Created in 1778 and named after Lexington MA (where the first shot was fired in the American Revolution), the town of around 7,500 people is home to Washington & Lee University (founded in 1749) and the Virginia Military Institute (1839).
The Rockbridge County area is also known for 50 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the burial sites of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and the farm upon which Cyrus McCormick invented the horse-drawn mechanical reaper.
But the restaurants in Lexington VA offer a great balance between upscale foodie-friendly fare and budget-friendly options that appeal to the town’s nearly 4,000 college students.
The best Lexington VA restaurants tap into the rich abundance of farm-to-table ingredients grown nearby, which include grits and grains from historic Wade’s Mill in Raphine, meats from Seven Hills Farm in Lynchburg, and Virginia maple syrup from Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard.
Read on for our guide to the best restaurants in Lexington VA for foodies, which also includes popular places in nearby Rockbridge County towns such as Natural Bridge and Steeles Tavern.
Best Restaurants in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA Guide
- The Pink Cadillac Diner (’50s-style diner)
- Haywood’s (Fine Dining)
- Bistro On Main (American)
- Pure Eats (Donuts, Burgers & Beer)
- Southern Inn (Southern)
- Steeles Tavern Manor (Breakfast)
- Sweet Treats Bakery (Baked Goods/Sandwiches)
1. The Pink Cadillac Diner (’50s-style diner)
4743 South Lee Highway, Natural Bridge • 540-291-2378 • $
If you visit Lexington VA, taking a day-trip to the nearby tourist town of Natural Bridge is an absolute must.
In one adventure-filled day, you can soak in the stunning beauty of Natural Bridge State Park, see geological wonders in the Caverns at Natural Bridge, talk to the animals at Virginia Safari Park, and marvel at the madness of Dinosaur Kingdom II.
The unabashedly nostalgic Pink Cadillac Diner complements this unusual array of attractions perfectly, offering an immersion in colorful ’50s culture that looks like a scene out of Happy Days.
Classic movie posters, album covers, retro signs, and more décor covers most every inch of the walls, while Elvis, Buddy Holly, and other mid-20th century icons rock the jukebox.
The menu is mostly classic “greasy spoon” fare, with hamburgers (including one vegan option), “Hound Dogs” (including Chicago-style), and “All Shook Up” Shakes among the most popular items.
All are served with fries, but we recommend paying the extra $1 to upgrade to Onion Rings or Sweet Potato Fries.
The double-decker Elvis Burger (which includes cheese and special sauce) is delicious.
But don’t miss their hearty Cadillac Platters, such as Country Fried Steak, “It’s Our Recipe” Meatloaf, and Battered Fish-n-Chips, each of which comes with two sides and fresh baked yeast rolls.
2. Haywood’s Piano Bar & Grill (Fine Dining)
2 North Main Street, Lexington • 540-463-2508 • $$$$
Located in Downtown Lexington across the street from The Georges Inn (of which the restaurant is part), Haywood’s Piano Bar & Grill offers chef-driven cuisine in a casual, but swanky atmosphere.
A great place for a romantic dinner in Lexington, Haywood’s offers live music (mostly pop/jazz standards) nightly, as well as a solid selection of beers (including several from local breweries), craft cocktails, and wines.
Executive Chef Jason Wilkins’ menu is relatively small, with just four appetizers and two salads to choose from. But everything we tried was sublime, combining fresh local ingredients with a dramatic flair for presentation.
Case in point: The Filet Mignon from Seven Hills Farm, which was cooked perfectly, topped with Maître d’ Butter, and served with Air-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Beetroot Ketchup, Chive Oil & Toasted Seeds.
We also loved the Scallops, which were served with Turnips, Horseradish, and Curry Oil. The scallops were huge and tantalizingly tender, with the puréed turnips and horseradish providing just the right amount of seasoning.
All in all, this was one of our favorite meals we’ve had in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains region.
3. Bistro on Main (American)
8 N Main St, Lexington • 540-464-4888 • $$$
Our trip happened to coincide with VMI’s Parents’ Weekend, and almost every one of the restaurants in Lexington VA we visited was bustling with cadets and their families.
So it’s a testament to the staff of Bistro On Main that they made us feel like a priority, even though we had no reservation and showed up right before a massive Friday night dinner rush.
The bartender even gave us some tips on the town while we waited for our food.
Their diverse appetizers range from lightly fried Calamari and Vegetable Spring Rolls with a scallion-soy dipping sauce to a delightfully delicate Mushroom Bruschetta with a creamy white wine sauce so good, we ordered extra bread to dip in it.
Their entrees are more classic Southern fare, including Shrimp & Grits (with that same white wine sauce), Gumbo (with andouille sausage, chicken, and shrimp), and Grilled Salmon (with a maple-Dijon glaze and sweet mashed potatoes).
Coming on the heels of our afternoon carriage tour of historic Lexington, it was a great place for an intimate date night.
4. Pure Eats (Donuts, Burgers & Beer)
107 N Main Street, Lexington • 540-462-6000 • $
One of the most popular places to eat in Lexington VA (in part due to its close proximity to both colleges), Pure Eats is best known as a breakfast and lunch spot.
The retro restaurant is located in the city’s oldest gas station: They even adapted the old Pure Gasoline logo to create their own inspired branding.
Their tagline (“Donuts • Burgers • Beer”) leaves little doubt what to expect from the menu, but they do what they do very well.
The gourmet donut flavors change daily, but always include cinnamon sugar and sensational seasonal flavors.
Other popular menu items include the Rockbridge Roll-Up (a burrito with eggs, cheese, salsa, and hashbrowns) and The Keydet (1/4-pound Buffalo Creek burger with a fried egg, drizzled in hot sauce, with two hashbrowns).
They also offer rich Homestead Creamery milkshakes and a solid selection of local craft beers and ciders.
Pro tip: If you’re visiting on a weekend, it’s best to get there early, as the line to order at the counter stretches out the door and inside seating options are limited. But they do have an expansive outdoor patio with lots of tables.
5. Southern Inn (Southern)
37 S Main St, Lexington • 540-463-3612 • $$$
The history of the S Main St building in which the “contemporary American cuisine” restaurant resides dates back to 1828, and the Southern Inn was opened by George Macheras in 1932.
It was his wife, Florence, who expanded the business after George’s death 6 years later, and it stayed in the family until it was sold to George and Sue Ann Huger in 1998.
The Hugers renovated both the building and menu to give it a more modern appeal, but the Southern Inn was nearly destroyed by lightning-induced fire in 2010.
Thankfully they rebuilt it, updating the interior décor and adding colorful modern art while also retaining the historical charm of the place.
Their menu offers a similar balance of tradition and innovation. There are classic Southern favorites such as Smoked Trout Dip and Pimento Cheese- Fried Green Tomatoes (served with red pepper jelly and micro greens), as well as international options such as Baja Fish Tacos (with a great chipotle-lime marinade) and Veggie Spring Rolls (with sweet & sour sauce).
For entrees, we chose their signature Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed local veggies, and their Grilled Pork Loin with apple salsa, fried kale, cider-braised greens, and mashed sweet potato.
Both were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and we agreed that the Southern Inn ranked among our favorite places to eat in Lexington.
Bread Pudding at Steeles Tavern Manor
6. Steeles Tavern Manor (Breakfast)
8400 N Lee Hwy, Steeles Tavern • 540-377-9494 • $$$
We’ve visited lots of different hotels and B&Bs on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC and VA, but we’ve never recommended staying at one primarily because of its food.
Owners Dana and Trey Tumminello source their ingredients directly from Shenandoah Valley farms and markets.
Eggs from Redbud Ridge Farm, bacon from Buffalo Creek Farm, grains from Wades Mill, Virginia maple syrup, and coffee beans from a roaster in Fredricksburg taste remarkably fresh.
But of course the ingredients are only as good as the chef who’s using them, and “Dana’s Kitchen” crafts delicious dishes that are practically bursting with flavor.
Their Bread Pudding with fresh berries was as decadent as any we’ve had in New Orleans, and their cheddar cheese grits and crispy bacon provided a welcome savory counterpoint to the sweetness.
B&B guests can also order other foodie-friendly packages, including a Crabtree Falls Picnic, Beerology 101 tasting of local brews, Charcuterie Boards, and a make-your-own Steak Dinner for cabin guests.
Steeles Tavern Manor has plenty of other reasons to recommend it, but I’d honestly stay there again just for the food!
7. Sweet Treats Bakery (Baked Goods & Sandwiches)
19 W Washington St, Lexington • 540-463-3611 • $
But as delightfully light and fluffy as those cute cupcakes were, this Downtown Lexington bakery has a lot more to offer than mere comely confections.
In addition to cupcakes, cookies, croissants, specialty cakes, wedding cakes, fruit pies, and flourless torts, Sweet Treats also features a full breakfast and lunch menu.
From bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches and custom omelets to French toast, pancakes, and waffles, their budget-friendly breakfast is one of the best deals in town (most options range from $4-$8.25).
The lunch menu includes soups, salads, and several burgers (including a spicy Texas Burger with BBQ sauce and jalapeños, and a great Mushroom & Swiss Burger with bacon).
There are also a dozen or so sandwiches, including hot and cold options (try the Hot Cuban or the Gyro) and several vegetarian-friendly choices (try the Portobello Melt). –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett