We were out celebrating a friend’s birthday the other night and after a few beers the guy sitting next to me said, “Crozet Pizza and Riverside are the two most overhyped restaurants in the Charlottesville area.” I bit my tongue and told myself to find a happy place and then I asked him where he thought you could find better burgers in town (besides Five Guys, the subject of a future post). He said, “I actually don’t eat much red meat these days.”
I pictured myself as one of those cartoon guys whose face fills up with red as if his head were a water tank, and when it reaches the top steam shoots out his ears to the tune of a train whistle. Which may actually have proved the red meat non-eater’s point. There is something irrational about my need for Riverside burgers and the whole Riverside experience.
If you drive down High Street from the mall towards 250, you’ll come upon a characterless brick box on your left with a drab brown sign that reads Riverside Lunch. Maybe there’s a Pepsi logo on it too. The parking lot is packed with vehicles of every variety, which hints at the unparalleled diversity of people you’ll find inside.
The interior is light wood, with tables and booths and a bar. On each of the three or four TVs is a sporting event or Spike TV or something else featuring prominent displays of testosterone. The cooks are men, the waitresses are women, and the beer is cold.
As for the main attraction itself, I wrote recently of the fancy tall restaurant burgers at Boylan Heights — Riverside’s unapologetically flat and greasy burgers come in on the other side of the spectrum. The plates are styrofoam, the buns are right out of the bag, the cheese is American, and the patties have an unusual texture. So, what’s the big deal?
Besides just being delicious, there is something appealing about the unpretentiousness of it all. Not many options, no changing menus, no thought put into making things look pretty. It is what it is, and as you sit there indulging in non-fat-free, high-carb goodness that you don’t allow yourself often enough, among plumbers and bankers, UVA academics and county farmers, high school kids and retired grandparents, you have an acute feeling of everything just being what it is. At least for the duration of your burger, until you re-emerge from that beefy fantasy world and go back to work.
Erin says: “The basket of fries would feed a family of eight but, thanks to their classic crispiness and tableside salt seasoning, I can make a pretty good dent. Trust the waitress when she tells you to get a side of ranch dressing with the cheese balls.”
Rating: Erin: Jed:
Pros: Double cheeseburger, fried cheese balls, classic Charlottesville meeting place
Cons: Fries are generally good but eat quickly or they become hard!
Price: Cheeseburger $3.
Parking: Usually plenty of parking in the lot or on Hazel.