Taste Roanoke, Virginia
From biscuits to baklava, craft beer to cabernet, Roanoke’s culinary scene is diverse.
Story by Ginger Warder
Poised between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, Roanoke, Virginia mixes urban flavor with a small-town personality. Here you can find sophisticated cultural attractions like the world-class Taubman Museum of Art mingled with down-home hospitality at places like The Roanoker, which has been serving good food since 1941. The largest city west of Richmond, Roanoke is the metropolitan hub of the state’s Southwest region.
Once known as Big Lick, Roanoke was the headquarters for the Norfolk & Western Railway. When the railroad came in the 1850s it forever changed the sleepy little town into a major metropolitan city. With it, the railroad brought in a diverse group of immigrants from the Middle East, many of whom opened small grocery and confectionery shops in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A unique Middle Eastern influence lingers today, comfortably co-existing along with traditional Southern comfort foods. Add an abundance of wineries and breweries in the region—along with the return of Amtrak service—and Roanoke is a mouthwatering vacation destination for foodies.
To pack as many foodie experiences into your visit as possible, consider a tour.
Tour Roanoke’s Historic Downtown Food & Cultural Walking Tour
Featuring seven of Roanoke’s eateries—ranging from breakfast fare to sweet treats—Tour Roanoke offers three-hour tasting tours in the historic downtown area on Saturdays throughout the year. The walking tour kicks off in the elegant AAA four-diamond Regency Room in the historic Hotel Roanoke and proceeds across the enclosed pedestrian bridge to the heart of downtown where you’ll taste iconic local favorites like the Cheesy Western at the Texas Tavern (Roanoke’s version of a 24-hour White Castle-like burger joint), and also explore the city’s Middle Eastern influences at Cedars Lebanese Restaurant. Along the way, local guides share tidbits of culinary history and local lore and point out architectural gems and popular attractions. The tour company also offers a year-round Sunday brunch tour that features five locations, as well as special event tours where you can learn to make craft cocktails or Neapolitan pizza.
* Specific restaurants featured on each tour are subject to change throughout the year; reservations required.
D.I.Y. Foodie Tours, Famous Foods and Farmer’s Markets
If you prefer to explore on your own but appreciate some help with where to start, Roanoke’s tourism office (aka, Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge), offers a sample foodie itinerary, as well as a list of “famous foods” that includes restaurants and their specialties that have been featured on national television or in national magazines. If you’re looking for fine dining, try Alexander’s for chic continental cuisine or River and Rail, where James Beard nominee Chef Aaron Deal is at the helm. For down home country cooking, grab breakfast at The Roanoker, known for its made-from-scratch biscuits. Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar serves up milkshakes and sweet treats made with ice cream from local dairy Homestead Creamery, but is also widely lauded for its grilled cheese sandwich. For farm-to-table fans, vegetarians and vegans, Wild Flour offers whole foods made from the owner’s original recipes, with great vegetarian selections as well as meatloaf like Mom used to make. Fair warning, the bakery counter is hard to resist! Local Roots emphasizes local, organic, sustainable, and ethical ingredients—a philosophy it calls S.O.L.E.—so the menu changes often. You can also create a D.I.Y. tour of the region’s best farmer’s markets. The Historic Roanoke City Market, which opened in 1882 and is the state’s oldest continuously-operating open-air market, operates daily year-round, but visit on a weekend to check out the full complement of local vendors.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Cheers Trail
Oenophiles and craft beer aficionados also have mountains of choices in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The region is excellent for growing grapes, and the mountain streams and rivers have also fueled an explosion of craft beer production. Valhalla Vineyards makes French-style wines overlooking Roanoke Valley. One of Virginia’s largest wineries—and one of the most pet-centric options—Chateau Morrisette is in nearby Floyd, an easy day trip from Roanoke. The winery offers an expansive tasting room and gift shop, an excellent restaurant, live music on the patio in warm weather, and large music festivals during the summer months. For something different don’t miss Blacksnake Meadery, currently the only meadery in Southwest Virginia. To quench your thirst with a cold brew, you don’t have to go any farther than historic downtown Roanoke, where you can choose from several craft brew pubs including Big Lick, Deschutes, and Three Notch’d. If you’d like to combine outdoor mountain adventures with your beer tasting, The Twin Creeks Brew Pub, located in the historic Brugh Tavern within Explore Park, features a full service restaurant, a Virginia wine and cider bar, and of course, its signature brews. The region boasts more than ten wineries and meaderies plus more than 13 craft breweries and brew pubs on its Virginia Blue Ridge Cheers Trail, a D.I.Y. itinerary with a “passport” that invites you to work your way toward special offers and free swag at participating locations.
Roanoke’s stunning location in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and its easily walkable historic downtown offer scrumptious food and drink that you can easily combine with other interests, from outdoor adventures to cultural attractions to history and more.