In the last few months, fodder for Grub has included everything from salted plum juice to imported Soviet-bloc salami, banounounous (a Jamaican fruit drink) to lamb served in a bag. We've met a horseradish junkie, searched out a goat-meat farm, and even as I write this, we're chasing down the fabled 68-cent hot pickle, available to prisoners at the commissary at the Richmond Jail.
In fact, that little 68-cent pickle might encapsulate everything I search for in the essential Grub experience: Cheap eats, inmates and hot pickles? Boom: all the elements are there.
With that in mind, I find it must be something of a feat contending for this "Best of Grub" designation. A restaurant, for instance, staffed with eccentric nut cases but with prices through the roof will never get a vote for a Grub winner. On the other, some lifeless codger selling $1 pies out of the trunk of his Delta '88 also has little chance at victory. Our favorites elicit all the senses: adventure, mega-affordability, absurd amounts of character in both the people and their food creations. Even if you choose not to follow our lead we'll be here offering at least a vicarious taste of life on the culinary edge.
Triangle Takeout,1000 N. 25th St.
The granddaddy of sketchy takeout joints, this tiny wedge of a food stand at 25th and P streets serves one inexpensive conversation piece after another. The Pork Steak combo, the Triangle Burger (a hamburger with grilled onions and fried baloney on top), or one of the best cheese steaks in town can each be had for around four bucks. Owners Mi-Suk and Roha Park are a dream to meet, making for an experience that greatly softens the edge of this otherwise rough little block.
In the "You gotta see this" category: The European Deli, 9026 W. Broad St.
Ukrainian native Tatiana Nikolayeva runs this little haven in a strip mall in the far West End. Eastern blocers will immediately recognize their beloved sprats and "Monastic Kvass," while the rest of us could kill hours in here just wondering what half the stuff tastes like.
In the "Who are those guys anyway?" category: The watermelon guys, Grace and 18th streets
They're out there every season, sidling their semihaulers up to both curbs and hawking melons for mere pocket change. The dark sister of Shockoe Bottom's Farmer's Market, this is the perfect place to drop that lump of dimes burning a hole in your pocket.
In the "Did he say horseradish?" category: Paul Sunday, the Horseradish Man.
The guy makes vats of the stuff just for kicks, growing and shredding his own backyard crop, then hawking the stuff from an Igloo cooler at the Shriners annual spring fund-raiser. A rare and delicious find, and well worth the winter wait.
In the "Art and Pho lovers" category: Pho-Tay-Do, 6328 Rigsby Road.
Move over, Ed Trask, there's a new muralist in town. Owner Chan Doan has painted nearly every square inch of the walls of his pho shack with scenes of scantily clad babes, foreign landscapes and even a giant Elvis breaking bad with a pair of chopsticks. English is barely spoken here, but the prices say it all.
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