It seems that Coastal Virginia has boomed with new business this year, and, luckily for us lovers of good food, much of that business has been in the form of restaurants. We’ve also noticed a wonderful trend in the types of dining spots popping up lately. They’re not so much the run-of-the-mill, “something for everyone” type eateries. On the contrary, these establishments are more distinctive, more idiosyncratic … dare we say quirky … when it comes to the unique, meticulously created atmospheres and food specialties that become a focus, passion and obsession. In no particular order, we present a list of 10 new restaurants that joined Coastal Virginia’s dining scene in 2016. Each brings something special and rare to the table, from upscale seafood to burgers topped with marvelous concoctions to establishments with one sole focus, be it crepes, salads or mangoes. And each is most certainly worth a visit.
Green House Kitchen
345 Granby St., Norfolk
What is in vogue in the salad world has changed over the decades at least as often as women’s hemlines. There were the congealed and iceberg wedge salads of the mid-century followed by the ubiquitous spinach salads of the 1970s. Next up were salad bars, complete with sneeze guards, followed by micro greens with dried fruits and nuts, composed salads and chopped salads. Then recently came the Green House Kitchen’s salad bowls, putting the “salivate” in “salad,” and reinventing, yet again, what was once diet food.
Though these salads are composed, put aside any thoughts of the build-your-own salad bar chains. While such establishments have their place in the culinary landscape, this isn’t that. No, at Green House Kitchen, diners enjoy local breads topped with a Taste of the Day spread alongside inventive and boldly flavored salads with names like “Autumn” (herb-roasted pork loin, cinnamon cayenne butternut squash, Moscato ginger honey-poached pear stuffed with gorgonzola, candied walnuts, fennel and greens with balsamic vinaigrette) or “Mayan” (black beans, roasted cauliflower, fried egg, queso fresco, watercress and cilantro with tomatillo dressing on a slice of rustic local bread). The brunch menu offers additional indulgences in the form of omelets, pancakes and such.
A solicitous staff is happy to cater to every diner’s desires, be you carnivorous, vegan, vegetarian or gluten-sensitive. Each layered salad marvel is artfully arranged in handsome carved bowls and on carved platters and planks.
Diners can enjoy their dishes indoors or out, upstairs or down. If down, be prepared to be seduced by the gelato bar. And rather than assuming you have been relegated to the basement, the lower level almost feels like rooftop dining in reserve, with planter boxes, fresh flowers in glass bottles and a hint of an urban edge.
Warm but appropriately low-key greetings from the staff in the inviting and open kitchen welcome guests, while their goodbyes might as well be see-you-next-times because, after one meal, you know you’ll be back.
Enjoy lunch, brunch and dinner with or without alcohol from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–10 p.m.
33 E Mellen St., Hampton
Who would’ve thought that there’d be an entire restaurant based on a single fruit? At Mango Mangeaux, patrons can find mangoes in just about anything: salads with mango vinaigrette, shrimp soaked in mango ginger sauce, Cajun-fried catches served with mango tartar—there’s even mango butter for the bread.
The restaurant opened in Hampton’s Phoebus community in January 2016, thanks to the creativity and talent of three best friends and event planners in Hampton: Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tenecia Willis. As part of their event planning business, Simply Panache, the ladies started making mango preserves, which they soon realized was much more of a hit than they could have imagined. The preserves led them to local farmers’ markets and a deal with Whole Foods, but the mango mania really took off after the ladies brought their product to ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Mango Mangeaux’s exterior gets noticed for its mango-centric orange accents, and inside is bursting with fresh, modern energy from their cool, grey walls, white, padded nook and pops of orange found throughout to the posh bar where folks can sip a variety of cocktails featuring—you guessed it—mangoes.
Mango Mangeaux is open Sunday 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and Tuesday–Saturday 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–9 p.m.
4515 Colley Ave., Norfolk
Norfolk’s newest upscale seafood restaurant opened its doors mid-September, serving plates up that look more like works of art. Owner and chef Stephen Marsh, who also owns LeGrand Kitchen just two blocks away, opened Shiptown to serve what he calls pure, unadulterated seafood.
The restaurant’s name blends the owner’s passions with regional legacy. Marsh, who is also a musician, named his second restaurant after a local record label, but he says the name also brings to mind the military environment of the area and, of course, fresh delicacies straight from the seas.
You won’t find fried fish at this intimate eatery. Shiptown’s plates are lighter fares, featuring products from local fisherman and farms when available. Some products, like their fresh octopus, travel from as far as Spain. At Shiptown, they aim to keep preparation simple and let the ingredients do the showing off.
Shiptown doesn’t have a phone, so reservations aren’t needed. The nautically decorated space, with fishing basket lampshades hanging over the sleek bar, seats up to 65 with dining options both indoors and on an outdoor patio. Their menu, Marsh says, will rotate seasonally.
Shiptown is open Tuesday–Thursday 5–9 p.m. and Friday–Saturday 5–10 p.m. Closed Sunday–Monday.
2947 Shore Dr., Virginia Beach
Pull the black electric guitar door handle, and come on in to OBS (Oyster Bar & Steaks), which landed on Shore Drive in October. The atmosphere is comfortable but not out of the ordinary; dining spaces are predominantly high-tops with two lower tables and a large bar. When ordering here, let the restaurant’s name be your guide:
Oysters: Get ’em raw, char-grilled or fried rockefeller. Six different raw types were available when we visited, ranging from $1.50 Chesapeake Bay oysters to $4 Blue Points. Things get really wild with their selection of mignonettes: lemon dill; apple white balsamic vinegar; and sweet cucumber and dill.
Bar: They’ve got plenty of signature cocktails, crushes and the four essential Ms: martinis, mojitos, margaritas and mules, plus beer on tap and a changing wine selection. But the star here is their whiskey and bourbon selection: sweet bourbon, rye, Tennessee with hints of charcoal, Canadian, smoky scotch and toasty honey Irish, all with recommended menu pairings. And if you’re really a bourbon buff, consider joining OBS’s Bourbon/Whiskey club, with access to discounted pours, free monthly samplings and other swag.
Steaks: Choose from New York strip, bone-in ribeye, prime rib or filet, then go absolutely bonkers with toppings, including truffle demi, sautéed mushrooms or chimichurri.
We were slightly disappointed that the entrees (ranging from $21–$28) don’t come standard with sides, which were $5 extra apiece and totaled a bill that didn’t quite match the casual atmosphere, but look for weekly specials on their Facebook page.
401 Granby St., Norfolk
Sweet, like a golden pocket carrying nothing but sheer goodness, the crepes and the creperie itself deliver the same demeanor.
Among their masterfully thin crepes, their sweet side of the menu begins with the classic Nutella. Stick with a strictly Nutella crepe, or build with slices of strawberry or banana. Other sweet crepes are layered with salted caramel, a Biscoff spread, a variety of fruit compotes or simply butter and sugar, which is affectionately named “My Mother’s” on the menu. You can even add a scoop of ice cream if you’re really craving a sugar coma.
For the savory palates, The Saumon is folded with smoked salmon, salty capers, roasted red peppers, veggies and a rouille sauce. When the sweet tooth just isn’t signaling, additional savory ingredients include chicken, ham and an assortment of vegetables.
Our choice? One of their specials with the creamiest slices of warm brie and a healthy smear of orange marmalade. Let’s just say we didn’t tell anyone we had dessert for breakfast.
With a handful of barstools and a couple outdoor tables, there’s not much seating, but no need to fret. Ask for your crepe to go, and they’ll pack it in a cone for your noshing convenience.
Hours are Tuesday–Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; closed on Monday.
Kismet Bistro at 99 Main
99 Main St., Newport News
Tucked away just a block off Warwick Boulevard in the historic Hilton Village section of Newport News, Kismet Bistro at 99 Main is a hidden gem one might miss if you don’t know where to look. Featuring an unassuming façade, the restaurant’s atmosphere rapidly changes upon entering the cozy, open dining area featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a charming view of Main Street.
Offering traditional American cuisine with a few twists in the mix, Kismet is the third installment of the restaurant group that includes The Barking Dog in Hampton and The Deadrise on Fort Monroe. The culinary team of Kent Johnson and John Ledbetter have put together an eclectic mix of comfort food favorites served with a dash of exotic flair.
Options like steamed mussels in curry coconut broth; confit chicken leg molé; and ramen with smoked turkey dashi and pork belly make this menu stand out among others.
Open for supper Monday–Saturday from 5–10 p.m. and for brunch on Sunday from 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome.
Pimento Island Bistro + Rum Bar
1902 Colley Ave., Norfolk
Walking inside Pimento Island Bistro + Rum Bar feels both at home and on vacation at the same time. The intimate and cozy atmosphere makes guests feel like they belong, while the wicker-woven lampshades hanging over the bar and decorative hanging crates containing rum transport us to a faraway Caribbean island in the heart of Ghent.
It’s nearly a sin to visit a rum bar and not partake, and there’s plenty of options for imbibing, with rum hailing from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Barbados, to name a few.
The restaurant’s name, Pimento, comes from the Caribbean pimento tree, which is where we get allspice, a core ingredient in the dry rub of Pimento’s many smoked options. Their meats are smoked at IslandKrave Caribbean Smokehouse and Bistro (the same owners as Pimento), located on 21st Street. There’s smoked salmon, smoked pork and smoked chicken, served with coconut rice and beans and cabbage or collards; the Smokey Trio (a combination of all three); and Cheesy Smokes (creamy mac and smoked meat combo). Vegan fare is available, too, in the form of chickpea curry. They also have sandwiches named after Jamaican islands and family deals that feed four.
Jamaican comfort food can be hearty, so it’s important to save room for dessert. Destiny’s Rum Cake, a rich, rummy selection with coconut icing, is a must.
Pimento is open Tuesday–Thursday 5–11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon–11 p.m. and Sunday noon–10 p.m.
257 Granby St., Norfolk
Step into the ultra-cool spot that is Elixia, a tapas nook outfitted with a South American menu that makes my palate sing.
Take a seat at one of their chartreuse-colored booths or the moody-lit bar and order the rumaki to start. Sweet, salty, spicy—this appetizer hits every note on the taste buds. Like little morsels from heaven, we couldn’t decide whether we’d found ourselves in a dreamy dessert or a decadent appetizer. Perhaps it was the bits of chorizo tucked inside the dates with house-cured bacon and chipotle caramel that reeled us back into the latter.
A couple orders of tacos followed, each slathered with their homemade green chili verde sauce. Next were the chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers and elote, or Mexican street corn; all were equally divine.
But what stuck out the most were the cocktails—unique elixirs with unexpected, exciting ingredients that kept us on the edge of our seat. Adorned with a single orchid, our Kawamasu cocktail was shaken with gin, lemon, pineapple, grenadine, bitters and orgeat, which is their own toasted almond milk syrup. There were of course wine, spirits and brews to choose from; though, if you and a partner can agree on one beverage, order one of their punch bowls for a swingin’ time.
Whatever you do, don’t leave without dessert. The tres leches cake was perfectly saturated, creamy and became airier with each bite. Coupled with a dusting of toasted coconut, this was très delicious.
Hours are Tuesday–Friday noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; closed on Monday.
3701 Strawberry Plains Rd., Williamsburg
The brainchild of Steve Lewis—who owns Schlesinger’s Steakhouse in Newport News and Opus 9 Steakhouse in Williamsburg, as well as Hondos Prime and Bottoms Up Pizza in Richmond—and Steve Smith—the general manager at Opus 9—Craft 31 strives to combine family-friendly, casual dining with superior service and without any ties to chain restaurants.
Featuring gourmet hamburgers that are cooked in a cast iron skillet to keep the meat juicy and delicious, Craft 31 also features artisan, thin-crust pizza and an incredible raw bar that features the freshest local seafood, including three different kinds of Virginia oysters that you can eat on the half shell or steamed. And in case you were wondering, the name comes from the fact that they always have at least 31 craft beers on tap, in addition to 20-plus bottled beers, a full wine selection, cocktails and adult milkshakes (as well as the kid-friendly versions).
Situated on Strawberry Plains Road in Williamsburg, the spot is familiar to locals who recognize the location as the previous home to Cove Tavern & Taqueria and Backfin Seafood.
Open for lunch and dinner, their hours of operation are Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
The Bee & The Biscuit
1785 Princess Anne Rd., Virginia Beach.
As the celebration of Southern food culture continued into 2016, it became obvious that the beloved biscuit isn’t declining in popularity any time soon. And in case there was even the slightest doubt or highest gluten intolerance, The Bee and The Biscuit gracefully arrived in Pungo last June to ensure that those fluffy pillows of starch and pure love aren’t going anywhere.
The adorable spot on Princess Anne Road serves their biscuits with all the fixins: homemade strawberry jam, mango jam and silky honey butter. But biscuits are just the beginning. There’s an assortment of eggs benedicts, pancakes and French toast, omelets, sandwiches and wraps, salads and bowls (even açaí bowls). They’ve got quite the coffee machine to whip up specialty caffeinated beverages, and their festive adult libations will really perk up your day—flight of mimosas, anyone?
It’s all delivered in a honey of an atmosphere with a garden entrance, wrap-around porch and a beehive bar. We’d say this place is buzzing with good food and good folks in good ole Pungo.
The Bee & The Biscuit serves breakfast and lunch daily from 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Closed Mondays.