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Southwestern dinner and an eclectic vibe meet at Continental Divide

The restaurant has curated a fun, quirky atmosphere to enhance their cuisine

<p>The authentic southwestern dishes deliver big flavors, and the quirky atmosphere offers a relaxed dining experience. &nbsp;</p>

The authentic southwestern dishes deliver big flavors, and the quirky atmosphere offers a relaxed dining experience.  

Continental Divide has been a fixture of the Charlottesville dining scene since 1994 with their southwestern cuisine and quirky charm. The restaurant offers a loud, bustling atmosphere and food that makes you never want to leave. With big portions, reasonable prices and its accessible location — less than a mile away from central Grounds — the casual eatery is the perfect place for dinner with friends. 

Continental Divide is on West Main St., just across from the Charlottesville Amtrak station — about a 20-minute walk from central Grounds. They are open Sunday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and are closed Saturdays. The restaurant doesn't accept reservations, so I suggest arriving early to guarantee a table. My friend and I went on a Tuesday night around 7 p.m. and only waited 10 minutes, but that time can increase exponentially on their busier nights.

Outside of the restaurant, we were greeted by a neon green sign in the window telling us to “get in here!” We did, and inside, we were instantly hit with a wave of chatter — patrons at the bar conversed with the bartenders, and dinner parties laughed in booths under ambient lighting. The eclectic decorations had a southwestern flair, with art-deco inspirations like the copper light fixtures and signature touches like the yellow lizard logo plastered on their merchandise. On the wall behind the bar, there was a t-shirt that brandished their slogan “too small, too noisy, too crowded, too bad” amongst liquor bottles and lizard sculptures.

The restaurant’s sassy attitude is evident on the menu. Big letters at the foot of the menu spell out “unruly children will be fed to the cooks.” We ordered on our best behavior, saying “please” and “thank you” to avoid any trouble.

We started with their signature nachos for $11.95. We were greeted with a mountain of hand-cut, salted chips covered in a blend of melted jack and cheddar cheese. The chefs managed to get nearly every chip doused with cheese, which is a feat I have never been able to achieve when making nachos myself. The soft black beans and crunch of the lettuce provided the perfect blend of texture. The kick of the jalapeños was balanced by fresh tomatoes bursting with sweet juice. The only element of the nachos that I did not adore was the guacamole, which had a strong undertone of onions and was overly mashed.

The spinach and mushroom enchiladas were my choice of entree, and they did not disappoint. The creamy filling was piping hot — I watched the cook plate it through the serving slot, and curls of steam erupted from the dish the moment I cut into it. The creamed spinach and smoked gouda melted together, and the mushroom added a dimension of umami. These flavors were balanced by a sweet tomato and corn salsa and bites of the chipotle sauce. The rice and beans on the side were nothing to write home about, but the serving of enchilada was so big, I barely even got to taste them. The dish was priced appropriately at $13.95 with a sizable portion and divine taste.

The other entree we tried was the bean and cheese burrito, which was filled with black beans, peppers, portabellas and a monterey-cheddar cheese. The burrito was not the type that you pick up — I would definitely suggest tackling it with a fork, knife and multiple napkins. The peppers and chipotle sauce brought an acidity and depth to an otherwise creamy dish, all wrapped in a flour tortilla toasted to a perfect crisp.

While the burrito was satisfying, the real star of the show was the pumpkin muffin that came on the side. Nutmeg and cinnamon bled through the muffin, and each bite had a slight crunch from the walnuts that were dispersed throughout. While I would pay ungodly amounts for the muffin alone, the whole dish is priced affordably at $12.95.

We ended our meal with the adobe pie from the rotating desserts list on their specials menu. The pie layered coffee and vanilla ice creams from local creameries on an Oreo crust, drizzled with hot fudge. The many sugary components made the dessert overwhelmingly sweet. However, I enjoyed the occasional nuttiness from the walnuts in the ice cream. Each piece of the dish was delicious, but I would not have paired them together in a dessert without incorporating some tang to mute the sweetness. For $7.50, I don’t know if I would order again.

If you’re looking for a unique and well-curated dining experience, Continental Divide is the place for you. The authentic southwestern dishes deliver big flavors, and the quirky atmosphere offers a relaxed dining experience. The dishes are not extraordinarily expensive — especially given the large portions — and are absolutely worth it for a fun dinner date or a night out with pals.


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