Long-time lurker, first time poster.
We've been living in Richmond for the past four years, and I've spent a great deal of time on Chow trying to find good places to eat. I've got to say that overall, it's been a real struggle. No matter what some have said on the board, Richmond food is generally not quite there yet - we prefer italian food, and are spoiled as we hail from the northeast. But even southern cuisine here is often disappointing! Because I've found reviews here to be relentlessly upbeat (as compared to boards up north) and because I figured maybe foodie visitors to town would want a more...outsider...perspective, I thought I'd write. These are the "highlights", not of course every place we've been to in town.
Hands down, it's gotta be Juleps. The mains are consistently great - especially stewed lamb shoulder (or osso bucco, depending on the night) and their beef. My wife thinks their fish is cooked to perfection. The fried tomatoes are the best in town, and the wine list is excellent. Overall, it's basically the place in town I'd go to if I wanted to spent $40+ per person, but feel like it was worth the investment, and it provides a hint of southern charm. Also, good cocktails. The only problem is that the place can be a bit loud, especially the upper floor, when it is crowded at night. I'll put it this way: if I had one night in Richmond, I'd go here. If I had two nights in richmond, I'd go here again. Maybe on the third night, I'd try...
Bacchus: to my mind, the best italian/value combo downtown.
Arcadia (excellent starters in particular)
Comfort (kind of fantastic roasted chicken, and friendly staff)
Can Can (meat and fries, crazy loud, but mostly fun)
And that's it, to my mind. Here are places you might be encouraged to go, but should avoid:
Edo's Squid. What can I say? Some people find it charming to wait 2 hours after the reservation time to get in, in a cramped space, with no one apparently in charge of the line. In fact, I've heard on the board here that this is an intentional business strategy! I just think it's silly, and fairly rude. The food is fine - you can find a hundred better italian restaurants near dupont circle, let alone in Philly or NY, where Edo's would be pedestrian going-out italian food. If you are from a town north of DC and East of Albany, you should not, I repeat not, waste your time or dollars. Indeed, we've never gone back after a several bad waiting experiences. If this restaurant was in a foodie town, it'd be out of business in two months flat. Same with Mama Zus, which doesn't even pretend to take reservations.
I just don't get it - I feel like the positive reviews of this place (on chow and yelp) illustrate stockholm syndrome in action. Seriously folks: no restaurant is worth regularly waiting for 2 hours in line to get into, and being treated like they are doing you a favor the whole time. Avoid at all costs.
Amici: Fine northern italian, yet it consistently is recommended as best-in-town. The ambiance could use a sprucing up.
Mortons: I know it is a chain, but for some reason this particular location is not as good as others I've been to. They overcooked our steaks, and the sauteed spinach had too much butter.
Zeus Gallery Cafe: Atmosphere - boo!
Maximo's and Europa. Neither tapas, nor edible. (At Maximo's, recently, we ordered fried vegetables. They had the consistency and taste of wet, unsweetened, funnel cake. I like real funnel cake, but this put me off the stuff for a while.) We went to Europa our first night in town. That, friends, was a grim evening.
Millies also tremendously overrated. They use much too much oil in their omelettes - you can feel it oozing out of you afterwards. And I I tend to think that their food is simply too heavy for brunch, their core meal - I never leave there without a bellyache. Lulus (same owner) is a better bet, even if it is less of a scene.
Bottom's Up Pizza: I know people say this is "unique" and I'm sure that's supposed to be praise. My view is that the dough and the cheese are both tasteless. Decent sauce, and a nice set of ingredients. But I would never actually eat there - you can never get through a meal without a train passing overhead and it's not actually relaxing. We've taken out a few times, and for downtown Richmond, it's probably your best pizza bet. But that's not exactly saying much!