City: Charlottesville, VA
Foodie: Extra P., Storming the Floor
Venue: John Paul Jones Arena
Team: Virginia Cavaliers (NCAA)
Address: 295 Massie Road, Charlottesville, VA
Extra P’s Taste
I know you hear people say all the time that they’ll eat just about anything, and you have to roll your eyes a bit. But I am seriously just as happy with a nice plate of macaroni and cheese as I am with high-end seafood. In my opinion, it’s all in the execution.
With that in mind, I’m still going to advise you to skip the indoor concessions at JPJ. They’re really uninspired, and there’s so much in a town like Cville that is truly local and fantastic. In fact, the sheer volume of good places to eat in this town is overwhelming enough that I’m going to limit my reviews to dining establishments that are within a one-mile radius of the arena. This is no handicap – you can get full and happy quite easily within that cordon.
In fact, one of my favorite restaurants in town is in the area, so let’s start there.
El Puerto Mexican Restaurant, 2045 Barracks Rd, Charlottesville, VA
There are lots of good Mexican restaurants in Charlottesville, but El Puerto is my favorite, and it’s very close to JPJ. It’s family-owned, which means the food is consistently excellent and authentic. The décor rocks, with hand-drawn artwork under the glass at each table, and bottles of jarritos soda lining the room divider to add a little neon color to the surroundings. For your aural pleasure, it’s Mexican pop music all the time, but not so loud you can’t have a conversation.
The food is out of this world. There are two things that consistently draw me to El Puerto: the spicy chorizo sausage, and the braised pork chunks called carnitas. I took my camera on a recent lunch outing so I’d be able to show you these wonderful items. What you see here is the queso dip with chorizo stirred in, which goes great on the chips, but is also served poured over a pounded chicken breast in the dinner special known as Chori-Pollo. For my main dish, I ordered a carnitas burrito, which comes with refried beans and Spanish rice. As you can see, everything is rustic and beautiful. And it tastes even better than it looks.
This was a huge lunch, so I had the added joy of taking half of it home and eating it later. Order anything on the menu, it’s all great. And if you like drinks, they make tasty margaritas, and the strongest Jack & Coke around. Prices are very reasonable as an added bonus, so my family and I come here a lot.
Panda Garden/Carmello’s Italian Restaurant, 380/400 North Emmet St.
For proximity, you can’t beat these two joints. They are literally right across the street from JPJ on lots adjacent to one another. Which you’d think might cause them to rest on their laurels a bit, but each place does a good job under completely different circumstances.
Carmello’s is a nice, sit-down Italian restaurant. You’ll be looking at more expensive and refined dishes, like escargot and veal. You don’t have to dress up, but you will need to make sure you’re willing to budget for a more expensive meal, especially if you order a bottle of wine. If you’re more the pizza and Stromboli type, go across the street and a block or so south and you’ll be at Italian Villa, a student favorite.
On a budget, it’s tough to beat Panda Garden’s lunch buffet, which is $6.40 all-you-can-eat. I’ve eaten at a lot of Chinese buffet joints, and I know every trick in the book that owners use to stretch a buck – scrappy cuts of meat under tons of breading, three parts bok choy to one part everything else, and tiny, lonely shrimp amongst others – and I can say with delight that none of those things happened here. My favorite buffet offerings are chicken w/ broccoli and General Tso’s, and I usually put both on my plate at the same time. Both passed my test – the broccoli was steamed just right, and the breaded chicken was plump and crispy. That’s probably why Panda Garden thrives so near the grounds of the University. A good meal at a reasonable price.
Bodo’s is a local treasure. It hits the trifecta of cheap, filling, and tasty. Last I counted, there were three locations around Cville, but this one is the closest to the ball games. Aside from the food, most locals also enjoy the piped-in deep cuts of classic rock and the college-hottie waitstaff.
The bagels are made on-site in all of the standard flavors, but they’re put together in all manner of ways to satisfy the palate for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One of my favorites in the morning is the deli-egg sandwich, which is sort of a mini meat and cheese omelette in the middle of a sliced bagel. There are also several varieties of flavored cream cheese, amongst which my preference is for the olive cream cheese (not to be confused with kalamata olive spread, which has no cream cheese in it), with its colorful slices of black olive, green olive, and pimento inside.
After 11am, I usually build a smoked turkey with avocado and either swiss or provolone on sesame – but you can do whatever you want.
The Tavern, 1140 Emmet Street North
Honestly, my family has other favorite breakfast joints, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention the Tavern. It’s a hugely popular greasy spoon with pancakes made from scratch and just about every other type of breakfast food you can imagine. It’s easy to find, just look for the sign painted on the roof.
Padow’s Deli, 2156 Barracks Road
Kind of a regional chain, but all of the meat is sliced on the premises and made into deli sandwiches that are decidedly southern in nature and won’t remind you of New York in the slightest. Nothing against the Big Apple, but I think a place should have its own regional take.
This is another place where standardization has never taken hold. The order-takers have a pad with each meat, cheese, bread and condiment on it, and they just circle what you want as you order. If you’re the indecisive type, look at the chalkboard menu for some favorites that have become standard offerings. Once you order your sandwich, you can ask for a scoop of potato salad from behind the counter, or accessorize your meal from the burgeoning rack of chips against the near wall. I always choose the small-batch Route 11 chips, which come in delicious flavors like Dill Pickle, Chesapeake Crab, and my favorite, Garlic & Herb. They also make a habanero flavored chip that really sears the taste buds.
A word of warning: in Virginia, ham means salty, fatty country ham. If that’s what you want, order the three (3) ham biscuits special. If that’s not what you want, look for modifiers like honey- or maple- in front of your sliced pig. This is a great place to hang out and nosh before a game. Answer the daily trivia question on the chalk board and you could end up with free food.
Arch’s Frozen Yogurt, 1232 Emmet Street North
This is just one of three Arch’s in Cville, but I love the total concept of this location. It’s housed in a free-standing modern building with two stories, tons of natural light, and verandas front and back for outdoor summer seating. The walls are brightly painted, and ordering can be done simply from the big chalk board (a popular concept these days).
This is one of those places where the staff mixes whatever you want into your frozen concoction, so I made a cup with peanuts and banana because that’s what I was in the mood for at the time. The pre-selected options on the board sound great, though.
Since basketball is played in the winter, you won’t likely be using the outdoor seating if you’re going to JPJ. But the upstairs area has plenty of seating, it’s nice and warm, and there’s art on the walls if you need a conversation starter. Can’t beat it for dessert.
Needless to say, there’s no drinking in the on-campus arena, so you’ll want to imbibe before or after. The closest place is Buffalo Wild Wings, on the edge of Barracks Road Mall. It’s your typical sports bar, but I love ordering the wings and then having the staff douse them in a sauce from the list of fourteen available – ranging from Caribbean Jerk to Parmesan Garlic to Habanero. There’s a similarly wide-ranging beer list, as well.
If you prefer hip to quick-n-easy, head over to the central grounds of the university to the entertainment district known as The Corner. That’s where you’ll find the beautiful people and the fancy cocktails. Just make sure you’ve had your booster shot to help you tolerate all of the popped collars.
That’s it for the basketball area. Come football season, we’ll look at the very different list of badass eats around Scott Stadium.
City: Charlottesville, VA