Just like the rest of us Richmond diners, reviewers can be creatures of habit. And although they come together to name a singular Restaurant of the Year, there are always a few more that sharpen the edge of competition.
Karen Newton particularly likes Amuse at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “It would be enough just to walk through galleries to eat overlooking VMFA’s sculpture garden,” she says. “But perching at Amuse’s glass bar is like looking at a live version of Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,’ complete with fruit and flowers on the bar, stylish diners reflected in the mirror and an absinthe fountain.”
The museum’s signature restaurant keeps abreast of both contemporary culinary trends and the art scene well. “Where else can you find a carefully curated cocktail list based on the latest blockbuster exhibition and a menu rooted in what’s fresh and seasonal?” Newton says. “True, Amuse only does dinner two nights a week, but lunch is served every day, making it a gorgeous go-to for me.” vmfa.museum/visit/dining/amuse-restaurant.
Tacos lost their status as a hot trend a long time ago and, like sushi, morphed into a comfort-food staple. “There are so many great places in Richmond to find tacos now, and Don’t Look Back is my favorite,” Rachel Machacek says. “Good vibe, filling food, tasty margaritas, affordable prices. Its traditional-style carnitas version is my go-to, but I like having the gringo option, too. That’s what I grew up on and sometimes you just want both.” dontlookbackrva.com.
Chef and co-owner Joe Sparatta has garnered a lot of accolades for the food he turns out nightly at Heritage, and reviewer Matthew Freeman hasn’t grown tired of it yet. “Heritage offers the full package — creative cocktails, knowledgeable service and food to suit any mood,” he says. “Small plates for happy hour? Don’t pass up the smoked fish dip. Larger plates and brunch never disappoint either, with a seasonally rotating menu featuring the freshest ingredients.” heritagerva.com.
When Machacek wants something from the opposite side of the world, she grabs a swinging seat at Sabai. “I became a complete Thai food snob after a trip to Thailand last spring, and Sabai comes closest to the real deal for me,” she says. “The entrees I’ve tried, especially the curries, are all on point. However, it’s the appetizers that bring me back to the authentic street food flavors — especially the larb gai or minced chicken and som tum or papaya salad.” facebook.com/sabairva.
Dutch & Co. continues to lure Newton back. “Few places come off as genuinely welcoming, both in terms of the friendly, attentive staff and the inventive, yet inviting menu that attracts neighbors, food warriors and visitors without a hint of pretension,” she says. “The $5 chalkboard menu is proof enough of that, with temptations such as the recent rabbit terrine with pickled mustard seed and apple. The only time Dutch & Co. disappoints is Sunday nights, when it’s closed.” dutchandcompany.tumblr.com.