washingtonpost beach weekend 1995 cover

Virginia Beach's Best Eats 1995

By Donna Reiss © 1995
Reprinted from the Washington Post Weekend, Friday, May 19, 1995

Like most seaside resorts, Virginia Beach has its share of overpriced and overrated nautical-motif eateries where the fish du jour came from the freezer that very day, plus a few fast food restaurants serving burgers and fries en plein air beside the boardwalk. Fortunately, you can find good fresh fish, some of it caught the very day you order it, but you might have to forsake the sand and surf if you want the best of Virginia Beach. Resist all the well-promoted buffets along the waterfront and inland except perhaps for Sunday brunch; you'll eat better and cheaper elsewhere, and you won't bulge out of your bathing suit.

At lunch time, check out any of the sidewalk cafes that line the 38-block boardwalk; you can get a respectable sandwich or salad at most of them. If you must eat with an ocean view at night, however, head for the south end of the boardwalk, where you can watch skaters, surfers, cyclists, waders, and wanderers in the waning light. Walk around to the street side and you might glimpse a bungee jumper at the white arch at the end of Atlantic Avenue.

Biggest and fanciest of these oceanfront cafes is Mahi-Mah's in the Ramada (Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue, 804/437-8030. The only sushi bar at the oceanfront, it's also a raw bar and full-service general restaurant. In a clubby room with a long bar and a vast selection of microbrews, this hotel restaurant has surprisingly good food. Sample one of the evening specials, likely to be a regional American fish recipe or the new Lean Generation pork from Smithfield, Virginia.

Next door in the Hilton (Seventh Street and Atlantic Avenue, 804/428-6836, is the raw bar-lounge at Laverne's Seafood. Patrons perch on stools at tall tables or hover around the bar. You can wear your flip-flops day or night. All the way at the end of the Boardwalk is Three East at the Jetty, its fanciful logo seeming to spell The Beast at the Jetty. But there's nothing to fear from the selective menu of fish favorites, pastas, and sandwiches (215 Atlantic Avenue, 804/425-3278).

Some of the best water views require a fifteen-to-twenty-minute drive away from the resort area. Locals prefer the line of restaurants along Vista Circle and Shore Drive, where Lynnhaven Inlet marinas beckon ducks and boaters. Neither tiny Chick's Oyster Bar (2143 Vista Circle, 804/481-5757) nor the larger Bubba's Crabhouse (3323 Shore Drive, 804/481-0907) takes reservations; however, the newer, larger, and equally casual Dockside Inn (3311 Shore Drive, 804/481-7211) will let you book a table. These are the places we go when the beach is crowded. For raw bar selections, steamed seafood, and selective menus of fresh fish, all are worth a drive along Shore, the road that parallels the Chesapeake Bay. A more ambitious menu is found at Angler's Cove (2143 Vista Circle, 804/496-3690); across Shore Drive on the bay is the popular Lynnhaven Fish House (2350 Starfish Road, 804/481-0003) and its indoor-outdoor casual Pier Cafe.

Closer to the oceanfront, Rudee Inlet at the juncture of Fifth Street and Mediterranean offers two popular places overlooking marinas; at both the nautical mood is probably more of a draw than the food. The older of the two, Rudee's (227 Mediterranean, 804/425-0850), is a lively watering hole with lots of seafood fundamentals; next door Rockafeller's (308 Mediterranean, 804/422-5654), has an airier ambiance and more diverse menu with a selection of light and heart-healthy dishes. Both have popular Sunday brunches.

If vacation for you means racks of ribs, stroll a couple of blocks from the oceanfront to Frankie's Place for Ribs (408 Laskin Road, 804/428-7631), where the meat is smoky good and the onion ring loaf is crisp. Also a short walk from the oceanfront is one of the newest restaurants in town, the California Cafe (313 Laskin Road, 804/422-5588), with a West Coast street scene painted above the bar, shiny black furnishings, good California-style pizzas, and every entree priced under $10. The grilled Caesar salad is a treat. The Jewish Mother (3108 Pacific Avenue, 804/422-5430) is de rigueur if you crave cheesecake or chopped liver in the wee hours. This landmark features live music most nights and food service until 2 a.m. weeknights, 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays in the summer.

The place to be seen is Cafe Society (1807 Mediterranean, 804/422-8774), where two walls of glass mean that the view is you. From the open kitchen at the back come modern American combinations with a southern and southwestern emphasis. Sunday brunch includes the same fusion fare plus egg dishes. Expect to wait for a table; they take reservations for large parties only. Another upscale meeting place is Five-0-1 City Grill (501 North Birdneck Road, 804/425-7195), with live music on weekends, eclectic modern American cuisine, an urbane upbeat atmosphere, and from the lounge, a din that can best be avoided by dining early.

To sample the cuisine that really lures locals, you'll have to go inland. Possibly the best basic fresh fish, steaks, and fried soft shell crabs in Virginia Beach come from chef-owner Jerry Bryan and sous chef Mo Cucchiaro at the Coastal Grill (1427 N. Great Neck Road, 804/496-3348). At this clean, comfortable neighborhood bistro, the finest ingredients and a never-trendy selective menu with moderate prices ensure such consistently high quality that the owner of a venerable Norfolk restaurant comes in regularly for dinner. They don't take reservations, so the weekend wait might be long at the bar or the several outdoor tables. Go before 7 p.m. or go on a weeknight.

More cosmopolitan and varied food can be found at the excellent Bistro and Rotisserie adjacent to its fine dining namesake Le Chambord at 324 N. Great Neck Road near the intersection with Laskin Road. In the large stone and wood bistro, the fare includes Angus steaks, creamy pastas with leeks, and a changeable array of moderately priced American and Continental comfort foods, including an outstanding burger and rotisserie chicken. Sunday brunch is lavish for the $10.95 price. Reservations are accepted at 804/486-3636. The dining room next door features elegant black-white-and-gold appointments and an appropriately expensive selection of classical Continental and upscale American dishes supervised by a fine Belgian chef, Alain Jacqmin. Reservations are recommended at 804/498-1234.

You can go to the bistro in your best shorts and deck shoes, but you may want to dress up a bit for Le Chambord (even here, however, you won't need a tie--this is, after all, a beach town). In either place, save room for a silky crustless cheesecake with a hint of honey-champagne sauce.

At Virginia Beach you'll find excellent seafood as well as cotinental and modern American cuisine if you're willing to venture away from the resort strip. After dinner, you can head back to the shore and end the evening with a moonlight stroll.

modified 08 September 2000 by D. Reiss