FOOD- DISH- Hits list: Website ranks lunch spots tops
What's the best restaurant in Charlottesville? Although obviously a subjective question– and one the Dish tends to avoid– according to Charlottesville-Dining.com, the popular restaurant review site we wrote about July 27 ["All shook up: VaVino rocked by new state law"], it's Aroma's Café.
The Moroccan/ Mediterranean lunch spot tucked away off Fontaine has held the top spot on the site (that boasts 9,000 unique visitors a month) for a number of weeks. Coming in at Number 2 is The Carving Board Café in Albemarle Square, followed by Eppie's on the Downtown Mall, the Ethiopian restaurant Mesob on Wertland Street, L'etoile on West Main, Wayside Takeout & Catering on JPA, Kyoto and Lime Leaf in the Rio Hill Shopping Center, Java Java on Ivy Road, and Dips & Sips out near the Hollymead Town Center.
The voting ranks places for food, value, and service, but the number of votes has to be taken into account, too. For instance, L'etoile has 87 votes compared to Mesob's 19. Although Mesob beats out L'etoile in the rankings, L'etoile has held its spot with so many opinions. In addition, voters can add comments, which can often be more revealing than their votes.
As far as the two top spots go, food entrepreneurs take note. The eateries have three things in common: they're lunch spots only, their owners are there all the time, and they make everything from scratch.
Moroccan-born Hassan Kaisoum opened Aroma's eight years ago, in– of all places– the Fontaine Research Park. Despite the remote location, the lunch-only restaurant (Aroma's also does private parties and catering, and Kaisoum says he's going to start bottling his sauces), has prospered. His secret? "Coming in every morning and doing everything myself. Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch. And I make everything with love, just like I would if I was cooking for my family."
Kaisoum says the top spot on the dining site has definitely helped his business, and he feels proud to have remained there for so long. But don't count out the traditional press, he says, remembering a past article in the Hook. "The Hook did one article about us, and we got killed for two months it got so busy," he laughs.
Justin VanderLinde and Candice Liptak, the owners of The Carving Board Café in Albemarle Square, share the philosophy about making themselves an integral part of the business. The two classically trained chefs, graduates of Johnson & Wales, opened the lunch spot only a year ago, and you'll find them there Monday through Friday from 10 to 4 (and Saturday from 10 to 3), roasting their own meats, making their own corned beef, and creating just about everything else from scratch.
"We just try to be consistent," says VanderLinde, "and create a small, friendly atmosphere with good food and reasonable prices."
VanderLinde has also felt the effect of being listed on Charlottesville-Dining.com's Top Ten. "The comments on the site have led to a lot of out-of-towners ordering gift certificates for people," he says. "It has been great for a small business."
What does all this online ranking stuff mean? Dish isn't quite sure. One Hook staffer suggests that online surveys have zero value since the opinions are not randomly sampled. Nonetheless, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at these rankings, given there's really no other day-to-day restaurant ranking system in Charlottesville.
For example, it's curious that the top two restaurants are lunch spots, and that only one restaurant from the Downtown Mall is represented– and that two of the top ten are in the Rio Hill Shopping Center. It's also interesting that the top ten are so spread out, from the Hollymead Shopping Center to Ivy Road, from the Downtown Mall to Albemarle Square.
And what if, after reading this column, we all logged on to Charlottesville-Dining.com and cast our votes? How might these rankings change? And what if a site like Charlottesville-Dining.com became so frequently visited that restaurants in the area suddenly found themselves being held to a strong, visible local standard?
Food for thought.
The best lunch spot in town? Hassan Kaisoum and Keahi Lum Ho at Aroma's Café
FILE PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL