What an exciting time to dine in Coastal Virginia. Throughout 2018 we’ve witnessed and experienced some truly remarkable restaurants joining the local cuisine scene—from a permanent place to stuff your face with those pillowy soft Belgian waffles to a cozy spot ready to host your walk on the raw side, plus Commune’s doughy counterpart and a restaurant that’s inspired by art. There are plenty more to adore aside from the dozen on this list, so consider this an amuse-bouche of must-try offerings from an exceptional year of dining out.
Photo by Ryan Miller
2410 Colonial Ave., Norfolk
Kudos to Mea Culpa for picking up where its predecessor pop-up Waffletina left off. The enticing eatery in Norfolk has taken up residence at a historic home with a white picket fence and pointed rooftop that redefines your expectations of a waffle house.
Where Waffletina once served at bars and breweries while garnering a foodie fandom, Mea Culpa’s new abode is the next-door neighbor to Toast in Park Place and is a full-on breakfast-brunch-lunch nook. Plants perch on the windowsills by the porch; a turquoise tiled backsplash accentuates the baristas’ bar; the aroma of Three Ships Coffee wafts throughout the house; and foamy vanilla lattes are embellished with the shapes of tulips and hearts.
There’s a simplistic selection of gourmet pastries, bowls of oatmeal and small plates, including their lauded and lavish Liege waffle sandwiches. These handmade offerings change regularly on the menu from roasted mushroom with Asiago; to pulled pork and Havarti; to charred cauliflower with olive tapenade, brie and greens; or roast chicken with pickled veggies and nuoc cham sauce—each sandwiched between two crispy Belgian waffles topped with sweet pearl sugar.
Mea Culpa Cafe is open Wednesday–Sunday 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
Photo by Josh Malbon
3004 Pacific Ave., Virginia Beach
Knowing he has enjoyed years of well-deserved success heading Virginia Beach favorite eatery Eurasia, buzz among bivalve lovers was strong last summer as they anticipated David Edelen's second venture, an upscale oyster bar on Pacific Avenue. When the doors of this sleek new restaurant opened in July, expectations were high, but diners quickly deemed it a more than worthy hot spot that has filled a void in the Oceanfront seafood scene.
Awash in hues of blue and hip decor, The Atlantic has become a popular pick for classy nights out on the town. Chef Dave Brue created a seafood-centric menu of small plates perfect for sharing. An appealing selection of both cold—try Salmon Crudo, Smoked NC Trout Pate or Steak Tartare and Crispy Oysters—and hot—go for Steamed Green Curry Muscles, Lowcountry Shrimp Boil or Sautéed Blue Crab Claws—offerings amps the ability to sample. Of course, you can't go wrong with the raw bar, showcasing a variety of oysters from both local and more far-reaching waters. We love comparing salty versus sweet and slurping our liquor along with Cucumber Honey Mignonette and The Atlantic Hot Sauce.
A daily happy hour (or anytime, really) lures patrons to the bar for thoughtful craft cocktails elevated with house-made shrubs and bitters.
The Atlantic on Pacific is open daily from 11 a.m.–midnight.
Photo by David Uhrin
2135 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach
A rotating corner lot in Strawbridge Market has entertained everything from a tanning salon to a forgotten local dive but seems to have found its niche as Civil Libation, a trendy cocktail eatery founded by Whiskey Kitchen Co-founder Delynda Woods Rowell.
Civil Libation complements its gastropub brother with a dapper list of handcrafted libations and playful twists on traditional bar cuisine. Each of the cocktails created by Bar Manager April Tomas are brimming with top-shelf spirits and ripe flavors from fresh herbs, hand-squeezed fruits and the occasional jalapeño, like in the zesty Hotsy Totsy. Creamy nightcaps await as well, including a red wine ice cream float, a boozy hot chocolate and creamy rum libation made with Three Ships Coffee.
As if the cocktails are not impressive enough, the assortment of samplers, greens and main event courses are certainly flavors to write home about. Some of the most eclectic items on Civil’s non-libation list are flamin’ hot mac & Cheetos, squash rings served with a vegan chipotle aioli and a barbecue pulled jackfruit that is sure to please even the most carnivorous diner.
However outlandish, Civil Libation’s dishes are crafted with the highest quality ingredients sourced from local farmers, bakers and spice makers.
Civil Libation is open Sunday–Monday 4–9 p.m. and Tuesday–Saturday 4–10 p.m. with daily happy hour specials from 4–6 p.m.
4117 Granby St., Norfolk
Refined, elegant and intimate are just a few words that come to mind when thinking of Norfolk’s newest European bistro, Blanca Food + Wine. Unlike other internationally inspired restaurants in the area, Blanca goes beyond classic pasta and ratatouille dishes to create an exclusive, rotating list of Old World and New World eats.
Owner and Executive Chef Courtney White is a Suffolk native whose culinary portfolio reveals exceptional residencies in famed kitchens throughout New York City, South Carolina and Italy. Each dish on the Blanca menu is deeply rooted in her travels and experiences as a budding chef.
As its menu changes with the seasons or simply on a whim, each visit to Blanca introduces a new opportunity for gastronomic exploration. On rotation for winter fare is a juicy hanger steak plated with romesco, sunchokes and cauliflower as well as a tender rockfish perched atop a hearty scoop of Carolina gold rice and savory chorizo broth.
A European meal is of course incomplete without a glass of vino. “All of our wines are new in comparison to what restaurants in this area are serving,” says White. “We’re pulling from a lot of lesser known, Old World regions in France, Spain and Italy.”
Oh, and don’t forget to ask about dessert.
Blanca Food + Wine is open Tuesday–Thursday 5–10 p.m. and Friday–Saturday 5–10:30 p.m.
411 W York St., Norfolk
Brought to us by Malia Paasch (of The Birch) and Jeremy McGee, Four Eleven’s intimate, refined space seats guests along the brick-exposed wall to the right of the entrance or at the equally luxurious granite-topped bar. Here patrons can watch the shakings and pourings from bartender Matt Labarge while getting glimpses from the kitchen straight ahead, where the magic of Mid-Atlantic cuisine with a contemporary twist comes to life under the care of Chef Shawn Matijevich.
You simply can’t go wrong, no matter what you order, but here are some favorites we recommend. The Eastern Cheese Board, accompanied by honey comb, pear conserva and grilled focaccia, will become the standard by which you compare all other cheese boards, especially if the luxuriously creamy-crumbly Asher Blue is available. Pastas are made in-house, with offerings like Tagliatelle featuring squid ink, Chesapeake blue crab and lobster roe; or Capellini with gulf shrimp, lobster velouté, black truffles and fennel. Entrees range from fish to pork to chicken to ribeye and an eggplant offering as well. The red drum with masa, banana pepper, green peppercorn and lion’s mane mushrooms is especially exquisite.
Among a menu of stunning selections, guests can anticipate a few delightful surprises coming from the kitchen door: an amuse-bouche to tempt your taste buds (we devoured the most upscale tater tot ever on a recent visit), cheddar cheese biscuits with pimento-peach jam that’s worth a visit here just on its own and a complimentary treat (like tiny, perfect macarons) to end the evening on a sweet note. Add to that extremely attentive service from a knowledgeable staff and a boutique inn next door, and you’re set for date night done so right.
Four Eleven York is open for dinner Wednesday–Thursday and Sunday from 5–10 p.m. and Friday–Saturday from 5–11 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Photo by David Uhrin
532 Virginia Beach Blvd., Suite B, Virginia Beach
Prosperity for the food scene. Prosperity for an up-and-coming neighborhood. Prosperity for the entire Virginia Beach community. These are the tenets to the name for the artisanal bakery and Roman-style pizzeria in the ViBe. We’ve been enamored with Kevin Jamison’s Commune for its farm-to-table fare, and now his latest dining destination founded with Head Baker Ishiah White is more to obsess about.
Cater-cornered from Commune and painted in a contrasting white, the commodious kitchen and pantry was converted from a storage facility and refurbished with tones of modernity with wide wooden tables and shelves, sputnik chandeliers and rolling doors. In the daytime the countertops are covered with fresh batches of precious pastries—cookies, croissants, muffins, morning buns—beside baskets of bread, baker’s racks with trays and display cases gleaming with dainty desserts and confections.
By 5 o’clock the ovens are heated up with pans of Roman-style pizza, a taste acquired from Jamison’s four-year tenure abroad as an international affairs student in Italy. Rectangular, sold by the slice and cut with scissors to keep the toppings intact, it’s a style that attributes its chewy crust from its dough’s fermentation over several days. From mortadella, Margherita and mushroom truffle goat cheese to pepperoni, prosciutto broccoli and potato, each are presented on a wooden platter as pizza with pizzazz.
Prosperity Kitchen and Pantry is open Tuesday–Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.–11 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Photo by @InsideVirginia
820 Shirley Ave., Norfolk
Executive Chef and Owner Ian Hock has an expansive culinary lexicon with cooking spells at Terrapin, Esoteric, Shiptown and a forthcoming gig at the much-anticipated The Veil Norfolk brewpub. It’s his New American cuisine at Codex though that’s been a summation of his gastronomic brilliance, gifted with an intellect for ingredients and revered recipes.
Co•dex: an ancient manuscript, yes, but for Hock, it’s a curated set of photographs his father exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that’s a fixture at the restaurant. The pop-up is in a Ghent house home to Pendulum Fine Meats, but the setting moonlights as Codex when the butcher closes shop for the night. It’s intimate yet communal as there’s room to converse over candlelight at chevron-patterned wooden tables. Portions are apportioned into a trilogy of chapters and decoded as small plates, shareable plates and entrees you’ll want to keep all to yourself. A fastidious collection of beer and wine choices combine with dishes, which rotate per season.
To elucidate on the edible anthology, Chapter I are tiny tidbits of chicken liver tart, pimento, and short rib poutine; Chapter II are vegetable shareables with a roasted cauliflower head in vadouvan over a bed of garlic lime yogurt, radicchio plated with a spread of greens and clusters of burrata and almonds; and Chapter III bookends with a brioche-bun burger topped with Cabot White Cheddar and aioli, scallops in a chestnut purée and Fett, housemade fettuccine made for Hock’s father.
Codex is open Wednesday–Saturday 6:30–10 p.m. and Sunday 5:30–9 p.m.
Photo by Lindsay Collette
1003 Brick Kiln Blvd., Newport News
NEST Kitchen & Taphouse just might be Coastal Virginia’s best-kept secret and most deserving of having the beans spilled. It could be an upmarket hipster hotspot or fresh-faced town center anchor with its locavore inclinations and contemporary aesthetic (handsome reclaimed woods, light fixtures resembling modern art installations, garage doors opening onto a light-strung patio), but its perch on the ninth hole of Kiln Creek Golf Course traps some folks into thinking you have to be Jordan Spieth to drink and dine here. Nope. Open to the public, it’s apropos for Instagramming foodies and craft beer enthusiasts alike.
“There are other restaurants doing scratch cooking, but it’s hard to think of any that are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner like us,” says Melissa Weston, food and beverage manager. She and the entire staff can’t hide their pride in the 20 gleaming taps jutting from white subway tiles dispensing only Virginia craft brews and creative, seasonally changing fare. NEST’s menus champion farmers and products like local, cage-free eggs, Shenandoah cheddar and crispy, whole, local snapper with Virginia peanuts among its range of starters, handhelds, entrees, bowls and more. There’s a state-of-the-art event space attached to NEST, next to the boutique hotel (which a lot of people probably didn’t know about either).
NEST Kitchen & Taphouse is open Monday–Saturday for breakfast (7–11 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m.–4 p.m.) and dinner (4–10 p.m./11 p.m. weekends); and Sunday for brunch (7 a.m. –2 p.m.).
Photo by Eric Nelson
727 W. 21st St., Norfolk
Crudo has been creeping up on multiple restaurant menus lately, but you won’t find a selection that compares to the menu of Crudo Nudo by Eric Nelson in Norfolk’s Ghent. Whether you go land (chopped prime sirloin with cured egg yolk and horseradish) or sea (big eye tuna, scallops or Japanese hamachi) your palate will be dazzled by the textures and flavor combinations coming your way. Take, for instance, the wild caught king salmon. It’s topped with green apple, microgreens, radish and dill meringue that adds a fun and unexpected crunch to this exciting dish. Having fun with the menu while offering some unpredictable elements is what it’s all about for Nelson, who set out to open a restaurant that didn’t have any rules or preconditions. “I knew I wanted to open my own place so that I could create and let guests into my head,” he shares. “I like to keep things simple and less of an educational experience, so we keep the menu straightforward.”
Now that we’ve covered the Crudo, let’s explore the Nudo. Nelson makes his own noodles and presents them with sensational sauces and toppings. A popular choice is the Rags to Riches—pappardelle noodles cooked in truffle broth and garnished with fresh truffles.
Also among the menu’s unconventional offerings are pintxos (small snacks) like salted cod puffs or boquerones (marinated anchovies) with lemon and parsley gremolata. There’s also a section labeled From the Yakatori where you’ll find items like Charred Spanish Octopus with marinated white bean and shiso or Togarashi Seasoned Flat Iron and Sesame Bok Choy.
As if you needed anything more to thrill your taste buds, their desserts are some of the most fascinating around. A favorite is the Chocolate Encased Avocado Cheesecake with Valrhona chocolate and crushed pumpkin seeds in the center and a lime cumin syrup drizzled artfully on the dish.
Cocktails here are a must because with Josh Seaburg manning the bar, you don’t want to miss the fun and sophistication this master mixologist brings to each and every sip.
Crudo Nudo is open Monday–Thursday 5–10 p.m. and Friday–Saturday 5 p.m.–whenever.
Photo by David Uhrin
The Cavalier Virginia Beach
4200 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach
There are so many reasons to adore the recent renovation of The Cavalier, and Becca tops our list. The hotel's ability to make you feel elegant upon entry continues in its centerpiece restaurant with impeccable service, artful plates of sophisticated cuisine and a combination of modern and historic decor.
Becca has become known as a special occasion standout. Put on your best duds and get ready for an unforgettable evening that will make you feel transported to another time but where you can still delight in exquisite modern food. High ceilings, tall windows and a bright terrace bring the beautiful garden setting inside. If you don't dine outdoors, make sure to arrive pre-sunset for dinner service to enjoy the view or at least a pre-meal cocktail among lush foliage (we recommend The Garden Party, a refreshing combination of vodka, cucumber, mint, lemon and lavender bitters).
Executive Chef Dan Elinan delights diners with a menu of skillfully executed and beautifully plated dishes using locally sourced ingredients, including many from the property's garden. Choose seafood entrees such as a traditional Chesapeake Jumbo Lump Crab Cake or the Whole Grilled Bronzini, or go for Rotisserie Roasted Muscovy Duck, lamb chops or prime rib. There is nothing too fussy about this food. Here, the fuss is made over the guests.
Becca is open daily from 7–11 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m. for lunch and 5–10 p.m. for dinner. Sunday brunch is served weekly from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Pupuseria Y Taqueria Andres
8934 Pocahontas Trail, Williamsburg
As tacos are to taquerias, pupusas are to pupuserias. So, what’s a pupusa you ask? El Salvador’s edible national treasure, a thick corn cake cloistering savory fillings. Try one for yourself at this small restaurant with the unassuming sign in plain lettering over the door in a row of brick shops not far from the Newport News border. Adela Guerra, who learned cooking from her mother in Santa Ana (an hour’s drive from the capital city, San Salvador), commands the kitchen with help from her daughters Vanessa and Mariela, plus other relatives.
Don’t come in a rush; this isn’t fast food. Vinyl tablecloths lend a homey touch as if you really are in Adela’s home. She offers tacos and carne asada platters, as ubiquitous in the U.S. now as cheeseburgers (also on the menu), so much so, they’re gateway dishes to lesser-known Latin American fare. But come for the pupusas, a little like a griddled enchilada pancake, a lot like the best Hot Pocket imaginable, oozing with chicharron (pork ground to a paste), cheese, beans and loroco (an edible flower native to Central America). Dress them with accompanying salsa and curtido (pickled vegetables). Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner—this eatery and its adjoining grocery are open daily.
Pupuseria Y Taqueria Andres is open Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
4314 Colley Ave., Norfolk
Chef Stephen Marsh added another gem to Norfolk's North Colley corridor last year with a stand-alone, unpretentious diner found just steps from the sidewalk. Hoyt’s Luncheonette offers familiar favorites intensified with Marsh’s creative flair. Expect to indulge in a classic Reuben but with the acidic bite of house-fermented kimchi. Or if a hot dog is your speed, anticipate a foie gras version or one topped with homemade pimento cheese.
Expansive windows create an open, airy aura with understated throwback furnishings that walk a line between natural and sustainable and complement diner-style white subway-tiled walls. There are a few tables for seating, but high-top bar stools are the preferred choice for the lunch crowd whom take their ordering leads from enthusiastic bar staff spouting daily specials feet from where the magic happens in the kitchen. Unstained, wooden picnic tables with umbrellas on a paver patio offer patrons the chance to both people watch and potentially get a view of a branch of the Lafayette River.
While the setting is inviting, Hoyt’s real draw is the ever-changing yet memorable food choices. The menu features some of Marsh’s benchmark creations such as the LeGrand Burger (single or double) and his Smoked Whitefish dip, but he misses no opportunity to fashion new plates with seasonal ingredients such as a Ramp Gritcake or Rhubarb and Strawberry Soup. Marsh stretches his legs and shows his culinary range throughout the menu and also with pop-up evening offerings and hearty weekend brunch indulgences.
Hoyt's is open Tuesday–Thursday from 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Wednesday from 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–9 p.m. for a pop-up specialty food night, Friday from 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. and for brunch on Saturday from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. It is closed Sunday and Monday.