There are dozens of award-winning restaurants around Virginia to get impeccable food and service, but sometimes (especially with kids) you want a little more from your meal. For a truly memorable dining experience, visit one of these destination restaurants around the Commonwealth and savor more than the delicious entrees.
The Swinging Bridge Restaurant at the Paint Bank General Store—Paint Bank
This old hunting lodge-style restaurant isn’t reached by bridge, but rather decorated with one! High overhead the dining area is an old wooden swinging bridge (which you can walk across) that adds to the authentic outdoors vibe of the restaurant. Complete with a stone fireplace, wildlife displays, and wood stump tables on either side of the overstuffed leather couch, the Swinging Bridge Restaurant feels as if you are eating at home in a Virginia mountain cabin. On many Thursday nights, live music fills the air with the sounds of local country and bluegrass bands. Come during the winter months and sit in front of the roaring fireplace as you dine on hearty southern fare. Before heading home, stop by the Paint Bank General Store gift shop to pick up a few souvenirs.
Gadsby’s Tavern—Old Towne Alexandria
Get a side of history with your meal when you eat at Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant in Old Towne Alexandria. Gadsby’s, a tavern and hotel originally built in the late 1700s, also houses a museum that tells the story of the hospitality industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Acting as a center for economic, political, and social life in Alexandria during the early days of America, the establishment played an important role in the struggle for American Independence. Many notable figures visited the tavern, which was described as the finest public house in America, during the 18th and 19th centuries, including George Washington, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Savor traditional tavern fare such as the Gentleman’s Pye, or sample seafood, steaks, or other contemporary dishes that are perfectly cooked.
Travel through taste when you visit Havana ’59 in downtown Richmond. The Cuban vibe and food at this restaurant is amplified by the décor, with crumbling, faded plaster walls, cigars, strings of lights, and even a palm tree at the bar adding to the atmosphere. During warm summer nights, sit in the bar area on the first floor and enjoy the air through the open glass garage doors. The second floor has another bar for the convenience of the upstairs guests, as well as indoor and outdoor seating areas. On the third floor, a patio is seasonally open that provides an open view of the 17th Street Farmers Market. Order authentic Cuban food prepared with traditional ingredients like plantains, and for an extra bit of Cuban flair, add one of their signature mojitos. Visit on Thursday evenings and join the free salsa dancing lesson after your meal.
Hunter’s Head Tavern—Upperville
Experience what it is like to eat at an English pub when you dine at Hunter’s Head Tavern. The restaurant was originally built in the 1790’s, and is reputed to be haunted by several ghosts, including a middle-aged Colonial man dressed in brown (although witnesses claim he is a happy ghost!). There is a large wood fireplace to warm up during cooler evenings, and the restaurant uses organic meats and produce harvested from local farms.
Peking Gourmet Inn—Falls Church
Named one of the 17 best Chinese restaurants in America by the New York Times, Peking Gourmet Inn is a favorite dining spot of George and Barbara Bush. These aren’t the only famous patrons, however; the walls are filled with pictures of notable diners that have enjoyed the exceptional meals at Peking Gourmet Inn. What else makes this Northern Chinese restaurant stand out? Instead of relying on other Virginia farms for fresh produce, the restaurant sources many of their ingredients from their own 133-acre farm in Purcellville. The food doesn’t get much fresher than what you’ll find at this Falls Church hot spot.
Bon Vivant Café & Farm Market—Alexandria
For families with children, Bon Vivant Café & Farm Market in Alexandria is the perfect dinner spot. The restaurant has a dedicated kid’s room with couches for the parents to relax and eat while the kids play with toys, including an interactive train table and colorful books. The room is outfitted with small tables for the kids to eat at comfortably. The restaurant boasts meats and dairy products from 100% grass-fed animals, and the eggs are pasture raised. Your children have healthy options for their meals, with many of the ingredients locally sourced and raised without hormones or antibiotics, as well as gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian, and vegan options for the adults.
Dine at an upscale hotel in the heart of Richmond at Lemaire, a classic restaurant with a rich history. The restaurant is located in the Jefferson, a hotel built in 1895 that is known for its beautiful, opulent architecture. The hotel’s grand staircase opens up to an expansive tea room that is overlooked by open galleries on the second floor. Alligators once resided in the lobby’s marble pools, and thirteen presidents, including Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama have been guests here. The restaurant has also hosted several famous musicians; Frank Sinatra crooned for guests after dinner in an impromptu performance, and even Elvis has visited this historic Richmond site.
The Wine Kitchen Hearth—Leesburg
The Wine Kitchen Hearth in Leesburg is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts. The restaurant believes in serving up food and wine pairings without the pretentious nature that often overshadows the duo. There are over 40 wines available by the glass, and if you are interested in trying several choices in moderation, the restaurant offers tasting flights. Each menu item is crafted using local, seasonal ingredients and paired with carefully considered wine selections. The Italian-style restaurant provides country hospitality in a centuries-old farmhouse, utilizing cozy décor touches like a brick oven and exposed wood beams to create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere.
Dating all the way back to 1840, the Lafayette Inn is not just a restaurant and inn, but an important historic landmark, as well. The location has been used for many different purposes over more than 150 years, acting as a hotel, restaurant, saloon, boarding house, and even a hospital during the Civil War. The first Stanardsville telephone exchange ran out of the Lafayette Inn, and the local newspaper started at the site. The building consists of three grand levels complete with sweeping colonnade porches. Come in for a hearty meal and stay the night at this historically significant destination in Stanardsville.
Leaping Lizard Café—Virginia Beach
You may recognize this restaurant from the popular television show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. To create exceptionally fresh meals, the chefs at Leaping Lizard Café simply walk out back to the produce stand and pick out ingredients just a few steps from the kitchen. Diners are also welcome to take home some fruits and veggies from the on-site market, as well as shop the unique gift shop for antiques, furniture, and interesting knick-knacks. The restaurant has a pet-friendly patio and chickens wander the surrounding property, adding to an already relaxed ambiance. You’ll easily spot this restaurant off of Shore Drive thanks to the huge mosaic colorful lizard at the entrance.
Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theater—Wytheville
Dinner and a show don’t necessarily have to be separate when planning a night out. At the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theater in Wytheville, you can take in a live show while eating a meal that matches the theme of the production. The restaurant features arena-style seating where huge Broadway-style shows are performed for guests during their four-course meals, carefully chosen to pair with the live entertainment. Some of the recent performances include Beauty & the Beast, Grease, Annie, Guys and Dolls, and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
On your next night out, consider dining differently at one of these unique restaurants around Virginia and add an interesting twist to your meal.
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Medieval Madness moved into a new location now called Strongbows Tavern.
John Strongbow’s is no longer open in Old Town Alexandria
There are some places west of Richmond besides Wohlfahrt Haus which is meh on the food.
We went to the swinging bridge restaurant and food was great and the decor is awsome. You can buy just about anything you want including fresh meat.
My husband, Carl Wright, was the site boss for the company who supervised the restoration of Gadsby’s Tavern back about 30-35 years ago. They tried to leave it as close as possible to the original, but make it safe and up to date as possible with modern “facilities”, fire codes, etc. He brought home some handmade nails, pieces of wood, etc., that had to be removed in the process. Hum, wonder if one of the adult sons have any of it now.
Oh please! What a joke of a place. Bbq is in their name and our waitress suggested everything but. The menu is all over the place and seems to want to focus more on Thai dishes from the owners home. They put more thought in the tacky decor.
Leaping Lizard got rid of their gift shop year ago.
You have to be kidding!?
where’s the Inn at Little Washington?????
Yes! That place is the definition of a destination restaurant. Perhaps they’re trying to publicize some lesser-known spots; that’s the only thing that makes this omission make any sense.
I was all in until I saw one that I have been to and it was, well, musty. Not a dining experience I would ever repeat. So I will get my list from people I know and trust.
I agree! Looks like some of these places paid to be on the list.