When friends or family visit us in Richmond for the first time, I like to give them my “driving tour of Richmond.” This is a tried and true big loop through different neighborhoods within the city limits that shows off some highlights and gives my guests a taste of the city overall before we explore some neighborhoods more closely. As parts of the city experience a resurgence, and others new growth, the idea of “multiple downtowns” repeatedly comes up in conversation: when small pockets of businesses and restaurants pop up in various places around town, where should one stop and park for that “walkable entertainment” experience? While there are a ton of options for this kind of exploration in Richmond, I always answer that Carytown is a one-stop-shop for the experience they’re looking for.
Carytown isn’t exactly downtown, but it is still within city limits. It’s located west of The Fan, south of the Museum District, and has more of a residential feel than a city one, as though it were the main drag of an eclectic and booming small town. The commercial area of this neighborhood is located on Cary Street, which runs one way (east) from N Thompson to Boulevard for 0.8 of a mile. It’s an easy walk from one end to the next, with lots to see in between.
Carytown is perfect for an evening out. You can wander and shop around before choosing a great restaurant for dinner, see a second-run $4 movie at the historic Byrd Theatre, then finish off your evening with ice cream or a cocktail. Even after visiting Carytown for years, there are still so many places I still need to check out. Even so, I already have some favorite spots that I’m excited to share with you here.
Options for dining in Carytown feel never ending, but I have my favorites depending on what I’m craving.
- One of our favorite spots for tacos in the entire city is Don’t Look Back (2929 W. Cary St), which are the closest we can find in Richmond to Southern California-style tacos. The carnitas tacos here are awesome, as is the environment. I sometimes tell friends we’re taking them for “hipster tacos,” and joke that I almost don’t have enough tattoos to eat there, but I promise it’s not a pretentious place. [Unfortunately, Don’t Look Back experienced a kitchen fire over the summer 2017 and is closed for a few more months.]
- Our friend Jared demands that we take him to Burger Bach when he visits. Currently at 10 S Thompson Street, they’re building a new spot further down Cary Street at the corner of Nansemond, moving date TBD. (There several other locations in Richmond, as well.) They serve not only burgers made with New Zealand-raised beef or lamb, but also salads, seafood, small plates, fresh-cut fries, and an impressive cocktail list. There are veggie burger and gluten-free bun options as well. My favorite feature is the list of 16 house-made dipping sauces, which they serve with fries or spread on your burger. You can’t go wrong with the Blueberry Chipotle BBQ on anything.
- Sometimes when we want ice cream, we’ll head over the bridge to Carytown just to go to Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream (2911 W Cary St). The space is small, but their flavors are delightful and their servings are generous. They make a wide range of flavors for their ice creams and sorbets, like pumpkin stout, raspberry chip, and honey almond oatmeal, but even boring people like myself can fall in love with a big waffle cone of their chocolate or vanilla.
- If you’re looking for a great coffee shop, head to Sugar & Twine (2928 W Cary St). Not only are the interior and branding inviting and on trend, but their baked goods are delicious. They brew local Trager Brothers coffee; I love supporting local small businesses that are supporting other local small businesses.
- A few other recommendations: Head to Ginger Thai Taste (3145 W Cary St) for spicy drunken noodles or pad Thai. Coppola’s Deli (2900 W Cary St) makes a great meatball sub. A Charlottesville favorite, Citizen Burger Bar (2907 W Cary St), opened this past year near the Byrd and is always packed (inside and out.) I love Can Can Brasserie (3120 W Cary St) for pastries or dessert, especially if I can sit by an open window. Visit The Pit and the Peel (3321 W Cary St) for fresh organic juices, acai bowls, and a selection of healthy breakfast and lunch options.
Sometimes I’ll head to Carytown just to wander around, whether I’m looking for a gift for someone or spending time with a friend. Whether you’re looking for clothes (vintage, thrift, or new), food items, or fun gifts, Carytown has a little bit of everything for everyone.
- I have a few favorite places to shop for gifts. I’ll usually start at Mongrel (2924 W Cary St), which has a large selection of cards and oddeties, from cook books to beer-centric goods to glassware and mugs…I could go on and on because they have just about anything for anyone you can think of. They also have an entire section dedicated to Richmond-themed items, which is where I recommend you look for souvenirs if you’re into that. I also love browsing in Lou Lou Boutiques (3158A W Cary St). They sell jewelry, bags, accessories, and more for you or the women in your life, and I almost always leave with something.
- Dan and I have a few what we call “nerding-out shops” that we always stop by when in Carytown. If you’re into video games, especially for older systems, make sure you stop by Bits+Pixels (2930 W Cary St) to see what they have. If you’re into card or board games, make a stop by One Eyed Jacques (3104 W Cary St). World of Mirth (3005 W Cary St) carries “toys for kids of all ages,” from Pop dolls of your favorite Golden Girl to build-your-own rocket kits. I also love to run into Plan 9 Music (3017 W Cary St) to look through new and used vinyl albums, always on the hunt for something from the 90s or naughts.
- I don’t do a lot of clothes shopping overall, but I absolutely love to browse at Ashby (3010 W Cary St). They buy and sell gently used clothes, but they’re picky about only choosing the best pieces to sell alongside on-trend accessories, shoes, and jewelry. Need Supply Co. (3100 W Cary St) is probably the biggest name in fashion in Carytown, drawing in visitors from all over by their online presence and/or reputation alone. They sell brands like ACNE, Alexander Wang, Frankie, and Citizens Of Humanity, so if you’re big on browsing big names, make a visit there a priority.
- A few other recommendations: A stop at Chop Suey Books (2913 W Cary St) is a must for bibliophiles. I love visiting For the Love of Chocolate (3136 W Cary St) when I need something sweet or am on the hunt for my favorite chocolates from Europe. Penzeys Spices (3400 W Cary St) makes me want to spend all day in my kitchen and carries variants of spices I wasn’t even familiar with before visiting.
Tips for Visiting Carytown
- Finding parking may require a little patience (and the ability to parallel park) but parking in this area is mostly free and easy to find with a little flexibility. Just keep an eye out for public parking signs and for restricted residential parking areas, and consider parallel streets like Ellwood Ave. There are some handicapped parking spaces at Cary Court.
- You can learn more about the neighborhood and see a directory of shops and restaurants at www.carytownrva.com.
- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Virginia Historical Society are only a few blocks north of The Byrd Theatre. Make a day of it! An afternoon at the VMFA would be perfect before a night out in Carytown.
Have you spent time in this Richmond neighborhood? If so, what are you favorite spots? Which restaurants or shops should I check out next?