The story below is from our December/November 2015 issue. For the DIGITALLY ENHANCED VERSION, download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
If you miss the likes of The Library, Hunan, Charcoal Steak House and others, guess what—there is a dining room or three around here to satisfy your yearning.
The Year 1986: The US-USSR Arms Talks between Reagan and Gorbachev lead to the defrosting of the Cold War, IBM unveils the first laptop computer (the PC Convertible), and the human genome project is launched. One gallon of gasoline cost a measly 89 cents, and bacon averaged out around $1.75 per pound. While the iron curtain has since fallen and mobile phones have largely replaced even our use of laptops, some things in Roanoke haven’t changed—like our readers’ excellent choice of our annual dining awards. Since 1986—yes, this year is the 30th anniversary of the awards—we’ve been asking locals who they think stacks up as the best chef and restaurant in the valley. Some choices both then and now might surprise you, but there are a few similar designations, even with three intervening decades. Who’s in and who’s out? It almost seems like going (or staying) retro is the new hot trend.
An App for That
Do people still go out just for appetizers and drinks? In 1986, they definitely did, and the place to go was Chi Chi’s Restaurante, the Mexican chain restaurant located near Valley View Mall. If chips and dip with margaritas isn’t your thing, or even if it is, options abound for pre-dinner snacks. River & Rail (Platinum) was voted “Best Appetizers/Small Plates,” for good reason—its silky smooth chicken liver mousse is the best in the region and you can’t go wrong with Chef Deal’s rich steak tartare. If you’re looking to class it up a little, on a warm summer night, head over to Billy’s (Platinum—Best Downtown Roanoke Restaurant) for some grilled oysters or lamb chop lollipops. Its outside patio area is the perfect spot for a few appetizers and some drinks, and it’s even nicer with their large fire pit when the weather cools off. For less fancy options, AllSports Café (Platinum—Best Buffalo Wings), one of my go-to spots for catching a game, does indeed offer the best wings in the area, and, in the spirit of Chi Chi’s, Alejandro’s downtown location (Gold—Best Mexican) never fails with their slightly spicy queso and always-fresh salsa bar—it’s almost, but not quite, like a little slice of Chi Chi’s.
Putting on the Ritz
In 1986, our readers hands-down chose The Library as having the best wine list and service, as well as being the “best place to dine with a lover” (talk about some dated phrasing!). Since The Library’s close in 2012, a few restaurants have risen to the occasion to constantly top our list as the best picks for a ritzy night on the town. It’s no surprise that Carlos Brazilian Cuisine (Platinum) once again breaks the charts for an anniversary or celebratory meal. From its top-of-the-world ambiance in south Roanoke county to chef Amaral’s fine dining take on Latin favorites like seafood rich paella or comforting feijoada, it’s a classic Roanoke fine dining experience.
It’s obvious that our readers are up to snuff when it comes to the best wine in town too—if you’re looking for an interesting glass of sparkling malbec or a unique biodynamic wine, Local Roots (Platinum) and Rockfish (Gold) will rarely let you down. Topping in with a platinum award, Local Roots has also made a name for itself with the Best Staff in Town. For any regulars or even brand new guests, it’s true—the service at Local Roots is friendly and informative, and the staff genuinely welcomes you with open arms to join the restaurant’s ever-growing Grandin family.