be good.
Next, you could mosey off to Church Hill, which has long been a tough area of town to figure out. There are a lot of great old houses being revitalized on one side of the street, and on the other, dilapidated dens of crime. But this historic neighborhood is beginning to turn around, and more high-quality restaurants are popping up. One of the newer arrivals is The Roosevelt. The restaurant is one big open area that feels a little like a one-room schoolhouse, in a good way. They’ve managed to nail the rustic feeling while pairing it with some chic décor choices and damn good food. Even though this is yet another upscale southern concept in a town up to its ears in upscale southern food, I think the menu is interesting enough to overcome the oversaturation. Sure, they have pimento cheese, and they served a fried chicken and honey special (which was fantastic, by the way), and of course they have cheesy grits. But they also make pillowy, flavorful homemade gnocchi, chicken fried tofu (what?), and a mushroom crusted catfish. Their menu changes frequently, which is a reassuring sign of constant innovation and commitment to using seasonal ingredients. Trust me, there’s a reason Style Magazine named it the Restaurant of the Year for 2012. And if you aren’t convinced to go for the food, you should definitely go for the drinks. They have a long, inventive cocktail list that has the whole town buzzing in more ways than one.
My last hidden morsel of a restaurant is probably a little more well known than the other two, but it’s still in an unexpected place. Take a drive down Patterson and you’ll see an ugly strip mall where, nestled between a salon and a dubious looking day spa, is the best steakhouse in Richmond, Buckhead’s. Yeah, that’s right. A steakhouse in a strip mall. Don’t judge. When you walk in, it kind of feels as if you’ve stepped into an Elk’s Lodge circa 1983. The bar in the front of the restaurant seems to be the place where the cougars congregate when they aren’t over at Bar Louie, but pay no mind. Find your way to a table and order up some meat from their extremely knowledgeable wait staff. To say this place is old school is an understatement, and while that might be a negative for any other type of food, for steak, I think it’s a plus. They know how to age steak, cook it perfectly and season it just enough so that the flavors come out but aren’t overwhelmed. Besides pretty much every cut of steak known to man, they also have one of the biggest wine selections in Richmond, as well as great appetizers and sides. The beef tataki and mushrooms in beurre blanc are two you absolutely must try. Seriously, if you walk out of there without trying the mushrooms in particular, I will never forgive you. And even if you can’t eat another mouthful, get dessert. The great thing about Buckhead’s is there is nothing innovative about it. Nothing tricky, nothing trendy. With steak you don’t need any of that. It’s simple, classic, and absolutely delicious. And yes, the atmosphere totally makes you want to don a smoking jacket and order Courvoisier. But that’s kind of perfect every once in awhile.
So, the next time you’re looking for a place to grab a meal, you could easily head to Carytown or even Libbie and Grove, but please indulge me and occasionally step out to Jackson Ward or Forest Hill or (gasp!) Mechanicsville and see what you can find. You and your intrepid tastebuds might be pleasantly surprised.
Sara Grunden Kuhs is an advertising copywriter in Richmond, VA. When she's not checking out the growing restaurant scene, she's trying new recipes at home and chronicling them for her food blog, The Dinner Club RVA, which she runs with another home cook. She has two rowdy German Shorthaired Pointers, a rowdy husband, and a deep love of braised meats.