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Dish: Richmonders getting a taste of Charlottesville

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For 20 years, Continental Divide has been a mainstay for students in Charlottesville, and now Richmonders can get a taste of the “Southwestern comfort food” that’s been packing in U.Va. folks for years.

In fact, Richmond Continental Divide co-owner Chas Webster said Richmond’s population of U.Va. alumni was one of the reasons they selected RVA for their second location.

Continental Divide opened Tuesday at 2501 W. Main St. in the Fan District, in the former space of Mint Gastropub (which closed in March). Continental Divide is open nightly for dinner and weekday happy hour.

Like its Charlottesville location, Continental Divide in Richmond serves an eclectic menu of nachos, fajitas, burritos and tacos. Think of it as traditional Southwestern fare, just elevated. Highlights from the menu include the signature “Red Hot Blues” nachos with hand-cut blue corn chips and goat cheese ($6.95); a tuna tostada with sushi-grade tuna and puréed black beans ($12.50); and a Thai chicken burrito ($10.50).

The restaurant also offers two signature sauces: the “Wait-A-Minute,” a sweet and hot mango-habanero blend; and the “Danger,” a spicy habanero sauce. Warning, though, the hot sauce labeled “Danger” isn’t joking.

The Continental Divide team did some major renovations in the former Mint space, including exposing a brick wall, adding booths and adding accordion windows to one exterior wall.

Continental Divide isn’t the only Charlottesville transplant to open in Richmond recently; Bella’s Restaurant opened its second location last weekend in Short Pump at 11408 W. Broad St., in the same shopping center as Peter Chang China Café.

The restaurant is “casual, family-style, Roman Italian dining” with affordable pastas and entrées, with everything priced for sharing in portions for two or four ($19-$25 and $29-$48).

Bella’s Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily with weekday happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m.

Charlottesville residents will soon get their own taste of Richmond.

Hamooda Shami, owner of New York Deli, Don’t Look Back and Portrait House restaurants in Carytown, just signed a lease on the downtown mall in Charlottesville, at 223 W. Main St., in the former El Puerto’s.

This will be the second Richmond-to-Charlottesville transplant. Pasture opened a second location in The Shops at Stonefield in Charlottesville slightly more than a year ago.

Shami said he came across the restaurant while staying in Charlottesville recently and saw potential in the space. He introduced himself to El Puerto’s owner and within a week he’d struck up a deal to buy the restaurant.

Shami says he’s still working out the details on the name and concept, but he’s partnering with Don’t Look Back co-owner Nathaniel Gutierrez on the Charlottesville spot and it likely will be a version of the pair’s popular Carytown taco shop.

Renovations should begin soon with an expected opening date of October 2014.

And it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Shami.

Next week will be the last week for Portrait House (2907 W. Cary St.) as we know it.

Shami opened the Carytown burger, pizza and craft beer bar in the former BlowToad location in April 2013 and said the food concept had been a challenge from the very beginning.

He snatched up the lease based on location (it’s across from New York Deli and down the block from Don’t Look Back), and decided to do pizza because the restaurant came with a custom-built, coal-fired pizza oven.

He added burgers to the menu after Mellow Mushroom’s announcement that it was opening down the block, but from day one, beer was the main draw for customers.

With 24 taps, two pour sizes, beer flights and a killer happy hour ($4 pints weekdays until 7 p.m.), customers loved the beer selection, but the food never seemed to sell well (or connect with customers).

So on July 14, Portrait House will introduce a whole new menu — and food concept.

The restaurant is partnering with Ethiopian spot Nile, which is closing its Laurel Street spot the day before. The beer and happy hour will still be Portrait House. The restaurant name will still be Portrait House. The menu will be entirely Ethiopian by Nile.

Shami said a friend connected him with the owners of Nile and they fleshed out a short-term agreement to see how this concept connects with regulars and potential new customers.

Finally, there was some sad news for ice cream lovers and the Giavos family on Monday.

Sweet 95 ice cream shop at 3336 N. Boulevard is closed due to a fire that broke out in the shop Monday afternoon. The building is now condemned; the fire was thought to be caused by an electrical issue. A reopening date hasn’t been released.

When she’s not covering restaurant news for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Karri Peifer is the editor of Richmond.com and the site’s senior food writer. Follow her on Twitter @KarriPeifer. Got a scoop for her? Email kpeifer@richmond.com.

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