Everything you need to know about eating at Orzo

Mediterranean restaurant halfway between the Corner and the Downtown Mall is the next place to take your parents

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The “Plain and Simple” Spaghetti Pomodoro is on Orzo's pasta menu. 

Marlena Becker | Cavalier Daily

Every student at the University knows that the food scene in Charlottesville cannot be beat, but don’t let the fear of better options paralyze you into taking your parents to The Virginian for the third time. 

Location

Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar is located on West Main Street, exactly between the Corner and the Downtown Mall, so it’s in an ideal spot for students. There is a huge parking lot, which means you can escape all of the stress of trying to find parking downtown and save the money you would spend in a parking garage. Orzo shares a building with Feast! and Albemarle Baking Company, two Charlottesville staples that you should definitely visit before you sit down for dinner. 

Seating

Orzo recently expanded so there is ample seating inside, and they also have a beautiful patio in front of the restaurant. The outdoor seating is isolated by a small wall and lots plants, giving the tables a quaint feeling despite the fact that you are facing the road. Because of all of the space inside, Orzo is a great place to bring a large group of people without taking up the entire restaurant. 

They take reservations!

Many of the most popular Charlottesville restaurants — like Tavola and Lampo — don’t take reservations, forcing you to choose between eating dinner at 4 p.m. on a Monday or waiting 90 minutes for a table for two. As long as you make a reservation, you can eat at Orzo at 7 p.m. on a Friday without stress. 

The drinks 

Orzo has an extensive drink menu, with lots of fun and unique options. The of-age members of our party enjoyed the Limoncello Basil Drop made with Blue Ridge Vodka, House Limoncello, lemon and basil — the lemon and basil make this the perfect summer drink and we were all very impressed by the homemade limoncello. They also have an extensive wine list and some great mocktail options. I recommend the Lavender Lemonade. 

The appetizers

We came at dinner time and ordered the Crispy Mushroom Arancini, the Seared Greek Halloumi Cheese and the Shaved Summer Squash Salad appetizers for the table for $12 and $11 respectively. I had never heard of arancini before, but they are essentially fried risotto balls, and by far my favorite thing we ordered at Orzo. Crispy on the outside, cheesy on the inside, with just a subtle hint of mushroom, I truly cannot think of anything someone could dislike about this. 

The salad was light and refreshing — I usually find squash in salads to be too greasy and sweet, but because this was shaved and dressed well, I had no issues. The Halloumi was also excellent. It reminded me of a fancier feta and went perfectly with the baguette and tomato. 

The pasta

As a huge carb fanatic, I order pasta at restaurants a lot, and Orzo’s truly stands a step above the rest. I shared the “Plain and Simple” Spaghetti Pomodoro and the Risotto “Caprese” with my sister and honestly ate the majority of both with no regrets. The pomodoro was $19 and the caprese was $23. Truth be told, if you are looking for something exciting and rare, the pomodoro is not for you — it is essentially pasta with tomato sauce. 

But — and this is a big but — if you want a delicious pasta dish made with quality ingredients, then please order the pomodoro! The spaghetti was perfectly cooked and the red pepper added a little kick to the sauce that made it just spicy enough to catch your attention. 

The risotto was also delicious, albeit a little heavier than the pomodoro. I had never had a risotto with a tomato sauce base and was pleasantly surprised. The fresh mozzerella was melted perfectly and the basil gave it a fresh touch. It was also very different from the risotto in the arancini appetizer, so I had no problem gorging myself on both.  

The service

Our waiter was also wonderful. I have written before about how I don’t like waiters who feel the need to share their whole life story before we get our drinks, and everyone at Orzo seemed to understand that. Our server was very friendly and approachable. We did share a little small talk, but he also knew when to leave us alone with the food. The food comes out on the slow side, but it is 100 percent worth it. 

Orzo also gives you unbelievably good free bread and hummus while you wait. As a vegetarian, I regularly consume ungodly amounts of hummus, and Orzo’s truly puts Sabra to shame. The bread was warm and fresh. I genuinely would pay big money for these complimentary items — but you don’t even have to.

The music

No, I am not recommending you choose a restaurant based on the music they play, but the playlist Orzo used really did make our meal more enjoyable. I knew some of the songs, my parents knew some of the songs and there were a few that we all knew. Win, win, win! 

Orzo is, unfortunately, on the expensive side with their cheapest dish being $9 and their most expensive being $28 at dinner time. In conclusion, send this article to your parents, tell them to make a reservation for family weekend and make sure they bring their credit cards. 

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