From rib tips to smoothie bowls to $3 egg-and-chorizo buns, we’ve trekked across Northern Virginia to find delicious bites that won’t deplete your bank account. Take a drive through Manassas for tacos, find outlandish Greek mashups and don’t ignore curry goat in a Stafford strip mall. These are the new cheap eats.
From Myth Makers to Gyrito Heroes
Just because restaurants stopped adding bacon to everything from bloody marys to brownies, doesn’t mean the reign of bro food is over. And so we have Greek Unique, a counter operation so popular it published a plea on Northern Virginia Foodies’ Facebook page asking for patience on wait times and endlessly ringing phones.
“We can’t fulfill orders fast enough and when parties of 10 show up and we have takeout orders with 20 items, it is something we honestly can’t handle. It is hard to say it, but this is not a full kitchen establishment and the orders are going out as fast as we can, but the wait times are longer than we want. Obviously much longer than you want.” George Marinos, who owns it with his sister and brother-in-law, continues, “While it is a blessing to have received so much positive praise, it also comes with the problems we are now facing.”
The menu is heavy on Greek staples like grape leaves ($7), chicken souvlaki skewers ($5) and lamb gyro ($8), but the reasons for its boom in popularity are the items like the moussaka-wich (moussaka in a sub roll, $13), pita pizza (topped with gyro meat, $7), gyritos (gyro and mozzarella rolled up like a taquito, $10) and the kraken (gyro-fried chicken with salsa, feta and a feta cream sauce on a sub roll, $14).
The Grecian Discus is a giant pita crisped in a panini press, sandwiching fried gyro meat with peppers, feta and an arsenal of Greek spices. It’s fun, huge and for $11, covers two lunches. Just expect to wait as long as two-meals’ worth to enjoy the creation. // 44632 Guilford Drive, Ashburn
It’s a soft, squishy, more-or-less hot dog bun, stuffed with equal amounts of hard scrambles and chorizo crumbles and the way the subtle eggs play against the spicy meat, and how it’s all absorbed by the carby roll, pan con huevo and chorizo is a reminder that three ingredients for $3 is hard to beat. Another $3 will get a baleada, a flour tortilla wrapped around eggs, beans and avocado that is the flattened Honduran cousin to a Mexican burrito, and just as good of an idea. // 14513-D Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Chantilly; 571-376-5650
Like life in the deepest seas, there may be no end to variations of noodle soup across Asia. A few have crossed the shores with big splashes, pho and ramen of course, but also bun bo hue and kao soi. Now it’s mixian’s turn, a Chinese noodle soup from the Yunnan Province.
Mixian shops first sprouted in New York, gaining enough fanfare for mainstream media’s Rachael Ray Every Day to post “Move Over, Ramen! Mixian is the New Noodle on the Block” last winter. This February, Alexandria welcomed Yunnan by Potomac. It launched with four mixian soups and a salad. The signature version combines pork and chicken broth, minced pork, a seven-minute tea egg, round rice noodles, pickled mustard green stems that cut through the deeply meaty bowl of soup and a floater of chili-soy vinaigrette for a touch of fiery-savory magic. // 814 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria
Stop. Don’t overthink it. It’s fine. You don’t always have to impress the table by ordering an obscure, fermented whole fish, especially not at a restaurant named after the dish you’re there for. The signature pad thai ($16) compilation: chewy, stir-fried rice noodles, tiny shrimp, sprouts, scallions, tofu and peanuts. Here, it’s not only double the size for just a few bucks more compared to other restaurants, but is wrapped in a thin sheet of egg, seemingly a present of sweet-salty strands. // 7022-B Commerce St., Springfield
Granny Knows Best
There is life beyond the New York slice. Old Dominion’s squared-off version, dubbed grandma style, is a mix of Detroit-style pies and old-school Sicilian versions, the latter of which mimics the pizza Italian grandmothers bake in their own kitchens.
The version here in Falls Church is a pan pizza ($3 for a slice), an inch thick, with a sweeter, chunkier sauce and a crisp crust thanks to cornmeal. The New York slice ($3) offers more surface area—and more room for spicy, charred disks of pepperoni. The true gem here is the hefty meatball sub ($8), a well-crafted sandwich with tenderbut-not-fall apart (important for a sandwich!) meatballs, with marinara (this tiny kitchen makes three different tomato sauces) and melty provolone tucked inside a housemade sub roll (it’s the same dough as the pizza, just cooked differently) where little crackly, bubbly blisters contrast against the soft bread. Do not leave without a giant cookie ($2) packed with milk and dark chocolate chips and semi-sweet chunks, so crowded there’s nary a bite without chocolate. // 4514 Lee Highway, Arlington
Getting to A Taste of Jamaica before 11:30 a.m. leads to ackee and saltfish ($13), a scramble of the eggy custard-like tropical fruit and cod with peppers and onions easily scooped up with cushy round dumplings, fried for a crusty exterior and doughy interior. Lunch is just as good with a savory, just-right heat for curry goat ($11) next to plantains, a mound of cabbage and rice and beans. It’s hard to not order a few patties ($3.50), a reddish-hued pastry, buttery and tender, and stuffed with spicy beef or jerk chicken. // 263 Garrisonville Road, Suite 307, Stafford; 540-659-6599
Eat Like an Egyptian
Counter service no longer indicates lesser quality, and Fava Pot makes the case better than anyone. The Egyptian menu is wide-ranging with eggs offered until dark—or as owner Dina Daniel says, “Egyptians eat breakfast all day”—to pricier ($20-plus) composed plates starring squab and veal.
Most of the menu is casual: macaroni bechamel ($8), a creamy mix of pasta and ground beef, a blend of lasagna and moussaka; kashary ($6) is a sight with rice and pasta in a tangy tomato sauce, proving two carbs are better than one; and grape leaves ($8) stuffed with beef and rice is rich, and when served warm, is a world apart from the standard rolls on many Middle Eastern appetizer plates ($10). But back to the eggs. A giant plate of eggs ($9), cooked more like an open-faced omelet sports specks of cured beef, basterma, that is salty and meaty and knocks bacon off its thrown. // 7393-D Lee Highway, Falls Church
Awaiting the Arepa Invasion
Why isn’t there an arepa invasion sweeping the nation? The Colombian sandwich, criolla de carne ($8)—built between two light, golden corn cakes—features marinated, pulled beef in a tomato relish with hunks of fresh cheese that continues to melt with each demolishing bite. Pampa Sazone also sells food from South America’s tip: provoleta ($7), an Argentine specialty of grilled cheese, that’s just cheese by the way, herby and crusty, served alongside rounds of crunchy bread and a creamy, herby cilantro sauce. It’s especially hard to walk by the case at the register and its array of empanadas, especially one filled with cheese and onions for less than $2. // 3950 University Drive, Suite 102, Fairfax
A neighborhood is not complete without good takeout Indian food. Where lo mein, General Tso and egg drop soup once dominated Sunday nights, butter chicken scooped up with garlic naan is now the go-to, night-in comfort food. And Curry N Tandoori is the example of what you’d want to be in delivery range of, the highest compliment. Dal makhani ($12) is smoky and creamy, chicken tikka masala ($14) is far from what often ends up as sweet tomato soup and palak paneer ($13) is more nuanced than creamed spinach. It’s the greatest hits, done well, for less, and ready for eating on the couch. // 6347-A Columbia Pike, Falls Church; 703-942-6665
Better than Ice Cream
“It’s not ice cream,” our server says.
We shake our heads yes, we still want the mochi, those cushy, stretchy balls of gelatinous material. They come huddled, six to an order ($5), topped with bits of ragged peanuts and sugar.
“Don’t break them apart on the plate,” he says. “Eat them in your mouth. They’re warm,” were his parting words.
We looked at each other and took a bite. And looked at each other, as gray-black sesame paste, the color of molten rock, oozed out the top, and took another bite. What was this magical, warm, nutty, creamy, salty, savory, sweet bite? We quickly each ate two more. This was better than ice cream. And nothing is better than ice cream.
But that was the end of the meal. First, find silky-crispy planks of tofu wrapped around fish ($8) and then any noodle dish, they’re all good, be it thin, wispy strands in a warming, star anise-scented gravy with creeping heat (dry curry wonton mee, $13) or stir-fried rounder, chubbier noodles (mamak mee goring, $13) tossed with shrimp, tofu and potatoes picking up char from the intense heat of the wok, like sitting downwind of a campfire. // 5085 Westfields Blvd., Centreville
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Another GREAT weekend at the PIT STOP BBQ! Thank you to everyone who came out this weekend!! 🔥🔥 • • • #bbq #food #foodie #meat #foodporn #grill #pork #barbecue #instafood #foodstagram #chicken #cooking #chicken #superbowl #barbeque #ribs #grilling #traegergrills #ashburnfoodie #family #love #recipe #tastedc #dcfood #vafood #loudouncounty #dcfoodie #vabbq #loudounfoodie #loudounfood
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After more than a decade setting up shop at Gilbert’s Corner along routes 50 and US-15 in Aldie, the team decided to open a second location inside. The Pit Stop’s new Sterling shop features favorites from its outdoor stand, like chopped pork (best with the housemade creamy, zesty sauce), rack of ribs and the more affordable rib tips ($9), crazy smoky and chewy, tender little bits to gnaw off the bone. The two-meat, two-side combo ($20), easily feeds two, and the barely sweet, meltingly soft sweet potato is a fast favorite. New: Brisket runs out quick (we never made it in time, and are vowing for a return visit) but what’s always popping out of the oil are fried wings (eight pieces for $10), crispy and salty and peppery and damn near perfect. // 46230 Cranston St., Sterling
Team White Sauce
Does Northern Virginia need another Peruvian chicken place? Actually, yes. And it’s Spin Pollo. The vibe is modern with plenty of chifa dishes (China’s influence on the South American country’s cuisine) like chaufa ($13): long, ropey, rosey slices of beef lying atop a mound of rice, puffy, seasoned and slick with oil. Unmoored to tradition are yuquita balls (which can be ordered in a half-portion for $3.75) born of yuca and cheese, a carby-cheese bite. There’s chicken (¼ portions start at $8.25) with that signature salty-savory zing, juicy meat paired with hauntingly smoky beans with subtle heat, cushy-crispy yuca fries and of course, the push-pull of that white creamy sauce with the fiery green sauce. Every other bite. // 6672 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
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What’s this you ask? Well, it’s one of @stephen_hardy9 most delicious creations to date… and that means a lot when almost everything he creates is so HEALTHY & DELICIOUS. .. …. Featured: Forbidden Black Rice Bowl topped with an organic soft boiled egg, shallot, cilantro and house made salsa macha. .. ALL ORGANIC – ALWAYS. Hours 8am – 3pm Call ahead available #alexandriavirginia #oldtownalexandria #organicproduce #organicfood #healthyeating #healthiswealth #ricebowl #forbiddenblackrice #dcfood #dcfoodie #noshortcuts #foodtakestime #saturday #breakfast #lunch #smoothies #smoothiebowl
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To-Go is the Way To Go
“This is super cute. We need more places like this around,” says the woman in three-inch black booties and ’90s-revival stick-straight hair. She’s chatting with the man behind the counter (he looks like Sex and the City’s Smith Jerrod!) about the various alternative milks available at Grateful Kitchen Co.
Opened last year, this slim shop with gray-brown stars on white-gray tile, sells $10 smoothie bowls, one the color of Van Gogh’s sky thanks to Blue Majik, an extract from sperlina (algae). There are also toasts ($11), salads ($12) and a $5 takeout box of steamed kale and a soft-boiled egg.
Despite its name, steamed kale is lovely. Soft, but not weepy, the kale is dressed in enough bright and sharp acid to eliminate the eat-this-because-it’s-good-for-you feeling. The egg sports a squirt of a creamy, housemade hot sauce with caraway, fenugreek and a touch of honey. The yolk is on-trend jammy, and best for eating on-the-go.
On-the-go seems to be the theme in Old Town recently. Besides Grateful Kitchen, Chop Shop Taco is set to open this summer, and a few blocks away is Pendleton Carryout Co. (All three share a landlord: Avanti Holdings Group from Alexandria native Teddy Kim.)
Pendleton sells huge squares of Roman-style pizza ($3-$5) featuring classic pepperoni and new-classic burrata. Beyond slices, Pendleton operates as a food incubator with a rotating cast of vendors, options include a McDonald’s-worthy smash burger ($6), sandwiches (breakfast Thursday-Sunday and deli options, $6 and up) and desserts from Killa Cakes: brownie-cookie mashups ($4), chocolate cakes filled with brownie batter frosting ($3) and brown sugar tarts topped with bacon ($3). // Grateful Kitchen Co.: 727 N. Henry St., Alexandria; Pendleton Carryout Co.: 807 Pendleton St., Alexandria
Chapati, often called roti, is a buttery, almost-flaky, flatbread used to scoop up curries in Asian cuisine, but plays just as nicely warmed and filled with Nutella. There are savory options too, leaning more Mediterranean with additions of shakshuka (eggs and tomato), labneh and zaatar, but it’s hard to ignore the chocolatey-nutty perfection wrapped in carbs. Add on an elegant, tall glass mug of karak, a cardamom-spiced milky tea for another $3. // 280 Cedar Lane, Vienna