Charlottesville road trip offers variety in a compact space

I am a frequent visitor to Charlottesville, Virginia, because my best friend lives there. Following my many visits there, I put together some advice about Charlottesville food and drink. 

Downtown at Night. Courtesy photo: Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Craft beer lovers, foodies, late night eaters, and local music lovers will be very happy there. The restaurant scene for foodies, with dozens of 4-stars and above options, is probably the best you will find in a small college town.

There are more restaurants in C’ville per capita than anywhere else in the US. Late night food is the best of any town or city in the country, and I’ve eaten a lot of late night food there after hitting the bars earlier in the evening.

C’ville’s craft beer scene isn’t the best, but it’s good, and for a town this size is better than you’d expect.

Nightlife venues

There are three main areas for nightlife in C’ville. First is the downtown pedestrian mall, which is filled with bars and restaurants, mostly semi-upscale places. Second is Main Street (also called Mid-town), which is filled with unique shops, but also has some bars and restaurants. Third is The Corner, which is a bunch of college bars (maybe 10-15) packed into a very small area of a block and a half. Once I turned 35, I stopped going to The Corner bars and tend to hang out on the downtown mall or Mid-town now.

Charlottesville Downtown Mall
Historic Downtown Mall. Courtesy photo: Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Craft beer bars

CharlottesvilleBeer Run is a world-class bottle shop and bar in a strip mall kind of setting about 2 miles from the downtown mall or Main Street. Food there is decent, but there are lots better places for food in C’ville. They have about 15 taps, all craft, and usually something really cool on tap. Tons of bottles in floor to ceiling coolers at discounted prices to go, but they typically charge a small fee to drink bottles there since they charge retail not bar prices for those bottles. Back room has a very good selection of Belgians in bottles and Saturday night is Belgian beer night with no capping/corkage fee to drink them there.

World of Beer is 2nd best for craft beer/arguably first — is on Main St. and has 500 bottles and 50+ taps of pretty good beer. It’s a chain, so if you’ve been to one, you know what to expect. Typically something special on tap and a lot of above average beers.  I can always find something to make me happy here.

CharlottesvilleWhiskey Jar is 3rd best for craft beer and is on the downtown mall. Probably 25 taps, at least 5 of which will be darn good, tons of whisky brands including some special stuff. Usually good music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Citizen Burger Bar on the downtown mall has a good craft beer list both on tap and in bottles and excellent upscale burgers with creative toppings.

Sedona Taphouse is a 10 minute drive from downtown, but has 50+ taps, many of them good.  They have a discount growler fill night that has moved to different nights throughout the week, so its worth a check to see if it happens to be on a night you are in town.

Timberwood Grill is a good 15 minute drive from downtown, but a decent tap list of 45 beers.  They also have food specials including a $10 steak night for a steak that is worth well more than that.

Mellow Mushroom is on the corner of Main & 13th and has very good beer and very good pizza.

Court Square Tavern I believe still exists from Jefferson’s days and is just off the downtown mall. Special selection of bottles, many rare beers, but its in a cellar and is dark and not a real energetic or boisterous drinking spot.  It’s still worth a look if you’ve got some spare time.

Wild Wing Café is on Main Street and has decent beer and tons of TVs for game watching.  They will sometimes have a very special limited release beer on tap and charge standard prices for it, which is a very good deal.

Buffalo Wild Wings is in a strip mall a 5 minute drive from downtown and less decent beer, still tons of TVs.

There is even an indoor hockey/skating rink on the downtown mall that has 4 taps of decent craft beer.

Charlottesville Breweries

There are lots of breweries in and around C’ville, several of them pretty good. Here are the ones in town.

Charlottesville Road TripChampion Brewing Company is just outside of downtown a short walk away and makes decent beer and a pretty good IPA (Missle IPA). Food trucks most days of the week. They recently began selling their beer in West Virginia and also have an outlet in Richmond.

Three Notch’d Brewing Company is just outside of downtown and a very short cab ride, and they make good beer.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  They recently opened two additional breweries in Richmond and Harrisonburg, so they are doing something right! Popular seasonals and food trucks.

South Street Brewery was bought by Blue Mountain Brewery a few years ago and is now making solid beer and also hosts guest beers from Blue Mountain and others. Blue Mountain’s barrelhouse series of beers is outstanding (Spooky in particular is amazing and I’ve brought bottles up to NY and people were dying for more).

Hardywood Brewing Company from Richmond has opened a Pilot Brewery on Main Street to try small experimental batches, but they also will often put their well-liked, very good craft beer on tap like GBS.

C’ville-ian Brewing Company is a nano brewery downtown on Main Street, but a warning: their beer hasn’t been that good, but its getting a bit better now with a new brewer.

Outside of town, there are plenty more breweries in the region Check out Starr Hill in Crozet, Blue Mountain in Afton, Devils Backbone in Roseland, and Wild Wolf in Nellysford.

Whiskey and cocktail spots

Whiskey Jar on the downtown mall has a great selection of whiskey and bourbon. Laid back hipster crowd, good music usually bluegrass or acoustic shows.

CharlottesvilleMiller’s is on the downtown mall. Dave Matthews played their once a week before hitting it big. Great whiskey and bourbon selection and good live music on weekends. Laid back townie/hipster crowd.  Music is likely to be jazz.

Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar is on the downtown mall and has an awesome rooftop bar with good cocktails. This is where the players and divas go, but the rooftop is pretty cool.

Blue Light Grill is on the downtown mall and has great cocktails and a raw bar with good oysters if you are early. Yuppie players and divas here, as well.

Maya is on Main Street and has good cocktails, decent craft beer and good high end food. Cool, laid back crowd.

Zocalo on the downtown mall has good margaritas and other good cocktails. Yuppies and packs of girls out on the town for the night.

Bang tapas restaurant, just off the downtown mall on South St., has very good cocktails. It’s a restaurant with good cocktails, not a bar.

High end food

(Other than Ivy Inn, Fleurie and Alley Light, upscale does not mean expensive in C’ville. Very reasonable prices on food because there is so much competition.)

The Ivy Inn — most upscale, most expensive, best food. Classics on white linen

Fleurie — high end French, very good, very expensive

Alley Light — excellent new American/French, great for seafood.

Tavola — high end Italian, not a spaghetti and meatballs place. Awesome scallops and seafood.

Orzo — Italian , Mediterranean high end

Shebeen — African upscale

Maya —upscale southern comfort food.  Fried chicken is great.

Whiskey Jar— similar to Maya

Commonwealth — New American

Zocalo — New American

Mas — tapas

CharlottesvillePublic Fish & Oyster — On Main St. and has an oyster and raw bar along with a very good seafood restaurant that offers a very good selection of oysters sold per piece.  Happy hour is the time to go for oyster specials.

Rocksalt — Another great oyster bar and seafood place just outside of town in the Stonefield development.  Very good happy hour specials on oysters, claims and beer/cocktails.

Citizen Burger Bar — Upscale, somewhat expensive, but very good burgers

Cheap but great food

Ace BBQ — Just off the downtown mall maybe 1/4 mile away. Their smoked meats are incredible, generally served on biscuits as a sandwich.  Tommy Pastrami is the call — a breakfast biscuit sandwich with house smoked pastrami topped with your choice of cheese (cheddar) and an egg (order it over easy), but they have other similarly great options including the ODB and the smoked pimento cheese is awesome.

Mel’s Diner — On Main St; really good fried chicken, greasy spoon.

Wayside — incredible fried chicken to go from a gas station

The Korner — not at the corner, it’s on Cherry St. in a bad part of town, but the best burger in C’ville. Get it to go.

La Michoacana — authentic Mexican street tacos, with meat like tongue and tripe, but also normal stuff like beef and carnitas.

Al Carbon — Peruvian rotisserie chicken. So moist, great and very healthy.

Late night food 

Marco & Luca — on Main St. Open til 3 or 4 AM. Chinese pork dumplings that are awesome for like $4/order. I literally can eat 75. They only sell those or a noodle dish and all to go.

Littlejohns — on University Av. Awesome sandwiches, open 24 hours.

The White Spot — on University Av. Greasy Burgers and fries, but the “gusburger” is awesome with a fried egg on top.

Benny DeLuca’s — on Main St. NY style pizza place.

Some final thoughts on late night food. You’ll find an occasional foodtruck on the downtown mall. There’s also plenty of Waffle Houses, Ihops and Denny’s open 24 hours.

For more information on Charlottesville go to the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau website at

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