Here in Coastal Virginia, we’re fortunate to have a plethora of restaurant options, from succulent seafood to Southern favorites to international eateries. But, even with the variety of choices available, it’s still undeniably exciting when a new restaurant opens its doors. What will they serve? What will the atmosphere be like? How will they set themselves apart from the rest?
We’ve selected nine restaurants which opened in 2017 that are plating outstanding dishes, inviting guests into delightful atmospheres and, best of all, bringing something special to the table, whether it’s a burger spot defying the rules of side items, a barbecue joint that does way more than barbecue, a tequila selection large enough to make the devil crazy or simply, as one writer puts it, cuisine that defies pigeonholing.
It’s those unexpected factors that make these restaurants stand out and—we hope—stick around.
Clementine’s at Riverview
110 La Valette Ave., Norfolk
Thanks to six collective decades in foodservice, Matt Hartnett and Rick and Heather Fraley knew exactly what they wanted in their Riverview restaurant: an open kitchen in an intimate spot where they could make food they enjoy and interact with guests. “We like to eat and talk,” says Hartnett, and with table seating for just 18 plus four at the bar, they’ve carved out a warm, communal space for both.
Moseying about the seasonally-changing dinner menu (a half dozen each starters, mains and “remedies” aka cocktails) leads to cuisine that defies pigeonholing such as whipped goat cheese tartine, five-spice sticky ribs, oysters and grits, and beef ragout with pappardelle. By wildly popular demand, the sorghum BBQ’d scallops will prevail year-round. Brunch brings vanilla bean scones with house-made raspberry jam, cold brew lattes, steak and eggs, and a benedict boasting buttermilk drop biscuits, smoky pork tenderloin and whiskey collards.
Called Clementine’s after the Fraley’s daughter’s middle name (the couple also own The Ten Top), the homonymous orange fruit brightens duck breast with clementine-ginger glaze and Smoke on the “Brown” Water (Bulleit bourbon, smoked maple simple syrup, bitters and clementine peel). Some citrusy décor touches lighten the dark wood furnishings, too.
Along with schooling them in what they wanted, experience taught the trio what they didn’t want: a phone. But you can communicate with them via Facebook. Or, better yet, face-to-face.
Clementine’s is open Wednesday–Saturday 4:30–10 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; and is closed Monday–Tuesday.
Stellar Wine Co.
425 High St., Portsmouth
Located in a former comic book store, Stellar Wine Co. is sexy, sophisticated and sensual … and just a little bit quirky in some seriously seductive ways. Bar, table and cushy banquette seating combine with contemporary art and specialty lighting in a darkened interior to create a welcome respite. This wine bar and more also offers guests a unique sipping and sampling opportunity to include global olive oils and vinegars.
Owner Mandy Tamlin, who earned her chops over the course of two decades as a wine professional in the Washington, D.C., Carolina Triangle and Charleston, S.C. markets, has returned home to share her passion her way: beautifully-plated food and beverages served in a shimmering eclectic setting. And she never lets the menu go stale, changing it just enough to keep it enticing and a little surprising. The new offerings include a house-made pimento cheese “flat” (flatbread) with bacon and green onions; peppers stuffed with lentils, onions and wild rice; and crab cake sliders.
A local pastry chef is now preparing handmade desserts including a handful of tempting truffle flavors like Mexican chocolate and cayenne pepper along with flourless chocolate torte topped with ganache. Also look for weekly lunch specials, three changing mimosa flavors to tastefully booze up your weekend brunch and, beginning in 2018, a regular comedy night.
Stellar Wine Co. is open Wednesday–Thursday 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; and Sundays 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday–Sunday 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
455 Granby St., Norfolk
Prolific restaurateur Ron Zoby (456 Fish, 219 Bistro, Byrd & Baldwin Bros. Steakhouse and more) honored his father when naming this Italian incarnation. That’s Leo with the deep-set eyes in the mural dominating one wall of the high-style, contemporary setting in a vintage downtown building.
Sadly, Zoby passed away recently, but his partners decided that his daughter Michelle Zoby Payne (the creative force behind Leone’s On The Side, the restaurant’s adjoining sassy gourmet/gift shop) should uphold the legacy, becoming managing partner—so Leone’s lives.
Chef Marco De Rossi and general manager Luigi Capello (both born and raised in Rome) focus on Central Italy with touches of other region’s offering such as osso buco, gnocchi with Italian sausage and sweet peas, veal chop Milanese, risotto and shrimp, and fettuccine with lobster fra diavolo. There’s even a vegetarian menu including spaghetti and soy meatballs. Come spring, look for menus to change weekly and pizzas from a wood-burning oven.
The rooftop is still tops for sipping a cocktail (classics as well as fun signature twists like limoncello-laced mojitos) or dining under the stars, and Leone’s recently added a backyard patio for another inviting space to savor la dolce vita.
Leone’s is open Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.–late; Saturday 3 p.m.–late; and Sunday 3–9 p.m.
Grain, Saltine and Varia at Hilton Norfolk The Main
100 E. Main St., Norfolk
757-763-7279; 757-763-6280; 757-763-6281
If ever there was a preconceived idea of the limitations or standard fare offered at hotel restaurants, the three restaurants at Hilton Norfolk The Main sure changed a lot of minds (and garnered a lot of attention) since opening this past spring. Wildly differing in style and menus, each restaurant brings something special to Downtown Norfolk’s scene that we didn’t quite know was missing but now couldn’t quite do without.
We’ll start at the top, or rather the fifth floor, where Grain, Norfolk’s only rooftop beer garden, hosts lively crowds engaging in fireside chatter and indulging in creative comfort foods, like Honey Mustard and Basil Glazed Short Ribs with corn soufflé or Norfolk Cheese Steak, complete with truffle cheese fondue. Sunday brunch features some crave-worthy selections also: pork empanadas, arepas de choclo or crème brulée French toast are just a few favorites. And no matter the time of day, it’s sort of expected that your bites would be accompanied by one of the restaurant’s selection of over 80 beers on draft, local and national, plus bottles, flights and growler fills.
If wine is more your fancy, Varia (located on the second floor) offers a fabulous selection, exquisitely coupled with innovative Italian dishes. But first: tapas. Theirs are modestly priced at just $5 each or four for $18, and the options are outstanding: figs stuffed with gorgonzola, prosciutto and Barolo glaze; or bone marrow with blood orange fennel salad on crostini with red onion and marrow jam. Other options like salumi and cheese hailing from Virginia farms, pizza crafted with heirloom flour, and an in-house-made pasta selection, plus seafood and farm-raised entrees, make Varia a mouthwatering option from start to finish. Savor each course in Varia’s luxe space, featuring crisp white chairs, a gorgeous piano and reclaimed chandeliers from the historic Cavalier Hotel.
Perhaps considered the pearl of The Main, their first-floor restaurant, Saltine, is known for a locally-sourced menu focused on seafood prepared in tantalizing and unexpected ways. Oysters are a must, and their daily selection is prepared raw with red chili mignonette; charbroiled with garlic butter and pecorino; or crispy with aji chili sauce and pickled green tomatoes. Their ceviche and poke cart allows guests to choose from variations of raw fish, prepared tableside by a seafood expert. Finally, their seafood entrees are downright exhilarating, from the wasabi pea crusted tuna to the salt baked rockfish. The sophisticated space is ideal for date night noshes, as well as after-work happy hours, especially if Mixologist Josh Seaburg is manning the bar.
Grain is open Monday–Thursday 3 p.m.–midnight; Friday 3 p.m.–2 a.m.; Saturday noon–2 a.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Happy hour is Monday–Friday 5–7 p.m., and Sunday brunch is 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Varia is open daily for breakfast 6:30–11 a.m.; for lunch 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and for dinner 5 p.m.–closing.
Saltine’s bar is open Sunday–Thursday 5–10 p.m. and Friday–Saturday 5 p.m.–midnight. Lunch is served daily 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m., and dinner is served daily 3 p.m.–close.
El Diablo Loco Cantina & Tequila Bar
6 E. Mellen St., Hampton
What exactly is it that makes the devil crazy? If the tequila selection at El Diablo Loco Cantina—featuring no less than 58 different brands at the ready from gravity-fed pour bottles—is any indication, that particular mystery has been solved.
Opened in February, El Diablo Loco takes over the spot from previous tenant, Six Little Bar Bistro, which was in the Phoebus location for 10 years. The tables are small and packed together closely, but if you want to be part of the real magic, you’ll want to sit at the bar—half of which is true cantina-style facing the cozy kitchen, the other half of which features the aforementioned tequilas, as well as whatever else you may want to quench your thirst.
Featuring a small menu of food that is inspired by the West Coast and the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, El Diablo is one of the latest destinations created by Gary McIntyre, Joe Illes and Sean Pepe, the trio who also owns Fort Monroe’s Deadrise and Newport News’ Kismet Bistro. McIntyre and Pepe also own The Barking Dog, open in Hampton and soon to open in Poquoson.
El Diablo started serving lunch during the week in November and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.–midnight; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.–2 a.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Craft Burger Bar
1706 Mediterranean Ave., Virginia Beach
Pulsing with a ViBe vibe, Craft Burger Bar distinguishes its centerpiece with Greg Norman Signature Wagyu beef, derived from the same breed as Japan’s Kobe and branded by the Australian golf legend (who once worked cattle ranches).
Lean quarter pound patties cook lightning fast, so don’t be surprised when asked, “Pink or no pink?” instead of, “How do you want that cooked?” (Feel free to specify, though.) Some consider it sacrilege that house-cut fries aren’t included (they’re among $2.99 sides with sweet potato waffle fries, tater tots and sautéed veggies), but kale chips (tantalizingly salty, so better order another local microbrew) do accompany a dozen mouthwatering combos like the Coronado (avocado, jalapeno-cilantro aioli) and Hawaiian (grilled pineapple, teriyaki BBQ sauce, onion straws, cheddar).
None catch your fancy? Craft your own from nearly two dozen toppers (like fried egg or chili). For further genre-bending customization, CBB allows you to choose a gluten-free bun, lettuce wrap or tortilla in lieu of brioche bun, swap grilled or fried chicken for beef, and rounds out the menu with vegan burgers, salads and organic Carolina “snap dogs.”
An old-timey “Bourbon Whiskey” mural oversees the hipster wood and copper-kissed setting and inspires a perfect order here: Whiskey Burger (fried pimento cheese, bacon, onion straws, BBQ sauce) washed down with a small batch bourbon. Oh, and whiskey pound cake for dessert.
Craft Burger Bar is open daily from 11 a.m.–midnight.
Old City Barbecue
700 York St., Williamsburg
One of the newest restaurants on the Williamsburg dining scene, Old City Barbecue moved into the Yorkshire Steak and Seafood Restaurant’s location in the summer of 2017. It is owned and operated by Williamsburg natives, Vernon Geddy IV (pitmaster) and cousins Gardiner Brooks IV and Mason Brooks (chefs).
When visiting, you can smell the aroma of smoke in the air as the barbecue is cooked over hardwood coals. All of the other items on the menu are deliciously made from scratch. The restaurant offers organic chicken and Duroc pork and is partnering with Virginia Beer Company (also in Williamsburg) to create a beer-inspired barbecue sauce.
But don’t let the word “barbecue” throw you. Focusing on locally- and sustainably-sourced ingredients in what they call a “nose to tail” inspired menu, you can certainly get smoked meat plates and samplers of pulled pork, pulled chicken, sliced pork, prime brisket, ribs and pork belly, but you’ll also find traditional Southern treats such as pimento cheese on Ritz crackers, salads, sandwiches (including a Portobello mushroom option) and tacos. You can also get sides such as coleslaw, collards, cheddar poblano mac & cheese and smoked stout beans—available in pints and quarts if you’d like to take some home with you.
Old City Barbecue is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m.– 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; and is closed on Monday.
Amber Ox Public House
521 Prince George St., Williamsburg
Williamsburg received an early Christmas present in December 2017 with the opening of the Amber Ox Public House. The idea behind its inception was to combine a casual place to hang out where one can get a quality craft beer (hence the “amber” part of the name) paired with something a little more substantial than the offerings normally found on food trucks.
The result is amazing. In addition to their own line of brews, they also offer “hand-selected guest draughts” from other local brewpubs such as Virginia Beer Company in Williamsburg, Big Ugly Brewing in Chesapeake, Benchtop Brewing Company in Norfolk and Legend Brewing Company in Richmond.
The menus are equally remarkable. Where else can you order a quality quaff and pair it with Shrimp & Grits, Sweet Tea Brined Pork Chops, or “Thee AO Burger,” topped with pimento cheese, caramelized onion jam, house bacon and fried egg aioli?
When the warmer weather comes back to town, there is plenty of outside seating on the patio and garage bay doors that can be opened to let the fresh air in (on milder days). For now, grab yourself a place at the large, L-shaped bar or settle in on a stool at one of the community dining tables made from polished tree slabs.
Brown Chicken, Brown Cow
13 E. Queens Way, Hampton
Carlyle Bland, the king of Queen’s Way in Hampton, is at it again with his newest restaurant. A gourmet burger and barbecue eatery, Brown Chicken, Brown Cow opened in May and now occupies the space where both Conch & Bucket and Goodfellas once occupied.
Co-owned with his wife, Christina Bauhof, Brown Chicken, Brown Cow follows the success the pair has had with their other two restaurants on Queen’s Way—Marker 20 and Venture Kitchen. It features a large stage for live music, an ample bar with a great assortment of Virginia and imported beers on taps, plenty of seating indoors and even an outdoor patio in the back for those who want to dine in a café-style setting.
The menu offers grass-fed beef burgers, organic chicken, smoked meat platters with your choice of “dipper” sauces and some out of the ordinary options such as smoked salmon cakes and a house-made falafel patty with spinach. If you’re in the mood for a burger, you can choose from one of their carefully crafted selections or build your own, selecting from a wide variety of cheeses and toppings. You may also want to check out their “Boozy Floats.”
Brown Chicken, Brown Cow is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Wednesday from 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; and is closed on Sunday. Happy hours are from 4–7 p.m.