415 N. First St.
Second place: Comfort
Third place: Croaker's Spot
It's been a big year for Richmond's favorite Southern spot. Mama J's has been frying chicken and lovingly serving those soulful sides like collard greens, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese in Jackson Ward since 2009, and folks outside of Richmond seem to be catching on to what we've known all along.
In February 2019, the Southern restaurant was one of five Richmond-area establishments to receive a nod from the New York-based James Beard Foundation. The organization's annual Restaurant and Chef Awards is basically the Oscars of the culinary world, and Mama J's was named a semifinalist in the outstanding service category. Around the same time, Food and Wine magazine published a list of the 19 greatest restaurants to work for, praising Mama J's for promoting within by providing training for lower-wage employees and responding to sexual harassment with termination. The owners, Velma "Mama J." Johnson and Lester Johnson are also known for prioritizing raises for their workers every year.
The menu features sandwiches with fillings like catfish, chicken salad and crabcakes, plus salads and a soup of the day. Entrees, served with corn muffins or dinner rolls, include trout, barbecue spare ribs, pork chops and fried chicken. And not only is it delicious, but it's affordable — most sandwiches are in the $5-8 range, with entrees hovering around $10-12, except for the $16 crabcakes.
As of late April, you can now find Mama J's menu items to go at the newly opened Market at 25th.