Resist the urge to stop at the fast-food restaurants that grow like weeds along I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley. The area's homegrown eateries offer great food and local color, something that's getting harder and harder to find. During a recent trip, we discovered two tasty gems we particularly love in beautiful Lexington, Virginia. Though they're just a couple of miles from the highway, these restaurants are worlds away in quality and flavor.
Virginia's Best Burger
At Bistro on Main, it's the beef. That's what makes this restaurant's Bistro Burger the best in the area and possibly tops in the entire commonwealth.
Owner Jackie Lupo buys only Virginia-grown organic beef from Polyface Farm in nearby Swoope. Thick and juicy, the 6-ounce patties are formed by hand and then seared over an open flame. Fresh lettuce and sliced tomatoes, harvested in peak season, add the perfect touch. You can pile on bacon, Cheddar, mushrooms, or onion, but in my mind, you don't need all that. This burger stands alone.
Located on Lexington's Main Street, just a couple of blocks from Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, the Bistro opened in 2003 and has quickly become a favorite with locals. Stop by, and you'll see why. Butter-yellow walls, regional art, and jazzy tunes make it a comfortable and inviting place to relax and enjoy a meal.
Jackie's menu is vast, with selections ranging from burritos to crab cakes, but the hamburger has ranked among the top sellers since opening day. "People love it," says Jackie. "They really do. There are just a few items that I serve at both lunch and dinner, and that's one of them."
A Taste of France
Few things in life are more delightful than a charming French chef, which is why you'll want to plan a special evening at Cafe Michel.
Frenchman Michel Galand was the chef at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs before opening his own place in Clifton Forge. Ultimately, he relocated to Lexington, where his cafe occupies a building that has housed both a tire shop and an Italian restaurant.
Don't let that discourage you. Michel and wife Carmen have redecorated extensively with white columns, French antiques, and gauzy fabrics. When you step inside now, you're transported to a romantic escape in the South of France. Smiling and with a twinkle in his eye, chef Michel talks to his guests personally when he's not too busy in the kitchen.
The menu features classic French and American dishes. Appetizers include tender calamari, Michel's pâté, and escargot. For your main course, you'll choose from entrées such as seafood ravioli, Allegheny Mountain trout, and pan-roasted rack of lamb with mint sauce. Follow with raspberry crêpes, and you'll truly be replete.
How To Find Them
• Bistro on Main: 8 North Main Street, Lexington, VA 24450; (540) 464-4888. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
• Cafe Michel: 640 North Lee Highway, Lexington, VA 24450; www.michelcafe.com or (540) 464-4119. Open for dinner Monday-Saturday.