Here's where to enjoy fine dining in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

Virginia Beach (PROMO IMAGE)
Aldo's Ristorante features innovative nightly specials such as Costalet Ripiena (a 12-ounce veal chop with spinach and fresh mozzarella as well as a side of pasta).
| Credit: Vince Lupo

Eat to the Beat
Pass the usual beach eats, and you'll discover the city's treasure of fine restaurants. Try our picks for places with excellent food, great service, and laid-back atmospheres.

Aldo's Ristorante serves the best Italian food in the area, and, to my surprise, offers the best entertainment. The food lures me in, and the music keeps me wanting more. Share a hot, crusty pizza from the wood-burning brick oven as an appetizer. My favorite is the pesto-and-fresh tomato pizza with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and red onion slices. Robbin King serenades dinner guests with a combination of smooth jazz and popular soft rock. He's at the grand piano Tuesday through Saturday nights.

For a pasta entrée, I suggest the Penne Mare E Monti (shrimp and chicken sautéed with a brandy-tomato cream sauce and fresh basil) or Tortellini Emiliane (Marsala cream sauce, meat-filled tortellini, prosciutto, and sautéed shallots topped with rosemary and sage). Half orders of pasta are available for half price plus $1.75.

I also enjoyed the combination of veal, spinach, and mozzarella cheese in Costalet Ripiena. Check out this great deal: Most entrées may be split for an additional charge of just $1.75. 1860 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach; (757) 491-1111. Entrées: $7.99-$25.99.

One Fish Two Fish
You'll feel like a local when you make your way down the gravel road to the pier that leads to One Fish Two Fish. They describe their food as a "contemporary market-inspired local fare--creative California flare." Chef Bobby Huber's fantastic seafood dishes--mahi mahi, flounder, crab cakes, salmon, bouillabaisse, and tuna--share space on the menu with roasted lamb, poached chicken, and filet mignon. Bobby's food lives up to the restaurant's promise--it's "upscale without the uppity!" I like the hint of spicy flavors in the Asian slaw as well as buckwheat noodles. The name Crispy Scallops, Soft "Sexy" Grits With Applewood Bacon and Tillamook Cheddar Gravy may confuse you at first, but after the first forkful, you'll understand completely. Crème brûlée is the grand finale to a wonderful meal; the warm candy crust gives way to a cool, creamy custard. Choose an outdoor waterfront table if possible. It's the perfect place to sip after-dinner coffee. 2109 West Great Neck Road, Virginia Beach; (757) 496-4350. Entrées: $16-$29.

Five 01 City Grill
The minute you walk in here, you're among friends. The managers make sure everyone is taken care of immediately. Spicy Sesame Hoisin Chicken Wings with caramelized plums and celery spears is a delicious twist on buffalo wings. They're spicy without being too hot and have a slightly sweet tang. I can't help licking my fingers for every drop of the sauce. Next, the Screaming Fish Tacos are calling my name. They look so pretty on the plate that I almost hate to destroy them. This is one of the best flavor combinations I've had in a long time. The only screaming you'll do is in celebration. While you can't go wrong with any of the seafood selections, my favorite is Crab "Norfolk" (sautéed jumbo lump crabmeat with shiitake mushrooms, fresh chives, lemon, and butter). Rib-eye steaks, pork chops, and char-grilled chicken are equally good. Finish with the Warm Chocolate Volcano Cake. 501 North Birdneck Road, Virginia Beach; (757) 425-7195. Entrées: $15-$23.

This article is from the August 2004 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.