Virginia Beach, VA
In Virginia Beach, our culinary scene has been shaped by our surrounding waters. With the bountiful Chesapeake Bay to our north and the mighty Atlantic Ocean to our east, seafood is a way of life here. As the largest natural estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is home to 348 species of finfish, including flounder, sea bass, tautog and the local-favorite, rockfish. As fun to catch as they are to eat, 70 to 90 percent of the world’s rockfish, also known as striped bass, reside in the waters of the Bay, making Virginia Beach the “Rockfish Capital of the World.” With the Bay producing nearly 500 million pounds of seafood each year, it’s no wonder we can’t get enough.
As the high heat of summer is cooled by the crisp winds of autumn, our hunger for seafood reaches epic proportions. With some of our favorite fish reach peak season, our local seafood joints are turning out some of the freshest dishes around. The Rudee Inlet, at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, is a hub of unbeatable seafood options in our coastal city. Rudee’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar, Rockafeller’s, and Big Sam’s all overlook the inlet and each offer a unique take on fresh seafood pulled straight from the Chesapeake Bay, like Big Sam’s Hot Blue Crab Dip or Rudee’s Fresh Catch of the Day served-up Chesapeake Style, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, Smithfield ham, and Bearnaise Sauce.
Virginia Beach is also home to the mouthwatering blue crab, a local staple that can’t be topped – except, of course, with a healthy pour of melted butter. Margie & Rays Crabhouse, in the Sandbridge District, makes local blue crab their business – serving out fresh, Chesapeake Bay crab cakes and a she-crab soup that is frequently voted as the best in the region at our Annual She-Crab Soup Festival. As the She-Crab Soup Capital of the World, that’s quite an accomplishment in Virginia Beach!
As if the full bounty of the sea and the Bay weren’t enough, there are also our oysters – beautifully harvested Lynnhaven oysters. Once coveted around the world and served to presidents and royalty for their size, saltiness and gentle zing, these delicious little bivalves are being harvested in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, an offshoot of the Chesapeake Bay. Captain John Smith himself described the bounty of the area when he and his shipmates spent three days in Virginia Beach before moving inland to establish Jamestown in 1607, surviving primarily off fish, oysters and turtles – an experience he described in his logs: “Oysters lay as thick as stones,” with the Bay and rivers containing more sturgeon than could be devoured by dog or man.”
Local ostreophage and oyster farmer extraordinaire, Chris Ludford, owner of Pleasure House Oysters and former Va Beach firefighter, is cultivating the Lynnhaven oyster and doing his part to bring them back to their days of royalty. The amount of care and attention that each individual oyster gets shines through in its complex and divine flavor profile. From seed to plate, this process takes two years, and Chris is there every step of the way to nurture their growth and to make sure he is producing the best oysters he possibly can. Visitors can hop aboard a tour of Ludford’s farm and even taste the oysters plucked straight from the water in the cooler months when the water is cold enough to ensure safe eating.
In the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay, seafood is king. Plan a trip to Virginia Beach and see for yourself!