“The calming movement of the sea along with the restless ocean breeze gently caresses me creating a soothing trance which lulls me to a place of peace.”–M. L. Borges
It had been one year since I had last seen the ocean and its companion shoreline. Last March, (2021) when John, my husband, and I last visited the beach, it was for the Shamrock Marathon held annually at Virginia Beach. However, it was under COVID restrictions with limited dining and hotel options. Regardless, the creators and sponsors of the Shamrock Marathon found a way to create a safe and well-organized weekend getaway!
Flashforward one year, and we decided to return. With COVID restrictions greatly reduced, there was more hotel and restaurant availability. On the downside, overall prices were understandably higher to cover the past year’s losses. Nonetheless, this did not seem to deter visitors for the 50th anniversary Shamrock Marathon weekend event as hotels were sold out throughout the town. (I would later find out that for many hotels, this had less to do with room availability and more to do with lack of enough available support staff.) Furthermore, with a weather forecast full of ample sunshine, light breezes, and temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s, what was not to love?
This year, John and I stayed at Holiday Inn & Suites North Beach. Ideally situated alongside the north end of the VB boardwalk. We were within walking distance to numerous dining choices as well as the King Neptune statue, the heart of the Shamrock events. The staff of this hotel was friendly and accommodating, and it was located next to the starting line for the marathon and half-marathon! When you combine that with the ability to fall asleep listening to the waves gently lapping the shore, we are sure to return here on future trips.
One dining spot for which we were eager to return was the infamous Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House! This iconic VB gem serves up breakfast and lunch, and visitors need to be ready to wait during peak hours. No matter, it is worth the wait! The wait staff is attentive, friendly, and since this was our second year to visit, we couldn’t help but take note that much of the wait staff was the same–a sure sign that this establishment is doing something right.
Looking over the menu at Pocahontas Pancakes is like reading a novella; they have so many choices! I am in love with their gluten-free waffles since I cannot get those anywhere in the local Tri-state area. Plus, they offer a wide array of scrumptious toppings. The fresh fruit bowl is actually fresh–not one of those thawed frozen fruit cups with underripe fruit, devoid of any taste. John loves their sandwiches, biscuits, and eggs, and we both feast on their ample portions. Oh, did I tell you about their signature, locally roasted coffee?? Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, this place, well, takes the cake! What can I say? John and I both LOVE this restaurant and cannot recommend it enough!
Another local VB gem, we discovered last year, is Side Street Cantina. This restaurant, located at the southern end of VB, features Peruvian-influenced Mexican fare, served up in a colorful atmosphere, filled with bold and lively artwork. Their housemade chips and salsa are fresh, crisp, and tasty. Their menu offers a wide variety of signature dishes and cocktails for those so-inclined. John ordered Arroz Con Pollo, and I ordered Vegetarian Fajitas. Both meals were full of deliciousness! While dining at Side Street, the manager, Alicia Mummert, recommended that we go visit her best friend, Julie, the manager at Mannino’s Italian Bistro for dinner one night.
Therefore, John and I decided to head to Mannino’s for our Friday night dinner–a perfect location for carb-loading before I ran my own virtual half-marathon on Saturday. Entering this bistro felt warm, welcoming, and the aromas were mouth-watering. Our server was none other than Julie’s daughter, Abigail (Abbi) and her friend, Katie. Along with Julie, these ladies were engaging, made excellent recommendations with regards to food and wine, and provided exceptional service. The gluten free choices were as wide and varied as I have experienced in an Italian restaurant, and there were even a few gluten free dessert options!
Ultimately, John chose Vitello Parmigiana with fresh melted mozzarella on top, and I savored every bite of the gluten free variation of Penne Semplice without sausage. Additionally, I ordered their gluten free truffles to go. (Fortunately, our room had a mini-fridge, and I was able to save a couple of those luscious truffles to take home!) I have to say this meal fully fueled my 13.1 mile run the following morning; and best of all, NO digestive issues–which can sometimes be a real thing with some foods and long runs. Mannino’s is another establishment John and I would highly recommend for those who love Italian!
Saturday night, after a half-marathon run, I was ready for some full-on not-so-healthy grub. We decided to give Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant a try. This eatery offers breakfast, lunch and dinner! What’s more? It makes the bold claim to have the BEST gluten-free menu in Virginia Beach! Sounded like the perfect place for us to check out! Additionally, they also boast over 42 drafts and crafts, are certified Green Virginia, have a dog-friendly patio, and offer free parking for patrons. Their menus were wide, varied, and while I could have easily eaten on the more healthy side, I chose to indulge on a plate of Nachos Supreme sans chili and served up with black beans instead. It was not my usual plant forward meal, but I did enjoy it with a fresh green salad! (Hey, it’s all about balance–it’s not like I normally eat this way.) Meanwhile, John splurged on Lobster Mac and Cheese. Abbey Road had an upbeat and energetic vibe, it offered attentive service, and a uniquely diverse menu, including vegan and gluten-free options! This is one place John and I will visit again, and we would also recommend it to those traveling in the Virginia Beach area!
On a side note of interest, John and I visited Sandbridge Beach, one afternoon, and found that it reminded us somewhat of the Outer Banks of NC, full of ample vacation homes, both of new construction as well as traditional beach bungalows. Located south of VB, it struck us as a more quiet area in which to stay, especially for those larger family/friend gatherings in which you are more than happy to complete your own cooking, relax, and soak in nothing but sand, shoreline, and ocean vibes!
Regardless of which type of vacation you prefer, the VB area offers visitors plenty of options–from low-key to highly engaged and all choices in between. The Shamrock Marathon weekend especially offers a family-friendly atmosphere, but is also chock of full options for adults. And, if you love new food adventures, as John and I do, rest assured, Virginia Beach has plenty to offer. Perhaps, it is true, Virginia is for lovers–lovers of fun, beach, sun, water, and, of course, food–glorious food!