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Best Williamsburg Restaurants

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So what is Colonial cuisine, exactly? Usually, recipes drawn from the 18th century and given a modern twist. Ironically, the historic necessity of using whatever seasonal ingredients were on hand is now a reigning foodie trend. Williamsburg’s eating scene has long been about re-creating bygone gastronomic experiences, so by sticking to tradition, restaurants here ended up being ahead of the pack. There are lots of more conventional New American-style places, as well, which also stock their menus with locally sourced Virginia goodness. Many of the town’s best restaurants are clustered within walking distance of each other on Market Square.

The Trellis Restaurant

Neighborhood: Historic Area Price: Expensive

The Trellis is Williamsburg’s most-famous restaurant, a place that was sticking to local, fresh ingredients when doing so wasn’t popular. The trend in Virginia restaurants is to mix up Southern-style cuisine with fusion accents. The Trellis has always been ahead of the game in this regard; thus, Merguez lamb sausages rest comfortably on a bed of Southern-style polenta, while yellowfin easily cuddles next to a delicious crab cake. If you’re going to spoil your taste buds once in this town, do so here.

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The Trellis Restaurant  

King’s Arm Tavern

Neighborhood: Historic Area Price: Expensive

There are several restaurants within Colonial Williamsburg; the King’s Arm is the high-end option, and, like its sister institutions, it lays on the Colonial ambiance pretty thick. Menus? No, no: you get a "Bill of Fare" complete with a fish entrée accompanied by a quote from John Smith. More importantly, you get very nice, home-style, historical Virginia grub: the meaty game "pye" bursts with rabbit, duck and deer meat, and the signature peanut soup is a must-have, unique side dish that complements everything on the menu.

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King’s Arm Tavern  

Fat Canary

Neighborhood: Historic Area Price: Expensive

First: the Canary has one of the best wine lists in the Historic Triangle, so vino lovers take note. The grape complements a New American-style menu served in a bright, airy dining room that feels casual, belying the quality of cuisine, like pan-kissed scallops and pork belly (shellfish and pork; sorry, Kosher readers) and a ridiculously rich concoction of roasted quail with spoon bread and meltingly gorgeous foie gras. The Canary is quality, as it should be, given that it’s the high-end child of the vaunted Cheese Shop.

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Blue Talon Bistro

Neighborhood: Historic Area Price: Moderate

This solid addition to the Historic Area eating scene knocks the sticker shock off the more high-end spots and delivers up much the same quality of food, with perhaps a bit more faithfulness to regional roots and not as much straying into the realm of fusion. This is solid, hearty fare, but never stodgy. It’s put together with intense loyalty to ingredients, tempered by admirable simplicity and use of all parts of an animal—we about fainted (in a good way) over the calf’s liver. But the real delight here is pied de cochon—breaded pig’s trotters with a sweet-and-sharp apple mustard dressing that gets us hot just thinking about it.

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Blue Talon Bistro  

Second Street Restaurant

Neighborhood: Williamsburg Price: Moderate

This mid-range favorite has been around for decades. It’s got a lot of loyalty from both townies and returning tourists, so you know they’re doing something right in the kitchen. Specifically, they nail their flatbread pizzas and sandwiches, all while pulling off great executions of favorites like smoky and sweet ribs, "lobster mac and cheese," and a big old bison burger, to name a few. Located just about 5 minutes east of the Historic Area by car, this is a good spot for a reasonably economic date night.

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Food for Thought

Neighborhood: Brighton Price: Moderate

"Eat, Drink, Think" goes the menu at this spot, and Ben Franklin winks at you from the walls all the time. That’s the beginning of a promise of playful gastronomic invention, a bargain this restaurant largely delivers on. Crab cakes come fried in Japanese bread crumbs, complemented by a Southwestern-style remoulade; pad thai is a welcome breath of Asian influence; and jerk chicken has an admirable touch of fire, offset by good, greasy crunchiness in the form of skinny fries. The vegetarian selection here is one of the best in town and, with some prior notification, the restaurant can accommodate vegans. The large, humming dining area is a good option for families and a mid-range option for those who are tired of heavy Colonial dishes.

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The Carrot Tree

Neighborhood: Around Williamsburg Price: Moderate

There’s not a heck of a lot of dining options in Yorktown; when the British fled, they seem to have taken all the good restaurants. The Carrot Tree is your best bet, not just for the food, but also for its kitten-cute cottage setting (the house it’s in was built around 1720) and the general eccentricities of the staff—e.g. the manager wears a carrot hat, which makes us smile and feel sorry all at once. But what of the food? It's Mom’s cooking, kicked up a few notches: meatloaf and mashed potatoes, pork loin stuffed with pumpkin and cranberries, and always, a creative vegetarian special plucked from the garden. There’s a satellite branch in Williamsburg, but the Yorktown spot is the original location.

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The Cheese Shop

Neighborhood: Historic Area Price: Budget

If the Trellis is Williamsburg’s most famous high-end dining affair, the Cheese Shop is the cozy, cheap-as-chips neighborhood spot that has held onto an enviable reputation by serving only the best—in this case, the best picnic/deli deliciousness in town. There are a wide stock of sandwiches (Virginia ham and Braunschweiger are both lovely; then again, everything is good), fresh cold cuts and, of course, over 200 wonderful cheeses, from the firm to the runny to the creamy to the awesomely stinky. It's a great spot for a to-go meal, but with that said, the artsy interior is the sort of spot that sends us into yuppie fits of happy frenzy.

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The Cheese Shop  

Five Forks Cafe

Neighborhood: Williamsburg Price: Budget

After all those candlelit dining rooms and variations on Virginia ham served in an upscale setting, couldn’t you crave a stack of pancakes and some donkey-strong coffee? Don’t you want, y’know, a diner? We do, and the Five Forks always keeps us coming back for more. No surprises on this menu: Just solid American diner food served cheap, with a side of happy William & Mary students for company.

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Five Forks Cafe  

Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

Neighborhood: Around Williamsburg Price: Budget

You are in the South down here, so the barbecue should be excellent, right? Well, it’s alright here, but it’s also the best of your limited barbecue options. Joe’s (part of franchise Savannah Joe’s) does all kinds of ‘cue, from Texas-style to the more regionally proximate East Carolina, vinegar-and-pepper stuff. And like any jack-of-all-trades, he ends up being a master of none. Then again, don’t you just want some damn barbecue? Yeah, us too, and if the craving hits, we head out here and get a pulled pork sandwich.

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Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ  
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