Table of Contents
Our critics selected these spots for fantastic food, beautiful spaces, and great dining experiences in Northern Virginia.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Top 10 Restaurants
Lovettsville / Modern American / $$$$
You’ve never had a better biscuit than the one served on the Lovettsville hill that’s known as Patowmack Farm. The warm pastry crumbles and flakes in buttery bliss, aided by the addition of soft, salty maple butter and homemade strawberry preserves.
The nine-course Progression Menu is a longtime standout at this farm and restaurant, made even better for the past two years by chef Vincent Badiee. But it’s not the only way to enjoy the intensely seasonal edible riches. This fall, Badiee debuted Ology, a casual Sunday supper that replaced his restaurant’s popular brunch.
At both, diners will find forward-thinking ideas backed by serious chops, both in the kitchen and among the dining area’s hyper-informed staffers. Badiee brings his training in Italy (as well as in the kitchens of big American names like José Andrés, Daniel Humm, and Daniel Boulud) to dishes like guanciale-topped risotto made mostly from ingredients grown in-house.
Presentation is just as important as sheer delectability, meaning the captivating surroundings aren’t the only thing to excite the eye. But ultimately, what brings diners back here for a world-class experience is as small as the flake of a biscuit.
See this: Natural beauty, including the hills, trees, and mighty Potomac, are all part of your dinner experience.
Eat this: What’s fresh on the farm is what’s on your plate — it’s key to be open-minded here.
When to dine here: You’re in search of an experience that begins with a country drive and ends with treats from the kitchen for the next day.
No. 2: 2941
Falls Church / Modern American / $$$$
There’s a certain glee to watching fish swim by as you’re eating their brethren. Not that the koi in the pond in front of 2941 need to worry. From hamachi to yellowfin, chef Bertrand Chemel sources only the finest fish for his stunning tasting menus.
It’s just one way in which the discourse between natural and manmade create an enticing interplay at this restaurant that’s located in an office building tucked away in a wooded area of West Falls Church. Though the tree-lined road in is romantic, the best of nature is firmly what’s on the plates.
On one recent five-course bill of fare, Chemel offered up his own highly creative takes on some of the most traditional of dishes. Salmon coulibiac is a Russian cousin to beef Wellington. But Chemel turned the old-fashioned, sometimes-stodgy puff pastry dish on its ear by deconstructing it. The layers of dough were still in flaky force, but it rested on top of lightly crisped king salmon. Oregon morel mushrooms soaked up the spinach cream that coats the plate and German beluga caviar popped with every bite.
Chemel’s feat on this and every plate is taking the best ingredients from around the world and making them taste even better than nature intended.
See this: A manmade koi pond, complete with a waterfall, competes for attention with the soaring ceilings and modern art inside.
Eat this: Foie gras tart, salmon coulibiac, baked Alaska
When to dine here: Your gastronome of a date will accept nothing less than premium ingredients, prepared with a creative edge.
No. 3: Blend 111
Vienna / Latin American / $$$$
Surprises abound at this Modern Latin spot tucked away in Vienna’s Restaurant Row. Intriguing dishes explode with unexpected flavors. Their presentation is art on a plate.
Who could resist the day’s special when it’s a whole grilled flounder with mussels, accompanied by coconut rice and a hint of shrimp Creole? Compelling as it sounds, the sizzling casserole dish still exceeds expectations. Beneath its bronzed, crackling, crisped skin, the fish is cooked to moist and flaky perfection. It’s surrounded by meaty mussels nestled in their shells, in a creamy Creole-inspired sauce. The marine dish is brought to earth with coconut rice dolloped with banana vinegar–flavored aioli.
On the regular menu, succulent brisket is another craveable composition, enhanced by a pineapple chutney, smoky black beans, avocado, and tenderly caramelized plantains. Adorable, shell-like blue cornmeal arepas add an earthy note. And for dessert? A guava topping adds balance to a super-creamy tres leches.
But some of the best surprises come on Monday night, when the fish-focused Pescao menu, with a featured raw bar, offers tapas-like options for a date night or a get-together with friends.
See this: A soothing, modern gray-toned space with a wall of live greenery and handsome wood plank accents that don’t distract from the art on the plate.
Eat this: Whole grilled flounder, shredded brisket, tres leches
When to dine here: Bring your foodie friends for an adventure in eating.
No. 4: Divan
McLean / Persian / $$$
Opened in December 2021, Divan in McLean will exceed your expectations at every turn. Enter the chic digs to discover exposed brick, massive industrial lighting fixtures, and expansive high ceilings. Your warm welcome continues with unparalleled service from Divan’s knowledgeable staff, supremely attentive to your needs and helpful with menu suggestions.
A glorious basket of fresh Iranian barbari bread appears tableside with honey-infused butter and olive tapenade. Use restraint not to eat three baskets of bread, which would be easy to do. It will be worth the wait.
The chef’s specialties include mahi shekampoor, a delightful trout stuffed with a succulent blend of green herbs, dried fruits, and pistachio and then baked with an almost addictive butter-saffron lime sauce. The feast includes garlic spinach and saffron basmati rice. It may be the best fish you have ever eaten.
Meat eaters should dive into mahechay. This braised lamb shank is expertly simmered in its own juices with saffron, turmeric, tomato, garlic, and lemon. No need for knives; the beautifully tender lamb falls off the bone.
Divan is divine — it may be the new kid on the block, but with its excellent cuisine and contemporary ambiance, it will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
See this: Large glass storefront doors open accordion- style to offer a sunny outdoor-indoor vibe.
Eat this: Mahi shekampoor, barg, Persian ice cream
When to go: Even novices to Persian cuisine will embrace the cosmopolitan look, feel, and taste of Divan. Bring the whole family.
Middleburg / Modern American / $$$$
Dry ice is usually a cheap gimmick — literally just blowing smoke. But not this time. Not here.
Your server proffers a plate of scallops, served in a jauntily placed shell. Then, she begins to pour herbal tea over a hidden layer of dry ice. The result is a minty vapor that envelops you as you tuck into the seafood that’s flavored with chermoula, which is a refreshing Middle Eastern sauce, as well as coconut and cashews. The result is transformative, a dish that truly relies as much on aroma as flavor.
Resort fare usually earns its reputation as stodgy and safe. And yes, you can get a steak at Harrimans, located at the Salamander Resort, but you’re better off ordering from the ever-changing list of signature entrees. Those composed plates are full of surprises. Think homemade pappardelle with mustard-flecked short rib ragout that’s topped with huckleberries and hazelnuts. Or kampachi flavored with kumquats, salty local guanciale, and baby artichokes.
Desserts are equally inspired. And yes, there’s a good chance there will be a puff of smoke included with those, too. But don’t ever think that chef Bill Welch’s kitchen is one that relies on gimmickry.
See this: A newly remodeled dining room profits from soaring windows that reveal the resort’s well-manicured fields.
Eat this: Agnolotti, Maine diver scallops, Sweet As Salamander Honey
When to dine here: The comfort and upscale service of a resort are calling, but you prefer more forward-thinking fare on your plate.
No. 6: The Study
Alexandria / Mesoamerican / $$$
Most of us associate the word “Mesoamerican” with history. This isn’t wrong. Mesoamerica was an area where pre-Columbian cultures like the Olmecs, Aztecs, and Mayas thrived. But it doesn’t just exist in a textbook.
Costa Rican–bred chef Tomas Chavarria proves that his culture is alive and well at The Study. Ancient techniques inform the menu, and smoke is a central player. A hamachi crudo arrives cloaked in tendrils of the stuff. Though it transports diners to a long-ago fireside, the dish, which combines the fish with passion fruit mayonnaise, finger limes, and avocado, is unapologetically modern.
So is the Steak and Onions, an upscale plate that plays on a common Central American meal of low-quality steak sautéed with chopped onions. Here, it’s elevated with 60-day-aged strip loin served over a pool of creamy onion confit. Best of all, Chavarria creates a beefy jus using Lizano, Costa Rica’s favorite convenience sauce.
This is a nod to the culinary history still being made today. And Chavarria is continuing to forge his own path. Each year, he’ll fuse his native cuisine with that of a different culture. He’s cooked all over the world, from the Philippines to Dubai, guaranteeing plates that challenge the imagination.
See this: Blues and grays bestow a relaxed feel on the small dining room and separate, sweet-smelling bar.
Eat this: Cold-smoked hamachi, Steak and Onions, Churros in a Row
When to dine here: You’re looking for something unique for a romantic evening.
No. 7: Trummer’s
Clifton / Modern European / $$$
The strawberry gochujang has left the building. Last year, chef Daniel Perron brought his Korean heritage to this Clifton classic. With his departure and the arrival of new chef Zack Ridenhour, the menu has taken on a stronger flavor from co-owner Stefan Trummer’s native Austria, as well as the chef’s own Southern Virginian cuisine.
Evidence includes dishes like local rockfish with skin seared to a crisp jacket. It reposes on a bed of sauerkraut that’s almost as sweet as it is acidic. The same can be said for the moat of red currant sauce that surrounds the sour cabbage. A shaved slaw of fennel and red onion adds a refreshing élan to the combination. This is modern, exciting European fare, courtesy of the products of Virginia.
The theme extends to dessert. Krapfen are crispy, fluffy-centered Austrian doughnut holes. They’re served over puddles of no-bake white chocolate cheesecakes and blueberry jam that pops with fresh fruit. With every bite at the refreshed Trummer’s, contemporary Europe feels a little bit closer.
See this: Woven ceiling fans keep the air moving upstairs, but that fresh feeling is courtesy of white walls and lots of windows. For a cozier feel, situate yourself in the downstairs bar area.
Eat this: Salmon tartare, duck leg confit, krapfen
When to dine here: You’re in search of a neighborhood restaurant with tastes that evoke a trip to a city that requires a plane ride.
No. 8: Thompson Italian
Falls Church / Italian / $$$
Chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson bring top-flight talents polished at New York City’s starriest restaurants to a cheery roost in Falls Church. In their hands, deceptively simple-sounding modern Italian dishes like spaghetti alla chitarra — pasta with chile-spiked marinara — and Arctic char bedded on savory seasonal vegetables belie their unpretentious excellence. The chefs are wizards at developing flavors that get the most from carefully sourced ingredients.
Tender bites of octopus and crispy potatoes are tied together by a velvety, nutty, and tangy spring onion tahini sauce, with olives and pickled peppers giving the dish another layer of zest. This is an appetizer worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Likewise, salad bowls — like one filled with farro, seasonal vegetables, and Parmesan cheese, all pulled together by a roasted garlic vinaigrette — could make a meal.
Katherine Thompson’s desserts are a central reason to book here. Her Madeira-laced olive oil cake is widely considered the genre’s benchmark. A delectable crème fraîche mousse and honey-raisin compote enhance the cake’s melt-in-the-mouth crumb. Indeed, there are no misses. Warm fruit desserts, like seasonal cakes and cobblers, are comforting, spicy, and utterly winning.
See this: Presided over by a tomato-red neon sign that reads “Pasta Power,” the subway-tiled bar has a chill vibe, while the artful deep-blue and white dining room, with its family-sized booths and intimate two-top tables, feels a bit more laid-back.
Eat this: Octopus, Arctic char, olive oil cake
When to dine: Seriously delicious food is a priority. This destination is a utility player that encompasses any occasion.
No. 9: Maple Ave Restaurant
Vienna / Modern European / $$$$*
You won’t be wowed by the ambiance at Maple Ave Restaurant. The window-wrapped box of a dining room looks out on a not-so-charming view of next door’s car wash. The fact that it’s cracked the top 10 is a testament to the cuisine of chef Justė Židelytė and the thoughtful service of general manager Ricardo Teves.
All this combines for one of the most disarmingly romantic dining experiences in NoVA. That’s because the four-course tasting menu includes two choices for each round. Židelytė recommends that you try everything that way, nibbling half of your partner’s empanada in peppery sauce or their truffled, vegetable-dotted mushroom risotto.
But no pressure: You might each need your own portion of dishes as inspired as the smoked tomato fettuccine. Quite simply, it’s one of the best pasta dishes in the region. Slick, squiggly housemade noodles are coated in a sauce that betrays just enough smoke to add a note of mystery. Italian pork sausage and tiny bites of cauliflower are there for both texture and flavor, as is a crunchy shower of garlic-chile breadcrumbs.
They say never to order pasta on a date, but it’s worth making an exception here. The spare space will allow you and your other half to be transfixed by each other — and an unforgettable meal.
See this: It’s the colorful plates that will catch your eye, not the no-frills dining room.
Eat this: Grilled peach salad, smoked tomato fettuccine, bird’s milk
When to dine here: You and your date know there’s nothing more romantic than a shared dish.
No. 10: The Salt Line
Arlington / Seafood / $$$
Seafood classics take on new life in Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood. Diners flock to the lively second location of a DC favorite for extensive patio dining, fusing the Chesapeake bounty with New England favorites.
Order the crispy octopus to start. The inventive dish serves one impressive tentacle on a bed of blistered shishito peppers, fingerlings, pomegranate, crushed almonds, and oranges. Clam chowder fans will savor The Salt Line’s version, just the right consistency and brimming with traditional ingredients.
Seafood lovers dive into Portuguese stew, a rich cioppino-like dish packed with meaty mussels, clams, flavorful chorizo, potatoes, and market fish in a fennel-infused elixir. A massive slice of grilled sourdough soaks up extra broth.
Try the creatively presented swordfish on a bed of lemony Broccolini and carrot hummus, topped with a peanut-sesame crunch. Lobster rolls are available with traditional dressing or just butter and pack indulgent flavor into every bite.
For an unusual dessert, experience black tea panna cotta. The refreshing treat combines lemon curd, strawberry sorbet, grilled nectarines, and crushed Nilla wafers for a “somehow it works” creation.
Helpful servers offer fresh local oysters in a range of sizes, prices, and salinity. They’re all delightful options for an oyster lover’s paradise. This is the place to get a serious seafood fix and feel stylish doing it.
See this: A fabulous outdoor bar attracts passersby who are greeted inside by New England–influenced touches.
Eat this: Lobster roll, Portuguese stew, baked pimiento crab dip
When to go: Crowds flock after work for cocktails and healthy (and not-so-healthy) fare.
Alexandria / Modern American / $$$
On the hunt for river views? At this Old Town Alexandria destination, they’re backed by a wood-burning grill staffed with expert hands. No matter the occasion, the sweeping outdoor patio and commodious indoor booths are the main attraction for the eyes.
And for the palate? Steaks are front and center. Choices range from luxurious wagyu and 60-day-aged rib-eye to a more modestly priced tri-tip. Clever use of the grill drives the menu. Crispy wood-fired chicken thighs atop toasty pita pop with flavor thanks to the Dijonnaise dressing and marinated greens. Vivid flavors define the vegetarian entrées and sides, as well. Thus, Middle Eastern spicing gives honey-glazed carrots a smoky, earthy finish. The hash brown potatoes dissolve in a rich smoked-paprika aioli.
A chocolate soufflé is always tempting, and the one at Ada’s should not be missed. Its intense, lava-like center tastes all the more decadent when a rich caramel sauce is poured in. Other options — notably, caramel apple beignets and a lemon tart, piqued with a black pepper and berry syrup — are worthy, too. And the view makes it all the sweeter.
See this: The airy, window-wrapped interior showcases river views that draw diners to the expansive terrace.
Eat this: Wood-fired chicken thighs, 14-ounce wagyu rib-eye, chocolate soufflé
When to dine here: This versatile player works for any occasion worthy of a splurge, whether it’s a romantic evening for two or a gathering of family and friends.
McLean / Mediterranean / $$$
Diners at Agora Tysons will be impressed by exceptional Mediterranean cuisine inspired by the rich culinary traditions of Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon.
Visiting Agora with a group is the way to go, to enjoy a taste of the many noteworthy spreads (order the six-flavor sampler), exotic hot and cold mezzes, and inviting flatbread selections. For an appetizer with showmanship, try the saganaki, a gooey rectangle of kasar cheese dramatically flambéed tableside and served with lavash.
One could easily make a meal out of the small plates, but for those who prefer a grilled entrée, Agora’s chicken is a star. Chefs infuse the poultry with rosemary, oregano, thyme, and Turkish marjoram and brush it with zesty toum — a marvelous garlic, olive oil, lemon, and maras pepper concoction — before grilling it over charcoal. To say it is memorable is an understatement.
Ottoman rice and bruksel lahana pair nicely with meats; the rice is a compelling blend of black currants, almonds, apricots, pine nuts, and fried shallots. The latter is baked Brussels sprouts, presented with tahini, peppers, and blackberries. The harissa dipping sauce is spicy and aromatic, bringing life to anything paired with the vivid paste.
For a tantalizing visit to the Mediterranean, make Agora your destination. The memorable flavors and warm hospitality will draw you back again and again.
See this: Sit in a basket-woven booth or a regular table lit by colorful Turkish lamps.
Eat this: Köy salatası, grilled chicken, adana kebap
When to come: Bring a group to share mezzes for a spot-on Mediterranean feast.
Arlington / Balkan / $$$$*
“Balkan food has lots of meat, dairy, butter, and gluten,” says the waiter, pointing to the menus on the table. Looking around at the animated faces in the bustling Clarendon dining room, we reply, “They must be happy people.”
Indeed, this Eastern European spot aims to please, with a kitchen adept at bestowing modern-day nuances on grandmotherly comfort food. Not the least of its winning strategies is a set-price menu that lets diners order all they can eat from its extensive list of small plates.
Most guests begin with a sampler of dips, breads, pickles, and house-cured charcuterie. It’s a festival of captivating flavors and textures.
Of the many other choices, the creamy-textured sarma (pork belly-stuffed cabbage) is a must-try. It literally melts in your mouth. Another winner: grilled shrimp in a compelling corn purée. Beefy, charcoal-grilled meatballs, crunchy with bacon bits, have a subtly spicy, velvety tomato sauce. Dishes can offer surprises, like a spurt of cheesy goodness when a fork cracks the stuffed pepper’s dark, crispy crust. Even vegetables are memorable, such as the earthy roasted cauliflower nubs accented by tahini and pine nuts.
It’s hard to save room for dessert, but it’s worth the effort for the likes of the nougat cake. It’s a subtle mix of textures and flavors — airy vanilla, nougat, and chocolate cream and pomegranate mousse atop a chewy hazelnut brownie.
See this: Hanging plants give the modern upstairs a garden feel, while photo montages of the Balkans add a cosmopolitan touch.
Eat this: Sarma, grilled shrimp, cauliflower
When to dine here: To celebrate anything (or nothing), knowing that there’s something on the menu for every appetite.
McLean / Persian / $$
The sign outside Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean reads “Persian Fusion,” and the description is spot-on. Everything about Amoo’s screams fusion, from its eclectic décor combining slate tile, marble, and repurposed wood, to the abundant clientele as diverse as the restaurant itself. The inventive cuisine at Amoo’s has been turning heads for years, with a thoughtful mixture of Persian, Jamaican, Argentine, and American ingredients.
Complex stews, like fesenjan — tender chicken breast braised with pomegranate-walnut sauce — marry auspiciously with a starter of tahdig, crispy rice from the bottom of the pot. Dig into the succulent, flame-grilled kebabs. There are alluring interpretations of classics like chimichurri-painted chicken or bison filet partnered with saffron cream.
Every dish gains complexity with the addition of imaginative specialty rice dishes. Don’t miss the shirin polo, offering candied carrots and orange peel in basmati rice, for a citrus-suffused delight. Even the warm lavash served tableside is presented with an unusual chimichurri-like mixture of cilantro, mint, and jalapeño, delivering welcome heat and zest.
Amoo’s dishes are prepared beautifully, supremely satisfying, and offered in large portions. Thanks to the fusion component of the restaurant, adventurous diners will enjoy this outstanding spot for Persian — and global — cuisine. If variety truly is the spice of life, Amoo’s offers a smorgasbord for its patrons.
See this: Elaborate Iranian wall hangings color the interior.
Eat this: Shirazi salad, shirin polo, chimichurri chicken
When to dine here: Budget-friendly meals will satisfy everyone in your group with likely leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Vienna / Indian / $$
Northern Virginia has an abundance of excellent Indian restaurants, but the ambrosial preparations created by chef Deepak Sarin make Bansari a standout. A native of Rajasthan, Sarin is deft at cooking from a range of Indian regions. His expertise is marked by his masterful blending of whole spices, and you can taste the freshness and pungency in every dish.
Among the appetizers is a heaping bowl of fire engine–red cauliflower bathed in a silken chile sauce with mustard seeds for crunch: Gobi 65. Sarin deconstructs the typical samosa, instead building layers of potato pockets, showered with chickpeas, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce.
Sarin incorporates the region’s East Asian influences with Indo-Chinese dishes. The nutty hakka noodles are interspersed with slivers of crisp green and red peppers, cabbage, carrots, and scallions. Bathed in a sweet, salty sauce, it’s a lighter version of lo mein.
Even the tikka masala enjoys a nontraditional spin by folding achar pickles into the marinade before roasting. The tender chunks of tandoori chicken arrive bathed in a smoky sauce, redolent with red chiles and garam masala.
Be mindful that at Bansari, “medium spicy” is quite hot, and even “mild” dishes have a kick. Consider ordering creamy raita to cool and bread to scoop up the juices. It’s all more than enough to stand out from the crowded pack.
See this: Bansari’s brick walls serve as a backdrop for the eclectic décor of crystal birdcages and turquoise leather banquettes with rustic wood and metal tables.
Eat this: Gobi 65, hakka noodles, mango lassi
When to dine here: Your group likes to share dishes and enjoys sampling international cuisine.
Woodbridge / French / $$$$
Not every restaurant needs to charm with its modern innovations. At Bistro L’Hermitage, it’s traditional French cuisine, like decadent lobster bisque; indulgent, garlicky escargots with puff pastry; and expertly prepared filet mignon that delights guests over and over.
Fresh-cut flowers and eclectic décor transport diners to the French countryside, as if visiting grand-mère in Normandy. Order on the safe side with conventional French fare, or consider more creative options. Poached shrimp with watermelon cocktail sauce, roasted duck breast with cherry-thyme sauce, and crêpes du jour are all inspired choices.
Staff is welcoming, quick to share the menu’s hidden gems, and attentive enough to make all feel like regular guests. Pleasant chatter erupts between waiters and patrons; clearly repeat visitors show up in numbers for yet another lovely visit to France just outside downtown Occoquan. Arriving diners are greeted warmly and presented with fresh, crunchy bread and a dangerously inviting tureen of beurre.
The brunch menu presents substantial dilemmas: Should onglet de boeuf et oeuf (steak and eggs) be the order of the day? Or oeuf Benedict a la Norvégienne (eggs Benedict with sautéed spinach and smoked salmon)? Plentiful options make decisions très difficile.
See this: Mismatched knickknacks fill walls, tabletops, and even the exterior, making for a cozy European-antique-shop feel.
Eat this: Lobster bisque, poulet rôti, crème brûlée à la vanille de Tahiti
When to dine here: Special occasions fit the bill for the above-average experience and expense.
Arlington / Modern Mexican / $$$
One could say there are many cooks in the kitchen. That’s because executive chef Jaime Garciá Pelayo Bribiesca stands on the shoulders of world-renowned culinarians and centuries of Mexican gastronomical heritage when he prepares your meal.
Pelayo is a passionate restaurateur who’s studied with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, José Andrés, and Edward Lee, among others. A native of Mexico City, he returns home regularly and travels through Europe to deepen his knowledge and conduct research.
Buena Vida offers diners a chance to sample what he’s learned thanks to a system of all-you-can-eat lunch, brunch, and dinner for a fixed price. When you order, expand your palate with Pelayo’s family recipes. The tortilla Azteca with spinach and Chihuahua cheese gratin is his grandmother’s creation. Corn ribs are a riff on Mexican street corn. Salt-cured cecina steak is served butterfly thin with housemade tortillas. Break the sugar crust over the goat cheese flan to combine texture and flavor.
Add to the experience with a craft cocktail, sangria, or Citadelle gin and tonic. Collegiality among the staff makes you feel like you’ve joined their party. And one thing you’ll learn is that here, at least, there is no such thing as too many cooks.
See this: Three attractive levels for dining, with a South Beach vibe. The center level is quieter, while the rooftop patio has DJs, a retractable roof, and multiple seating options.
Eat this: Tuna ceviche, cecina steak, huitlacoche enchilada
When to dine here: Lunch is the best deal around.
Arlington / French / $$$
The congenial team at Arlington’s Café Colline rightfully takes great pride in every dish served at their charming restaurant. Staff members, one after the next, exuberantly describe executive chef Brendan L’Etoile’s regional French cuisine with breathless detail. The cozy bistro came on Arlington’s restaurant scene in 2020 but found its footing once eat-in dining resumed at its lovely Langston Boulevard location. Masterfully prepared traditional French offerings are presented in an inviting setting with warm leather seating, a myriad of mirrors, and a stunning herringbone-patterned wood floor.
The crunchy (yet succulent) confit canard undergoes a meticulous three-step cooking process for the duck to reach perfection, accompanied by a medley of braised chard, wild rice, carrot purée, and sauce à l’orange. Moules-frites deliver dynamic flavor from steamed mussels adorned with a soothing, fennel-dominated broth. You wouldn’t be wrong to dip your crispy frites in the potent potion. Classic steak frites with béarnaise sauce may summon nostalgic memories of romantic Latin Quarter dinners.
Don’t skip dessert: Try pots de crème, skillfully created with Nutella and crushed chocolate cookies. It is, as they say, the crème de la crème. No wonder the amicable staff can’t say enough about how special this café is. After a visit, diners won’t be able to, either.
See this: Multicolored French bovine awards above the kitchen
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon, confit canard, steak frites, pots de crème
When to dine here: A special lunch may be a prelude to a future private group dinner in the cozy wine cellar.
Manassas / Italian & Portuguese / $$$$
In quaint Old Town Manassas, Carmello’s has been a special occasion go-to for 35 years. The Italian restaurant from Portuguese owner Alice Pires delights diners with its Mediterranean menu, elegant ambiance, and old-world charm.
Servers are formal and particularly polished, springboarding dining experiences to an elevated level. The award-winning wine list is a star in its own right, with Wine Spectator accolades lining lobby walls. Start with the Portuguese picada de bife, filet mignon tips flavored with garlic and olive oil, marvelously infused with a port wine reduction.
Pasta fans may enjoy the comfort of Italian gamberi griglia Genovese, massive marinated shrimp atop beautifully seasoned angel hair pasta. Color and flavor collide as the julienned vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and pesto wine sauce create culinary poetry. Remarkably, the inevitable leftovers taste even better for lunch the next day.
Meat lovers take note: The memorable vitello con pancetta will leave you trying to decipher the savory, earthy ingredients that make this bacon-wrapped veal with bucatini pasta so special.
And for dessert? Strawberry shortcake served in a chic martini glass will wow and satisfy for a lighter post-meal treat.
Carmello’s continues to thrive for good reason: Its cuisine, service, and overall experience rise to any occasion for which faithful diners visit.
See this: The enormous glass wine cellar
Eat this: Grilhados mistos, vitello con pancetta, torta de amoras
When to go: This is a special occasion place — any birthday, anniversary, or graduation will do.
Ashburn / Indian / $$$
It’s an unfortunate fact that in the West, Indian food has taken on a casual air. Yes, its distinctive flavors often lend themselves to traveling home in takeout containers. But at chef Rupa Vira’s modern restaurant, the cuisine begs for a more formal reexamination. Here, gold leaf, dry ice, and frothy foams all play a role in a theatrical meal.
The visual appeal of dishes like pansy-crowned tandoori salmon or a gold-bedecked lamb shank doesn’t mean that they are lacking in spice. Each of Vira’s dishes is just as compelling on the palate as it is to the eye. Butternut squash kofta (satiny vegetarian meatballs) are sunken into a creamy sauce that’s flecked with sweet-and-sour goji berries and microgreens. Pair it with chicken tikka meatballs in a smoky, piquant tomato-based sauce. Jeera rice and breads, like the buttery chile and paneer kulcha, cost extra but are necessities that never take a back seat.
Ashburn is awash in Indian options, from pizza to Vira’s own vegetarian restaurant, The Signature. But for the furthest thing from Curry in a Hurry, Celebration hits the high notes worthy of its name.
See this: The festive atmosphere takes a cue from pops of color in each of the bright, painting-filled rooms.
Eat this: Lotus stem chaat, butternut squash kofta, chile and paneer kulcha
When to dine here: A craving for Indian spice is leading you to the opposite of takeout.
Vienna / Modern American / $$$
How’s this for living in the moment? The menu at Clarity changes every day. That means you may have only one chance to enjoy that meal you’ll never forget.
At dinner, a prix fixe menu highlights the market’s best. Scallops are usually offered at lunch and at dinner. Perfectly crisped, succulent, and paired with bouncy mushrooms and black-eyed peas in a celery root purée, they are irresistible. Few restaurants serve game these days or are as adept at preparing it. Tender, pink-centered slices of elk burst with meaty flavor enhanced by a velvety port reduction. Braised bison short ribs, heritage pork chops, and a New York strip steak might be other temptations.
Midday, imaginative salads, well-composed fish and vegetable plates, a top-flight burger, and steak frites please the varied clientele. Business meetings, celebratory luncheons, and casual get-togethers are all welcome here.
Desserts are as balanced as the rest of the menu. A fresh fruit crumble, judiciously sweetened, is paired with an ethereal, deeply flavored, meltingly rich raspberry ice cream. And its ephemeral nature just makes it more enticing.
See this: Glittery lights frame the buzzy bar at the far end of a contemporary, pale-toned dining room. There’s a chef’s counter facing the open kitchen, as well as a charming patio.
Eat this: The menu changes daily, but be sure to look for game meats and market-fresh scallops.
When to dine here: Stop in for a weekday lunch that’s as indulgent as a blow-out dinner — or treat yourself to a memorable burger.
*Editor’s Note: Clarity has been undergoing changes in the time since this review was written. It has been temporarily closed and is expected to reopen in early November.
McLean / Thai / $$
Need to fight FOMO? Battle the fear of missing out by inviting as many friends as possible to share tempting, creative northeastern Thai cuisine at this strip-mall spot.
Basics like Panang curry and pad thai are superb, promising disappointment anywhere else after indulging in Esaan’s spot-on versions. But the real magic happens when you dare to veer out of your comfort zone to sample distinctive regional house specialties.
Expect marinated grilled meats, chewy sticky rice, and fiery chiles. A glorious trifecta of tart lime, fresh mint, and strong fish sauce define the mouthwatering flavor of many Esaan specialties. Order spicy papaya salad to pair with yum kai zapp, Thailand’s brilliant version of fried chicken. The crispy poultry is tangled with with onion, mint, cilantro, and chile.
Create your own masterpiece with kao kluk ka pi, a tangy dish of shrimp paste fried rice enhanced by a mighty mélange of memorable mix-ins. Meat lovers dive into moo nam tok, marinated grilled pork shoulder that is tender, perfectly seasoned, and presented beautifully.
There’s far too much to love to risk missing out. Reach out to your friends now for a meal that’s all about sharing the wealth.
See this: Esaan’s accolades in framed magazines line the walls.
Eat this: Somtum Thai, yum kai zapp, Crying Tiger
When to dine here: A weekday lunch will brighten your workday, but a group dinner always hits the mark.
Fredericksburg / Steakhouse / $$$
The words “steakhouse” and “locavorism” rarely meet. And that’s often a good thing. Why get all isolationist when some of the best steaks in the world come from abroad?
Yes, the special Australian wagyu tomahawk dinner, a $140 three-course prix fixe meal for two, is worth balling out on for a special occasion. But the lesson at this Old Town Fredericksburg destination is that some of the tastiest meat comes from Virginia and Maryland. Even better? That commitment to local ingredients extends to side dishes and beyond. Even the bread pudding dessert, the most voluptuous version we’ve had in Virginia, changes daily to incorporate the freshest fruits and flavorings available.
Whether it’s a $26 sirloin or a $95 6-ounce porterhouse, steaks are all crusted with a rub that crisps under the 1,800-degree broiler for a nuanced bite you won’t find anywhere else. Each one comes with two sides. The best of these is creamed Tuscan kale, infinitely more appealing than plain old spinach thanks to hefty chunks of smoky bacon in a rich, Asiago-topped sauce.
At Fahrenheit 132, named for the temperature of a perfect medium-rare steak, flesh is the foundation. And it’s even better when it means supporting a local farmer.
See this: Take advantage of the vital bar scene, or slide into a booth for a taste of romance.
Eat this: Creamed Tuscan kale, Australian wagyu tomahawk, bread pudding
When to dine here: A meaty meal beckons, and you deserve quality for your dollar.
Marshall / Modern American / $$$
You could order Field & Main’s Present Menu, a six-course tasting that takes keen advantage of the ephemeral eats that arrive in the kitchen each day from nearby farms. You might start with local melon compressed with dashi and surryano ham and finish on corn curd with cornbread, salted popcorn, and turmeric ice cream. Paired with wine by chef-owner Neal Wavra, it’s true destination dining in the tiny town of Marshall.
If you’re not feeling like a tasting, order the OooMami Smash Burger, listed as an appetizer, as your entrée and get full on the stack of local Ovoka Farm wagyu patties, paired with sides like melting, maple butter–bathed cornbread pudding. Hey, the restaurant wouldn’t offer such down-home fare if they didn’t want you to try it, right?
It’s not the upscale order one might expect at this fine-dining, wine-forward restaurant, but it’s one of the most satisfying meals in NoVA right now. Even better? Finish it with an extra-large chocolate chip cookie, served warm in a pan. It’s a from-scratch take on kid-friendly fare that includes housemade marshmallows and vanilla ice cream. Just enjoy your comfort food and resolve to order The Present Menu next time.
See this: Outdoor cabanas line the lawn for a festive experience, or sit near the kitchen and watch local ingredients get transformed into dinner.
Eat this: OooMami Smash Burger, creamed cornbread puddin’, Feast chocolate chip cookie
When to dine here: You’re as comfortable ordering a burger as you are letting go and trying the tasting menu.
Fredericksburg / Southern / $$
It’s easy to forget when we’re so close to Washington, DC, that Virginia is officially the South. The Mason-Dixon Line is more than 100 miles north of Fredericksburg and its picturesque historic downtown. One of its crown jewels is this former bank building, complete with speakeasy-style dining inside its one-time vault.
And yes, the food is as reflective of Southern charm as the location. Pimiento cheese toast, available at any time of day, is just $2, and its sharp and creamy topping contrasts beautifully with the crunchy bread beneath.
What’s Southern fare without fried chicken? Executive chef and co-founder Joy Crump uses a family recipe that’s filled with herbs and presents the crispy poultry as everything from a dinnertime appetizer to chicken and waffles at brunch. The latter is the most appealing way to enjoy the juicy chicken breasts, thanks to a soft-centered buttermilk waffle drizzled with sticky rosemary-infused syrup. Another staple is shrimp and grits, featuring buttery shellfish flavored with tomatoes and housemade sausage.
Don’t forget to end your meal with milk and cookies. The chocolate chunk–filled dessert gets its unusual flavor from smoked salt. The whole meal is a scrumptious reminder that we are, after all, in the South.
See this: Abraham Lincoln visited the former bank building during the Civil War, and his portrait still looms large in the dining room.
Eat this: Pimiento cheese toast, Rosie’s chicken and waffles, signature cookies
When to dine here: You want to taste the real South in an inspired setting.
Ashburn / Nepalese / $$
The vibrant South Asian population of Ashburn isn’t just limited to natives of India. This becomes abundantly clear with a visit to the city’s newest hit, an elegant paean to the regional cuisines of Nepal. But while you’ll likely see more than a few Himalayan families dining on thalis and hulking servings of biryani, an international crowd fills the cavernous restaurant and bar.
Entrées include curries that range from tender pork with mustard greens to a take on butter chicken, emulsified with cashews and rich yak butter, but the best way to enjoy the broad spectrum of flavors is by ordering from the large pool of appetizers and sides.
The crispy kale, a take on Indian palak chaat, is a reliable crowd-pleaser with its satisfying crunch, sweet-and-spicy tamarind sauce, and soothing drizzles of yogurt. Momos, Himalayan dumplings, are another must. They’re available in a barnyard’s worth of fillings (including a vegetarian version), but well-spiced yak stands out with its unctuous meatiness.
With a recent boom of dining options, Nepalese food appears to be the next big thing in our region. And there’s nowhere better than Himalayan Wild Yak to taste it.
See this: Meet Rocky, the taxidermy yak who greets guests at the entrance they sit down in the high-ceilinged dining room.
Eat this: Crispy kale, yak momos, chicken sekuwa
When to dine here: You’re ready to diverge from tapas but still want to share small plates.
Annandale / Korean / $$$$*
When a chef is at his best, he crafts not just a meal but a memory for his guests. This is precisely what chef-co-owner Justin Ahn does at his boutique Annandale restaurant. The five-course tasting menu incorporates multicultural flavors and techniques with modern sensibility, anchored by his Korean heritage.
Ahn grew up in Southern California eating Korean food at home and a wide spectrum of restaurant dishes. A self-taught cook, Ahn crafts dishes in his head that often riff on Korean classics. His tasting menu is constantly changing to accommodate seasonal produce — and his whims.
A meal may begin with, as he puts it, “a hint of spice and bit of starch to get the digestive juices flowing.” The dish is a rice cake (dduk) that’s fried crisp and served in a Thai green curry.
A grilled New York strip steak and roasted yellow sweet potatoes — Korean meat and spuds — is enlivened by South American chimichurri, along with a salad that mixes Western greens with a Dijon mustard, basil, and doenjang (soybean paste) dressing.
Korean tradition closes a meal with a hearty dish like Anh’s pork belly with pickled turnip, spicy radish, and a complex ssamjang. The melt-in-your-mouth flesh, paired with the refreshingly salty cabbage; the gentle, crispy spiciness of the radish; and the umami of the ssamjang is an ending that indeed remains in the memory long after it has been dispatched from the plate.
See this: Chef Justin Ahn or a member of his staff visits the spare dining room with every course.
Eat this: Delicious surprises that never get out of hand.
When to dine here: An unpretentious backdrop for a convivial evening with good friends.
Great Falls / French / $$$$
In bucolic surroundings that look like the setting for a fairy tale sits a legendary French country restaurant that attracts a steady stream of guests celebrating special occasions and romantic afternoons.
After 47 prosperous years, chef Jacques Haeringer and front-of-the-house manager Paul Haeringer continue to serve classic French country food with an authentically European flair. Dishes like trout amandine and beef bourguignon are what their customers demand, and they do them well. The Haeringer family comes from the Alsace region, where heavier preparations of German-influenced food suit the cooler climate.
The high-value prix fixe menu allows diners to sample mushroom crêpes, bouillabaisse, and a decadent soufflé all in one dining experience. The meals are accompanied by the chef’s daily amuse-bouche — perhaps a demitasse of cream of pea soup — along with a basket of fresh breads and a pot of Bibeleskaes, a housemade cottage cheese with herbs.
Impeccable, seamless service by dedicated staff, along with a soothing ambiance, are key factors in L’Auberge’s longevity. And while many restaurants tout farm-to-table sourcing, the Haeringers grow their own herbs and vegetables right on the 6-acre property. Vintage crockery enhances the presentation at this lovely landmark, which never really seems to age.
See this: The brick fireplace warms the dining room, while outdoors, diners are serenaded by a bubbling fountain and fragrant garden under a tented patio.
Eat this: Crêpe à la ciboulette, trout amandine, chocolate soufflé
When to dine here: You’re celebrating a milestone, or are looking to feel pampered.
Arlington / French / $$$
Tucked away in West Arlington lies this quaint restaurant reminiscent of the French countryside. For many, it is a welcome escape from the bustle of the city just a few miles away. It’s a place to pause, where a warm croissant or bowl of bouillabaisse can cure all ailments. Chef Jacques Imperato’s culinary repertoire aims to transport diners across the sea without going far from home.
Sumptuous Burgundy-style escargots are served sans shell, each topped with a buttery puff pastry for a delightfully light, bite-sized treat. The beef bourguignon is equally delectable with tender bits of beef, velvety soft potato gnocchi, pearl onions, and mushrooms bathed in the rich sauce that makes the dish beloved by so many. Even rainbow trout boasts French flair. It’s prepared in amandine style, referring to the toasted slivered almonds atop the flaky fish. And at brunch, both the croque madame and open-faced crêpes showcase ham and cheese in a way that only the French can.
Imperato never fails to prepare an exquisite meal worth remembering. And the best part is, you can leave La Côte d’Or Café knowing you don’t have to travel far to return to this small slice of France any time you like.
See this: For a sidewalk café ambiance, request a table in the yellow patio located off the main dining room.
Eat this: Croissant, warm brie, beef bourguignon, croque madame
When to dine here: Head here when you want to up your brunch game.
Alexandria / French / $$$
Food lovers on the left bank of the Potomac find a delightful corner of France tucked away in historic Alexandria. This cozy, brick-walled dining room, serving exceptionally well-made stalwart fare, has transported diners for decades. Its hideaway atmosphere, warm hospitality, and steady kitchen stand the test of time.
Starters on the menu range from the traditional escargots, pâté, and foie gras mousse to well-composed salads like one with tender beets, goat cheese, and a delightful puréed beet dressing. Still, the exemplary onion soup is hard to pass up. A deeply flavored broth and velvety onions lurk beneath a cap of melted, cheesy indulgence.
A fan of pink-centered duck breast, judiciously sauced with a rich, savory-and-sweet raspberry purée, is plated with a garlicky potato gratin, puréed carrots, and sautéed cabbage. Like the salmon served with a creamy béarnaise or veal scallops simply sautéed with butter and lemon, it’s proof of why such dishes are classics.
Desserts — chocolate mousse, fresh fruit Melba, and crème brûlée — also hew to proven provisions, and their deep flavors surprise and delight. It’s all edible evidence of Gallic cuisine’s enduring appeal.
See this: Vintage posters and memorabilia crowding the walls evoke an atmosphere of Gallic intimacy.
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon gratinée, canard avec sauce aux framboises, le filet de saumon béarnaise
When to dine here: Reserve ahead to relive (or conjure up) a romantic dinner in the French countryside.
Alexandria / Ethiopian / $$
The primal pleasure of eating with your hands is one of the joys of dining at this unassuming Ethiopian restaurant. Diners discover flavor-packed cuisine hidden in an undistinguished shopping center.
Menu choices offer the African country’s specialties in formats suited to the families that fill its tables. There are generous tasting platters that provide a comprehensive introduction to its varied dishes.
The Taste of Makeda offers a colorful banquet of meat and vegetable specialties along with a soothing avocado salad. Succulent, slow-cooked chicken is alive with the complex flavors of warming spice mix berbere.
Vegetable dishes are a highlight of this flavor-packed cuisine. Lentils, slow-cooked in spiced, clarified butter and berbere, are a signature dish. Intense flavors permeate other vegetable combinations as well, notably in fasolia wot, a confit of carrots and green beans. Slow cooking and subtle seasoning enhance the texture and develop flavors in these two vegetables that are often dismissed as mundane. The kitchen also turns out intriguing dishes using familiar salmon and tilapia.
Eating with your hands isn’t for everyone on every occasion. But if you’re willing to get your fingers dirty, the rewards at Makeda go beyond a rush of spice and a full belly.
See this: Platters of colorful food on the tables and intriguing art on the walls animate a simple, contemporary storefront.
Eat this: Taste of Makeda, fasolia wot, assa goulash
When to dine here: You’re gathering adventuresome friends who enjoy sampling and sharing.
Arlington / Vietnamese / $$
There isn’t much physical evidence that Arlington’s Little Saigon, a Vietnamese enclave in Clarendon, ever existed. But one remaining business, Nam-Viet Restaurant, is still dishing out savory sustenance, just as it has been for more than three decades, while continuing to impress a new generation of diners.
Nam-Viet goes far beyond pho and fried rice, with fare like deep-fried pork belly that is so ideally seasoned, delightfully crispy, and lacking in grease that each meaty bite can stand on its own or be paired with the accompanying lemon-pepper sauce for an added zing. Salmon aficionados will savor every morsel of the generous portion of caramelized fish, served in a ceramic pot with fresh ginger, chiles, onion, and cilantro. Each forkful yields a slightly different yet equally vivid flavor.
Craft cocktails have modern twists, such as an old fashioned made with pandan-infused bourbon. The aromatic plant from Southeast Asia gives the cocktail its leafy green hue and unique flavor. For a zero-proof option, there’s a seasonal shrub, which promises something subtly sweet with a refreshing tang.
No matter what you choose, you can’t go wrong at Nam-Viet, where meals have stood the test of time.
See this: Stroll around the dining room to see some famous faces in the photos that line the walls.
Eat this: Anything marked “new” on the menu is bound to please.
When to dine here: You want a laid-back, filling meal away from the weekend brunch crowd.
Vienna / Greek / $$$
Nostos professes a fresh, modern take on Greek culinary culture, and guests won’t be disappointed. Just stroll through the breezy restaurant, with elegant white walls, airy linen curtains, and warm-hued hardwood floors, and you’re transported to a Mykonos evening with close friends.
Silky and fragrant avgolemono, a traditional Greek chicken soup, is presented in a substantial vessel and offers a luxuriously lemony experience. Souvlaki, made from skewered swordfish, beef, or chicken, are perfectly charred and never a wrong choice.
Nostos serves savory and stunning dishes like kreatomezes, a medley of mouthwatering meats that pairs Greek-style meatballs, wonderfully marinated chicken, and skillfully seasoned lamb chops for a delectable “a little of everything” dish. An impressive seafood star at Nostos is the rockfish lemonato, an icon of lean, delicious cuisine basking in tantalizing wine sauce, capers, and mushrooms.
Dessert should not be overlooked. Baxevanis, Nostos’ over-the-top take on baklava, blends apples, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, and ice cream for a wow factor. It’s the genius fusion of blissful baklava and a glorious ice cream sandwich.
Knowledgeable staff provide wine suggestions from numerous Greek varietals. From soup to baklava, Nostos delivers on its promise of fresh, innovative cuisine that transports philhellenists from Tysons to the sultry Greek Isles.
See this: On stark white walls, giant retro black-and-white candid photos of Greek fishermen and celebrities capture the eye.
Eat this: Avgolemono, kotopoulo souvlaki, baxevanis
When to dine here: Visit for elegant date nights or upscale group dinners with fabulous friends who will appreciate the Hellenic food and setting.
Fairfax and Great Falls / Greek / $$
Chef Eugenia Hobson’s sons dreamed of owning a restaurant where their talented mama could showcase her cooking. Hobson earned accolades as head chef at Mykonos and Nostos before the family decided to open their first restaurant in Great Falls in 2016. They’ve since added an outpost in the Mosaic District and have a third planned for Shirlington.
Hobson attended an Athenian culinary school but gleaned her recipes from her mother and grandmother in Zakynthos, an island in the Ionian Sea where she grew up. Her approach is to lighten and brighten traditional Greek cookery.
After a basket of fresh bread, each angular plate arrives, punctuated with a sprig of mint, a drizzle of spiced oil, a lace of cheese, or the crunch of pistachio. Hobson is acclaimed for her grilled octopus and branzini but has a nimble touch with melt-in-your-mouth zucchini fritters and delicate spinach pies.
Hobson expands the menu by rotating ambrosial soups and offering specials like gemista, stuffed vegetables with cinnamon-laced beef and rice. For dessert, share a plate of loukoumades, doughnut balls bathed in honey, cinnamon, and sesame. They’re traditionally served at celebratory events but here they’re on the menu daily.
As is tradition in Greece, everyone is treated like family, from the longtime servers, to you, Hobson’s welcome guest.
See this: Pops of blue against a whitewashed background with meander-tiled floors and beach photos that conjure a Greek taverna by the Mediterranean Sea.
Eat this: Kolokithokeftedes, paidakia, loukoumades
When to dine here: You crave a taste of home — in Greece — without a flight.
Fairfax / French / $$$
French classics sport a modern sensibility at this stylish brasserie, nestled in Merrifield’s shopping mecca. The airy space evokes the late 19th century on the Champs-Élysées, with its long central bar, marble-topped tables, and bentwood chairs, in a contemporary way.
Classic starters are prepared delicately. Take the clever remake of an escargot appetizer: Snail meat is taken out of its shell and mixed with same-size mushroom morsels in a creamy sauce, judiciously perfumed with garlic and herbs. A surprisingly light onion soup offers deeply burnished alliums in a beefy broth capped by a savory, melted cheese crouton. There’s also a very contemporary pickled beet, goat cheese, and lentil salad. Its sharp and sweet flavors are enhanced by its lovely, foamy pink vinaigrette.
Order the classic moules-frites, and a steaming pot filled with plump bivalves awash in an aromatic light and creamy broth comes to the table. Fennel fronds add texture and a subtle flavor to the dish. A succulent salmon entrée, another classic, sports a light potato crust and subtly lemony cream saucing.
Meat lovers can dig into a hefty pork chop served with a seductive potato purée or opt for steak frites, duck, or a rustic beef stew. Classic desserts like rice pudding and crème brûlée are delectable models of their kind. It’s all a delightful update on the French fare we all crave.
See this: A copperplate-like city park mural covers the back wall of a room sporting an understated elegance and an unmistakably Gallic feel.
Eat this: Escargots, moules-frites, pork chop
When to dine here: Date-night couples, girlfriends having a night out, and groups of friends can all enjoy this convivial setting.
Falls Church / Chinese / $$$$
Quan, a staff member, comes to your table and presents a whole bird with the kind of pride that would make it seem as if she had caught and cooked it herself. Then she begins painstakingly wresting fat from crisp skin. As she carves, a server named Ana joins her and begins to wrap a fresh, floury pancake for you — spreading hoisin sauce and then layering ribbons of scallion and cucumber before gingerly laying down a few rosettes of fowl.
We are talking, of course, about the everyday ceremony that has taken place thousands of times since 1978 at Peking Gourmet Inn, where Peking duck is as much a way of life as it is a dish on the menu. The bird is crisp and oozing hot fat where it should be, in the medallions of skin. The thinly sliced flesh beneath is rich, too, though expertly rendered of adipose tissue.
That could be all diners need at this classic, lined with photos of past presidents who called the restaurant a favorite. Make room for garlic sprouts, a slippery, funky product of the restaurant’s own 133-acre Purcellville farm. They’re best woven with tender slices of pork. But whatever you order, never forget that the duck is what has been attracting guests from the beginning.
See this: The red-and-gold toned Chinese-restaurant scenes from classic films are brought to colorful life here.
Eat this: Pan-fried dumplings, Peking duck, garlic sprouts
When to dine here: You realize that there’s more to American culinary history than home-grown fare, and you want a taste.
Vienna / Italian / $$$ – $$$$
Personal touches can make a world of difference. Chef Roberto Donna and his wife, Nancy Sabbagh, understand this truth at their new restaurant in Vienna. Right down to the pane sfogliato rolls delightfully blessed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, this inventive Italian destination proves great food brings people together.
Donna has been on the DMV restaurant scene for decades, bringing his magic to more than a dozen dining establishments. At Roberto’s, opened earlier this year, the décor is as inviting as the cuisine. Captivating Chihuly chandeliers explode from the ceiling, and porcelain Venetian masks adorn walls.
Sophisticated food is the star here, with unforgettable dishes like veal scallopini and fettuccine alla Parmigiana, tossed tableside. It’s an impressive performance, with a massive Parmigiana wheel presented, scraped, and blow-torched, and Donna himself might roll fresh, warm pasta in the wheel’s hollow belly. No less memorable, Alaskan halibut is surrounded by a tantalizing moat of basil-mint sauce, an unexpected accoutrement bringing flavor and visual appeal.
Dessert includes showstoppers like raspberry tiramisu, dazzling with minty mascarpone, almond nougatine, and crowned with berry coulis.
Early diners sit barside for excellent value on superior noshes during Aperitivo Hour. Think mind-blowing meatballs and Insta-worthy pizza.
At Roberto’s, guests are sure to savor even the tiniest details in every bite, from antipasti to dolce.
See this: Joan Miró–style art fills the restaurant that boasts special touches everywhere.
Eat this: Aperitivo Hour fare, Alaskan halibut, raspberry tiramisu
When to dine here: Even a weekday dinner will be crowded — and delightful.
Arlington / Southern / $$$
Folks hankering for fresh, flavor-packed American classics — barbecue or fried chicken, melt-in-your-mouth smoked brisket, mac and cheese, and other Southern staples — find it here. Chef-owner Matt Hill’s all-day menu taps into his North Carolina roots as deeply as his CIA training and fine-dining cred.
Flaky buttermilk biscuits are a must-order at any meal. The dinnertime biscuit board pairs the gems with cured ham; tangy, creamy pimiento cheese; and pantry relishes. Hearty Brunswick stew — a seldom-seen regional classic that’s chock-full of chicken, lima beans, sausage, and corn — is another compelling starter.
The enticing aroma of wood-smoked meats pervades the dining room, whetting appetites for robust servings of wood-fired chicken, pork ribs, steak, salmon, and trout, as well as duck. Guests order them the old-fashioned way as “meat and two or three.” The combo meals come with a choice of sides like pulled pork pinto beans and braised greens that are worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Meal-sized salads, fried chicken, and yellow fin tuna tartar are other popular choices.
Homey desserts are a treat —notably the seasonal cobbler with its chewy crust, succulent fruit, and melting cream. Just what you’d expect in a restaurant named for the chef-owner’s grandmother.
See this: A bright, cheerful, white- and green-accented room, with roomy booths and group-sized tables, plus a spacious patio equipped with heaters.
Eat this: Brunswick stew, succulent smoked chicken with baked beans as a side, seasonal cobbler
When to dine here: You have an appetite for American classics delivered in solid comfort at value-driven prices.
Manassas / Italian / $$$
Chef Franklin Hernandez earned his stripes mastering his craft in renowned DC restaurants and now propels Semifreddo Italian Cuisine to bucket-list status. The jazzed-up strip-mall location may be its weakest link, but what Semifreddo lacks in ambiance it makes up for in extraordinary service and cuisine.
Ever-popular calamari fritti takes on new meaning thanks to jalapeños mixed in with the crunchy squid. The accompanying marinara dares to pucker lips with more than a dash of crushed red pepper.
Caesar connoisseurs embrace the grilled Romana salad, intriguing with charred romaine, dappled Parmesan shavings, and drizzled dressing. Veal fans delight in vitello Marsala, tender scaloppini bathed in Marsala wine and christened with freshly chopped herbs. Pasta lovers: Look no further than ravioli polpa di granchio — crab ravioli with luscious lobster bisque cascading over every indulgent bite. The exquisite house-crafted pastas are fine-tuned to perfection, leaving diners satisfied but not overstuffed.
Save room for dessert. Tiramisu is a solid choice, artistically embellished with calligraphy-like berry and peach coulis. But the dolce menu’s star is unequivocally the namesake semifreddo, a splendid frozen mousse displaying caramelized walnuts and amaretto cookies.
Hernandez finishes strong with his outstanding signature dish, rounding out an Insta-worthy, food-focused experience for lucky diners.
See this: The open kitchen offers top-chef action for interested diners.
Eat this: Calamari fritti, excellent daily specials, fettuccine Bolognese, semifreddo
When to dine here: Date nights or family dinners beckon at this surprisingly dressy strip-mall location.
Ashburn / Thai / $$
Thai cuisine is one of the traditions most widely represented in our region. That often means much of the pack blends together, one thin curry after another. But Sense of Thai St. brings the heat in more ways than one.
A stylish, modern aesthetic draws in a vibrant crowd for bar manager Jeremy Ross’ forward-thinking cocktails. They’re sipping tipples like Tummy Time, which combines tequila with Asian ingredients such as lychee, lime, grapefruit, and Thai basil. Fans of fiery drinks are best off ordering the elote cobbler, which benefits from the burn of Thai chile, along with tequila, calmed by summer corn–oat orgeat and lime.
And on plates? The som tum, a staple in Southeast Asian kitchens, grabs spice lovers by the throat with its mix of tangy lime and chile that dresses pounded green papaya and a range of fresh vegetables.
Get it on the side with the street fried rice, a spicy tamarind-based dish that’s native to the Southern Chumphon province of Thailand. Sweet Thai sausage provides a foil to what might be the most complex (and moreish) dish on the menu. This is one Thai restaurant that stands out from the crowded field.
See this: At this perpetual hive of activity, look for servers in Hawaiian shirts to bring delights from the enviably stocked bar.
Eat this: Street fried rice, lychee duck curry, som tum
When to dine here: You and your date aren’t afraid of spicing things up.
Arlington / Spanish / $$$
A bit of theater can make for a memorable evening. That’s exactly what the shared plates at this handsome, convivial Ballston Spanish restaurant offer.
A versatile kitchen produces a wide range of regional specialties. It’s hard to resist the allure of the crispy roast pig, presented in huge chunks for two or four. Dramatically chopped for serving with the edge of a plate, it’s a must-have for group dining. The whole rabbit is another show-stopper. It’s marinated overnight and baked low and slow, then given a crispy finish. A touch of apricot purée adds a sweet-salty interplay.
And, of course, there is paella. The portion for two could feed a family, and there are meat, seafood, and vegetable variations. A constant is perfectly textured, crispy rice to scoop from the bottom of the pan.
The tapas selection is also worth exploring. It ranges from the familiar, such as a moist, softly textured tortilla (potato omelet), to the ambitious, including greaseless, perfectly fried shark bites bathed in aromatics and green herbs.
Desserts are expertly crafted, too. Manchego cheesecake, a house specialty, offers a beautifully textured, not-too-sweet take on the classic. The chocolate soufflé is special, as well. It’s all part of a show that shouldn’t be missed.
See this: Dramatic food presentations — Iberico ham sliced from a classy rack, roast pig chopped tableside, paella sizzling in the pan — make a meal a special occasion.
Eat this: Cazón en adobo, cochinillo asado, paella
When to dine here: You have a group (or a hungry date) ready to share the best of what Spain has to offer.
Arlington / Italian / $$$
There’s more than pasta to draw diners to this Rosslyn destination. Top-flight mozzarella, salads, and choice fish and meat entrées tempt, too. But widely acclaimed chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi sure does have a way with thinly rolled dough.
The pasta tasting option, an indulgent invitation to order three of the dozen or so choices to share family-style, is enticing. The housemade pasta choices pair a dizzying variety of shapes with mouthwatering sauces. Classics like the pappardelle with ragù Bolognese mate broad noodles with a rich, meaty sauce. Seafood — razor and surf clams in a lush, briny essence — enhances pillow-like bites of casarecce. Filled pastas, most notably the lush goat cheese–filled ravioli San Leo sparked with lemon and herbs, are further evidence of the kitchen’s artistry. Come early and watch the pasta maker at work in the windowed display kitchen.
Consider beginning a meal with the mozzarella bar, a mix-and-match adventure of rich, creamy cheese paired with prosciutto or vegetable relishes and an irresistible grilled flatbread called piadina. Other appealing non-pasta choices include succulent meatballs with polenta or moist, flaky fish accented with a seasonal vegetable ragù. Just make sure to pair them with some noodles.
See this: Set in the atrium of an office building, the deceptively spacious white and crimson setting oozes the casual chic of Milan, with oversize custom fixtures hanging from rustic beams and stylized poster art.
Eat this: Mozzarella bar, pasta tasting, and vanilla gelato, backed by an espresso
When to dine here: Date-night duos find it worth the cost and calories; it’s also a premier choice for an indulgent lunch.
McLean / Japanese / $$
This is the place to cut through the fanfare and enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine. Casual diners line the tiny entryway to the crowded, no-frills second-floor restaurant, waiting for a coveted table at this busy establishment. It’s worth the wait, as families, laptop-toting groups, and couples revel in the vast sushi, sashimi, and maki offerings.
Try the Sushi Special entrée, an exceptional 11-piece sampler platter. Sushi is freshly prepared, vibrant, and flavorful. Novices to the cuisine should order a dinner box option, which includes well-proportioned tastings of seven outstanding traditional dishes. The beautifully presented “A” Box includes delightfully crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef or chicken negimaki, shumai dumplings, seaweed salad, California rolls, edamame, and yellowtail teriyaki. Get a taste of numerous offerings in these inviting bento boxes.
Noodle dishes are plentiful and popular, served hot, cold, with ramen, soba, or udon noodles for every palate. Service is brisk at this no-nonsense, efficient spot, so be ready with your order when the busy server breezes by.
Still hungry for dessert? Try the matcha green tea crêpe cake, a refreshing twist on a traditional French pastry.
This is the place for Japanese food purists, sure to satisfy every appetite and budget.
See this: The vintage kimonos on display will stay, but art collectors take note: The original art on the walls is for sale.
Try this: Dinner boxes, beef negimaki, tempura seafood and vegetables
When to go: This no-frills location makes up in flavor what it lacks in ambiance; bring the kids, co-workers, or friends for a casual, solid meal.
Alexandria / Greek / $$
The cuisine at this Greek spot has passed the test of time and then some. Many recipes for its classic fare date back to ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. And Taverna Cretekou can claim similar laurels. Its owner, Christos Papaloizou, has been welcoming guests here since 1973.
Sampler platters of familiar mezethes — luscious rice-filled grape leaves, crisp-crusted spinach and cheese pastries, red caviar whipped with Greek olive oil, hummus, and eggplant mousse — testify to the restaurant’s knowledgeable sourcing and talented kitchen staff.
Complex dishes based on ancient folkways highlight the menu. Expertly braised lamb is simmered with black olives and both fresh and sun-dried tomatoes. The latter adds a sweet-sour tartness to the rich sauce. The dish hails from the Cyclades, where a hot, windy climate makes its sun-dried tomatoes much prized. Another specialty is a firm fish baked in parchment with coriander — an herb used in Hellenic cooking since antiquity for its earthy, citrusy notes — along with spinach, leeks, and scallions.
Greece’s culinary roots are honored on the dessert menu, too. One sundae-like creation features poached apricots, a stone fruit of ancient lineage; yogurt; and honey. Another pairs lemon custard cream with grape preserves. Like everything at Taverna Cretekou, these provide the end to a meal with serious staying power.
See this: The courtyard’s lush greenery makes an alfresco meal seem like a minivacation. The white-walled dining room, with its year-round Christmas tree, is more high-energy.
Eat this: Ouzeri mezedes, Arnaki Kikladitiko, Verikoka Aphrodite
When to dine here: You’re craving an escape to the Greek Isles.
Paris / Modern American / $$$$
In our lifetimes, the rolling hills of Paris aren’t going anywhere. Nor, most likely, will the charming former home of 18th century blacksmith Manley Pierce, now known as The Ashby Inn. But beyond that, the property’s restaurant is proving that the only constant is change.
Johnathan Leonard, the chef who earned the restaurant our top spot in 2020 and No. 5 last year, is replaced by Jonathan Martin, and longtime Goodstone Inn sommelier Stephen Elhafdi is proffering bottles to pair with tasting menus. The overall impression of the restaurant’s remade self is one of tradition.
Gone are dishes such as cast-iron-cooked guinea hen showered in flowers. The à la carte menu consists of warhorses such as steak au poivre, sole meunière, and duck à l’orange.
The good news? While nothing new, the techniques are more than solid. A single scallop, served as an appetizer with a cube of well-rendered pork belly, is seasoned to perfection and seared dreamily crisp. The accompanying parsnip purée is creamy and liltingly sweet, and the scallop’s beurre blanc illuminates the plate.
The tasting menu provides more forward-thinking dishes, like cashew-crusted halibut in red curry. But we think the new Ashby Inn is at its best when kicking it decidedly old-school.
See this: Walk past the plum tree that supplies summertime meals — along with the well-stocked kitchen garden — on the way to the historic building.
Eat this: Pork belly and scallop, strip loin au poivre, coconut-pineapple tartlet
When to dine here: Staggering views are more important than breaking new gustatory ground.
Leesburg / Eclectic / $$$
The majority of diners at The Conche are there for one thing: chocolate. After all, the restaurant from pastry chef Santosh Tiptur is named for a piece of equipment that smooths the rich cacao-flavored slurry before it becomes bars or truffles. From chocolate-beer-battered crispy calamari to indulgent desserts like guéridon-melted The Conche Entremet, chocolate is a major part of the restaurant’s identity. But it’s not everything.
Increasingly, Tiptur’s menu proves this with dishes that feature none of the signature ingredient at all. The bill of fare flits from Italy to Morocco to the American South effortlessly, proffering outsize flavors along the way. Take, for example, the spice-crusted Rouen duck breast. An earthy spice mix crackles across crispy skin, providing a robust base for an onslaught of flavor that includes curry-scented baby carrots and sweet coconut grits.
At a restaurant where even the burger is enhanced with chocolate barbecue sauce, it might seem like madness to finish the meal with a monkey bread sundae. But salty caramel sauce and peach compote dripping from the warm, soft pastry prove that The Conche is more than a gimmick.
See this: Chocolate-themed posters reinforce the theme, but before dinner is served, make sure to watch it really come to life as chefs prepare desserts in the open kitchen.
Eat this: Fried burrata, spice-crusted Rouen duck, monkey bread sundae
When to dine here: You’re willing to pay a premium for an eminently satisfying meal in a casual setting.
Clifton / Italian / $$
Abbondanza, the bountiful celebration of food in good company, is the sentiment that energizes this charming Clifton retreat. Its rustic dining rooms, with their heavy wooden beams and vintage accents, and the delightful garden patio are well suited to the celebrations that fill the tables.
Alluring dishes, designated as appetizers, are so full-flavored and generously portioned that several of them make a satisfying shared meal. Shrimp Badda-Bing, the restaurant’s signature starter, is a brimming bowl of crispy sautéed crustaceans smothered in a creamy white, sweetly spicy sauce. A touch of Old Bay is responsible for its elusive flavor, our server confides.
Beefy meatballs, savory with mushroom and onions, are bathed in a bright, well-balanced marinara sauce, with lots of gooey melted cheese. Accompanying crostini, made with house-baked ciabatta bread, sop up the sauce.
Even if the appetizers fill diners up, the cheese course is too enticing to miss. The noteworthy selection includes hard-to-find samplings like Ubriacone and pecorino al pepe. It’s no wonder the bar is filled with couples pairing wine and cheese, as well as exploring the raw bar selection. It’s all in the spirit of abbondanza.
See this: A charmingly rustic setting that works as well for an intimate tête-à-tête as for a group celebration, with an exceptionally lovely garden patio.
Eat this: Shrimp Badda-Bing, meatballs marinara, an artisanal cheese plate
When to dine here: To celebrate anything — or just because you deserve a treat
Leesburg / American / $$$
The extensive American menu at the restaurant better known as Tuskie’s is bolstered by daily specials. It offers something that will delight a world-traveling foodie or a picky octogenarian and just about everyone in between. Game is featured daily. Hefty, laudably grilled venison chops are paired with wickedly rich mashed potatoes. Admirably tender, juicy, and flavorful flank steak is enhanced by an earthy, bright chimichurri.
Tapping into Northern Virginia’s vibrant beer culture, Tuskie’s offers craft IPAs from outstanding local breweries. Schwarzbier, a dark lager from Richmond’s Väsen Brewing Co., pairs well with the flank steak. For a pale lager from Caboose in nearby Vienna sets off a Reuben sandwich’s rich-but-not-greasy corned beef at lunch.
Virginia’s Southern heritage is reflected in a flavorful yet light-handed version of shrimp and grits that subs creamy polenta for the usual base. Lashings of ham and greens flavor its Madeira-brightened, not-too-buttery sauce. The succulent texture of a lobster appetizer is further testimony to the kitchen’s skill with seafood.
Indulgent desserts include its signature cheesecake beignets, whose crispy crust contrasts with an ethereal, tart-sweet, creamy filling. Raspberry sauce and graham cracker crumbs add flavor accents. The caramelized apple crisp is another crowd-pleaser. So is Tuskie’s.
See this: A handsome, lofty, wood-beamed bar and main dining room are packed with fascinating relics of the mill it used to be.
Eat this: Flank steak, shrimp and grits, cheesecake beignets
When to dine here: A comfortable fit for just about any occasion, you don’t need a special event to inspire a visit.
Arlington / Japanese / $$$$
A dreamlike sushi experience in his youth inspires chef and co-owner Saran Kannasute’s high-end fare at this vibrant venue. Here, he transforms luxurious ingredients like uni, toro, wagyu beef, caviar, and foie gras into multicourse dinners. Diners can order these cleverly conceived creations individually, as well as more traditional nigiri and rolls.
A colorful mural over the sushi counter dominates the buzzy, modernist space. Counter seats offer a mesmerizing opportunity to watch the chefs in action. The metamorphosis of a Canadian lobster into a parade of flavors and textures begins with a sake shooter in which bob tiny bits of the lobster’s brain. The claws, filled with a flavor-packed miso-butter-garlic paste are briefly torched for texture. Succulent tail meat is lined up in bite-size pieces on the shell. Raw claw meat is presented on a minty shiso leaf.
Luxury ingredients invite indulgence. Freshly delivered from Japan, the briny melt of sea urchin, accented by truffle wasabi, becomes irresistible sushi bites. Likewise, a vertical tasting of umami-rich, fatty tuna — from the cheek and two parts of the belly — is presented as delectable sushi. It’s not a dream, but it sure tastes like one.
See this: A vibrant scene dominated by a graffiti-inspired mural and the room-spanning sushi counter below.
Eat this: Let the chefs do their magic with whatever luxury ingredients have arrived that day
When to dine here: You and your companion are in the mood for raw (or seared) indulgence.
Great Falls / Afghan / $$
The imaginative cooking of Afghanistan is not worlds away, but in our backyard, at a welcoming Great Falls outpost. Zamarod’s chef and owner Dor Niaz was an interpreter for the military who now caters to well-heeled customers seeking distinctive food in a casual setting.
Niaz enjoys introducing diners to his homeland’s signature dishes and says his country grows a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Inspired by such freshness, almost everything at Zamarod is scratch-made, from the yogurt sauce, pasta, and flatbreads to the bold dipping sauce sourced from ghost peppers and cilantro grown in his garden.
Starters are a must, especially aushack, pillowy dumplings draped over scallions, and muntoo, silken noodles layered with ground beef, yogurt, tomato sauce, and chopped mint. Niaz doesn’t skimp on portions, and his stewed lamb is so tender, you can cut it with a spoon. A grilled lamb shank sizzles.
Among the vegetarian options, spinach and pumpkin are the standouts, and saffron adds depth to the buttery rice. Niaz fuses the five Cs — cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander — to create Zamarod’s characteristic spice blend. You’ll be glad to have this gem in our own backyard.
See this: Mustard stucco walls contrast with dark hardwood floors, statement art, and crystal chandeliers. The patio seating is surrounded by gardens filled with tomato and pepper plants.
Eat this: Aushack, kadu chalow, Quabili palow
When to dine here: You’re looking for cuisine with formidable flavors in a tranquil setting.
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