Updated June 6, 2022. An enchanting ambience can make or break a meal before the menus even arrive. These spots have charm to spare.
Manassas / American / $$$
There’s ’90s rock on the stereo, and the people at the booth next to you are wearing shorts. But don’t let that deter you—just know that The Black Sheep Restaurant from Villagio Hospitality Group is more casual than its setting in a gorgeously reimagined historic barn might have you think.
The dining room is one of the most beautiful in NoVA—it resembles the fanciest farmhouse affairs you’ve seen in Martha Stewart Weddings, but likely with better food. And without the pretension. This is the kind of place where diners are as welcome to mow down a bodacious burger as they are to dine on cast-iron-seared scallops in sweet celeriac purée. In fact, it’s encouraged. The Black Sheep is a place to get comfortable and enjoy the good life, one juicy bite at a time.
See this: Thomasson Barn, built in 1929, has been renovated in a stunning feat that preserves its pastoral character but upgrades it with chandeliers and comfortable booths.
Eat this: Bacon Tower, American Kobe burger, homemade chocolate brownie
Service: The staff may wear rugged aprons that look like they belong at the farm, but they’re competent and eager to please in a way that shows they weren’t raised in a barn, they just work in one.
When to dine here: Atmosphere is of the utmost importance, but you want to keep things casual.
Middleburg / Modern American / $$$$
Dining at The Conservatory at Goodstone Inn is a bit like a fairy tale. First, there’s the winding drive up Snake Hill to the enchanting property. It’s an adventure on its own, philosophical miles from the nearby, well-manicured Salamander Resort & Spa.
The mystique continues with chef Jan Van Haute’s clean, unfussy cuisine. [Update: Van Haute is no longer chef at Goodstone Inn.] At dinner, it’s a good idea to get a tasting to try everything from sparklingly fresh scallop crudo to a chocolate dome that melts at the table. But I’m always happiest enjoying the brightness of the day at lunch in The Conservatory’s glass dining room. Lunch is usually easy to score a reservation for, so let your whims (and your hunger) take you for a wine-filled midday meal. Petite portions of dishes like Dover sole in beurre blanc and veal medallions are hedged by gnocchi.
Of course, the story must have a happy ending. And what could be happier than tucking into a peach tart covered in a scoop of peach sorbet or cracking into a crème brûlée?
See this: Depending on your mood, the slightly worn hunting-lodge aesthetic can be romantic or feel like Grey Gardens.
Eat this: Scallop crudo, Dover sole, crème brûlée
Service: Courteous, but the fireworks really take off when you discuss wines with the deeply knowledgeable staff.
When to dine here: Your rich bestie is paying for a lunch you’ll both long remember—as long as you don’t drink too much wine.
Fredericksburg / Southern / $$
Abraham Lincoln peers down from his spot above the fireplace. The 16th president indeed visited the building during the Civil War, when it was the Farmer’s Bank, and gave a speech on the steps. Vestiges of the edifice’s original use remain in the form of a vault that’s been converted into an Art Deco–styled room for larger groups. Yes, history suffuses the place, but the comfort food is strikingly modern.
That’s thanks to Top Chef alum Joy Crump. Her Fredericksburger, one of the finest patties in the region, is spread with meaty bacon aioli. Steak is served spiced with Ethiopian berbere and herbed fries or drenched in mushroom aioli that tastes of the forest floor. Crump’s shrimp and grits benefits from the addition of homemade sausage.
And that’s just at lunch and dinner. Breakfast at Foode has its own appeal, but uses some of Crump’s best dishes in morning applications. Take the Breakfast Rosie’s, a crispy, herb-speckled breast of fried chicken presented on a shiny brioche bun with a fried egg and tomato relish. At any time of day, the fare at Foode is as honest as Abe himself.
See this: The airy former bank has lots of history; read up before you go and then explore every inch.
Eat this: Pimiento cheese toast, Fredericksburger, blueberry tart
Service: The young crew seems happy to be here.
When to dine here: You’re seeking a relaxed feel in a storied setting, from morning to night.
Purcellville / American / $$$$
Shiloh Farm, Endless Summer Harvest, Walter’s Farm: They’re all in Purcellville, and they all supply Magnolias at the Mill. In a region where “local” can often mean food harvested in Pennsylvania or Southern Virginia, this is an eatery that feeds its diners with ingredients from its immediate community.
OK, maybe the bison in the burger doesn’t come from P’ville, but you’ll excuse the exception when you take a bite of the juicy, grill-marked patty. It’s topped with housemade bacon rubbed with spices that approximate a Mexican mole, along with truffle cheese, local honey, and red-pepper aioli. A little busy? In theory, but in practice, the combination of flavors merely invites another bite.
But keeping things local here just makes sense—after all, when the building that houses Magnolias was built in 1905, it was the only way to eat. Think of a meal here as a bite of the past.
See this: Ask for a seat in the main dining room, which still has pulleys and wheels in place from the mill that it once housed. Worship the sun more than antiques? Hit the patio instead.
Eat this: Fried green tomatoes, bison burger, butterscotch bread pudding
Service: At their best, the young staff is fun and ready with a joke, but on busy nights, they might be overwhelmed.
When to dine here: A taste of history is just as important as a savory burger.
Leesburg / American / $$$
Who’s got game? Tuskie’s, as Tuscarora Mill is affectionately known, has got it in spades. A daily special could include a mighty rack of wild boar or elegant venison loin. An annual wild-game dinner is a six-course affair that might comprise anything from Buffalo-style alligator to nilgai antelope with uni.
It might sound like this is a spot for pushing culinary boundaries. But in fact, the menu is more in tune with the surroundings. And those are something to remember—a grain mill built in 1899, lovingly restored. While foodies and hunters alike may salivate for the more esoteric meats, there’s something for everyone here.
This is the kind of place where big families gather because the filet mignon with scalloped potatoes is every bit as solid as the meatloaf or the Barn Yard “au jus,” a craveable take on French dip with smoked beef brisket and pork. And everyone in the group can agree on the warm butterscotch bread pudding. Rather than whipped cream or ice cream, it’s topped with rich vanilla-bean mousse.
See this: Ask to sit in the historic front section, amid the vestiges of the old mill.
Eat this: The Barn Yard “au jus,” grilled pork rib-eye, warm butterscotch bread pudding
Service: You’ll marvel as servers recite the long list of specials.
When to dine here: Your big group can’t decide on just one type of food but wants an upscale environment.
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