Restaurants need your help. Your office probably isn’t planning a holiday party this year, so why not celebrate on your own with a special feast at one of Fairfax County’s tastiest eateries, culled from our list of the Best Restaurants of 2020? ‘Tis the season to try something new or rediscover an old favorite.
Vienna / Modern Latin American / $$$$
When former tech CEO Michael Biddick opened Blend 111, he had sustainability in mind. The menu still speaks to this, from the ethically fished scallops to the biodynamic wines to the house-roasted fair-trade coffee beans. But something else distracts diners from the feel-good principles: profound deliciousness.
That’s thanks in large part to new chef Andrés-Julian Zuluaga, who brought with him an affinity for the flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean. Servers bring dishes to the table as if they’re proud parents, confiding their affection for the flavors. It’s easy to taste why.
Just order the red snapper with clams. The crisp piece of flaky fish is surrounded by toothsome farro, peas and shishitos, sunken in a klieg-bright salsa verde. Or try the Marquesa, a chocolate dessert that originated in Venezuela. It’s covered in gold leaf and fresh figs that are just as precious. The layers of chocolate-on-chocolate melt with each other in sweet ecstasy. It’s a meal that will make you happy, but almost as importantly, you’ll still feel virtuous when it’s over.
See This: Wine and eclectic art, including a tile-like wood installation, decorate the walls. The former parking lot out back is now a dining room strung with festive lights.
Eat This: Victory garden salad, red snapper with clams and farro, Marquesa
When to Visit: Wine (or a cocktail or a mocktail) is as much a part of the plan as big-flavored Latin food.
Vienna / Modern American / $$$
Clarity reopened before just about any other restaurant in NoVA, with chef-owner Jon Krinn’s parking lot concept, A Lot of Clarity, serving tasting menus tailgate-style. This is just one of Krinn’s big ideas.
Other recent upgrades to his upscale menu include meats cooked on an Argentine grill—ordered pre-pandemic, but a perfect accompaniment to patio dining. Yes, diners are heading to Clarity for tasting menus and a full range of private-label-rye Manhattans, but wouldn’t that cocktail go just beautifully with a carefully grilled steak?
See This: The open kitchen allows you to watch Krinn and co. at work, but if you can, sit outside and enjoy A Lot of Clarity.
Eat This: The menu changes daily, so be flexible. If all else fails, the burger is fantastic.
When to Visit: You’re hoping to impress a client over the best business lunch around.
Centreville / Korean / $$
To many of us, Korean food means barbecue. And while bulgogi is absolutely in the pantheon of the world’s great foods, there is so much more to love. Bossam, for example, will enchant meat lovers just as much, without getting the smell of smoke in their hair.
The pork belly dish is prepared to perfection at Danji, leaving the meat so tender it’s difficult to discern it from the thin layer of fat that lines it. Wrap it up in napa cabbage leaves with spicy soybean paste; pile the pork with skinny strands of chile-flecked pickled daikon, jalapeno slices and slivers of raw garlic for a bite that will (at least temporarily) purge Korean barbecue from your thoughts.
See This: It’s all about the food at this bare-bones-but-comfortable restaurant, where servers whiz by with fragrant, sizzling dishes.
Eat This: Bossam, galchi jorim, tteokguk
When to Visit: Feasting is on the menu, and you have friends ready to share. These meals are portioned for a group.
McLean / Northern Thai / $$
Northeast Thailand is the country’s largest region, but most Americans have never tasted its food. This restaurant seeks to change that, one chile-filled plate at a time.
But don’t worry. Dishes aren’t uniformly fiery hot. The som tum, or green papaya salad, comes in five different versions, each complex enough to make every bite interesting. Crunch into the som tum muor, and you’ll taste fish sauce. Then you’ll notice pork cracklings before your mouth fills with tart cherry tomato.
Other dishes, like tangy Chiang Mai sausage, are flavored with lemongrass and other herbs but are barely spicy at all. This isn’t Thai cuisine you’ll find just anywhere, but you’ll wish it were.
See This: The walls are decorated with articles written about the restaurant. Clearly, we’re not the only ones feeling the love.
Eat This: Chiang Mai sausage, som tum muor, kai yang Esaan
When to Visit: Bored with your typical Thai food? Esaan is sure to spice up your life.
Vienna / Peruvian / $$
Chances are you’ve been annoyed by a friend’s breathless descriptions of their awe at seeing Machu Picchu. But you have every right to use similar tones when discussing your visit to another Peruvian treasure: Inca Social.
The lofty ceilings, the mossy walls, the red-tiled bar area: It’s all worth writing home about. But the food is worthy of even greater notice. Diners won’t go wrong with any ceviche they pick, but the hard-to-find carretillero combines fresh raw fish with fried calamari, both of which benefit from a bath in citrus. Prolific dishes like lomo saltado are some of the best versions around. Your friend won’t miss Machu Picchu so much after a taste of what Inca Social has to offer.
See This: Moss spells out the word “Inca” on one wall and forms a geometric pattern on another. Don’t miss the life-size stuffed alpaca up front.
Eat This: Ceviche carretillero, lomo saltado, pionono
When to Visit: You’re looking for a stylish place to feast on ceviche.
Great Falls / French / $$$$
François Haeringer moved his restaurant from DC to Great Falls in 1976, and ever since the bicentennial, little has changed. Haeringer’s son Jacques continues to prepare his father’s classic recipes using produce grown on the property. Even the hops for the beer made in-house come from the restaurant’s 6 acres.
The space is timeless, and so is the food. There aren’t many places left at which you can indulge in the old-timey tradition of ordering your soufflé before dinner, leaving you to excitedly anticipate deflating it all through your meal.
Not that you won’t be distracted by course after course of excellence. We defy you not to let out a little bit of a moan when you take your first bite of escalopes de veau or Châteaubriand. But there’s nothing like the thrill of that first bite of soufflé.
See This: A warren of rustic rooms that recall the French countryside, circa the middle of last century, gives a historical feel. For a look that’s more modern, sit outside, where you can listen to the splish-splash of the fountains.
Eat This: Dinner is a five-plus-course prix fixe, but you have options. We like the crêpe à la ciboulette, escalopes de veau and hazelnut soufflé.
When to Visit: It’s time to impress a Francophile—or a friend passionate about local history.
Fairfax / Korean Barbecue / $$
Feeling meaty? Few places will scratch that itch for animal protein quite like Korean barbecue. And most Korean barbecue in NoVA pales in comparison to the splendor of Meokja Meokja.
On the surface, not much distinguishes this barbecue joint from others. The dining room is slightly fancier and the wait a little longer, but the menu of meats and sides is standard issue. It’s not until you taste the quality of the flesh that you realize the difference. They don’t need marinades, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make sure to try the sweet, garlicky bulgogi. Like the rest of the offerings at Meokja Meokja, it rises above its competitors.
See This: It’s a party every night with fairy lights strung around the sparkling metallic ventilation systems.
Eat This: Combo 2 has everything you need, from meats to the Angry Egg and gooey corn cheese.
When to Visit: You’re really hungry. REALLY hungry.
Vienna / Greek / $$$
Restaurants are an oft-ignored wing of show business. From stellar service to dishes that wow even before you take a bite, there’s no arguing that dining out is entertainment. And it’s rarely as transfixing as it is at Nostos.
It’s possible to have more than one course prepared at your table for a show that you can bite into. Start with the saganaki, a pan of funky kefalograviera cheese that’s flamed tableside as the server shouts, “Opa!” See his acumen with a knife when he fillets a whole branzino for you. It’s most satisfying when it’s simply covered with squeezed lemon. Maybe it’s because the collection of compelling mezedes is so light, but you’re sure to leave feeling inflated.
See This: White walls and rugged bricks conjure Hellenic elegance.
Eat This: Saganaki, lavraki (whole branzino), galaktoboureko
When to Visit: An evening that calls for a gorgeous meal that doesn’t leave you too full for romance
Fairfax / French / $$$
In the United States, we see French food as fancy, something worth putting on high-heeled shoes for. In France, it’s just food. And so it is at Parc de Ville.
Unabashedly casual, the Mosaic District bistro has attentive service and a room that will keep your eyes occupied, but it’s really all about the food. Whether it’s an enviable burger, a shareable appetizer or a chocolate mousse that you wouldn’t dream of sharing, the cuisine speaks for itself. It’s comforting, satisfying and, yes, as perfectly casual as it is French.
See This: Blue banquettes line the tall windows at this bright bistro. From there, watch Mosaic shoppers pass by, or spy on what the kitchen is cooking up.
Eat This: Salade frisée, steak frites, mousse au chocolat
When to Visit: Nothing but French fare will satisfy you, but you don’t feel like dressing up.
Clifton / Italian / $$
The dining room is a hive of activity, with servers buzzing back and forth between the kitchen and the patio and diners laughing heartily as they take another sip of wine. But you barely notice. You’re rapt, taking in the aroma and taste of the Genovese scallops, just one of chef Justin Gudiel’s original creations.
Briny seared scallops sit atop a nest of skinny capellini. The noodles are coated in a creamy pesto sauce that bursts with garlic and basil. On top, ruby-like tomatoes glisten with sweet-and-sour juices that light up the pasta dish. You may have never eaten it before, but it’s a taste of homey contentment all the same.
See This: The cozy historical building is full of nooks and crannies, but most people choose the patio with its brick fireplace.
Eat This: Arancini, Genovese scallops, tiramisu
When to Visit: You’re in need of the love only a warm bowl of pasta can provide.
Clifton / American / $$$
Let’s face it: You’re stressed. You need short ribs in your life. Whether they’re presented over polenta with onion gravy; in broth as kavalierspitz, a dish from owner Stefan Trummer’s native Austria; or in whatever form chef Jon Cropf has thought of now, Trummer’s is bringing the tender, braised beef.
Now more than a year into its life as upscale comfort-food destination Trummer’s, not fancy-schmancy Trummer’s on Main, this restaurant is settling in nicely. This is a place for cornbread that’s so crumbly it almost doesn’t hold together long enough to be spread with honey butter and homemade strawberry jam. It’s the home of a chocolate pecan pie sitting in a pool of salted caramel and covered with rosettes of whipped cream light enough to remind you of grandma’s house—if your grandma was a great pastry chef. All that is the handiwork of Meagan Tighe, who is indeed a fine pastry chef, if far from a grandmother.
Have a question about the menu? Servers seem legitimately excited to provide guidance, whether they’re recommending the hand-cut pasta or the Titanic, the signature cocktail so named because of its iceberg-like scoop of Champagne sorbet. Just one sip will make that stress melt away.
See This: Tropical woven ceiling fans in a stunning white room upstairs are the perfect backdrop for an elegant meal. Feeling more casual? Try the comfortable bar downstairs.
Eat This: Cornbread with honey butter and strawberry jam, beef short ribs, chocolate pecan pie
When to Visit: You want simplicity done right.