Hailing from humble beginnings in a renovated Mississippian gas station, McAlister's Deli has revolutionized the concept of fast food with healthy fare recognized by Parents in 2009. Premium ingredients, such as Black Angus roast beef and black forest ham, pile upon stuffed potatoes or artisan bread, sating hungers and silencing stomachs before they recite bank-account numbers. As patrons wait for servers to deliver meals, they sip signature sweet tea, swirled together onsite daily from pure cane sugar and a rainforest-certified black-tea blend as dictated by a closely guarded recipe.
Another Time Soda Fountain transports patrons to a simpler time, with old-timey appliances and diner fare and shakes made the same way they were in the 1950s. Plant pincers in a patty melt ($7) or two chili-cheese dogs ($6.50), both garnished with fries, before washing them down with a slew of sweet elixirs. Phosphates, a fountain drink that hearkens back to the Depression era, are available in an array of flavors ($2), and milkshakes are crafted from traditional ice-cream flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and the nontraditional coconut, butterscotch, peach, and pineapple ($4).
Fish Place cooks everything fresh daily and its specialty is crawfish. The New Orleans–inspired eatery preps the crustacean in several classic ways, from cooking up just the tails to brewing an étouffée. Of course, the menu would be remiss to exclude specialties such as shrimp etouffee, crawfish etouffee, seafood jambalaya, stuffed jalapenos, and boudin balls. Other Southern staples include blackened catfish, shrimp jambalaya, and chicken and sausage gumbo. The sides ring authentic as well, complementing entrees with helpings of red beans with rice and hush puppies, so named because their deliciousness causes diners to speak in an awed whisper for several days.
Texas Rib Factory’s sugarless barbecue sauce gilds the edges of beef brisket, juicy ribs, and sausage. Inside the deep fryer, catfish and chicken take on a crispy, golden-brown hue, ready to be paired with southern sides such as fried okra and housemade potato salad.
Familial warmth is at the core of Lanie and Alex Ciocca’s quaint Italian restaurant in historic downtown Richmond. A wedding photo of the brother-and-sister team’s parents greets visitors to Italian Maid Cafe—chosen because of their mother's nickname—but it’s the menu of comforting Italian cuisine that truly introduces diners to the Ciocca experience. Growing up in Pittsburgh, the pair dined on pasta and sauces made by hand, and their dishes afford customers the same luxury. Chef Alex sautés veal scaloppini with red onions, mushrooms, and wine, and he marinates the Southwestern-inspired Italian-lime chicken breast in lime vinaigrette before grilling it and giving it a massage with cilantro sauce. The kitchen's rotating selection of specials and housemade desserts always presents tasty complements to cappuccinos and lattes.
La Cocina’s chefs fill out its menu with house-made tortillas bulging with fresh ingredients, served in an atmosphere that calls upon its culinary influences with paintings of Mexican villages. The chicken, beef, or pork in the Carlitos Treat fajitas ($10.99) wears a crown of cheese, guac, and pico de gallo, just like the one worn by the good witch in the land of Oz. Carne Guisada, a south-of-the-border stew with Tex-Mex roots, comes with buoys of beef tips and veggies bobbing in a savory brown sauce ($8.99). Sauce infused with bacon, jalapeños, and wine bathes quail in the quail-and-fajita combo ($13.49).