But now the small, historic city to the south is showing renewed vigor: Real estate speculators are buying up property on High Street; nearby Fort Lee is preparing to double in size; and the Army Corps of Engineers is dredging a long-lost harbor at a bend in the Appomattox River on the edge of downtown.
Nowhere is the revival as evident as in a one-block stretch of Bollingbrook Street, where three interesting restaurants have blossomed and a fourth is scheduled to open soon.
At least one of them Andrades is worth the drive, even if just for the plantains.
Owner Rogoberto Parada, a native of El Salvador, opened the place seven months ago after rising rent forced him to move from downtown Frederick, Md. He wanted to stay in a historic district, but costs were high in Alexandria and Richmond, so he settled on Petersburg, which is still recovering from a devastating tornado that destroyed much of the Old Towne district more than a decade ago.
Parada wooed a fellow Salvadoran chef from a hotel in the Washington, D.C., area to create a menu that offers inviting dishes from Latin America and Spain.
A perfect way to begin dinner there is with one or more servings of sweet, melt-in-your-mouth plantains, accompanied by a dollop of sour cream. At $2.25 they are a bargain, as is most food at Andrades.
Other appetizers ($6-$7) include ceviche (Bolivia), fresh fish marinated overnight in lemon and herbs and sprinkled with diced celery, olives and onions.
Noteworthy entrees ($10-$16) include a seafood casserole, sautéed shrimp and scallops, and Cuban-style pork.
This last dish blends seemingly competing flavors bitter oranges from Seville and the juices of onions and lime with oregano and other traditional spices into an exhilarating criollo sauce, which, along with slices of raw onion, tops chewy, vinegary morsels of pork.
The souplike seafood casserole (Spain) combines the usual mix of scallops, shrimp, fresh fish, squid, mussels and clams in a pleasing sherry sauce accented with native herbs.
The shrimp-and-scallop sauté (Peru) floats in a sauce of clam juice, joined with cilantro, fresh tomatoes, onions, jalape¤o peppers and potatoes.
Salvador is represented by a roasted chicken dish.
Patrons seeking familiar Mexican dishes won't be disappointed either with the taste or the price of enchiladas, tortillas, tacos and chimichangas; only the seafood add-ons push the cost into double figures.
The lone dessert made in the house is a traditional flan, whose success should spur the kitchen to try more sweets.
As if food from several continents does not provide enough variety, the décor of the 52-seat family restaurant mixes Latin touches with the remains of a couple of predecessors, including a mural of a Venetian gondolier, a columned arbor with fake grapes, slatted wood booths with park benches, tabletop lamps, a tin ceiling, overhead fans and red-and-black walls. A large front window is framed inside by a string of lights and outside by a blue awning. The name Andrades also is a remnant from the spot's immediate and short-lived predecessor.
A visit to Andrades is enhanced by an extremely pleasant international wait staff that includes a Colombian woman decked out in a tie bearing both a soccer ball and the flags of Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.
In addition to the polyglot décor, Andrades and its neighboring competitors attract a racially mixed clientele seldom found in Richmond restaurants. Outdoor dining is available.
After dinner have a drink at one of the rocking, pricier spots a few yards away. Wabi-Sabi is a handsome place with brick walls and a sushi bar upstairs and a bar and darts downstairs. Brickhouse Run, in a cobblestoned alley, is a red-door British pub that features shepherd's pie, fish and chips, and burgers and mash.
If nothing else, peer through the sidewalk grate at Wabi-Sabi and wave to the smokers who congregate in a subterranean cell-like space.
The neighborhood has an art stroll the second Friday of the month, antiquing on weekends and nightly entertainment, including theatrical productions, around the corner at Sycamore Rouge. S
Andrades International Restaurant
7 Bollingbrook St., Petersburg
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.;
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.