[Note: I started writing this post, oh, something like six weeks ago. Clearly, it has been sitting - unfinished - in my blog "drafts" box for a long time. Therefore, I've decided to publish what I have already now, and at some point when I have free time (ha!), I will post the remainder.]
In Part II of my Guide to Cville series (see Part I, on getting settled pre-school, here), I'd like to share some of my personal eating/dining/enjoying the glorious local bounty of the Blue Ridge favorites. I've done this "Best of" style, with some runners-up. Obviously, these are just my thoughts and opinions, and I've generally focused on foods/items that are either very convenient to North Grounds or well within the student budget. So, I haven't focused a lot of truly "fine dining," but I think these are worth checking out!
I've broken this list down into categories that make sense to me but that may not make sense to others. It's my blog, so I guess that's what you get... :-)
Best Quick Lunch Near North Grounds: Bellair Market
When I was planning to move to Cville, my boss in the legal dept. at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named, a UVa Law alumna, told me two key things about dining in Charlottesville: First, a Gusburger tastes delicious after a night on the Corner, and second, the best sandwiches in town are available at a gas station on Ivy Road. I have yet to indulge in a gusburger (fried egg+hamburger=heart attack), and I was very, very skeptical of gas station fare (though I do love me some Wawa). However, she was right - the sandwiches at Bellair Market in the Exxon on Ivy Road are pretty darn tasty sandwiches. Plus, they are affordable and close to school. Some of the other Exxons in the area also carry pre-made versions of the sandwiches (e.g., the Exxon at the corner of 29 and Hydraulic, on my way home), and the Exxon at Forest Lakes by Target also makes the sandwiches to order if you ever want to grab one on your way out of town.
Honorable Mentions: Padow's Hams & Deli in Barracks Road Shopping Center - North Wing (end of Millmont Street), Abbott Center dining room to-go at Darden (can't beat the convenience), and Chipotle in Barracks Road Shopping Center (sometimes you just want a big-a$$ burrito).
Best Indian Food: Royal Indian
For the record, there are basically three Indian restaurants in town: Royal Indian (by Target, so a little ways up 29), Maharaja (in the Seminole Square Shopping Center on 29 between Hydraulic and Greenbrier), and Milan (on 29 just before Hydraulic). Charlottesville seems divided on which is best. I like Maharaja better than Milan, but I've had people tell me I'm crazy. In fairness, I haven't tried the lunch buffet at either because I have always been underwhelmed by lunch buffets EVERYWHERE. But take-out from either Maharja and Milan is pretty good. Royal Indian, however, is worth the drive if you want to sit down. I went to try it for the first time the other day, and it may even be worth the drive for take-out.
Honorable Mentions: See above
Best Thai Food: Tara Thai
Consistently tasty food, extensive menu, close to grounds, the ability to have pad see yew and a cocktail at 2 in the afternoon after finishing your first round of b-school exams....what is not to like? Tara Thai's pad thai is only OK, but I think it's definitely better than that from other local restaurants, and I haven't been disappointed by the rest of the menu.
Honorable Mentions: Thai 99 II and Pad Thai (I thought their pad thai itself was kind of blah, but others like it)
Stay Away From: Monsoon if you want food that actually tastes like Thai food as opposed to a sloppy concoction of random noodle-y things (you can sit outside, though, and it's just off the Downtown Mall, so decide if you're willing to consume less-than-stellar food at Downtown prices for the location/outside factor)
Best "Splurge" or Off-the-Beaten Path Lunch: Feast!
When I lived in Boston, an $8-9 sandwich was no big deal; now that I'm a student, I can't spend that on a sandwich with any sort of regularity. However, every now and then, I need to treat myself, and the sandwiches at Feast! are truly scrumptious. Plus, they feature a lot of locally-grown vegetables and locally-raised meat products. Feast! is also a great place to buy tasty gourmet treats, local vegetables, local cheeses, etc. (and they would love to get more Darden/UVa law students to come in!). Courtney of their catering staff is also fabulous and very accommodating. It's worth the trek down West Main Street every once in a while.
Honorable Mentions: Cville Coffee (service can be slow, though - but they also host various musical performances in the evening), Revolutionary Soup (locations both on the Corner and off the Downtown Mall)
Best "Splurge" or Off-the-Beaten Path Dinner: Tie between C&O and Tavola
Both C&O and Tavola are a bit pricier (my C&O consumption has been funded by corporate sponsors prior to interviews, and Tavolo was my one nice treat to myself this summer), but they are tasty (and maybe great places to get the parents to take you when they are in town).
Honorable Mentions: L'Etoile, Mas Tapas
Best Frozen Concoction: Splendora's
I am a gelato snob, thanks to Caffe Gelato in Newark, DE, which I fell in love with when I was, oh, about 11 years old. Best. Gelato. Ever. Then I went away to college in Providence, where my roommate and I actually put together a business plan for a gelateria on Thayer Street as part of a class assignment (the horrible Roba Dolce actually opened the next year, but it was icky.) There was some decent gelato in Boston, but nothing to write home about. Then I encountered Splendora's. It is super, super, super delicious, and it's REAL gelato, not a masquerading imposter.
Honorable Mentions: Arch's Frozen Yogurt (those melt-y delicious brownie mix-ins are tasty, tasty morsels of evil) and Sweet Frog (which just opened on the Downtown Mall and is reminiscent of Pinkberry).
Best Bakery: Albemarle Baking Company
You walk in, and it just smells like a bakery should smell. Soooooooo good. I wish they would bottle that smell. Albemarle Baking Company has wonderful breads, melt-in-your-mouth croissants, assorted danish, and fancy schmancy cakes and tarts. Plus, it's conveniently located in the Main Street Market (see below).
Honorable Mentions: Hotcakes (great cakes, and some tasty "gourmet" prepared items and sandwiches, as well as breakfast items and a coffee bar) and Chandler's Bakery (up 29 in Albemarle Square - tasty cookies, eclairs, napoleons, etc.)
Best Single Location to Give Yourself a Local Food Coma: Main Street Market
The Main Street Market is the home of Feast!, the Organic Butcher of Cville, Albemarle Baking Co., Orzo, Calvino Cafe and Gearhart's Chocolates. Go. You won't regret it (well, your wallet will, but your stomach won't).