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There’s no real rule about how the 50 Best Restaurants list changes from year to year, but I do put an emphasis on finding new talent in the kitchen.
This year, like most years, about 25 percent of the restaurants are new to the list. This, of course, means that just as many have to exit.
Chef Tim Ma closed Water & Wall in February after more than three years in business. It was his second restaurant, moving from Vienna to Arlington, and that much closer to his eventual dive into the city. There were dishes over the years I still think of fondly, like a lusty cioppino and a smooth olive oil-infused cocktail, but it never captured the magic of his first restaurant, Maple Ave. That small operation landed at the No. 1 spot in 2013, and is still on the list this year, but under new ownership. Ma’s food can be found at Chase the Submarine in Vienna and at Kyirisan in D.C.
The other closure was the short-lived Social Restaurant & Oyster Bar. This tiny modern American restaurant in McLean was a quick favorite. It appeared on the Best New Restaurants list of 2016 and ranked No. 7 on that same year’s 50 Best Restaurants list. After repeated unanswered calls this spring, I’m still not sure what happened or where the chefs landed. The space is a now a Northern Thai restaurant, Esaan.
The rest of the out list is not as easily explained. Sometimes the restaurant felt stale, the new chef couldn’t deliver or because it no longer serves dinner that often, like with Stomping Ground. Now, it is only open two nights a week (but damn that fried chicken). The Del Ray spot mainly functions as a coffee and biscuit shop, and recently added a Sunday to-go option, Stomp at Home, a rotating multi-course meal for $45. And yes, sometimes it’s fried chicken.
More importantly, on to the new. Some of these places are from familiar faces, like Asad Sheikh of the Curry Mantra brand who opened 1947 Indian Restaurant in Sterling; or Eugenia Hobson who moved from Nostos to open her own Greek restaurant with two of her sons, Our Mom Eugenia; or Neal Wavra, previously the front of house for The Ashby Inn & Restaurant, now with his own restaurant in Marshall, Field & Main (and with wine he helped make for his on-tap program).
There are newcomers, like Yuh Shimomra of the intimate and stunning Nasime in Old Town Alexandria, and restaurants that have been here for a long time, generations even, that have recently gotten new life, like the ownership change at Dolce Vita Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar in Fairfax and Nam-Viet, the last remaining restaurant of Arlington’s Little Saigon, which was renovated this summer. The food didn’t change, just the interior. But sometimes a fresh coat of paint—and a new cocktail list—is a critic’s kryptonite.
For all of the reviews, including the new No. 1 restaurant, find the November issue of Northern Virginia Magazine, now on newsstands. See below for who is new to the list, and who is off.
Field & Main
Our Mom Eugenia
The Ashby Inn & Restaurant
Cork & Table
Goodstone Inn & Restaurant
Social Restaurant & Oyster Bar*
Texas Jack’s Barbecue
Water & Wall*