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Tip of the Tongue: What's Missing in Richmond's Restaurant Scene?

We all want more. No matter how much we praise our dining scene and accept any national compliment that comes our way, in the backs of our minds — or is it our palates? — a tiny thought persists: Something’s missing.

Maybe it’s a dish that we tried when we were out of town or out of the country. Maybe it’s something that we grew up with that isn’t represented in this Southern region. There’s always a way, we think, that the restaurants in town can do better.

Traveling broadens the mind — and also spoils us when we come home.

“Whenever I travel, I find other cities have international cuisine that Richmond lacks,” Matthew Freeman says. “From Nepalese to Eritrean to Haitian, there are a lot of countries whose food is absent or severely underrepresented.”

Karen Newton notes something entirely different that bothers a lot of us. “In the ‘I can dream, can’t I?’ category,” she says, “I understand that not every place can be open six or seven nights a week, but as we inch ever closer to becoming a recognized restaurant destination, it’ll be essential to have more places that are open all week. Sundays and Mondays are slim pickings for eating out, given how many restaurants are shuttered those nights.”

And Freeman wants to throw a firebomb in the center of most diners’ preconceptions.

“This may be controversial, but I don’t think Richmond is a true barbecue town,” he says. “We need specialists who excel in regional styles — Eastern North Carolina whole hog barbecue with vinegar sauce, or Memphis-style dry ribs.”

While Richmond has embraced the sweet and sticky Kansas City style of rib-making and the meltingly tender brisket of Texas, local pit masters have a long way to go when it comes to reproducing what other parts of the country take for granted, he says.

“Richmond has comfort-food-cooking down pat — among many other things — and I look forward to eventually getting the other end of the spectrum: a raw food restaurant,” Rachel Machacek says. “Seriously. Like, something straight out of California and run by hippies.”

Raw food is touted by enthusiasts as the key to longevity, but food writers often cite it as a way to reset their palates and appreciate fruits and vegetables anew. Machacek hopes to see more fresh juices and the raw food movement’s work-around to direct heat — dehydration, she says: “I’d be into that.”