TweedleDum: Charlottesville's Best Bar & Restaurant?

Alex Haden '17

Tweedledum here to help you find the best hidden and not-so-visited bars and restaurants to be able to impress your friends with your recommendations. Today, I’m here to talk about Maya and Tavern and Grocery.

 The interior of Maya. Photo courtesy 

The interior of Maya. Photo courtesy 

Maya Restaurant is one of the great restaurants in Charlottesville, located just off the Downtown Mall in the Main Street District. You’ve probably seen it when you park at the Amtrak Station, because it’s right across the street; it has a huge outside eating area right along Main Street. Maya is a throwback to that old Southern style of cooking, giving a modern twist to classic southern cuisine. They make all their food from scratch using local ingredients. Some 2Ls are lucky enough to go to Maya for various firm events during OGIs, but many people remain unaware of the deliciousness of their menu.

Maya in the summertime is great because you can enjoy their food and drinks on the Patio area, which is fun, intimate, and great for soaking up some rays. Even in the winter, Maya still thrives as the place to go. Their inside seating is surrounded by their beautiful brick interior, and their upstairs area is perfect for a larger gathering or reception.

The management of Maya is well-experienced in the art of fine food and hospitality. Christian Kelly, the co-owner and executive chef, served as the executive chef of the Relais and Chateaux property, Clifton Inn before opening Maya in 2006, naming this new restaurant after his daughter. Peter Castiglione, the other owner and restauranteur, has decades of experience in the food industry and has worked to give Maya its distinctive environment.

But let’s get to the important part: the menu. You can’t afford to skip out on the appetizers at Maya. I recommend their cheese fritters (not only delicious, but fun to say!) and the gnocchi. I know, I know, you’re all saying that gnocchi everywhere is good, and I largely agree, but this gnocchi is something special. 

Entrees: you’re going to want to get the trout. Trout is not very common (at least this far north), and it’s hard to make well. But it is 100% delicious and perhaps even life-changing. As a Marylander, I don’t usually advocate for crab cakes outside of the Old Line State, but people who aren’t from glorious Maryland do like Maya’s crab cakes. Their ribs are an interesting and very different take on the classic ribs; if you’re in love with old-fashioned smokehouse ribs, you might not love Maya’s, but definitely give it a try if you’re ready for a different approach to ribs.

All of the sides are delicious and worth trying (see below about the Tuesday $12 menu). Standouts include collard greens, mac and cheese, and the cheddar drop biscuits. Finally, for the best part: dessert. The all-star of the menu is Mississippi Mud Pie. If you’ve never had one before, stop what you’re doing and go to Maya right now. I don’t even like chocolate, but I would have a bite. 

The best time to go to Maya is on Tuesdays, where they offer the $12 menu. You get to pick one of four entrees with two sides (or, just order four sides as your entrée). Don’t forget the cocktails and dessert! Maya is open all week, but only for food from 5pm to 10pm, although their bar is open even later.

So you’ve stuffed yourself at Maya, and now you’re looking for a great bar afterwards to unwind. Head just down the street to Tavern and Grocery, an unassuming building on the corner of 4th Street and Main Street. The top level of the building is a regular restaurant with decent food and drinks. However, the real treasure is downstairs: a speakeasy-type bar called Lost Saint, open late and serving some of the best drinks in Charlottesville. In a town known for its wineries, cideries, and local beer brands, the craft of a great cocktail can go underappreciated, but Lost Saint has kept me and my need for wonderful drinks well-satisfied.

One of the greatest parts about Lost Saint is its atmosphere. The bar is in a basement, and while you’re drinking there, it feels like you’re hidden away in a secret world. To be fair, because few people know about Lost Saint, it is a kind of hidden world. I wasn’t alive in the 1920s, but I have to think that speakeasies at the time felt similar, hiding from big bad Prohibition trying to ruin everyone’s good time. Think of Alley Light, but less upscale, so you don’t feel as bad about showing up in jeans and a t-shirt. 

 The interior of Lost Saint. Photo courtesy

The interior of Lost Saint. Photo courtesy

Lost Saint is either completely full or basically empty, which is great; you either have the place to yourself or you’re at the most hopping party in town. Be forewarned, if you’re there alone, the bartenders might listen to your conversations and participate if they feel so inclined. Service can be a little slow, but the good drinks are worth waiting.

My favorite go-to is an old fashioned. They have a wide selection of whiskeys and bourbons to craft your old-fashioned to your taste; just ask your bartender for his or her suggestions. Other great drinks include their mojitos, whiskey sours, and martinis. I can’t speak to their wine and beer selection (I’m not sure why you’d want to order those at a great cocktail bar, but to each their own), but I’m sure that they are more than sufficient for those who don’t “do cocktails.”

I’ll agree that the opinions above are just opinions, but I do think that these off-the-beaten-trail recommendations will satisfy even the most picky of people. Their locations are ideal: not on the Corner where undergrads are vomiting, but not directly on the Downtown Mall, swarming with people. Plus, on your way home, you can stop at Benny DeLucas and get a slice (or a whole pizza for $50), which you can drunk-eat on the Lyft ride home. 


1 Yes, that's Maryland's nickname.