The Charlottesville 29

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Tag: Best Thing I Ate All Year

Best Thing I Ate All Year 2022: Charlottesville’s Food Community Name the Year’s Best

Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by asking chefs and others in the industry: what was the best thing you ate all year? Picks from prior years are here: 2021, 20202019201820172016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in our food community’s annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2022 Dish of the Year is here.

Jason Becton (MarieBette)

Chicken Confit at Birdhouse. “This past summer, Patrick and I had a date night every Thursday at Birdhouse. The food is delicious and made with care and intention. Liz and Tim are great hosts, and whenever we would go in we would just have Liz bring us a bottle of whatever she thought we should try which was always great. One standout on their menu for me, and probably the best thing I ate this year, is their chicken confit. It’s served on a thick piece of sourdough and mixed with white beans, fresh herbs, greens, onions and a some capers. It’s a great way to start the meal, and even my picky kids ask for more.”

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Red Hot Blues with Danger Sauce and Wait a Minute Sauce at Continental Divide. “I’ve had this dish dozens of times but the first time I had it at the bar post-isolation really tugged on my heart strings. It was exactly the same as the time I had had it before. The last time was pre Covid lock downs, late 2019 I think. It was perfect. Precisely what I wanted. Precisely as I had remembered it. It impressed on me that things can get back to some kind of normal. The world had changed but Continental Divide hadn’t. I love them for that.”

Liz Broyles (Birdhouse)

Chopped Salad from Lampo2Go. “The classic combination of radicchio, piquillo peppers, provolone, salami, olives, marinated chickpeas, and pepperoncini is basically an antipasto with a bunch of romaine and an oregano red wine vinaigrette. Yum. Deliciously simple and always super fresh, this generous salad can be a meal all by itself, but I usually can’t help ordering the roasted vegetable sandwich too.”

Kate Collier (Feast!)

Celery and Olive Salad at Birdhouse. “I’m completely addicted to the Celery and Olive Salad with a side of grilled bread at Birdhouse.  The silky white bean tahini puree is intensely craveable, as is their chicken confit.  Birdhouse is our new go to takeout spot and our secret place to take good friends.”

Jose de Brito (Cafe Frank)

Charred Eggplant at Smyrna. “Now I never understood the deliciousness of eggplant until the day I sampled an eggplant dish at the restaurant of one of my favorite chefs, Mr. Joel Robuchon. Since this day almost 15 years ago, there is not one week I do not think about that eggplant. I have myself tried to do it. I am close but not the same: the sweetness, the smokiness, and the balance of spice do not match. The first time I ate at Smyrna, I ordered the eggplant. It tasted just like the eggplant of Robuchon, sweet with a background of smokiness and absolutely no bitterness and also spot-on with the seasoning. So I came a second time, and reordered it just to double check, and my opinion was the same. Now that is when I concluded that those guys can cook very well, and can cook eggplant admirably. But, I should have known, because Tarik, the chef of Smyrna, told me that he cooked in the kitchen of Joel Robuchon. That is the best dish of the year for me. Their bread is not too shabby either.”

Melissa Close-Hart (Mockingbird)

Super Smash Burger at Chickadee. “The best thing I ate this year was the smash burger at Chickadee. I watched with great anticipation as two great friends battled the obstacles of opening a restaurant during the pandemic. I was there at opening to try as many things as I could. But the smash burger stood out. It’s a blend of a diner burger with the sophisticated flair of a restaurant burger. A perfect balance.”

Photo by Chris Martin

Patrick Evans (MarieBette)

Fried Chicken with Sides from Underachiever Food. “Always a bit different but never to be missed. Right now I’m dreaming of a simple buttered rice that was heavenly and paired so well with perfectly seasoned spicy fried chicken. Their pork buns are also not to be missed.”

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange, Champion Ice House)

Seared Scallops at Mockingbird. “The Sorghum Glazed Seared Scallops from Mockingbird hit the spot. The scallops were so fresh and cooked perfectly. The glaze was so complimentary and the whole dish just fit together so seamlessly. It was just happiness on a plate. You could tell that it was cooked with joy and not ego.”

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Cheese Pizza Slice from Mona Lisa. “My son goes to school right around the corner. We go at least twice a week. It’s a gamble because they run out, but it’s so good it’s worth taking the chance. The crust is perfect, light and crisp, crunchy, chewy. Quality cheese. Fugetaboutit.  Sneaky delicious like everything else in that store. Well done Jim and crew.”

Kathyrn Matthews (Iron Paffles & Coffee)

Love Train from Superfly Brewing Co.. “It’s hard to choose a beer in a city with an abundance of first class breweries. However, Super Fly’s Berliner Weisse blew me out of the water. It is the perfect balance of tart and wheat without being overly sour and heavy. I normally don’t do sours, but now, I’ll actively seek this beer when the brewery opens in the spring. It’s just that good.”

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Coconut Pie from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bakery. “I realize this isn’t in Charlottesville but the coconut pie that Mrs. Rowe’s makes in Staunton is really out of this world. All the pies are good but this is my favorite.”

Loren Mendosa (Lampo)

Manti at Smyrna. “I went to Smryna with expectations of fine dining. And, while it is that in some respects, it is such a different take on it, with the Turkish and Mediterranean influence. The dish that stuck with me was the manti.”

Kelsey Naylor (Umma’s)

Oxtail Platter from Pearl Island. “Anything from Pearl Island is a go-to for me and Anna. Whether it’s curry tofu, plantains, or pulled pork, you really can’t go wrong. We had the oxtail platter for the first time a few months ago and I’m still dreaming about it. Truly delicious food made by really wonderful people.”

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Pike Quenelles at Café Frank. “I had always read about pike quenelles, but never had them. They are a classic French dish from everything I have read, and people rave about them. When Jose put them on the menu at Café Frank I rushed in to try them. They far exceeded all expectations. People talk about putting love into their food, this was the essence of that notion. A beautiful, subtle white fish souffle-like quenelle warmed in the most rich and complex fish sauce I have ever tasted, the two parts working together perfectly. It was balance and harmony and a dish that lifts one out of themselves. That was the best dish I ate all year.”

PK Ross (Splendora’s Gelato)

Geng Tdai Plaa at Chimm. “Sinus-clearing spicy, but drops off enough that you can taste all the aromatics and acids in the curry. The umami and funk from the fish is as at home over noodles as it is jasmine rice, and the large vegetable pieces are little moments of sweetness in an overall spicy dish.”

Alicia Simmons (Tavola)

Pozole at Birdhouse. “The comfort and warmth of the soup and the heartiness of the chicken makes me wanting to come back for more. Paired with the lightness of the fresh herbs and keeping it classic with the hominy, this soup is one that hasn’t left my mind. Since first tasting it, I can’t wait to sit down in their cute quaint restaurant and have another bowl with family and friends.”

Susan Sweeney (Cake Bloom)

Oysters at Public Fish & Oyster. “I honestly haven’t eaten out much this past year as I’ve been in the kitchen pretty much 24/7, but my one moment of self-care is on Tuesday afternoons (my weekend) when my husband and I sit at the bar at Public for a dozen oysters. When you’re in the sugar business, there’s really nothing better than a briny, raw oyster, crispy, salty fries and a cold Belgian beer to keep things level. Public nails it every time.”

Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Fried Green Tomatoes at Mockingbird. “Farrell and I had the pleasure of enjoying an anniversary meal at Mockingbird back in August. Melissa’s fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese is awesome. And, we were also blown away by her slow cooked green beans. I wasn’t expecting it, but the pinch of sugar in the beans really sent it over the top. It’s so great to see such a talented chef really in her wheel house now.”

Photo by Robinson Imagery of Do Me A Flavor

Julie Whitaker (Vu Noodles)

Apple Fritter from Baker No Bakery. “I don’t usually gravitate towards sweets, but Christina’s apple fritter is craveable. It’s a light donut, with a perfect amount of sugar glaze and apple and spice. Really good.”

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Baklava Cheesecake at Smyrna. “I have had a couple great meals at Smyrna in the short time they’ve been our neighbors on Main Street. The octopus is always a great choice or their fluke crudo, but the baklava cheese cake really gets me. I’m not a sweets guy, but my wife is, so when she wanted to order this I rolled my eyes and figured it would be too sweet. But instead it was this beautifully delicate and balanced ride on the wild side. Lovely honey, pistachio and cheesecake. Nailed it, gang.”

Best Thing I Ate All Year 2019: The Charlottesville food industry names the year’s best

Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by asking: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are the picks from 2018, 20172016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in our food community’s annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back soon for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2019 Dish of the Year.

Dylan Allwood (Tavola)

Little Gem Salad at Oakhart Social. “I don’t think I’ve ever craved a salad, and I think about that one every day. The poppy seed dressing and everything bagel seasoning set it off.”


Jason Becton (MarieBette)

Beef Cheeks at Lampo. “Patrick and I have a weekly lunch date at Lampo, usually on Tuesdays, and one day Mitch happened to be there and was running a beef cheek special. So freakin good.”


Mitchell Beerens (Lampo and Prime 109)

Menudo from La Michoacána. “It might be the best thing I’ve eaten in Charlottesville ever. I love tripe and theirs has such a clean flavor, and there’s a piece of trotter in there for richness, and the broth tastes like a hug from someone’s abuela. It’s supposed to be a perfect hangover cure, so plan ahead and go nuts at the bar the night before for the full effect.”


Tim Burgess (Bang!, Bizou and The Space)

Grilled Cactus at Comal. “This is easy this year. Comal. Jesus, everything. I love the grilled cactus dish.”

Travis Burgess (Bang!, Bizou, and Luce)

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup at C&O. “I debated in my head for about thirty minutes, but this is undoubtedly it. I can’t tell what it is, maybe it’s the gruyere cheese mix, maybe the the extra buttery perfectly crisped bread, or maybe it’s just the two Goosehounds I down before it. But anyways, it hits the spot every time. So, shout-out to whoever is working that late-night station and consistently crushing it.”

Melissa Close-Hart (Junction)

Spinach Saag, Sundried Tomato Oil, Cauliflower and Paneer Pizza from Pye Dog Pizza. “Always a tough question, because there are so many to choose from with all the talent in this town. So, I guess I will go with the first thing that pops in my head: Pye Dog Pizza. I believe Matthew and I made it to The City Market on the second week that Pye Dog was there and grabbed some breakfast. In typical form, we had to have a bit of everything — two different pies and a biscuit. Everything was fantastic from the pulled pork pie to the house made sausage, egg & Korean pepper jelly biscuit, but the big winner in my opinion was the curried cauliflower, spinach saag, and paneer pie. It was a huge surprise that this was our favorite, but all the flavors were perfect together and the crust was perfection. I’m so proud of my friends and colleagues, Anna and Kelsey, for pursuing their dreams.”


Ryan Collins (Little Star)

Tostones Rellenos at Guajiros. “Favorite thing I ate in Cville this year is the tostones with pork at Guajiros. They are sweet, savory, sour and rich.  Pair it with a colada, and it’s a great lunch. Love that place.”


Jose de Brito (Fleurie and Petit Pois)

Mole Negro con Pollo at Comal. “So I went to dine at Comal with curiosity, having heard that it was authentic. And decided that the mole negro con pollo is my favorite dish this year. The chef at Comal made a sauce with the spirit of chocolate, lightly seasoned with spices and peppers. It was restrained. The use of chocolate and spices was austere but elegant and generous, deep in flavor, lifted up with a hint of acidity. Christine, my wife, who has much deeper knowledge of Mexican food, having traveled in Mexico, agrees. Comal is a wonderful, authentic small Mexican restaurant, and the kitchen is talented. The pork ribs guajillo were a very close second. Vive la cuisine Mexicaine.”


Kate Collier (Feast!)

Chicken Katsu from Mochiko. “When we are dog tired after a long days work in specialty food retail, nothing tastes better than the chicken katsu take home dinner from Mochiko. We love the light and crispy panko fried chicken cutlet with steamed sushi rice and sides of macaroni salad and sautéed watercress with sesame seeds. It’s our go-to place for take out.”


Patrick Evans (MarieBette)

Bolo from Luce. “All three pastas that we tried were amazing, but I especially liked the Bolo.”


Laura Fonner (Duner’s)

Oyster Mushrooms at Little Star. “The best thing I ate all year was the oyster mushroom dish from Little Star. Oyster mushrooms, cinco chiles salsa, avocado, lime dressing, Mahon cheese, and chicharrones. I like to be surprised by food, and I will be the first to admit I am just not the biggest fan of oyster mushrooms. So when this dish came out, I simply thought: ‘Ehhh, I will try it.’ The layering of textures and flavors is amazing. It hits all of the important aspects of a wonderful dish. The citrus, heat, salt, and crunch complement the meatiness of the oyster mushroom in a beautifully harmonious way. Well done Little Star.”


Craig Hartman (The BBQ Exchange)

Tarta de Santiago at Quality Pie. “The best thing that Donna and I ate in 2019 in Charlottesville was the Tarta de Santiago from Tomas Rahal and Quality Pie. This Almond cake named after St. James is super revered in Spain and is one of their national dishes. The Tarta at Quality Pie is so good that we could not stop going beck for more. It literally draws us to Quality Pie. Pair it with one of the sherrys from Tomas’s collection.”


Brian Helleberg (Fleurie and Petit Pois)

Banchan at Sussex Farm (at Sussex Farm’s The Charlottesville 29 Auction dinner). “Jen’s banchan was clearly the plate of the year for me. The flavors, colors and textures framed a fascinating collage that helped make a memorable evening at Sussex Farm. As Jen spoke and revealed herself and her values to us, I realised that the foundations of hospitality were on on display:

    • Hard work – “If it is not earned, it is not valued.”
    • Family – “Everyone here on the farm is my daughter.” (Including her actual daughter.)
    • Cuisine – Not only does her aunt still send the peppers for her kimchi, but her mother taught her how to cook.
    • Love of the land – “I love this country.”  Not only did Jen feed us persimmons from her property and delicious fried quail eggs from her birds, but she showed us what it looks like to realise a dream of having a family farm.”


Banchan menu

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Pan Fried Chicken Dumplings at Duner’s. “There were lots of memorable dishes this year. Cville is definitely full of talented chefs and dining establishments. True to form, my choice goes back to a Cville classic, Duner’s. Chef Laura Fonner and her crew continue to plate some of the best food this side of the BRP. My particular favorite came out of her kitchen only a few weeks ago when my bride Jennifer and I were at Duner’s for an impromptu date night. The place was packed as always. We lucked out with a small table that had just opened up. We were not there ten minutes when food was on the table. Chef Laura sent out pan fried chicken dumplings with pickled Asian pear slaw and ginger aioli. Bam! So good! Chef John Haywood used to describe dishes that he could not stop eating ravenously ‘like a fried egg and cheese sandwich. You eat it and want another.’ (Imagine Yorkshire accent) Jen tried to act like she didn’t want to wrestle me for them but it was obvious when she rolled up her sleeves that fork jousting was about to go down. All silly comments aside, Laura is a very talented and hard working chef. Her dumplings were incredible, as are all of her tasty creations on her menu. Well done Laura!”


Loren Mendosa (Lampo and Prime 109)

Masa Gnocchi in Mole at Comal.  “Emily and I were so pleasantly surprised to find so many veggie options on that menu that we ordered everything. The tamales, the tacos, everything was great, but the crispy gnocchi in mole was the best thing I ate this year. We’ve been back several times and each time that dish is a must order for us.”


Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Dark Chocolate Wedding Cake from Paradox Pastry. “Best thing I ate all year? No question. A dark chocolate cake with whipped ganache and Amarena cherries made by the Sugaristas at Paradox Pastry. Yes, it ‘may’ have been our wedding cake. It was delicious.”

Wedding Cake_Jen-Rob

Ian Redshaw (2019 James Beard Semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year)

Pizza Dough from Pye Dog Pizza. “Even for just starting, you can tell the crumb structure is proper. Those ladies do it right.”


Ivan Rekosh (Zocalo)

Prime 109 Burger at Prime 109. “After work, sometimes I walk across the street to Prime 109 and have an aged burger with fries. In that moment, with jazz in the background – it’s the best thing I’ve eaten all year. On Sundays I sit down for dinner with my kids. No screens, all together, and we talk. In that moment, whatever is on the plate, it’s the best thing I’ve eaten all year. I could go on and on. We are all fortunate to be able to have food when we want it and even be picky about it. This said, every meal I’ve actually taken the time to stop and enjoy and be grateful for is the best I’ve eaten in 2019.”


Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Cacio at Luce. “Soooo good. This is the sort of pasta you would pay $30 for as an entree at a fine dining restaurant. The best part is the quality of the pasta itself but the classic sauce is also done to perfection here. I’m so excited that something this good has become the street food of downtown Charlottesville. I could eat a cup of this every day.”


Merrill and Peter Robertson (Cote-Rotie)

Double Bacon Cheeseburger at Riverside Lunch. “In our honest opinion, it’s the best food in town. Only place we really go. We love everything about it.”


John Shanesy (Commonwealth Restaurant)

Peach from Manakintowne Specialty Growers. “The peach was so perfectly ripe and juicy I don’t know how it even held its mass. Texture like ice cream but still warm from its life void of refrigeration. I promptly did the opposite of what a chef should do in terms of margins and gave all of my kitchen staff one and we all enjoyed those peaches in perfect quiet for the next few minutes. Barring the ahhs and incessant slurping.”


Hunter Smith (Champion Brewing Company)

Queso Frito at Guajiros. “So hard to pick, but the queso frito at Guajiros caught and kept my attention. So simple, and so sublime. I find that amazing execution of simplicity always wins me over novelty.” 


Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Grilled Avocado at Kama. “Chef Dave Morgan cooked a tasting menu for me and my family on my birthday this year. One of our opening courses was his wood grilled avocado. I’ve never eaten grilled avocado or even thought to grill one myself so I was very curious about it. It’s grilled over his custom blend of hickory, white oak, and applewood until well charred, filled with ponzu sauce, and finally sprinkled with togarashi spice. It’s creamy and delicious, and it feels like culinary decadence even though it’s not — one of those unique creations where humble ingredients and technique combine to make something sublime.”


Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Smoked Mushroom Toast at Common House. “The smoked mushroom toast from Matt Greene at Common House was the best thing I ate in Charlottesville in 2019. Super yummy and comforting. Cured and smoked mushrooms sautéed with tons of sherry, caramelized shallots and a deep mushroom stock. Real Frenchy and cheffy but totally unstuffy. The different varieties of mushroom (lions mane, cremini and oyster) provided great textures and flavors. The house made sourdough got all gooey with jus, and that’s what I like.”