7 Cheap Eats Just a Short Walk Away (From the Rotunda)

August 6, 2023 By Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu

Editor’s note: As UVA welcomes the Class of 2027, we thought we’d again share this insider’s guide to grub near Grounds. All prices and restaurant hours were accurate as of April.

For the newly admitted members of the University of Virginia’s Class of 2027, you’ve done the hard part. Congrats! Now comes the fun part: learning about this place you will soon call home for the years ahead.

This probably means researching the locations of dorms, academic buildings and dining halls, where first-year students get meals with the swipe of a card. But it’s sometimes nice to get off Grounds and explore the local businesses that make Charlottesville special. 

As a third-year student, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about the food scene around UVA. Like most college students, I’m always looking for places with good, affordable food within walking distance of Grounds.

Here are a few picks for cheap, walkable eats within a mile of the Rotunda, with a bill of around 10 bucks each, or less.

Let’s dig in! 

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Marco and Luca

This Charlottesville classic, named after the owners’ children, has three locations in the area, including one on Elliewood Avenue, a few hundred feet from the Rotunda. 

The menu options are limited, for good reason: Marco and Luca is good at what it does. The main attraction is the dumplings, with pork or veggie options served over their signature soy sauce. Other menu items include cold noodles, steamed hot buns, soups and curry. 

My coworkers and I ordered pork dumplings paired with sesame noodles. The dumplings were small, but had the perfect combination of crunch on the outside and tenderness inside without being too oily. 

The cold sesame noodles were my favorite part of this stop. The rich peanut sauce combined with the freshness of the cucumbers is as refreshing as it is tasty. With the dumplings priced at $5.25, you can get a side of cold noodles for a little under $11. 

Location: 107 Elliewood Ave. 

Hours: Weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 

Distance from Rotunda: 0.3 miles

Total spent: $11.45 

cold noodles and six pork dumplings on a table
At Marco and Luca, my co-worker Abiola Ogunkoya and I ordered the cold noodles and six pork dumplings. We loved how crispy the dumplings were and how creamy the peanut sauce was.

Take It Away 

My next recommendation takes us right next door on Elliewood. Take It Away’s motto is “food equals care,” and for college students who miss the comfort of their home kitchen, a little extra care is always welcome.

The menu offers traditional sandwich selections, but also features local favorites like the Wertland Italian, the Polo Picnic Special and the Tommy Pastrami, the personal pick of founder Tom Bowe.

I enjoyed indulging in a BLT sandwich on freshly baked white bread with a bag of dill pickle chips to round out my meal for $8.84.

For just $6.25, my sandwich served as the perfect dipping vessel for Take It Away’s signature house sauce, a combination of mayonnaise, herbs and spices. I recommend getting a cup of the special sauce on the side, which allows the sandwich to be dunked for maximum deliciousness. 

Location: 115 Elliewood Ave. (with a second location at the Dairy Market, 946 Grady Ave.)

Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily 

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.3 miles 

Total spent: $8.84 

Dill pickle chips and a hearty BLT on a table
The combination of dill pickle chips, a hearty BLT and a side of Take It Away’s house sauce made for a filling meal.

Mel’s Cafe

Located on West Main Street, Mel’s Café cooks up comforting Southern soul food that’s sure to hit the spot. The staff members are warm and friendly, making you feel at home. 

Melvin Eugene Walker opened the cafe in 1984. After closing for a few years, Walker reopened the restaurant in 1995 and has been a chef ever since. 

Mel’s Cafe is protected by the West Main Street Architectural Design Control District, an initiative by the Charlottesville City Council to preserve developments with cultural and architectural significance. 

Mel’s menu contains seemingly limitless options, all under $10, including all-day breakfast or dinner platters, sub sandwiches, barbecue and more. Be sure to try the grilled donuts for dessert! 

I ordered a classic 5-ounce cheeseburger and fries with a lemonade. The burger was simple, delicious and comforting. The best part: My total expenditure was just under $12. 

Location: 719 W. Main St. 

Hours: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.8 miles 

Total spent: $11.42

 Cheeseburger and fries on a table
Everything on the Mel’s Café menu is under $10, including the cheeseburger and fries.

Grit Coffee 

Grit Coffee is a staple for local coffee enthusiasts and sleep-deprived UVA students. Located on Elliewood Avenue, this spot is just a six-minute walk from the Rotunda – perfect for an off-Grounds treat before heading to class. 

Grit Coffee opened its location near the University in 2008 and since has expanded to seven locations throughout Virginia. 

Grit Coffee has partnerships with several international, small-batch coffee roasting companies, allowing customers to purchase beans by the bag. Grit also has its own beans available for purchase, including the Side Hustle blend used for most espresso drinks. 

An order at Grit is not complete without a pastry, which Grit sources from Charlottesville’s Paradox Pastry. Options include lemon poppyseed scones, cookies and croissants. 

I ordered a hot vanilla latte and a snickerdoodle cookie, a sweet start to my busy school day. The light layer of foam on the top of my latte was heavenly and the snickerdoodle cookie was the perfect balance between crunchy and chewy, just the way I like it. 

With two levels of indoor seating and several tables outside, Grit is perfect for completing homework or catching up with friends. 

Location: 19 Elliewood Ave. 

Hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.3 miles 

Total spent: $9.32 

Hot vanilla latte and a snickerdoodle cookie on a table
For under $10 at Grit Coffee, I indulged in a hot vanilla latte and a snickerdoodle cookie.

Blue Moon Diner 

Blue Moon Diner has the funkiest interior on our list. Located on West Main Street, this stop is less than a 20-minute walk from the Rotunda. 

It was once known as The Waffle Shop before later changing names and passing through many hands before the current owners, Laura Galgano and Rice Hall, purchased the space in 2006 to “help create stronger connections through food and music and service to each other,” according to their website. 

The restaurant is decorated with vintage posters, eccentric stickers and vinyl records packed along the windowsills. I could spend hours admiring the decor and thumbing through their records. 

For breakfast, you can order anything from breakfast burritos to shakshuka, and for lunch, the menu consists of burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. 

I got an order of waffles and a cup of coffee. The pancakes were crisp and buttery on the outside, yet fluffy inside, perfectly soaking up the syrup for an ideal bite. Coffee lovers, be advised: Blue Moon Diner’s bottomless coffee option for $2 will keep you caffeinated during your meal and long after.  

Location: 606 W. Main St. 

Hours: 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Monday and Friday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday 

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.9 miles 

Total spent: $11.18

Waffle on a table
My waffle at Blue Moon Diner was buttery and crisp on the outside and was the perfect start to my morning.

The Spot 

The Spot, founded in 1953, was a product of the growing student population at the University during a time when students’ food options were limited. Almost 70 years after opening, the Spot still serves students at all hours of the day and into the early morning hours. 

I ordered the infamous Gus Burger, which has been a menu mainstay since the late ’50s and, according to The Spot’s website, has since “become part of UVA lore.” The burger was a tribute to Dr. Gus Egor, a customer of The Spot who ordered a cheeseburger with a fried egg on it every day.

In the best way possible, the Gus Burger is the heaviest meal in this roundup. For $8 and the convenience of the location and hours of operation, I can see why the Gus Burger is a favorite among students looking to fulfill a late-night craving. 

Location: 1407 University Ave. 

Hours: 8 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.3 miles 

Total spent: $8.94

Person holding a cheeseburger
At The Spot, I ordered the legendary Gus Burger with a double patty. It was as greasy and delicious as I imagined.
A New Focus To Fight Macular Degeneration, to be great and good in all we do
A New Focus To Fight Macular Degeneration, to be great and good in all we do

Bodo’s Bagels

This list would not be complete without Bodo’s Bagels. If you haven’t yet heard of Bodo’s, founded by Brian Fox in 1988, prepare to be changed for the better. 

Customers can choose between 10 bagel options and customize orders with a seemingly endless selection of fixings.

My wonderful roommate, Gabriela, introduced me to a life-changing Bodo’s combination last year that has been my go-to ever since: an “everything” bagel with egg, cheddar and avocado (if I’m willing to splurge on the extra dollar). It’s simple, yet satisfying, and keeps me full for hours. 

Time and time again, I have been able to count on Bodo’s for friendly employees, prompt service and delectable bagels. Out of all the local grub I’ve eaten in Charlottesville, I will sincerely miss Bodo’s the most after I graduate.

Location: 1609 University Ave. (with locations just outside the one-mile radius at 1418 Emmet St. and 505 Preston Ave.)

Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily

Distance from the Rotunda: 0.2 miles

Total spent: $6.34

Bagel, egg, cheddar and avocado on display
At Bodo’s Bagels, I will never stray away from my usual order of an everything bagel, egg, cheddar and avocado.

Media Contact

Renee Grutzik

University News Associate Office of University Communications