On a recent weekend trip to Richmond, Virginia to visit a good friend of mine, I was delighted to find he had gone above and beyond as a host, giving me tours of the city by car and foot, filling our 2.5 day schedule with museums (the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and the Poe Museum), outdoor excursions (a canal cruise and two sunbathing sessions at Bell Isle), and a series of satisfying local culinary experiences.
Unexpectedly, we opted out of heavy Southern fare and instead gravitated to a few of Richmond’s many international restaurants—and were thrilled by the global flair found in such a quintessentially Southern city (as in, home of the Confederate White House).
Alex’s Thai Cuisine
I took a 12-hour red-eye bus ride from Atlanta to Richmond, and when I stumbled off the bus and into my friend’s car around 1:30pm, I was ready for real food, not the crackers and gas station candy I’d been snacking on. Just a block from the bus stop, in the historic, cobblestoned Shockoe Bottom neighborhood sits Alex’s Thai Cuisine, a no-frills, quiet restaurant with two front windows that fill the small front seating area with lovely natural light. My sweet and sour chicken was the perfect combination of light yet filling. Surrounded by Buddhist imagery while seated just across the street from Richmond’s famous 17th Street Farmer’s Market, I had the feeling that my weekend in this city was going to be textured and interesting.
Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.
Kanoa Latin Cuisine
After a busy Saturday of sight-seeing, we had worked up a big appetite for dinner. We headed into downtown Richmond to check out the recently-opened Kanoa, a restaurant that specializes in Venezuelan cuisine, with some Italian influence mixed in. The menu was extensive yet affordable, and I settled on two types of arepas, ground maize flatbreads, while my friend feasted on a combination meal that featured cachapas (corn cake sandwiches) and tostones (crispy fried plantains). This is definitely a place worth taking your leftovers home, though I’ll admit I polished off both of my arepas, and the menu features plenty of options for gluten-free and vegetarian patrons, too.
Photo courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC via Shutterstock.
My friend is the co-author of the Richmond food blog As Told Over Brunch, so a local brunch stop was a must. On my last morning in RVA, we walked over to Kuba Kuba, a fused restaurant and bodega located in the heart of Richmond’s Fan district. Founded by Manny Mendez in 1998, this joint serves home-style meals inspired by his Cuban heritage. After a weekend of rich food, I ordered a simple breakfast of eggs, toast, and café con leche, but the spinach and salmon tortilla my friend ordered looked like one of the best breakfast frittatas I’ve ever laid eyes on. Kuba Kuba is a cozy and vibrant space, and, again, I found myself forgetting that I was in the heart of the South as I got to the bottom of my glass of coffee, the smell of peppers and sriracha in my nose.
Back For Second Helpings
The brevity of my trip meant that my international food tour of Richmond was cut short, but here are two more places worth trying for those passing through the River City in the near future:
Pho So 1
Described as “no frills” and “a hole in the wall,” Richmonders are nevertheless enthusiastic about the city’s favorite, humble Pho joint, where reviews note that they feel comfortable showing up in even their gym clothes to enjoy a meal. Another plus is the across the board agreement that Pho So provides speedy service, even if it can be terse. Perhaps this Yelp reviewer said it best when she commented: “It looks like a little trailer, but I swear it’s a true Richmond gem.”
Photo courtesy of Ronnie Chua via Shutterstock.
Located in the Fan District, Edo’s is the perfect place for those craving authentic Italian cuisine. Reviews commonly mention that while the space is small and typically packed (and the service thus a bit slower than desired), the food, particularly the “overflowing” seafood pasta dish, makes it worth some patience. Next time I’m in RVA, I’m hoping to fill up on the house red, some calamari, and the eggplant parmesan—after booking a table beforehand, of course.
RVA is clearly a city that seeks to blend tradition, innovation, and multicultural fare against its richly historic backdrop, making it a fascinating Southern city to travel — and eat — through.
What’s your favorite ethnic food experience in Richmond, Virginia? Please share in the comments below.
By Paige Sullivan