The Charlottesville 29: A Look at the “Bubble”


The task of narrowing to a list of 29 has never been more challenging. In assembling the list, I always make the same observation: the list of restaurants omitted from The Charlottesville 29 is greater testimony to the quality of Charlottesville dining than those on the 29. As in: “if ___ is not one of our area’s essential 29 restaurants, Charlottesville must have an amazing dining scene.” Fill in the blank with any of a number of very good restaurants.

This phenomenon becomes more striking each year as the number of good restaurants that open outpaces the closings. We are blessed with so many great restaurants in Charlottesville, run by talented and passionate people who really care. Inevitably, some do not make the list of 29.

Right from this list’s inception more than a decade ago, the arbitrariness of the number “29” (or any number) was recognized as a flaw. The number is a nod towards the 29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway, better known as Route 29. But, this site could just have easily set out to recognize a different number of restaurants. The task would be much easier, although perhaps less meaningful, had the site been named after I-64.

This time of year, a basketball analogy is apt. It’s March, which means the annual debates have begun about the “bubble” – who belongs in the NCAA basketball tournament and who does not. As several unlucky teams learn each year, a cold and uncaring divide separates invited teams from those left out. The NCAA Selection Committee extends 36 at-large bids, and there is rarely any significant difference between the 36th most deserving team and the 37th. Yet, one plays in the most exciting basketball tournament on earth. And, one does not.

The Charlottesville 29 has a similarly harsh cut-off. Little separates the 29th most deserving restaurant from the 30th. And as with the NCAA Selection Committee’s choices, while there are some restaurant entries with which most would agree, there may be others on which reasonable minds could differ.