With so many different lunch spots to choose from, you can eat out every weekday in downtown Norfolk for a month and never have to go to the same place twice. I find it’s best not to try to compare apples to oranges, since all of these restaurants are really incredible for so many different reasons. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of 20 of my favorites, categorized by the type of lunch experience you might be looking for. Whether it’s the perfect place for a business meeting or a romantic date, a quick bite or a long, luxurious, liquid lunch, I’ve got you covered.
You don’t have to be taking a meeting or opening up your laptop to appreciate the awesome lunch experience at Commune. But with its huge windows, bright, open space, and big, sturdy wooden tables and chairs, Commune is my top choice for a working lunch. For Norfolkians, owner Kevin Jamison’s farm-to-table breakfast-and-lunch concept in the NEON District at the north end of downtown is a little piece of Virginia Beach farm stand culture right in our own urban community. Menu favorites include the Fried Chicken Sandwich, the Biscuit Eggs Benne, and the Big Backyard Salad. Commune is open 8am to 3pm Monday through Thursday, and 8am to 4pm Friday and Saturday.
The 219, on the other hand, feels exactly like the kind of place where you should be negotiating contracts and hammering out deals. Casual but still definitely upscale, the 219 is where you’ll find plenty of Norfolk’s power elite hobnobbing over she-crab soup and a steak salad. Open Monday to Friday from 10:30am to 3pm and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 3:30pm.
Whether it’s a first date or a 50th anniversary date, Omar’s Carriage House is a great choice for a romantic lunch. Built in the 1890s, the Carriage House itself is a beloved Norfolk historic site. To get there you’ll navigate old cobblestone streets in the Freemason neighborhood, a quiet residential area in the northwest corner of downtown Norfolk. The space is cozy and decorated like a charming French cottage, tables are topped with white linens, and the atmosphere is perfectly set for intimate conversation. The lunch menu includes a wide array of salads and sandwiches, not to mention a Kobe Burger, Veal Burger, Lamb Burger and even a Black Bean Burger. Omar’s is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm, and also offers Sunday brunch from 10am to 3pm.
Chartreuse Bistro is another excellent option for an intimate lunch date. It’s a bit of a splurge for their prix fixe dinner (and worth every penny), so we love that they also do lunch three times a week at a more palatable price point. The menu changes daily and features organic homemade bread, pasta, soup and other farm-to-table fare. Chartreuse is open for lunch Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 2pm.
You’ll probably have to wait when you first arrive at Grilled Cheese Bistro, a narrow restaurant with only a couple dozen seats between the bar, a handful of banquette tables, and some chairs in the window that looks out onto Granby. But the wait is so worth it. These are not the grilled cheeses your mom made for you after school, mind you—offerings here include the “Hangover,” a Black Truffle Mac & Cheese sandwich, and the “Don Quijote,” which won “Best Grilled Cheese in VA” and features fontina, caramelized onion, oyster mushroom, roasted red pepper and olive tapenade. Don’t sleep on the fresh cut fries, either. They come in a few different styles, but I highly recommend the Parmesan & Chimichurri. Grilled Cheese Bistro is open for lunch Wednesday through Monday from 10am to 3pm.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back lunch and/or a really great selection of Virginia craft beer, Brick Anchor Brew House is the spot. With 60 taps to choose from, their lunch menu features the kind of tasty pub fare that pairs perfectly with great beer, including a Jersey Reuben and a Big Texas Burger. Brick Anchor Brew House is open every day from 11am to 11pm, except Friday and Saturday, when they stay open until 2am.
Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint is a Virginia-based chain that has expanded to Tennessee, and they do those two things—beers and burgers—quite well. Expect a very casual American beer bar, with lots of barstool seating, dollar bills stapled to the walls behind the bar, and even women’s bras hanging from the ceiling around a disco ball. Choose from over 10 different kinds of burgers, all made with 100% Wagyu beef—like the Danny Laruso, which is topped with cream cheese and jalapeño jelly, or the Elvis, which is topped with peanut butter, mayo, Applewood smoked bacon and cheese. And with over 100 craft beers on their beer menu, this spot is quickly becoming a Granby Street staple. Jack Brown’s is open every day from 11am to 2am.
Another great burger and beer joint is The Barrel Room, and like Jack Brown’s it’s relatively new on Granby Street and already a downtown staple. All of their lunch offerings range from $8 to $12, but if you’re feeling extra-hungry and indulgent, go for the Signature Double Barrel Burger, a $16 double-patty (meaning one full pound of beef), loaded with five cheeses, bacon, bourbon onions and housemate bourbon bbq sauce. Barrel Room is open every day from 11:30am to midnight, except Friday and Saturday, when they stay open until 2am.
I’ve worked downtown at a few different jobs, including the years when AltDaily’s offices were located in a Granby Street co-working space. And from my experience the most consistently popular spot for a quick bite during a hurried lunch break is Famous Uncle Al’s, an unassuming hot dog joint that’s been serving the Norfolk community for over 35 years. They serve breakfast from 7am to 11am (egg sandwiches, mainly), but from 11 to 3 it’s onto lunch, which you can call in for take-out or even have delivered. There are actually lots of sandwich options on the menu, but the real reason to come to Famous Uncle Al’s is the hot dogs, and they serve them lots of different styles, always with the option to go footlong. Famous Uncle Al’s is open Monday to Saturday 7am to 3pm.
Another popular choice for the lunch break crowd is Granby Street Pizza, where you can be in and out with a New York-style thin crust slice of pepperoni and a large soda fountain drink in five minutes, and get back to your desk without anyone even really noticing you left. Granby Street Pizza is open for lunch every day except Sunday.
When it’s time to mix it up, and a burger, sandwich or slice of pizza just will not cut it, head over to Rama Garden for some tasty Thai cuisine. This spacious restaurant is great for groups and business lunches. Noodle dishes include Thai standards like Drunken Noodles, Pad Thai, and Green Curry. But adventurous eaters will appreciate the opportunity for some really flavorful, sweet-sour-umami-bombs like the Spicy Mango, Prik Pow, and Beef Siam entrees. Rama Garden is open for lunch Monday to Friday from 11:30am to 3pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at noon.
Be careful or you can easily get addicted to Bonchon’s highly craveable Korean fried chicken. This South Korean-based chain restaurant saw its first US franchise open in Virginia, and there are now hundreds around the world. But the fried chicken really is that delicious, it’s no wonder people want it everywhere. Bonchon opens for lunch every day at 11am.
Sometimes the lunch hour is more about settling into a luxurious cocktail than anything else, and for days like that I recommend Leone’s. They’ve got great beer, wine and spirits menus, but the cocktail list is where it’s at, with lots of Italian classics like the Leone’s Bellini, the Limoncello Martini and the Aperol Spritz, as well as some twists, like the Margarita Italiana. And when it’s time to soak up some of that alcohol, go for the Nonna’s Meatballs soup or a Porchetta sandwich. Bonus: Leone’s is walking distance to Chrysler Hall, Norfolk Scope and the Harrison Opera House, so it’s the perfect place to sit down to an elegant lunch before a catching a matinee. Leone’s opens its doors for lunch at 11am Monday through Friday.
On other days the lunch hour is better spent relaxing over a couple pints of Guinness, and for those I recommend Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub. This place is exactly what you hope it will be—tavern-style, with imported Irish furniture, and menu items like Bangers and Chips, Shepherds Pie, and Irish Beef Stew. Grace O’Malley’s is open for lunch every day at 11am and stays open through the evening.
If you’re looking for a healthy alternative, head over to Greenhouse Kitchen, right next door to its sister restaurant, Grilled Cheese Bistro. Unlike Grilled Cheese Bistro, you can definitely find a guilt-free lunch at Greenhouse Kitchen—they specialize in creative, meal-sized salads that will actually fill you up and keep you satisfied. The Sugar & Spice Salad, for instance, features thyme pan seared chicken, couscous, cinnamon and cayenne roasted butternut squash, heirloom carrots, dried cranberries and fresh greens. And then there’s the Sundara, with pan-seared salmon atop curried chickpeas, mango and fresh greens with a tzatsiki dressing. It’s just the kind of lunch you want after a difficult yoga class or workout. Greenhouse Kitchen is open for lunch Wednesday through Monday from 11am to 3pm.
A little bit further up Granby Street in the NEON District you’ll find Zeke’s Beans and Bowls, a coffeeshop that also serves all natural smoothies, breakfast wraps and poke bowls. It’s a tiny space and a little bit of a hipster crowd, but when it comes to healthy brain food, Zeke’s is the place. They open 8am to 8pm Monday through Thursday, and 8am to 9pm Friday and Saturday.
Lunch with Out-of-Towners
When you have guests in town and want to take them to a classic local establishment, think no further than Freemason Abbey. Located in a historic church built in 1873, this tavern-style restaurant fully embraces its architectural setting, with its vaulted ceiling, church pews, and stained-glass windows, which altogether make for one of the most unique dining experiences in Norfolk. The atmosphere is elegant yet casual, and the price point ranges from $8 sandwiches to signature entrees up to $30. The menu features old school classics like Salmon Oscar and Waldorf Chicken Salad Sandwich, and surprisingly, lots of vegetarian options, as well. At Freemason Abbey lunch is served Monday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm.
Got someone to impress? Take them to lunch at Todd Jurich’s Bistro, which faces the USS Wisconsin on the corner of Boush and Main. This upscale eatery provides an elegant lunch experience from a local chef celebrity, and yet you can get a soup or salad with an entree and a glass of wine for about $20. Todd Jurich’s Bistro is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30am to 2pm.
Breakfast for Lunch
Although this a lunch spot list, I have to give a shout to a couple downtown stalwarts, where you can enjoy breakfast all day. The first is D’egg Diner, which renovated fairly recently after an explosion occurred in the Selden Arcade back in 2015. D’egg’s menu is chock full of good ol’ American breakfast foods, like omelettes, benedicts, French toast, and pancakes. But if you want something quick, the D’eggwich—an egg any style, with bacon or sausage, and grilled Parmesan tomato on a grilled onion roll for $5.50—is the closest thing you can get to a New York City-style bodega sandwich anywhere in Norfolk. D’egg Diner is open every day from 7am to 3pm.
Another great unassuming spot for lunch downtown is Granby Bistro & Deli. This place is no frills but charming and quaint somehow, nevertheless. Menu highlights include the All American Breakfast with eggs, fries, bacon and toast; the Polish Breakfast, with eggs, fries, kielbasa and toast; or my favorite, the Greek Breakfast, with eggs, cheese, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and pita bread. Granby Bistro is open Monday to Friday 7:30am to 3pm and Saturday 8:30am to 3pm.
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