6 Reasons Richmond, VA Is The Perfect Food City
The Huffington Post calls Richmond one of the top underrated food cities in the entire world. Bon Appétit says RVA is “America’s Next Great Restaurant-Obsessed Town.” And Garden & Gun says Richmond is the “South’s best-kept culinary secret.”
So how did Richmond become such a hub of food and flavor? Was it always this way and the world is just now taking notice, or have recent changes transformed the city’s culinary scene? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Here are six key factors in the growth of Richmond’s foodie status.
It all begins with the part of Richmond that hasn’t changed, and the foundation of a great food city – location, location, location. Looking for freshwater seafood? Look no further than the rivers and tributaries that feed into the Chesapeake, or the Chesapeake itself – the United States’ largest estuary. Prefer sea-going fish? The Atlantic Ocean isn’t far. How about vegetables and land-based meat? Just to the west of Richmond are mountains and farmlands aplenty. And all of this is from fewer than 100 miles away. If it’s local you want, Richmond has just about anything within reach.
All that splendid geography means nothing if it’s isn’t being used, and that’s where Virginia’s farmers come in. From the well-known Agriberry Farm and Shalom Farms (producers of fresh fruits and vegetables) to Manakintowne Specialty Growers (greens, flowers, and herbs) and Buffalo Creek Beef (cattle and livestock meats), farms are the lifeblood of healthy, local, and farm-to-table eating. In fact, many of your favorite Richmond restaurants get their ingredients from these or some of the other 45,000 farms in Virginia.
You don’t have to be the executive chef of a popular restaurant to create dishes that feature high-quality, local ingredients. Farmer’s Markets and specialty shops bring meat and produce from nearby farms to the masses. This provides Richmond residents with a way to learn about and experience where their food comes from, what makes their food better, and how flavors are impacted by different farming, shipping, and cooking methods. Be sure to check out the South of the James Market, the 17th Street Farmers’ Market (one of the oldest in the US), and Ellwood Thompson’s grocery store to meet your local farmers!
Richmond’s food culture growth is a classic chicken-and-egg problem; which came first, the interest in good food, or the people who cook it? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both, but whatever the answer, the fact is that Richmond boasts a powerful lineup of chefs. Those include multiple James Beard-nominee Brittany Anderson (Brenner Pass, Metzger Bar & Butchery), Szechuan specialist Peter Chang (Peter Chang’s China Cafe), home-taught Velma Johnson (Mama J’s), financial services pro-turned-chef Mike Ledesma (Perch), and many more popular, experienced, and influential chefs. And what’s more? They prefer to work with each other, rather than against each other, much to the delight of Richmond food-lovers.
What’s great food without great beverages to accompany it? Lonely, that’s what. With a hat tip to Legend Brewing for being the first modern craft brewery in town (by nearly two decades), it is undeniable that the Richmond beer scene has exploded in the last few years. And if it seems like a new brewery is being announced every month, that’s because it is: to date, there are more than three dozen (and counting) craft beer makers already in operation in the Richmond area. And beer isn’t alone – Richmond has several legendary cideries and distilleries!
Finally, all the great food in the world doesn’t mean anything, if there isn’t anyone to appreciate it. Over the last decade, Richmond’s collective palette has become more knowledgable and refined. Richmond residents and visitors have consistently demonstrated an appreciation for expertly-prepared meals, creating a virtuous cycle: more people who love great food brings in more great chefs, which in turn converts more folks into foodies.
Richmond’s transition into a powerhouse for food has been going on for a few years. From the geography to the chefs to the residents, the city has become a paradise for those who love to tickle their tastebuds. So where to get started? It doesn’t really matter, as long as you start now – there’s a lot to try, and not enough time to try it all!
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