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Richmond sorely needs a dining overview, because Richmond DOES food, and it does it well. The locals will tell you that the city has undergone a minor culinary rennaissance in the past 10 years or so; newbies will be pleasantly surprised at how good and varied the food is here; and the university students don't seem to realize what a lucky roll of the dice they landed to be going to school surrounded by such good foods, and tend to gravitate to the same old generic food chains. This overview will attempt to map out the city from the eastern part to the VCU campus in regards to its food options, while providing a few specific places to consider. Fair warning: this may be a little heavy on the $$-$$$ establishments, but the review will try to spread the love downscale as well. And no chains will be considered on this list- Richmond has way too many great local places to frequent to spend time on chains.
Like many cities, Richmond's downtown area has been slowly re-emerging as a culinary destination. The city can be fairly "gritty" in some parts, due to the longstanding racial and socioeconomic problems through which "The Heart of the Confederacy" has suffered. However, there are some new and exciting developments in the downtown and surrounding areas. Because of the heavy governmental, legal and financial business concentration, there are plenty of good establishments worth walking or driving to. Places like Pasture , 525 at the Berry Burk, TJ's at the Jefferson, and Chez Foushee are all high-quality restaurants.
Driving just a little further east will put you in Richmond's Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom, lovely areas where medical students, young professionals and older empty-nesters are making their homes among the refurbished tobacco wartehouse lofts. In this combined area you find nice places from upscale to not-so-upscale like Urban Farmhouse (fresh, new american), Millie's and her more casual sister restaurant Lulu's, Julep's, Bistro Bobette, Aziza's, City Dogs, and Arcadia.
Driving south of downtown will get you into the Church Hill neighborhood, which is also experiencing a small boom, both in housing and restaurant/food development. Check out The Roosevelt, The Hill Cafe, WPA Bakery and Alamo BBQ.
Heading back east towards Virginia Commonwealth University, you'll pass through the Jackson Ward neighborhood, another revitalizing area which still has a few issues with crime. Still, it's worth checking out, if not for the beautiful architecture and good food popping up, like Bistro 27, Saison, Mansion Five26 at the Hippodrome, Lift Coffee, as well as old standbys like Comfort.
Once you get on to campus at VCU, you're showered with great food options for both poor student (and poor professor) budgets, as well as the more upscale tastes. Harrison Street Cafe, Ipanema and 821 Cafe are excellent vegetarian/vegan options; Elephant Thai and Mama's Kitchen give some good Thai and Korean options; Edo's Squid, Black Sheep, Coliseum Deli, Crossroads Coffee, Balliceaux, Cous Cous and Kuba Kuba round out the "best of" restaurants, diners and general "food and drink delivery systems" around VCU's campus.
There are many more notable places left off this listing, so please chime in with your own favorites. And the Fan, the Southside and the Northside could use some coverage too...