Global Eats Part I

A Savory Guide To 101 Of Coastal Virginia’s Most Enticing International Eats

Photos by Jim Pile, David Uhrin and Ryan Miller

At a time when cultural diversity sets us apart, there’s one thing that brings us all together: food. Our food scene is rich with flavors representing a variety of experiences and nationalities, allowing individuals with eclectic palates to sample their way around the world, one thrilling bite at a time. Read Part I, Part II and Part III to be transported through a number of countries—China, France, Bangladesh, Germany, Morocco, Jamaica, India, Japan, Mexico, Iran, Turkey, Thailand and Vietnam among them—through 101 restaurants that put Coastal Virginia’s culinary culture on the map and on the globe.

 

Chinese

 

Judy’s Sichuan

Utilitarian-looking when it opened with glaring school cafeteria-lighting, Judy’s Sichuan is now a sleek and contemporary showplace, complete with eye-catching bar, worthy of how magnificent the food has always been. Chiles, garlic and the eponymous pepper (of the citrus family) infuse the mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, dan dan noodles and addictive eggplant in yu-shiang sauce with Sichuan province’s famed flavors. But soup dumplings and smoked tea duck balance fieriness. Judy, ever-present, ensures you’re satisfied with each dish; hard to imagine anyone wouldn’t be. 328 Constitution Dr., Virginia Beach, 757-499-2810. Just unveiled Greenbrier outpost: 1434 Sam’s Dr. #112, Chesapeake. JudysSichuanCuisine.com
—MM

 

Jade Villa

You can get scrumptious orders of General Tso’s chicken and sweet and sour pork (from the Americanized menu), but it’s the flavor-laden, texturally-intriguing dishes like duck tongue and jellyfish salad (from the authentic Cantonese menu) that make this strip mall restaurant near Town Center tops (and open until 1:30 a.m., great for midnight snacking). Families line up early on Saturdays and Sundays for dim sum brunch/lunch; join them. Servers whip between tables with carts, stopping to explain each item. Point out your pick, then savor a true taste of China. 353 Independence Blvd., Virginia Beach, 757-473-2228
—MM

 

Peter Chang, Chinese restaurant Virginia Beach, Williamsburg
Peter Chang

Peter Chang

Once elusive, Peter Chang has become inescapable. The highly-praised former Chinese Embassy chef who introduced the nuances of Sichuan cuisine to America at a string of northern Virginia establishments, then shrank from sight (inciting a Where’s Waldo-type frenzy among legions of fans) currently has nine (and counting!) restaurants (three locally). Must eats: Sichuan chili beef, tofu skin in hot and numbing sauce, dry fried eggplant and scallion bubble pancake landing like a hot air balloon on your table. 3364 Princess Anne Rd., Virginia Beach, 757-468-2222. 4830 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach, 757-963-5051. 1203 Richmond Rd., Williamsburg, 757-345-5829. PeterChangRestaurant.com
—MM

 

French

 

Le Yaca, French restaurant Williamsburg, Virginia Beach
Le Yaca

Le Yaca

Like Brits crossing the Channel for France’s gastronomic glories, Southsiders have long braved the HRBT for chef-owner Daniel Abid’s opulent coquilles Saint Jacques, foie gras-festooned tournedos Rossini and Grand Marnier soufflé in Williamsburg. Now they have Le Yaca locally. Joined by son Marcus (also a chef) and daughter-in-law/floor manager Cecile (the young couple met at Manhattan’s Benoit by Alain Ducasse, Abid’s mentor), the Abid family brought stellar cuisine and polished service in a refined setting to Virginia Beach in 2017. Magnifique! 1430 High St., Williamsburg, 757-220-3616. 741 First Colonial Rd., Virginia Beach, 757-500-4773. LeYacaWilliamsburg.com 
—MM

 

Nouvelle

Nouvelle is master of subtle deadpan. You can’t tell by the low, white building’s somewhat clueless situation between a parking lot and office complex whether pancakes or pommes frites are to be expected. This unassuming exterior hints at the unbuttoned French cuisine awaiting diners inside. From silky, scarlet bouillabaisse to caramelized, fruit-laden bread pudding, Nouvelle’s playful menu is grounded by nonchalant glamor. Chef and co-owner Rina Estero commands the restaurant’s gleaming kitchen, arranging artistic plates of millennial pink kinilaw. She leans over the bar, smiling. “How’s it taste?” Vivid as the tangerine orange walls. 217 Grace St., Norfolk, 757-248-3712, Facebook.com/NouvelleRestaurantNorfolk
​—RH

 

Café Provençal

Like the sophisticated simplicity of fresh lavender adorning white linen tablecloths, Café Provençal welcomes guests with the unpretentious elegance you’d hope to find in a country French café. Pair with some of the best wine Virginia has to offer from The Williamsburg Winery (on-site), and the experience is unrivaled. The Café prides itself on being a true farm-to-table establishment, committed to working with Virginia farmers and purveyors. This dedicated quality can be found in some of the restaurant’s most adored dishes, like their Big Island Aquaculture oysters, harvested in nearby Hayes, or their pork chop from Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. 5810 Wessex Hundred, Williamsburg, 757-941-0317, WilliamsburgWinery.com/Cafe-Provencal
—AB

 

Blue Talon Bistro

Come to this casual and welcoming bistro-style establishment for upscale French cuisine that is detail-oriented but unpretentious, just the way we like it. Start with Cassoulet "Loiseau"—duck confit and Burgundy snails with a braise of white beans—and try the popular chicken and mushroom crêpes—baked crêpes stuffed with Herbs de Provence, asparagus tips and parmesan cheese—as your main course. Blue Talon combats the stereotypical notion of fancy French dishes plated as small portions. This unstuffy establishment will leave you gleefully stuffed. 420 Prince George St., Williamsburg, 757-476-2583, BlueTalonBistro.com
—MMS

 

Lamia’s Crêpes

Growing up in Paris, Algerian-born Lamia Pappas raked crêpe batter on a circular griddle the way other children spread jam on bread. Her love for filled, folded, French pancakes followed her here where she lamented the lack of crêperies. In 2016, a Downtown Norfolk initiative empowered her to open a sliver of a Granby Street storefront—a lean-to counter inside, a sprinkling of tables outside—turning out paper-thin discs for fillings savory (ham and Swiss, salmon) and sweet (cinnamon cream, apple and salted caramel sauce), and raking in a passel of crêpe-lovers. 401 Granby St., Norfolk, 757-961-1181, LamiasCrepes.com
—MM

German

 

Bier Garden, German restaurant Portsmouth
The Bier Garden

The Bier Garden

Playful street signs out front point to German stadts, but you need not go a kilometer further for a genuine beer garden experience; every day is Oktoberfest here. The Stuttgart-originating Osfolk family roll out gemütlichkeit with Southern German recipes for wursts, schnitzels and spätzle, and a beer philosophy of “the more the better.” Enjoy over 300 in the bar, homey dining room, patio or breezeway; fill your growler; or buy some at the year-old gift shop that also purveys Bavarian suspenders, imported foods and steins—like those lining many a wall here. 438 High St., Portsmouth, 757-393-6022, BierGarden.com
—MM

 

Caribbean

 

Mojito Café

Who doesn’t dream of sinking their toes in the sand, sipping a tropical cocktail and feasting on flavor-drenched island fare? Edwin Padilla makes it a reality, converting Virginia Beach into Playa Vega Baja at this snug, casual, tucked-back hut with mouthwatering Puerto Rican/Cuban dishes such as ropa vieja (house-roasted pulled beef with rice and tostones), pernil asado (house-roasted pork with peppers and caramelized onions), mofongo, fish tacos, flan and other Latino-based specialties, along with the namesake cocktail dispensed from a corrugated tin bar. 300 28th St., Virginia Beach, 757-233-6855, MojitoCafeVaB.net
—MM

 

Island Krave, Norfolk Caribbean restaurant
Island Krave

Island Krave Caribbean Smokehouse

No need for steel drums when the food is this good. “Do you want me to turn the light on and ruin the romantic atmosphere?” owner Dorothy Lovell asks with a wink. Her restaurant is warm and welcoming, like the Caribbean islands which give heart to the food she cooks herself. Pick from jerk chicken, pork, curry, brown stew chicken, smoked wings or oxtail. Order plantain or sweet potato fries. Or skip dinner and fall straight into the cinnamon-sugar embrace of buttery, oven-fresh coco bread. We won’t tell. 22 W. 21st St. J, Norfolk, 757-627-1725, IslandKrave.com
—RH 

 

De Rican Chef

Family-owned and offering an authentic island aura, De Rican Chef cultivates its plates true to the taste of its Caribbean heritage. Try some Puerto Rican favorites such as mofongos rellenos, prepared with mortar and pestle and made of mashed green plantains with garlic and seasoned with either chicken, fried pork, beef stew or skirt steak, or let loose on one of their signature pork entrees such as carne frita con cebolla, fried pork with onion and tostones. 3208 Holland Rd., Ste. 105, Virginia Beach, 757-468-1110, DeRicanChefVa.com
—RM

 

Dunn’s River Jamaican Restaurant

If you’re into minimalism or a fan of the adage, “Good things come in small packages,” Dunn’s River Jamaican & Caribbean Restaurant is just the ticket. The footprint of the eatery is small, there are very few tables for those dining in, and the menu is not at all expansive. But that’s where the small stuff ends. With food that is big on flavor and large on value, thanks to the very generous portions they serve (oxtail is a specialty), the tiny restaurant provides plenty of irie factor you won’t want to miss. 5014 Jefferson Ave., Newport News, 757-928-9566
—BB

 

Carib Shack

With barely two booths to its name, Carib Shack’s spice-riddled jerk bowls, burritos, soups, Cuban sandwiches, sweet plantains and rum cake are primarily for takeaway (heck, it calls itself a shack), but what’s really taken away are your taste buds … to a Caribbean retreat. Born-and-bred Virgin Islander Vinny Michael Gagliani treasures three generations of family recipes, hence Trinidadian-tweaked Granny’s Curry and Mama’s Beef (hormone- and antibiotic-free) with lentils and rice cooked in coconut milk. Periodically he stews whole oxtail. When he does, get it fast or it’ll get away. 2272 West Great Neck Rd., Virginia Beach, 757-692-6851, TasteCarib.com
—MM

 

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern

 

Mr. Shawarma

Elevating street food to an art form, Mr. Shawarma outgrew the Ghent spot opened in 2014 and moved next door. There are now more tables (plus a patio) should you care to eat-in instead of taking-out once counter servers swiftly construct your falafel or chicken shawarma (lamb fat-marinated) with delectable toppings including hummus, tahini, garlic sauce, fried eggplant, pickles, French fries and more (like tangy amba—sour mango—for the chicken). Their craftsmanship and dexterity will make your eyes bulge as much as your fluffy pita (wraps and platters/bowls also available.) 725 W. 21st St., Norfolk, 757-962-9966, Facebook.com/MrShawarmaNorfolk
—MM

 

Saffron Mediterranean, Middle Eastern restaurants, Newport News
Saffron

Saffron Mediterranean Cuisine

Though Saffron’s website touts their “homely” atmosphere, we are quite sure they mean “homey.” Located in an unpretentious and decidedly un-historic building in historic Hilton Village, this diminutive restaurant is warm and welcoming with one of the most enthusiastic owner-proprietors around, offering some of the most intoxicating Middle Eastern tastes in these parts. You can go traditional with more than a dozen perfectly cooked meat or fish kabobs, but we prefer the choices of stews, unique to Saffron. Order ghormeh sabzi or bandanjan with the traditional beef, veal or even vegan option. These thick, fragrant mélanges of kidney beans and eggplant, respectively, are exquisite with the likes of herbs, onions and dried limes, especially when served over the unforgettable shirin palow—orange, almond and carrot rice. 10417 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, 757-223-9978, SaffronCuisine.org
—BD 

 

Baladi Mediterranean Café

Khaled Jebrail made his way from the Middle East to Virginia Beach via New York City with a computer engineering degree in tow, his mother’s cooking imprinted on his heart and mind and her recipes tucked into his luggage. At Baladi, he serves his versions of the fresh and healthy dishes he remembers his mother, aunts and sisters lovingly heaping on his plate. The menu includes classic meat and fish dishes from the Middle Eastern repertoire, but Baladi is a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diner’s paradise. Travel a little beyond those familiar borders and enjoy muhammara (walnuts, pistachios, roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and spices) or falafel encrusted organic Virginia tofu, served over a bed of sautéed sabanekh (baby spinach, diced red onions and sumac). 626 Hilltop West Shopping Center, Virginia Beach, 757-425-8877, BaladiCafe.com
—BD

 

Azar’s

Encompassing the different flavors of countries making up the Mediterranean region, the locally-owned café (and market at its Pembroke location) has been a passport for gourmands to a world of new foods in Coastal Virginia ever since its establishment in 1988. Their menu could be best described as healthy and hearty, especially with the chicken tawook, a wrap composed of chicken breast marinated in a garlic herb mix and veggies, as well as moussaka, a seasoned and layered grilled eggplant covered with lean ground beef and tomato sauce with béchamel and a cheese blend. Hilltop: 1624 Laskin Rd., Ste. 727, Virginia Beach, 757-422-2927. Pembroke: 108 Prescott Ave., Virginia Beach, 757-486-7778. AzarsFoods.com
—RM 

 

Croc’s 19th Street Bistro

It’s not easy staying relevant in today’s fast-paced restaurant world. But Croc’s has managed to do it. Owned by Kal and Laura Habr since 1993, this sustainable, organic, local (SOL), seafood-forward American menu is infused with specialties from Kal’s native Lebanon. Try Croc’s Crab Cakes over cheese risotto, but start with a Mezze Platter offering lots of tantalizing tastes. Beautiful plating, balanced flavors and an award-winning wine list (with bottles half off on Saturday nights) should be enough for any restaurant. But, there’s more: With Laura leading the charge, Croc’s was the first restaurant to earn the Virginia Green designation, is the site of the Old Beach Farmers Market, boasts an electric car-charging station and partners with a handful of eco-focused organizations. 620 19th Street, Virginia Beach, 757.728.5444, Crocs19thStreetBistro.com
—BD 

 

Ramen

 

Alkaline

Kevin Ordonez’s pedigree (The Culinary Institute of America, Williamsburg Inn, Todd Jurich’s Bistro) belies a foodie crush on ramen rooted in his boyhood in Japan (dad was in the Navy). “It’s fast food there,” he says, noting Americans linger over it. For three years, he’s served stunning renditions at a long-term pop-up at Pendulum but just opened his own brick-and-mortar. A larger menu features interpretive fare from the Philippines (where his parents were born) and weekend dim sum with other signature Asian creations (okonomiyaki atop tater tots) and the steaming noodle soup that generates a beeline for Alkaline. 742 W. 21st St., Norfolk, 757-395-4300, Facebook.com/AlkalineVA
—MM 

 

Misako Asian Cuisine, Ramen, Shore Drive, Virginia Beach restaurants
Misako

Misako Asian Cuisine

This unsuspecting spot for authentic Japanese food on Shore Drive reconciles an insatiable quest for a profound ramen restaurant in Coastal Virginia with its impressive selection of luscious noodles. Choose from several types of authentic ramen, including tonkotsu ramen with chashu pork, vegetable ramen with a miso soup base and shiitake mushrooms or seafood ramen with shrimp, squid, scallop and fish cakes, each topped with corn kernels, soft-boiled eggs, scallions, bamboo shoots and nori seaweed. 4701 Shore Dr. #113, Virginia Beach, 757-321-3123, MisakoAsianCuisine.com
—RM

 

Ichran

This buck-banging ramen standout’s name resembles Ichiran, the Japan-based chain known for “minimal interaction dining” (booths-for-one, only waiters’ hands visible beneath bamboo curtains) imported recently to the U.S. But Ichran attracts families and friends to its small, shiningly clean space near Military Circle. They share pan-fried dumplings and edamame, enthusiastically slurp pork tonkatsu ramen and swap tastes of katsu and seldom-seen takoyaki (wheat-based balls filled with such as octopus, scallions and pickled ginger) along with tales of military duty or sightseeing overseas. And they get to see the faces of their gracious servers. 5720 Hoggard Rd., Norfolk, 757-461-8630
—MM 

 

Kappo Nara Ramen

Two locations, one mission: to create top-notch ramen. In small, urban spaces Kappo Nara promises high flavor dividends for one investment: your lunch hour. Ramen is slow food, meant to be savored. Order deliciously murky tonkotsu with chashu pork, mushrooms and bamboo or the lighter miso, seafood, or vegetarian bowls. With a wide variety of ramen options and side dishes ranging from whole grilled squid to chashu pork buns, Kappo Nara’s locations in Norfolk and Virginia Beach offer leisurely adventures for curious (and hungry) diners. 2000 Colonial Ave. #7, Norfolk, 757-622-2045. 989 Kempsville Rd., Virginia Beach, 757-467-1102. Facebook.com/KappoNaraRamen
—RH 

 

Thai

 

Bangkok Garden

For 30 years Bangkok Garden has prepared its Thai cuisine guided by its fundamentals of flavor—sweet, sour, salty, hot and spicy—much to the delight of its diners in ornate settings with congenial service. Its menu selection is expansive, from stir-fry such as Pad Kapau with sweet basil leaves to noodle dishes such as Pad Thai Woon Sen, as well as seafood and vegetarian main courses. Bangkok Garden has locations in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg. BangkokGardenVB.com
—RM

 

Aticha Thai Cuisine

Aticha Thai Cuisine is proof positive that the growing number of Thai restaurants in Coastal Virginia need not be big, fancy and flashy to serve authentic Thai food. Owner Ananwat Phutthasiri works hard to combine the distinct flavors of Thai cuisine—lemongrass, lime leaves, coconut and curry—in intriguing ways, and he is rewarded with brisk business, with reservations needed on weekends. Thai rookies can go for their well-regarded take on the old staple, Pad Thai. But regulars often go for Aticha’s signature creativity in the drunken noodles or three-flavor fish. 157 Monticello Ave., Williamsburg, 757-378-3773, AtichaThai.com
—BS 

 

Thaijindesu, Newport News Thai restaurant
Thaijindesu

Thaijindesu

Owner Prasit “Ken” Khachenrum knows a thing or two about Thai food. He came to the United States from Thailand in 1996 and opened his first restaurant, Pattaya Thai (now closed) in Yorktown in 2002, then opened his Port Warwick location, Thaijindesu, in 2006. Thaijindesu offers a unique mixture of food from Thailand and Japan, concentrating on larger portions at reasonable prices. The atmosphere is welcoming and exotic, featuring china and flatware imported from Thailand. The food is individually prepared with the freshest ingredients, so be prepared to sit back, relax and enjoy. 2180 William Styron Square S., Newport News, 757-595-8410, Thaijindesu.com
—BB

 

Rama Garden

This serene, casually elegant downtown temple of Thai cuisine grew out of the Tida Thai family of restaurants, becoming beloved in its own right for pottery shrimp (baked shrimp with cellophane noodles and vegetables in ginger-garlic sauce), crispy duck kapow (a roasted half duck crowned with minced chicken, chili-garlic sauce and fresh basil), drunken noodles (stir-fried flat, wide rice noodles teeming with veggies), Hawaiian fried jasmine rice and more, all administered with royal service. 441 Granby St., Norfolk, 757-616-0533, RamaGardenNorfolk.com
—MM 

 

Thai Papaya Restaurant

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how good Thai Papaya is, though the probability is astronomical that many lunch here given NASA Langley’s proximity. Some of the crowd digging into stir-fried kapow (meat with basil and chiles), drunken noodles, pumpkin red curry and stir-fried vegetables utilize chopsticks, others forks. But whether they’re long-familiar with Thai cuisine or rookies, all get to specify spice level in case their taste buds aren’t ready for lift off. 2708-C N. Armistead Ave., Hampton, 757-788-8345. Thai Papaya Restaurant 2 at 319B Chatham Dr., Newport News, 757-874-0646. ThaiPapayaVa.com
—MM 

 

Old World European

 

Cafe Europa, Old World European restaurants, Portsmouth
Café Europa

Café Europa

Those who lament the slide into “casual everything” find fine dining thriving in Olde Towne in these richly appointed rooms resembling a movie set where Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid might meet. But the starring couple here, for three decades, is the Simkos: Veronique (French-born, managing exceptionally professional, sophisticated service) and Michael (a soccer star in his erstwhile homeland, Czechoslovakia, and brother to Monastery’s Anna Jerabek) whose cooking honors continental classics—vichyssoise, escargots, veal Hungarian. His exquisite sauces alone will transport you to a vanishing time and place. 319 High St., Portsmouth, 757-399-6652, TheCafeEuropa.com
—MM 

 

Voila Cuisine Internationale

This European treasure reposes among the Freemason District’s cobblestones. Yellow doors lead to an intimate room where ordering buttery escargot with Chardonnay feels entirely natural and dinner is unhurried. The $30 prix fixe provides a grand way to enjoy Chef Richard Robinson’s skill: luxurious chicken marsala hinting at the Orient; steak au poivre seared to perfection and seasoned as finely. For dessert order lemon sorbet whose blithe sharpness shakes one out the silken, culinary dream. You can’t stay here forever, but many of us would like to try. 509 Botetourt St., Norfolk, 757-640-0343, VoilaCuisine.com
—RH

 

Corner Café

A quick glance at Corner Café’s menu reveals a full plate of classics from Old World cuisine, but the restaurant stands apart by reimagining these timeless dishes. Located in Williamsburg’s urban enclave New Town, Corner Café takes diners on a culinary adventure. Take smørrebrod, which is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich. Topped with fried oysters and spicy remoulade, this combination pays tribute to Denmark and the Chesapeake at the same time. Owners Denise Berardi and Petra Travis both trace their lineage to Europe, but are veterans of the local restaurant business, which have given them a firm handle on what wows modern diners. 5203 Center St., Williamsburg, 757-345-3144, CornerCafeWilliamsburg.com
—BS

 

Monastery

Gourmands find their prayers answered upon passing from bustling Granby Street through arched wooden doors into this hushed reliquary of exceptional Central European fine dining. Anna and Adolf Jerabek (escapees from what was communist Czechoslovakia) welcome you with apples and cheese, followed by delicacies such as steak tartare, roast duckling, goulash, schnitzel à la Holstein and crêpe-like palacinki. After three decades, theirs is one of the oldest Norfolk restaurants. And most venerated. (Fun foodie fact: Anna’s brother is Michael Simko of Café Europa.) 443 Granby St., Norfolk, 757-625-8193, 443Granby.com
—MM 

 

Park Lane Tavern

Few places this side of the Atlantic can execute the European pub without it feeling overdrawn; Park Lane Tavern is an exception to this rule. Sit at the beautiful, polished bar sipping single malt scotch, or grab a snug booth. The tavern is known for their “fish and chips”—a generous haddock fillet perfectly breaded, fried and enthroned on golden fries. Bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, corned beef sandwiches and a portly host of comfort-food appetizers like soft, salt-flecked Bavarian pretzels are served up in the friendly atmosphere of this neighborhood-style pub. 4200 Kilgore Ave., Hampton, 757-838-2748, ParkLaneTavern.com
—RH 

 

Explore more Global Eats in Part II and Part III.

Categories: Coast Live, Issue Page Features, Restaurants & Food

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