Historic downtown Richmond has what food lovers want--all the advantages of a big city with the charm and warmth of an intimate community.
Andria Scott Hurst

American regional is the way chef Dale Reitzer describes his food at Acacia. I just call it wonderful. Dale serves familiar dishes and flavors--but in new ways. For example, the appetizer of macaroni and cheese with lobster was nothing like my mom used to make. Cheesy pasta with pieces of chopped lobster and sausage was spooned into a crisp puff pastry shell and placed atop a spinach puree that finished the plate. The contrast of textures and the combination of flavors made this a terrific starter. Dale changes the menu daily according to what's fresh and available, but there's always macaroni and cheese at lunch.

Grilled asparagus and a large portobello mushroom stuffed with diced potatoes accompanied the rib-eye steak. A red wine sauce was a rich complement. From the four choices on the dessert menu I selected the Caramel Trio--flan, ice cream, and mousse. What a caramel lover's dream.

Acacia's shared space, in an old church, provides an intimate setting. Dine on the porch if you like people watching. Want to really splurge? Try the five-course tasting menu available by table only for $45 per person. Dinner reservations recommended. 3325 West Cary Street; (804) 354-6060. Entrées: $13-$29.

This will get you started to eating your way through the historic area of Richmond. From old landmarks to new digs, and from posh to practical, all are wonderfully delicious.

Perly's Restaurant
Perly's makes the best biscuits in town, and it's where the locals go for a real made-to-order breakfast. Get there early on weekends, or you'll have to wait in line for a seat. On Saturdays, you can enjoy early bird kinds of food anytime from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If breakfast is not your meal of choice, stop in for lunch. The Downtowner (their most popular sandwich) is a masterpiece of turkey, bacon, tomato, and Muenster cheese on a flaky croissant. It's a bargain at $7.25. 111 East Grace Street; (804) 649-2779. Entrées: $3-$7.25.

Sam Miller's
For a taste typical of old Richmond culinary tradition, stroll the cobblestones on East Cary Street's restaurant row, and stop at Sam Miller's. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the establishment anchors the area.

Whether you go for lunch, dinner, or happy hour, don't miss the legendary crab soup. It's thick and creamy with lots of crabmeat and a hint of sherry that rounds out the flavor.

I couldn't decide between the crab cake and the scallops--so I had them both. I ordered the crab cake fried and the scallops broiled--a delicious decision. The 2-inch-thick crab cake was crisp and golden with barely enough breading to hold the lumps of crab together. Tartar and cocktail sauces were served, but slathering them on top would have spoiled the pure goodness of the crab. Eight large, perfectly broiled sea scallops shared a plate with steamed broccoli. All I added was a generous squeeze of lemon...aah, just right. As taste buds sing here, live jazz provides the tune late into the night on Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner reservations recommended. 1210 East Cary Street; (804) 644-5465. Entrées: $16-$29.

17.5 Uncommon Cafe + Books
After you browse the stalls of the 17th Street Farmer's Market, step into 17.5 Uncommon Cafe + Books. This tiny shop serves a variety of teas, homemade biscotti, and tea breads. Owner Margaret Doyle bakes fantastic scones. I loved her lavender-blueberry and rosemary-cranberry flavor combinations. You'll likely want to ask for a few to go. Enjoy perusing magazines and newspapers while you sip one of their special teas. The cafe's narrow aisle directs serious readers to the second floor of books. Don't miss an opportunity to visit this eclectic blend of tea and text. 171/2 North 17th Street; (804) 780-2665. Baked goods: $2.25-$6.

This article is from the April 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.