In the years that I spent as an undergraduate tour guide at the University of Virginia, I loved gushing to visitors about Charlottesville’s incredible local food scene. The best restaurants in Charlottesville range from humble mom-n-pop hole-in-the-walls to world-class gems featuring globally seasoned chefs– and I used to love telling people how, outside of New York City, Charlottesville, Virginia boasts more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S.!
When it comes to dining in Cville, moreover, there’s an almost paralyzing variety of delicious options, and nearly every key ingredient on menus at independently owned restaurants is locally sourced.
Farm-to-table restaurants are the standard in Charlottesville, and that’s why the food is so good.
^ This, however, isn’t to say that the local food landscape is one-dimensional, either. There’s a wide array of excellent international cuisine in Charlottesville, which reflects both the diversity of the local population and the University of Virginia’s enduringly cosmopolitan influence.
Fortunately for the avid foodies among us, even these bastions of world cuisine draw influence from the bounty of the Blue Ridge Mountains foodshed.
One of America’s most famous agricultural hubs, Polyface Farms (which was famously canonized in Michael Pollen’s cult 2007 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma,) is located nearby. This– along with the proximity of so many other productive farms, vineyards, and dairies– has had a profound influence on the culture of food in the city.
Specifically, the access to excellent local produce, meat, fish, dairy, grains, and other artisan food products has made it so that the best restaurants in Charlottesville cannot help but dazzle. With ingredients this fresh, it’s practically impossible for kitchen creatives to disappoint.
In that spirit, the decision of where to eat in Charlottesville— and what– really comes down to what you like and who sent you.
Below, we spotlight some of the best restaurants in Charlottesville for unique, decidedly “local” meals– in no particular order. Bookmark this list for easy reference later.
^ There’s so much good stuff to eat in this charming little city, and it only gets better with repeat visits. Cville is a classic American-artisanal food mecca that just keeps on giving. Only once people have dined here can they truly come to understand why.
The Local (for Super Local Appalachian Classics)
By far a veteran favorite among students, locals, and tourists alike, The Local is easily one of the top restaurants in Charlottesville. With its apt name, The Local specializes in amazingly hearty and heartfelt takes on classic Appalachian dishes, like Berkshire pork chop, crispy trout, locally-reared meatloaf, gnocchi bolognese, and local braised short ribs.
All of the produce, meat, dairy, bread, and even the beer and desserts come from local vendors and growers, and the flavors deliver in dazzling style.
This place has real panache. The menu itemizes which local farms that almost every ingredient in every single dish comes from. This is an impressive feat that harkens to the same thoughtful sourcing that put globally renowned restaurants like Husk, in Charleston, SC on the map.
Today, The Local is a hometown favorite for much the same reason.
I love the invariably excellent, seasonally-changing Caromont goat cheese salad, as well as all Oak Farms chicken dishes (which are usually served with foodie twists on Southern sides like pimento macaroni n’ cheese– yum, yum!). These are simply staples in my book.
^ FWIW, I eat here almost every time I swing through Charlottesville and have done so ever since I was a student begging my visiting parents to take me out for one last restaurant meal before they left UVA’s parents’ weekend. (Not that they needed any convincing. They, too, loved The Local and still regard it fondly nearly 12 years after first dining there.)
This restaurant, frankly, never disappoints. The menu beautifully encapsulates the unpretentious insistence on locavore ingredients that makes dining in Charlottesville so special.
Reservations are suggested for weekends, holidays, and graduation weekend (of course!), but they’re not required.
Orzo (Farm-to-Fork Mediterranean Cuisine)
Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar serves area-sourced Mediterranean fare that is, frankly, absolutely excellent.
At their cozy little restaurant inside the Main Street Market (more details on this special local food hub, below) they serve excellent riffs on a fusion of culinary traditions from Italy, Greece, Spain, and the South of France.
Accordingly, as you might guess, they have great orzo, risotto, and the area’s best branzino, as well as satisfying international exotics like coca de trampó, a Mallorcan flatbread baked with local heirloom tomatoes, roasted peppers and onions, olive oil, and sea salt. The wine list, of course, ranks among the best in the city. (You’ll likely see their collection if you secure a table in the back.)
I personally love all of Orzo’s farm-fresh salads, whether it’s the seasonal local green salad, a Moroccan chickpea confit, or a chopped tomato salad with local heirloom tomatoes, local peppers, local candy onions, white anchovies, and hard-boiled pasture-raised farm eggs dressed in red wine vinaigrette.
The cheese plates are also reliably lovely– and if they’re serving local Clover Top goat cheese, consider it a must-order.
Over the years, I’ve taken many foodies here who, like me, regularly dine in major cities like New York, Paris, Boston, and Chicago– and nearly all of them make some sort of comment upon conclusion of the meal that “this is one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long, long time.”
^ It’s an anecdotal statement, but very telling. The food at Orzo is top-notch; there isn’t a wasted ingredient on a menu. Every single item is thoughtfully seasoned, indelibly delicious, and exhibits the inexplicable terroir of Charlottesville’s incredible agricultural bounty.
Plus, they have a semi-open kitchen, which is always fun. Don’t miss out!
Tavola (Excellent Rustic Italian)
Located right next door to The Local, Tavola is another wonderful Charlottesville restaurant known for its brilliant rustic locavore Italian cuisine.
With its cozy digs in the Belmont neighborhood, it too boasts a menu that both celebrates and elevates local cheesemakers, breadmakers, and other agricultural vendors to near Rock Star status.
The Pappardelle Bolognese is a longtime menu staple and is simply divine, made with eggy homemade pasta and the finest local beef and pork.
They also have great bucatini and meatballs, of course. But you can also expect custom twists on seasonal pork ragu, a fantastic local burrata, and a cult-adulated melanzane alla parmigiana (aka elevated eggplant parmesan).
Overall, the food here is simple and straightforward in that classically Italian way. The local ingredients, meanwhile, elevate the flavors to inspire dishes that could only be served here.
Mas Tapas (Local-Style Tapas)
Known for their iconic dates wrapped in bacon, Mas Tapas is THE place to go for wonderful tapas and wine in Charlottesville.
It’s a great restaurant for al fresco dining when it’s warm out, whether you’re enjoying the fresh scallop ceviche, watermelon sandia, or the chilled Chioggia beet soup with jicama-roasted corn salad and cilantro oil.
As an authentic Spanish tapas joint, they don’t shy away from interpreting seafood and meat in the local vernacular. See, for example, their oil-poached shrimp and chorizo deviled eggs. Or the recent duck bocato sandwich with pickled tomatillo and jicama-fennel slaw. The tapas here, moreover, are nothing short of innovative.
(Of course, classics like paella, house mussels, Serrano ham, cured olives, ripe cheeses, lovely spreads and breads, truffle toppings, squid-ink infusions, and salty-spiced Marcona almonds are all staples of the menu here, as well.)
Overall, it’s a great spot for romantic dinners and intimate conversations.
Also, be sure to save room for their delicious Europhilic takes on Southern-style desserts, like sugar tarts with grilled apricots. Rhubarb upside-down cake with caramel peach sauce and creamy mascarpone, anyone?
Zocalo (Lovely Spanish-Latin Fusion)
Centrally located Zocalo is a great upscale Spanish-Latin American fusion cantina in elegant, industrial digs.
With its prime location in the center of the Downtown Mall, it’s a great place to grab dinner before a show at Paramount Theater or a concert at The Jefferson or Sprint Pavilion. It’s a good starting point for walking around and people watching afterward. (There are cool places to get ice cream and lovely shops all around.)
Dine here for the area’s best preparations of sea scallops, as well as excellent lamb dishes, flautas, and seasonal gazpachos. (<– E.g. Yellow tomato and cucumber gazpacho with poached shrimp and cilantro oil, etc etc.)
The desserts, also, are quite pretty. Think: dainty trios of housemade sorbet (a longtime menu staple) as well as lemon creme brulee and the like.
I personally love the Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding with caramel sauce and homemade vanilla + pasilla chile ice cream.
^ It’s not exactly a light dessert, but it packs so much punch. You’ll be happy you tried it even if you were already full. (And seriously, with sea scallops that large and tender, you’re sure to leave satisfied. This would be my top entree recommendation, when available.)
Boylan Heights (Cville’s Best Burgers)
Fun, student-beloved hot spot Boylan Heights is an institution of The Corner– the strip of local shops and restaurants near the University of Virginia.
In addition to great curly fries, sweet potato fries, and decadent handspun milkshakes, Boylan Heights serves excellent foodie-friendly burgers that are easily the best in Charlottesville. Their beef is sourced from area farms (in true Charlottesville fashion) and even incidental produce comes from local farms, as well– right down to the lettuce on your patty.
Vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike all enjoy the build-your-own burgers and burger bowls. These let you choose from a wide variety of animal and non-animal proteins, cheeses, veggies, and other premium toppings. (Try the locally-made No Bull Burger, an area staple for vegetarians, for a uniquely satisfying treat.)
Even the “school”-themed custom burger menu is fun to fill out. You check off the boxes like a multiple-choice test or a report card. This allows you to select, for example, exactly what toppings you want on your burger. And there are many to choose from, from fresh avocado, pesto, and caramelized onions to sauteed wild mushrooms, bacon jam, pimento cheese, and homemade chili.
(They also have great pre-fab school-themed burgers for those vulnerable to decision paralysis.)
Then, check the boxes for your sides. Hand-cut french fries? Sure. Cheesy bacon curly fries? Even better. Want a Power Greens salad appetizer? You got it. It’s all fun and vaguely reminiscent of, well, being in school. You get the idea.
…Not a burger person? That’s okay. Try one of their epic chicken sandwiches, from fried chicken on waffles to the grilled chicken breast with Munster, black bean purée, avocado, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and honey mustard, on a warmed English muffin. Both are excellent and are equally as customizable as the burgers. (So don’t be shy about editing any sandwich to your taste!)
Overall, “Boylan” is a super casual environment, but the food is reliably wonderful and is of much higher quality than what you might otherwise expect from a university-adjacent burger joint. Don’t let the casual Game Day crowds fool you: this is a foodie establishment that you don’t want to miss.
Beer Run (For Brunch, Biscuits, & Beer!)
Beer lovers—you MUST go here. This popular casual brunch spot serves incredible cheese biscuits– maybe the best I’ve ever had!– and hearty New American classics to an adoring cult of regulars.
Beer Run, moreover, is a Cville institution. It’s a thoughtfully curated craft beer and wine shop and a restaurant all-in-one.
Here, they serve award-winning nachos and upscale specials like a recent, surprisingly excellent Duck Moderna. (<— Beer Run’s spin-off of a classic duck confit, rendered beautifully.)
Most people, however, go here for brunch, which is what I would recommend. Try the aforementioned cheese biscuits (when available) and a sandwich, burger, or pimento cheese toast for the quintessential experience. Their bowls (above shown) are also great, incorporating local and organic ingredients where possible.
And if you love local and craft beer– well, you’re in luck. Beer Run is basically heaven for craft brew junkies!
…Maybe go for a *late* brunch, just to be safe. 🙂
C&O Restaurant (Country French Fare)
Dining at C&O Restaurant on the Downtown Mall is a cozy, rustic affair. The restaurant, with its exposed brick and stained wood interior, has the warm aesthetics deserving of its upscale-but-not-quite-pretentious French country menu, which is enduringly lovely.
We love the ethereal pasta and tender steak dishes, like hand-rolled Fettuccine with wild mushrooms, truffle butter, and sottocenere cheese, or Beef Sirloin Carpaccio with truffle aioli, hashed potato, arugula, manchego, and lemon.
As you might expect, they also have a great wine list featuring plenty of local varieties like the special C&O Viognier from Albemarle County, and the C&O Cabernet Franc, produced just over the mountain at Monticello.
For dessert, save room for the house Crème Brulée. No one really does it as well as the French, and theirs is executed with textbook finesse.
Milan (+ Also Sister Restaurant Kanak, For Excellent Indian Food)
Charlottesville’s best Indian food is also some of Virginia’s best. Milan Indian Cuisine has a popular lunch buffet and great tandoori dishes. It’s also ideal for both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, as there is always a rotating tabla of options.
Regulars love the chili chicken, the super-fluffy garlic naan, the not-too-spicy achar (pickles), the perfect mango lassi, the Palak Paneer (creamed spinach and cheese), the Aloo Gobi (a melange of flavorful cauliflower n’ potatoes), and the Baigen Bahaar (wonderful sweet n’ sour eggplant).
They also make a hard-to-find Indian dessert known as mango mousse, which is as delicious as it sounds. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.
Additionally, Milan’s newer sister restaurant, Kanak Indian Kitchen, is also wonderful and something of a hidden gem, still. It opened more recently in Merchant Walk Square (which is admittedly somewhat further afield from any of the real “attractions” in Charlottesville) but it is a solid go-to for lovers of South Asian cuisine, nevertheless.
Here, they do a unique chukundari (beetroot) korma, as well as great samosas and khati rolls. The rechado prawns– much like the cool, abstract elephant murals outside the restaurant– are awesome.
I also strongly recommended their Crab Baghara, a rich mustard-and-asafetida-tempered curry with chunks of fresh crab in a warming coconut tamarind sauce. It’s a dish that’s hard to find on most Indian restaurant menus, and fortunately, they do it justice.
Bodo’s Bagels (Cville’s Iconic Bagelry)
While not a restaurant, per se, this wonderful local bagel shop is a must-stop in Cville. Bodo’s Bagels, moreover, is a Charlottesville institution!
Head here for New York-style bagels that really are Blue Ridge Mountain-style bagels, boiled in a similar fashion but with a unique terroir all their own. Bodo’s is its own thing entirely. And, their iconic bagel sandwiches are so cheap, even with all the fixins!
In college, this was the go-to cheap meal that everyone loved getting for lunch (that, and Take It Away on The Corner). After living for a decade in NYC and going back, I now recognize that these aren’t real New York bagels– but they are equally special in a different way.
Bodos bagels are extra chewy, fluffy-centered, and come in the classic assortment of sweet, savory, and neutral varieties. (Everything, 100% whole wheat, cinnamon raisin, sesame, etc.)
Mostly, I love that they make their own spreads. Bodo’s hummus and pesto, for example, are both made in-house, which virtually NO bagel shops do– but DIY and homemade with local ingredients is just the Charlottesville way.
You can load up a bagel with all sorts of premium toppings like avocado, watercress, swiss cheese, pesto, hummus– the options are too numerous to list here in full– and in the end, your sandwich will still likely only be around $5.
Try bacon, egg, muenster cheese, avocado, and watercress on a buttered everything bagel. I love it! So does my husband and my family, who in college would eagerly insist on stopping at Bodo’s at the beginning of every long drive home.
Today, Bodo’s Bagels has 3 locations around town– most notably on Preston and on The Corner near UVA. In the mornings they all tend to draw a crowd, but it moves quickly.
Vivace (Excellent Pasta)
Vivace is easily the best Old School Italian restaurant in Charlottesville, especially when it comes to pasta. All of their seasonal ravioli and anything dressed in the vodka-cream sauce are always sensational, always.
We also love the homestyle pizzas, like the seasonal foraged morel and ramp pizza, the super-rich white pizza, and the classic, lush margarita pizza.
Dine here for beautifully executed regionally-informed dishes like local mushroom veloute with black truffles, or braised local beef shortribs (cooked over an open fire!) with cavatelli pasta.
The colorful Sicilian Caponata and the Italian-style hummus plate, meanwhile, are super satisfying.
Of course, you can also get a great fettuccini alfredo and tagliatelle bolognese, but the local produce deeply informs the menu’s artisanal idiosyncrasies. The unique twists on classic Italian dishes make Vivace one of a kind.
Take, for example, the recent walnut-crusted mahi-mahi with local carrot and organic spinach risotto, apple mostarda, local micro greens, and shaved fennel. It’s a super herbaceous and fresh way to showcase some of the area’s best seasonal produce.
Even their famous flourless chocolate Nutella torte is made with local eggs. Beneath the scrumptious layers of dark chocolate mousse and Italian hazelnut toffee, you can taste the difference.
Tonic (Scandinavian Cafe)
Tonic is a lovely neighborhood cafe downtown that’s known for its modern, Scandinavian-inspired cuisine. It’s also likely the best place to get a healthy, veggie-forward brunch in Charlottesville.
For casual lunch or brunch, enjoy delicious niche items like open-faced oyster mushroom sandwiches with creamy turnip purée + freshly grated horseradish; savory bread pudding with potatoes, leeks, and velvety Gruyere cheese sauce; Finnish Karelian Pie (above shown!); and pickled trout rillette with Thai chili and local apples. (<— So, so good if you’re into pickled or smoked fish.)
They also serve a fantastic hamachi crudo as well as fresh, bountiful salads and sensational seasonal desserts.
Vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians, in particular, tend to love this cafe, as meat-free dishes are never an afterthought at Tonic.
That being said, they also do a mean Guajillo braised chicken leg and surprisingly great roast chicken sandwiches– so there really is something for diners of all persuasions.
Also, if going here for Sunday Brunch, be sure to try their epic Bloody Mary topped with pickled shrimp. It incorporates local produce, spirits, and spices along with their housemade bloody mary mix. (Hopefully, they’ll white label it soon. 🤞)
The Shebeen (South African Braai)
The Shebeen Pub & Braai serves authentic South African-inspired cuisine that remains a lynchpin of global food culture in Charlottesville.
In general, they have great soups, voorgereg (aka appetizers like samosas, Cape mussels, and crispy shrimp), and expertly grilled meats. For lovers of comfort food, they do a deeply satisfying traditional vegan Groundnut Stew made with kale, garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash (a perfect dish for Fall!) as well as traditional Cape Malay Curry Corn Chowder (with spicy curry, coconut milk, sweet corn, potatoes, and cream).
Classic South African Braai (aka grilled dishes) include Durban Spiced Chicken; Lamb Sosatie (aka lamb and apricot kebabs); Pork Sosatie (cubed pork tenderloin marinated for 24 hours in mango chutney, tamarind, and turmeric on a sugar cane skewer with chakalaka vegetable bean relish, yellow rice, mango chutney, and raita– phew!); and “Boerewors & Samp,” a Subsaharan sausage-bean stew with a tomato gravy base.
And for vegetarians, The Shebeen also has creatively decadent options like cauliflower wings and Sadza Cakes (rich parmesan polenta cakes with seasonal vegetables + a sage & brandy cream).
Many of the menu items here, by virtue of how they are traditionally made, are also naturally gluten-free.
(The first time I ever ate at The Shebeen was as an undergrad with my parents, and it was a cool educational experience for us all. Even as foodies, it was a completely new dining adventure for us. Having subsequently traveled all over South Africa– and having eaten more food there than I could have ever thought possible– I can firmly attest that this place is, in fact, true to the traveler’s experience.)
The heart and spirit of the food, as well as the aromatics, are simply transporting. If you’ve never had South African cuisine before and are curious, definitely give this restaurant a try!
Continental Divide (Counter-Culture Mexican)
Considering that it is something of a hole-in-the-wall, Continental Divide really knows how to draw a crowd. They don’t even have their name on the outside of the building! Only their gecko logo and a sign that famously reads, “Get In Here.”
This minimalist cantina on the strip connecting the Corner to Downtown has truly excellent burritos and quesadillas (including playful twists like Thai burritos, chorizo & butternut quesadillas, etc) as well as delicious Spinach, Mushroom & Gouda enchiladas, hearty carnitas, tuna tostadas, meat or vegetarian nachos, and the like.
The food is pretty no-frills, but the chips are great and the housemade salsa generous in both flavor and portion. And perhaps most charmingly, many of the dishes– like the enchiladas and burritos– are served with a pumpkin muffin.
The counter-cultural artsy vibe, meanwhile, only adds to the food’s appeal. With its always-dim lighting and multiple draft beers on tap, Continental Divide feels like part of Charlottesville’s underground. And to a certain extent, it is.
They also have great margaritas, mezcal, and perfect mild & sweet housemade hot sauce. Students love it and have had a well-attended presence since it opened in the ’90s.
Get in there, indeed.
Blue Moon Diner (Funky Diner Breakfast)
For independently owned diner-style breakfast in Cville, head to Blue Moon Diner.
From generous omelets to blueberry stuffed french toast to quiche spinach lorraine with home fries and salad, Blue Moon Diner is one of Charlottesville’s quirkiest places to get a great breakfast sandwich, themed pancakes, or a burger among arm-wrestling, vinyl record-playing community activists.
When available, they also do an awesome breakfast BBQ. (E.g. Open-faced BBQ meat topped with a fried egg and crispy onions on a toasted Ginny’s English Muffin, served with your choice of side. We love and always recommend the nostalgic, large-cut homefries– but the local artisan bacon is also a treat.)
Since 2006, this tiny outpost has been serving all-day breakfast, weekend brunch, and homestyle lunch and dinner options like Grilled Meatloaf sandwiches. They also occasionally have live music of all genres.
Himalayan Fusion (Nepalese, Tibetan, Indian Fusion)
Himalayan Fusion is true to its name: it fuses Nepalese, Indian, and Tibetan cuisine into a wholesome pan-Himalayan smorgasbord. Plus, there are several excellent vegetable curry options on the menu, making it one of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Charlottesville.
We love the street-food-inspired chaats (aka snacks) that they serve here, like the above shown Papri Chat (chickpeas with diced red onions, tomatoes, and boiled potatoes drizzled with sweet & sour tamarind sauce, cilantro sauce, yogurt, mint, and crispy fried flour wafers).
Also great are the samosas (vegetable or lamb) and Sekuwa (a popular Nepali bar snack consisting of flame-roasted spicy boneless chicken breast, lamb, or fish marinated in a ginger-garlic spice reduction).
In addition to clay-oven grilled tandoori meats and a huge selection of curries, the restaurant also specializes in an array of Tibetan specialties like chicken momos and authentic Himalayan egg chow mien. These are hard to find in most other parts of the country!
Curious eaters should also feel emboldened to ask about their off-menu Yak products. (Seriously: it’s a whole thing.)
Ultimately, the flavors here really kick. This is a great spot for people who like a lot of seasoning and umami in their food. However, they can also tone down the spiciness for people who like it mild.
Otherwise, you’ll simply have another reason to try the housemade kheer— a cool, creamy rice pudding– for dessert.
HotCakes Gourmet (Great For Picnics and To-Go Lunch)
HotCakes gourmet cafe and bakery is a great fast-casual eatery with limited seating for brunch and lunch, as well as fantastic takeaway options for picnics or meals on the go.
True to the cafe spirit, they have awesome soups, salads, and sandwiches. (e.g. Turkey, Smoked Gouda, & Fig as well as Cubans, Tuna Avocado Melts, and vegetarian options like fresh Foccacia Caprese or Fig, Apple, and Brie on Sunflower Wheat.)
We also love seasonal deli items like the exquisite stuffed acorn squash, the thick wedges of vegetable lasagna, and what is easily the best quiche in Charlottesville. (They hand roll the crust, and people love it.)
Ultimately, between the fancy burritos, crab cakes, crispy fried green tomato BLTs, stuffed roasted chicken (available by the pound), the intriguing a la carte veggie dishes like sugar snap pea salad, HotCakes truly has something for everyone– especially when it comes to roasted veggies and mixed salad dishes. (These latter are always beautifully seasoned and enduringly satisfying. Veggie lovers, take note!)
HotCakes also has a rotating cast of upscale items like Pâté en Croûte (e.g. a melange of pork and duck wrapped in pastry and baked to golden brown perfection), served by the slice.
It’s always a joy to behold their pastry counter, too, as it features unique treats (like Margarita Pie with fresh citrus, a splash of Triple Sec, and pretzel crust) as well as classics like their decadent gluten-free Chocolate Sin Cake.
These baked goods, much like the deli items, always reflect the seasonal produce that is regionally available at the time of their serving.
In the summer, try a slice of Nectarine Frangipane Tart made with nectarines from Henley’s Orchard in Crozet. During Fall, swing by for one of their iconic flower-shaped pumpkin muffins or farmhouse apple cake.
Come winter, meanwhile, you can expect plenty of adorable chocolate mousse towers, praline creations, tiramisu, and cheesecake. And in any season, the cupcakes are lovely, whether it’s a huckleberry lime delight topped with edible summer flowers or a deeply satisfying double chocolate cupcake with sour cream frosting. Need I say more?
~ Honorable Mention ~
These unique Charlottesville food destinations are also worth visiting.
The Charlottesville City Farmers Market
Since the 1970s, the iconic Charlottesville City Market has been a foodie paradise, recognized consistently as one of the best farmers markets in America. Though she may seem smaller than that title would suggest, she is indeed mighty.
The fresh produce, meat, and dairy selection at this market is excellent, and always rendered with integrity. (You’ll find lots of organic, non-GMO, and biodynamic goods, for example.)
Here you can shop for staples of the local foodshed, from Albermarle pippin apples and local goat cheese from Clover Top Creamery to Carpe Donuts, locally-grown spices, herbs, vegetables, mushrooms, and honey, as well as local ferments including pickles, kraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha.
Even the pasture-raised eggs are some of the freshest you’ll ever have, with their bright, rich, orange-y yolks.
At this market, there are also cool extras for sale, like Sage Peach Lemonade, fresh wildflowers, country-style quick bread and scones, tempeh BBQ, bee pollen, mango honey sticks, and homemade plant-based body products.
As far as hot food goes, look out for PG’s famous corn cakes, served in a cup with Monticello Apple Butter and plain yogurt. (<— These, and the Mexican tamales, are a wildly popular Saturday morning hot breakfast item.)
Also look for Jam According To Daniel, LG’s Elixir (an invigorating cold-pressed immunity juice shot), elderberry cordials, and Nona’s Italian Cucina tomato sauce. There’s SO much good stuff to explore here!
Main Street Market
Main Street Market is a charming little European-style market complex located in what used to be a former gas station on Main Street. It’s a fun destination for foodies and cooks who really want to immerse themselves in local flavors and artisan products.
There’s a cheesemonger, a deli, a local butcher and fishmonger, and a florist specializing in locally-grown flowers. There’s even a place to buy locally-ground spices and coffee.
Over the years, the marketplace has also hosted everything from local artisan chocolate makers to sustainable clothing boutiques. (As well as an array of intriguing food and sundries pop-ups.)
The complex is also home to what are, in my opinion, some of the most iconic restaurants and shops in Charlottesville. Specifically: Feast!, Orzo, and Albemarle Baking Company. (All detailed in this article.) It’s a small marketplace, but worth visiting if you’re into local food, cooking, and novelty.
Feast!, as I will explain below, perhaps best captures the spirit of the market itself. It’s a bustling and innovative foodie haven showcasing the best local and internationally curated artisan pantry items in the city. The cheese selection alone is worth coming back to again and again. But the boutique sandwiches, dips, and spreads: oh my! These are also worth writing home about.
Gearharts Fine Chocolates
Gearharts Fine Chocolates used to be in the Main Street Marketplace, but outsized popularity initiated its move to the current, expanded open concept factory and cafe on Ridge McIntire Road, next to Staples.
Since moving out of their tiny market stall, they’ve added hot drinks and expanded their roster of baked goods all centering around rich, decadent, handmade chocolate.
Today, the shop is a lovely spot to sip a coffee, mocha, or drinking chocolate while savoring one of their excellent chocolate confections or truffles.
Their uber-fudgy Chocolate Flourless Torte is super popular, as is their Chocolate Buttermilk Cake. (Both are available whole or by the slice.) It is also not an exaggeration for me to insist that the cloud-like chocolate flourless torte ranks among the best I’ve ever had– anywhere. Please try it if you can.
In my book, moreover, chocolate from Gearharts is also THE quintessential Cville food souvenir.
^ My parents used to take me here to fill a box every time they visited me at UVA. (While most of my friends ate pizza and fries, my junk food of choice at this phase in my life was pear frangipane tarts from Albemarle Baking Company (detailed below) and Gearharts Chocolate bonbons, but I digress…)
All of the chocolates here are made fresh with local sweet cream and butter (no fillers, preservatives, or additives) and there’s SO much attention to detail that each piece is finished by hand.
This, combined with their insistence on not using GMO ingredients– optimizes for memorable flavors and texture combinations unseen at any other chocolate shops within 100 miles.
As a result, chocolate bucket listers should take note: their Virginia Highland Malt Whisky Truffles are nationally award-winning!
I also love their adorable Peanut Butter Pups (dog-shaped truffles made with hand-piped milk chocolate and Virginia artisan peanut butter) as well as the foodie-beloved Hot Honeycomb. (Hot Honeycomb is crunchy, puffed local honey candy with a subtle “sting” of chili pepper, dipped in vegan dark chocolate.)
Helmed by Virginia’s premier chocolatier Tim Gearhart, the shop’s truffle assortments may vary due to the seasonality of ingredients, but there are some classics here that I’ve been enjoying for over a decade.
For the quintessential experience, I recommend trying the Maya, the Taj, the Malted Milk Hazelnut, the Mint Julep, the Vanilla Bean Brulee, and/or the Almond-Mocha truffles. (My mom and I used to fight over the Mayas, which are perfect balls of cocoa-dusted dark chocolate ganache infused with cinnamon, ancho chili, and orange.)
Others, like the Mint Julep– milk chocolate ganache infused with fresh mint and aged Kentucky bourbon– simply scream “Virginia.” It’s lovely, as good chocolate– like all fine food– should reflect a sense of place.
Some Cool Independent Artisan Markets, Grocers, + Shops
Charlottesville has a whole host of amazing independently-run food stores, beginning with what I refer to as the Holy Quad-fecta of Feast!, Rebecca’s, Foods of All Nations, and Integral Yoga Natural Foods.
In college, I spent my days combing their shelves for cool seeded crackers, Clover Top Creamery goat cheese, sundried fruit, gluten-free brownies, and soy-free veggie burgers. Meanwhile, I stocked up on Albemarle Pippin’ apples, Henley’s Orchard peaches, grass-fed blue eggs, locally made sausage and hummus, and other tasty agricultural riches of the region.
If you’d like to do the same, you can! Below are some cool food stores and markets that you shouldn’t miss.
- Feast! – A lovely locavore and foodie haven. They have an exquisite cheese counter and great gourmet lunch takeaway (Virginia-style serrano ham sandwiches, anyone?). Shopping here in college always involved marveling at the quail eggs, pickled okra, homestyle Virginia peanut butter, exotic crackers, and olive oils on display. It’s also a great place to buy regional wine and spirits. I also love and recommend Feast!‘s housemade, pre-packed deli and sundry items like white bean pesto hummus, house crystallized ginger, Virginia cheese straws, locally-made peanut butter buckeyes, and homestyle Virginia sweet potato biscuits.
- Rebecca’s Natural Food – A health freak’s paradise. (No shade, as I write this as a self-proclaimed health freak!) They specialize in raw, paleo, allergy-friendly, sprouted, activated, and superfood-infused grocery items. Rebecca’s also stocks supplements galore– from CBD-infused almond butter cups to locally foraged herbal teas– as well as exotic dried fruits and nuts, local kombucha, bulk beans and ancient grains, “healthy” baked goods, and a tightly curated selection of farm-to-shop produce, meats, ferments, and dairy.
- Integral Yoga Natural Foods – A great selection of organic artisanal foods, supplements, and personal care products, many locally sourced. Vegetarian + vegans, rejoice! You can also get, like, unwrapped locally-made goat milk soap.
- Foods of All Nations – Here you can peruse amazing international ingredients (from Agua Fresca to compound butter to grape leaves) alongside locally produced staples like Schuyler Greens and MarieBette Cafe bread.
- MarieBette Cafe & Bakery – One of Charlottesville’s most adored European-inspired bakeries. Have a cup of coffee, a sandwich, or a perfect French pastry, and take home a bottle of artisanal SoSS while you’re at it.
Albemarle Baking Company
Award-winning Albemarle Baking Company is a staple for handcrafted bread, cakes, and pastries. At their friendly counter inside Main Street Market, they sell craft boules, loaves, and desserts that adorn nearly every menu across Charlottesville’s best restaurants. The bread and baked goods are equally lovely.
If you don’t get a chance to try some of their bread or any of their desserts during a sit-down meal, it’s worth stopping at their bakery for the pear frangipane tarts and pear buckwheat bread, alone.
They also make excellent seasonal scones and a rotating cast of fruit tarts, plus cool extras like Baked Currant Doughnuts, housemade granola, and Alexander tarts, as well as savory pastries like Roman pizza and Bacon, Egg, & Cheese croissants.
Oh, and their ginger molasses cookie– another bakery staple– is incredible. I love it almost as much as their bread, which is baked fresh every morning and best eaten in caveman-style chunks, straight out of the bag.
Bonus: Special Local Foods to Look Out For in Charlottesville
Cool things to look out for on menus, or to buy as food souvenirs.
Virginia is known for its apples, peanuts, fresh produce, dairy, and local honey. Whether you’re shopping at the farmers’ market or simply paying attention to menus, you can get more out of the experience if you know what makes Charlottesville and this region of the Shenandoah Valley so special.
Specifically, you should look for Albemarle Pippin apples, Winesap apples, and Jonagold apples, which are all special local varieties that reflect the unique terroir of Albemarle county.
Also look out for Albemarle Baking Company Bread, Jam According to Daniel, Gearharts Chocolate, Carpe Donuts (usually posted up at the Charlottesville City Market or other public events around town), local varieties of Elysium Honey (we like the Virginia Piedmont Wildflower and the Appalachian Sourwood!) and No Bull vegetarian burgers. (<— These are great, delicious options if you’re dining at Boylan Heights near UVA. Rebecca’s Natural Foods also sells them frozen.)
Hudson Henry Granola, meanwhile, is a 4X SOFI Award-winning granola that’s so good it’s been featured on The Today Show. (Katie Couric, who went to UVa, loves it!)
^ PSA: The Sofi Awards are like the Oscars of the food industry, and Hudson Henry Granola was awarded a Gold Sofi for their Maple, Pecans, and Coconut granola in 2017. Look for it at local Charlottesville markets like Rebecca’s Natural Foods.
Afton-based Trager Brothers Coffee, also local, has been certified organic for 27 years. Started with a cart on the Corner, and now it offers more than a dozen roasts, from farms that focus on environmental sustainability and fair wages.
Orange Dot Baking Company‘s English muffins are gluten-free, sesame-free, and gum-free, with at least 8 grams of protein each. No, it’s not snake oil. They’re just packed with healthy ingredients like chia seeds, organic eggs, and extra virgin olive oil instead of the cheap canola oil that most gluten-free bread products rely on. Also, look for The Little Things Shortbread from Found Market.
Simply Cheddar Cheese Balls are award-winning and an ideal Charlottesville food souvenir for parties and celebrations.
Bread from MarieBette Cafe & Bakery is also a must. This European-style bakeshop is a beloved Charlottesville staple.
Finally, Catbird’s Vahotcha Sriracha is to die for. (They join the ranks of Mad Hatter and SoSS, which complete the trifecta of small-batch hot sauce makers in Charlottesville.) If you’re a hot sauce lover, there is no better souvenir from this quaint little foodie city. Charlottesville’s best restaurants have an enduringly local appeal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take some of the flavor home with you. 🙂