Fredericksburg, Virginia, has long been renowned for its small-town charm, colorful colonial architecture and Civil War history. Now there’s another revolution taking place, one that has left time-tested eateries standing strong and a new wave of flavors flooding in for locals and visitors.

Today, there are more than 55 chef-owned restaurants in downtown Fredericksburg alone, but with so much culinary energy sparking, these options feel like only the beginning.

A corner shop in red brick with a maroon awning bearing the words 'Hyperion Espresso' on a sunny day in Virginia
For a tiny town, Fredericksburg has a surprisingly strong foodie scene, including local coffee shop Hyperion Espresso © Charley Carter / Shutterstock

Longtime dining staples

Fredericksburg’s staples lean toward the classic, including casual and fine dining options (minus the pretension). Nestled at the bustling intersection of Princess Anne and William streets, Hyperion Espresso is where most locals have been starting their day since 1994. Here it’s all about a flavorful latte, with options like blackberry, pomegranate and eggnog, depending on the season. Drinks always come out pretty here, too – Hyperion was mastering flowery latte art long before it was cool. The spot itself is as tantalizing as the drinks it serves up. With towering windows and outdoor tables lining the walls, this is the spot to enjoy panoramic views of Fredericksburg’s steeple-clad skyline.

red brick facade and green neon sign reading 'Goolrick's Pharmacy'
Goolricks Drug Store and Cafe has been a fixture in Fredricksburg since the 1860s and still operates as a café and pharmacy © James Kirkikis

Back down on Caroline Street, Goolrick’s Pharmacy is home to America’s oldest continuously operating soda fountain, which has been serving drinks since 1867. It’s hard to miss the spot, with a massive neon sign that glows 'Goolrick’s Drugs.' Few things are as quintessentially Fredericksburg as an old-time soda fountain experience at Goolrick’s expansive counter, and it’s hard to go wrong with a classic root beer float. Eats are simple, but among the many sandwich options (including ham salad and liverwurst), Goolrick’s creamy chicken salad on plain white bread takes home the gold.

Once a private residence, the 1793 Kenmore Inn provides a memorable dining experience as well as a comfy night’s stay, thanks to a brick-clad dining area and an adjacent patio loaded with strings of lights. Entrees include a seared duck breast, pan-seared rockfish and hearty center-cut pork chop, and the appetizer menu is loaded with local flair: Virginia crab dip is chock-full of crab, complemented with layers of gooey parmesan. Pre- or post-meal, its tiny bar is the coziest spot in town for a cocktail. Go-to craft concoctions include the Fredericksburg (locally distilled John J. Bowman bourbon, Benedictine, bitters and Grand Marnier) and George Washington (gin, muddled herbs, orange, simple syrup and sour).

Interior shot of a high-ceilinged building with tin ceiling tiles and a crowd of people looking at a menu board with pizza options and prices
The bustling interior of Benny Vitali's Pizza is a great spot to grab a late-night slice © Jesse Scott / Lonely Planet

Regional delights roar in

The favorite spots of other Virginia towns have inevitably landed in Fredericksburg, attracting visitors and keeping locals from having to hop in their cars. Benny Marzano’s opened in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2011. Since, the regional pizza chain (which changes last names in each location) has expanded to a handful of other Virginia towns and nearby states. In 2014, Benny Vitali’s landed on Caroline Street and quickly became downtown Fredericksburg’s favorite place for a slice. And it’s some slice: the mammoth, $5 piece of pizza takes up two plates. Quantity doesn’t trump quality, though; a 'Virginia slice' delivers happiness all around. Its crust is lightly crispy, with New York-esque layers of sauce and cheese on top. Even better news in a town with few late-night options, Benny Vitali’s is open until 11pm Sunday through Thursday and until 2am on Friday and Saturday.

Another regional chain, Sedona Taphouse, has a similar local story. The original Sedona opened in Midlothian, Virginia, in 2011. Eight years later, Sedona has brought its roster of 500 craft beers and pub-style menu to six states. The William Street location, which opened in 2015, has consistently good service and a diverse menu, including morsels like Kobe beef sliders and a wild man steak layered in fontina cheese, mushrooms and a gorgonzola cream sauce. Sedona knows how to give back, too. Every Thursday, the spot awards 'heroes' (folks like police officers, nurses, teachers and military members) a free flatbread pizza, no questions asked.

aerial shot of a slice of peanut-butter pie topped with whipped cream and drizzles of butterscotch and chocolate syrup on a white plate with puddles of caramel sauce
Savory steaks are the #1 draw but Fahrenheit 132 also serves up lip-smacking desserts © Jesse Scott / Lonely Planet

Hometown heroes

Fredericksburg’s restaurants are chef-driven and increasingly emphasizing locally-sourced ingredients. Survey locals about where to grab lunch or dinner, and Foode will be mentioned. Housed in a historic national bank building on Princess Anne Street since 2016, it is the brainchild of Top Chef alum Joy Crump. But it’s Crump’s second Fredericksburg creation, Mercantile, that is most worthy of a meal. Mercantile specializes in carefully crafted breakfasts and brunches. With an ever-changing menu, it can be hard to maintain a favorite. But anything resembling its cranberry walnut french toast (made with cranberry-walnut bread, house fruit compote and crème anglaise) will be a win.

If steak is on the mind, Fahrenheit 132 is ready to make it reality. The vibe here is a melding of worlds – part colonial, with exposed brick and cement, and part saloon, with a polished wooden bar and booths. If dining solo, head straight for the butcher cuts, which include prime Australian Wagyu New York strip and veal tomahawk options. For a date night or shareable spread, Fahrenheit 132 offers up a belly-busting, three-course meal for two, anchored by a 28-ounce prime Kobe cowboy steak and carried home by a rich and buttery peanut butter pie.

Latest and greatest for foodies

Among the 2018 restaurant arrivals, The Falafel Joint stands out. At The Joint’s topping bar you can personally load your handheld, homemade falafel or chicken shawarma wraps with various Mediterranean sauces and vegetables. Best of all, it’s adjacent to beloved Sugar Shack Donuts.

And an all-new attraction is coming in 2019. Dominion Public Market, a massive 35,000-sq-ft food hall and culinary marketplace, will open at 1010 Caroline Street this summer. The spot is steadily inking in various small businesses to house their culinary operations, including a gluten-free bakery and homemade pie operation.

Late 18th-century Federal style home-turned-inn, with a light dusting of snow on the portico
The 18th-century Kenmore Inn is a cozy spot to dine (or dream) © Jesse Scott / Lonely Planet

Make it happen

Located 45 miles south of DC and 58 miles north of Richmond on Interstate 95, Fredericksburg can keep you entertained for days or during a simple day-trip. The traffic can be completely unpredictable in and around these parts, but fortunately Fredericksburg has rail options connecting the town with the broader region.

The Virginia Railway Express commuter rail runs from DC’s Union Station south to nearby Spotsylvania on weekdays, with Fredericksburg being the next to last stop. Amtrak also has a steady stream of Fredericksburg stops, including weekends. The Fredericksburg station, located on Lafayette Boulevard, is adjacent to the town’s primary thoroughfare, Caroline Street.

'Under the radar USA' is a series of articles about lesser-known USA destinations. Previous pieces explored AkronCheyenneColumbus, Ithaca, Omaha and Paducah

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