Food Culture in Virginia

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Virginia doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a hotspot for culinary excellence, but upon closer inspection it’s clear that we actually have a burgeoning food scene that includes both high end fine dining style restaurants as well as a huge number of diners and small eating establishments that serve simple, straightforward, fantastic food. In this post I hope to convince readers that Virginia as a state shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to the food and restaurant scene.

First off, we’re a southern state, so we have all the traditions that come with that – if you’re looking for great barbecue, incredible pies or delicious fried stuff, we’ve got all of that here. One thing that is particularly special and that only comes out of Virginia is Virginia country ham – it’s well known throughout the country and is pretty damn delicious if I may say so myself. We’re also famous for our peanuts – Virginia peanuts are the largest peanuts grown in the US and make for a great bar snack.

The seafood in Virginia is also pretty incredible, and in particular we have fantastic blue crabs. While the blue crab is often associated with Maryland, the crab that comes out of this region is equally as good. We also have great oysters, and Tangier Island (on the eastern shore of the state) is said to be the ‘soft shell crab capital’ of the world. The seafood in this region is fresh and is just generally high quality product.

Virginia is also something of a wine hub – we have a rapidly growing wine industry, and the state now has over 200 wineries and that number is growing by the day. While we can’t match up to Napa valley just yet, anyone who’s looking to do a wine tour on the east coast should  put the great state of Virginia into their itinerary right away. Along with the many wineries, there are also frequent wine festivals and tasting events suitable for connoisseurs and amateurs alike. There’s loads of useful information at VirginiaWine.org if you’re thinking about doing a wine tour in the area. Here’s a quick video that will definitely interest you if you’re a wine person.

The one thing that you probably wouldn’t expect in the state is great fine dining – but actually, the restaurant scene in Virginia has really taken off in the last half decade. Almost every reasonably sized city in the state has a downtown area with great restaurants, and whether you’re looking for exotic cuisines or a modern take on classic southern food, we’ve got it all. Richmond, Alexandria – even the tiny little city of Staunton all have amazing restaurants and excellent food. One theme that you’ll find runs through many of the state’s best restaurants is a focus on high quality local meat and produce. Many chef’s would agree that great farms make for great food, and Virginia is a place with a rich history of agriculture. Be on the lookout for restaurants that proudly display their suppliers – the quality of the local meat and produce that you find in high end restaurants in Virginia will rival anything that you can find in the entire country. For those looking for actual restaurant recommendations or reviews, check out this list. It only covers northern Virginia, but a bunch of my own favorites are on there so I’ll give it a pass.

We’re also seeing more and more farmer’s markets, (aforementioned) wine festivals, and local food events in the state. While none of the cities in Virginia are ‘known’ as trendy food locales like Austin or Seattle are, I personally think that places like Staunton are up and coming in the food world, and in a few years many places in Virginia will start popping up on those ‘most underrated food cities’ lists that you find so often around the web.

So, that’s my brief take on the Virginia food scene in general – and if you don’t believe that the food is great here, come and try it for yourself.

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