Balkan Bistro & Bar has the exposed beams and wood-and-khaki palette of a tudor cabin, but it's also filled with plush booths, cloth-swaddled tables, and bouquets of fresh-cut flowers. This contrast of quaint and contemporary also marks the upscale Mediterranean cuisine, which chef-owner Anja describes as "food from the heart, with an accent." Balkan Bistro & Bar started as a stand at the Charlottesville City Market; but within two years, it expanded into a restaurant where the aromas are universally welcoming, even if portions of the menu seem exotic. A Croatian spice called vegeta, for example, lends to Istrian- and Dalmatian-style mussels, and the more familiar local lamb chops topped with housemade pesto simmer near cabbage stew with organic beef medallions. Chalkboard menus list cocktails at the bar, where rows upon rows of uniquely displayed wine bottles climb so high they require a ladder or a tall stack of books about ladders.
When they craft their seasonal menu, the cooks at AVA Restaurant and Wine Bar aren't looking to impress diners with unfamiliar dishes. Instead, they wow taste buds with rich, robust flavors, roasted duck breast to meatloaf kicked up a notch by chipotle cream sauce. For vegan and vegetarian visitors, AVA's culinary team draws on organic and local fruits, veggies, and grains to create meals such as vegan chicken and waffles. Meatless or not, each feast can be accompanied by pours from an award-winning wine list curated by the eatery's onsite sommelier. Bartenders also serve plenty of beer, as well as custom, exotic tea blends.
Gleaming hubcaps, old-fashioned Coke signs, and garage memorabilia decorate the walls inside The RumbleSeat Grill, creating a vintage vibe that conjures up memories of the past. The menu aims to do that, too: cooks prepare such favorites as fried catfish and meatloaf, using fresh ingredients and typically making everything from scratch. At Sunday brunch, they whip up midday treats, such as lump-crab benedict and made-from-scratch sausage gravy over biscuits, as Rumble Seat signature concoctions and classic drinks flow behind the bar. Antique cars are often parked by the entrance, extending the restaurant's automotive theme to the outdoors.
Accanto Restaurant sets itself apart with an urban atmosphere cultivated by hand-colored, concrete tabletops and a large, vibrant mural. Owners Alberto and Peppino Mastromano evoke the same unique vibrancy in their menu of Italian cuisine and tapas, setting off pleasure receptors with filet mignon and tiliapia in puttanesca sauce, along with inventive dishes such as fontina macaroni and cheese. While taking swigs from the extensive selection of wine, beer, and cocktails, diners can pass the time watching one of three big screen TVs, surfing free WiFi, or folding a napkin into a swan before eating it.
When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal—it combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile’s beefy Rocket 88. The chain now makes itself at home in America's cultural landmarks, including Yankee Stadium and the Flamingo Hotel.
During dinners at the famous burger joints, you’ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers—dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they’ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.
The brother-sister team behind Rudino's Pizza and Grinders incorporated an onsite bakery into the restaurant's design, keeping the kitchen full of fresh, homemade dough for pizzas and sandwiches. After coating crusts with a sauce based on the duo's family recipe, cooks layer on any number of ingredients—including fresh basil, jalapeños, and bacon—as well as a blend of mozzarella and provolone cheeses that melts as beautifully as a box of crayons in a kiln. They also slide open-faced grinders into ovens after loading them with such sandwich fixings as italian sausage, salami, and fresh vegetables that are never frozen or canned. After ordering at the counter, guests can enjoy their meal at one of the many tables scattered throughout the yellow- and red-walled dining area. A mounted television broadcasts sports games, and two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows help to keep the space illuminated with enough natural light to jumpstart a solar-powered monster truck.