Henrico County entertainment

Good food and fun, bargain prices


I first stumbled into Pelon's on a Wednesday night, lured by the promise of $2 tacos and beers. At those prices, I had assumed the place was a hole in the wall, and was pleasantly surprised by the spacious, pleasant interior.

Having spent my teen summers in Virginia Beach surfing, I also felt instantly at home amid the ocean-themed decor. From the ride-the-waves posters lining the walls and the TV displaying non-stop surfing footage, to the foosball table and enormous spools serving as tables, Pelon's is a delight for beach lovers and surfing fans. Reading the menu is part of the entertainment here, as patrons browse burrito choices that include Rip Tide, The Curl, Hawaiian Pipeline and Big Kahuna.

A cut above at Pho I Grill


A restaurant has to go above and beyond for me to leave my usual Lakeside and city haunts to endure the traffic hell of Short Pump. And I'm pleased to say that Pho 1 Grill provides not one, but two reasons to make the trek: the food and the friendliness.

For some time, I've been hearing about Pho 1 from a fan who's been a fixture at the place since patronizing Paul Tran's previous restaurant a few miles east.

She can laugh now about the day she was headed into the first restaurant only to be traumatized by the news that Tran had left – and immediately joined another crestfallen patron in a hasty about-face in the parking lot.

Fan favorite shines in new West End home


It's been years since I visited the original Kuba Kuba in The Fan; although I liked the food, I was underwhelmed by the dim, cramped space.

Yes, I know neighborhood location and crowds are part of the charm for Fan dwellers, who see the place as cozy rather than claustrophobic. But I was still psyched to hear that a much larger Kuba Kuba Dos had opened in the Tuckahoe Shopping Center. And after two visits, I am pleased to report that the food at Dos is every bit as good as the original's, if not better – and the atmosphere is much more pleasant. I can now savor the goodness without the grittiness, not to mention other patrons bumping up against my elbows as I eat.

A taste of Japan


In a spot that could be easily overlooked is a surprising, and delicious, Japanese restaurant. In a tiny nook in the shops at the corner of Ridgefield Parkway and Pump Road sits a welcoming, warm and comfortable Asian restaurant called Ichiban, which means “the best.”

The restaurant, tucked between a couple others in the Gleneagles Shopping Center, was so quiet and dark that it was difficult to tell if it was open at 6:30 p.m. on a Monday. When I opened the door, I smiled when I looked inside.

Travinia brings contemporary elegance to Willow Lawn


It was another win for Willow Lawn when Travinia Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar opened there six months ago, nestled in the heart of the re-made shopping center. The contemporary American Italian restaurant boasts 13 locations up and down the East Coast, with the Henrico location opening in August.

In the same week, I hit up Travinia twice, once for lunch and once for a late dinner. At lunchtime on a weekday, I was overwhelmed by the smell of garlic and by the number of working professionals in nice suits on their lunch breaks. When we first walked in, I was concerned our meal would be a little too pricey based on the décor – it’s a really nice place. Luckily, the menu has a variety of options for every budget.

A notch above

While I was happy to put six years in Texas behind me and return east in 1982, I still develop cravings for Tex-Mex from time to time. And more often than not, my go-to place for a Mexican fix is Plaza Azteca.

A West End tradition

Melito's has been around as long as I can remember; in fact it’s been around longer than I can remember; the business is more than 30 years old.

Since I was a little girl, my family has been making memories at Melito’s. It’s the place where my date took me for prom and where my family ate after church on Sundays.

There is something familiar and reliable about this old favorite situated at the corner of Three Chopt and Eastridge roads. It's not in the city and it's not in Short Pump, but it finds its home near Regency Mall and Westbury Pharmacy, a nice reprieve from both central locations.

The bar is always full and the line is usually out the door with families, couples and diners of every age waiting to get a classic, American meal in friendly wooden booths. Every time I step into the cozy hole-in-the-wall restaurant, it is packed from wall to wall.

Firing up a winner

A Halligan fan for years, I regularly patronized the Shockoe Bottom location before the roomier Short Pump site opened. Call me cornball, but I am a sucker for the decor – dominated by a fire engine with beer taps extending from the sides – as well as the story behind it.

Owner Shawn Gregory, a retired Henrico firefighter, outfitted the Halligan West location with a 1967 fire truck that his own father rode in his early career at the Highland Springs station.

Among other firefighter memorabilia incorporated into the theme are buckets and firefighter helmets suspended from the ceiling to serve as lamps, and fire hoses wound into the railing of the patio. The walls are covered with tools, photos, badges, and memorabilia from fire companies around the country, and Gregory rents a small "VIP" party deck on top of the fire engine and donates proceeds to charity, including a burn foundation.

Authentically Italian

Short Pump is known for its share of chain restaurants and strip malls, but diners looking for something more distinct can certainly find it without heading downtown or to nearby Charlottesville.

In fact, local husband-and-wife restaurateurs Valeria Bisenti and Doug Muir brought a taste of Charlottesville (and Italy) to Short Pump when they took a chance and opened Bella’s second location in the same shopping strip as Wal-Mart and Peter Chang China Cafe. (Bella’s original location is on Main Street in downtown Charlottesville.)

For a local Italian restaurant, Bella’s is as “Mom and Pop” as its gets. Valeria is Mom, and Doug is Pop. Since its opening about six months ago, diners have been eating rich comfort foods and drinking Italian wines.

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