Charlottesville residents have very strong opinions about food. When my wife and I moved there from Northern Virginia three years ago, every single person we met told us which restaurants we had to try. It was sort of a “Welcome to C’ville—now start eating” greeting.
Post-pandemic, the city remains a great place for DC foodies to spend a weekend away. Folks in these parts enjoy dining out, largely because there’s so much of it. Consider that Charlottesville and State College, Pennsylvania, both college towns, are roughly the same size. According to industry research published by the Barnes Report, Charlottesville has twice as many eating establishments—237 surround UVA, versus 119 around Penn State.
HuffPost has placed Charlottesville in the same ranks as New York and San Francisco for the most restaurants per capita.
That includes the recent opening of the massive—for Charlottesville, anyway—Dairy Market (946 Grady Ave.; 434-326-4552). Located near the UVA campus and less than a mile from the city’s pedestrian mall, it features 11,500 square feet of retail as well as a hall that includes more than a dozen food stalls. Among the most interesting offerings: soul food at Angelic’s Kitchen, Southeast Asian cuisine at Chimm Street, and ice cream from Moo Thru.
Since we’ve lived here, my wife and I have discovered our own favorites. At the top of the list: Tavola (826 Hinton Ave.; 434-972-9463), a boisterous and cozy trattoria that specializes in Italian cuisine. In the up-and-coming Belmont neighborhood, Tavola holds just 50 patrons, and dinner service starts at 5. If there’s a wait, you can head down the back alley for a cocktail at the adjoining cicchetti bar.
We also love the ambience and music at the Whiskey Jar (227 W. Main St.; 434-202-1549), at the west end of the pedestrian mall. A classic sticky-floor bar, it offers live music most nights, starting at 7 on weekdays, closer to 10 on weekends. Go ahead and dance in the narrow area between the bar and the tables. Everybody else does.
When we want something cheap and easy, we go to Wayside Chicken (2203 Jefferson Park Ave.; 434-977-5000), a short walk from UVA’s football stadium. It’s been dishing out crispy, juicy fried chicken for 50 years. Another popular lunch spot is Feast! (416 W. Main St.; 434-244-7800); sandwiches include a chicken-cheddar-and-fig panini. If you’re in the mood for breakfast—even lunch—head down the block to Blue Moon Diner (606 W. Main St.; 434-980-6666) and try an apple omelet or the Hogwaller Hash, a local favorite of three scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, jalapeños, and hash browns. The Blue Moon bills itself as the “best little breakfast, sandwich, burger, vinyl record–playing, family-friendly neighborhood bar and activist spot.”
That about sums up Charlottesville.
The Oakhurst Inn is a short walk from the University of Virginia but offers much more than proximity. With an outdoor saltwater pool, the boutique hotel has 35 rooms and a cafe known for its scones. Staff can also help set up everything from vineyard tours to a hot-air-balloon ride. 122 Oakhurst Cir.; 434-872-0100. Rooms start at $169 on weekdays, $329 weekends.
The City Market (100 Water St.)—a block from Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall—is the place to be on Saturday mornings. More than 50 vendors sell a wide range of local crafts and food. During the pandemic, the town closed the Water Street site, so a second market formed in IX Park, only a few blocks away (522 Second St.). Now both are running through late November. Regulars line up for Hog Haven Farm’s hearty breakfast sandwiches, including the Hog Haven, with sage sausage, Irish cheddar, and housemade tomato aïoli on a fresh English muffin.
Admission is always free to UVA’s Fralin Museum of Art (155 Rugby Rd.; 434-924-3592) and its collection of nearly 14,000 objects, including European and American painting, photography, and Native American art. Extensive renovations were completed during the pandemic, with the Fralin scheduled to reopen by late summer. Limited parking is available behind the museum and in the A-6 lot adjacent to Madison Bowl. Cash metered parking can be found in Culbreth Garage; it’s free after 5 pm and on weekends. From the museum, it’s a short walk to UVA’s rotunda and lawn, which are stunning at night.
This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.