The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Tag: Little Star

Little Star

420 W. Main Street . Charlottesville, VA . (434) 252-2502


Why Little Star?

It is hard to pigeon-hole Little Star. The best description may be a manifestation of the chef-owner’s passions. Ryan Collins spent eight years working for world-famous chef Jose Andres, including three at Andres’ Mexican restaurant Oyamel. Under Andres, Collins fell in love with the Spanish cuisine of Andres’ native country as well as the Mexican cuisine of Oyamel. And so, Little Star — Collin’s first venture into restaurant ownership — showcases both.

Like its sibling Oakart Social, the restaurant’s bright and airy space was once home to a service station, providing one of the liveliest settings in town. The open kitchen is essentially part of the dining room, which allows high top tables a vista of Collins’ team at work. A stellar bar program favors cocktails of tequila, mezcal, and whiskey, along with well-chosen wines.

What to Order

The menu offers both small plates and large platters, all intended for sharing. Below are our picks, Chef Collins’ picks, and appearances in Five Finds on Friday, where a chef or personality has named an item from Little Star as one of the best in town. Also included are appearances on chefs’ Best Thing I Ate All Year.

Our Picks

  • Pan Tomate
  • Croquetas
  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Sunny-side Eggs w/ salsa negra, green onion, sesame, grilled bread, hickory syrup
  • Beef Carpaccio
  • Braised Lamb

Chef’s Picks

  • Marinated Carrots
  • Beef Carpaccio
  • Seared Tuna w/ rendered foie gras, salsa molcajete, cilantro oil, charred onion

Five Finds on Friday / Best Thing I Ate All Year Picks


Five Finds on Friday: Nathan Hatfield


Would you like to do Five Finds on Friday? As part of a Thanksgiving tradition, next week’s picks will come from a reader chosen at random. Enter here.

Meanwhile, today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Nathan Hatfield, Executive Chef of the Tasting Room & Taphouse at Mount Ida Reserve. From Cookies with Santa to a Wreath Workshop to a Fireside Wine Dinner, Mount Ida’s holiday events calendar is stuffed. On December 8, Mount Ida will host more than twenty local artisans for a Holiday Artisan Market, where visitors can shop while sipping wine, drinking beer, and enjoying the stunning views. Details here. Hatfield’s picks:

1) Cortado at Lone Light Coffee. “Wonderful locally roasted espresso, milk steamed just right. Not to mention the staff is great too (at both locations). We used to live right around the corner from the High Street location and were there several mornings a week.”

2) Vongole Pizza at Lampo. “It’s hard for me not to order this every time we go to Lampo, and we go too often. Lampo is awesome, everyone knows, but if you haven’t gotten this pie, go on, now’s the time.”

3) Kale Caesar at Greenwood Gourmet Grocery. “One of our favorite go-to spots on days off. Some of the best sandwiches in town and an awesome wine and beer selection. Their super lemony kale salad hits all the right notes and will keep me going out of my way to come here.”

4) Sazerac at The Alley Light. “Most Sundays after work you can find me and my wife at the bar. It might be my first drink, it might be my last; either way, there’s a good chance I’ll have a Sazerac. The version Andrea makes in one of the best I’ve had.”

5) Beef Back Ribs at Little Star. “We’ve been going to Little Star since they opened and this dish we find ourselves ordering again and again. The rib meat is cooked just right, the sauce is bright and spicy, and there’s a fresh herb salad to balance it all out. It’s good. Get it.”



Introducing Little Star Taco Brunch


Listening to chef-owner Ryan Collins talk about his plans for Little Star brunch, it’s hard not to get excited.

For one, there is the concept. “Come on in. We’ll take care of you.” Choose a protein for your tacos, and Little Star has got it from there – a limitless family-style feast of tacos, sides, and house-made salsas. Order some pitchers of sangria or margaritas, and settle in. This is your Sunday now.

Then there’s the food itself, with all of the attention to detail you’d expect from a longtime employee of Jose Andres. No restaurant in town makes corn tortillas from corn itself. Those that make tortillas typically use masa harina — pre-made, dehydrated corn dough. But, Little Star will make tortillas from scratch.


Dried corn from Masienda

The first step is a mysterious process called nixtamalization, which transforms dried corn into something that can be used for tortillas. On Saturday, to prepare for brunch the next day, Collins and his staff cook dried corn from Masienda at a near boil and then leave it to soak overnight in a calcium hydroxide solution called cal, or pickling lime, which breaks down and transforms the corn into nixtamal.

The next day (Sunday!), they drain and rinse the nixtamal, removing the outer shell. They then grind it into ground masa with a stone mill called a molino, imported from Oaxaca. Finally, they form the masa into balls and, with a hand tortilla press, make one tortilla at a time, ready for the griddle.


Molino from Oaxaca.

All that is just for the tortillas!

Why all the effort? Anyone who has had a tasted a tortilla made from scratch knows the answer. To accompany the tortillas, the opening menu offers four protein options, served family-style:

Chicharone en salsa ranchera – guacamole, white onion
Huevos con machaca – scrambled eggs, Mexican dried beef, sofrito
Bistec a la parilla – avocado, lime, tajin
Lamb barbacoa – onion, lime

Parties of two choose one protein, parties of four choose two, parties of six choose three, and parties of eight get all four. And, no mater your party size, you get all of the sides and salsas. On the opening menu, the three sides are Frijoles Refritos – refried beans with crema and onions; Arroz Negro – rice with huitlacoche, poblano, crema, and pickled onions; and Fideos – noodles with passilla Oaxaca chiles, mushrooms, and cactus. The three salsas, meanwhile, are Salsa Verde Cruda, Salsa Chipotle, and Salsa Habanero, made with plenty of sweet citrus and a touch of pineapple vinegar to tame the heat. 

All of this food comes for $35 per head.

Still hungry? Just ask for more of anything. They won’t let you leave wanting more, Collins says.

To wash it down, order pitchers of sangria, house-made agua fresca, or, better yet, agua fresca margaritas.

If the full Little Star Taco Brunch is not your thing, Collins plans a la carte options as well, like his already famous pan tomate, an Eggs Benedict riff on a Spanish tortilla, bread pudding French toast with a Corn Flake crumble and hickory syrup, or “Green Eggs and Ham” — Autumn Olive Farms pork pounded thin and breaded, served with a thick salsa verde of chiles fermented overnight in salt and sugar.

Brunch hours are 10:30 am – 2 pm.  Starts this Sunday, August 18. See you there.