Use this dining guide to support Virginia’s Latino-owned restaurants and experience why Virginia stands for AMOR. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but to highlight a few of the restaurants that make Virginia a beautiful and inclusive place.
Over 732,000 Hispanics reside in Virginia, according to Pew Research, which equals approximately 9% of the state’s population. While the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are of Mexican origin, Virginia is unique in that most of its Latino population hails from Central America, especially El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
These incredible cultures can be experienced by visiting some of the numerous Latino-owned restaurants that bring us delicious food from across the Spanish-speaking world.
On our list below, you may see a few “pupuserias,” meaning restaurants where “pupusas” are sold. Similar to the Venezuelan and Colombian arepa, pupusas are a popular griddle cake or thick tortilla from El Salvador and Honduras made with cornmeal and stuffed with cheese, chicharron (fried pork), squash, or refried beans. (Another important and perhaps more familiar term on our list – “taquerias” – are restaurants that specialize in serving tacos.)
If you want to support Latino entrepreneurs and are looking for something more authentic than your local Taco Bell or Chipotle, visit these Latino restaurants as listed by region in the Commonwealth. So get ready to channel your inner Anthony Bordain, and hit the road hungry for culinary adventure.
¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appétit in Spanish).
To begin, let me share two of my own culinary travel stories:
Last summer, after spending the day at Ocean View Beach Park, my family and I were looking for authentic Latin American food and stumbled upon Pupuseria y Taqueria El Sabor De Mi Tierra in a nearby strip mall in Virginia Beach. At first, we were hesitant to order something from this hole-in-the-wall. But, when we received our meal, we were happy that we had chosen to eat at “The Taste of my Homeland,” as it translates into Spanish. Our young girls loved the Salvadoran cheese pupusas (a first for them), horchata (sweetened rice milk) and mango juice. And my wife (who is from Mexico City) and I enjoyed the tacos al pastor and carne asada burrito.
And a few years ago, when my family and I went shopping in Williamsburg, we were ready for a lunch break and in the mood for Mexican food. We looked on Google Maps for a place with good reviews and discovered La Terraza Mexican Grill in Williamsburg, just down Richmond Road (Highway 60) from the Premium Outlet stores. We noshed on a delicious burrito and chicken fajitas as our two girls played on the kid-friendly, outdoor patio, hence the name, La Terraza, which translates from Spanish as patio or terrace.
Photo credit: Joe Kutchera
Chef Profile: MAYA
After meeting in New York City and working in the restaurant business there for many years, Maria and Michael Oseguera moved to Richmond in 2012 to live in a more family-friendly city with their three children. Shortly thereafter, they opened MAYA, an upscale, contemporary restaurant in downtown Richmond serving healthy Mexican dishes with fresh ingredients. Chef Maria is originally from Colombia while her husband, Michael, was born in Honduras, which is why they emphasize the fact they bring a “Latin American twist” to the “modern Mexican cuisine” on their menu. Today, their son, Michael Jr., works with his parents, so the family business has become multi-generational.
Unlike what most Americans associate with Mexican food, Abuelita’s in Richmond serves up a variety of homemade stews, all family recipes from owners Karina and Everardo Fonseca. Everardo’s mother, Victoria Hernandez, still makes the tamales for Abuelita’s on Sundays.
Sarah M IG account: @nomo.yoyo
Coco and Hazel is an espresso and specialty milkshake shop with two locations in Richmond. Chelle Bravo and her husband, Omar Bravo Carbajal, serve specialty coffee (Café Brújula) from Oaxaca (Omar’s home state in Mexico), as well as cakes, cookies, and ice cream. They opened their first location in the Tuckahoe Shopping Center in 2019 and recently opened a second, larger location in Bon Air.
La Bodega features Colombian, Dominican, and Puerto Rican cuisine in Shockoe Bottom.
photo credit: Hannah Armstrong IG Account: @hannahelizarmstrong
Kuba Kuba is an established Richmond favorite for Cuban dishes like ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, and paella mariscos.
Looking for tacos at two in the morning? La Milpa Mexican Restaurant & Market is an authentic Mexican restaurant and food market, open 24 hours, in North Chesterfield. After you polish off your tacos, you can shop for your Latin grocery items at Supermarket La Milpa, adjacent to the restaurant.
If you’re still looking for more tacos, check out Discover Richmond Tours’ list of “The 9 Best Mexican Restaurants in Richmond.”
And when you visit Charlottesville, be sure to check out these “Top 9 Spots For Tacos” according to the CEO of website I Love CVille.
Chef Profile: JALEO
Chef José Andrés founded his group of restaurants, ThinkFoodGroup, with a mission “to change the world through the power of food.” You can get a taste of his Spanish tapas, paella, sangria, and wine at his Jaleo restaurant in Crystal City, just West of Ronald Reagan airport. Chef Andrés also started the non-profit, World Central Kitchen, which aims to nourish communities and strengthen economies during times of crisis, as it is currently doing in Haiti following its recent earthquake and as WCK did previously in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. During that time, Chef Andrés personally prepared paella for thousands of Puerto Ricans in need.
Cerrito’s Pupuseria in Chantilly prepares flavorful Salvadoran and Latin American cuisine for reasonable prices.
Cubasi Bistro serves authentic Cuban food in Sterling, Virginia.
Picante! serves traditional Mexican cuisine in Chantilly.
Northern Virginia Magazine listed SER as number 9 on its list of Best Restaurants 2020. This fine dining restaurant, located in Arlington, features Spanish tapas. SER means “to be” in Spanish but also stands for “simple, easy, real.”
photo credit: Greg Powers
Chef Victor Albisu has expanded Taco Bamba restaurant, now with six locations in Ballston, Fairfax, Falls Church, Springfield, Vienna, and Landmark, offering traditional tacos as well his original interpretations of the Mexican staple.
Tipicos Glorias in Herndon is not fancy but offers authentic Central American and Mexican food cooked with love.
And if you’re looking for more Mexican restaurants, check out Washingtonian.com’s list of Best Mexican Restaurants in Northern Virginia.
Restaurateur Profiles: LUNA MAYA
Sisters Karla and Vivian Montaño opened Luna Maya in 1997 when there weren’t many international restaurants in the Norfolk area. They grew up in Bolivia in a family that valued cooking. Today, they bring the techniques and recipes that they learned from their mother and grandmothers to create the Latin American, Mexican, vegetarian, and vegan dishes that they serve in the loft-like atmosphere at Luna Maya. (Some of the Bolivian specialties on the menu include corn casserole with spicy chorizo as well as Bolivian tamales.) Their restaurant has become a staple in Norfolk and is located on the Ghent neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, which is lined with unique shops, art galleries, and antique stores.
Chef Profile: ANGIE’S CAFE
Angela Girau Soto opened her eponymous Puerto Rican coffee and pastry shop – Angie’s Café – in Newport News in January 2021, nearly a year into the COVID pandemic but after dreaming about that possibility for many years. She bakes her own cakes, flan (a baked custard dessert), and various Puerto Rican pastries all from scratch, including pastelitos (filled with guava), quesitos (cheese puff pastries), turnovers (filled with nutella, Hershey’s chocolate and almonds), and estrellitas (“little stars” made with cream cheese, brown sugar and meyer lemons). In addition, they serve their own brand of artisanal coffees, grown on a small family plantation under a volcano in Costa Rica.
Angela and her husband, Oscar Soto Irizarry, were born and raised in Lares, Puerto Rico. When he joined the U.S. Air Force, they moved first to Missouri, then to England, next to Texas and in 2013, they landed in Virginia. Moving often prevented her from starting her own business, but she got experience managing a bakery when they lived in the UK. When Oscar recently retired from the U.S. Air Force, they decided to make Angie’s dream come true when they found a great location next to a Puerto Rican barber shop. Angela still works for the Department of Defense, juggling her entrepreneurial efforts with her day job, while Oscar helps run the business.
Aqui Como Yo serves Puerto Rican dishes, such as mofongo, in Newport News.
Bilu’s Colombian Restaurant in Virginia Beach serves authentic Colombian food such as tamales, bandeja paisa (rice, beans, plantains, avocado, steak and pork), and seven types of empanadas. In addition, Bilu’s recently opened its bakery where it prepares Latin specialties such as buñuelos, tres leches, and pan de bono.
De Rican Chef Restaurant serves authentic Puerto Rican food with vegetarian and vegan options available in Virginia Beach and Newport News.
Encanto serves Puerto Rican food in Virginia Beach.
When the Dominican head chef of La Peña Horeb Spanish Restaurant, José Buret, opened his informal Caribbean eatery in Newport News, he took the inspiration for its name from the biblical passage in Exodus 17:1-6 where Moses, standing in the desert, strikes the rock at Horeb and water comes out for the people to drink. (Peña = rock in Spanish.) House specialties include mofongo, pork chops, Cubano sandwiches, and the Horeb burrito.
Los Paisas Locos prepares authentic Mexican, Honduran, and Central American dishes in Newport News.
Mi Casa Azteca Mexican Restaurant & Cantina is owned and operated by two generations of the Benitez family and is located on Main Street in the cute town of Matthews.
Mi Lindo Puebla in Newport News serves authentic tacos and Mexican dishes (with a touch of California) and has a retail store selling Mexican spices and food items.
Wife and wife partners – Marie and Tina DePedro – created Pour Favor Coffee Shop in Virginia Beach to combine coffee, community, and inclusivity. Marie is from Puerto Rico while Tina was born and raised in Virginia. They want people from all walks of life to walk into their Puerto Rican inspired coffee shop and feel at home.
Restaurateur Profile: TAMBORA LATIN CUISINE
Tambora Latin Cuisine in Yorktown opened in December 2020 when founder Ricky Batista saw an opportunity for a Caribbean restaurant while other restaurants were closing as a result of COVID-19. Tambora offers a modern take on classic Dominican dishes including empanadas, chicharron (pork belly), pernil (pork shoulder), and its “fritura Tambora” for groups of 6-8 people to share. Its signature lime and garlic-based Wasakaka sauce accompanies many of the fried meat and fish dishes.
Batista came to Virginia while in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for eight years. It was during that time that he and his family came up with the idea for the restaurant. And Tambora is truly a family business. Ricky works with his mom, sister, wife, two cousins, and his wife’s twin, plus her husband. “Everyone brings their strengths,” Ricky says. They all grew up in Bonao, a small town located in the center of the Dominican Republic, where they all knew one another as children. They followed Ricky’s parents to Brooklyn, where they sought better opportunities, and eventually followed Ricky down to Virginia. Cousin Esmarlyn Diloné worked at many restaurants and airlines in New York City, first as a dishwasher, then as a prep cook, next as a cook, and finally as a sous chef. While in the Big Apple, he discovered his passion for cooking and today, as the chef, weaves together traditional flavors and authentic seasonings from the Dominican Republic, while also offering kid-friendly American or Italian dishes as well as vegetarian dishes so that all patrons find something to enjoy.
In addition, check out these “6 Mexican Restaurants to Try in Virginia Beach,” or, “5 Spots for Authentic Caribbean Food in Virginia Beach,” as recommended by Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Chad Williams; IG account: @echadwilliams
Chef Profile: CHICANO BOY TACO
Chef Justin Hershey originally started Chicano Boy Taco as a pop-up taco stand at a local brewery in Staunton, which evolved into a brick-and-mortar sit-down restaurant serving handmade tacos and Mission-style burritos. This was after he had already made a name for himself in the culinary world: After graduating from the Florida Culinary Institute, Hershey went on to work with Chef Ian Boden at The Staunton Grocery, as executive chef at Zinc in Charlottesville, and with Chef Ian Boden again at The Shack, which Esquire lavished praise upon, calling it, “The Incredible Restaurant That Nobody Knows About.”
Hershey was born as Manuel Borguez Padron Jr. in Merced, California, where his Mexican-American father worked as an agricultural farmworker and his mother worked in the hospitality industry. When his stepfather adopted him, family members decided to anglicize his name. Today, as he has reconnected with his father, Chef Justin has begun reclaiming his Mexican-American identity, exploring the flavors of Mexico and opening a new location of Chicano Boy Tacos in Richmond (October 2021). When asked, what does it mean to be Chicano? He says, “It’s the hyphen between Mexican and American, the experience of living in two different worlds.”
Tacos El Primo is a Mexican food truck in Harrisonburg.
Restaurateur Profile: ALEJANDRO’S MEXICAN GRILL
Moises Nucamendi and his wife, Lisa, first met in Los Angeles and later moved to Roanoke in 2007 to live near his brother and provide a more family-friendly lifestyle for their three children. Moises started working at a Wendy’s franchise, but later that year, he left to start Alejandro’s Mexican Grill in downtown Roanoke. Moises was born and raised in Mexico City, so he is no stranger to authentic Mexican food. The couple crafted a simple, West Coast-style taqueria menu inspired by their time living and eating in California. But after getting feedback from their customers, they adapted to what customers wanted: an East Coast approach on Mexican cuisine with grilled meats, larger plates, and cheese dips/sauces. Their journey as entrepreneurs has had its ups and downs. But today, they have three successful locations – two in Roanoke and another in Salem.
Estela and Manolito opened Cuban Island Restaurant in Roanoke “to bring the strong flavors of Cuba on a plate,” If you’re in the mood for ropa vieja, vaca frita, or a cuban sandwich, this is your place.
La Casa Del Burrito Taco Shop in Vinton gets positive reviews for its Mexican dishes and loaded fries.
Muchacho Alegre serves Mexican cuisine at its three locations in Salem and Lexington
photo credit: Hannah Armstrong IG Account: @hannahelizarmstrong
Farmburguesa serves up affordable and tasty burgers with a Colombian flare, honoring owners Kat Pascal and Jimmy Delgado’s Colombian heritage, with two locations in Roanoke and Vinton.
Restaurateur Profile: LEONORE RESTAURANT
Miguel Liendo is originally from Venezuela. He founded Leonore Restaurant in Roanoke, offering a unique mix of Venezuelan and Italian dishes on its menu. The restaurant serves South American classics such as the empanadas, tequenos, pabellon criollo, and the classic Venezuelan dish – arepas – a gluten-free white cornmeal “bread” that is handmade, grilled, and served like a sandwich, which comes with fillings such as ceviche, steak, or grilled tomato with mozzarella. And right alongside those items on the menu you will find Italian favorites, including pizzas, chicken alfredo, lasagna, and chicken parmesan. Miguel also dedicates his time and energy to raising awareness and money for the people of his native Venezuela, which is going through a severe economic, political, and health crisis. Leonore has hosted fundraisers where a percentage of the restaurant’s profits go towards humanitarian aid there.
If you’re looking for more Latino food in the Roanoke Valley, check out this article about the “Top Spots for the Best Tacos in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.”
Restaurateur Profile: SUR 81
I stumbled upon the stellar reviews of Sur 81 in Marion, Virginia, which serves a combination of Mexican and American food items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and its name immediately caught my attention for not sounding like a typical Tex-Mex restaurant, such as Pollo Loco or Los 3 Amigos. Sur 81 is named for its location just off of South Interstate 81 (Sur = south in Spanish). Restaurateur Leticia Torres was born in California, moved to Virginia as a youngster, and grew up immersed in the restaurant business as her parents, who are originally from Mexico, opened Mi Puerto Mexican Restaurant around 20 years ago.
When Leticia and her husband, Juan Carlos Ramirez (originally from Puebla, Mexico), decided to open their own restaurant, Sur 81, they received the support of Leticia’s parents, whose restaurant is only a five minute drive away. While Sur 81’s breakfast menu features breakfast burritos, it leans towards American-style items such as biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles, pancakes, and omelets. And the dinner menu is inspired by Chipotle with build-your-own burritos, tacos, quesadillas, or burrito bowls. For dinner, the hostess recommends the “Sur 81 Mexicano,” with either barbacoa (barbeque) or carnitas (braised pork), served with rice, beans, and tortillas, so you can make your own tacos.
Puerto Nuevo Mexican and Seafood Restaurant in Bristol gets good reviews for its Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican dishes.
Latino’s Taste serves Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine in Radford.
Taqueria El Paso prepares tacos and Mexican food in its restaurant and market in Christiansburg, just south of Blacksburg.
—VIRGINIA’S EASTERN SHORE—
Food Truck, Taqueria La Bienvenida gets good reviews for its authentic Mexican food in Onancock, Virginia.
Lily’s Little Mexico serves authentic Mexican food on Chincoteague Island, close to where the wild horses run along the beach.
These are just a fraction of the Latino-owned restaurants around the Commonwealth; share yours with us in the comments below so that we can add them to the list!
Joe Kutchera is a writer and author of three books. In 2020, the City of Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (formerly Office of Multicultural Affairs) commissioned Kutchera, along with artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta, to create Portraits of Immigrant Voices, a digital art exhibition, which explores the diversity of immigrant experiences in Richmond and is on display at RVAStrong.org/portraits.