When visiting a college, many students and families wish to get a taste of what is available on campus and we certainly recommend checking out the fresh ingredients used at the Marketplace, especially during specialty meals throughout the year. You may also find that the Commons’ Café 77 offers a quick bite to eat, along with the brand new E. Café in our Hillel House.
While current students take most of their meals either on campus or in a fraternity or sorority house, there are also plenty of places around town that provide some scrumptious suppers and tasty treats. The following list is by no means all inclusive (visit the tourism website for that list), but these are the restaurants that those of us in the admissions office frequent and have no problem suggesting.
Blue Sky Bakery
Hands down the place students frequent the most, when not eating on campus. Caddy corner from the post office, Jenny Ratzel thinks their sandwiches, soups and salads just can’t be beat! Be sure to opt for their side of black bean salad and if the weather is nice, maybe you can get one of the picnic tables outside. Additional seating in the basement has real charm. If Blue Sky is too busy, then check out the vegetarian friendly Joyful Spirit Café or hidden treasure Woods Creek Grocery.
Robert Koch claims that this is the only restaurant in town, but will admit to other options if pressed. Contemporary cuisine in a casual European atmosphere, the lunch specials are scrumptious and ingredients always fresh. Dinner is also delicious, although understandably more expensive than lunch prices. Try the sweet potato fries!
Coffees are roasted fresh weekly and a variety of teas are available too. Wireless internet make this a popular spot when you want to escape campus for a little bit, but still get things done.
Regional sandwich chain with an almost endless menu. The one place where you can regularly see VMI cadets off campus and Tony Conway knows this is the best place in town to watch the game.
The name explains it all. When Chris Rucker just wants to kick back and relax, he calls in a to-go order and goes home happy.
Sarah Erickson thinks the lunch buffet at this campus favorite is a deal and a half, so if you want to really fill your stomach, then head down Jefferson Street, one way. The best option in walking distance for Italian subs, pizza and pasta. Answer the question of the day and get a free drink! Staying at the Hampton Inn Col Alto? Then go around the corner to the rival pizza place in town, Frank’s.
The oldest restaurant in town, open since 1937, this alumni favorite suffered a fire the summer of 2010 and spent a year rebuilding. Expect hearty meals with friendly service, this staple operated a secondary location across from Kroger until they re-opened, with major improvements, downtown for the arrival of students back in town in Fall 2011. Some think that the Sheridan Livery is a comparable restaurant in town and Brix, while a smaller space, has received positive reviews.
Any place that has cakes in the window has to be good, right? The owner of this spot often has curry chicken as a lunch special and serves up some pretty tasty desserts as well. Patio seating out back.
Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe
Not to be confused with the bakery, this ice cream parlor always has a variety of seasonal flavors. Jonathan Webster knows this is the best place to stop in and satisfy your sweet tooth!
Chef Tucker takes local ingredients and delights your taste buds with a work of art. Limited seating, but unlimited appeal, this is the place in town for an expensive, but memorable, dinner in Lexington. Dean Hartog favors both this place and a tapas bar just across the street, Brix.
Buena Vista, Virginia (10 minutes east)
Our neighbors just across I-81 in Rockbridge County, this small town is home to Southern Virginia University and a host of small places that a just far enough away to seem special. Nick’s Italian is the real deal, Frank’s for the Memories offers live music in addition to serious dogs and some people think this location of Don Tequila’s is better than the one in Lexington.
Staunton, Virginia (40 minutes north)
While the closest location is in Staunton, the original two are in Harrisonburg, along with another location in Waynesboro. Anyplace that can survive by serving only three flavors (chocolate, vanilla and a third rotating weekly) has to serve some of the best frozen custard ever.
Roanoke, Virginia (50 minutes south)
In historic Grandin Village, this local favorite has a sibling location downtown called Meze. Just around the corner you can find Local Roots, Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, Grandin Theater and a variety of other shops.
Lots of people around W&L think this is the best Mexican place outside of Texas and right in the downtown core. Plenty of people have never ordered anything else on the menu besides the fish tacos, because they are just that good. Complimented by a 12 option salsa and sauce bar for eclectic chip dipping!
Memphis, Texas or Carolina style, your taste buds will thank you after a trip to this local favorite.
Another place with a sibling location downtown, this “brick oven pub” is a bit hidden away, but right next door to Bubblecake Cupcakes. Enjoy live music, outdoor seating and fresh ingredients on this eclectic, vegetarian friendly menu.
Open 24-hours for the past 80 years. Only about 10 seats at this old-time diner, order up a bowl of chili with onions and a cheesy western (cheeseburger with a fried egg). Ignore your heart health for a day and go home happy.
Harrisonburg, Virginia (60 minutes north)
Supported by the JMU population, this hip restaurant offers an amazing happy hour with half off some tantalizing appetizers. Check their calendar for live music, community meetings, film showings and lectures.
Of course, we would not forget other points of view, so we recommend checking out Urbanspoon and Yelp for further culinary insights. Download the useful free applications for your smartphone and get connected!