With its unique location and semi-industrial yet retro vibes, Firefly delivers both great food and a fun experience. The menu features several American and fusion selections — I highly recommend giving their wonton nachos a try — but what really sets Firefly apart from all other restaurants I’ve visited is the wide selection of arcade games displayed toward the back half of their main dining room. Firefly is the place to go if you’re looking for a unique, retro spot to not only enjoy a classic American quality meal, but also bond with your friends.
Located just a 10-minute drive from Central Grounds — only a few minutes past the Downtown Mall — Firefly is right on the corner of East Market Street and Meade Avenue. The restaurant is mostly open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days of the week, but closed on Monday. Full hours can be found at the bottom of their website, and note that they recommend making a reservation.
Founder Mark Weber created Firefly following his cancer diagnosis in 2014. His dream of creating a restaurant that combines delicious food, craft beer and games has come to life in Firefly. Firefly’s menu reflects a passion for seasonal, local ingredients with a variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.
What I think makes Firefly unique is its interactive and entertaining setting. With free Wi-Fi and a wide selection of games — skeeball, pinball, arcade and board games — Firefly prides itself on its family-friendly atmosphere. Dogs are welcome in their outdoor seating area, and they offer bicycle parking as well. One cool fact I found out about the restaurant is that it is certified by C’ville Pride as a safe space where members of the LGBTQ+ community are all welcome.
The entertainment isn’t solely for kids, though. I brought my boyfriend along for lunch and he very much enjoyed Firefly’s arcade games — his favorite being Godzilla pinball. All of Firefly’s arcade games require quarters to play and they have an on-site change machine and ATM available. While the food came out rather quickly, arcade games are a great way for anyone to stay occupied while waiting for your order to arrive at the table.
We ordered the $12 chicken wonton nachos starter and it was more than enough food for two people — honestly enough to share among a party of three or four people. I loved this interesting take on classic nachos. The wontons were ultra crispy and added much more value to the nachos than traditional tortilla chips. The shining star of this starter was certainly the pulled chicken, which had the perfect amount of smoky flavor. The sriracha was well balanced with the fresh cabbage and the soy glaze really enhanced the Asian-inspired flavors of this dish.
For my main dish, I ordered the Chicken Philly sandwich with tater tots as my side. I was rather full from the starter, so I opted to bring half of this sandwich home to eat the next day — and it reheated beautifully. This sandwich is well worth the $15 cost. The peppers and onions worked in great harmony with the chicken and cheese to construct a wonderful symphony of flavors. The sandwich had an even spattering of maple honey mustard sauce that added some much appreciated sweetness.
The tater tots were a perfect side for this sandwich. They were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. When I asked our server about the tots, she revealed their secret to making them taste so good was to fry them in 100 percent non-GMO sunflower oil instead of baking them. Paired with a classic Shirley Temple, this meal was simply incredible.
My boyfriend ordered a Reuben which was the daily special — I wish it was part of their everyday menu. I am a major Reuben fan and this was by far the best Reuben I’ve had in a long time — it rivals the Reuben from the Nook, which is top-tier in my book as well. What makes this Reuben stand out is the perfection of the proportion between meat and sauerkraut.
Oftentimes, I find that Reubens are overstuffed and hard to finish but that was not the case for Firefly’s sandwich. Reasonably priced at $15, this sandwich is satisfying without going over the top. I have my fingers crossed this is on the specials menu the next time I visit Firefly because I can not wait to order it again.
In addition to the vast arcade selection, Firefly also hosts a trivia night called “Geeks Who Drink” every Tuesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. They recommend making a reservation since it is very popular. They also host a Bingo night every Wednesday at 6 p.m. I found that Firefly is a great place to engage with others as part of the Charlottesville community outside of the University. I’m already planning to attend a few Bingo nights this semester as a fun self-care activity. I’d definitely recommend paying the restaurant a visit with friends to eat, bond and play together.
Overall, I had a lovely time at Firefly exploring all the fun games they have to offer as well as enjoying their delicious food. Reasonably priced with friendly wait staff and a welcoming retro atmosphere — I will certainly be back with friends and family in the near future.