Exploring the Food Scene in Charlottesville and Albemarle County

Meet the rising chefs and cutting-edge restaurants shaping Charlottesville’s food scene

In recent years, a new wave of talented chefs and visionary restaurateurs has emerged in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, infusing the region with a fresh and distinctive flavor. Behind every extraordinary dish is a chef with a unique story, a restaurant owner with unwavering passion, and a community that embraces culinary diversity. Join us as we delve into the tales of the creative minds who are shaping Charlottesville’s food landscape and discover why their stories make this a distinct and vibrant culinary destination. 

Christopher D’Avino – Tonic

Plate of fried food from Tonic restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Tonic, located just a block north of Charlottesville’s historic pedestrian Downtown Mall, opened its doors in August 2020 amidst challenging times. The restaurant’s debut during the pandemic granted executive chef Christopher D’Avino, a seasoned professional with more than 15 years of experience, and his team the freedom to explore and experiment with dishes and new concepts like never before. Tonic proudly specializes in crafting seasonal and sustainable cuisine, showcasing the finest products sourced from Virginia’s dedicated local farmers and passionate small-scale producers. A central element of chef D’Avino’s approach lies in his mastery of pickling and fermenting techniques that wonderfully preserve the restaurant’s abundance of fresh ingredients. Charlottesville has captured D’Avino’s heart, and he is excited to use his position to highlight the region’s agricultural bounty. As a newcomer to the area, he is thrilled to highlight the very best that Central Virginia has to offer and looks forward to doing so for many years to come at Tonic. 

Emily Harpster – SugarBear Ice Cream

Owner Emily Harpster holding up an ice cream sandwich from SugarBear Ice Cream in Charlottesville, Virginia

Emily Harpster, the talented chef and owner of SugarBear Ice Cream, has an unwavering commitment to storytelling through flavors. For her, food is a powerful vehicle for revealing the essence of a place, and each scoop of her delectable creations tells a unique and captivating tale. Harpster’s love for ice cream extends beyond the kitchen and into the hearts of her customers. She cherishes the opportunity to listen to people’s stories, using them as both inspiration and guidance in her ongoing quest to develop new and exciting flavors. With more than 80 flavors already in her repertoire, Harpster continuously pushes the boundaries of culinary innovation. She is also deeply committed to supporting the local community of Charlottesville and Albemarle County by incorporating local products into her ice cream and collaborating with small businesses. Through these partnerships, Harpster not only showcases high-quality ingredients from the area but also champions the vibrant and diverse community she calls home. 

Kelsey Naylor – Umma’s

Variety of food from Umma's restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia
Chef Kelsey Naylor preparing food at Umma's restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia

At Umma’s, you’ll discover the culinary creations of chef and co-owner Kelsey Naylor, who has been crafting exceptional dishes for over a decade. Naylor combines the flavors of her Korean heritage and her extensive travel experiences, offering a unique perspective on Japanese cuisine. The restaurant opened in May 2022 and has already garnered a reputation for its exceptional cuisine. Notably, in 2021, C-VILLE Weekly recognized Naylor as the runner-up for best chef in 2021 and Umma’s was named the best new restaurant and best ramen in 2023. For Naylor, food is a medium to bring people together, and Umma’s embodies this philosophy. The chef is always excited to share the stories of the people who shaped her culinary journey, like her mother and grandmother, and the influences behind the exquisite dishes served in the restaurant. 

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