Richmond is catching up as a food destination … or leveling the playing field. The area's burgeoning cast of culinary stars includes a James Beard award semifinalist, Lee Gregory at the Roosevelt, Lambstock foodie camping trip attendees, best-selling cookbook authors, oyster farmers and grape growers — all positioning Richmond as a destination for food lovers and creators. Just this month, the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern tweeted that the fish dish with special sauce at Peter Chang's in Short Pump could be his favorite meal in America. Days later, Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post's food critic, said he received the "best service he's had anywhere this year" in Richmond from Alexandra Tenser of Rappahannock.
Yes, the city's bettered its food game, and recent arrivals add more facets to the scene, including these four:
Bonchon, a Korean fried chicken chain originating in New Jersey, opened in west Henrico this summer to droves of customers and online buzz. Its meaty wings and drumsticks are flash fried to a brûléelike exterior and served two ways. The spicy version packs serious heat, the soy and garlic are sweet, and for the undecided, half-and-half portions. Bonchon's unfailingly speedy service can be almost too cheerful, which suits the casual contemporary space. Lunch specials start at $7.95 for three drums and four wings, pickled daikon radishes and a side. Dinner options include chicken by the plate and familiar Korean dishes such as scallion pancake and bibimbap. Bulgogi, beef cooked in a soy marinade, is enjoyable and easily split with fellow diners, but it's the chicken that's worth a return visit.
In the same shopping center, pupusas, tamales and pasteles are flying out the door at Comida Casera. This new business in the old Rocoto Chicken space is improving the level of Brazilian and Hispanic food in the West End. For $1.50, customers can get any one of the items — delicate, leaf-wrapped corn tamales with pork or chicken, often difficult to find in the area; pupusas, fried cheese-, pork- or chicken-filled corn quesadillas of sorts; or pasteles, small, deep-fried chicken or beef filled tacos. Get them to go and ask for extra curtido, a tangy cabbage salad.
A few miles east on Broad Street, Cuba Tropical in the former Mixing Bowl is perfecting its ropa vieja, which translates to old clothes and is tender meat added to several dishes. Empanadas are enlivened with the deeply flavorful beef. The fried dough pockets come three to an order ($6.99), and are best without the cheese and with extra meat. An otherwise boring pizza roll is jazzed up with the delicious meat ($6.99), and instead of the Cuban, go with the ropa vieja sandwich ($6.99). This simple combination of fresh-baked Cuban bread, shredded slow-roasted beef, mustard and pickles is a winner.
Speaking of pickles, Richmond has a new home-grown pickler attracting attention at South of the James Market and North Side's Little House Green Grocery. Pickled Silly is carving a nice niche for pickled tarragon carrots and dilly beans. The adorable jars (three for $24) and tangy product are making the rounds at dinner parties, where a long slice of toothsome vinegary carrot pairs well with any cocktail. S
8026 W. Broad St.
Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Comida Casera Brazilian & Hispanic Cuisine
8046 W. Broad St.
Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
4120 W. Broad St.
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sold at: South of the James Market and Little House Green Grocery