Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide – August 2013, 29th edition

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Special Introduction

I am pleased to report that the Food Page of The Washington Post wrote up this guide in the summer of 2001. Here is the article, The Lone Critic. Here is another article, Chasing the Perfect Meal, from the Fairfax Connection, the spring of 2004.

I wish to offer thanks to all those who offered dining suggestions and evaluations (keep them coming!).  This has made the guide better, and longer, than before.  It also means the guide has more unvisited places than before.  I hope to get to them soon! 

You also should buy my book An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies.

 

General remarks

Restaurants manifest the spirit of capitalist multiculturalism.  Entrepreneurship, international trade and migration, and cultural exchange all come together in these communal eateries.

In the last twenty or so years, the Washington D.C. area has become a leader in ethnic restaurants.  We lag behind New York City and Los Angeles, but we vie with Chicago and the Bay Area for third place in the United States.  In some areas, such as Ethiopian cuisine, we are number one.

This guide is intended to help individuals enjoy good food, and keep my favorite places in business.  Effective consumer choice improves your eating and, in the long run, improves the quality of available restaurants. 

The better ethnic restaurants tend to have many of their kind in a given geographic area.  Single restaurant representations of a cuisine tend to disappoint.  Competition increases quality and lowers prices.  The presence of many restaurants of a kind in an area creates a pool of educated consumers, trained workers and chefs, and ingredient supplies - all manifestations of increasing returns to scale.

Many of the best ethnic restaurants on this list come from the well-represented cuisines.  This region is particularly strong in Salvadoran, Peruvian, Bolivian, Afghan, Ethiopian, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, and now Chinese cuisines.  And when it comes to the last few years, the rise in Chinese is the big local story.

The best ethnic restaurants are often found in suburban strip malls, where rents are lower and the degree of feasible experimentation is greater.  Small and cheap ethnic restaurants are often better than large ones.  Northern Virginia and Maryland are underrated; Adams-Morgan, although it has many fine places, is by no means the fount of ethnic food.  West Alexandria, Bailey's Crossroads, Wheaton, Chantilly, and Fairfax are underrated; Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, and Bethesda are overrated.

After you have chosen a restaurant, you must order.  Ordering is often a more important decision than choosing the restaurant.  Keep in mind that restaurant staff can be unreliable; sometimes they will steer you towards something safe and uninteresting.  (Many Chinese still express amazement that many Westerners can eat with chopsticks, for instance.)


Some rules of thumb, none of which are absolute:

1.                Avoid dishes that are "ingredients-intensive."  Raw ingredients in America - vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc. - are below world standards.  Even most underdeveloped countries have better raw ingredients than we do, at least if you have a U.S. income to spend there, and often even if one doesn't.  Ordering the plain steak in Latin America may be a great idea, but it is usually a mistake in Northern Virginia.  Opt for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients.  Go for dishes that are "composition-intensive."

2.               Appetizers often are better than main courses.  Meals composed of appetizers and side dishes alone can be very satisfying.  Thai and Lebanese restaurants provide the classic examples of this principle.

3.                 Avoid desserts.  Most ethnic restaurants in America, no matter how good, usually fall flat with the desserts.  Especially if the restaurant is Asian.

4.                 Order more than you plan to eat.  Keep in mind that you are ordering for variety, not for quantity.  You can always take the rest home.

Actually the best advice is to do exactly what I recommend under each particular heading.

Over the last few years I see two big trends.  The first is that we now have plenty of places with first-rate Chinese food. Our region used to be pathetic in this category, now it is a leading light.  So if you feel you don't really enjoy Chinese food so much, think again.  Second, northern Virginia has taken a clear lead.  Fifteen years ago Maryland had better ethnic food, but now we are ahead in Chinese, Indian, and most other areas as well, excepting of course the Caribbean.

Now to the restaurants.  But before proceeding, don't assume that it's always open (although it usually is), or even that it's still there.  Typically I have restricted my entries to what I regard as the best, or most interesting, examples of that cuisine in the area.

Remember, if you don't like these, you probably didn't follow my advice for what to order.  Or you are to blame in some other manner.

Before giving you the encyclopedia, here are SOME PLACES YOU MUST TRY.   This feature focuses on places you might not already know, overlooking such notable (but known) restaurants as Panjshir, for Afghan food, Duangrat's (Thai), or the Vietnamese places at Eden Center (how can you pick just one?). 


Some Places You MUST Try:

Washington DC:

Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., 202-944-2026

I have to say I was very impressed.  It sounds boring by most accounts but the steak, lobster, and tuna tartare are all first-rate.  Expensive, but at least you are getting something for your money.  Don't expect innovative or original cooking, but right now this is one of the best places in town.

 

Del Campo, 777 Eye St., NW, 202-289-7377 This place is pretty awesome. Get the rib-eye (easily arranged for sharing, and one of the best in DC), the empanadas, the chorizo, the sides, and don't forget the superb bread they start the meal with. Real gaucho food, and the restaurant has a nice ambience to boot. The sandwiches are supposed to be good, but I have not tried them. Not cheap, but a winner all around and it fills a gap in the DC dining scene.

Himalayan Heritage, 2305 18th St., Washington D.C.
Both Nepalese and Tibetan, I am a big fan of this place.  The momos – dumplings – are excellent.  Anything they do with beans is recommended.  The spicy chicken dishes, including the different forms of chicken barbecue, are very tasty and different from what you can get elsewhere in the area.  This is quite simply a very good ethnic restaurant with a pleasant environment and it does not cost a fortune either.

 

Horace & Dickie's Seafood Carryout, 809 12th St. NE, Washington, 202-396-1083.  There is another branch on Martin Luther King Ave, somewhere.

The best fried fish in the area, a must.  Amazing atmosphere, take-out only, bad neighborhood, get the picture?  Fish, fish, fish.  That's all they have.  And it is fried, fried, fried.  You may not go often, due to the associated inconveniences, but a gem.  They also have great fries, collard greens, potato salad.  Crab cake surprisingly decent.  Go, go, go.

 

Keren, 1780 Florida Ave., NW, near 18th, 202-265-5764

This place is exactly what more ethnic restaurants in DC should be like.  Eritrean food will remind you of Ethiopian, but it isn't the same either.  There is more bread mixed into the dishes for one thing, and the cuisine is overall less Americanized.  The vegetables are less smoothed over.  What you want to get here is the listed “Five Eritrean dishes” listed on the bottom of the menu, otherwise not further specified.  Also get one or two of the “Fuls,” which are available for breakfast too.  The Egg Ful is especially tasty.  The wheat dishes are original.  Everything here is quite good, and the staff and proprietor are quite charming.  A strong restaurant on all dimensions and also extremely cheap.  By the way, maybe you knew the “old Keren,” but the place is under new management circa 2012 and is much improved.

Le Diplomate, 1601 14 th St., NW, 202-332-3333
Washington finally has an excellent French restaurant. The menu here is almost a parody of what you would expect to find in a real Brasserie in France, but I kid you not this place is better than what you are likely to stumble upon in Paris. The skate was one of the best fish entries I've had in this area in many years. Everything was remarkably consistent and high quality. I do wonder how they will keep up standards, given the size of the place. And, circa 2013, it is very difficult to get in the door. I recommend showing up at 5 p.m. and sitting at the bar, unless you are well-connected in this town. In a way it is pathetic that we should be so happy to have this place, but kudos to the people in charge, this is a real winner. By the way, just in case you think I am crazy, everyone else loves it too.

Little Serow, right next to Komi, 1511 17th St., DC, no lunch, no phone, no substitutions, no Sunday.

Imagine northeastern Thai street food, Issan style, combined with the quality ingredients and overall standards of fine dining.  Right now it's the best place in DC by a long ways and the best place this area has had in a long time.  The tastes are sharp, hot, sour, pungent, musty, and occasionally sweet.  The level of heat can be high.  You cannot choose your food.  Every course was a knockout, only $45 for a seven-course menu, no substitutions.  There's nowhere else like it.  It is right next to Komi, and brought to you by the same people.  Remarkably, the cook is Greek-American and not Thai.  Could it be the best Thai place on the East coast?

Their website and menu is here.  Here is a Sietsema review Don Rockwell says it may be the best new restaurant in the U.S. this year; there is more from Don here.  A must.  No reservations, so you must show up well before opening at 5:30 or wait two hours to get in.

Masala Art, 4441 Wisconsin Ave., just south of the Whole Foods, NW, 202-362-4441

Right now we are down to this and Angeethi as our two excellent Indian restaurants.  This is from the people who brought you Heritage India, except it's even better than that.  They have some obscure regional dishes but most of all they deliver on the standards as well.  Everything tastes fresh and vivid, in the direction of how things would be in India itself.  Consistency is high, the lassis aren't too sweet, and the Indian desserts are even good, which is hardly ever the case in U.S. Indian restaurants.  There is no reason not to go here as often as you can.  This is one of those restaurants where you can order just about everything and it will deliver.

 

Ray's the Steaks, East River edition. 3905 Dix Street Northeast Washington, DC 20019-1401 - (202) 396-7297, Tue-Thu, Sun 12pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-9:30pm.
They do some of the Ray's classic dishes, but the real treats here are the southern specials.  They have excellent smoked chili, fried chicken, and I bet the links are pretty good too.  This is right now the best “Southern” restaurant around, at least if you decide to treat it that way.  There is safe, guaranteed parking by the way and fear of danger is no reason not to come here.

Panda Gourmet, Langdon Days Inn, 2700 New York Ave., just east of Bladensburg, NE, 202-636-3588
Now this is something — the best Chinese restaurant ever to grace Washington, D.C. is in a dump of a roadside motel. You must of course ask for the secret Chinese menus, as the Chinese-American fare does not appear to be of interest. They have a special Shaanxi noodles dish, get it. They have a special Xian dish which you can think of as like a Chinese hamburger, albeit with pork. Get it. They have the best Dan Dan noodles this area has seen, ever. Get it. The best cold Chengdu spicy noodles I have had. The best cumin beef of any place around. The spicy fish wasn't bad, but not up to the other really good Chinese places around here. In any case this is a top drawer Chinese restaurant and for authenticity it is #1 around of all choices.You will note it is hard to get here, even with a car. If you are driving west on New York Avenue, you need to make a funny U-turn at the sign for The Washington Times building, and go under an unpromising overpass back to a service road, eventually the move will pay off.

Sushi Taro, 1503 17th St NW, 202-462-8999
A genuinely excellent place in the sense that you don't expect DC to have.  I can't say they offer huge surprises, but this is consistently one of the best places in town, with fine sushi, sashimi, and byproducts.  Get a fixed price menu.  Not cheap, but to get a very good fixed price menu for say $80, for the quality you get, is in relative terms a bargain.  Definitely recommended.

 

Teddy's Roti Shop, 7414 Georgia Ave., NW, 202-882-6488
Any of the rotis with goat are superb, make sure they put some of the spicy sauce in it (you have to ask).  Get the buss-up-shut.  The pumpkin is first-rate.  The soups are very good.  The “shark and bake” is a Trinidadian classic and it is pretty good here.  The “Boiled Provisions” [sic] are only so-so.  Ask about the fruit juices.  This part of town used to be run down but now it is quite nice.  This place is definitely recommended.  For authenticity it gets an A+.  And if you like a proprietor who is chatty and will tell you what to do, make that A++.

 

Thai X-ing, 515 Florida Ave. NW, 202-332-4322, no lunch

A legendary place but they now have too many tables and can't quite handle it.  Hit and miss, with some superb dishes still, such as the drunken noodles and the curries.  I also like the salmon, the larb, and the pumpkin curry.  Quirky décor, mostly designed by the chef/owner.  Here is one good review: http://www.intowner.com/fr/food/reviews/September2006.htm.  Here is the menu: http://www.inshaw.com/blog/Thai%20X-ing.htm but right now they are doing a no-choice, fixed price menu for 440 or so.  Previously you had to call and order in advance.  You still need to reserve to get in.  High peaks, but riskier than it used to be.  Still worth the visit, though.

 

 

Maryland:

 

Bob's Shanghai 66, 305 North Washington St. Rockville, 301-315-6668
Consistently excellent Chinese food. For all of the Shanghai packaging, you can think of this as mostly Taiwanese food with Shanghai and Sichuan around the edges (a good mix!). The Xiao Long Bao are quite good and you can get them with either pork or “crab yolk,” both are worth trying. The Peas with Mustard Greens are a must and in general this place has the best and freshest greens of any Chinese in the area. Get the Taiwanese cucumbers too. First-rate noodles. I also liked the flounder fillet in chili sauce and thought the Taiwanese sausage was quite subtle. Definitely recommended.

East Dumpling House, 12 North Washington St., Suite 14G, Rockville, 301-762-6200, no reservations, opens at 10:30
It's where the old Bob's Noodle house used to be, the Noodle place is now across the street.Real Beijing street food. Mostly kabobs (with Chinese spices) and dumplings, though the cold dishes are good too. I count 38 different forms of dumpling, including lamb, chicken, mushroom, bean curd and cabbage, and many other options in various combinations and manifestations. Their “Tofu Prime Products” are excellent too. These are the best dumplings around and this place should immediately be considered essential dining. It has no close substitute in this area and in terms of quality and price it is excellent.

El Tapatio, 4309 Kenilworth Ave., Bladensburg, 301-403-8882, open 10 to 10 every day, don't you love those hours?
This is a real Mexican place, treasure the thought.  In LA or Houston this restaurant would be only average, but that is still great in absolute terms.  Get the goat (“birria del chivo”).  The best chile relleno around.  Very good tacos.  A lifesaver, the first Mexican place I can recommend.

 

Michael's Noodle House, 10038 Darnestown Road., Rockville, (301) 738-0370

Imagine a combination of A&J and Hong Kong Palace and you have what is perhaps the best Chinese restaurant in this area right now.  The dishes are a mix of Sichuan, Taiwanese, and Manchurian.  It has the best noodles and best dumplings around; the Sichuan wontons are a must.  Shredded tofu is great.  Singapore Noodle is surprisingly good and quite subtle.  Pork with spicy noodles, in various incarnations, is excellent.  I've yet to try the soups but they looks very good.  Go mostly with the smaller dishes.  The décor is slightly nicer than at most Mom and Pops, the owners are Taiwanese, not so much English is spoken by the staff, and it draws an older Chinese crowd, less raucous than many other excellent Chinese places.  Highly recommended.

 

Nava Thai, 11301 Fern St., Wheaton, 240-430-0495

The Floating Market Soup is excellent, although too spicy for many. The Penang Curry – usually a boring dish – is a revelation. The tamarind sauce on the roast chicken is very good. The curry puffs are recommended as well. Very good pineapple curry too.  The service is now quite slow and not every dish is great (though all are at least good if you are confused just mimic the Thai customers with your order), and often the place frustrates me.  But the curries – even the ones you are bored with -- are really the highlight here.

 

Passage to India, 4931 Cordell Ave., near Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, 301-656-3373

This gem is still underrated.  This used to be a branch of Heritage India, but now it is run by the original founder.  It offers unique Indian regional specialties.  In fact only here in this area can you eat specialties of Bombay and Calcutta, among other parts of India.  This place is more like a high-class Indian restaurant of India than anywhere else around.  Highly recommended, and make sure you get the regional specialties.  Check out www.passagetoindia.info.

 

R&R Tacqueria, 7894 Washington Blvd. (Rt.1); 410-799-0001, Elkridge, Maryland, 13 minutes north of the 495/95 intersection, look for the Shell sign.  There is now also a branch in the mall, on Rt.95 to Baltimore, where the IKEA is.

This tacqueria is in a gas station, with two small counters and three chairs to sit on.  It is the best huarache I have eaten, ever, including in Mexico.  It is the best chile relleno I've had in the United States, ever.  They serve among the best Mexican soups I have had, ever, and I have been to Mexico almost twenty times.  I recommend the tacos al pastor as well.  At first Yana and Natasha were skeptics ("Sometimes you exaggerate about food") but now they are converts and the takeaways have vanished.  They even sell Mexican Coca-Cola and by the way the place is quite clean and nice, albeit cramped.

 

The highly intelligent proprietor is a former cargo pilot from Mexico City and speaks excellent English.  The restaurant is called R&R after the names of his two sons. For over twenty years I have sought such a place in the Washington, D.C. area and now I have one.  For over twenty years people have been asking me how can they scratch this itch and now I have an answer.  (The version of this post to appear on tylercowensethnicdiningguide.com will have photos of the food.)

Via Jodi Ettenberg, The Wall Street Journal reports on gas station tacos.

 

Sichuan Jin River, formerly Sichuan Pavilion, 410 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, just north of Rockville Town Centre, invisibly deep into a strip mall with “Saigon” restaurant and Revere Bank, don't miss it!  240-403-7351, book in advance! 

Wow and double wow.  Get the Dan Dan Noodles and the Jelly Noodles.  Get dumplings and other dumpling-like phenomena.  This is the most authentic Sichuan restaurant around and it makes Hong Kong Palace look like Burger King.  The spicy fish in hot pot is incredible.  The crispy potato.  Dan-Dan noodles.  Just choosing from the starting, first section of the menu makes this a “Top Five” restaurant.  First-rate ambience and clientele as well.  Highly recommended. But they only take reservations for groups of six or more.  Go early!  Go!

 

 

Virginia:

 

A&J Restaurant, 4316 Markham St., Annandale, 813-8181, just east of Beltway, or 1319 Rockville Pike, 301-251-7878

Manchurian food and dim sum, one of the best places around.  Tasty, original, and very cheap.  I love the soups and dumplings.  The boiled peanuts and shredded bean curd are other favorites.  The smoked chicken has been especially good lately.  But you can't go wrong here, just make sure you get lots of things, and with the median item price below three dollars, this is not hard to do.

 

A Taste of Morocco, 3211 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington, 527-7468.  Opens for dinner at 5

Primarily  à la carte, very tasty, authentic, and very reasonably priced.  The crust on the Bistillah (a pie of chicken, almonds, raisins, cinnamon and sugar) is properly thin.  At a Moroccan place always get the Bistillah.  Everything is good, but it is the Bistillah, and the Bistillah alone, that elevate this place to my favorites list.  In case you don't know, imagine a yummy pie full of chicken, topped with cinnamon and sugar and totally sinful.  It isn't even a dessert.

 

Abay Market, 3811-A S. George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-998-5322

Now this is an interesting place.  They have only a few dishes but those are mindblowingly good.  The menu includes kitfo, slabs of raw beef (tere sega), lamb soup, and slightly cooked kitfo (mostly raw).  That's it.  You can get vegetables – they make the best – but you must call ahead to do so.  All come with bread, sauce, and spices.  No doubt this is the best raw beef emporium for miles and miles around.  A+ for atmosphere.  Ask for their assistance in eating the food.  Recommended, but you'd better know what you are looking for.  It's the place Anthony Bourdain decided to visit and he was not disappointed.  Hail Abay Market!

 

Angeethi Indian Cuisine, 645 Elden St., Herndon, 703-796-1527

Excellent all around, this is now one of the two or three best Indian places in the area.  (Bombay Indian in Silver Spring is probably the current leader).  The chat station, offered at lunch, is first-rate.  Everything else is quite consistent and just generally tasty.  I even enjoyed the Butter Chicken.  Good breads.  Good vindaloo and spinach and black lentils.  What kind of Indian food is it?  Most of all I would say it is like the Balti food you get in the UK and indeed they have a whole section of the menu devoted to Balti dishes. 

 

Bang Ga Nae, 6499 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703-941-2722

Located in the little house where the North Korean place used to be.  Now they specialize in goat dishes, done three ways, spicy or not.  Soft, tender, and juicy meat, try it even if you don't like goat.  Goes with excellent greens, and good cold vegetables with the meal, especially the tofu.  At the end they pour some rice into the simmering sauce, pour in some black sesame seeds, and pour in some extra spices to make a Korean fried rice dish which is one of the area's best.  The goat is first-rate and overall this place is highly original.  The menu is short but they also serve Cornish hen stuffed with rice, a cod dish, pressure-cooked pork feet, and seafood pancake.  The service is also good and mostly they speak decent English.  Right now this is probably the best “specialty” restaurant in the Korean section of Annandale.

 

Bangkok Golden Thai Restaurant, 6395 Seven Corners Ctr, right next to Hong Kong Palace, Falls Church, VA, 703-533-9480

It's called Thai, and they do have Thai food (including a mediocre buffet), but there is also a separate Laotian menu – which you have to ask for -- and it is a stunner.  This is by far the best Laotian food I've had.  Everything is excellent but I think the Nam Khao is one of the best dishes in this whole area, get two of them.  You can even get the dishes which don't sound too interesting.  Use the dipping sauces a lot.  The chicken on a skewer is good, as are the small dishes to start and the soups and the tilapia.  There is also now a new Laotian menu, kind of a secret menu behind the secret menu, no English.  Insist they show it to you.  Tell them to bring you the best things from that menu.  The bottom line is that this place just got a whole lot better and it was great to begin with.   Sticky rice too, of course.
 

China Star, Rt.236, Fairfax, in the same shopping center as Kinko's and Cinema Arts Theatre
They have new owners, we are all starting from scratch here. Most of the established dishes are worse, but the new specials – Chinese only – are often excellent. Order those only. I like best the fish with tofu, the ribs on the bone, and then the Chili shrimp, for an excellent meal.

DaMoim, 7106 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-354-3211

Call me impressed.  They call it Korean fusion.  Get the Ssam with spicy pork and also get the kimchee quesadilla (really).  Get appetizer #5, the short ribs.  That's a great meal right there for very low cost.  Focus on the small dishes.  The fried chicken is quite good and the kimchee fried rich with egg (you have to ask for it) is a knockout.  Some of the entrees are too sweet for my personal taste (compared to “Korean classic” at least) but they are well done and many people will like them a lot.  The accompanying vegetables are above average.  This place tries to be cool, by invoking odd mixes of the Beatles and the 1960s and by playing intermittent classic rock.  I expect to go back a lot.  It's original, reasonably priced, and lots of fun.

 

Duangrat's Oriental Food Mart, 5888 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-578-0622, usually they close at 8 p.m., right next to Rabieng and around the corner from Duangrat's.

This place is neither Duangrat's nor Rabieng though it cooks from the same kitchen.  They make the food in a very different – and better – style, intended for local Thai visitors.  It is an open counter in the back of a Thai grocery where they will cook Thai dishes for you, home style.  2/3 of the menu is in Thai only and there is nowhere to sit down to eat.  Take out only.  Don't be put off, eat on the hood of your car if you have to -- it is superb.  The Nam Kao Tod is one of the best dishes in this entire region.  The Beef Nam Tok is first-rate, as is the Bamboo Shoot Salad and the Drunken Noodles.  I believe they have other gems as well.  A bit of a hassle, but worth it.

 

Eamonn's –A Dublin Chipper, 728 King St, Alexandria, (703) 299-8384

Have I ever told you what a fish and chips fanatic I am?  I scoured New Zealand for a year, looking for the best fish and chips (and found it).  I had amazing fish and chips, on the street in the town's central plaza, in Bergen, Norway.  That was the highlight of my entire trip.  So my standards are high.  And I'm pleased to report that I really enjoyed this place.  The fish is very good, enough said.  The mushy peas are first-rate.  No, it's not as good as the best in Kiwiland but I remain shocked by the quality and I am happy to recommend it.  NB: Tables can be hard to get, so go when the pressure is off.

 

Elephant Jumps, 8110 A Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, 22042, (703) 942-6600, in the Yorktowne Center, more on Gallows than Route 50, home page here.
Home-style Thai food, pretty genuine, with a chef from Bangkok.  There are four levels of spicy, culminating in "Thai spicy."  Right now it is probably better than any other local Thai competitor.  Just make it clear you are capable of handling business. The Green Curry Chicken Roti is especially good, as is the fried whole fish, soft shell crab in black pepper (when they have it), Elephant Jumps salad, Drunken Noodle, the specials, and the desserts are surprisingly good too.

They also have a new set of dishes, right now only on weekends but perhaps they will be extended to weekdays. On a weekend evening they will have four or so dishes, during the day two or so. These are their very best dishes and they are superb. I love their Ka Nom Jeen, a Burmese-influenced noodles with curry composition. The tuna appetizer looks a bit like sawdust (really) but is first-rate and original. The Hung Lay Curry is a knockout, with Laotian and Burmese influences. Gary Leff has a good review of those dishes here: http://boardingarea.com/viewfromthewing/2013/06/04/elephant-jumps-thai-in-northern-virginia-getting-even-better-with-new-dishes/ . Let's hope they keep these dishes. Elephant Jumps was already in the elite group of ethnic restaurants, and this pushes them yet one step higher.

The proprietor was a funny guy.  After exchanging impressions of the other local Thai restaurants, he said to me: "You know a lot about food and you get around -- you should be a food critic.  You could write up what you think about all these places!"

Eyo Restaurant and Sports Bar, 3821-B South George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-933-3084 

This unassuming locale is one of the two or three best Ethiopian places at the moment.  Furthermore they serve Ethiopian breakfast, starting at 10 a.m., though sometimes interpreted flexibly by management.  Their foul is simply superb and more generally you can't go wrong with anything here.  This single strip mall in Virginia is raising Ethiopian food to an entirely new level and making the trip to 9th St obsolete.  This place is also a favorite of the local cab drivers.

 

Hai Duong Restaurant, 6795 Wilson Blvd., #7-9, Falls Church, Eden Center, 703-538-5289

Again, on the inside corridor near Wilson Boulevard.  This place is just first-rate.  My favorite dish is the #31, Sizzling Fish Filet in Northern Style; you need to put all the pieces together on top of the chip for it to make sense.  #10, Beef Underdone with Lime, is the best around and you should order this special dish if you don't already know it.  The soups are very good as are the crushed rice dishes and the noodles.  Excellent atmosphere: Go, go, go.

 

Hong Kong Palace, formerly Saigon Palace, 6387 E. Leesburg Pike, Seven Corners Center, Falls Church, 532-0940.  In the mall with Home Depot and Barnes and Noble, though both are down below on the other side of the mall.

Mostly Sichuan and you must order the unusual dishes.  The lamb with cumin is excellent, the Dan Dan noodles are very good, the fish in the bowl with all the chiles is a knock-out, and they are putting in real spice.  The place keeps on getting better.  The beef with bamboo shoot is especially good, as are the Chengdu dumplings.  The specials are superb.  Right now the clientele is 100% Chinese, a good sign.  Currently the best Chinese place around.

Hot Spot, 3232 Old Pickett Rd, Fairfax, 703-537-0325
This is Chinese food, exactly the kind of hot pot meal which has grown so popular in China itself. But note it is run and (mostly) patronized by Koreans. Fear not, the quality is excellent and the ma la spicy broth is as good and as authentic as you could expect. $22.95 for all you can eat is a bargain because the execution on ingredients is strong. The place fills up early, so make sure you have a reservation, and also make sure you have at least 90 minutes to actually spend over the meal itself. Recommended.

Hunan Gate Restaurant, 4233 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, 703-243-5678.

On the surface a mediocre Hunan place, but underneath there is a Manchurian menu, originally in Chinese only but now parts are in English.  Order from that!  No other place around tastes like this one.  I recommend the tofu scallion salad, the julienne potato salad, the NE style pancake, the chive potstickers, and the pork riblets with Italian flat bean stew, plus the amazing chicken dish with the large, flat wheat noodles, a real winner.  I am not sure how you can get any of these but try your best.  Nor should you forget the pork belly stew with wide glass noodles or the pots and dishes with fermented cabbage.  This place is still getting better.  Definitely recommended.

 

Karaikudi Restaurant, 13949 Metrotech Dr., Chantilly, 703-817-7755, off of Rt. 50 just before Rt.28
Top-notch Tamil Nadu/ Chettinad Indian food, clearly the spiciest place around. The best Indian mushrooms around. Great Chettinad chicken and quail. Fine Tamarind rice. Chicken gizzard soup. Fish fry. They have dosas too, but this is true Indian regional cuisine. They also have a type of cooking known as “Aachi Samayal,” which seems to be related to the idea of aromas. Right now this is one of the best places to visit, so go, go, go.

La Fortaleza, La Delicias, two food trucks, they park on Sundays just west of Present Restaurant, Falls Church, Rt.50, Sunday, roughly 11-7
This is the best and most authentic Bolivian food around.  Get the sopa de mani (peanut soup), enrollado (make sure you taste the green leaf with it), chicarron (superb and super soft and juicy), and solterito, which mixes beef, white cheese, onion, tomato, Bolivian corn, and potato.  They also have chairo, falso conejo, tilapia Bolivian style (sometimes), and many other authentic dishes.  They don't have real seating but it doesn't matter, this is the place to go.  A+ for atmosphere too, knowledge of Spanish helps.

 

Le Matin de Paris, 7326 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, 703-914-0088, www.lematindeparis.com

Excellent Korean baked goods and desserts, original throughout, and now my favorite place to hang out. 

 

Me Jana, 2300 Wilson Boulevard  Arlington, 703-465-4440

Right now this is a clear #1 in the Lebanese department.  The sausage, and dishes involving fatty meats, are especially good.  As is the raw meat.  Simply an excellent restaurant, tasty all around, and the best place to eat in the Courthouse area short of Ray's Hell Burger.

 

Nostos, 8100 Boone Blvd, at Tysons off of Aline, Vienna, 703-760-0690
Finally this area has a first-rate Greek restaurant. This is not a mom and pop but rather a modestly fancy place, not cheap but relative to its market segment it is reasonably priced. I've tried maybe a dozen of the dishes here, with a wide range of choice. Every single one was excellent. My favorite, oddly enough, was the green zucchini, make sure you dip them into the tz sauce. If they keep on cooking at this level, there is even a chance that Nostos is northern Virginia's best restaurant right now. Definitely recommended.

Pasara, 360 Engelhardt Lane, right off Duke St., Alexandria, 703-299-8746
Definitely worth a try.  I ate here after a talk I gave at Motley Food, in downtown Alexandria.  They told me they were taking me to an “average” Thai place.  I insisted they let me “speak sternly” to the waitress.  It took a few rounds, some back and forth, and some visits from the kitchen.  I told everyone that we were “serious eaters” and had been to Thailand and wanted the food “Thai style” and that I wanted their best dishes.  I refused to order anything but simply repeated these instructions.  They told me this would require an adjustment, but eventually it came, a meal for five people, hand-cooked by the chef.  It was one of the very best Thai meals I've eaten in this area -- ever -- superb in every day.  The minced chicken with basil was especially good, also the drunken noodles and the chinese broccoli with small pork fritters.  I can't promise you'll succeed in getting the same treatment, but like I said it's worth a try.

 

Pho 75, 3103 Graham Road, Suite B, Falls Church,703-204-1490

Go early to avoid the line.  Do not fear tripe and the other nasty bits.  Learn to eat for crunch and texture.

 

Pike Pizza, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and George Mason, probably that is Arlington, 703-521-3010

First-rate Bolivian.  They do not, however, have pizza, despite the name.  The best Bolivian sausage around, too.  Amazing atmosphere.

 

Sichuan Village, 14005 Lee Jackson Highway (Rt.50), just east of Rt.28, Chantilly, 703-631-5888, same strip mall as Il Mee. 

This place is from the titans that brought you the old Formosa Café in Crystal City.  The new place is much more Szechuan, although they have added many heinous dishes and a heinous buffet for some of their heinous customers.  Ignore those downsides.  The real Chinese food here is superb.  Get the Ants on a Stick, Tofu and Fish Fillet inVery Hot Sauce, Cold Pig's Maw with Ginger and Garlic, Chengdu Kung Pao Chicken, Braised Beef with Brown Sauce, Tea Smoked Duck, Steamed Pork Bun Han Style, and Dumplings Zhong's Style.  And that is just a start.

 

Shamshiry, 8607 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, VA, 703-448-8883.  Off of Route 7, near the Dulles access road. 

Not visible from any road.  Turn left at the right place, and head towards the back.  Near Oriental Regency, down a bit from United Airlines. An excellent Persian place.  Kabobs only, which I usually find dry and unexciting, but this place is a winner.  Best rice in the area, very fragrant.  The Barberry Rice and Cherry Rice, with chicken or beef respectively, are highly worthwhile.  The Barberry Rice is wonderfully tangy and sour and the berries are luscious.  What kind of rice you order is the real decision here, not what kind of meat.  Ask for the beef medium rare, or even rare, if you order meat.  The salmon is my favorite, with Zereshk Polo, make sure you rub Maast Moosir (a kind of thick yogurt sauce) into the whole thing, liberally.  Excellent people-watching also, if you are interested in the Persian upper-middle class.

 

Super Chicken, 422 S. Washington St., right next to Blanca's, Falls Church, 703-538-5366

How good can any chicken be?  Should any roast chicken place be on the “must-tries” list?  Maybe not, but this is the best chicken place around and it didn't make my guide at all last time, so I believe it could use the extra publicity.  Northern Virginia magazine did a blind taste test of about ten different roast chicken dishes from leading restaurants.  Super Chicken was a clear winner, including in my eyes.  I since went to the restaurant and found it was even better on-site.  They also have the best rice and beans around and occasional Peruvian dishes such as fried fish and tripe stew.  No, it doesn't transcend its category but it does win its category.  Worth a try.

 

Thanh Son Tofu, 6793/A Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, just north of Dragon Star, Falls Church, 703-534-1202

They serve one main dish, tofu.  That's right, just slabs of tofu, done three main ways.  Five for a dollar.  The best tofu around, period.  Tofu to die for.  Tofu.  Wonderful tofu.  The Vietnamese love this place.  By the way, you'd better be in the mood for tofu. 

 

Uncle Liu's Hot Pot, 2972 Gallows Road, Falls Church, VA, 703-560-6868

Otherwise known as The Great Leap Forward, Fairfax style. It is located on Gallows Rd., between Rt.29 and 50, the core info is here, and a very reliable source sends me the following review:

 

The old Sichuan restaurant a few doors down from Great Wall–I think it was called Peking Village–which used to be there has been replaced by a place called “Uncle Liu's Hotpot.” It's owned by HK Palace and, as the name implies (and, unlike HK Palace, it's Chinese name is the same as the English name, though it's really Old Liu's Hotpot City), it specializes in hotpot. We were very excited before even going in, because, while a few Sichuan places offer hotpot (the defunct place up in Gaithersburg that was a Hui-Sichuan restaurant; China Canteen; Great Wall Szechwan if you let them know in advance), none even comes close to being the real thing. The good news is that this place is as close as I think you're going to get to real Sichuan hotpot in the US.

They have a special hotpot menu, which, though only in Chinese when it comes to ordering which type of base you want (it's on the front of the menu; they have a variety of choices–classic all spicy, classic half spicy half non-spicy, and then they have a mushroom broth one, one with fish head, and one or two others), has in both English and Chinese a list of all the things to order to go into the hotpot. That list is very good–has all the classic ingredients (though some are a little different from what you'd get in Sichuan, e.g., the doufu pi) and is maybe about 1/2 the number of ingredients you'd have on offer at an average hotpot restaurant in Chengdu, so it's really pretty good. The prices are very reasonable, and, even better, it's open until midnight every day (again, a very good sign of authenticity, as hotpot restaurants in Chengdu are packed until very late at night). We had the classic all spicy base ($6 for the table; it's the cheapest option)–for our taste, it could have been a bit more oily-lardy and could have had more seasonings in it, especially chilis and Sichuan peppercorns, but it was still very, very good (and hotpot restaurants in Chengdu have been moving away from the lard as well for health reasons in the last few years; also, outside of Sichuan itself, hotpot restaurants in China tend to go lighter on the peppercorns because they know non-Sichuanese aren't as used to it). Also extremely positive is that they have a dipping sauce station (the dipping sauce, which is essential, is another $1 per person, again, it's only in Chinese on the front of the hotpot menu where the bases are listed) that is self-serve, something you don't get even in China. You can do the classic version (which I did last night)–sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, garlic, salt, msg (yes, a pinch can't hurt), scallions, and cilantro–but they have a lot more there as well if you want (though, for my mind, stuff like oyster sauce and hoisin sauce is an abomination with hotpot).

The regular menu of the restaurant combines the usual Chinese-American standards with maybe about half to 2/3 of HK Palace's Sichuan dishes (though no specials on the wall that I noticed). We didn't order from that–hotpot is definitely the way to go in the evening, and that's what every table was getting–the place was basically full around 8 but had mostly emptied out by 9. What we're also excited about, however, is that they offer a daily lunch buffet from 11-3 and, judging from the labels on the buffet setup, they include in the buffet (at least on the weekends–maybe they pare it down during the week) a lot of their very good Sichuan cold dishes and a good selection of main dishes (though less heavy on the Sichuan stuff). The buffet includes pho and bubble tea. We're now conflicted–do we try the buffet for our next trip or stick to the hotpot? Probably the latter, especially as we're definitely going to try the mushroom base.

 

The Sichuan dishes are excellent (see HK Palace) and the buffet is even worthwhile – Sichuan dishes – if you arrive before 11:30 a.m.

Those are some of my favorites, now on to the longer list!       


Afghan / African / American / Argentinean / Asian (Pan-Asian) / Austrian / Bangladeshi / Barbecue / Belgian / Bolivian / Bosnian / Brazilian / Bread / Burmese / Cajun / Cajun Thai / Cameronian / Caribbean/ Cheese / Cheese Steaks / Chicken / Chili / ChineseChinese - Peruvian / Chilean / Colombian / Crabs /  Cuban / Deli / Dominican / Eclectic / Egyptian /Eritrean/ Ethiopian / Filipino / Fine Dining / Fish / Fondue / French / German / Ghanaian / Greek / Guatemalan / Guyana / Hamburgers / Honduran / Indian / South Indian / Indonesian / Iraqi / Irish / Israeli / Italian / Jamaican / Japanese / Korean / Kosher /Laotian/ Latin / Lebanese / Malaysian / Mexican / Mongolian / Moroccan / Mozambique/ Nepalese / New Zealand / Nigerian / Pakistani / Palestinian / Persian / Persian-Peruvian / Peruvian / Pizza / Portuguese / Puerto Rican / Raw Food / Russian / Salvadorian / Scandinavian and Slavic / Scottish / Seafood / Senegalese / Serbian / Singaporean / Somalian / Soul Food / Southern / Southwest / Spanish / Sudanese / Taiwanese / Thai / Tibetan / Trinidadian / Tunisian / Turkish / Uruguayan /Uzbekistani /Vegetarian / Venezuelan / Vietnamese / Vietnamese Soup / West African / West Indian


Afghan

Maryland:

Faryab Afghan Cuisine, 4917 Cordell Ave., between Norfolk and Old Georgetown, Bethesda, 301-951-3484

Very good Afghan food, a bit slow on the service, but going is no mistake.  I generally like the kadu, their fried dumplings and eggplant dishes are also quite good. 

Virginia:

Afghan Restaurant, 2700 Jefferson Davis Highway, Alexandria, 703-548-0022

Smaller menu, less fine, grittier, and more authentic.  A bit out of the way for me, but worth having in the repertoire.

 

Bamiyan, 5634 Leesburg Pike, 703-820-7880, just east of Borders.

One of the best Afghan places around, the kabobs are juicy and succulent.  That being said, I have some complaints.  The air conditioning is overdone.  The dining room is huge and understaffed.  I can't imagine trying to eat here at 8 p.m. on a Saturday evening.  The appetizers all have strong minty tastes.  This is better than going the sweet route, but a certain sameness creeps in.  With some modest changes, this place could be very very good.  Right now it hovers between good and very good.

 

Charcoal Kabob, 394 Elden St., Herndon, 703-435-2400

Above average kabob place, with some Afghan dishes too.  Recommended.  This mall in Herndon, and the accompanying strip, is one of the best locales around for ethnic food.

 

Food Corner, 7031-A Little River Turnpike, 703-750-2185

Very mom and pop.  Relatively authentic Afghan food, including vegetable dishes, kabobs also.  Excellent bread.  Greasy but good.  Unfortunately, they took their best dishes, Aushak and Mantu, off the menu.

 

Food Corner II, 7031 Brookfield Plaza, Springfield.

Afghan, perhaps a branch of Food Corner (see above), but they also have kept the rotisserie chicken from the Latin place that used to be here.  I have yet to go.

 

Halal Kabab House, 6245 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703-354-1848

Afghan kababs, near Landmark Center, I have yet to go.

 

Kabob Corner, 10893 Main St., Fairfax, 703-219-2078

An intriguing little mom n' pop Afghan restaurant.  Not the very best kabobs but they have pumpkin, aushak, etc.  I like going there.

 

Kabul Kabob House, 514A South Van Dorn St., West Alexandria, 703-751-1833

Excellent Afghan food.  The kabobs are very good but I like the stews and mixed dishes best.  Fresh salads and good use of vegetables.  The best Afghan place, apart from Panjshir, for vegetables.  They don't always have pumpkin, though, which is the best Afghan dish.  Worth trying in any case.

 

Panjshir, 924 Broad Street, Falls Church, 703-536-4566

The most mainstream Afghan place but also the place to start if this cuisine is new to you.  The two branches are indistinguishable, as the food is cooked in the same kitchen.  The kebabs are good but boring, get the stews, but especially the side dishes.  The Kadu, the pumpkin, is a must.  One side order serving is usually not enough for two people, so get two.  This place offers many wonders.  I love the apple, prunes, and walnut combinations.  Saturday lunch is an excellent deal.  For dinner for two, order all of the side dishes, plus the Mantu.  The service is a bit slow, I think they do it on purpose, though for no good reason.

Rumi's Bistro, 523 Maple Ave., Vienna, 703- 242-2138, where Nizam's used to be
Excellent Afghan, this place earns a regular spot in my repertoire. The Afghan take on fesenjan (walnut and pomegranate sauce) is tasty and hard to get elsewhere. Good Aushak. Truly tasty Dulme. All the dishes here seem to be at least good, note however it is slightly more expensive than many Afghan places.

African

See under the specific African cuisines, such as Senegalese, Ghanaian, Nigerian, and Cameronian, as well as West African.  Not to mention Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Sudanese.  I hereby offer formal apology to all Eritreans for lumping them in with Ethiopian, but I simply cannot tell one cuisine from the other.

American

Washington DC:

Hitching Post Restaurant, 200 Upshur St., near Rock Creek Church Road, NW, 202-726-1511

A casual American restaurant.  One reader recommends the fried chicken, white beans with neck meat, and the macaroni and cheese.  Sietsema wrote a good review of it too

 

Mitsitam, in the National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St. and Independence, SW, 10-5 every day, sometimes very crowded

They have five restaurants in one, many of them try to represent various Native American dishes.  Well, sort of.  You can get buffalo burgers, tamales, Northwest salmon, quinoa grain salad, corn on the cob, cranberries, pumpkin, cactus salad, tacos, and smoked turkey sandwich.  I've yet to find a single dish that fully delivers, where else can you eat on the Mall?  I give at an “A” for effort, at the very least.

 

Ray's the Steaks, East River edition. 3905 Dix Street Northeast Washington, DC 20019-1401 - (202) 396-7297, Tue-Thu,Sun 12pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-9:30pm

They do some of the Ray's classic dishes, but the real treats here are the southern specials.  They have excellent smoked chili, fried chicken, and I bet the links are pretty good too.  This is right now the best “Southern” restaurant around, at least if you decide to treat it that way.  There is safe, guaranteed parking by the way and fear of danger is no reason not to come here.

The Red Hen 1822 1st St., Washington, D.C., NW, 202-525-3021, closed for lunch
Excellent food, sometimes called Italian but fundamentally American in my book, with some pasta courses to make it even more American. The menu seems to change, but my favorite dishes (upon sampling nine or so) were the black linguini and the cod spread on toast. Everything was good or very good, except the dessert disappointed. The prices are reasonable for the quality and the level of noise is manageable and the décor is attractive, so pluses all around, an excellent addition to the DC repertoire.

Maryland:

Ray's the Classics, 8606 Colesville Road, right across from AFI, Silver Spring, 301-588-7297
Retro dining, chops, big plates of big stuff, like they used to serve in 1976.  It's pretty good for a change of pace.  For me, this is what now counts as “exotic.”  I like the spinach too but overall I can't claim this place is anything special.

 

 

 Virginia:

 

Artie's 3260 Old Lee Highway, near Rt.50, Fairfax, 703-273-7600

Surprisingly good on all fronts, get the salmon salad with goat cheese added on top.  The beef ribs, not available every night, are good as well.  In fact they are the best beef ribs around.  But beware the lines at this place, and you can't make a reservation in advance.  One of the best places around for food sissies.

 

Bazin's on Church, 111 Church St., Vienna, 703-255-7212

Very American, the crowd is very NoVa.  It's OK enough, but why would you want to spend the money there?  I shared a bunch of dishes and of those I thought the lamb lollipops were clearly the best, in fact they were quite good.  Genuinely Turkish and I believe the chef is Turkish as well.  But otherwise it is “just another place.”

 

Morton's, 8075 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, 883-0800, look for Tiffany's and Chili's, park, and walk to the west side of the mall.

A dominant restaurant.  Affordable at lunchtime, and makes a great buy.  It's hard to find better beef than this.  High quality on all fronts.  The chopped sirloin for lunch is an amazing bargain.  Dinner looks very expensive, but since the steaks feed at least two people, just order one.  There is also a branch in Georgetown.  At either branch, beware the cigar smokers.

 

For American, see also Fine Dining, Barbecue, Seafood, Southern, Cajun, and Southwest.
 
 

Argentinean

  Maryland:

Divino Lounge, 7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 240-497-0300

Meat, I have yet to go

 

El Patio, 12303 Twinbrook Parkway, Rockville, 301-231-9225

Washingtonian magazine praises this place to the skies, but not a word in its favor is convincing.  How can do really do this cuisine without first-rate beef, which would have to be the case considering their prices?

 

  Virginia:

 

Victor's II, Rt.29, Falls Church, where Black-Eyed Pea used to be

Bolivian as well, but the closest you will find to real parillada.  You get an enormous plate, it is quite good but not for all tastes, be prepared for huge slabs and meat and innards.  Recommended.  It would almost make my favorites list, except I can't eat this stuff more than once a year.

 

.

Asian (Pan-Asian)

Washington DC:

Café Mozu, Hotel Mandarin Oriental  “Set at the heart of the US capital between Maine and Maryland Avenues and 12th and 14th Streets, SW,”

Expensive, but the seafood is of high quality.  Some of the sauces are a bit sweet.  Probably the best Pan-Asian place around, but if I am in that hotel, and inclined to spend money, I am headed to CityZen.

 

Mantis, 1847 Columbia Rd., 202-667-2400

Pan-Asian tapas, I have yet to go. 

 

Nooshi, formerly Oodles Noodles, 1120 19th, just north of K St., NW

A Pan-Asian place, which mixes cuisines, with an emphasis on noodles.  Yummy if sometimes just a bit too sweet.  When in doubt, order the peanut sauce.

 

Oya, 777 Ninth St., NW, 202-393-1400

This is probably the most stunning-looking restaurant in all of DC. But the “fusion” cuisine is mediocre.  Supposedly French/Asian but more bland than anything else.  It's OK, at best, but I can't recommend a trip other than for the décor.

 

Spices, 3333-A Connecticut Ave., near Ordway, 202-686-3833

Pan-Asian food, owned by the Oodles Noodles people.  By now this stuff is passé rather than new or interesting.  If you like this place, it just means you haven't enjoyed the real Asian food to be had around here.  You are probably one of those carless people stuck in Washington D.C. 

 

Maryland:

Raku, 7240 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-8680

More Japanese than anything else.  I used to like the old incarnation, I have yet to go here.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Big Bowl, Reston Town Center, 11915 Democracy Drive, Reston, 787-8852, usually open.

Half-Asian, half-American, for Reston tekkies, this place is popular and has its defenders.  Not for the purist, though.  Try the curries, and hope for the best.

 

Café Asia, 1550 Wilson Boulevard, Rosslyn, 703-741-0870
Reasonably good, and quite cheap.  Tasty and spicy Asian food of all varieties, most valuable to me here are the Indonesian dishes, which are good and hard to find elsewhere in this area.  You might think that a Pan-Asian place won't do most things well, but this place in fact does many dishes reasonably well.  Looks like a big cafeteria but the setting is nonetheless somehow attractive.

Basically nowhere in this section is any good.

Austrian

Washington DC:

Leopold's Kafe and Konditorei, 3318 M St., 202-965-6005

Might be OK for Georgetown.  The specialty is pastries, they sometimes have Tafelspitz.

 

Virginia:

 

Cafe Tirolo, 4001 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, behind Tara Thai, closed weekends, 703-528-7809

Formerly run by Austrian, it is now taken over by Koreans.  The spaghetti has too much garlic.  I can't recommend it any more.

 

Euro Bistro, 314 Elden St., at Herndon Parkway, 703-481-8158

Austrian food, with some Thai (!) dishes.  Spaetzle.

 

Bangladeshi

Virginia:

 

Gharer Khabar, 5151 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-973-2432
A new Bangladeshi place, now up and running -- sort of -- and suddenly one of my very favorite area restaurants. During their first few months they served only biryanis, and those were a clear first best in the area. Now they have an entire menu. The thing to do is go with four people and ask for all of their best dishes. You should get around eight courses for about $30 per head. The breads, curries, and odds and ends are all first-rate and original at that. It reminds me of the early days of Thai X-Ing. It is also one of the two or three cheapest places on this whole list. Highly recommended, right now this is one of the places to frequent. Note they only have a few tables, and the kitchen is slow in any case.

Barbecue

Washington DC:

 

Capital BBQ, 707 H St., NW, 202-347-8396, www.capitalbbq.com.

Not as good as it used to be, no longer worth the visit. 

 

Hill Country, 401 7th St., at D, 202-556-2050

This is a tough place for me to evaluate because I've spent so much time tracking down real Texas barbecue.  The brisket here is pretty good, the ribs a disappointment.  The sides are quite good, including the beans and collard greens.  The sausages are flown in direct from Lockhart, but I get them flown to my home (you can do it too, from Kreuz Market), so that doesn't impress me, though they are good.  For a lunch, I was still hungry and it cost me $40.  It is crowded and noisy.  It's still the best (only?) Texas barbecue around.  Is it as good as Blue Smoke in NYC?  No.  Will I go here much?  No. Will some of you like it?  Yes.

 

Kenny's BBQ Smokehouse, 732 Maryland Ave., NW, 202-547-4553

This is really quite good North Carolina barbecue.  Very much a Mom & Pop.  Get the spicy sauce, which is in any case more tangy than spicy.  Good collard greens.  Right now the best barbecue place in DC, without a doubt.

Maryland:

Bare Bones, 20260 Goldenrod Lane in the Hampton Inn, Germantown, 301-916-3700

Ribs are the specialty, I have yet to go.

 

Jerk Pit, 8145-C Baltimore Ave., Rt.1, College Park, 301-441-4786

Yes, jerk is a form of barbecue.  The wings are recommended.  Fridays they have oxtail stew.  Service is slow, because they do it the right way.  In recent times, however, they have been having problems with the fire and health authorities.

 

Rocklands, 2418 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-2558

If you are thinking of bringing your friend from Kansas City or Texas, don't. 

 

Texas Ribs and BBQ, 7701 Old Branch Ave., Clinton, MD, 301-877-0323

I had high hopes going to this place, which many describe as the best BBQ around.  On the plus side, I'll give it high marks for atmosphere and authenticity.  It really is Texas-style barbecue and the beans and bread are pretty good too.  The problem is that the meat isn't great.  The ribs were downright mediocre.  The brisket was better, OK I would say, but not good enough to drive around the Beltway for.  Until I hear more entreaties, I'm not going back.  But I would continue to go if I lived next door.

 

Urban Bar-B-Que, 2007 Chapman Ave., Rockville, 240-290-4827

Mostly take-out, they only have ten tables, always a good sign.  They plan to expand, which I take to be a bad sign.  The French fries are excellent.  The sauces were not exactly to my taste.  In any case this is a significant sign of progress.  One of the best barbecue places around.

 

Virginia:

 

BBQ Country, 14215-X Centreville Sq., Centreville, 703-968-5896, there are four others around as well

I have yet to go.

 

Bubba's Bar-B-Q, 7810-F Lee Highway, Falls Church, Merrifield Plaza, 703-560-8570, right by the Burmese place, closed Sunday

The pork here is quite good, the staff can be rude.  Get the pork and the fries.

 

Dixie Bones, 13440 Occoquan Rd., Woodbridge, 703-492-2205, south on Rt.123, half an hour south from Fairfax, right off 95

Worth the trip, right now this is the best barbecue around.  I like the ribs best.  The side orders are excellent, and cooked with great care.  Make sure you try the sauces on your meat.  Everyone recommends their baked goods as well.  This is outside my purview but they appear to be quite fresh.

 

Pierce's, in or near Williamsburg, off Rt.64.

Pulled pork, they still have an open pit, which is increasingly rare these days.  It is not bad but I don't love it.

 

Pork Barrel BBQ, 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue  Alexandria, Del Rey, 703-822-5699
The ribs are decent in the flavor department, but too dry and overall everything is served up to you too quickly.  Some of the sides are OK but not above that level.  I consider this place a missed opportunity.  It's in a great neighborhood, VA needs a real bbq place, it is an excellent place to sit and/or meet, but the food just isn't quite at the level it ought to be.

 

Red, Hot, and Blue, 1600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, 276-7427, several other branches including one near GMU, usually open.

Many people hate this restaurant.  Given the recent proliferation of barbecue in this area, there is no longer any reason to go.  It defines generic, chain barbecue, and perhaps that is worth knowing, if only to see the contrast with the real thing.

 

Willard's, 4300 Chantilly Shopping Center, #1a, on Willard Rd. / Dulles Expo Center, off Rt.28, not too far from Dulles Airport, 703-488-9970

They have St. Louis ribs, Texas brisket, Kansas City burnt ends, North Carolina pulled pork, and Jamaican jerk chicken, among other dishes.  No one of these is up to the original but at least it resembles pit barbecue.  Real side dishes, too.  Excellent characters come to eat at this place.  Recommended.

 

Belgian

Washington DC:

Belga Café, 514 Eighth St., SE, 202-544-0100, the hours are currently in flux

Eh.  It's OK, but this guide exists to cure you of such places. 

 

Brasserie Beck, 1101 K St., Washington, 202-408-1717

Good French fries, mussels, and comfort food dishes.  It can get crowded and noisy but go early for what can be quite a good meal.  The beers here are very popular, I would say stick with the weirder, more Belgian entrees to avoid being stuck with a boring meal.

Maryland:

Le Mannequin Pis, 18064 Georgia Ave., Olney, 301-570-4800, dinner only

Yes, Belgian.  Gets rave reviews.  Belgian food is great in Belgium, but in Olney?  Everyone raves about the mussels and the beer.  Not cheap, I have yet to go.

 

Bolivian

Virginia:

 

Casa Blanca, 5037 Columbia Pike, 703-280-1904, Falls Church, just east of Bailey's Crossroads

Mostly a bakery but they have many Bolivian snacks.  Eli Lehrer likes this place, I have yet to go.

 

Fanny's Restaurant, 436 S. Washington St., Falls Church, 703-532-4155

Not my very favorite Bolivian place, but competitive with the other good ones.  It is the place where you are most likely to see a huge, disgusting pile of Pique Macho with ketchup and mustard slathered on top.  That's worth something.  They also have a kidney soup which no other place around seems to.  If you live nearby, at the very least this is worth a visit.  Like most Bolivian places around, they will simply assume that you speak Spanish.

 

La Fortaleza, La Delicias, two food trucks, they park on Sundays just west of Present Restaurant, Falls Church, Rt.50, Sunday, roughly 11-7.

This is the best and most authentic Bolivian food around.  Get the sopa de mani (peanut soup), enrollado (make sure you taste the green leaf with it), chicarron (superb and super soft and juicy), and solterito, which mixes beef, white cheese, onion, tomato, Bolivian corn, and potato.  They also have chairo, falso conejo, tilapia Bolivian style (sometimes), and many other authentic dishes.  They don't have real seating but it doesn't matter, this is the place to go.  A+ for atmosphere too, knowledge of Spanish helps.

 

Llajaymanta, Arlington Boulevard, in Graham Center (at Graham), next to where Cha Gio used to be 

One of the most authentic Bolivian places around.  The menu is in Spanish only.  The waitresses don't speak any English.  The soups and meats are very good.  Great atmosphere too.

 

Luzmila's Cuisine, 809 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-237-0047

Mom and pop Bolivian place, not up to Don Arturo's or the nearby Victor's, but good enough to enjoy and very friendly and fun.  Pablo Ayala tells me that their saltenas are very good.

 

My Bakery Café, off Columbia Pike, after Blair Rd., and right before Full Kee

Recommended for Bolivian pastries and breads.  One Bolivian reader recommends the “api, a purplish corn-based drink, served hot,” I may stick with jellyfish.  The chicharron and mote are recommended as well.

 

Parrillas del Sur, 4230 Annandale Rd., #120, 703-642-1248, behind the Western Union, not visible from Rt.236 but not far away either
One of the two or three best Bolivian places around and more consistent than most. Right now this is perhaps my favorite Silpancho. The chef is from Santa Cruz, which doesn't seem to make a huge difference, but it is a slight variation on the Cochabamba emphasis in all the other places. They still have mostly Cochabamba dishes, though some of the other meats and small bready dishes are more in the Argentinean direction. Beware: it can fill up and get crowded on weekends, leading to waits, so go fairly early. It is also slightly “nicer” than most area Bolivian restaurants, yet without feeling sterile or overdone. So this one I can definitely recommend.

Pike Grill, 3902 Wilson Boulevard, right by Gold's Gym, Arlington, 703-243-0279
Above-average Bolivian, one of the best silpanchos around with a properly moist egg.  Recommended, a fun place.

 

Pike Pizza, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and George Mason, probably that is Arlington, 703-521-3010

First-rate Bolivian.  They do not, however, have pizza, despite the name.  The best Bolivian sausage around, too.  Amazing atmosphere.  There is also a good branch, Pike IV, on Little River Turnpike, more or less at the dividing line between Annandale and West Alexandria.

 

Sibarita Restaurant, 2716 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-276-1050

A very good mom n' pop, gets crowded too.  Most of the restaurant is in the back room.   I am fond of the silpancho here, chilies and tomatoes and egg piled on thin meat, pounded, on top of a bed of rice and fried potatoes, make sure you have them bring you the spicy green sauce to spray on top, liberally.  The best soups appear on varied days, not all of the time.

 

The Salsa Room, formerly known as Cecilia's, 2619 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-685-0790, usually open

The main Bolivian place in the area, and a center for Bolivian social life.  Excellent food, I really like the Pork Fricassee.  The menu is not purely Bolivian (Mexican specialties are offered), but you should probably order Bolivian, even though everything looks good.  Music and dancing at night on weekends. The key to Andean restaurants in the U.S. is to avoid ordering a plain piece of meat; the quality of the meat will not be bad, but it will not be high enough to justify your choice.  Look instead for sauces, stews, soups, and concoctions.  Or a piece of meat with lots piled on top of it, especially chiles and green sauce.

 

Tutto Bene, Ballston, 501 N. Randolph St., just off Glebe Rd., across from the Harris Teeter, 703-522-1005

Bolivian food on weekends, certainly good but not my first choice for Bolivian.  I actually prefer the Italian dishes here, it is an Italian restaurant most of the time, very tasty.  Tastes like the Italian food you get in South America, which is usually excellent, perhaps because it is especially rich.  The ravioli are my favorite.

 

Victor's Menu, 436 S. Washington St., Falls Church, 703-532-8878, victor_brujo@yahoo.com

I've now been here three times, and great every time.  One of the best Bolivian places around, and probably the largest portions of any place listed on this guide. 

 

Bosnian

Virginia:

 

Restaurant Cosmopolitan, N. Kings Highway, across from Huntington Metro Station.

Food in Bosnia is excellent, I am told this leans closer to the Austro-Hungarian direction (dollop of sour cream on the top) than to Turkish.  Many people seem to like it.  I am also told you can find Bosnian food in Washington Grill, on Vermont Ave, just north of K St.  They have fried veal sausages wrapped in bread and eaten with raw onions and a sauce called ivar, consisting of peppers and eggplant.

 

Brazilian

Washington DC:

Fogo de Chao, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., 202-347-4668, www.fogodechao.com, Saturday opens at 4:30, Sunday at 4:00.

A clear first choice for Brazilian right now.  Churrascaria.  All the meat you can eat.  The quality is surprisingly high, and the salting is just right.  From a chain based in Sao Paulo.  Excellent salad bar.  Not the real thing, but closer than I thought they would come.  Dinner starts at $44.50, though, lunch starts at $24.50.

 

The Grill from Ipanema, 1858 Columbia Road, NW, 202-986-0757

For my tastes, Brazil is one of the two or three best food countries in the world, so comparisons are tough.  But this is good enough to enjoy.  Get the Feijoada, a stewed mix of black beans, meats, sausage, collard greens, and the powdery farina.  Make sure you add in the orange slices.  A treat.  Some of the other dishes are mediocre.  This place stands or dies on its Feijoada.

 

Maryland:

Brazil Market, 11425 Grandview Ave, Wheaton, 301 942 8412

They have Brazilian sandwiches, snacks, canned goods, and fried yucca thingies.  Not an amazing selection but if you are yearning for a touch of Brazil this does in fact supply it.

 

Greenfield, 1801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland, 301-881-3397

This famous Queens churrascaria now has a branch in Maryland.  The meats here are better than in the other Brazilian places of this area.  That being said, the salad bar is a disappointment.  Still worth the visit, however, especially if you don't know the concept.  And definitely construct your own feijoada from the salad bar.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Chima Steak House, 8010 Towers Crescent Drive, Suite 100, Vienna, 703-595-7755

The new Brazilian steak house, churrascaria, very stylish, draws a mod crowd of wealthy Latinos and sometimes Arabs.  Lots of fun, not cheap, the lamb and the pork caked in cheese are the best.  The salads could be improved.  I like Fogo de Chao better, but because of proximity, and a Brazilian-loving daughter, I'll end up going here yet again.

 

Texas de Brasil Churrascaria, 11750 Fair Oaks, 703-452-4111

How bad can a churrascaría be?  This place is fun but I found the meats a bit salty for my taste. 

 

Bread

Washington DC:

 

Breadline, 1751 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-822-8900

Everyone loves this place, I have yet to go.  Supposed to have first-class ingredients, but at one-third the usual price.

 

Burmese

Washington DC:

Burma Restaurant, 740 6th St., NW, 202-638-1280, located in Chinatown, not open weekend lunch.

I've had better Burmese in other countries (New Zealand and Taiwan), but most people think this is pretty good.  You won't regret going, but it is not much of a draw for me.  Burmese cuisine, as you would expect, lies somewhere between Indian and Thai.  The dishes are all based on good ideas, but I found the execution imperfect.  Maybe I should try it again.

 

Maryland:

 

The Mandalay, 930 Bonifant St., near Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-585-0500

Good, but it used to be much better.  Go heavy on the noodles and appetizers, the main dishes are inconsistent and perhaps this is no longer the best Burmese place around.

 

Virginia:

 

A Taste of Burma, 126 Edds Lane, Sterling, 703-444-8511

This place is supposed to be very good.  As usual, in a Burmese place try some of the salads.  The Post recommends the Singapore noodles as well, and the noodles more generally.

 

Myanmar Restaurant, 7810-C Lee Highway, Falls Church, 703-289-0013

Excellent if you order well.  The place is hard to spot from the road, in Merrifield Park Plaza, I think, just west of the big cemeteries on Lee Highway, a bit east of Gallows.  Get the Ginger Salad, and more generally don't be afraid to go spicy.

 

Cajun

Washington DC:

Acadiana, 901 New York Ave., NW, 202-393-1510, www.acadianrestaurant.com.

The Jeff Tunks place.  Everyone says too much butter, not enough chiles.  I have not yet been, I am waiting for someone to pay my way.  I am still waiting.

 

Bardia's New Orleans Café, 2412 18th St., NW, 202-234-0420

I have yet to go.

Maryland:

New Orleans Bistro, 4907 Cordell Ave., 301-986-8833

I am told they serve Fried Green Tomatoes.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Bayou Bakery, 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington, 703-243-2410

Not bad but not great either.  A fun place to sit and hang out.  The Andouille I quite like.  The cheese plate is a good snack.  The more complex dishes can be a bit of a sludge.  They are supposed to have good baked goods and many people enjoy the coffee with the chicory; that is not for me.  I am happy to go if I am nearby but I would not make a special trip to this place.  Still, I am glad it is there.

 

Chasin' Tails, Cajun Seafood and Bar, 2200 N Westmoreland St., Arlington, 703-538-2565
The name of the place says it all. I had good catfish there, good fries, good rice and beans. I didn't have time to try the signature dish of boiled crawfish, as spicy as you want them. The place does not offer you a fork but expects you to eat everything with your hands, a sign of civilizational advance I would say. Currently I would rate this place as the Cajun leader of the area. It looks distressingly corporate, and the food is too salty, but still it is good. Worth a try. When you are done walk down two doors to the left to One More Page Books, excellent, and hardly known, most evenings they close at 8 so maybe start with the bookstore first.

New Orleans Cajun, 6168 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-536-2288
Run by Vietnamese from Louisiana, and they have a touching story, ask them about it if you wish. Lots of crab. Lots of Po Boys. And boiled spicy crawfish. Fried fish too. Fresh Beignet for dessert. I quite like this place. I don't like Po Boys more generally, but if I were going to have one in NoVa, I would start here. Spicy crawfish don't really disappoint. This place does not rival the peaks of southwest Louisiana, but can you go here and enjoy yourself at very reasonable prices? Absolutely.

Okra's Louisiana Bistro, 9110 Center St., Manassas, 703-330-2729
I have yet to go.

 

RT's Restaurant, 3804 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-684-6010

OK Cajun food.  Messy and relatively authentic, not as cheap as you might think.  I like the peppered shrimp here but overall it has been in decline for a long time. 

 

Cajun-Thai

Washington DC:

 

Lex Cajun Grill, 2608 Connecticut Ave, 202-745-0015

No, you didn't read the subject heading wrong.  This is a dual restaurant, rather than an attempt to mix.  A cute idea, but is there really any advantage in it?

 

Cameroniansee Nigerian

Caribbean - see also Haitian, Jamaican, Cuban, and Trinidadian, among other individual headings.

Washington DC:

Ginger Cove/Ginger Reef, 822 E St., NW, at 8th St., 202-248-6007, 202-248-7733, the two phone numbers are for the two separate places.

Ginger Reef is only for Friday and Saturday nights, get the picture?  These are party places for yuppies to buy alcohol.  Flights to Haiti are quite cheap those days, so why are you visiting these restaurants?  If you must go, try the appetizers.  The sad thing is, these people once ran Fish Wings n' Tings, in the good old days.  They keep on reinventing the same restaurant, with successively higher prices and lower quality. 

Also, there are several West Indian places along Georgia Ave., they tend to be clustered near the intersection with Rhode Island.  Most are open only for lunch, though, which makes it hard for me to get there.  Right now you might try C+I Jackie's One Stop, 3400 block, at Park, 202-882-7089, but the turnover is high.  Usually there are a good half dozen or so Caribbean places along Georgia Ave., starting around Howard U., stretching up to Maryland.

Maryland:

Caribbean Palace, 7680 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park Shopping Center, 301-431-1563, right at University Blvd.

The place smells great, but I have never eaten there.  Take-out only - that's why.  Those who live closer should go.  See also under Jamaican and Haitian, for some other suggestions.

 

Caribbean Sea Seafood Restaurant, 6869 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park, 301-891-3497, closed Mondays 

It is hard to see from New Hampshire but it is there, if you are coming from Univ. Blvd. it is on the left just a bit past East-West Highway, tucked away in a strip mall, removed from the street. Lots of lobster, lots of conch, lots of shrimp and fish.  This is neither a subtle restaurant nor a restaurant with many different tastes and flavors.  But their best flavors are very good indeed.  Their devil sauce is one of the best spicy sauces around.  It's not just hot it has real oomph in the soul.  Good rice too.  This is a very specialized restaurant but also a very good restaurant.  High marks for atmosphere too, although note that the lobster is not cheap. 

 

Island Café, Beltway Plaza Mall, 6054 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, 301-345-0462

Good roti, curries, other West Indian specialties.  It is in a wonderful shopping mall, great for people watching, I bet most of my readers have never been there.  One of the best mall restaurants on this list.

 

Pierre's, 4926 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-7757

Stewed oxtail, jerk pork loin with pumpkin gnocchi, etc.  The City Paper published a somewhat snide review.  I would not expect to find a genuine Caribbean place in this part of Bethesda, so I vote no.

 

Virginia:

 

Caribbean Corner, 4008A University Drive, Fairfax, 703-246-9040

Mostly Jamaican, this is a real mom and pop restaurant in the middle of downtown Fairfax.  It's strangely silent.  They only have two tables and a few chairs.  The dining room is not really separated from the kitchen, or for that matter the cashier station, by any clear line.  I've tried the jerk chicken and that was genuinely good.  I'll go back, at the very least this place is worth a try.

 

Mango Mike's, 4580 Duke St., 703-370-3800

I went once and was very disappointed.  Seemed more like a yuppie drinks place, for the sort of people who go on Caribbean cruises.  

 

Cheese

Virginia:

 

Cheesetique, 2411 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, 703-706-5300, closes Sunday at 6

The area's best cheese shop, but the restaurant/café inside keeps on getting better.  I love the cheese plate here, although at about $40 it is pricy.  The accompaniments are just right and overall it is at least as good as what you would get in a very fancy restaurant.  The sandwiches and macaroni and cheese are strong, and cheaper.  Anything with cheese here will be very good and it is also a nice homey yuppie hangout.  The wine selection is impressive.  This is a limited-purpose restaurant, but it probably should be in your repertoire.

 

Cheese steaks

Virginia:

 

Al's Steak House, 1504 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-836-9443

I have friends from Philly who swear that good indeed great cheese steaks exist.  I'm still waiting for proof.  But if five of you write and tell me to try this place, I will. In any case this is supposed to be a good place for local character.

Chicken

See Peruvian, and also Colombian.

Maryland and Virginia

Pollo Campero, 5852 Columbia Pike, just west of the Best Buy at Bailey's Crossroads.  Try also 11420 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-6868, and 496 Elden St. Herndon.

Not Peruvian chicken, just plain fried chicken.  A Latin version of KFC but far superior.  The French fries and sides are excellent.  By 11:00 on weekends the crowds have arrived, sometimes parking is a real pain.  Excellent for people-watching, recommended if you can stand eating fried chicken.

 

Chilean

Virginia:

 

La Caraqueña, 300 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-533-0076, where Café Rose used to be in Falls Church City.

They serve Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Chilean dishes; the proprietors are Bolivians who lived for quite a while in Venezuela.  Definitely above average.  I loved the peanut soup (Sopa de Mani).  Chilean sandwiches are hard to mimic in this country, but they pretty much succeed here.  I was shocked.  Even their Bolivian dishes are not exactly the standard.  An original place, worth having in the repertoire and a nice homey atmosphere.

Chili

Virginia:

 

Hard Times Cafe, 1404 King St., Alexandria, 3028 Wilson Blvd, Clarendon, 1117 Nelson St., Rockville, 394 Elden St., Herndon, usually open.

Chili up to five different ways, Texas and Cincinnati style.  The tastes are blander than they used to be.  Not up to the quality level in southern Ohio, but then again what is?  Purists will never be happy here, but if you've never tried it you should.

 

Chinese

Washington DC:

Chinatown Express, 746 Sixth St., NW, 202-638-0424

Maybe the best place in Chinatown right now.  Make sure you order the noodles.  Good soft-shelled crab.  Excellent dumplings.  Not as good as Joe's Noodle House, but if you are stuck in DC you will enjoy this place.  Small, and draws a crowd, so go early.

 

Eat First, 609 H St., NW, 202-289-1703, usually open

One of Chinatown's best, but you need to know what you are doing when ordering.  Certainly above average, good enough to really enjoy, but for me not up to suburban Chinese. 

 

Full Kee's, in Chinatown, 509 H St. 202-371-2233

The snow pea pod leaves here, or whatever they are called, are great.  As are the dumplings in the soup.  Some mediocre dishes, but if you order well this place is a knock-out.  Mostly Cantonese.  Written up by The New York Times as one of the most interesting places in DC.

 

Great Wall Sichuan House Restaurant, 1527 14th St., Washington, 202-797-8888, www.greatwallszechuanhouse.com, usually open.

Most of the food is the usual junk.  Their ma-la dishes, now posted on a real menu, are quite potent.  Get the bean sprouts and the double cooked pork and the fish with tofu.  The cucumber is good.  It's not as good as the best suburban places, but a step ahead of anything else in DC.  Quite authentic, numbing, and very cheap.  They have evolved from neighborhood take-out to a Chinese and yuppie sit down. 

 

Panda Gourmet, Langdon Days Inn, 2700 New York Ave., just east of Bladensburg, NE, 202-636-3588
Now this is something, the best Chinese restaurant ever to grace Washington, D.C. And in a dump of a roadside motel. You must of course ask for the secret Chinese menus, as the Chinese-American fare does not appear to be of interest. They have have a special Shaanxi noodles dish, get it. They have a special Xian dish which you can think of as like a Chinese hamburger, albeit with pork. Get it. They have the best Dan Dan noodles this area has seen, ever. Get it. The best cold Chengdu spicy noodles I have had. The best cumin beef of any place around. The spicy fish wasn't bad, but not up to the other really good Chinese places around here. In any case this is a top drawer Chinese restaurant and for authenticity it is #1 around of all choices. You will note it is hard to get here, even with a car. If you are driving west on New York Avenue, you need to make a funny U-turn at the sign for The Washington Times building, and go under an unpromising overpass back to a service road, eventually the move will pay off.

 

Shanghai Tea House, 2400 Wisconsin Ave. open every day, 202-338-3816

Sietsma likes this place but it is only OK.  It does have better dumplings than anywhere else I know in DC but in Annandale it would not make the top ten.  I quite liked the tofu and cabbage dishes, yummy.  Cramped quarters.  I can easily imagine worse places to eat, but if this is what you look forward to for your Chinese food, I feel sorry for you.

Sichuan Pavilion, 1814 K Street NW, Washington D.C., 202-466-7790
No relation to the Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville. This is mostly a normal (though somewhat above average) American Chinese restaurant, but they have some legitimate Sichuan dishes yes right there in midtown DC, K Street at that! The steamed bacon (pork belly) with preserved vegetables is excellent. The Dan Dan noodles are not bad. There may be a few other gems hidden in the menu, so given its location this place offers some real value. Just keep in mind what it's good at and where it is simply K St. mainstream.

Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant, H St., I believe between 6th and 7th, Chinatown, usually open.

It used to be you could have a good meal if you know how to order.  Get the oyster casserole and the scallops in wine sauce, plus other house specials.  But it's been getting worse and worse, so mostly just don't go.

 

Maryland:

A&J Restaurant, 1319 Rockville Pike, 301-251-7878

Manchurian food and dim sum, one of the best places around.  Tasty, original, and very cheap.  I love the soups and dumplings.  The boiled peanuts and shredded bean curd are other favorites.  The smoked chicken has been especially good lately.  But you can't go wrong here, just make sure you get lots of things, and with the median item price below three dollars, this is not hard to do.

Bob's Noodle 66, now sometimes called Bob's Bistro but not on the sign, 305 N. Washington St., Rockville , 301-315-6668, usually open, cash only
Very good Chinese food, nor is it replicated by the other best Chinese places around. More Taiwanese than most local Chinese restaurants. The thick noodles are amazing. I loved the fish and the ginger casseroles. Get the oyster pancake as a starter. The last fish dish, lightly fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce, is excellent. Not to mention the tempura soft shell crab. They have duck blood too.

Bob's Shanghai 66, 305 North Washington St. Rockville, 301-315-6668, where the old Bob's Noodle used to be, the Noodle place is now across the street
Consistently excellent Chinese food. For all of the Shanghai packaging, you can think of this as mostly Taiwanese food with Shanghai and Sichuan around the edges (a good mix!). The Xiao Long Bao are quite good and you can get them with either pork or “crab yolk,” both are worth trying. The Peas with Mustard Greens are a must and in general this place has the best and freshest greens of any Chinese in the area. Get the Taiwanese cucumbers too. First-rate noodles. I also liked the flounder fillet in chili sauce and thought the Taiwanese sausage was quite subtle. Definitely recommended.

 

China Canteen, 808 Hungerford Drive, Suite E, Rockville, 301-424-1616

A real Sichuan place, dating back several years.  Why didn't more of you write me about it?  Get some of the cold dishes.  The Dan-Dan noodles are excellent.  Otherwise get dishes that are not otherwise available in non-Szechuan restaurants.  Not as good as the best of Sichuan Pavilion, but worth going to.  Perhaps the most extensive Sichuan menu around.

 

China Jade, 16805 Crabbs Branch Way The Grove Shopping Center, Rockville, 301-963-1570

This is run by the same people who do Hong Kong Palace and it has pretty much the same menu.  Oddly, for a new branch, it is not quite as good as the home base.  Their braised pork belly is much superior, but the five other dishes we tried were all lesser than at Falls Church.  They were still pretty good and if you live in Maryland you may wish to come here.  But right now it isn't worth the trip from VA.  It may yet improve, we will see.  It also has a less interesting atmosphere and décor than the home branch.

East Dumpling House, 12 North Washington St., Suite 14G, Rockville, 301-762-6200, no reservations, opens at 10:30
Real Beijing street food. Mostly kabobs (with Chinese spices) and dumplings, though the cold dishes are good too. I count 38 different forms of dumpling, including lamb, chicken, mushroom, bean curd and cabbage, and many other options in various combinations and manifestations. Their “Tofu Prime Products” are excellent too. These are the best dumplings around and this place should immediately be considered essential dining. It has no close substitute in this area and in terms of quality and price it is excellent.

East Pearl, 838 B Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD, 301-838-8663
This is now a clear first choice for the best Cantonese place around.  Maybe that's not saying much but it is genuinely tasty food.  The tofu dishes are especially good and the Congee is also worth trying.  Many people do not like the service, which is diffident at best.  Still, this place delivers on some key dimensions.  It tends to attract a mix of Chinese grandparents and clueless American suburbanites, so be it.

 

Far East Restaurant, 50550 Nicholson Lane, Rockville, 301-881-5552

Quite good overall but the Kung Pao Chicken is the dish to get here, much more of a plum sauce dish than other kung paos.

 

Hollywood East on the Boulevard, 2621 University Blvd.  Wheaton, 240-290-9988

Right now this is the best dim sum place around, although for this region that is arguably not such a high standard.  They don't just churn out the usual stuff, they are consistently interesting and make the dim sum with care.  At times you might be frustrated by the delays, but that's part of the signal of quality.  First-rate greens too.  I might add that they make stuff in batches, and you should stick around for about two hours, and save up space in your stomach, rather than filling up right away.  Go slow, slow, slow, and make an afternoon of it.

Hollywood East Café, 2312 Price Ave., Wheaton, also 2621 University Blvd., 301-942-8282

Everything here has real flavor, it is a real pleasure to eat their food.  Doesn't hit the peaks of the very best places, but stands above the typical Chinese restaurant.  Go for the daily specials.  And the whole fish is never a mistake in a good Chinese restaurant, don't worry about its high price, you are likely to die with a positive bequest in any case.

 

Joe's Noodle House, 1488-C Rockville Pike, near Congressional Lane, Rockville, 301-881-5518

Excellent Szechuan food.  Many little items.  You order and they bring it to your crowded table.  Get as many different kinds of noodles as you can.  The hot and sour fish is one of my favorite dishes here.  An exciting place to visit, highly recommended. 

 

N.B. There are many excellent Chinese places in Wheaton and Rockville, but I don't know most of them.  Let's not forget the Chinese vegetarian places on Rockville Pike, one of them is Yuan Fu Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant, at 798 Rockville Pike, near Norbeck Rd., 301-762-5937

 

Michael's Noodle House, 10038 Darnestown Road., Rockville, 301-738-0370

Imagine a combination of A&J and Hong Kong Palace and you have what is perhaps the best Chinese restaurant in this area right now.  The dishes are a mix of Sichuan, Taiwanese, and Manchurian.  It has the best noodles and best dumplings around; the Sichuan wontons are a must.  Shredded tofu is great.  Singapore Noodle is surprisingly good and quite subtle.  Pork with spicy noodles, in various incarnations, is excellent.  I've yet to try the soups but they looks very good.  Go mostly with the smaller dishes.  The décor is slightly nicer than at most Mom and Pops, the owners are Taiwanese, not so much English is spoken by the staff, and it draws an older Chinese crowd, less raucous than many other excellent Chinese places.  Highly recommended.

 

Oriental East, 1290 East-West Highway, at Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, 301-608-0030

The best orange beef around.  Overall a very good, above average Chinese restaurant.  There are so many good Chinese places around now, you might be tempted not to try this one, but it is worth a visit.

Paul Kee, 11305-B Georgia Ave. Wheaton, 301-933-6886
One of the best Cantonese places around, although you hardly ever hear of it.  Excellent seafood.  I like the scallops in pepper sauce, among other dishes.  There are also the casseroles, and make sure you get some greens to round out the combination.

 

Seven Seas, 1776 E. Jefferson St., Rockville, 301-770-5020, usually open.

Get the Crispy Fish Hunan Style.

Shanghai Taste, 1121 Nelson St., Rockville, 301-279-0806
Ignore the regular menu, you need to order from the Chinese menu, a translation of which can be found here: http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?/topic/18971-shanghai-taste-shanghainese-with-special-chinese-menu-in-small-shopping-center-on-nelson-street-next-to-hard-times-cafe/?p=222735 . Get the Xiao Long Bao, which though not as good as those from NYC or California, are still pretty good, probably the best of our region. Those are the dumplings filled with liquid. If need be ask the waitress for further help but stress your bona fide credentials. The fish dishes on the Chinese menu are pretty good. IGNORE THE REGULAR MENU. This place is small and it fills up quite easily, so plan to arrive early. It is nice to have a new and fairly unique real Chinese restaurant in the basic repertoire, recommended.

Sichuan Jin River, formerly called Sichuan Pavilion.  410 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, just north of Rockville Town Centre, invisibly deep into a strip mall with “Saigon” restaurant and Revere Bank, don't miss it!  240-403-7351

Book in advance they only take reservations for groups of six or more.  Go early!  Go! Wow and double wow.  Get the Dan Dan Noodles and the Jelly Noodles.  Get dumplings and other dumpling-like phenomena.  This is the most authentic Sichuan restaurant around and it makes Hong Kong Palace look like Burger King.  The spicy fish in hot pot is incredible.  The crispy potato.  Just choosing from the starting, first section of the menu makes this a “Top Five” restaurant.  First-rate ambience and clientele as well.  Highly recommended.

 

Sichuan Pavilion, 410 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, just north of Rockville Town Centre, invisibly deep into a strip mall with “Saigon” restaurant and Revere Bank, don't miss it!  240-403-7351, book in advance!  But they only take reservations for groups of six or more.  Go early!  Go! Wow and double wow.  Get the Dan Dan Noodles and the Jelly Noodles.  Get dumplings and other dumpling-like phenomena.  This is the most authentic Sichuan restaurant around and it makes Hong Kong Palace look like Burger King.  The spicy fish in hot pot is incredible.  The crispy potato.  Just choosing from the starting, first section of the menu makes this a “Top Five” restaurant.  First-rate ambience and clientele as well.  Highly recommended.

 

Taipei-Tokyo Cafe, Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-881-8388, I've lost track of all their branches, which seem ridiculously close together. 

Noodles and soups abound.  You order, and they bring the food to your table.  Not haute cuisine, but very tasty.  The accompanying Japanese place, under separate ownership, is also worthwhile.  Both are cheap, and both are recommended.  That being said, they are not keeping up with the upgrading of all the new competition.

 

Virginia:

100 Degree Chinese Cuisine 3903 Fair Ridge Drive, Fairfax, VA Unit H, in the mall with the Harris Teeter

There is now a real Hunan restaurant in Fairfax, near Fair Oaks Mall, menu here, their web site is here. It attracts an almost exclusively Chinese clientele and, to my untrained eye, some of them seem to be the Uighur group which hangs out in Fairfax but does not (yet?) have a restaurant of its own. This place is not cooking at the exalted level of Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville, but it is competitive with the other semi-authentic Chinese places in this region.  I sampled five dishes and all were very good.  If you were getting two dishes, try the hot and sour diced chicken and the green beans.  Recommended to anyone with an interest in real Chinese food.

 

A&J Restaurant, 4316 Markham St., Annandale, 813-8181, just east of Beltway.

Manchurian food and dim sum, one of the best places around.  Tasty, original, and very cheap.  I love the soups and dumplings.  The boiled peanuts and shredded bean curd are other favorites.  The smoked chicken has been especially good lately.  But you can't go wrong here, just make sure you get lots of things, and with the median item price below three dollars, this is not hard to do.

 

Charlie Chiang's, 660 South Pickett St., off van Dorn, not so far from the Metro, West Alexandria, 703-751-8888

They have rabbit on the menu, and a number of other interesting-looking Szechuan dishes.  Don't get stuck with the American menu.

 

China Garden, Rosslyn, 1100 Wilson Blvd., 703-525-5317

Supposed to be very good Cantonese food, popular with Chinese.  I believe the menu is different on the weekends.

 

China Star, Rt.236, Fairfax, in the same shopping center as Kinko's and Cinema Arts Theatre.

They have new owners, we are all starting from scratch here. Most of the established dishes are worse, but the new specials – Chinese only – are often excellent. Order those only. I like best the fish with tofu, the ribs on the bone, and then the Chili shrimp, for an excellent meal.  

Cho cu Sai Gon, 6763 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, #6D, inside the mall at the back, 703-538-2168

An unknown and much underrated Cantonese restaurant.  Good congee.  Also get the salted and baked chicken.  Fully authentic, try the noodles with ginger and scallion, I think this place is quite good.  My favorite is the casserole with minced chicken and salt fish but there are many wonders here. 

 

Fortune, in the Barnes and Noble Mall at Seven Corners, entrances from Rt.7 and Patrick Henry Drive, Falls Church, and Reston, 1428 North Point Village Center, 703-318-8898

The most varied selection of Dim Sum in Northern Virginia, in terms of variety, but not actually my favorite.  Not fully consistent and now overpriced.  And the new quarters are simply too huge, more suitable for a Chinese wedding, which is in fact what they are used for.  By no means a bad restaurant, but not fully satisfying either.

 

Full Kee's, Rt.7, Falls Church, in the mall with Trader Joe's, across from the Borders, also accessible from Columbia Pike

The DC place opened a branch in VA.  So far better than the original, it is excellent Chinese food.  Be adventurous when you order.  Excellent lobster, dumplings, tofu dishes.  Critics laud the casseroles, and while I can see their merits, they don't give me much visceral enjoyment along the yummy dimension. 

 

Fu Mei, in that Chinese grocery store on Gallows, between 29 and 50 and right by Five Guys and Peking Village, 703-208-3388

Fully authentic Chinese comfort food, the meats are quite good, the noodles too, the chow foon, all for Chinese tastes; the food lies in the direction of oily Cantonese, not sea cucumber.  Definitely recommended, and an A+ for atmosphere.  They have only a few tables, all the more reason to go.

 

Hong Kong Palace, 6387 E. Leesburg Pike, Seven Corners Center, Falls Church, 703-532-0940.  In the mall with Home Depot and Barnes and Noble, though both are down below on the other side of the mall

This was the premier Cantonese place around, but now it is Sichuan, at least if you ask for the special Chinese menu.  The lamb with cumin is excellent, the Dan Dan noodles are very good, the fish in the bowl with all the chiles is a knock-out, and they are putting in real spice.  The place keeps on getting better.  The beef with bamboo shoot is especially good, as are the Chengdu dumplings.  The specials are superb.  Right now the clientele is 100 pct. Chinese, a good sign.  Currently the best Chinese place around.

 

Hunan Gate Restaurant, 4233 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, 703-243-5678

On the surface a mediocre Hunan place, but underneath there is a Manchurian menu, originally in Chinese only but now parts are in English.  Order from that!  No other place around tastes like this one.  I recommend the tofu scallion salad, the julienne potato salad, the NE style pancake, the chive potstickers, the cumin lamb, and the pork riblets with Italian flat bean stew, plus the amazing chicken dish with the large, flat wheat noodles, a real winner.  I am not sure how you can get any of these but try your best.  Nor should you forget the pork belly stew with wide glass noodles or the pots and dishes with fermented cabbage.  This place is still getting better.  Definitely recommended.

 

Hunan Number One, Arlington, just off Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon, open to 1:30 a.m. every night, 703-528-1177

A fraction of this place is authentic Cantonese, the other part is trying to appeal to boring American diners.  Sooner or later the place will have to choose.  The salt baked chicken is excellent and you won't otherwise find that dish around.  A reader recommends the clams in black bean sauce, beware the dim sum.

 

Jasmine Garden, 8106 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-208-9989, actually on Gallows Rd. next to the 24-hour Safeway at Rt. 50

I know what you're thinking.  “I've discovered so many wonderful new Chinese places in the last few years I don't need another one.”  Well, you are wrong.  This place looks too yuppy and draws a business crowd for lunch.  But many of the dishes on their Chinese menu – which you must ask for separately – are quite good.  Get the chicken with three peppers, and then experiment on the Chinese menu.  Their non-special dishes are above average, too.  The menu has some Thai and Japanese items as well.  Plus they have a piano, with occasional performances of, get this, operatic arias. 

 

Lo's, 3075 Nutley St., Pan Am Shopping Center, Fairfax, but very close to Vienna Metro, 703-280-2897

Suburban Chinese through and through, and will not satisfy those looking for the real thing.  But one of the best of its kind in the area.  Will consistently satisfy.  The Bird's Nest is especially good, as is the Lamb of Two Flavors.  It's hard to go wrong here, as long as you don't expect real Chinese food.

 

Mark's Duck House, 6184-A Arlington Blvd., Willston Center 1, Falls Church, 703-532-2125.  Hard to see from the road, on Rt. 50 just east of Rt.7, north side of the street, look for the CVS.  Usually open

A real Cantonese restaurant, replete with hanging ducks in the window and everything.  Get the crispy pork, and also some variant of the noodles.  I love the tofu as well.  I am less enamored of the duck and chicken, but this is a good restaurant, and very authentic, in the hands of a wise orderer.  It's also cheap, so take advantage of the prices to order many items.  Lots of dim sum too, often good but at times unreliable.

 

Miu Kee, Rt. 50, just east of Annandale Rd, Fairfax

Real Chinese food, for Chinese.  Family atmosphere, homey, comfortable.  I like the soy chicken on rice, and the pork on chowfoon, very soggy but yummy.  Not everything here is great, but none of it is bad, and the wise orderer can make a great meal.  Cheaper than most, too.

 

The Oriental Regency, 8605 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, 827-9066, usually open, directly across from Shamshiry (see Persian), behind the American Cafe on Rt.7

The chef has come and gone many times, so now you take your chances.  But I have heard it is in an upswing again.  They do have genuine Chinese items on the menu, like jellyfish.  Reasonable prices as well, although the decor and staff are a bit cold. 

 

Peking Gourmet Inn, 6029 Leesburg Pike, Baileys Crossroads,  Falls Church, 703-671-8088

An old hang-out for conservative Republicans, like George Bush Sr. and Norman Schwarzkopf.  Excellent Peking duck, no advance notice required.  The other dishes vary greatly, but if they use lots of garlic, or garlic sprouts, they are probably excellent.  I love the Peking Chicken Wings and the leek dumplings.  It often pays to go for the fatty and disgusting here, rather than the light and appetizing.  Just keep in mind that many dishes here are mediocre.  This is an old-style Chinese restaurant, in the sense that the help is surly and rude.  But the food does come in time, which is the important thing.

 

Sichuan Village, 14005 Lee Jackson Highway (Rt.50), just east of Rt.28, Chantilly, 703-631-5888, same strip mall as Il Mee 

This place is from the titans that brought you the old Formosa Café in Crystal City.  The new place is much more Szechuan, although they have added many heinous dishes and a heinous buffet for some of their heinous customers.  Ignore those downsides.  The real Chinese food here is superb.  Get the Ants on a Stick, Pork Beijing Style, Tofu and Fish Fillet inVery Hot Sauce, Chengdu Kung Pao Chicken, Braised Beef with Brown Sauce, Tea Smoked Duck, Steamed Pork Bun Han Style, and Dumplings Zhong's Style.  And that is just a start.

 

TemptAsian Café, 6259 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703-750-6801, just west of where 395 hits 236 

Peter Chang is gone, but it is still pretty good, though not as fine as in the past.  Get the Dan Dan Noodles (it gets better as you dig in), the Scallion Chow Foon, the Dried, Minced Beef in Hot Pot, and the appetizer with fish and cilantro.  After that go with the specials.  Ignore the American menu.  At least the service is now speedier with Chang's departure, but of course that is part of the problem. 

 

Uncle Liu's Hot Pot, 2972 Gallow Road, Falls Church, VA, 703-560-6868.

Otherwise known as The Great Leap Forward, Fairfax style. It is located on Gallows Rd., between Rt.29 and 50, the core info is here, and a very reliable source sends me the following review:

 

The old Sichuan restaurant a few doors down from Great Wall–I think it was called Peking Village–which used to be there has been replaced by a place called “Uncle Liu's Hotpot.” It's owned by HK Palace and, as the name implies (and, unlike HK Palace, it's Chinese name is the same as the English name, though it's really Old Liu's Hotpot City), it specializes in hotpot. We were very excited before even going in, because, while a few Sichuan places offer hotpot (the defunct place up in Gaithersburg that was a Hui-Sichuan restaurant; China Canteen; Great Wall Szechwan if you let them know in advance), none even comes close to being the real thing. The good news is that this place is as close as I think you're going to get to real Sichuan hotpot in the US.

They have a special hotpot menu, which, though only in Chinese when it comes to ordering which type of base you want (it's on the front of the menu; they have a variety of choices–classic all spicy, classic half spicy half non-spicy, and then they have a mushroom broth one, one with fish head, and one or two others), has in both English and Chinese a list of all the things to order to go into the hotpot. That list is very good–has all the classic ingredients (though some are a little different from what you'd get in Sichuan, e.g., the doufu pi) and is maybe about 1/2 the number of ingredients you'd have on offer at an average hotpot restaurant in Chengdu, so it's really pretty good. The prices are very reasonable, and, even better, it's open until midnight every day (again, a very good sign of authenticity, as hotpot restaurants in Chengdu are packed until very late at night). We had the classic all spicy base ($6 for the table; it's the cheapest option)–for our taste, it could have been a bit more oily-lardy and could have had more seasonings in it, especially chilis and Sichuan peppercorns, but it was still very, very good (and hotpot restaurants in Chengdu have been moving away from the lard as well for health reasons in the last few years; also, outside of Sichuan itself, hotpot restaurants in China tend to go lighter on the peppercorns because they know non-Sichuanese aren't as used to it). Also extremely positive is that they have a dipping sauce station (the dipping sauce, which is essential, is another $1 per person, again, it's only in Chinese on the front of the hotpot menu where the bases are listed) that is self-serve, something you don't get even in China. You can do the classic version (which I did last night)–sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, garlic, salt, msg (yes, a pinch can't hurt), scallions, and cilantro–but they have a lot more there as well if you want (though, for my mind, stuff like oyster sauce and hoisin sauce is an abomination with hotpot).

The regular menu of the restaurant combines the usual Chinese-American standards with maybe about half to 2/3 of HK Palace's Sichuan dishes (though no specials on the wall that I noticed). We didn't order from that–hotpot is definitely the way to go in the evening, and that's what every table was getting–the place was basically full around 8 but had mostly emptied out by 9. What we're also excited about, however, is that they offer a daily lunch buffet from 11-3 and, judging from the labels on the buffet setup, they include in the buffet (at least on the weekends–maybe they pare it down during the week) a lot of their very good Sichuan cold dishes and a good selection of main dishes (though less heavy on the Sichuan stuff). The buffet includes pho and bubble tea. We're now conflicted–do we try the buffet for our next trip or stick to the hotpot? Probably the latter, especially as we're definitely going to try the mushroom base.

 

The Sichuan dishes are excellent (see HK Palace) and the buffet is even worthwhile – Sichuan dishes – if you arrive before 11:30 a.m.

 

Vinh Kee, 3103-D Graham Rd., at Rt. 50, Falls Church, 703-645-0118

Half of the way toward Vietnamese, actually.  A good Asian seafood restaurant, though it does not rival my favorites, such as Seven Seas, in my affections.  But it will be closer for many, and good enough to enjoy.  Get the whole fish.

 

X.O. Taste Seafood Restaurant, 6124 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-536-1630, note that you actually have to turn north on Patrick Henry Drive to see the place and that is also the best way to get there.

This is a tough review to write.  This is clearly the most authentic Cantonese place around and their menu is superb, all the way down to the casseroles.  Nothing here tastes bad.  The service is fine.  I like the atmosphere.  The name of the restaurant is excellent.  But where is the wow factor?  What's the dish you go back for and why?  This place simply needs to be better.  Maybe it will get there, it still has time.  In the meantime it's worth a visit, just don't think it is the answer to your prayers.  Right now there's no truly good Cantonese food in this area.

 

Chinese - Peruvian

Virginia:

 

Kam Po, 5884 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-578-4017

They have Chinese dishes and Peruvian dishes, with mutual influence running both ways.  Visitors to Lima will be familiar with the concept, the place is run by Chinese Peruvians.  An interesting novelty, and reasonably good, but it doesn't beat trying either cuisine pure up.

Colombian

Washington DC:

Rumba Café, 2443 18th St., Adams Morgan, 202-588-5501
A mix of Colombian and Puerto Rican dishes, with some other Pan-Latin elements thrown in.  I have yet to go.  Lots of arepas.  Lots of mofongos (mashed plantains and garlic).  It looks interesting.

Maryland:

Los Arrieros, 7926 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, but right at the DC border where the neighborhood turns dicey.

They have Mexican dishes also, I have not yet been.  I'll go when you tell me to, otherwise not.  I am still waiting.  Washingtonian recommends the seafood soup.

 
.

Crabs

Maryland:

Obrycki's, Baltimore, 410-732-6399, obryckis.com. 

Somehow I lost the address.  Not open outside of the crab season, though, which varies. Yes, that's right, Baltimore.  This place blew me away, and I don't even like crabs, or rather didn't even like crabs until I was converted.  A memorable experience, though I received one report of decline.  Also recommended by readers are Faidley's (Lexington market), and The Edgewater Inn (in Edgewater, near Annapolis)

 

Virginia:

 

Fairfax Crab House, Rt.50, just a bit east of University Drive.

Formerly Captain Jack's on Rt.29, a longstanding Fairfax County institution that was forced out by gentrification of its neighborhood.  How good is it?  You're asking the wrong person.  The crab I love is Chili or Pepper Crab in Singapore. 

 

Mai's Rest Inc., 6763 #9 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, inside the mall, 703-237-2020, Tgfriday14@yahoo.com

The best crab place in the immediate area.  Fresh.  The proprietor likes to talk.  Only crabs.  Crabs, with ginger and scallions, tamarind sauce, plain, or salt and pepper.  I like salt and pepper best.  Recommended, noting that sometimes it closes for stretches of time.  Call before going.

 

Sea Side Crab House, 6799 Wilson Blvd., #5, Falls Church, 703-241-CRAB, www.seaside-crabhouse.com

An excellent seafood house in Eden Center.  The soft shell crab is some of the best around.  The crawfish are served Cajun style, although not as spicy as you would get in southwest Louisiana.  It's small and not a great place to sit and chat, but absolutely worth having in the repertoire.  Right now it is my go-to choice for crabs.

 

Cuban

Washington DC:

Banana Café and Piano Bar, 500 Eighth St., SE, just off Pennsylvania Ave., 202-543-5906

Cuba, Spanish, and Puerto Rican dishes.  Not exactly a mom and pop, the place has a somewhat vile yuppie flavor.  The Puerto Rican dishes consist of mashed plantains, in various forms, with garlic.  The dishes vary greatly in quality.  The best ones are good enough to enjoy (try the Puerto Rican ones, if only for novelty's sake), but not good enough to stand comparison with the real thing.  By all means go, especially if you live in the area (few good alternatives), but lower your expectations accordingly.

 

Cuba Libre, 801 9th St., NW, 202-408-1600

Not cheap, but this new “cool” place is surprisingly good.  Get as many small dishes as you can and avoid the main courses (which are fine but more standard).  I liked best the arepas and the raw crab [congrejo] with nuts.  Some of the menu is classic Cuban, but more of it is Cuban food re-imagined through the lens of modern Spanish tapas.  Maybe this place will decline with time, but for now it's further evidence that Washington is becoming a genuinely interesting dining city.  There are other branches by the way in Orlando, Philly, and Atlantic City.

 

Yuca, 1800 M St., NW, 202-785-1177, closed Saturday lunch and Sunday

Terrible hours, but again another new Cuban place.  Has to be one of the better places in the neighborhood.

 

Maryland:

Cuba de Ayer, 15446 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, 301-476-9622, closed Mondays

A mom and pop, the Washington Post claims it is one of the best Cuban places around; it is a little out of the way for me.

 

Cuban Corner Restaurant, 825 Hungerford Drive, near Ivy League Lane, Rockville, 301-279-0310, closed Sunday

The best Cuban place around, as far as I can tell.  Excellent pork and sides.  The following is the rule of thumb on Cuban restaurants.  The rice and beans are bound to be worthwhile.  To have a great meal all you then need do is latch on to one other satisfactory dish.  And here that is very easy to do.  First-rate atmosphere, and I love the list of all the prominent Cubans on the wall, and the anti-Castro political propaganda.  Definitely recommended, and very good for people-watching as well.

 

Cubano's, 1201 Fidler Lane, at Ramsey Ave., Silver Spring, 301-563-4020, 11-11 daily

There is a flourish of new Cuban places in this area, though we do not yet have critical mass for any of them to be knockouts, as you might find in Florida or New Jersey.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Caribbean Grill, 5183 Lee Highway, Arlington, 241-8947, usually open 

Mostly Cuban, also they serve some Jamaican items.  The grilled chicken is good, but I'm more inclined to order the beef (Ropa Vieja) or the Pork Fried Pieces (Masas de Puerco).  But the key to having a good time here is to neglect the entrees and order as many side dishes as possible.  Especially the beans, in their various manifestations.  Table space here is limited, but don't let that discourage you.  Cheap.

 

Deli

Virginia:

 

Celebrity Delly, Loehmann's Plaza, Rt. 50, Falls Church

Not as good as Chutzpah, but above average for this area.

 

Chutzpah, 12214 Fairfax Towne Center, Fairfax, 703-385-8883, closed Sunday dinner

No, this isn't New York City, or even New Jersey, but this place is better than you think.

 

Dominican

Maryland:

Manna, 8640 Flower Avenue, Takoma Park, 301-589-9390, usually open

Go here for mofongos (see under Puerto Rico for an explanation), fried pork and chicken, cuban sandwiches, and cow feet soup.  I haven't been here yet, but I have heard good reviews.

 

Eclectic

Virginia:

 

SBC Café, 2501 McNair Farms Drive, at Centreville Rd., Herndon, 703-793-7388

Here they have a little bit of everything, Tom Sietsema recommends the two-tone pepper soup.

 

A Taste of the World, 283 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, 20170, not visible from the street, call for directions, 703-471-2017

They have Indian, Thai, and Mexican dishes.  Better than it sounds.  A kind of home cooking, tastes different than what you get elsewhere, and very good.  Worth having in one's repertoire.

 

Egyptian

Virginia:

 

Alf Laylah Wa Laylah, 13975 Metro Tech Drive, Chantilly, 703-378-6677

An excellent name, no?  The owner is Palestinian, the chef is Turkish, how should I list this place?  Mostly the food is “Middle Eastern,” with many Lebanese dishes, but since they have hookah I will put it under the category “Egyptian.”

 

Cairo Café and Restaurant, 6244-H Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703-750-3551

Genuinely good Egyptian food, cooked for area Muslims, if not always Egyptians.  The place to go if you wish to see people, including women, smoking hookahs (Middle Eastern water pipe, with your preferential flavored tobacco).  Nineteen flavors of hookah, including “Cola.”  Small menu, authentic, and tasty.  Worth a visit.  They have a non-smoking section as well.

 

Pasha Café, 3911 N. Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-528-1111

I have yet to visit the new incarnation but liked the old.  Focus on the appetizers.  Possibly the best Egyptian place around.

 

Reston Kabob, near the International Center on Sunrise Valley Drive, 11844 Sunrise Valley Dr # A, 703-390-9070 http://www.restonkabob.com.

Maybe this is not even Egyptian, but they have kabobs, recommended by a reader.

 

Sphinx Café, 137 Spring St., Herndon, Sunset Park industrial strip mall, 703-464-0001

This is a good strip mall, so this place has potential.  I have yet to go.  Here is one review, http://www.observernews.com/stories/current/news/012805/sphinx.shtml, they have Persian and Lebanese dishes as well.

 

Eritrean

 

Keren, 1780 Florida Ave., NW, near 18th, 202-265-5764

This place is exactly what more ethnic restaurants in DC should be like.  Eritrean food will remind you of Ethiopian, but it isn't the same either.  There is more bread mixed into the dishes for one thing, and the cuisine is overall less Americanized.  The vegetables are less smoothed over.  What you want to get here is the listed “Five Eritrean dishes” listed on the bottom of the menu, otherwise not further specified.  Also get one or two of the “Fuls,” which are available for breakfast too.  The Egg Ful is especially tasty.  The wheat dishes are original.  Everything here is quite good, and the staff and proprietor are quite charming.  A strong restaurant on all dimensions and also extremely cheap.  By the way, maybe you knew the “old Keren,” but the place is under new management circa 2012 and is much improved.

 

Ethiopian

Washington DC:

Awash, 18th St. NW, a bit south of Meskerem

Probably the best Ethiopian place in Adams-Morgan right now.  Addis Adaba is good too.

 

Axum, 1936 9th St. NW, 202-387-0765

Another good pick on the 9th St. row.

 

Dukem Ethiopian Market, 1114 U St. NW, south side of the street, looks like a Deli or a food mart

Formerly the best Ethiopian food around, but their larger size has made them shakier (go to Rome for the very best.)  It remains good, but is no longer just mama's home cooking.  Get the Foul (pronounced "fool") for breakfast.  I love the fish too.  Good tripe. 

 

Etete, 1942 9th St. NW, 202-232-7600

By far the “nicest” and most upscale of the 9th St. places.  This is where you should bring your mother.  They also have a few pastas on the menu.  Excellent vegetarian dishes.

 

Ethiopic, 401 H St NE, (202) 675-2066
It's funny how H St. NE has gone from a dump, to overpriced, without stopping for very long in between.  This Ethiopian restaurant is not bad, but it can't compare to the 9th St row, much less West Alexandria.  And yet everything costs more, sometimes twice as much.  And the tastes are ever so slightly dumbed down.  This place has made lots of “best of” lists, but that's just a sign they are desperate to pick out an Ethiopian place you can take your grandma to.  It's not a dump, but it is a dominated asset.

 

Habesha Buffet, 1919 9th St., NW, www.habeshamarket.com

Ethiopian buffet and also carry out and order off the menu, run by the brother of the woman who runs Sodere.  Consistently good, and the tripe may be the best in town.  The vegetables are quite fresh.  A fun hang-out.  Ultimately “buffet” should be suited to Ethiopian food (tender foods cooked slowly, in spices, like Indian), I am curious whether this innovation prospers.

 

Meskerem, 2434 18th St., NW, 202-462-4100

There is no longer any reason to go here.  Ethiopian foods spreads out a variety of curries on a pancake-like bread called Injera.  You then eat it with your fingers.  But this is no mere novelty, it is an excellent cuisine.  My favorite dish is the Kitfo, raw beef doused with chilies and a kind of dry cottage cheese.  And don't forget the potato salad. Washington is very strong in the area of Ethiopian food, so most of the places are recommended.  The less refined places tend to have spicier food, and I prefer those to Meskerem; you can pretty much pick one randomly.  But Meskerem is where most of us started.

 

Queen Makeda, 1917 9th St. NW, 202-232-5665

Matt Yglesias likes this one.  They are well-known for their catering.

 

Queen of Sheba, 1503 9th St. a bit south of the 9th St. Ethiopian row.

Above-average Ethiopian food, even for the neighborhood.  This is the restaurant that serves a peanut butter dish and a flax seed dish, so high marks for authenticity.  That said, the various forms of the lentils are the thing to get here.  Lots of lentils here, the novelty items are interesting but they won't be the best part of your meal.  Also get the Queen Kitfo, a superb dish.

 

Salome, 900 U St. NW, 202-518-5493

They are known for their home-made injera, or bread. 

 

Shashamene, 1909 9th St. NW, 202-328-2223

On the 9th St. Ethiopian row.  The menu is narrower than most but quality is above average and the vegetarian sampler is especially noteworthy.  If you are vegetarian and opting for the sampler, this may be your #1 bet in town.  Not a palace but it has a “nicer” atmosphere than many of the other places in the area.  First-rate kitfo as well.

 

U Turn, 1942 11th St. NW, 202-299-9882

The Washington Post tells us that spicy beef is their Sunday special.  I have yet to go.

 

Zed's, 1201 28th St.., NW, 202-333-4710

Not up to the others and it is long in decline.  The dry cottage cheese is worth ordering as a side dish.  Otherwise go to 9th St. or U St. or best yet Virginia.

 

Zenebech Injera, 608 T St., NW, WDC, 202-667-4700 

This restaurant with two tables is now probably the best Ethiopian place in Washington.  It is better than Adams-Morgan, better than the 9th St. row.  Especially if you don't mind hearing them grind up meat in the nearby back room.  Every dish is excellent and the flavors are simply more real.  Get the raw kitfo, and you do need to ask for it spicy otherwise they will notice your possibly pale face and dumb down the food accordingly.  Oddly this place is right next to Thai X-ing, which has only one table and is the best Asian restaurant in town.  DC is finally developing the right mix of high rent and low rent districts to support such entrepreneurial ventures.

Maryland:

Langano Ethiopian Restaurant, 8305 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-563-6700

Ethiopian food, for those who chose Maryland.  They have a lunch and weekend buffet.  Not the very best, but there is something to be said for the buffet feature if you are in a hurry.

 

Walia, 6840 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park, 301-270-4545

Another Maryland Ethiopian restaurant, but at a higher level of squalor.  Let me know if you have been.

 

Virginia:

Abay Market, 3811-A S. George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-998-5322

Now this is an interesting place.  They have only a few dishes but those are mindblowingly good.  The menu includes kitfo, slabs of raw beef (tere sega), lamb soup, and slightly cooked kitfo (mostly raw).  That's it.  You can get vegetables – they make the best – but you must call ahead to do so.  All come with bread, sauce, and spices.  No doubt this is the best raw beef emporium for miles and miles around.  A+ for atmosphere.  Ask for their assistance in eating the food.  Recommended, but you'd better know what you are looking for.  It's the place Anthony Bourdain decided to visit and he was not disappointed.  Hail Abay Market!

 

Enat Restaurant, 4709 N. Chambliss St., Alexandria, 703-642-3628, near 236 and Seminary

Excellent Ethiopian, they also have breakfast dishes such as Foul and egg delights, they open at 10 a.m. most days though call in advance.  Very good shiro, meats, some fish dishes too.  For my taste and moistest and best injera around.  Maybe not #1 but in the top five.

 

Eyo Restaurant and Sports Bar, 3821-B South George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-933-3084

This unassuming locale is one of the two or three best Ethiopian places at the moment.  Furthermore they serve Ethiopian breakfast, starting at 10 a.m., though sometimes interpreted flexibly by management.  Their foul is simply superb and more generally you can't go wrong with anything here.  Great kitfo, great lamb tibs, great doro wat, maybe the best I've had.  This single strip mall in Virginia is raising Ethiopian food to an entirely new level and making the trip to 9th St obsolete.  This place is also a favorite of the local cab drivers.

 

Fasiledes, 3821-B S. George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-931-4141

Good, but not the best Ethiopian place in Northern Virginia.  In one of the best malls for ethnic food, however, which counts for something. Go if you want to, but don't render a final judgment on Ethiopian food from this place.

 

Ibex Restaurant, 3813 E and F South George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-379-3899, www.ibexrestaurant.com

Set in the ever-so-excellent strip mall on George Mason Drive.  They have a broader selection than most and many more vegetarian dishes than the competitors in the same mall.  It doesn't reach the heights of Abay market, but it is more versatile for many normal uses. 

 

Kebericho Deli Market, 3811-c South George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-578-6464

It's hard to keep track of all the burgeoning Ethiopian places in this mini-mall, but since they are all excellent maybe you don't need to.  This place, which is next to the fabled Abay Market, serves six or so meat-based dishes, no real vegetables.  Don't' expect Shiro here.  The meats are above average and the atmosphere is excellent.  The time I went it had the single most beautiful waitress of any restaurant on this list, so you tell me whether or not it is worth going.  I say yes.

 

Meaza, 5700 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, 703-820-2870

I'm not sure about the number on Rt.7, it is what their card says but some people tell me it is wrong.  In any case it is on Col. Pike just east of Rt.7 by Circuit City. Excellent Ethiopian, as good as the DC places, but not up to its former glories.  Now it's serving too many people and just another good Ethiopian place.  Wide variety.  Attached to a coffee shop, plus they have Ethiopian music on some nights.  It's still a place worth visiting.

 

Seleme, 3825-H, S. George Mason Drive, Falls Church, 703-379-0043, in the Ethiopian cluster right behind the 7-11, back side of the strip mall

They are beef specialists, including in the raw slabs department, plus kitfo and gored gored.  They also have fish, firfir, foul, and excellent lentils.  Availability on the menu varies, so this is not an “all purpose, one-stop shopping” kind of place. The décor is pretty empty, in a charming way.  In terms of quality, it's nipping on the heels of the top leaders.  If you care about Ethiopian food, at the very least it's worth a try.

 

Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, 3900 A Pickett Rd., Fairfax, 703-425-1130, 11-10, closed Sundays

Yes, Ethiopian food comes to Fairfax.  A few observations: a) the food is quite tasty, if not quite the best good enough to make you happy about eating there, b) they will cook the kitfo even if you ask for it raw (you must really insist), c) the food is otherwise not dumbed down, and d) the place fills up, at least half with “white people.”  The main problem is simply the service, which utterly collapses as the place gets full, or even half full.  With better service, this would be a very valuable place.  As it stands, it is still worth going sometimes, especially if you arrive early.

 

Warka, 275 Sunset Drive, that funny industrial park in Herndon with all the ethnic food, 703-435-2166

Herndon continues its rise in the world of ethnic food.  How bad can this place be?  An Ethiopian place in Herndon; The Washington Post review describes it as intriguing but inconsistent, with better meats than vegetables.

 

Filipino  

Maryland:

Aling Pacing, 2311 Price Avenue, Wheaton, 301-933-7070, not always open for lunch on weekdays.

See the remarks above on Filipino food under Little Quiapo.  This one looks less appetizing, however, although it is easier to find.  Oxtail and peanut sauce are often good Pilipino dishes, adobe too. 

 

Sam's II Karaoke & Restaurant, 11125 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-0061

I have yet to go.  The best Filipino food I've had in ages was a few years ago, when a few of the Filipino GMU undergrads cooked some for sale in the GMU food court.  That's the way to go, cultivate Filipino friends, the best way to learn this exquisite and interesting and undervalued cuisine.

 

Virginia:

 

Fairfax Inn, 2946 Sleepy Hollow Road, Falls Church, just off Seven Corners, located in a Medical Arts Building, 703-532-0616

Mostly they serve burgers and the like.  You have to ask for the Filipino menu at the counter.  Real mom n' pop food, the milkfish is pretty good.  They close at 7 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. on Sundays, and also serve Filipino breakfast.

 

Kababayan, Smoketown Road Shopping Center, at Smoketown Road and Minnieville Road, near Glory Days Grill, Woodbridge, 703-580-0300 

The Filipino version of cafeteria line dining, or so I am told.  They do “turo-turo,” or “point-point,” because the diner points to what he wants to eat.

 

Karaoke Idol, 7151 Lee Highway, Falls Church.

I tried once and it was Filipino.  Recommended by a reader is the lumpia, Pancit, the tocino, and longaniza.  If you want to try the cuisine, this is one of the places to go, but I am not sure how much I enjoyed it.

 

Little Quiapo, 4807 1 St., Arlington, 703-528-3194

Hard to find - there are eight 1 Sts. in Arlington, and this doesn't seem to be on any of them.  I once spent an hour looking for this place and finally had to give up.  Several months later I found it on my own.  It is located in the Forest Mall, where there is an Outback Steakhouse also.  Coming from the intersection of 7 and 50, go east on 50, turning left at Park, which is maybe your sixth (?) light.  You'll see the mall then. Filipino food is best enjoyed when served in homes and at weddings.  Most Filipino restaurants I have been to (usually in Los Angeles) have been disappointing.  Oxtail in peanut sauce can be too fatty and only brings you so far.  The lumpia (a bit like spring rolls) are often good, but they're not that special either, at least not in America.  Milkfish is no treat in my book. In spite of all that, this place is pretty good.  I like the Adobo very much, and the small lumpia.  But beware when you order - even dedicated fans of ethnic food will not like much of what is on the menu.  Strong fish sauce - not the sweetened Vietnamese version - abounds.  High marks for atmosphere, by the way.  And one of the cheapest places on this list, which is saying something.

 

Pampanguena, 16041 Frederick Road (Route 355), Gaithersburg, 240-631-2210

I don't usually include the excellent Gaithersburg in this guide (just too far for me), but how many good Filipino places do we have?  A Filipino reader says this is the best one around.

 

Fine Dining

Don't smirk, ALL FOOD IS ETHNIC FOOD!

Washington DC:

1789 Restaurant, 1226 36th St, near Prospect St. NW, 202-965-1789, no lunch.

Georgetown standby, it has about the most boring looking menu you can imagine.  That being said, quality is uniformly excellent across the board.  In a nice old building, the room is charming in the sort of way that appeals to fireplace lovers.  Wealthy parents of Georgetown spoiled brats eat here. I can't complain about the quality, but I will only eat here if someone else is paying the bill.  Many will love it, and I enjoy it when I go, but it is not my thing.

 

Bistro Bis, 15 E St., Hotel George, 202-661-2700

Not what it once was, so why go? 

 

Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th St, Washington DC, NW, 202-419-6755

I have to say I was very impressed. It sounds boring by most accounts but the steak, lobster, and tuna tartare are all first-rate. Expensive, but at least you are getting something for your money. Don't expect innovative or original cooking, but right now this is one of the best places in town.

 

Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 202-944-2026

I have to say I was very impressed.  It sounds boring by most accounts but the steak, lobster, and tuna tartare are all first-rate.  Expensive, but at least you are getting something for your money.  Don't expect innovative or original cooking, but right now this is one of the best places in town.

 

Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 202-626-0015, hard to get reservations except at 5:30.

In decline and it has become the place for tourists.  Some people still like the various kinds of burgers here.  It pretends to be cheap, but three courses without wine ran me $70.  Am I upset because I can get the same thing, more or less, in Buenos Aires, for $10?  Ultimately this place doesn't do me much good. 

 

Citronelle, 3000 M St. NW, 202-625-2150

I'm no longer willing to stick my neck out and recommend this place.  Michel Richard is too frequently absent.  It can still be inspiring, but the prices are too high to be content with a “you take your chances” sort of recommendation. 

 

CityZen, 1330 Maryland Ave SW, in the Mandarin Occidental Hotel, 202-787-6868, dinner only (not every day), closed Monday and Tuesday.
For the first time since Jean-Louis (and I mean the mid to late 1980s, not the later version of the place), Washington has a first-rate place for fine dining. Yes, dinner costs more than $100 a pop, but it is better than almost anywhere else in town.

D.C. Coast, 1401 K St. NW, 202-216-5988

Jeff Tunk's place.  Get the chile relleno, tuna-filled pasta, and crabcake.  It used to be of the best places in town but now it is well past its peak.  The noise can be difficult to take, also.

 

Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave NW, 202-331-8118

One of the better upscale places, but not good enough to excite me.  I've eaten here twice, the courses have a hit rate of about two-thirds, not cheap.  Surely it has its partisans but not at the top of my list.

 

Komi, 1509 17th Street, DC, 20-332-9200

A mix of fine dining and Greek-American. Still good but not the dominant place it used to be. The first time you go is best, it is good but no need to return.

 

Marcel's, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-296-1166, dinner only.

Belgian, mostly, more classic than nouvelle.  All the reviews are good, but hard to see it beating a trip to Europe.

 

Oceanaire, 1201 F. Street NW, 202-347-2277

Has first-rate seafood, one of my favorite places right now.  They do for fish what Morton's did for steaks.  That description might put you off, but you should try it anyway, it is really very good.  Noisy and draws a hideous crowd, but don't let that put you off.

 

Palena, 3529 Connecticut Ave, Washington, NW, 202-537-9250 

Entrees at $40, though, expensive even for its kind.  I have yet to go, and don't feel compelled.  The café is supposed to be quite good but in recent times they have been expanding the number of seats so probably it is in decline.

 

P.S. 7's, 777 Eye St., NW, 202-742-8550

I ate here only once, following up on a review by (sic) USA Today.  It was surprisingly good.  Classy and understated, and not too trendy.  Expensive, but not relative to the competition.  The short ribs and beef were quite good.  The chef used to work at Vidalia, and I believe the place has yet room to get better.  Not CityZen, but I'll go again.

 

The Source, the new Wolfgang Puck restaurant, across from the National Gallery, on 6th and Pennsylvania, in the modernist office building.

Was great at first but now hit or miss.  In decline, take your chances.  Get as many appetizers and small dishes as you can, that is also a cheaper way to eat plus you get more selection.

 

Taberna del Alabardero, 1776 I St. NW, entrance on 18th St., 202-429-2200, opens at 6:00

Yummy, but increasingly uneven.  They often have regional specialties cooked by visiting chefs.  Not cheap, but the price is high for a good reason.  Good paella.  Stuffier than it needs to be, but sometimes truly excellent.  It has shown a remarkably ability to reinvent itself when needed, but before going try to find out where they are in the cycle.

 

Ten Penh, 1001 Pennsylvania, Washington, NW, 202-393-4500

Pan-Asian, sort of, and run by Jeff Tunks, a food god.  Can be excellent, but you take a big chance here for the price.  Most go away disappointed, your best bet is the lamb chops.  Most of the time it isn't good anymore.

 

West End Bistro, 1190 22nd Café, Washington, 202-974-4900

I went once and had very good ham and very good cod, right after the new sous chef arrived.  The other dishes I saw didn't impress me so much.  It was very noisy and not cheap.  I would go back, but at this point I am reluctant to recommend it.

 

Virginia:

Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia, 540-675-3800 

You probably know all the blah-blah-blah.  But right now it is in decline.  So don't go.  If you must, get the Veal with Sweetbreads. 

 

L'Auberge Chez Francois does not merit my recommendation - an overrated restaurant, plus it burned down, they reopened a while back.

 

Restaurant Eve, 110 South Pitt street, Alexandria,  703-706-0450
I went once.  Every course was excellent, but somehow the whole seemed less than the sum of the parts.  I was in the "tasting menu" room.  The "Bacon, Cheese, and Egg" course was first-rate.  But for what I paid, I didn't come away with the same feeling of satisfaction I get from CityZen.  This is certainly a restaurant to be reckoned with, but I am not yet sure if I will go back.

 

 

Fish -- See Seafood

 

 

Fondue

Washington DC:

Bistro Bernoise, 5120 MacArthur Blvd., NW, 202-685-3939, fondue on Tuesday nights only, or other nights with advance notice.

I hate Fondue, I refuse to go.

 

French – see also Fine Dining

Washington DC:

Bistro Francais, 3128 M St., NW, 202-338-3830, open quite late

Used to be good, now still hits the spot occasionally.

 

La Chaumiere, 2813 M St., 202-338-1784

Barkley Rosser loves this place.  He recommends it as a “solid, mid-price restaurant that specializes in Lyonnaise cuisine, and is favored by the older Georgetown crowd…”

Le Diplomate, 1601 14 th St., NW, 202-332-3333
Washington finally has an excellent French restaurant. The menu here is almost a parody of what you would expect to find in a real Brasserie in France, but I kid you not this place is better than what you are likely to stumble upon in Paris. The skate was one of the best fish entries I've had in this area in many years. Everything was remarkably consistent and high quality. I do wonder how they will keep up standards, given the size of the place. And, circa 2013, it is very difficult to get in the door. I recommend showing up at 5 p.m. and sitting at the bar, unless you are well-connected in this town. In a way it is pathetic that we should be so happy to have this place, but kudos to the people in charge, this is a real winner. By the way, just in case you think I am crazy, everyone else loves it too.

 

Virginia:

 

Rue 123, 4023 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, 703-691-2266

Near Le Tire Bouchon and in the old Bailiwick Inn.  Classic French, they go out of their way to be boring but the quality is high.  I tried the beef tenderloin, the shrimp, and the sea bass.  All were excellent, I liked the sea bass best.  A good place to take clients or job market candidates, especially if others are paying.  Not my kind of thing, but some people will love this place. Recommended by a credible-sounding reader are Petits Plats in Woodley Park and Bistro D'Oc, across from Ford's Theatre.  There is always La Colline as well, a classic stand-by.

 

German

There are no German places in this area worth eating at.  And yes, I have tried Café Berlin, and that Europa place up on Wisconsin.  Don't even think about it, as they say. 

Ghanaian

Washington DC:

 

Akosombo, 613 K St., NW, closed Sunday, opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast, closes 8 p.m., don't go after 6 p.m
Ghanian places are never bad, but this one is better than you think.  The Red Red (beans and plantains) is excellent, so is the peanut soup.  You can't go wrong here, recommended, don't be put off by the total lack of enthusiasm among the staff or the fact that Don Boudreaux doesn't like it.  One of the better African places around.

Ghana Café, 2465 18th St., 202-387-3845, often closed for lunch.

Ghanian places are never bad, but this one is better than you think.  The Red Red (beans and plantains) is excellent, so is the peanut soup.  You can't go wrong here, recommended, don't be put off by the total lack of enthusiasm among the staff or the fact that Don Boudreaux doesn't like it.  One of the better African places around.

 

Greek

Washington DC:

Athens Taverna, 1732 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-667-9211

I've never had really convincing Greek food in this country outside of Queens.  I recommend Germany, of all places, for Greek food.  But for DC eaters, a reader recommended a Greek Deli, Kosta's, 19th between L and M, NW, to me, they close mid-afternoon.

 

Maryland:

Ambrosia, 1765 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-881-3636, there is now another one on 806 Hungerford.

I just can't bring myself to try this place, the arrogance of experience I suppose.

 

Athenian Plaka, Bethesda, 7833 Woodmont Ave, 301-986-1337

Comes recommended by a reader, and by Washingtonian.  My sixth sense suggests that it is better than most of its kind, but it is not on my short list for a visit.

 

Mykonos Grill, Rockville, 121 Congressional Lane, Rockville, near Rockville Pike, 301-770-5999.

Supposed to be good, but I've never been, formerly of K St. 

 

Virginia:

Athena Pallas, 556 22nd St., S. Arlington, 703-521-3870, no Saturday lunch.

Supposed to be good, see Athens Taverna.

 

Greek Taverna, 6828C Old Dominion Drive, McLean, 703-556-0788

I used to think this was probably the best Greek place around, but lately I have heard it is in decline. 

Nostos, 8100 Boone Blvd, at Tysons off of Aline, Vienna, 703-760-0690
Finally this area has a first-rate Greek restaurant. This is not a mom and pop but rather a modestly fancy place, not cheap but relative to its market segment it is reasonably priced. I've tried maybe a dozen of the dishes here, with a wide range of choice. Every single one was excellent. My favorite, oddly enough, was the green zucchini, make sure you dip them into the tz sauce. If they keep on cooking at this level, there is even a chance that Nostos is northern Virginia's best restaurant right now. Definitely recommended.

Plaka Grill, 110 Lawyers Road, Vienna, 703-319-3131, Sunday they close at 8 p.m.

Loyal TCEDG readers will know that I am skeptical of Greek food in this country but I find this place to be pretty good, downright tasty in fact.  The Plaka Gyro, stuffed with French fries was delicious.  It's a bit of a cross between a snacks place and a lunch place and a dinner place but still it feels a gaping hole in NoVa dining and it is worthy of further scrutiny.

 

Others: A correspondent recommends the following:  Yanni's (Connecticut, in Cleveland Park), Parthenon (Connecticut Ave., near the Avalon Theater), Taverna Greek Isles (Pennsylvania Ave., SE, near Capitol Hill), Mourayo (1732 Connecticut), and Stoupsey's, a counter in the foodcourt in Farragut West.

 

Guatemalan

Washington DC:

 

Corado's, 3217 Mt. Pleasant St., NW, 202-462-3332

Yummy food, good atmosphere, and in DC's most Latin neighborhood.  A very good restaurant, with a surprisingly high quality of beef, given the low prices.  Don't let the police sirens throw you.

 

Maryland:

 

La Bamba Restaurant, 8241 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-589-3712

More Pan-Latin than Guatemalan, though they have a few specifically Guatemalan dishes, such as “Beef Stew Guatemalan Style.”  Not my favorite, but if I lived next door I would go more than once.

 

Virginia:

 

Guatemalteca Tikal, 4320 Annandale Road, Annandale, 703-256-0020, usually opens at 6 a.m. but check, also a bakery.

Great atmosphere, the food is OK but only OK.  Try the soups.  They have pupusas too.  Assorted, scattered items, like Philly Cheese Steak.  Lots of Central American drinks.  I have yet to try the sautéed flower dish.  A fun place, I wish I could push it more on the food side, but at the very least I am glad I went once.

 

Guyana

Maryland:

 

Caribbean Delight, 7811 Riggs Rd., University Blvd., Adelphi, 301-439-1270

Goat, calaloo, curried kingfish, the usual things you have come to expect from a Guyanese restaurant.

 

Hamburgers

Washington DC:

Poste Modern Brasserie, 555 Eighth St., NW, 202-783-6060

Kobe beef and sea salt, it must have some potential.

 

 

Virginia:
 

Elevation Burger, 442 Washington St., Falls Church, 703-237-4343

Pretty good, they have burgers of “Kobe beef” and vegan burgers.  The French fries are quite good, though I find them tastier at Five Guys.  Super cheap, and recommended, though no competition for Ray's.

 

Five Guys, 4626 King St., Alexandria, 703-671-1606, several other branches too, including on N. Fayette St. in Alexandria and 654 Backlick Rd. in Springfield, and now one on Gallows Rd., right by the Multiplex and the Szechuan place set back in the strip mall.

Once the definitive local hamburger, now it is a chain of above average but varying quality.  And great albeit greasy french fries, makes you realize that most people's french fries taste like nothing.  No spa cuisine here.  Not for all tastes, but for what it is, the best around.  And dirt cheap. 

 

Ray's Hell-Burger, 1713 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-841-0001, open for lunch only on weekends, I believe 5 p.m. dinner on weekdays.

All they have is hamburgers and they don't even have a side of French fries (you can get potato chips or potato salad).  It's the best hamburger around by an order of magnitude.  Yes, it is worth paying a $4 or $5 supplement for the specialty cheeses on the cheeseburger.  I like the Epoisses best but the Amish cheddar is first-rate for traditionalists.  The quality of the burger and the cheese here really just stunned me.  By 12:15 on a Saturday the place is already chaos but somehow it seems to work.  Order your burger at the counter and then be prepared to stand at a table (of sorts) and eat it.  Not a place to sit and chat but who needs social pleasantries when the burger is so good?

 
The Burger Joint (TBJ) http://www.bgrtheburgerjoint.com and  Shake Shack, http://www.shakeshack.com  multiple locations and growing.
They are both fast food chains but they are also both pretty good.  I'd say they are better than the median place on this list.  TBJ even uses real dry-aged beef.  Excellent fries in both places.  They're both also more expensive than traditional fast food.  I would eat in these places more if not for health considerations.  All I can say is that if you are tempted, you have my blessing.

 

Honduran

Maryland:

 

Costa Del Sol, 4906 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-656-2561

They claim to be Honduran as well as Salvadorean and Mexican.  Maybe, but you would have to read Leibniz on the identity of indiscernibles to prove the point.  One of the few really ethnic places in Bethesda, plus it has above average pupusas.  I also like the black bean soup with onion.

Mom and pop, where they cook for you or you grab from simmering trays on the counter.  Not as good as my favorites, and these days it is in decline. They took away the formerly quite good buffet.

 

Indian

Washington DC:

Aatish on the Hill, 609 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, D.C., 202-544-0931

Some years ago Phyllis Richman asked why this place isn't better known.  I still wonder.  It is not perfect, but far better than the Capitol Hill competition.   Their specialty is lamb, especially Rogan Josh, real full-flavored lamb taste.  Above average Mango Lassi.  Not outrageously priced.

 

Aroma, 1919 Eye St., NW

Foggy Bottom Indian stand-by. OK but no reason to go there.

 

Bombay Club, 815 Connecticut Ave., NW, Sunday brunch. 

Gourmet, expensive, the most refined Indian food in the area.  The new chief has revitalized this place and now it is much spicier and at least for the time being excellent.  One of the best restaurants in Washington.  Don't be put off by its previous boring tastes. 

 

Indique, 3512 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-244-6600, open daily for lunch and dinner.

Nouvelle Indian, with nice dining quarters, but ultimately more Indian than nouvelle.  Get as many appetizers as possible, ten or twelve I would say.  Note: I have heard rumors of decline since they opened the branch, Indique Heights.

 

Indique Heights, 2 Wisconsin Circle, Chevy Chase, 301-656-4822

From the people who brought you Indique.  I used to love Indique, but the brand is being diluted.  This one is pretty good, and certainly worth trying.  The Fried Syrian Lamb is a very good dish or appetizer, especially if you don't mind strong cardamom.  But I just don't feel the same excitement here as I did at Indique when it opened.  The restaurant is defined by small plates, which is a good sign.  I am told you should try the shallot potatoes.  And it is a very nice place to sit, and the best restaurant in its immediate area.  For me it is lacking that excitement factor, though I liked what I had.

 

Masala Art, 4441 Wisconsin Ave., just south of the Whole Foods, NW, 202-362-4441

Still one of the better Indian places, but no longer cooking at its former peaks. This is from the people who brought you Heritage India. They have some obscure regional dishes but they deliver on the standards as well. Consistency is high, the lassis aren't too sweet, and the Indian desserts are even good, which is hardly ever the case in U.S. Indian restaurants.

Nirvana, 1810 K St., NW, 202-223-5043

Excellent South Indian dishes and most Gujarati vegetarian dishes.  It is from the people who once brought you Swagat's, near U. Maryland.  Not everything on the buffet will be good, but the best dishes are superb and original, not what you find elsewhere in the area.  You will always feel that this place is not as good as it might have been, but anyone who likes Indian food should have this in their repertoire.

 

Rasika, 633 D St., NW, near MCI Center, 202-637-1222, www.rasikarestaurant.com

Lately it has been in decline but it is still an above average Indian restaurant.  The food here has real taste, much as you might find in India.  Nice décor.  Many fine touches in the cooking.  The best dish is the spinach (somewhat fried or frittered), with corn; better than it sounds.  Also get the cauliflower.  The way to go here is to order starters, chats, appetizers, etc. and avoid the good but less innovative main courses.  Good okra.  Going all-vegetarian here is not a mistake.  Good prawns.  Overall a strong entry into Washington's dining scene.  Go lots and get lots. 

Rasika West, 1177 22nd Street, NW, 202-466-2500
Now better than Rasika proper, the home base.  Get the spinach chat, the aloo tikki, the sev puri, the scallop appetizer, the lamb chop tandoori, the cod dish with two flavors, the duck curry with coconut milk, and the dark lentils for an excellent meal.  The other dishes are generally good but not as good as those.  Not cheap, but one of the better meals in town these days.

 

Maryland:

Bombay Indian, 11229 New Hampshire Ave., White Oak Shopping Center, Silver Spring, 301-593-7222

Once great, now in decline.  Still, try the Kashmiri inspirations. At its best, it has rich spicing, though without being too hot. The bread with the cherries and nuts is one special dish you can get here.  Maybe it will recover. 

 

Haandi, 4904 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-0121, www.haandi.com

They take no reservations, and some times the place fills up, though not as it used to.  I like their wok-cooked specialties and their salmon, but I find some of the portions a bit too small and the spicing a bit too weak.  This was once a prime option but now other places are passing it by.

 

Jewel of India, 10151 New Hampshire Avenue  Silver Spring, 301-408-2200

A real knockout, right now the best Indian place around.  Order any dish they might be serving from Mangalore, the chef's home town.  Such as the Suka chicken.  They also have a separate menu of Indo-Chinese dishes.  Definitely recommended, though note that the kitchen falls apart if you arrive when they are truly full and busy.  The buffet isn't as good as a'la carte, also.

 

Passage to India, 4931 Cordell Ave., near Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, 301-656-3373 

This gem is still underrated.  This used to be a branch of Heritage India, but now it is run by the original founder.  It offers unique Indian regional specialties.  In fact only here in this area can you eat specialties of Bombay and Calcutta, among other parts of India.  This place is more like a high-class Indian restaurant of India than anywhere else around.  Highly recommended, and make sure you get the regional specialties.  Check out www.passagetoindia.info.

 

Spice X-ing, 100 Gibbs St., Rockville, 301-610-0303

Right now this is one of the three or four best Indian places around.  Gibbs St. is not the obvious place to go eat in Rockville, but the food here is genuinely excellent.  The dishes are truly spiced and I don't just mean hot.  (The level of heat is quite bearable, though present.)  The spices are fresh and taste like a genuine part of each recipe.  It's not a mom and pop, as it actually looks like a nice restaurant, which indeed it is.  Some of the cooking has a Parsee slant, to my taste, such as mixing lamb and fruit.  I was especially fond of the chicken with spinach.

 

Tiffin, 1341 University Blvd. East, Langley Park, 301-434-9200

A non-vegetarian spin-off of Udupi Palace (see below), and just a short bit further down the road, heading away from the Beltway.  Very good Indian food, and very authentic, these people know what they are doing.

 

 

Virginia:

Aditi Bistro, 405 Maple Ave. East, Vienna, 703-938-0100

Run by the Aditi people, it has lots of wraps.  Imagine trying to do Chipotle with Indian food.  It's OK, good enough if you're in the area, but not up to the best Indian places around.

 

Angeethi Indian Cuisine, 645 Elden St., Herndon, 703-796-1527

Excellent all around, this is now one of the two or three best Indian places in the area.  (Bombay Indian in Silver Spring is probably the current leader).  The chat station, offered at lunch, is first-rate.  Everything else is quite consistent and just generally tasty.  I even enjoyed the Butter Chicken.  Good breads.  Good vindaloo and spinach and black lentils.  What kind of Indian food is it?  Most of all I would say it is like the Balti food you get in the UK and indeed they have a whole section of the menu devoted to Balti dishes.

 

Aroma, Shirlington, on the main street there, 4052 28th St S.  and no, I won't give you the phone number.

This has to be the worst ethnic meal I've had in the last five years (and yes because of a movie time I had to eat in Shirlington).  Everything was badly oversalted and virtually inedible.  Although no one else was in the restaurant, at first they insisted that we couldn't switch tables.  Service was irregular.  It wasn't even that cheap.  Most bad places I won't even review, but I thought this worth a note, since if you are stuck in Shirlington you might be tempted as we were: “Indian food, how bad can it be?”  Maybe they just had a bad night, but this was a total fail.

 

Bombay Bistro, 3570 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, 703-359-5810, also at 98 W. Montgomery Ave., Rockville, 301-762-8798

A good restaurant with a wide-ranging menu.  They even have several kinds of dosas.  The lunch buffets are good and fresh.  There is also a main branch in Rockville, but I have never been there. 

 

Bombay Café, 11213-E Lee Highway, Fairfax, 703-352-8282, near Jermantown Road.
Mom and pop, where they cook for you or you grab from simmering trays on the counter.  Not as good as my favorites, and these days it is in decline. They took away the formerly quite good buffet.

Bombay Tandoor, 8603 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, 703-734-2202.  Near the auto dealerships but off Rt.7, impossible to spot from the street, call for exact direction, not hard to get to.

An attempt to create an upscale Indian place for the nouveau richesse Indians who work in the software firms out near Dulles.  Better than average.  I like the tandoori and spinach best.  For those who don't want the mom and pop atmosphere, but still want tasty and authentic food.  Recommended.

Curry Mantra, 9984 Main St., Fairfax, 703-218-8128
It is excellent if you get the regional dishes and daily specials, also the south Indian snacks, such as the sevpuri. Get the spicy chicken or the goa fish. The chicken and fish are cooked just right in these specials. Right now it is maybe the best dosa around. The buffet is good but typical. The rest of the menu is fine but a little boring. This is a good place which intelligent ordering can turn into a great place. Its best dishes put it in the top half dozen Indian places around.

Delhi Club, 1135 N. Highland St., Arlington, 703-243-6522, right at Clarendon Metro.

Perhaps you thought we had so many good new Indian places that we don't need another one?  You were wrong.  The food here is excellent, quality ingredients, and somehow the feel and cooking differ from the other places on this list.  It reminds me of how Indian food often tastes in the UK.  I like the cardamom dishes best, and yes it is from the same people who do Bombay Curry Company in Alexandria.

 

Delhi Dhaba, 2424 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington 703-524-0008, usually open.

The food simmers in front of you at the counter, and you order what you want.  Weekend buffet.  Very quick, very cheap, good atmosphere, good Indian videos and TV programs - this place fills a niche.  Not the finest, but I like it.

 

Hot Breads, next to Sichuan Village and Il Mee in Chantilly, 14027 Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway.

Indian breads and sandwiches, chicken tikka, not really a sit down place.  Very mom and pop.  Curry-filled pastries and Indian sweets.  For a quick lunch, this place is quite good.  They also have Indian soft drinks.

 

India Curry House, 3181 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, right near Clarendon Metro, 703-527-3444

This place became crowded right after opening, and it is easy to see why.  High-quality Indian buffet food, at reasonable prices.  I wish they had more regional dishes, and perhaps someday they will.  I've yet to try from their regular menu.  This place is right near my office in Arlington, and it has rapidly become a lunch favorite.  My only complaint is that sometimes the line for the buffet gets too long.

 

Jaipur, 9401 Lee Highway, Unit 105, Circle Towers, Fairfax, 703-766-1111

You would never expect to find a restaurant in this locale, attached to a condo building, but this place draws a surprisingly good crowd.  It is OK, but I do not love it.

Karaikudi Restaurant, 13949 Metrotech Dr., Chantilly, 703-817-7755, off of Rt. 50 just before Rt.28
Top-notch Tamil Nadu/ Chettinad Indian food, clearly the spiciest place around. The best Indian mushrooms around. Great Chettinad chicken and quail. Fine Tamarind rice. Chicken gizzard soup. Fish fry. They have dosas too, but this is true Indian regional cuisine. They also have a type of cooking known as “Aachi Samayal,” which seems to be related to the idea of aromas. Right now this is one of the best places to visit, so go, go, go.

Kohinoor Dhaba, 2800 South Eads, Crystal City, 703-778-5005

Chug likes it, that should decide it.  Get the fish pakora, spinach, goat biryani, this is one of the best Indian places around.  Really yummy, a hidden gem.

 

Masala Wok, Fairfax Marketplace, 10940 Fairfax Blvd., Suite J, Fairfax, 571-432-1814.  There is also a branch Herndon Parkway Crossing, 905 Herndon Parkway, Suite A, Herndon, 703-657-0216

Whenever an Indian restaurant has the word “wok” in its title you can expect something from the northwest and some spicy, ginger-laden dishes.  This place runs against the current buffet trend to offer you quick-serve Indian dishes which you order at the counter.  I'm surprised how good this place has turned out to be.  The spicy dishes are truly spicy.  Most of all the dishes have real flavor and real taste.  I recommend the Coconut Curry, spicy, but everything I've had here has been good.  Think of it as the Chipotle of Indian food.  The prices are also very reasonable.  Recommended.

 

Mayuri, 2316 Hunters Wood Plaza, Reston, 703-860-2444

I have mixed feelings about this place.  They have the single best and most authentic Indian menu around, ranging from the Chicken 65 dosa to Kori gasi, namely chicken made in fresh coconut, red chilly, and curry leaves, plus a lot more in between.  And none of it is bad.  Yet somehow the dishes don't quite taste right.  With some superior execution this could be premier places on this list, but as it stands it is an interesting curiosity of unfulfilled potential.  If I lived nearby I'd go all the time, but it's not yet worth the trip.

 

Minerva, 10364 Lee Highway, Fairfax, 383-9200, plus a smaller branch in Herndon, 2443-GI Centreville Rd., 793-3223.  www.minervacuisine.com

Buffet for lunchtime, weekend lunch is when you should go.  Real Indian food, north and south.  Truly spicy.  The best are the dishes that look weird or unusual.  Use the chutneys.  Use the curd rice as a base.  Experiment.  This place is very good but only if you know how to choose from the buffet properly.  The candied cauliflower, on weekends, is yummy.  Buffet spicier, and more interesting, on the weekends.  (Non-buffet) dinner is also good, though sometimes a bit slow.  Opt for their unusual dosas and south Indian specialties.  Great for people-watching, especially at lunch.You'll notice they have some Chinese dishes, which mimic how Chinese food is served in India.  The peppered chicken is best.  Indians love these, they are evidence of how authentic the restaurant is, not the contrary.

 

Minerva Express, 4815 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-841-9626

A branch of Minerva, they score high on the authenticity index and it also serves as an Indian grocery.  Lots of take out with just a few tables and some food heated under a lamp.  Talk to them directly, have them cook something up for you, ask for authentic and spicy, and it will be very good.  Making your wishes known is important here, and if you do so it can be some of the best Indian food around, although without any frills.  An Indian restaurant for Indians.

 

Naan and Beyond, 513 23rd St, Crystal City.

Above average Tandoori chicken, overall the place is less spicy than most.

 

Raaga, 5872 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, just east of Duangrat's.

Indian food, from the folks who brought you Connaught's in Fairfax.  Certainly good, but lacks special dishes if you know the other places on this list.

 

Sangham, 1211 N. Glebe Rd., at Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-524-2728

Above-average Indian, though more costly than many.  Has both North and South Indian dishes.  Draws a very white crowd.  Has many loyal fans.  I have no complaint with the place, but somehow I don't feel compelled to go back.

 

Saravana Palace, 11725 Lee Highway, #A15, Fairfax, 703-218-4182, one light west of Fairfax Wegman's, turn into the strip mall, directions are here: http://www.saravanapalaceva.com

Formerly the best Indian place around, this place became worse. I have heard it is better again, I will try it  

 

Supper Club of India, 13055 Worldgate Dr., Herndon, 703-736-0466

My readers like the place.  It is more influenced by Persian ideas than are most Indian restaurants.  I have yet to go.

 

Tandoori Nights, 2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, 703-248-8333

Well, it was better than I had expected, given the neighborhood it sits in.  Remember how Clarendon was once the epicenter of good ethnic dining?  Well those days are long since gone.  Avoid the Tandoori here.  Some of the vegetable dishes are not bad.  Don't think this substitutes for any of the real Indian places around.  But some of you will be caught short in Clarendon, wondering where to go, and tempted to try this.  What can I say?  You should be in your car driving down to Minerva.  But you're not.  Boo-hoo.  Give it a try, but don't complain to me if you go home disappointed.  I will say that the décor is nice.

Turmeric, 405 Maple Avenue East, Vienna, 703-938-0100
One of Virginia's best Indian restaurants. The buffet is well above average, even with a good biryani and on the buffet at that. They have a decent number of regional dishes, including from Goa and Kerala. Consistent all around. This isn't one of the best two or three Indian places around, but it's just below that and nipping at their heels. Vienna has been needing a place like this. Good lassis too.

Also for Indian, Cafe Taj, in McLean, on 1379 Beverly Blvd., is not bad

South Indian

Washington DC:

Amma's Vegetarian Kitchen, Georgetown, 3291 M St., 202-625-6625

Strictly Indian, strictly vegetarian, mostly dosas.  This place significantly ups the options for Vienna dining.  I've never tried the Georgetown branch.

 

Maryland:

 

Woodlands, 8046 New Hampshire Ave., at University Blvd., Langley Park, MD, 301-434-4202

The Maryland branch has now overtaken Udupi with the Indian crowd, although the menus are almost the same. The kind of food is simply hard to beat.  There is one lentils dish, with vegetables, comes with a side order of yogurt, it is my favorite here.

 

Virginia:

 

Amma's Vegetarian Kitchen, Vienna, Chain Bridge Rd., just across from Outback Steakhouse, also in Georgetown, 3291 M St., 202-625-6625

Strictly Indian, strictly vegetarian, mostly dosas.  Excellent channa (chickpeas).  This place significantly ups the options for Vienna dining.  I've never tried the Georgetown branch.

 

Saran Foods, 5151 N. Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-533-3600

Very cheap south Indian food, larger than usual selection of dosas.  A hole in the wall, but worth a visit. 

 

Woodlands ,4078 Jermantown Rd Fairfax,  in the mall where Germantown Rd hits the K-Mart, just off of Rt. 29.

Finally Fairfax has top-rate dosas.  Fairfax branch not quite as good as the Maryland one but still excellent.  There is one lentils dish, with vegetables, comes with a side order of yogurt, it is my favorite here.

 

 

Indonesian

Virginia:

 

East Chateau, 146 Maple Ave., Vienna, 703-255-2588

Mostly Pan-Asian, with an emphasis on boring Chinese, but they have a few Indonesian dishes, plus I want to pad this section a bit.  A good change of pace for Vienna if you go Indonesian.

 

Sarinah Satay House, 512A S. Van Dorn Street Alexandria, in the mall which also has Savio's (see Italian).

The same place that once was in Georgetown.  The former incarnation was good, not great.  Now it's worse. 

 

For Indonesian the best bet probably is Café Asia, in Rosslyn, look under Asian.

 

Iraqi

Virginia:

 

Tigris Grill, 2946-P Chain Bridge Road, Oakton, 703-255-5950, Sundays they close at 7 p.m.

An above average kabobs place, run by Iraqis with Iraqi décor.  Good beef kabob and a nice mom and pop atmosphere.  Decent chickpeas.  You won't find special Iraqi dishes however and I would say go only if it is in your immediate region.  The place also has surprisingly good vegetarian options.

 

Irish

Don't worry, someday I'll find one you want to eat at.  Just not soon, or in this universe.  That being said, one savvy reader recommends The New Irish Pub (Molly Maguire's), on Washington Blvd., near Murky Coffee (formerly Common Grounds).  The Washington Post recommends Irish Inn at Glen Echo, Macarthur Blvd. and Tulane Ave., Glen Echo, 301-229-6600, get the salmon with cabbage roll.  There is also Finn Maccool's Irish Publick House, 713 Eighth St., SE, 202-547-7100

 

Israeli

Maryland:

 

Israeli Grill, 4860 Boiling Brook Parkway, 301-468-0400, Rockville.

I am told this has good grill and deli and is fully kosher.

See also Kosher.

 

Italian

Obelisk is good but a bit boring for my taste.  None of them beat what you can eat for $10 ($5, once they bring the lira back) in a good Trattoria in Parma or Torino.  Many people like Tosca, though, 1112 F St., near 12th, 202-367-1990, no weekend lunch.  For suburban areas, I find both Marco Polo and Buonarrati's of Vienna to be satisfying; I like the buffet at the former and the lasagna at the latter.  Joe's Pizza and Pasta, scattered branches, is tasty and cheap, but go with low expectations.  See also Tutto Bene, under Bolivian.  Off the beaten track, you might want to consider the following:

Washington DC:

Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca, 1100 New York Ave. NW, 202-216-9550

Not cheap but a more or less genuine Italian restaurant – with tripe and the like – also with subtle flavors in the pastas.  Currently it is a clear first choice for Italian in the DC area, along with Marea.  We have needed a restaurant like this for some time.

 

Fiola, 601 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 202-628-2888

Now one of DC's best fine dining establishments, and maybe the best Italian place currently.  From the guy who used to run Maestro.  The dates are very tasty, the pastas are excellent, the main courses are good enough to justify the prices but in my view they are somewhat ordinary, such as the short ribs.  Good veal cheeks.  The dessert I ordered was disappointing.  If you doubt whether this is real Italian food, they even have sea urchin, crab, and chilies, a wonderful Sicilian dish.

 

Pasta Mia, 1790 Columbia Road, NW, 202-328-9114, 6:30 to 10, Tuesday through Saturday.

This place is no longer the rage and I doubt if it was ever good in the first place.

 

Siroc, 915 15th St. NW, 202-628-2220

Everyone says this is the best or most flawless Italian place in DC right now.  I ate there once and had zero complaints.  Still, I find Bibiana viscerally more exciting.  At the very least, there's no reason to avoid this place.  But it doesn't stick in my memory, I can't remember what I ordered, which for me is a rare occurrence.

 

Maryland:

Il Pinito, 5071 Nicholson Lane, Rockville, 301-881-0085

Definitely recommended, the sort of place you are convinced this area does not have.  Cheap, tasty, fresh Italian food.  Nothing shocking, but delivers all around in a way that few Italian places here do.

Virginia:

A La Lucia, 315 Madison St., Alexandria, 703-836-5123

Highly recommended by Washingtonian magazine, I have yet to go.

 

Argia's, 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church, 703-534-1033

Not as good as it used to be, but still better than it looks from the outside.  It reminds me a bit of what you would find in a good New Jersey Italian restaurant.

 

Savio's, 516 E & F Van Dorn St., 703-212-9651, slightly funny hours, I think.

This is one of Northern Virginia's premier strip malls for food.  Has excellent Thai, Japanese, Peruvian, Italian, and some good ethnic groceries.  Just south of Edsall, and a bit north of the Beltway ramps on van Dorn.  Despite the competition, Savio's will sometimes win out when I am in this mall.  I like the pastas here, especially the Rigatoni Carbonara, or the ones with spicy sausage.  The cook is from Tunisia, and does everything just a bit differently.

 

Esposito's, 9917 Lee Hwy, Fairfax, just west of Fairfax Circle, 703-385-5912

The kind of Italian place you would expect in New Jersey.  Indeed the owners are from New Jersey.  Some of the best pizza in the area, plus very good pasta.  Exactly the sort of place you would think that northern Virginia shouldn't have.

 

Pines of Naples, 3207 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-521-5039

Quasi-Italian food, cooked by Pakistani and Brazilian owners.  Not for everyone, but draws a steady crowd of regulars.

 

Pistone's, 6320 Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22042, right at Seven Corners, 703-533-1885

Looks like it is still in the 1950s in here.  Not a perfect place in every way, but their salad bar is quite good and the rest is certainly acceptable.  Some really like it, but I only went once.

 

Jamaican

Washington DC:

 

Rita's, 3322 Georgia Ave NW, west side of the road, a few blocks north of Irving, just south of the intersection with Morton.  Closed Sunday.

Not for all tastes, but a real treat in my book.  Great goat curry, great atmosphere, very cheap.  The beans are especially good.  And they stock lots of grape soda. 

 

See also West Indian, and visit the cluster of places on Georgia Ave., near the intersection with Rhode Island, they appear worth a visit, for the brave that is…

 

Maryland:

 

Caribbean Feast Restaurant, 823 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, 301-315-2668, closed Sunday I believe.

A great name, and one of the best Jamaican places.  It doesn't give me the visceral thrill that Negril does, but it is worth having in the repertoire.  Very good chicken, lots of goat, and sides that would never pass the Atkins test.  Good atmosphere.

 

Jerk Pit, 8145-C Baltimore Ave., Rt.1, College Park, 301-441-4786

The wings are recommended.  Fridays they have oxtail stew.  Service is slow, because they do it the right way.

 

Negril's, 7904 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-907-6800, also 2301-G Goergia Ave., NW, 18509 N. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, and Mitchellville.

Curried stews, red beans, ox-tail, and rolled breads.  Cheap, and very tasty.  Don't be scared off by the branching, this place is great.

 

Tropicana, 7812 Georgia Ave., at the DC-Maryland border.

I have yet to go, but it looks promising.

 

York Castle Tropical Ice Cream, 9324 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-589-1616

Yes, they have soursop ice cream, among other flavors…worth a try…

 

Japanese

Washington, D.C:

Kaz Sushi Bistro, 1915 Eye St NW, near 20th, 202-530-5500

A mix of Japanese and fusion, both the beef and the sushi can be very good.  It has much more variety than your typical Japanese place, you won't get bored here even after a few visits.  Washington needs more of this kind of place.  Get the kobe beef.  Lately, however, I've seen some signs of decline.  It remains well above average, but beware.

 

Kotobuki, 4822 MacArthur Blvd. NW, near U St., on the second floor, 202-625-9080

The sushi is only a dollar a piece, yet the quality is supposed to be very high.  I've been waiting for a price shake-out in the sushi market, and perhaps the time for that has come.  I hear very good reports, but have not yet been.  They are also Saturday lunch and Sunday dinner, they don't take reservations.  A Beatles soundtrack plays all the time.  Don't expect good service or comfortable seating, but right now this place is essential dining.  The shumai and lobster sushi are especially good, in addition to the usual winners.

 

Kushi, 465 K St., NW, 202-682-3123

Now mixed in quality, I was once very enthusiastic about this place, which serves up surprisingly genuine Japanese menus.  Most of the restaurant is devoted to a'la carte and small courses.  They cook with wood, charcoal, and sous vide, no gas.  Overall the seafood is more special than the meats.  Excellent décor. 

 

Makoto, 4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW, 202-298-6866, closed Monday

Ten small courses, $35, only four tables.  A gem - one of Washington's best.  The closest you will get to real Japanese haute cuisine here.

 

Matsutake Corporation, Union Station, 50 Mass. Ave and National Airport, 703-417-0521

One of the best of the sushi buffet places.  All you can eat sushi for lunch, and the sushi is reasonably good.  Some of the branches have teppanyaki as well.  Is it the single best sushi place around?  No.  Will it start you wondering why you ever order sushi a'la carte?  Yes.

 

Sei, 444 7th St. NW 202-783-7007

Asian fusion, most of all Japanese but not just.  If you go heavy on the small dishes and the sushi and sashimi you can have an excellent meal.  The wasabi guacamole is quite interesting, as are the excellent pork buns.  The “fish and chips” rolls are recommended as are many of the other rolls.  Not cheap.  All-white interior with a shi-shi crowd.  Overall I have been glad the two times I ate here but beware that at least half of the main courses are boring.

 

Sushi-Ko, 2309 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-333-4187, closed Monday

One of the best sushi places around.  Not cheap, but you can afford to eat here, also.

 

Sushi Taro, 1503 17th St NW, 202-462-8999

A genuinely excellent place in the sense that you don't expect DC to have.  I can't say they offer huge surprises, but this is consistently one of the best places in town, with fine sushi, sashimi, and byproducts.  Get a fixed price menu.  Not cheap, but to get a very good fixed price menu for say $80, for the quality you get, is in relative terms a bargain.  Definitely recommended.

 

 

Maryland:

 

Temari, 1043 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-340-7720

Highly authentic, too authentic some would say.  Right next to a Japanese store and Japanese supermarket; patronized primarily by Japanese.  More a cafe than a restaurant.  If pork cutlet doused in ketchup is your thing, this is the place to go.  Here you will encounter the other side of Japanese food.

 

Yuraku, 19773 Frederick Road, Germantown, MD, 301-515-7448 

Recommended by a few of my correspondents, supposed to be very authentic and popular among Japanese. 

 

 

Virginia:

 

Akasaka, 514-C van Dorn St., Alexandria, 703-751-3133, hard to see from the street, in the same mall as Savio's, the Italian place.

Solid Japanese, especially useful in an area that doesn't have much first-rate Japanese food.  But it is no longer above average, as it once was.  Right now just OK.

 

Arigato, 13039 Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fair Lakes, 449-8404, closed Monday, plus a branch in Fairfax, where Germantown Rd. hits Rt. 29.

Stylish and original, the best decor of any place on this list.  The cardboard chairs are the best part of it all.  Japanese food by Koreans, but still a good restaurant. To get there, take 66 West to #55B, straight off the exit, left at the first light, then a left at the second light, into the big shopping center, look between the Hechinger's and Toys R Us.  Get the cream cheese dumplings as a side

 

Blue Ocean, 9440 Main St., at Pickett Rd., Fairfax, 703-425-7555

Attracts a largely Japanese clientele.  More than just the usual teriyaki dishes, also.  Worth having in the repertoire.

 

Matsuri, 150 Elden St., Herndon, 703-707-0367

In decline, used to be very good. 

 

Matsutake Corporation, 4121 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-351-8787, also in Worldgate Shopping Center, 13049 Worldgate Drive, Herndon, 703-787-3700, Crystal City, Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, 703-535-8848, Union Station, 50 Mass. Ave., WDC, and Washington Reagan National Airport, 703-417-0521.

One of the best of the sushi buffet places.  All you can eat sushi for lunch, and the sushi is reasonably good.  Some of the branches have teppanyaki as well.  Is it the single best sushi place around?  No.  Will it start you wondering why you ever order sushi a'la carte?  Yes.

 

Matuba, 2915 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-521-2811

Good sushi, though no longer dominant as it once was.  Now just another good place.

 

Osaka, 6669 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, 703-256-0152

They keep on putting not-quite-feasible Korean-Japanese restaurants in this space.  This place is OK, but I don't see any reason to think it will survive.

 

Sushi Yoshi, 101 Church St., Suite B, Vienna, 703-242-1350

For some reason no one ever talks about this restaurant, yet it is surprisingly good.  Above average sushi, with a reasonably authentic feel to the entire operation.  Best of all they have real Japanese tapas, ranging from grated yam to tuna with soy sauce to pork belly and a few dozen others.  Those are what you should get here.  Not perfect, but this place deserves more attention.

 

Tachibana, 6715 Lowell Ave., McLean, 703-847-1771, there is also a branch in Bethesda.

The best Japanese place in the suburbs.  Not at all cheap, but the quality justifies the prices.  Many entrees are in the $20 range.

 

Tokyo Inn, Japanese Steakhouse and Seafood Restaurant, 6661 Backlick Rd., Springfield, 703-923-9800

I have yet to go, doesn't look like anything original but almost certainly a welcome addition to the growing Springfield dining scene, it appears clean and attractively presented.

 

Yama, 328 Maple Ave, Vienna, 703-242-7703

Above-average sushi, and a good Vienna location.  Good eel, a good place to know.  It has become my local “go to” sushi place.

Also see Korean.  Many Korean places in this area serve Japanese food as well.

Korean

When the Koreans say spicy, they mean it, especially with the soups and hot pots.  Korean food has an aesthetic which is raw, cold, and bare.  I prize it highly.  The accompanying vegetables are always excellent.  The Kimchee (pickled cabbage with chilies) is an acquired taste, but that taste should definitely be acquired.

Beginners should try the Bul-Gogi and Korean Pancake.  Bibim-Bansang (the spelling or transliteration may vary!) is a combination of rice, vegetables, beef, egg, and spicy brown sauce; it must be mixed together by the patron.  A Korean specialty, and one of the treats at any Korean place.  The seafood and bean pancakes are usually excellent as well.  Korean stews, however, can sometimes be too sharp, too soggy, and too full of bizarre kinds of seafood and tripe.  Some are excellent, but you should know what you are doing if you order one.

Korean restaurants in this area are remarkably consistent; there are few bad ones.  I'm always looking for the perfect Bibim Bap, I will let you know when I find it, in the meantime I remain searching.

Washington DC:

 

Mandu, 1805 18th St., NW, 202-588-1540

The reviews are bad, and I will never try this place.  Shame on you for even thinking of going, you've got to get to Annandale.

 

Yee Hwa, 10090 21st St., NW, near K St., 202-833-1244

Finally DC gets a Korean place.  Living so close to Annandale I have no reason to go, but there are no bad Korean places around here.

 

Maryland:

 

Sam Woo, 1054 Rockville Pike, 301-424-0495

I've been to dozens of Korean restaurants in my life, and never experienced a bad one.  This would be my second choice of the ones I know in Maryland, after Seoul Soondae on Veirs Mill Road.

 

Yett Gol, 12337-G Georgia Ave., Wheaton, 301-949-9060, and Woo Mi Garden, 2423 Hickerson, 301-933-0100

Given how close to Annandale I live, I probably will never get to either one.  The chance of them being bad is small, however.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Annan-Gol, 4215 Annandale Center Drive, Annandale, 703-914-4600

Better than average Korean, very cozy and cute too, get the spicy pork ribs.  The marinated pork bellies are good also.  Pork, pork, pork, if you go here.

 

Bang Ga Nae, 6499 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703-941-2722

Located in the little house where the North Korean place used to be.  Now they specialize in goat dishes, done three ways, spicy or not.  Soft, tender, and juicy meat, try it even if you don't like goat.  Goes with excellent greens, and good cold vegetables with the meal, especially the tofu.  At the end they pour some rice into the simmering sauce, pour in some black sesame seeds, and pour in some extra spices to make a Korean fried rice dish which is one of the area's best.  The goat is first-rate and overall this place is highly original.  The menu is short but they also serve Cornish hen stuffed with rice, a cod dish, pressure-cooked pork feet, and seafood pancake.  The service is also good and mostly they speak decent English.  Right now this is probably the best “specialty” restaurant in the Korean section of Annandale.

 

Byol Nan Restaurant, 7118 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-642-3418

The interior is more stylish than the outside looks.  It has the best and freshest vegetables of any Korean place around and also a varied list of Bibim-Bab, lots of Hot Pot Dishes, and Katsu.  The non-vegetable items are slightly above average.  Very much a Korean place for Koreans.

 

Chinese-Korean (sorry the business card is in Kangul only!), 2847 Gallows Rd, at Lee Highway, Fairfax, in the strip mall with the H Mart, 703-645-8787

This place gives a good overview of Chinese-Korean food, a bit gooey, a bit sweet, and with liberal use of ketchup.  I don't like the genre, but I don't want to put you off trying it.  The staff is friendly and charming, plus they have some regular Korean dishes as well.  For me it is a dominated asset, but if you never went it would be a shame.

 

Chinese-Korean Restaurant, 4210 John Marr Dr., Annandale, 703-354-1950

Chinese food, Korean style, plus Korean food, Korean style.  In other words, a Korean restaurant with fried sweet and sour and weird noodle dishes.  The standard dish here is the dark noodles in the gloopy sauce, you know the serving which looks disgusting and, to some people, is disgusting.  This place is very popular with Koreans, recommended, but note that it is not worth going here for the standard Korean options, which are better elsewhere.

 

Cho's Garden, 9940 Lee Highway, Fairfax, half mile west on 50 from Fairfax Circle

The best Korean option in Fairfax proper, plus a buffet at lunch, with highly varying quality but good kimchees.

 

DaMoim, 7106 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-354-3211

Call me impressed.  They call it Korean fusion.  Get the Ssam with spicy pork and also get the kimchee quesadilla (really).  Get appetizer #5, the short ribs.  That's a great meal right there for very low cost.  Focus on the small dishes.  The fried chicken is quite good and the kimchee fried rich with egg (you have to ask for it) is a knockout.  Some of the entrees are too sweet for my personal taste (compared to “Korean classic” at least) but they are well done and many people will like them a lot.  The accompanying vegetables are above average.  This place tries to be cool, by invoking odd mixes of the Beatles and the 1960s and by playing intermittent classic rock.  I expect to go back a lot.  It's original, reasonably priced, and lots of fun.

Gom Ba Woo Restaurant, 7133-C Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-642-1577

In the mall with the Giant, between Rt.236 and Columbia Pike.  Good dumplings, squid, seafood pancake, pork belly, the usual specialties.  Good array of vegetables, and nice homey feel.  Recommended. 

 

Gom Tang E, 4230 Annandale Rd., Annandale, 703-256-0096, plus there is a branch 13840-E Braddock Rd., Centreville, 703-830-1131

I know only the Annandale branch.  You walk in and they have a large water wheel plus steam rising up from part of the kitchen.  It makes a nice impression.  Strongly Korean and they keep the kimchee and the turnip right on the table, under a compartment.  Right now this is the best place for Korean goat, Oxtail dishes, and Korean goat and beef soups.  It's a very good place for people who want real Korean food, not ideal for taking newbies.  Worth a try, I say.

 

Han Gang Korean Cuisine, 7243 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, 703-256-7077

This place offers a “fine dining experience” in addition to serving Korean food.  It costs more than the others, and has nice décor and service, though it is still affordable compared to a typical non-Korean place.  For beef dishes it is a clear first choice for all the Korean restaurants in this area.  Get the $60 combination of meats; it is an order of magnitude better than any other Korean meat dish you can get around here.  Truly yummy.  Go even if you think you are tired of all the other beef dishes at the other Korean places.  They also have the best local Jae Chap.  I would say it is important to go here with a large or mid-sized group and get a spread.  Their sauces are also the best around.

 

Hee Been, 6231 Little River Turnpike, near Beauregard St., Alexandria, 703-941-3737

Recently expanded and refurbished, I have yet to revisit. 

 

Il Mee Buffet, 7031-4A Duke St., Annandale, just west of George Mason branch of Fairfax County library, 642-2100.  See also 14015 Lee Jackson Highway, Chantilly, 703-631-3400.

An excellent Korean restaurant with an amazing degree of choice.  Huge, note that all they have is a very large buffet, reasonably priced.  Everything is great and surprisingly fresh.  Don't worry if you hate buffets, as I do, drop your reluctance and go.  Everything here is fresh and outstanding.  Get the cold soups.  The kimchees.  Make sure you dip your grilled meats in the sauces.

 

Jang Tuh, although their business card calls it “Kyong Suk Yi.” 7271 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-642-8668

The quaintest-looking place on this whole list, it is set in a little house with Korean characters on the outside.  Right across from Korean B-B-Q, in the strip mall with the Giant in downtown Annandale.  They specialize in noodles, are closed Sundays, and don't have a word of English on the menu.  Recommended.

 

Ju Mak Jib, 6531 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, across from the Salvation Army store.

Hardly anyone comes here, but this is one of the best Korean places around.  The goat dishes are especially recommended, don't forget to use the mustard sauce.  You should get the bone marrow special as well.

 

Korean B-B-Q Grill, 7215 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-894-0431, in that mall between 236 and Columbia Pike with the Giant.

The real name of the place is only in Korean; I don't think “Korean B-B-Q Grill” is the true name, but it is the only part of the sign in English.  An excellent place for unusual meats.  Get the goat, the pork neck, the pork belly, and the brisket.  Make sure to use the sauces.  The diversity of the Korean vegetables selection is above average.  The “standard” Korean dishes here are “good enough,” but not a reason to go.

 

KoreanMini-Mall, 12814-C Braddock Rd., also 13814-B, 13860-B, Centreville, at Rt.29, technically it is called Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center.

It has Cheogajip Chicken, 703-815-8744, Tae Hwa Won Restaurant, 793-266-4785, and Hahmji Bahk BBQ, 703-266-6681.  The chicken place specializes in Korean Fried Chicken, fresh, along the lines of the Korean chain back home.  I expect they are all excellent.

 

Lotte Plaza, large Korean Mall in Fairfax.  On Old Lee Highway, near Fairfax Circle, and next to Artie's.

The center of Korean life in Fairfax.  A large Korean supermarket and a variety of small take-out Korean restaurants served by tables in a mall-like area.  Great food, and definitely number one for atmosphere.  A visit here is a must.  I like the Bul-Gogi at the straight-up Korean restaurant, but there are many good dishes to have here.

 

MeeGa Korean Barbecue, 4070 Jermantown Rd, Fairfax, 703-691-3606, near the K-Mart.

Very mixed in quality.  The lunch box specials aren't great.  The stand-alone Bul-Gogi, cooked at the table, is quite good.  The vegetables are above-average, if a bit on the sweet side.  The seafood pancake was too thick in batter and utterly mediocre.  This is a good place if you figure out what works for you, use it with care but it is worth a try if you live in the area.

 

Mandu Rang Kimbob, 7217 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-642-8668, closed Sundays, the sign has mainly Korean characters.

In a little house, in the strip mall with the Giant, near the Auto parts place and the firing range.  It doesn't look like a restaurant.  This is the premier place for Korean noodles, dumplings, and also for soft tofu.  Get their #6 tofu dish.  Super mom and pop.  Definitely recommended, though note they specialize in the areas mentioned above and don't have a full service menu.  But that's a good sign!

 

Nak-Won, (though I can't find that name in English characters, only in Kangul, the word “restaurant” is in English and it seems to be owned by the adjacent Nak-Won catering service.)  Anyway...7317 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, 703-354-9255, across the street from Le Matin de Paris.

Very hearty, perfect for a cold day, a small place with Korean clientele.  This restaurant is maybe the best place for Korean soups right now.  Get the potato soup with meat, they will call it spicy but it isn't hard to eat.  They also serve a grilled mackerel special and several forms of bibimbap.  Recommended, hits the spot.

 

Oegadgib, 7331 Little River Turnpike, but quite set back from the road, behind the Latino meat market, Annandale, 703-941-3100

Very Korean, rustic-looking, good meat dishes, good bibim bap, maybe the specialty is the hot pot with kimchee, sausage, ham, and other vegetables, which tastes a bit like something from southwest France plus Korean spices.  They have lots of barbecue and some all-you-can-eat specials.  For the hard core there is potato and pork bone stew, quite tasty but makes few concessions to Western taste.  A solid place with some dishes you can't find anywhere else in Annadale, any fan of Korean food should try it at least once.

 

PADO Seafood Restaurant, 4231-E Markham St., Annandale, 703-256-3565
An average Korean place, with sushi and some Japanese dishes.  Average in Annandale is pretty good, but there's always above-average right next door, so I don't think I'll go back here.
 

Palace Restaurant, 7131 Little River Turnpike, 703-256-9292

Set back from the road a bit, this is the most expensive Korean place around.  The Shabu with Lycium Fruit, for instance, is $36.95, it goes up to $39.95 if you want the Nok Yong with that.  And can you believe it, $29.95 for Gop-Nak Jun Gol?  Even the Dioscorea (yum!) Porridge runs $13.95.  Can it be worth it?  The place claims to serve “Yhak-Sun” cuisine, using Korean herbal medicine.  The standard Korean meats are quite good here, though.  Worth a visit, even if you don't buy into their theories about ginseng.

 

Po Jang Ma Cha, 7203 Columbia Pike, near the Giant, above the Small Arms Range of Annandale, 703-941-7020

Koreans come here to drink and listen to the sounds of gunfire.

 

Pokchangdong, 7601 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, 703-658-0508

I have yet to go.

 

Seven Star Restaurant, 7133-A Columbia Pike, set in the Korean strip mall with the Giant, but in the back side of that mall, more easily spotted from Columbia Pike.

I have yet to go, but surely it is good.

 

Seoul Gomtang, 8413 Old Courthouse Rd. Vienna, 703-821-1110

Their specialty is the beef soup.

 

Seoul Gool Dae Gee, Honey Pig 7220 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-256-5133

An A+ for the metallic décor and the Korean pop culture strewn all over the walls.  Visually speaking, this might be my favorite place on the list.  It's also one of the two or three best places for food.  Get the pork neck barbecue and/or pork belly.  Ask them for their house specialty, a barbecue dish cooked with meat, vegetables, and octopus on top of your table.  Very yummy.  Good seafood pancake here as well.  Highly recommended, right now this is the cool place to go.

 

Seoul Soondae, 4231-L Markham St., Annandale, 703-642-2220

Great seafood pancake here, Korean food for Koreans who know the difference.  Gets crowded.  They also have one in Wheaton, 12203 Veirs Mill Road, 301-942-5200, equally good, pretty much the same thing, and Willicott City, 410-750-0006.

 

Sorak Garden, 4308 Backlick Rd. Annandale, at 236, 703-916-7600

One of the most ambitious and most popular of the Korean places, their beef is especially yummy, broad selection as well.  Recommended.

 

Tian Chinese Restaurant, Lotte Plaza, 3250 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax Circle, Fairfax, 703-246-9198

Yes they call it Chinese but I file it under Korean.  It's a Korean version of Chinese food, which to my palate is mostly Korean.  The attempts to feign Chinese food aren't the peak here.  I list this place for its steamed dumplings, which are just superb.  The menu may have other treasures as well, let me know.

 

Tofu Lighthouse Restaurant, or Vit Goel ToFu, 41121 Chatelain Rd., Suite 100, Annandale, 703-333-3436

For Annandale, this place is not above average Korean.  In other words, it is really good.  Limited menu, this place has decided to specialize in tofu and barbecue dishes.

 

To Sok Jib, 7211 Columbia Pike, Annandale 703-333-2861

Quite small, very mom and pop.  Of all the Korean places around, they have the best whole fried fish, the croaker in particular and maybe the mackerel too.  That's the thing to get here.  Of all the rest, nothing is below average, though not much above the prevailing average.  This is a fun place and you can't go wrong here.  At lunch time it can fill up, though if need be there are other nearby places you can walk to, if you don't want to wait.

 
Woo Lae Oak, 1500 S. Joyce St., Arlington, 703-521-3706

The best of the mainstream Korean places, as opposed to the mom and pops.  You could even take a business client here.  Right near Pentagon City, also.  The best place to go for an introduction to Korean food, and the place with the best ingredients, though the overall feel of the restaurant is a bit sterile for my tastes.

 

Yechon, 4121 Hummer Rd., just off 236, Annandale, 703-914-4646, always open, 24 hours.

One of the best and most versatile Korean places, plus it has a festive atmosphere.  The grilled deluxe specials are excellent but everything is consistent.  The only drawback – many of the major dishes have to be ordered by both people.  They have sushi too, though not early in the morning for breakfast.

Kosher

Washington DC:

JCC Café, 1529 16th St., NW, inside the D.C.Jewish Community Center, 202-387-3246

Supposed to be good, run by a French-trained chef who has cooked for The White House.

 

Pita Plus Kosher Deli, College Park, 4425 Lehigh Road, Corner of Baltimore Ave. and Knox Rd., 301-864-5150

One reader recommends the lafah, not the pita bread.

Maryland:

Max's Kosher Restaurant, Wheaton, 2311 W. University Blvd, north side, about two blocks east of Georgia Ave, 301-949-6297

A central spot for Jewish and Kosher dining and shopping in the area.  Good falafel, I am told.  See also Tel Aviv Café under Israeli.

 

Royal Dragon Kosher Chinese Restaurant, 4840 Boiling Brook Parkway, Rockville, 301-468-1922

I have never gone.

 

Siena's Pizzeria, 11417 Woodglen Dr., Rockville, 301-770-7474 

Unlikely that I will get here soon, since I have no reason to seek out a kosher version of pizza.

 

Laotian

Virginia:
 

Bangkok Golden Thai Restaurant, 6395 Seven Corners Center, right next to Hong Kong Palace, Falls Church, VA, 703-533-9480

It's called Thai, and they do have Thai food (including a mediocre buffet), but there is also a separate Laotian menu – which you have to ask for -- and it is a stunner.  This is by far the best Laotian food I've had.  Everything is excellent.  You can even get the dishes which don't sound too interesting.  Use the dipping sauces a lot.  The chicken on a skewer is very good, as are the small dishes to start and the soups and the tilapia.  But it doesn't matter so much what you get here, what matters is that you go at all.  Sticky rice too, of course.

 

Latin

Washington DC:

Agua Ardiente, 1250 24th St., NW, 202-833-8500

Tapas and nouvelle Latin dishes, mostly of an Andean nature, and run by an Ecuadorean.  It's not quite a fancy place, but well above an ethnic place, a “tweener,” you might say.  So maybe it won't quite make anyone fully happy, but it is still one of the best Andean places around.  And unlike the other Andean places, it draws from the entire region.  And not all that expensive either, especially given the neighborhood it is in.  Strange red décor.  On weekends, they have active Latin night life.  Recommended.

 

Ceiba, 701 14th St., 202-393-3983

Pan-Latin, by Jeff Tunks of D.C. Coast and TenPenh fame.  Not cheap, and for me a bit unsatisfying given the price.  I think I went in with my expectations too high.  Many of the dishes are yummy but they don't all connect with me as the mom and pops do.  The skirt steak, however, is quite good.  Overall this place has gotten better with time, not worse, and that is good to see for a change.

Virginia:

Gua-Rapo, 2039 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Courthouse area.

Supposed to be Nuevo Latino.  Looks like a place for poseurs.  I refuse to go here.

 

Café Salsa, 808 King St., near Columbus St., Alexandria, 703-684-4100

Supposed to be best for tapas, not the main courses.

See also Caribbean.

 

Lebanese

Washington DC:

Neyla, 3206 N St., NW, 202-333-6353

Readers have been recommending this place to me, Chug likes it too.  I have yet to go.  They are supposed to have good pita, among other dishes.

 

Zaytinya, 701 9th St., NW, 202-638-0800

Has received much attention and a few awards.  It is uneven, but mostly excellent, much variety, and many of the dishes have genuinely new ideas.  Not just the same old stuff.   Lots of vegetarian.  Get the mezzes.  But two notes of caution.  First, the dining room is far too noisy and crowded, even on weekdays.  Second, the “beautiful people” come here to eat and drink.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Cedar Café, 6409 Shiplett Blvd., Burke

Recommended to me, I haven't yet been, a Lebanese person emailed me and said their Tabouleh was excellent.

 

Layalina, 5216 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-525-1170

Reasonably good food, but a bit overpriced to me, not a place I am enthusiastic about.  

 

Lebanese Taverna, 5900 Washington Blvd, Arlington, not far from Falls Church, also on Connecticut Ave., NW., Woodley Park, and a new one on Pentagon Row, 703-415-8681.

Very tasty Lebanese food.  Draws an older, more traditional sort of Virginia crowd.  Don't let them put you off.  Good yogurt sauce, especially when pomegranates are involved.

 

Lebnan Zaman, 8411 Old Courthouse Rd., Vienna, 703-748-1400

A neglected place, surprisingly authentic given its Tysons location.  The dishes with yogurt sauce are great, and none of the others are bad.  Reasonable prices and good selection.  The atmosphere is “order at the counter,” not fine dining.  They have hookah in the front parlor, if you want to get stoned.  Recommended, go soon in case they don't make it in the long run.

 

Mama Ayesha's, 1967 Calvert St., Washington, 202-232-5431

Recommended by Washingtonian magazine, dates from the 1950s, I am suspicious.

 

Me Jana, 2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-465-4440

Right now this is a clear #1 in the Lebanese department.  The sausage, and dishes involving fatty meats, are especially good.  As is the raw meat.  Simply an excellent restaurant, tasty all around, and the best place to eat in the Courthouse area short of Ray's Hell Burger.

 

Mount of Lebanon, 2922 Annandale Rd., Falls church, 703-241-7071

This is a reopened version of the excellent restaurant which used to be in Falls Church City, attached to a Lebanese butcher, before it burned down.  It's now much larger and, for some reason, the food is even tastier.  Extremely authentic and reasonably priced, much cheaper than either Cava or Me Jana.  Get the hummus with meat, the grape leaves, the lamb with yogurt sauce (lamb feteh), the spicy sausage.  Definitely recommended, an excellent place across all dimensions.  They also serve lamb brains, for those who seek that.  Some day I will try the quails.

 

Pita House, 407 Cameron St., Old Town, Alexandria, 703-684-1118

One of my favorite places in Old Town, and one of the best Lebanese places around.  Very reliable, and will prove outstanding comfort food for many.  Get the dishes with the yogurt sauce, most of all, but you can't go wrong here.

Zaaki, 6020 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Baileys Crossroads, 703-379-2254
Hookah, but lots of Lebanese food too, including all the classics and also a variety of sandwiches. Consistently good, this is one of the best in the area for Middle Eastern. It has maybe my favorite hummus around. You also have the very best views of Baileys Crossroads when you look out the window. I didn't expect much when I walked in here, as it looks like neither a “nice restaurant” nor the right kind of “mom and pop,” but I can give this place quite a good recommendation.

 

Malaysian

Washington DC:

 

Malaysia Kopitiam, 1827 M St., 202-833-6232

You can't go wrong with Malaysian food, but once you know its peaks, all these places are disappointments. I love Malay and Malaysian food, but not in the U.S.  This place is OK, but best for those who don't know the real thing.  “Kopitiam,” by the way, means something akin to “coffeehouse” in Malay.  Real Malaysian and Singapore coffeehouses are quite a different breed, get their incredible toasts and snacks.

 

Penang, 1837 M St., 202-822-8770

Pretty good, but not as good as the sister branch in New York City branch.  It's still the best Malaysian you're likely to get this side of Asia, so count your blessings.  Some of it is too sweet for me and not spicy enough, but sometimes rigorous instructions can overcome this problem. 

 

Pete's Diner, near Capitol Hill.

They are supposed to have some Malaysian specials, see http://www.wamu.org/mc/crummy_petes.html.

 

Straits of Malaya, 1836 18th St., near T St., 202-483-1483

This place closed in 1999, now it has reopened nearby, in the old home of Wazuri.  See my remarks under Malaysia Kopitiam up at the top of this section.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Thai Riffic, 9411-P Lee Highway, Fairfax, 703-865-8290, 2nd floor, Circle Towers.

This is probably the hardest place to find in the entire guide.  It is in the same mall as Jaipur, sort of.  It's behind everything else, not facing any street, and then up some stairs.  Good luck.  Most of it is Thai food, sort of, but the chef is Chinese from Malaysia and he cooks a good dozen or so Malaysian dishes.  Furthermore, the place has only two tables, usually a good sign, and it looks a lot like somewhere you might see in Malaysia.  So far the quality isn't quite yet there, but the place shows promise and I will go back and try it again.  He could use some encouragement for the real thing.

 

Mexican

How can I get good Mexican food around here?  That is perhaps the most common query I receive.  It is getting better just about every month, we are not yet Houston, LA, or Chicago, but here are your best options:

Chipotle, numerous area locations.

This is a chain but that said, it is pretty good.  Fresh and relatively authentic Mexican food, you tell them how to put together your meal.  The salsa is genuinely spicy.  The carnitas are the best meat.  Not much choice, but you don't need it.  I'd rather eat here than almost any other Mexican place on this list. 

Washington DC:

Casa Oaxaca, 2106 18th St., NW, 202-387-2272

I am so desperate for Mexican food, of course I went.  I had three dishes: the grasshopper tacos (quite good), three small enchiladas (only so-so, and the huitlacoche isn't subtle at all), and the ceviche (good fish but a little too citric).  Overall it falls into the category of “I would go if someone else wanted to, but I won't drag my friends here.”  It may well be the second best Mexican place in DC, after Oyamel, but that's still not good enough for me.  Sorry.

 

Lauriol Plaza, 1835 18th St., NW, 202-387-0035, closed Mondays.

A long time ago they provided good Mexican and Spanish dishes in Adams-Morgan, but now they are execrable.  And expensive.  A hangout, and a huge one at that, no longer a restaurant.  Not to mention the interminable waits to be seated.

 

Mama Chuy, 2620 Georgia Ave., NW, 202-667-6262

This place is really good.  Mom and  pop.  The chef is from Jalisco and the place serves mostly tacos, snack food, tamales, and so on.  The best guacamole I've had in this area.  First-rate sopes carnitas.  Above-average tacos but the sopes are better.  Cheap prices.  The sort of place that many of you are clamoring for.

 

Mixtec, 1792 Columbia Rd., NW, 202-332-1011 

An old Washington standby, but still reliable.  Fairly genuine Tex-Mex food in crowded surroundings.  At least yummy.  Nor is it evil, unlike Lauriol Plaza.

 

Oyamel, near Verizon Center, 401 7th Street NW, 202-628-1005

The best attempt we have at fancy Mexican.  Still often excellent, though the number of flaws is growing.  The clientele is now downright gruesome.  But get the stuffed peppers (including jaral), the fried potatoes in mole sauce, the tomato salad, the short ribs, the seared scallops, cochinita pibil tacos (barbecued, slowly simmered pork), and small dishes only, never get the main courses.  The last time I went the fish tacos were mediocre and the cuitlacoche (corn fungus, that word is Nahuatl for “shit of the gods,” which is apt) was at best so-so.  Expect decline, but it is still worth going, especially if you are a wise orderer.  

 

Rosa Mexicano, 575 Seventh St., NW, 202-783-5522

I went once, and was not impressed.  It is better than your local chicken fajitas, but much more expensive.  It doesn't come close to what comes out of my own kitchen.  The interior is nice, though, and some people will come here for the location and the singles scene.  The real eater should head to Kenilworth Avenue.

 

Super Tacos & Bakery, 1762 Columbia Road, NW, 202-232-7121

Maybe the most authentic Mexican place in DC right now.  They are really trying.  Tacos and classic Mexican dishes of all sorts.  It is a bakery and sandwich place as well; they have all the classic sandwiches you can get in Mexico City.  They have huaraches too.  Not perfect but pretty good.  Excellent for snacking.  Opens at 8 a.m. in the morning.  A sign of progress.  Lots of take out and some stools.

 

Taco Pepitos Bakery, 1762 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009, 202-232-7122

Recommended on Chowhounds, I have yet to go.

 

Tacqueria Nacionale, behind Johnny's Half Shell, 400 North Capitol St., NW, it closes at 3:30 and I am not sure if it is open weekends.

A lunch place, run by serious people, with real tacos, including fish tacos.  I went once and thought it good but not worth all the attention.  Plus it's hard to get a seat at lunchtime. And now I hear it is in decline.

 

Zengo DC, 781 7th St., NW, www.modernmexican.com

Richard Sandoval and Placido Domingo own this place.  Modern Mexican mixed in with Pan-Asian, once one of the best places in town but now in steady decline.  The look is very stylish, and reminds the visitor of Manhattan or Mexico City.  A hip crowd.  The hamachi is good, also get the empanadas; don't say “I don't like empanadas, they are dull, crusty things.”  Swallow each arepa in a single bite. 

 

Maryland:

 

Costa Alegre Restaurant, 5815 A Greenbelt Rd, College Park, 301-474-2278

I ate here with Jane Galt, who also liked it.  Excellent tacos, and get the barbacoa and the beef cheeks, it is a good sign that they serve it.  The guacamole was only average but I liked the place, very friendly and good atmosphere.

 

El Boqueron Restaurant, 2311 Price Ave., Wheaton, 301-933-4900

Another Mexican/El Salvadorean place.  I haven't eaten here, but it looks decent.

 

El Mariachi, 765C Rockville Pike, by Wootton Parkway, Rockville, 301-738-7177

Many (not all) people love this place, and it is usually crowded.  I have yet to go.

 

El Tapatio, 4309 Kenilworth Ave., Bladensburg, 301-403-8882, open 10 to 10 every day, don't you love those hours?

This is a real Mexican place, treasure the thought.  In LA or Houston this restaurant would be only average, but that is still great in absolute terms.  Get the goat (“birria del chivo”).  The best chile relleno around.  Very good tacos.  A lifesaver, despite its inconvenient location.  It's right where the old “Cielito Lindo” used to be.

 

La Flor de Puebla Bakery V, 6300 Kenilworth Ave., Riverdale, 301-699-8657

A real Mexican bakery, lovely stuff.  I don't usually cover bakeries, but they also sell chile tamales for a dollar a piece.  Worth it every time, stop in if you are in the neighborhood.

 

La Sirenita, 4911 Edmonston Rd., just a bit off Kenilworth Ave., Hyattsville, 301-864-0188

The best chile relleno around, and also the best beans.  Excellent posole.  I have yet to try the fried quail.  The waitress recommends the “stripe soup.”  They get an A+ for atmosphere, recommended. 

 

Matamoros, 2322 University Boulevard West, Wheaton, 301-949-2929

Mexican food by non-Mexican Latins.  Above average for the area, but no great shakes overall.

 

R&R Tacqueria, 7894 Washington Blvd. (Rt.1); 410-799-0001, Elkridge, Maryland, 13 minutes north of the 495/95 intersection, look for the Shell sign.

This tacqueria is in a gas station, with two small counters and three chairs to sit on.  It is the best huarache I have eaten, ever, including in Mexico.  It is the best chile relleno I've had in the United States.  They serve among the best Mexican soups I have had, ever, and I have been to Mexico almost twenty times.  I recommend the tacos al pastor as well.  At first Yana and Natasha were skeptics ("Sometimes you exaggerate about food") but now they are converts and the takeaways have vanished.  They even sell Mexican Coca-Cola and by the way the place is quite clean and nice, albeit cramped. The highly intelligent proprietor is a former cargo pilot from Mexico City and speaks excellent English.  The restaurant is called R&R after the names of his two sons. 

For over twenty years I have sought such a place in the Washington, D.C. area and now I have one.  For over twenty years people have been asking me how can they scratch this itch and now I have an answer.  Via Jodi Ettenberg, The Wall Street Journal reports on gas station tacos.

 

Samantha's, 631 East University Boulevard, Silver Spring, 301-445-7300

Gives every sign of being a yummy, upscale version of a mom and pop restaurant.  There is only one catch: the food is bland and uninteresting.  Nor is it cheap, as Mexican food goes.  A disappointment.  A bit Pan-Latin, but not in any way to its advantage.

 

Taco Rico, 4811 Edmonston Rd., Hyattsville, 301-779-8001

Tacos for $2.00 a piece, including tongue and cheef, cueritos and carnitas.  Huaraches of many different kinds.  I have yet to eat here, but I can't wait.  In a friendly Mexican neighborhood.

 

Tacqueria Tres Reyes, 5403 Kenilworth Ave., Riverdale, 301-779-6060

On weekends they open at eight in the morning, as a good Mexican place should.  Fully authentic, the shrimp soup is wonderful.  Huaraches are tasty too.  Superb for atmosphere and people watching, even when the jukebox is a bit too loud.  Recommended.

 

Tia Queta, 4839 Del Ray Avenue, Bethesda, 301-654-4443

I am told they have moles and real Mexican food, I am skeptical but will go to find out.

 

Toritos, 4936 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6007

An object lesson in everything that is wrong about Mexican food in the United States.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Alegria, 111 Church Street Northwest, Vienna, 703-261-6575, their hours seem to be in flux but don't count on them being open at lunch.

Run by a Turk, with an oddly yuppie feel, extremely noisy, but still some of the very best Mexican food in Virginia.  The chile relleno is the real thing.  High standards of quality.  Recommended, especially if you get there early.  It tastes truly fresh, though the prices are not so cheap.  Currently they seem to be opening at 4 and not taking reservations, we'll see if that policy persists.

 

Blanca's, 418 S. Washington St., Falls Church, Rt.29, 703-538-2466

Actually an El Salvadorean restaurant, but they also have excellent Mexican food, the best in the area outside of Cielito Lindo in Bladensburg.  Get the bean burrito.  Don't go when you are in a hurry, however.  Any of the non-Mexican Latin places that try to make quasi-Mexican food will beat the pathetic American attempts at Mexican food found in this area.

 

El Charrito Caminante, 2710-A North Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-351-1177

Looks, smells, and feels like a real taqueria.  The goat tacos are first-rate, probably the best Mexican dish you can get in Virginia.  Next in line are the loroco pupusas, but many of the dishes here are no better than ordinary, noting that “ordinary” ain't so bad.  N.B.: there is nowhere to sit inside, this place is mostly take-out.  I also get the passion fruit juice to drink.

Fuego Cocina and Tequileria, 2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, 571-970-2180
A few years ago I would have been delighted by this place. And it does have decent quality ingredients and a menu which is pretty genuinely in the Mexican direction, including goat tacos and the like. (Get the appetizers and snacks, by the way, not the main dishes.) But these days it doesn't quite hit the spot for me. It is fairly expensive. The tacos I found OK but uninspired. It is just a wee bit yuppified. It is still better than most Mexican places around. And if you mastered the entire menu, I think you could do pretty well here. Overall this place is a sign of progress, and some of you will like it, but I don't call myself an advocate.

Guajillo, 1727 N. Wilson Blvd., Arlington, near Rosslyn, by the Citgo, in the strip mall, 703-807-0840, usually open

It has received consistently good reviews.  If you don't know the real thing, you will be pretty happy here.  If you do know the real thing, you will know they are at least making a valiant effort.  A quasi-yuppie Mexican place, not a hole in the wall, the mole is probably their best dish.  The sauce is excellent though the chicken ends up a bit dry.  Check out the amates on the wall.

 

La Sandia, Tysons Corner Center, Level 1, by Barnes and Noble, 703-893-2222, www.modernmexican.com

A Rick Sandoval place, it opened in May of 2008.  I went during the first week and thought it was the best Mexican place around.  It's traditional Mexican rather than fusion but genuine and with high quality ingredients.  The tortillas were excellent as is the guacamole and the queso fundido; make sure you use the sauce on the latter, and in a tortilla.  I liked the chile relleno, the skirt steak tacos, and especially the carnitas.  The chicken tamale was disappointing.  The prices are entirely reasonable and in fact cheaper than the other restaurants in that lower level Tysons area.  But alas Sandoval places don't stay great for long, so now it is only “pretty good.”  Every now and then it shows some flashes of the former consistency. 

 

Los Tios, 2615 Mount Vernon Avenue Alexandria, toward the Del Ray Artisans.

A credible-sounding reader says this is very good.  It is run by Salvadoreans, but I would not rule out a visit on that basis.  That is what culinary globalization is all about, no?

 

Pancho Villa, 910S. Main St., Culpeper, 540-825-5268, branches also in Stafford and Fredericksburg.

That's right *Culpeper*.  Many of the dishes here are only so-so, but they have the best chile rellenos in the area.  Get two of those.

 

Picante's! The Real Taco, 14511-B Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Chantilly Park Shopping Center, 703-222-2323, Chantilly.

Mom and pop Mexican, in Chantilly, once good, now in decline.

 

Ricos Tacos Moya II, 10901 Main St., Fairfax, 703-383-0009, and they are often open for breakfast too.

A real, honest-to-goodness Mexican tacqueria in Fairfax!  With a real Mexican crowd.  It's pretty good and certainly quite authentic.  I like the whole fish best, pescado frito, and also the Pozole soup.  Not everything here has vivid tastes and flavors, but still it is a big advance beyond its Fairfax competitors. Branch #1 by the way is in Woodbridge.

 

Taco Baja Grill, 6136 Arlington Blvd, Willston Center, 703-534-5434

Occasionally they reheat bad food so beware.  Good atmosphere, though the possibility of leering men cannot be dismissed and indeed is to be expected.  Overall it has been eclipsed by the competition.

Taco Bamba , 2190 Pimmit Dr., Falls Church. 703-639-0505 tacobamba restaurant.com
Suddenly NoVa has a real tacqueria! It's not up to par with the best of LA, Houston, or Chicago, or for that matter R&R, but it's better than anything else around. It's quite good. The tacos are good, the tamales are good, and the sauces and condiments are good, though the guacamole did not thrill me. Lots of take-out, countertop seating only, arrive early. Definitely worth having in the repertoire. Note that it is owned by the same guy who created Del Campo, namely Victor Albisu. And they have Mexican Coca-Cola.

Taco Jalisco, Rt.1, Alexandria, near Fort Belvoir.

A reader recommends this as a good hole-in-the-wall place.  I have yet to go.  I believe there are other worthwhile places nearby.  Also recommended to me are El Charro, in Dale City, La Jaibita in Manassas, and El Puerto, in Alexandria.  Caveat emptor, but do let me know what you think, I bet at least one of them is good.

 

Taqueria Poblano, 2400-B, Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, closed Tuesdays.  Plus a new branch at 2503A N. Harrison St., Arlington, 703-237-8250, right off of Rt.29 by the Harris Teeter, this branch open every day but closed 3-5 weekdays.

Taquerias have some of the best Mexican food in Houston, parts of L.A., or the southwestern side of Chicago.  This place was quite good when it opened but now it is in decline.  It is too commercial and the branch is content to serve reheated, not totally freshly cooked food.  It is not moving in a promising direction.

 

Mongolian

Washington DC:

 

Tony Cheng's Mongolian Restaurant, 619 11 St., NW, 202-842-8669, usually open.

Grill and hot pot.  You choose your own stuff and cook it.  Good, and worth doing once, but it does not attain sufficient heights to bring one back.  Boring, plus you have to work at it.

 

Moroccan

Washington DC:

 

Couscous Café, 1195 20th St NW, 202-689-1233

The owner is Algerian but I am told they have many Moroccan dishes, including bastillah.  I have yet to go.

 

Marrakesh, 617 New York Ave., NW, 202-293-9393

Fixed price meal, with many delicious courses.  The lamb in honey with almonds is a favorite, as is the Bistillah (chicken pie with cinnamon and sugar), and chicken with olives.  Needn't be done more than once a year, but must be done at least once in your life.  Be hungry when you go.  And try to avoid the belly dancing, if possible.  Excellent decor.

 

Maryland:

 

A Taste of Morocco, City Place Mall, 8661 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, 301-588-4003, tasteofmorocco.net, usually open.

The Silver Spring branch of the well-known Arlington place by the same name.  Right near AFI.  Moroccan salads are never a mistake, plus there is the Bistillah.

 

Virginia:

 

A Taste of Morocco, 3211 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-527-7468.  Opens for dinner at 5, no more lunch service.

Primarily  à la carte, very tasty, authentic, and very reasonably priced.  The crust on the Bistillah (a pie of chicken, almonds, raisins, cinnamon and sugar) is properly thin.  At a Moroccan place always get the Bistillah.  Everything is good, but it is the Bistillah, and the Bistillah alone, that elevate this place to my favorites list.  In case you don't know, imagine a yummy pie full of chicken, topped with cinnamon and sugar and totally sinful.  It isn't even a dessert.

 

Casablanca, 1504 King St., Alexandria, 549-6464, closed Sunday, dinner starts at 6:00.

I haven't yet been, and I wonder why I should ever visit somewhere in or near Old Town.

 

Evo Bistro, 1313 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean, 703-288-4422

To say a place is “as cool as McLean gets” may not sound like high praise, but I suppose now it is.  This mix of Moroccan and Spanish tapas is genuinely excellent, even if the Merlot-sipping wine bar crowd is a turn-off.  The various forms of sausage are excellent, as is the tuna.  Focus on the most Moroccan dishes, I would say.  It's very good.  Really.  Good cheeses and dessert too.

 

Fettoosh, 5100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-527-7710

They masquerade as Lebanese, but mostly the place is of value for the Moroccan dishes.  Creative, not just the usual, very mom and pop.  You may need to ask for a separate Moroccan menu, worth doing.  The Lebanese stuff isn't bad, but not a reason to go there.  Get a Moroccan stew of some kind.  Very basic décor, charming to me but perhaps not to all.

 

Mozambique

Washington DC:

 

Nando's Peri Peri, 819 7th St., NW, 202-898-1225

You also could call this food from Macau, Portugal, China (with a stretch), or the fast food of South Africa.  They basically have one dish, chicken, and it is marinated in a tart sauce with chilies, of varying degrees of hotness.  The sauce is good, the chicken is moist and cooked properly.  The sides (rice, fries, salad) aren't bad.  It is fairly quick and reasonably cheap for its neighborhood, overall it's not a “make a special trip there” kind of place but it will come in handy.  Besides how often do you get food from Mozambique?

 

Nepalese

Washington DC:

 

Himalayan Heritage, 2305 18th St., Washington D.C.

Both Nepalese and Tibetan, I am a big fan of this place.  The momos – dumplings – are excellent.  Anything they do with beans is recommended.  The spicy chicken dishes, including the different forms of chicken barbecue, are very tasty and different from what you can get elsewhere in the area.  This is quite simply a very good ethnic restaurant with a pleasant environment and it does not cost a fortune either.

 

New Zealand

Virginia:
 

Cassat's, on 4536 Lee Highway, Arlington I believe, in the strip mall with Arrowine, 703- 527-3330

The atmosphere is amazing reminiscent of a New Zealand café, including the art for sale.   New Zealand has the world's best seafood and this place does not, but it is still above average for the area.  For me it has significant nostalgia value as well (I once lived in Wellington).  Monday is fish and chips night, I have been meaning to try that.  This place definitely has its fans, very homey in a nice way, gets crowded for lunch.

 

Nigerian

Washington DC:

 

Erico, 1334 U St., NW, 202-518-9742

I love Nigerian cuisine, but this place has been closed each time I have been by.  More a music place than a restaurant, I think.  I still see them advertising.  The place also has Senegalese and Cameronian dishes, a further plus.

 

Pakistani

Washington DC:

 

Mayur Kebab House, 1108 K St., NW, 202-637-9770

A good kabob place, especially for DC.

 

MehranRestaurant, 2138 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-342-0056

Very mom and pop, pretty spicy, very yummy.  Nothing more than the usual Pakistani selections, but I can be pretty happy with that.  A good alternative in a part of town that doesn't have much hard-core ethnic food.

 

 

Maryland:

 

Kabob n Karahi, 15521 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, 301-879-0044, a ways north of the Beltway.

This is probably the #1 Pakistani place right now.  I recommend the Karahi specialties, the lamb chops, haleem (weekends only), the chick peas, and the bread.  Everything tastes real.  The Chat is supposed to be good, I have not had it.  A strong restaurant across the board, also good for people-watching.

 

Skewers, 9736 Traville Gateway Dr., Rockville, 301-279-6999

Supposed to be an above-average kabobs place.

 

Tabeer, 1401 University Boulevard, International Mall, upper level, Langley Park, 301-434-2121.

The menu resembles that of the old Food Factory.  Whenever I am in the neighborhood, I cannot resist going to Udupi Palace or Woodlands (see Indian).

 

 

Virginia:
 

Aabshar Kabob & Sweets, 6550 Backlick Rd., Springfield, 703-866-1155

Very authentic, but in this case that means the food is too oily.  Can be tasty, but not for the novice.  They have haleem virtually all the time, a plus, but anything fried simply isn't that good.

 

Chutny's, 7081 Brookfield Plaza, Springfield, 703-569-7700

I went here on a Ramadan evening, with Mike Munger and Chug Roberts.  Everything started at about quarter to eight, the place was packed, and the atmosphere and people-watching rated an A+.  What about the food?  It was buffet style and the concentrated arrival of everyone meant that it was quite fresh.  The haleem and the spicy, folded beef were both first-rate I thought, among the best around or perhaps the best.  The tandoori, spinach, egg curry, and chick peas were pretty good, if not quite the best they were “good enough to enjoy.”  The rice was tasty, the samosa was for me too doughy, the desserts I did not try.  Overall I had a very positive experience here, though perhaps Ramadan was weighing in my favor.  The regular menu also serves up brains, though they were not on the buffet table to be had. Note, by the way, that Brookfield Plaza has become a Pakistani center of sorts.  It has numerous Pakistani restaurants and garment shops, and it even has a halal Chinese restaurant, owned and run by a Pakistani.  This is a place which demands further exploration.

 

Kabob Palace, 2315 S. Eads St., near Jefferson Davis Highway, Crystal City, 703-486-3535

Tasty all around, plus there is Punjab Kabob next door, which I have yet to visit.

 

Malik's Kabob, 9542 Arlington Boulevard, also accessible from Rt.29, right smack at Fairfax Circle, 703-246-9005 

This place is a knock out.  Ask for it spicy.  The Karahi chicken for two is first-rate.  The breads are freshly cooked.  I like the chapli kabob.  The vegetables taste like…vegetables.  The service is sometimes a disaster, especially for lunch.  There's amazing people-watching at night when the hookah bar is up and running, though if the smoke bothers you ask for the back room.  For the first time we have a superb Pakistani restaurant in our midst, you just need to bear with the service a bit.

 

Merrifield Kabob, 8428 Lee Highway, Fairfax, 703-204-4400

More of a dump than you would expect, given the location.  The core influence here is Pakistani, and shady characters smoke hookay during the off-hours.  This kind of food is almost always good enough to enjoy, but so far this place doesn't compete with Ravi or my other favorites of similar ilk.  Go for locational reasons, that makes sense, a special trip not.

 

Ravi Kabob House, 305 N. Glebe Rd. Arlington, 703-522-6666, just north of Rt. 50.

Formerly the best kabob and Pakistani restaurant around, with very good karahi dishes.  Yet I hear rumors of decline, I need to get back here and check. 

 

Rawal Kabob House, 3531 S. Jefferson St. Falls Church, 703-738-6816, right on the edge of West Alexandria in a deep, forbidding strip mall.

I ate here once and thought the Pakistani fried fish was above average.  The spicy green sauce was above average.  Everything I saw on other people's plates looked good.  At the moment I'm not tempted to put it up with my one or two favorite Pakistani places, but it's above average and I look forward to trying more dishes there.  Fun atmosphere, TV news, Pakistani clientele, cheap prices.  Worth a try.

 

Shahi Kabob House, 724 Pien St., Herndon, in the older part of Herndon.

An avid reader recommends the Chicken Karahi there.

 

Village Kabob, 3013 Annandale Rt., at Rt.50, Falls Church, 703-536-3002

Much better than it used to be, now I like it.  It may get better yet.

 

Palestinian

Virginia:

 

Jerusalem Restaurant and Catering, 3405 Payen St. (right on Rt.7), Mount of Olives Center, 8666 Leesburg Pike, Bailey's Crossroads, 703-379-4200

Good Middle Eastern food, get the chicken with red onions on bread if you want something especially Palestinian, the red onions are delicious.

Persian

Maryland:

 

Sam's Restaurant and Café, 765 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 20852 - (301) 424-1600

Stews, kabobs, lamb shank, special rice dishes.  Sounds pretty good, I have yet to go; one reader claims they make the best gelato in the DC area.

Virginia:
 

Amoo's House of Kabob, 6271-A Old Dominion Drive, near Kirby, McLean, 703-242-1709

The menu is very limited, only kabobs, the key is to get the Zereshk Polo, the barberry rice.  Ideally with the tandoori chicken.  Excellent atmosphere, reasonable prices, the real thing all the way.  It is not yummier than Shamshiry, but is a viable alternative, and is arguably more authentic.

 

Bread & Kabob, 3407 Payne St., Bailey's Crossroad, Falls Church, 703-845-2900, usually open. Vienna too

My favorite here is the Dizi.  Dizi is "traditional Iranian lamb stew with beans, chick-peas, onion, potato, tomato, garlic, dried lime, rolled oat and spices cooked overnight and served in the same pot."  One of those meals where the consumer contributes to the production process, using what appear to be instruments of dental torture.  The kabobs, while good, do not stand up to the competition elsewhere. Open Friday and Saturday nights until 5:00 a.m.; they also serve Kalle-Pacheh and Haleem at those times.

 

Duke Kabab, 6301 Little River Turnpike, Suite 140, Alexandria, 703-256-0009.

Above average kebabs.  More truly ethnic than Moby Dick, and a more Persian atmosphere.

 

Kabob Bazaar, 3133 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, 703-522-8999, just across from Clarendon Metro.

The best ground beef kabob around, period.  The daily stews are great, too.  Doesn't look like much, but this place is excellent.  Addictive.  And don't be afraid to get the ground beef  kabob, which in most other places is just boring.   Here it could be the best dish.  With the barberry rice, if they have it that day, they usually do on Thursdays or Fridays.

 

Moby Dick House of Kabob, 6854 Old Dominion Road, McLean, VA, 703-448-8448, Fairfax (12154 West Ox Road, the mall with the UA theatre, 703-352-6226

Good kebabs, tasty food, and the best ethnic place in McLean.  But simply not the best kabobs place, the meat here somehow has just a bit less taste.  The bottom line is they manage to make it in McLean, ultimately not a good sign.  Still, going here is better than eating American-style fast food.

 

Rose Restaurant, 126 W. Maple Ave., Vienna, 703-255-9696 

Yes this is from the folks who brought you the old Café Rose, in Falls Church.  The new incarnation is brighter, quicker, and has a broader menu.  The eggplant appetizer is first-rate, the yogurt dipping sauce for the bread excellent.  The two stews are both good, the best kabob is the lamb, one of the best kabobs around right now, very juicy.  Very low prices, in terms of value-added this is a real winner.  The velvet paintings on the wall only add to the atmosphere. 

Shamshiry, 8607 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, VA, 703-448-8883.  Off of Route 7, near the Dulles access road.  Not visible from any road.  Turn left at the American Cafe, and head towards the back.  Near Oriental Regency, down a bit from United Airlines

An excellent Persian place.  Kabobs only, which I usually find dry and unexciting, but this place is a winner.  Best rice in the area, very fragrant.  The Barberry Rice and Cherry Rice, with chicken or beef respectively, are highly worthwhile.  The Barberry Rice is wonderfully tangy and sour and the berries are luscious.  What kind of rice you order is the real decision here, not what kind of meat.  Ask for the beef medium rare, or even rare, if you order meat.  The salmon is my favorite, with Zereshk Polo, make sure you rub Maast Moosir (a kind of thick yogurt sauce) into the whole thing, liberally.  Excellent people-watching also, if you are interested in the Persian upper-middle class.

 

Yas Bakery, and Gourmet Groceries, 131 A West Maple Avenue, 703-242-2800, across from Magruder's, not easily visible from the street

I don't usually cover ethnic groceries, but they bake their own bread and it is #1 in the whole area.  First you grab a number, then you wait, sometimes up to fifteen minutes if there is a crowd.  It comes out fresh, piping hot, absolutely delicious.  Worth a visit, and yes you will come back.  It doubles as northern Virginia's best grocery.

Persian-Peruvian

Virginia:

 

Mirage Peruvian Restaurant and Buffet, formerly called Mirage Kabob and Sweets Café, 5916 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-845-1600

In the former home of Samadi Sweets, they have kept the savory desserts.  I like this place, it is mostly kabobs but now they have koreshes (stews) too and a very good Fesenjan at that, not too sweet.  Good zereshk polo, when they have it.  They are also now bundled with the Peruvian restaurant that used to be next store.  Right now the lunch buffet is all Peruvian, but the Persian dishes can be ordered from the regular menu.  Sometimes on weekends the buffet is a mix of Persian and Peruvian, interspersed with no commentary or signs, it works surprisingly well.  A good hangout, and both places have been improved by the merger.  Let's hope it lasts.

 

Peruvian

Washington DC:

 

El Chalan, 1924 Eye St., NW, 202-293-2765

Peruvian food for the World Bank crowd, basically.  Not an extensive menu but it does draw on several parts of Peru, including Ariquipa Acts like a real restaurant, differs from the other Peruvian places listed here.  Worth visiting, order the lamb in beer sauce and the chicken in peanut and onion sauce.

 

Las Canteras, 2307 18th St, Adams-Morgan, 202-265-1780

A Peruvian place designed to appeal to yuppies.  I walked by, looked at it, looked at the menu, and was thoroughly unimpressed.  A friend of mine with impeccable taste tried it and didn't like it.  I won't go unless I start hearing it is great.

 

Lima, 1401 K St., NW, 202-789-2800

The new hip place, and the best ceviche in town.  Not cheap and hard to get in on Friday and Saturday.  Parts of the décor are stunningly attractive, while other parts resemble a bad high school cafeteria.  Friendly service.  I thought the short ribs were excellent, plus of course the ceviche.  I recommend focusing on the appetizers.  I don't feel I need to go here often, and I suspect that not all the menu items (of course I picked the best ones) are good.  But it is definitely a place worth trying.  I'll add that at least half the menu items are not “Peruvian,” in the classic sense, but the same could be said for the hot spots in Lima, Peru.  This place is aptly named.

Maryland:

El Pulgarcito del Callao, 11333 Elkin St., Wheaton, 301-942-5395

Peruvian, El Salvadorean, and Mexican dishes, but Peruvian at its core.  I have yet to try it.

 

 
Virginia:

 

Chicken House and Family Kitchen, 6007 Lessburg Pike, in Culmore Shopping Center, 703-379-1255

The most stripped down chicken place you can imagine, barely deserves to be called a restaurant.  Not above average, but not below average either.  The immediate area has stiff competition, but occasionally I end up here.

 

The Chicken Place, 5519 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-931-3090Bailey's Crossroads, where the old Edy's used to be.

They have one of the tastiest chickens, a place to go if you are tired of the large crowds at Edy's, you can eat here with no sacrifice in quality, plus the chicken comes more quickly.

 

Crisp and Juicy, multiple outlets, including one on Rt.7 in Falls Church, just a bit east of Rt.66. 

Many of my readers like these places, I have yet to go.

 

Edy's Chicken and Steak, Las Brasas, Leesburg Pike, Bailey's Crossroads, on the north side of Route 7, just east of Chesapeake Plaza, where the old Borders used to be; 703-820-5509.

In fancy new digs, at first the quality declined but now it has recovered.  That being said, the waits for chicken are now sometimes interminable, once it took a solid 35 minutes.  One is reminded of Yogi Berra's old adage: “Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.”  Still, I love this place.  And an A plus for atmosphere and good general fun.  Oh, get the chicken, not the steak.  For yucca fries, I think the best is Brasa Roja, in Fairfax, or the place in Willston Plaza, on Rt. 50, the yucca here is actually substandard.

 

El Pollo Rico, 932 Kenmore St., Arlington, 703-522-3220, near the GMU Law School, they have moved from the old location.

You have to admire any restaurant that has only one item on the menu.  One of the best chicken places.  Maybe the best chicken.  And certainly the best fries.  But no yucca.  On the negative side, the portions are smaller than in many places, and it doesn't always come piping hot.  Great for people-watching.

 

Huascaran Restaurant, 3606 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-684-0494, right across from the Birchmere.

This is a broadly average Peruvian restaurant with lots of local color and atmosphere.  Its distinguishing feature is that they serve cuy – guinea pig – on a regular basis.  Technically it is listed as a special, so call ahead, but usually they seem to have it.  The sauce is delicious, especially on the potatoes.  The key to eating the cuy is to chew on the fatty skin and the sauce and not obsess over getting all the meat.  You can't, not even if you use your fingers and teeth, as you ought to.  Overall this restaurant is not perfect but it has high points and I definitely recommend it as a unique experience.

 

La Granja de Oro, 2920 Annandale Rd., Falls Church,703- 534-5511

The place to go for Peruvian mixed grill, including beef heart, tripe, calf liver, etc.  The other items are adequate, though not the very best around.  Not on a major strip, so most people don't know about it.  Not so far from either Rt.7 or 236.  Live music on some evenings.  I've heard there is a good branch in Washington, also. By the way, don't drink Inka Kola, no matter how many locals you see ordering it.  It's like boiled, sweetened, liquefied bubble gum.

 

Peruvian Chicken and Steak, 6198 Arlington Boulevard, Falls Church, 703-237-7704

Yet another chicken place, yet another good chicken place.  In Willston shopping center strip mall.  They have interesting fruit juices, too.

 

Pio-Pio, 3360 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, 703-465-5200

Good rotisserie chicken, and look for the chicken standing outside the front, waving a large placard.

 

Rivera's Restaurant, 6552 Backlick Rd., Springfield, 703-451-5343

Has pupusas as well, selection of standard Peruvian dishes, very small, definitely a mom and pop, I have yet to try it.

 

Super Chicken, 422 S. Washington St., right next to Blanca's, Falls Church, 703-538-5366

How good can any chicken be?  Should any roast chicken place be on the “must-tries” list?  Maybe not, but this is the best chicken place around and it didn't make my guide at all last time, so I believe it could use the extra publicity.  Northern Virginia magazine did a blind taste test of about ten different roast chicken dishes from leading restaurants.  Super Chicken was a clear winner, including in my eyes.  I since went to the restaurant and found it was even better on-site.  They also have the best rice and beans around and occasional Peruvian dishes such as fried fish and tripe stew.  No, it doesn't transcend its category but it does win its category.  Worth a try.

 

The Chicken Place, 5519 Leesburg Pike, Bailey's Crossroads, where the old Edy's used to be.

They have one of the tastiest chickens, a place to go if you are tired of the large crowds at Edy's, you can eat here with no sacrifice in quality, plus the chicken comes more quickly.

 

Wild Chicken, 3900 Picket Road, Fairfax, 703-323-6464

They have Peruvian chicken, a 7 on a scale of one to ten.  On Monday there is Lomo Saltado, Tuesday has Aji de Gallina, and Friday has Seco de Carne (beef stew with cilantro).  Those dishes are quite good, and occasionally on offer other days as well.  An intriguing mom n' pop, and certainly worth trying at least once.  They also offer unusual (and tasty) Latino ice creams, seasonally.  It's still getting better, too.

 

Yaku, 1900 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, 703-248-0844

This is a nouvelle fusion chifa Peruvian place, with pretensions of a nice interior.  The aji de gallina is OK and some of the ceviche-related appetizers are OK but overall the place did not impress me.  It's not good enough to be a really good place and also has no mom n' pop value.  The short ribs were terrible and in general the more Chinese dishes were uninspired.  There are worse fates than eating here, but most of all it convinced me that I should cook more often. Are these auspicious signs or not?  Well, the kitchen does “get” the fundamental essence of Peruvian seafood and they do serve it fresh.  I'll go back, but when I'm in a patient mood.  So far I give this one a thumbs up, but I can't imagine how they can afford to pay for so much space.

 

Other good Peruvian chicken places: Pollo Inka, in a Herndon mini-mall, 656 Elden St., 703-481-9090.   A correspondent recommends Pollo Real, again in Herndon, Elden St. at Herndon Parkway.

 

Pizza

 

Washington DC:

 

2 Amys, 3715 Macomb St., 202-885-5700, is perhaps the best place in DC

 

Coppi's, 1414 U St., comes recommended. 

 

Matchbox, near the Verizon Center, is tasty but almost always has crowd and a wait.  Excellent pizza, good food, recommended.

 

Pizzeria Paradiso, 2029 P St., is considered very good by many, now also at 3282 M Street

 

Virginia:
 

Liberty Tavern, 3195 Wilson Boulevard  Arlington, 703-465-9360

I like the pizza here. Get it with apples and Vermont cheese.

 

Pete's New Haven Pizza, 3017 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington, (703) 527-7383

Eh.  Some people swear by this.  It's OK, but overpriced and too popular, for me there is no reason to go, though of course you can do worse.  Sadly, the clams are the worst of what they have to offer.  Maybe the DC branch is better, but I wouldn't bet on that.

 

Pizzeria Orso, 400 South Maple Avenue, near Blanca's, Falls Church, 703-226-3460

New owners, for the most part no longer any good.  Boo hoo.

 

Pupatella, 5104 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 571-312-7230, funny hours, closed Sunday and Monday, and also closed 3:30 to 5.

Excellent all around, it makes up for the demise of Orso.  First-rate Neapolitan pizza.  Everything is fresh.  Service is good.  Execution is strong.  Cheese are crusts are consistent.  The seating quarters are modest but they are comfortable enough.  I have yet to try their gelato, but this place should be in everyone's repertoire.  I don't even have to crave pizza (rare for me) to want to go here.

 

See also Esposito's, under Italian, the owners are from Elizabeth, New Jersey.    Two old places are Ledo in Adelphi, and Mario's Pizza in Arlington, both about fifty years old.  If you're really desperate, drive to New Haven, Connecticut, the best pizza in the U.S., or try Brooklyn.  Chile and Sweden are strong pizza countries, too.

Portuguese

Washington DC:

 

A Caravela, 4615 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-537-3200, closed Sunday and Saturday lunch.

Salt cod, in many different manifestations.  A new place, I have yet to go.

 

Maryland:

 

Tavira, 8401 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-652-8684

Here's my theory of Portuguese food: go to the Ironbound section of Newark, otherwise forget it, at least outside of Portugal and Fall River, Massachusetts.  This place gets good reviews, but I expect it to struggle.  And at $17.95 an entrée, why bother unless it is truly fine?  Let me know if you go and find out.

 

Virginia:
 

Carmello's & Little Portugal, 9108 Center St., Old Town Manassas, 703-368-5522, no weekend lunch.

They have Italian food also, and it is expensive.  I have yet to go.

 

Puerto Rican

Washington DC:

Mio, 1110 Vermont Ave NW, 202-955-0075
Let's start with the good news. This is an entire restaurant of Puerto Rican food, a cuisine hard to come by in these parts. It has more Puerto Rican dishes than just about any restaurant in Puerto Rico proper, namely dozens. So it's worth going. But then there is the bad news. It tastes good but not great. It is not cheap. And for others, the trendiness of this place may be further bad news. Now here's the “can't decide whether this is the good or bad news”: I suspect if you ordered every item on the menu, and figured out which were the best ones, you could have a properly good meal here. But for most of you, that's not in the cards. So this is a place to be tried, but revisited only if you can crack the code, which I couldn't.

Rinconsito Caribeno, on Columbia Ave., just east of 18th, in the Adams Morgan street food plaza, Friday, Saturdays, Sundays lunch, or as God allows.

The best Puerto Rican food around, this is street food only.  Most of the other vendors serve El Salvadoran food and there is one decent Mexican place there (Viva Mexico).  I recommend the stuffed pepper (most of all), the Puerto Rican lasagna, the mofongos, and the Puerco asado.  The chicken isn't bad but nothing special.

 

Maryland:

Cancun, 11260 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, 301-949-9838
Mostly a Mexican and El Salvadorean restaurant, but they serve some Puerto Rican specialties on weekends.  Sleeveless shirts are not allowed, that kind of place.  Alas, no mofongos, however, which means not enough garlic for my taste. 

See also Banana Café, under Cuban, they have some Puerto Rican dishes.

Raw food

Washington DC:

 

Everlasting Life, 2928 Georgia Ave., 202-232-1700, or Delights of the Garden, 2616 Georgia Ave., NW.

Thanks to Bill Cowley for the pointers.  I've yet to go to either, perhaps I have the Modigliani-Miller theorem in mind.

 

Russian

Washington DC:

 

Russia House, 1800 Connecticut Ave., near Florida, 202-234-9433, closed Sunday.

Some claim it is excellent, I need to check it out.  I love good Russian food, despite its unavailability in Russia.  The best places I know are in Helsinki. 

 

Virginia:
 

Russia House, 790 Station St., Herndon, 703-787-8880

I drove to this place once, but it looked boring and overpriced.  So, I re-optimized and opted for Peruvian chicken in a nearby strip mall, I think it was called Pollo Inka. 

 

See also under Serbian.

 

 

Salvadorean

Washington DC:

Las Placitas, 517 8th St., SE, 202-543-3700, no weekend lunch.

Overpriced Salvadorean food, with real napkins and tablecloths.  Pretends to be a real restaurant.  For that reason, the only Salvadorean place many people would go to.  The food is still good enough to justify the price, just realize you're paying twice what you have to.  Good for those stuck near Capitol Hill.

 

Maryland:

 

Antipuqueño Restaurant, 2504 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-1129

This place is a total wreck and mess when it comes to service, décor, and organization.  They also serve the best pupusas I've eaten in the U.S., ever.  It's worth it.  The soups look pretty good too.  The menu is ghastly in its presentation and it doesn't list a lot of what they serve.  Just try to talk your way into what you want to eat.  The cute waitresses will giggle and mess up your order, but they do know what a pupusa is.  I call this a find, though you need to go with the proper expectations.

 

Virginia:

 

Atlacatl, 4701 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 920-3680, usually open.

In decline, and no longer the best El Salvadorean in the area.  The herb pupusas are still good, though.  If you've never had this kind of food before, still good enough to be a revelation.  Nice funky décor, too.

 

Chirilagua, 4112 Mt. Vernon Ave, Alexandria, 703-520-1321, at Mount Vernon Avenue and West Glebe Road.

Did you know that 350,000 Salvadoreans live in this area?  I've decided that when it comes to El Salvadorean restaurants, there is no point in simply listing more of them.  The key is to find out which dishes you like, not which restaurants you like.

 

El Buen Gusto Restaurant, 10012 Main St., Fairfax, 703-218-3489

Surprisingly good, their tacos are excellent and fairly authentic.  No one there speaks English.  Limited menu.  Very good chicharron (fried pork) with yucca.  Worth a visit. 

 

El Golfo, 8739 Flower Ave, near Piney Branch Road, Silver Spring, 301-608-2122

It is hard to review all of these Salvadorean restaurants, and say something new about each one, don't you think?

 

El Paraiso, various branches, I ate at 4716 King St., Alexandria, 703-820-2040

Below average, everything was a bit dry.  In the El Salvadoran category there is too much competition for this place to merit a repeat visit.  I might have hit a bad day but at my favorites that never happens.

 

El Zunzal, 917 W. Broad St., 703-532-9372, also 5900 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, 703-379-5100

A good place for El Salvadorean food, and more accessible to non-Salvadoreans than most, without selling out on the quality side.  There is no doubt what you should order here: two mixed pupusas, one corn tamale, and perhaps a side order of beans.  That makes for a great five dollar meal. Some of the other menu items are good here as well, but I am never really tempted to deviate from the above.

 

Restaurante El Salvador, 4805 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-521-3225

One of the best Salvadorean places, in a universe of dozens.  Juicy pupusas, nice atmosphere.  Also get the corn tamales, tamale de elote.  When going to an El Salvadorean restaurant, always order the pupusas.  Always order the pupusas.  Always order the pupusas.  A Pupusa, for the uninitiated, is a Salvadorean "pancake," made of corn-based bread, stuffed with meat, cheese, or both.  Make sure you put lots of spicy cabbage on the top (called “curtido”).  The cheapest good meal around, also.  They have some Peruvian dishes, too.

 

Sarita's, 102 E. Fairfax St., Falls  Church, 533-9448.

Authentic, to say the least.  Plus you can find Sarita's II in the Culmore Shopping Center on Rt. 7, Bailey's Crossroads.  A good rule of thumb is the following: just about every El Salvadorean place in the area is worthwhile if you order well. Which means getting the pupusas.  In Sarita's II they dress the waitresses to maximize the number of leering male customers, so beware if you go.

 

Scandinavian and Slavic

Washington DC:
 

Domku, 821 Upshur St., NW, 202-722-7475, closed Mondays.

Mustard, pickled fish, meatballs, sandwiches, etc.  I have yet to go, Thomas Head liked it.

 

Scottish

Washington DC:

 

The Flying Scotsman, 233 Second St., NW, 202-783-3848

I have yet to go, but I have heard they serve haggis.  Unfortunately (fortunately?), I hate haggis.  The Post refers to this place as a “snuggery,” where “Time is not of the essence.”  Get the picture?

 

Maryland:

 

Royal Mile Pub, in Wheaton, but I'm not going to give you the address or phone number.

Let's hope they can fit as many Indians into that country as possible, as quickly as possible.

 

Seafood

Washington DC:

Black Salt, 4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW, near U St., 202-342-9101, closed Monday

Fancy seafood, this place gets very good reviews.  I went once and was not overwhelmed.

 

Hank's Oyster Bar, 1624 Q St., NW, 202-462-4265

Overrated.  Warning you off places like this is exactly what this guide is good for.  I wanted it to be good, I really did.  It is just not that good, sorry.  Many people love it though.

 

Hook, 3241 M St NW, 202-625-4488

It has changed hands and is now in decline.  It still might be one of the better places to eat in Georgetown but this is a shame.  We have been needing a good seafood restaurant and for a while this was one.   

 

Horace & Dickie's Seafood Carryout, 809 12th St. NE, Washington.  There is another branch on Martin Luther King Ave, somewhere.

The best fried fish in the area, a must.  Amazing atmosphere, take-out only, bad neighborhood, get the picture?  Fish, fish, fish.  That's all they have.  And it is fried, fried, fried.  You may not go often, due to the associated inconveniences, but a gem.  They also have great fries, collard greens, potato salad.  Crab cake surprisingly decent.  Go, go, go.

 

Johnny's Half Shell, 400 Capitol St. NW, between D and NE St., 202-296-2021

Supposed to be the best DC place for crabs, clams, and the like.

 

McCormick and Schmick's, Branches at Tysons, Reston, and K St.

In the Legal Seafood mode, but tries to be sexier at the same time.  Better, though, at times comes close to fine dining despite the generic nature of the product.  The fish is simply very tasty.  This place will definitely make you happy, subject to the price caveat.  Not up to Oceanaire, though.

 

Oceanaire Seafood Room, 1201 F St., NW, 202-347-2277

Art deco interior, excellent quality seafood, the best seafood around.  Not cheap, but better than the equally high-priced competition.  Don't be put off by the trappings, or by the vile nature of most of the other customers.  Worth trying, even if you think it is not for you.

 

Maryland:

 

Crisfield's, 8012 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-589-1306

Just off Georgia Ave.  Plain fish of high quality, though overall it is getting a bit tired.  The Art Deco architecture and atmosphere is stunning.  Is this 1953 or what?  Great clock.  Order the Flounder stuffed with crabmeat.  Don't expect so much from the salads or soups.  Not cheap.  The accompanying visit to Silver Spring is an object lesson in how Maryland and Virginia differ. 

 

Virginia:
 

Coastal Flats, 11901Grand Commons Avenue, Fairfax , (571) 522-6300, there is one in  Tysons Corner I as well, near the movie theatres.

A chain-looking seafood place, but it is packing them in regularly.  The fish is surprisingly good and consistent in quality.  The food here is anti-interesting, but sometimes I eat here before going to the movies and it's always good.  The vegetable specials are first-rate, against all odds.

 

Eamonn's –A Dublin Chipper, 728 King St, Alexandria, (703) 299-8384

Have I ever told you what a fish and chips fanatic I am?  I scoured New Zealand for a year, looking for the best fish and chips (and found it).  I had amazing fish and chips, on the street in the town's central plaza, in Bergen, Norway.  That was the highlight of my entire trip.  So my standards are high.  And I'm pleased to report that I really enjoyed this place.  The fish is very good, enough said.  The mushy peas are first-rate.  No, it's not as good as the best in Kiwiland but I remain shocked by the quality and I am happy to recommend it.  NB: Tables can be hard to get, so go when the pressure is off.

 

Legal Sea Foods, 2001 International Drive  McLean, Tysons II, Vienna, 703-827-8900, also at National Airport and K St.

Good seafood, and tasty, but why go here?  The whole point of this guide is to avoid places like this.  Not cheap, and set in a shopping mall. 

 

Seafood Hokkaido Buffet, 5900 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Baileys Crossroads, 703-845-0888, www.hokkaidova.com.

Huge, cavernous, and culturally unidentifiable despite the Japanese name.  They serve sushi, kimchee, 1950s style cafeteria food with roast beef and jello, dim sum, crab, salt and pepper frog legs, ice cream, something resembling Texas barbecue, and much much more.  $18.95 a pop, with cheap drinks.  It's packed and it mixes immigrants from all over the world.  Too bad none of it tastes good, but for people-watching it is A+ and the place is a fun concept to think about.  Of what I sampled, the crab was best.

 

Sea Pearl, 8191 Strawberry Lane (Gallows Rd., more or less), Falls Church, 703-372-5161

A seafood place, owned by the same people who run Four Sisters Vietnamese restaurant.  I've had three dishes here and thought they were pretty good, not great but I enjoyed them.  The restaurant hasn't yet quite figured out what it wants to be.  It's only slightly Asian, somewhat of a nice place but not very nice, and a seafood place but not really that either.  At the very least it's worth a try.  They also do a reasonable Sunday brunch.  Beware the ugly view out of the window.

 

SoBe Seafood Co., 3100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, 703-528-0033

In the trendy part of Arlington, which usually spells death for food.  The Washington Post says it is “pretty good, not great.”  Some of the dishes have a vaguely Caribbean tinge.

 

Senegalese – see Nigerian

Serbian

Virginia:
 

The Serbian Crown, near historic Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls, 703-759-4150

I have not yet been.  They also claim to have Russian and French dishes.  The image of Great Falls conjures up blandness in my mind, though.

 

Singaporean

Washington DC:

 

Singapore Bistro, 1134 19th St., 202-659-2660 

Arguably this could go under Pan-Asian, but since they call it Singapore Bistro…the sushi is supposed to be good.  But it is nothing like going to Singapore, where an incredible meal can be had for $1.50 in the hawker centers.  Tiong Bahru is the best place to eat there, take a cab.

 

Somalian

Virginia:

 

Safari Restaurant, approximately 5831 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, VA, Columbia Pike, Baileys Crossroads, right by the Acura dealer and behind the strip mall with Full Kee and Best Buy.

I didn't write down the phone number because I thought I could Google to them but so far nothing is on line, even though the restaurant has been open for seven months, since mid-2011.  Was it a dream?  All that broken glass on the doorstep?  The rolled-up carpet obstructing the entrance way?  The apparent surprise from the staff that a customer might show up and request some food? I enjoyed my visit.  The menu had I think four items, none of which were so clearly explained.  I asked them to bring me the two best items.  I received a fried chicken steak, some plain beef bits which are good if you apply the spicy green sauce, a delicious rice, and decent spaghetti noodles.  It came with a free lemonade.  Then they brought some Somalian empanadas (pretty good), a few empty doughy things (decent), and two plain unpeeled bananas, all in rapid succession.  There was talk of goat in the future.  All for $25.You can pick nits with the food, but I'll go back, it's been my most unique eating experience in some time.

Soul food – see Southern and also Barbecue

Southwest

Virginia:

 

Anita's, several branches, the main one is on Rt. 123 in Vienna, often they are open quite late.

Once an excellent restaurant, now merely a good restaurant, sometimes a mediocre one.  An attempt to mimic the food from New Mexico.  Go spicy here, if you can.  I like the Mr. T's special, spicy pork with potatoes.  Quick, convenient, and sometimes hits the spot.  Still has a place in my repertoire, whether it deserves it or not.  And the atmosphere is total, classic Vienna Virginia.  A good hang-out.  The breakfast specials look intriguing, but I have never tried them.

 

Spanish

Washington DC:

 

Canvas Tapas, 1836 18th St., NW; 202-797-4930

Their caramelized tapas come recommended, but I am skeptical.  Looks like a place for poseurs.

 

Churreria Madrid, 2505 Champlain St., NW, 202-483-4441

I have yet to go.

 

Estadio, 1520 14th St., NW, 202-319-1404, no lunch.

The best items here are the cheeses and the plain meats.  If you think of your meal here as a catered, more expensive Whole Foods experience it can be valuable in that way.  The more creative dishes, such as the smoked salmon with honey and yogurt, are only OK.  The small sandwich (bocadillo) with the blood sausage was the best course I had.  It's crowded and noisy and they take reservations only for the very early hours.  If you think of getting cheese and snacks here at 5 or so, I am enthusiastic.  Otherwise it is too costly an experience for me to recommend.

 

Jaleo, 480 7th St., NW, 202-628-7949.  Plus a new branch in Bethesda, Woodmont at Elm St., 301-913-0003

Near the MCI Center, and trendy.  Spanish tapas, some of which are quite innovative.  Not every dish here is a total winner, but still a worthy part of the repertoire, especially if you know how to order.  Many claim this is not up to previous glories, and maybe they are right, but still it can be enjoyed. 

 

La Tasca, right across from the MCI Center, 722 Seventh St., also a branch in Arlington, near Whole Foods, 2900 Wilson Blvd., 703-812-9120.

I like the cheese plate, and a few dishes, but most of the tapas are mediocre.  A place where yuppies go to drink.

 

Taberna del Alabardero, 1776 I St., entrance on 18th St., 202-429-2200, opens at 6:00.

Yummy, but increasingly uneven.  They often have regional specialties cooked by visiting chefs.  Not cheap, but the price is high for a good reason.  Good paella.  Stuffier than it needs to be, but sometimes truly excellent.  It has shown a remarkably ability to reinvent itself when needed, but before going try to find out where they are in the cycle.

 

 

Maryland:

 

Julita's Restaurant: A Spanish Flavor, 6521 Riggs Rd., just a bit away from University Blvd., West Hyatsville, MD 20782. Phone: 301-559-0958

I have yet to go.  Supposedly it has Spanish and Caribbean food, drop me a line if you have been there, the place does not appear to fit the usual categories.

 

Sol de Espana, 838-C Rockville Pike, Rockville, 240-314-0202

A new Spanish place, from the former managers of Andalucia, in Bethesda.  In other words, they had to lower their rent, so they reinvented their place.  The core problem is that our Taberna is one of the best Spanish restaurants in the world outside of Spain.  So why visit the others?  But if you do, get the shellfish.

 

 

Virginia:

 

Corner Bistro, 6706 Old Dominion Drive, in McLean, next to Le Petit Mistral

Supposed to be a tapas place, I have yet to go.  It cannot help but elevate the quality of McLean dining options.

 

El Pueblo, 9550 Old Keene Mill Road, Burke Town Plaza, Burke, 703-455-4401

It doesn't have to be real Spanish food, it only has to be “Spanish food by the standards of Burke.”  They have Mexican dishes as well.

 

El Manantial, 12050-A North Shore Drive, near Wiehle Ave., Reston, 703-742-6466

A bit of Spanish, but arguably Pan-European as well.  Not this region's comparative strength.

 

Sudanese

Washington DC:
 

Al-Khartoum Restaurant, 1782 Florida Ave., NW, 202-986-5031

Oilier than it needs to be, and not a huge menu.  But where else are you going to get Sudanese food?  The tastes are unique and also pretty good, start with the fava beans and the okra.  Draws a cool crowd.

Taiwanese

See Chinese, especially Bob's Noodle House in Rockville.

Thai

Washington DC:
 

Little Serow, right next to Komi, 1511 17th St., DC, no lunch, no phone, no substitutions, no Sunday.

Imagine northeastern Thai street food, Issan style, combined with the quality ingredients and overall standards of fine dining.  Right now it's the best place in DC by a long ways and the best place this area has had in a long time.  The tastes are sharp, hot, sour, pungent, musty, and occasionally sweet.  The level of heat can be high.  You cannot choose your food.  Every course was a knockout, only $45 for a seven-course menu, no substitutions.  There's nowhere else like it.  It is right next to Komi, and brought to you by the same people.  Remarkably, the cook is Greek-American and not Thai.  Could it be the best Thai place on the East coast? Their website and menu is here.  Here is a Sietsema review Don Rockwell says it may be the best new restaurant in the U.S. this year; there is more from Don here.  A must.  No reservations, so you must show up well before opening at 5:30 or wait two hours to get in.

 

Thai X-ing, 515 Florida Ave, 202-332-4322, no lunch.

A legendary place but they now have too many tables and can't quite handle it.  Hit and miss, with some superb dishes still, such as the drunken noodles and the curries.  I also like the salmon, the larb, and the pumpkin curry.  Quirky décor, mostly designed by the chef/owner.  Here is one good review: http://www.intowner.com/fr/food/reviews/September2006.htm.  Here is the menu: http://www.inshaw.com/blog/Thai%20X-ing.htm but right now they are doing a no-choice, fixed price menu for 440 or so.  Previously you had to call and order in advance.  You still need to reserve to get in. 

 

Maryland:

 

Benjarong, 855-C Rockville Pike, Wintergreen Shopping Center, Rockville, 301-424-5533, closed Sunday lunch

A very good Thai place, somewhat more expensive than most but also nicer than average and better than average.

 

Dusit, 2404 University Boulevard West, Wheaton, 301-949-4140

Wheaton is an ethnic food center, and here is one of its Thai places.  There are many Thai places in Maryland, and as far as I can tell, they are all excellent.

 

Nava Thai, 11301 Fern St., Wheaton, 240-430-0495

The Floating Market Soup is excellent, although too spicy for many. The Penang Curry – usually a boring dish – is a revelation. The tamarind sauce on the roast chicken is very good. The curry puffs are recommended as well. Very good pineapple curry too.  The service is now quite slow and not every dish is great (though all are at least good if you are confused just mimic the Thai customers with your order), and often the place frustrates me.  But the curries – even the ones you are bored with -- are really the highlight here.

 

Ruan Thai, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-0075, not so far from Rt.29 and University Blvd

Not just the usual stuff.  Fresh ingredients, and truly spicy.  When it comes to ordering, you can't go wrong.  This place is what a Thai restaurant should aspire to be.

 

Suporn, 2304 Price Ave., Wheaton, 301-946-7613

One of the best Thai places around, it has real bite.  Thai food is going the way of Chinese food, where most restaurants have the same menu and same taste.  Not this one.  Most of the dishes sound ordinary but don't be put off by that.

 

Virginia:

 

Born, 144 Maple Ave., Vienna, 703-255-5800, closed 3 to 5 weekdays
I dislike most suburban Thai these days.  It is too sweet and too trendy.  This place is different.  It's not as good as my favorites, but it's well above average.  They are still trying to give the food strong and genuine tastes.  It is not as spicy as I would like, but I can go here with a clear conscience.  A good alternative if you are looking to eat Thai near Vienna, though don't go expecting Thai X-ing or Columbia Pike.

 

Cattleya Restaurant, 3981 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, 703-934-8880

A good Thai restaurant, mom and pop in orientation, very friendly.  I like best here the beef curries (not usually my favorite dish, I might add), I recommend a visit. 

 

Cee Fine Thai Dining, 9901 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax, 703-293-9898
OK Americanized Thai food for a whitebread crowd.

Duangrat's, 5878 Leesburg Pike, Bailey's Crossroads, 703-820-5775, usually open

Gourmet Thai at reasonable prices.  The ruling mainstream Thai restaurant in this area.  There is another branch of the same restaurant, with a slightly different menu, right next door, called Rabieng's.  Has more modern decor than Duangrat's, but fewer offerings, although I am told you can still order off the Duangrat's menu.  It used to be that every dish here was great, then for a while it turned spottier.  Now it has been reinvigorated.  It remains not fully consistent but the best dishes are better than ever and the menu is more innovative than ever before.  The weekend “Thai tapas” are especially fun. 

 

Duangrat's Oriental Food Mart, 5888 Leesburg Pike, 703-578-0622, usually they close at 8 p.m., right next to Rabieng and around the corner from Duangrat's

This place is neither Duangrat's nor Rabieng though it cooks from the same kitchen.  They make the food in a very different – and better – style, intended for local Thai visitors.  It is an open counter in the back of a Thai grocery where they will cook Thai dishes for you, home style.  2/3 of the menu is in Thai only and there is nowhere to sit down to eat.  Take out only.  Don't be put off, eat on the hood of your car if you have to -- it is superb.  The Nam Kao Tod is one of the best dishes in this entire region.  The Beef Nam Tok is first-rate, as is the Bamboo Shoot Salad and the Drunken Noodles.  I believe they have other gems as well.  A bit of a hassle, but worth it.

 

Elephant Jumps, 8110 A Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, 22042, 703-942-6600, in the Yorktowne Center, more on Gallows than Route 50, home page here

Home-style Thai food, pretty genuine, with a chef from Bangkok.  There are four levels of spicy, culminating in "Thai spicy."  It's not as good as Thai X-ing, but it's better than any other local Thai competitor.  Just make it clear you mean business.  And make it clear that you are capable of handling business.  The Green Curry Chicken Roti is especially good, as is the fried whole fish, soft shell crab in black pepper (when they have it), Elephant Jumps salad, Drunken Noodle, the specials, and the desserts are pretty good too.

They also have a new set of dishes, right now only on weekends but perhaps they will be extended to weekdays. On a weekend evening they will have four or so dishes, during the day two or so. These are their very best dishes and they are superb. I love their Ka Nom Jeen, a Burmese-influenced noodles with curry composition. The tuna appetizer looks a bit like sawdust (really) but is first-rate and original. The Hung Lay Curry is a knockout, with Laotian and Burmese influences. Gary Leff has a good review of those dishes here: http://boardingarea.com/viewfromthewing/2013/06/04/elephant-jumps-thai-in-northern-virginia-getting-even-better-with-new-dishes/ . Let's hope they keep these dishes. Elephant Jumps was already in the elite group of ethnic restaurants, and this pushes them yet one step higher.

The proprietor was a funny guy.  After exchanging impressions of the other local Thai restaurants, he said to me: "You know a lot about food and you get around -- you should be a food critic.  You could write up what you think about all these places!"

Ghin Na Ree, 2509 N. Harrison St. and Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-536-1643, closed Monday lunch

A classic mom and pop.  They even let the small child have one of the tables for her toys and crayons.  Charming decor, and one of the most authentic Thai places around.  Is this the best Thai place in the area?  No.  Is it worth going anyway?  Yes.  Spicy.

IMM Thai Cuisine, 7203 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-750-0880, near the intersection with 236
Not a yuppie Thai place and not quite a mom and pop, but rather imagine a Thai restaurant created for, among others, non-Thai Asians. This reminds me of the kind of Thai restaurant you might find in Seoul. Most dishes are above average, though I cannot say extraordinary. The Mieng Kham is “A traditional Thai snack…green leaves filled w/roasted peanuts, pieces of limes. Shallot, ginger, roasted coconut ship and homemade sauce.” It is one of the best Thai dishes in this whole area and it is reason enough to visit this restaurant. Overall this restaurant is definitely good, but if it took more chances it could be better yet.

Khun Ya, 328 Elden St., Herndon, 703-742-8881

Good Thai place, rounds out the Herndon ethnic offerings nicely.

 

Luang Thai, Herndon, 171 Elden Street  Herndon, 703-478-2233 in the Virginia Power Building, across from an Outback hidden from the street

Recommended by a correspondent. Hidden from street is usually a good sign. 

 

Manee Thai, 2500 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-920-2030

An excellent Thai place, in the Columbia Pike Thai row.

 

Pasara, 360 Engelhardt Lane, right off Duke St., Alexandria, 703-299-8746

Definitely worth a try.  I ate here after a talk I gave at Motley Food, in downtown Alexandria.  They told me they were taking me to an “average” Thai place.  I insisted they let me “speak sternly” to the waitress.  It took a few rounds, some back and forth, and some visits from the kitchen.  I told everyone that we were “serious eaters” and had been to Thailand and wanted the food “Thai style” and that I wanted their best dishes.  I refused to order anything but simply repeated these instructions.  They told me this would require an adjustment, but eventually it came, a meal for five people, hand-cooked by the chef.  It was one of the very best Thai meals I've eaten in this area -- ever -- superb in every day.  The minced chicken with basil was especially good, also the drunken noodles and the chinese broccoli with small pork fritters.  I can't promise you'll succeed in getting the same treatment, but like I said it's worth a try.

 

Pilin, 116 West Broad St., Falls Church, 703-241-5850

On Rt.7, a tiny bit west of Rt. 29.  No surprises, but it delivers.  Better than Tara Thai on Maple Ave. in Vienna.  In any Thai place I recommend the Mee Grob. There is a separate branch of this restaurant in the mall on Rt. 7.  The other branch is more of a lunch place, and not as good as Pilin, but it is certainly good enough to go to and enjoy.  Cheaper and quicker as well.  The place also has some Vietnamese specialties, which are good as well.

 

Po Siam, 3807 Mount Vernon Avenue, 703-548-3925

Not as good as it used to be.

 

Rincome Thai Cuisine, 3030 Columbia Pike, 703-979-0144, rincomethai.com

It has been too sugary.  That being said, I will take the sugary Mee Krob.  Attached to a hotel.  One drawback: you have to take an elevator up to the second floor for the bathrooms. But not up to the other Thai places on the same road in the same area.

Sakoontra, 12300-C Price Club Plaza, Fairfax, 703-818-8886

I went here once, and enjoyed the fried watercress salad.  The rest was fine but I thought only average.  A number of readers have sent positive reports, but I don't yet get it. 

Sisters Thai, The Living Room Café, 4004 University Drive, Fairfax, 703-267-9619
It doesn't even try to look like a Thai restaurant, but rather goes the cutesy, overtly decorated for educated people in cutesy ways route. It has an extensive selection of Western desserts and trendy drinks, often involving milk products. It has Thai food too. The latter is pretty good. Not comparable to my favorite Thai places, and not worth making a trip for, but pretty good if you are hanging around Fairfax anyway. It is more expensive than most Thai restaurants. Furthermore the “in Thai only” menu is an affectation of sorts, and what you get from that menu is not noticeably more authentic than anything else hanging around the restaurant, the crème brulee excepted that is. Still, it tasted pretty good.

Thai Square, 3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-685-7040 just east of Glebe

I've been going to this place quite a lot lately.  It is one of the three or four best Thai places around, and probably the one most popular with Thais.  Excellent atmosphere, lots of small Thai kids.  The best satay around, without a doubt.  The best green curry.  Very original pig's knuckle dish with fragrant spicing.  Highly recommended.  Not as fancy as Duangrat's but in some regards a more durable restaurant.

 

Thai Thai, 5123 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-533-1964

This place has new ownership and has been renovated.  It's now quite good and attracts a Thai clientele.  I quite like the beef with pepper and garlic (#33) and the fried shrimp with fried green beans.  The other dishes are good too.   I wouldn't rate this with the very best Thai places around, but it's way better than the median and it still has room to get better. It is the local favorite of many Thais.

 

Vannipa Thai Restaurant, 6037 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, next to Peking Gourmet Inn, 703-671-2201

The Thai place in this spot is always OK, but never really worth going to.  That has yet to change.

 

Tibetan

See Nepalese.

Trinidadian

Washington DC:
 

The Islander Caribbean Restaurant and Lounge, 1201 U St., NW, 202-234-4971 

Original, good prices, truly spicy, terminally slow, and I am never sure whether I find it tasty.  While I love the culture of Trinidad, is their food really so good?  It combines Indian and Jamaican spices, and wraps the whole thing into a big bread called a Roti.  I always wonder what the bread adds.  Your opinion on this one is welcome.  I need to be talked into trying it again.

 

Teddy's Roti Shop, 7414 Georgia Ave., NW, 202-882-6488

Any of the rotis with goat are superb, make sure they put some of the spicy sauce in it (you have to ask).  Get the buss-up-shut.  The pumpkin is first-rate.  The soups are very good.  The “shark and bake” is a Trinidadian classic and it is pretty good here.  The “Boiled Provisions” [sic] are only so-so.  Ask about the fruit juices.  This part of town used to be run down but now it is quite nice.  This place is definitely recommended.  For authenticity it gets an A+.  And if you like a proprietor who is chatty and will tell you what to do, make that A++.

 

Tunisian

Virginia:

 

Fairouz Mediterranean Café, 3815-A S. George Mason Drive, 703-845-7929

A mix of Tunisian and Lebanese dishes, I have yet to go.  They have okra on the menu, foul, chopped liver, stuffed quail, and lots of kabob platters.

 

Taste of Tunisia, (formerly Chez Manelle) 2313 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, 703-522-2141, near Courthouse Metro.
Everything here tastes real, from the French fries to the eggplant to the sausage.  It's exactly the kind of place we need more of, namely a reasonably priced restaurant which makes its way through good ingredients.  They don't have many seats, so make sure you come at the right time or have a reservation.  Definitely recommended, better than I thought it was going to be from the outside, the location, or the menu.  Since it is very close to Me Jana, we can now consider that mini-region to be the area's epicenter for MENA food.

Turkish

Washington DC:
 

Bistro Med, 3288 M St., NW, Washington, DC, 202-333-2333

Turkish food in Georgetown, eggplant and lamb are the specialties.

 

Café Divan, 1834 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-338-1747, opens 7 a.m. on weekends

Good but not spectacular.  Does fill a gap in DC Dining, by giving the town a real Turkish place.  But too bland and not adventurous enough.  Still, good enough to enjoy.

 

Meze, 2437 18th St., near Columbia Rd., 202-797-0017

Middle Eastern appetizers, broadly Turkish and also Lebanese, main courses at your peril.

 

Meyhane, 633 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, 202-544-475

I have yet to visit, and don't expect to soon, I am happy enough with my local alternatives. 

 

 

Virginia:

 

Atilla's Restaurant, 2705 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-920-6524, 8100

Turkish food, tied to an ethnic grocery, doner kebab on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

Kazan, 6813 Redmond Drive, McLean, 734-1960, closed Sunday

Receives less publicity than Nizam's, but better in my opinion.  Closer to real Turkish food.  One of the first oases in the dining drought known as McLean.

Uruguayan

Washington DC:

Del Campo, 777 Eye St., NW, 202-289-7377
This place is pretty awesome. Get the rib-eye (easily arranged for sharing, and one of the best in DC), the empanadas, the chorizo, the sides, and don't forget the superb bread they start the meal with. Real gaucho food, and the restaurant has a nice ambience to boot. The sandwiches are supposed to be good, but I have not tried them. Not cheap, but a winner all around and it fills a gap in the DC dining scene.

Fast Gourmet at Lowest Best Price gas, 1400 W St., 202-448-9217
Yes, Uruguayan in a gas station.  Furthermore they have the best sandwich I've eaten in the Washington area, ever.  Get the chivito.  Wikipedia defines it thus: “Chivito is the name of a sandwich-style national dish in Uruguay, and consists primarily of a thin slice of filet mignon (churrasco beef), with mayonnaise, black or green olives, mozzarella, tomatoes and commonly also bacon, fried or hardboiled eggs and ham. It is served in a bun, often with a side of French fries.”  It's not actually goat as the name would suggest
. The empanadas I thought were quite authentic, everything else looked good.  It's a fun place to sit, and it actually has a very nice interior.  For hangout value I give it at least a nine out of ten.  It's not super cheap ($13 for the chivito) but a unique experience with quality at every step.  Definitely recommended.

Uzbekistani

Virginia:

Rus-Uz Restaurant, 1000 N Randolph St, Arlington, VA, 202-468-8472
Worth a visit, though it could be better. The appetizers are only so-so and rely too much on the qualities of “fried” and “bready.” The manti and the fried pasta with lamb (your best choice) were both quite good. This is the unusual restaurant where the main courses are better than the small dishes. The salads have that Russian mayonnaise thing going, ugh. I liked what I had, they don't have enough variety here, but still at the very least you should go. It also draws an interesting crowd of Uzbekis and Russians.

Vegetarian

Virginia:

 

Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant, 2531 Chain Bridge Road, 319-3888, just a bit south of Nutley Rd.

Many vegetarian dishes, good quality ingredients, but I find each dish combines too many ingredients.  Many vegetarians love this place, though.  If you want it really spicy, speak up, don't just say "spicy" or they will treat you like a wimp.

For real vegetarian food, see Indian and South Indian.

Venezuelan

Virginia:

 

La Caraqueña, 300 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-533-0076, where Café Rose used to be in Falls Church City.

They serve Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Chilean dishes; the proprietors are Bolivians who lived for quite a while in Venezuela.  Definitely above average.  I loved the peanut soup (Sopa de Mani).  Chilean sandwiches are hard to mimic in this country, so I didn't order one, but I saw two go past and they looked delicious.  Even their Bolivian dishes are not exactly the standard.  An original place, worth having in the repertoire and a nice homey atmosphere.

 

Vietnamese

Washington DC:
 

Vietnam-Georgetown Restaurant, 2934 M St., NW, 202-337-4536

Don't go.

 

Maryland:

 

Green Papaya, 4922 Elm St., near Woodmont Ave, Bethesda, 301-654-8986

The Maryland equivalent of Minh's.  Good enough if you live too far from Eden Center, but frankly I feel sorry for you.  Ten years ago Maryland had better ethnic food than Virginia, now the reverse is clearly true.

 

Virginia:

 

Anh Hong & Asian Spices BBQ, Eden Center, 6793-C Wilson Blvd., 703-992-6099

In the home of the former Tay Do, they specialize in “7 Courses of Beef” and have cornered the market there.  Their treatment is consistently good, though it's actually not enough food to make a whole meal.  Reasonably priced, though, at $14.99 a head for the 7 courses.  Excellent sausage spring rolls, #5 on the menu, and in general they have above-average Vietnamese meat dishes.  Worth trying, especially since 7 Courses of Beef is hard to get in this area.

 

Banh Cuon Saigon, 6795 Wilson Blvd. Falls Church, #54, 703-534-4482, open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., on one sign the name of the place is given as “Sajgon.”

This small eatery is inside what has rapidly become the best corridor of Eden Center, namely the new inside corridor which is quite close to Wilson Blvd. itself.  The shrimp soup, given as one of the specialties, is first-rate here and it has a richer and different taste from other local Vietnamese soups.  It is a very fine dish.  Very good crushed rice dishes as well.

 

Bay Lo, 6757 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, northeastern corridor, #21, 703-241-4094

A very handy Vietnamese place.  They have “Seven Courses of Beef,” frog dishes, goat, organ meats, Hot Pot, plus some (but by no means all) of the standards.  Good for when you are craving something different. The best “shaking beef” around.

 

Café Metro: Asian Fusion and Wine Bar, 6795 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, in the mall it is very close to Wilson Boulevard, west end of the mall, by the smaller entrance from the main road, the sign for the restaurant is hard to spot.

I've eaten here twice and had one great and one good meal.  The lemon grass tofu and the tamarind soft shell crab (be sure to dip it in the pepper sauce) were very good.  The noodles and dumplings were above average, though I would not say spectacular.  It is mostly Vietnamese with some Thai influence and a few Korean dishes on the menu.  It tries to be a “nice” restaurant in a weird way and the music is too loud.  Right now nobody else is going.  Their menu is going to expand soon and I predict further evolution for this place.

 

Cho Cu Saigon, inside the mini-mall, 6763-6D Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, 703-538-2168  

Get the roast pork there.  You might call this Cantonese but it is a Vietnamese vision of Cantonese food.  Duck and seafood as well, recommended.

 

Hai Duong Restaurant, 6795 Wilson Blvd., #7-9, Falls Church, 703-538-5289

On the inside corridor near Wilson Boulevard.  This place is just first-rate.  My favorite dish is the #31, Sizzling Fish Filet in Northern Style; you need to put all the pieces together on top of the chip for it to make sense.  #10, Beef Underdone with Lime, is the best around and you should order this special dish if you don't already know it.  The soups are very good as are the crushed rice dishes and the noodles.  Excellent atmosphere: Go, go, go.  My favorite in Eden Center.

 

Huong Viet, 6785 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, 703-538-7110

Opens at 10 a.m. and is full by noon in the Eden Center.  Get the picture?  All the Vietnamese staples, definitely recommended.

 

Minh's Restaurant, 2500 Wilson Blvd., at Cleveland St., Arlington, 703-525-2828

Along with Nam-Viet, one of the better Vietnamese places in Clarendon.  More yuppie than most, a deliberate attempt at outreach.  For me, this is ultimately a turn-off; although the food here is reasonably good, it is a little more expensive than it need be.

 

Nam-Viet, 1127 N. Hudson St., Arlington, 703-522-7110

Maybe the best Vietnamese place in Clarendon, currently.  Clarendon, however, is no longer the area's center for Vietnamese food, Falls Church is, especially in and around the Eden Center.  My favorite here is the caramel pork in ginger sauce.

 

Nhu Lan, 6763 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, on the interior, a very small place, 703-532-9009.

Vietnamese subs, banh mi they are called.  Some involve mayonnaise, carrots, pickled carrots, radishes, and fresh cilantro.  Not my cup of tea – especially the mayo -- but some swear by it.  If you are like me, perhaps try the pork meatballs.

 

Pho Cyclo, 8102 Arlington Blvd., really on Gallows Rd. next to the 24-hour CVS, Falls Church, 703-573-2210

Not just Pho.  Excellent lemon grass chicken.

 

Phung Hoang, Eden Center, Saigon West Mall (near Hai Duong, inside), 6795 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, 703-538-6732, 9-8.

Are you, like me, sick of trying new Pho places?  Don't let that put you off this one.  It looks like Pho, and maybe technically it counts as Pho, but this place serves up very different tastes.  Yes it is noodles in a bowl.  Yes it comes with bean sprouts and lime.  But it's not the same tastes as everywhere else!  The spicy #2 with beef is a good place to start.  They have other soups with fish paste, crab, shrimps, etc.  This is not an all-purpose restaurant, but if you're a fan of Vietnamese food there are numerous original soups here worth trying, quality is uniformly good.

 

Present Restaurant, 6678 Arlington Boulevard  Falls Church,  703-531-1881

This is in the mall with J.V. Restaurant and Merchants' Tire.  The restaurant is finer in décor than most Vietnamese places and you could even take a business client here.  The menu has vague, flowery descriptions of the dishes, so if you know real Vietnamese food you may at first be a bit confused.  Don't be.  Right now this is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants around.  The dishes are done in very classic style, with French influence.  GET THE LARGE FISH, it is the best whole fish dish around. 

 

Rice Paper, 6775 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, 703-538-3888
The trendiest Vietnamese place around, and the one hardest to get in to, and the one with the most beautiful women.  The food here is above average, but it's for me not worth the hassle.  The dishes are made too sweet to appeal to the crowd, even though the ingredients are above average and the décor looks nice.  Many of you will have this place as your favorite, but for me it is a dominated asset.  Astute diners will note the presence of snails in coconut cream, otherwise they don't seem to have special dishes.  If you can get a table, however, there is no particular reason not to go.

 

Saigon Café, 6286-B Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-237-1899, best accessed by Wilson Blvd, it is directly across the street from Eden Center.

They specialize in Central Vietnamese cuisine and so it is quite different from the other Vietnamese places around, although they still serve many of the staples.  The rice cakes are the specialty, especially the larger platter with different kinds of shrimp rice cake on it.  Delicious and quite novel.  Make sure you dip them in the accompanying sauces.  The shrimp on sugar cane is very good too.  I believe this place has other excellent dishes which I haven't discovered yet.  Recommended, but make sure you take advantage of their novelties. 

 

Sea Side Crab House, 6799 Wilson Blvd., #5, Falls Church, 703-241-CRAB, www.seaside-crabhouse.com

An excellent seafood house in Eden Center.  The soft shell crab is some of the best around.  The crawfish are served Cajun style, although not as spicy as you would get in southwest Louisiana.  It's small and not a great place to sit and chat, but absolutely worth having in the repertoire.  Right now it is my go-to choice for crabs. If you go on a Saturday, you must arrive before noon to get a decent parking spot in this mall.  All the restaurants are open by 11, so this is not a problem.

 

Thang Long, East Eden Center, 6737 Wilson Boulevard, #22, Falls Church, 703-534-1746
Indoors, against the back right corner of the mall.  Their #1 dish is excellent -- one of the  best dishes in Eden Center -- just don't ask me to describe it.  It's not weird, though, just original.  The menu here is limited but they specialize in what they do and they do it well.  Worth a visit.

 

Thanh Son Tofu, 6793A Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, just north of Dragon Star, Falls Church, 703-534-1202

They serve one main dish, tofu.  That's right, just slabs of tofu, done three main ways.  Five for a dollar.  The best tofu around, period.  Tofu to die for.  Tofu.  Wonderful tofu.  The Vietnamese love this place.  By the way, you'd better be in the mood for tofu. 

Thanh Van Restaurant, 6795 Wilson Blvd. #37, Falls Church, inside the corridor near the western side of Eden Center, 703-639-0901
All-vegetarian and it appears to be all-vegan as well. Their Hue Spicy Soup is excellent and has one of the most interesting broths around. Their pancake is juicier and crisper than average. Overall the menu is limited but there are additional items on a buffet, of varying quality. For a vegetarian interested in Vietnamese, this place is a godsend, for others it is nonetheless above average and worth having in the repertoire.

Viet Royale, 6767 Wilson Blvd, In Eden Center, Arlington, off Wilson Boulevard, near Rt.7 

This center is the center of Vietnamese and Asian life in northern Virginia.  Excellent stores as well.  I suspect no one goes to the Eden Center just once.  Avoid anything that sounds like Chinese food, the standard advice in a Vietnamese restaurant.  The lobster is excellent, for one thing.  On weekdays, order the Bo 7 Mon - Seven Courses of Beef.  Not as intimidating as it sounds.  Fish in caramel sauce is one idea.  Vietnamese pancake.  Sweet and sour soup.  You get the idea.

 

Viet House, 9966 Main St., Fairfax, 703-691-0090

I don't list most of the soup places, which are uniformly good, this one has lunch dishes too, a good place especially for Fairfax.

 

Vietnamese soups

Virginia:

For Vietnamese soups, try any number of local Pho places, first choice is Pho 75, 3103 Graham Road, Suite B, Falls Church, 204-1490, go early to avoid the line.  Then try Eden Center, but the one in Culmore Shopping Center, Bailey Crossroads is also quite good.  I frequent the one on Main Street (236) in Fairfax, just a bit east of Robert Road, on the left side, it is close to my work.  I have been told that the original branch of Pho 75 has reopened, on Wilson Boulevard, up the hill from Rosslyn in a small strip shopping center, on the right, past the fire station.  A reader recommends Pho 495, 7215 Commerce St., Springfield, 703-451-9495, www.pho495.com.

The soups will be fragrant, filling, very cheap, and often intriguing.  Beef, mint, bean sprouts, brisket, tripe, chilies, and lemon, are among the ingredients that are in the soup already or can be mixed in.  Vietnamese fast food.  Blows McDonalds away.  Should be a staple for us all.  Why isn't it?

West African

See also Ghanian, Nigerian, Senegalese, Cameronian.

 

And now here are two reviews from Jeff Bryan, who works at AID:

 
Washington DC:
 

Sumah's
1727 Seventh St. NW (near 7th and R, Howard U metro stop)
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-462-7309
”Down-home West African (Sierra Leonean and Guinean) cooking including house-made ginger beer, rice akras, pepper soup, peanut butter soup, potato leaf, crain-crain, tola, fufu, eba, fried fish, plantain, okra, couscous, cassava leaf stew, and more”.  The owner, Sumah, is very friendly and welcoming.  In addition, the best African CD shop in town is in the same restaurant, so pick up a CD while you're there.  They used to have a sign by the door that said “no political discussions”, but unfortunately it's been gone for a few years.  Easily as good as Ghana Café, friendlier and cheaper too. 

 

Chez Aunty Liby
6115 Georgia Avenue NW
Washington, DC
”This is one of the few restaurants specializing in Senegambian dishes such as mafe'(peanut sauce), Thibou Dien and chicken yassa”.  Aunty Liby is usually in the dining area to greet you with a “Bonsoir” when you walk in.  The décor is straight out of Dakar, as is the food.  It's friendly and fun.”  Now back to TC… 

 

Bukom, 2442 18th St., NW, 202-265-4600, closed Sunday lunch

More generic West African than Ghanaian, but since Bukom is an area in Accra, the capital of Ghana, I believe this is a Ghanaian restaurant of sorts.  I find the curries here to be very yummy.  Recommended, and they have very good music almost every night of the week.  See also West African.

Café Mawonaj, 624 T St., between 6th and 7th, 202-332-4480
It features “vegan and vegetarian specialties,” otherwise I am clueless until I make my visit.  It is described as “hip,” if you research it on Google.

 

Izora, 1115 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD, 301-495-2960

Or is this place Caribbean?  Should it go under Nigerian?  East-West Highway is prime territory for undiscovered spicy food, let me know if you visit this place.

Maryland:

Rainbow, 312 E. Diamond Ave., Gaithersburg, 301-947-0099, open daily 11-9

I don't usually cover the dining paradise that we call Gaithersburg, but West African places are hard to find.  I have yet to go.  The cooks are from Ghana and Sierra Leone.

 

West Indian

I've now put these under Caribbean.


Happy eating, and stay tuned for future editions!

Try also www.food-plan.org, and the Chowhounds site, and www.washingtoncitypaper.com/restaurants.  Better not to visit the Virginia Department of Health site, http://www.healthspace.ca/vdh, though it does have useful information on names and addresses of many of my favorites.

Address comments and suggestions to Tyler Cowen, Department of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, tcowen@gmu.edu

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