The second most populous city in Virginia, Norfolk is big on culture and cuisine: one of the oldest cities in the state, it’s steeped in history, which is reflected in much of the architecture and style of its dining venues. Previously the feature of another Culture Trip article, here is an updated list of the 10 unmissable restaurants and eateries in Norfolk, VA.
Owned and run by a husband-and-wife team, Chartreuse Bistro exudes the influence of French cuisine in their menu and philosophy. The duo aims to promote farm-to-table cuisine, using only locally sourced produce and ingredients from organic, chemical-free and sustainable farms and gardens. This dedication to ingredients is manifested in the minimalist menu, which lets the flavours and quality of the ingredients take centre stage. The menu changes on a daily basis, meaning diners will always have a new experience when they visit this charming bistro. Visitors can look forward to dishes such as sausage and kidney-bean stew, pan-fried veal sweetbreads, root vegetable salad, homemade fettuccini and pan-seared rockfish. For a European taste and experience, Chartreuse is the place to try.
Doumar’s Cone and Barbecue is one of the oldest family-owned and -run establishments in Norfolk, with a history of more than a century. Doumar’s claim to fame is their apparent invention of the waffle icecream cone back in 1904, when restaurant founder Abe Doumar created this dessert dish for the St. Louis World’s Fair of that year. This drive-in eatery is a haven of sweet treats, from homemade icecream, to gluttonous sundaes, to must-try limeade, all of which visitors can enjoy from the comfort of their car. The renowned ice-cream cones are still made on the original cone machine, which was designed and built by Abe himself. If diners don’t have a sweet tooth, Doumar’s also specialise in burgers, hot dogs, and good old-fashioned North Carolina barbecue fare.
Housed within the walls of an 140-year-old church, Freemason Abbey Restaurant is located right in the heart of Norfolk. Originally built in 1873, the building has had many functions, with its current incarnation as a restaurant taking form in 1988. Nowadays, the premises has a casual, tavern vibe, which is warm and inviting, with the stained-glass windows, high vaulted ceilings, and large fresco painting giving a nod to its ecclesiastical past. Seafood is the main component of much of the menu, and popular favourites include the award-winning house she-crab soup, the broiled seafood platter, hand-cut steaks, and smoked Gouda tenderloin penne. There are also daily specials which come with seasonal accompaniments for an eclectic and memorable dining experience.
Although a recent addition to Norfolk’s culinary scene, Handsome Biscuit has quickly become the place to eat in the city, both for locals and visitors. Located on the edge of Norfolk’s famous Ghent neighbourhood, Handsome Biscuit is simply decorated, but with an eccentric twist, resulting in an atmospheric and exciting venue. However, what makes Handsome Biscuit so popular is its menu of sweet-potato biscuit sandwiches. An unusual-sounding delicacy, these sandwiches are a reworking of the tradition English breakfast muffin, and Handsome Biscuit create a flavourful medley of ingredients that are sandwiched between these two buns. Fillings include chicken salad with pecans and mixed berry compote, and roasted pork shoulder with sweet hot mustard and cucumber. With these innovative and inventive eats, this is definitely one to watch out for.
The name of this eatery gives it away – No Frill Bar and Grill specialises in simple and casual, but quality, food. Found in the Ghent neighbourhood, the venue is always a hive of activity. Its menu celebrates the taste of American cooking, with dishes such as the multi-layered Norfolk Hot Brown, which consists of grilled chicken and Surry ham drenched in Norfolk Canyon ale cream sauce, and cheddar Jack over sourdough toast. This venue is also conveniently located just a few steps away from the Naro Theater, so is the perfect place for pre-theatre dinner and drinks. Desserts such as homemade six-layer cake of coconut cream, red velvet and chocolate, and drinks such as cosmopolitans and martinis, finish off an exemplary evening at No Frill.
Another historical building in Norfolk, Omar’s Carriage House, was built in the early 1840s, and served indeed as a carriage house. Its current owner, Omar Boukhriss, purchased the establishment in 1998, and has kept on the carriage-house traditions. Dinner dishes include braised pork belly, five-spice rub, quinoa tabouliand poached egg, and cioppino mussels, clams, white fish, shrimp, light tomato broth and sourdough. One new innovation Omar has brought to the carriage-house is Moroccan Mondays, inspired by the proprietor’s heritage. Old local and new international traditions are seamlessly blended, making Omar’s Carriage House a restaurant with a distinctive character and charm.
Serving up Italian cuisine to the people of Norfolk is Razzo. While small in size, Razzo makes up for its lack of space with a menu full of flavour. The lemon chicken – pan-fried with crispy pancetta – has contributed to the venue’s popularity, with its simplicity but intensity of flavour. There are also other delights to choose from, such as antipasti of asparagus and prosciutto with goat’s cheese and balsamic reduction, salads like roasted beet salad with assorted greens, aged goat’s cheese and walnut Dijon dressing, and pizza made from scratch. Wine is half-price by the glass before 6.30 p.m., and with large servings and daily changing desserts, it is no surprise diners are returning again and again to Razzo.
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Describing itself as a late-night, quick-service eatery, The Dirty Buffalo is owned and run by ‘a couple of western New York transplants’. As a result, the food on offer reflects the flavours and cooking styles of New York, with tasty Buffalo-style chicken wings, delicious specialty subs, classic subs, and hot dogs, all lovingly prepared for Norfolk diners to enjoy. What gives the restaurant its name is the concept of a ‘dirty plate’, which consists of three layers of ingredients (a meat and two sides), topped with a complementary hot sauce and a choice of condiments. The restaurant jokingly describes this as ‘Picasso’s version of culinary art’. The establishment has won a number of awards and accolades, including the Norfolk’s Best New Restaurant and Best Wings. The Dirty Buffalo is the place for good, old-fashioned comfort food in Norfolk.
Located on the corner of Botetourt and York Street, in the historic area of Norfolk, is the local gem Voila. A little hidden away, this restaurant certainly lives up to its name when discovered by diners. The venue features eclectic décor and soft lighting that create an ambient yet animated setting where impressionist artwork and opera posters decorate the walls. Voila’s menu, designed by restaurateurs and owners John and Maggie Tsouris, comprises fresh ingredients seasoned with home-grown herbs, and features a three-course prix-fixe, which includes the key French- and Greek- inspired dishes available at the restaurant. The sumptuous menu is also accompanied by a selection of hand-made cocktails.