From authentic Italian cusine to classic Asian dishes, you can pretty much find any type of cuisine within Fairfax County. So no matter what you’re craving tonight, we are sure these 21 restaurants will serve up an incredible dish.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Falls Church / Modern American / $$$$
There’s a certain glee to watching fish swim by as you’re eating their brethren. Not that the koi in the pond in front of 2941 need to worry. From hamachi to yellowfin, chef Bertrand Chemel sources only the finest fish for his stunning tasting menus.
It’s just one way in which the discourse between natural and manmade create an enticing interplay at this restaurant that’s located in an office building tucked away in a wooded area of West Falls Church. Though the tree-lined road in is romantic, the best of nature is firmly what’s on the plates.
On one recent five-course bill of fare, Chemel offered up his own highly creative takes on some of the most traditional of dishes. Salmon coulibiac is a Russian cousin to beef Wellington. But Chemel turned the old-fashioned, sometimes-stodgy puff pastry dish on its ear by deconstructing it. The layers of dough were still in flaky force, but it rested on top of lightly crisped king salmon. Oregon morel mushrooms soaked up the spinach cream that coats the plate and German beluga caviar popped with every bite.
Chemel’s feat on this and every plate is taking the best ingredients from around the world and making them taste even better than nature intended.
See this: A manmade koi pond, complete with a waterfall, competes for attention with the soaring ceilings and modern art inside.
Eat this: Foie gras tart, salmon coulibiac, baked Alaska
When to dine here: Your gastronome of a date will accept nothing less than premium ingredients, prepared with a creative edge.
McLean / Mediterranean / $$$
Diners at Agora Tysons will be impressed by exceptional Mediterranean cuisine inspired by the rich culinary traditions of Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon.
Visiting Agora with a group is the way to go, to enjoy a taste of the many noteworthy spreads (order the six-flavor sampler), exotic hot and cold mezzes, and inviting flatbread selections. For an appetizer with showmanship, try the saganaki, a gooey rectangle of kasar cheese dramatically flambéed tableside and served with lavash.
One could easily make a meal out of the small plates, but for those who prefer a grilled entrée, Agora’s chicken is a star. Chefs infuse the poultry with rosemary, oregano, thyme, and Turkish marjoram and brush it with zesty toum — a marvelous garlic, olive oil, lemon, and maras pepper concoction — before grilling it over charcoal. To say it is memorable is an understatement.
Ottoman rice and bruksel lahana pair nicely with meats; the rice is a compelling blend of black currants, almonds, apricots, pine nuts, and fried shallots. The latter is baked Brussels sprouts, presented with tahini, peppers, and blackberries. The harissa dipping sauce is spicy and aromatic, bringing life to anything paired with the vivid paste.
For a tantalizing visit to the Mediterranean, make Agora your destination. The memorable flavors and warm hospitality will draw you back again and again.
See this: Sit in a basket-woven booth or a regular table lit by colorful Turkish lamps.
Eat this: Köy salatası, grilled chicken, adana kebap
When to come: Bring a group to share mezzes for a spot-on Mediterranean feast.
McLean / Persian / $$
The sign outside Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean reads “Persian Fusion,” and the description is spot-on. Everything about Amoo’s screams fusion, from its eclectic décor combining slate tile, marble, and repurposed wood, to the abundant clientele as diverse as the restaurant itself. The inventive cuisine at Amoo’s has been turning heads for years, with a thoughtful mixture of Persian, Jamaican, Argentine, and American ingredients.
Complex stews, like fesenjan — tender chicken breast braised with pomegranate-walnut sauce — marry auspiciously with a starter of tahdig, crispy rice from the bottom of the pot. Dig into the succulent, flame-grilled kebabs. There are alluring interpretations of classics like chimichurri-painted chicken or bison filet partnered with saffron cream.
Every dish gains complexity with the addition of imaginative specialty rice dishes. Don’t miss the shirin polo, offering candied carrots and orange peel in basmati rice, for a citrus-suffused delight. Even the warm lavash served tableside is presented with an unusual chimichurri-like mixture of cilantro, mint, and jalapeño, delivering welcome heat and zest.
Amoo’s dishes are prepared beautifully, supremely satisfying, and offered in large portions. Thanks to the fusion component of the restaurant, adventurous diners will enjoy this outstanding spot for Persian — and global — cuisine. If variety truly is the spice of life, Amoo’s offers a smorgasbord for its patrons.
See this: Elaborate Iranian wall hangings color the interior.
Eat this: Shirazi salad, shirin polo, chimichurri chicken
When to dine here: Budget-friendly meals will satisfy everyone in your group with likely leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Vienna / Indian / $$
Northern Virginia has an abundance of excellent Indian restaurants, but the ambrosial preparations created by chef Deepak Sarin make Bansari a standout. A native of Rajasthan, Sarin is deft at cooking from a range of Indian regions. His expertise is marked by his masterful blending of whole spices, and you can taste the freshness and pungency in every dish.
Among the appetizers is a heaping bowl of fire engine–red cauliflower bathed in a silken chile sauce with mustard seeds for crunch: Gobi 65. Sarin deconstructs the typical samosa, instead building layers of potato pockets, showered with chickpeas, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce.
Sarin incorporates the region’s East Asian influences with Indo-Chinese dishes. The nutty hakka noodles are interspersed with slivers of crisp green and red peppers, cabbage, carrots, and scallions. Bathed in a sweet, salty sauce, it’s a lighter version of lo mein.
Even the tikka masala enjoys a nontraditional spin by folding achar pickles into the marinade before roasting. The tender chunks of tandoori chicken arrive bathed in a smoky sauce, redolent with red chiles and garam masala.
Be mindful that at Bansari, “medium spicy” is quite hot, and even “mild” dishes have a kick. Consider ordering creamy raita to cool and bread to scoop up the juices. It’s all more than enough to stand out from the crowded pack.
See this: Bansari’s brick walls serve as a backdrop for the eclectic décor of crystal birdcages and turquoise leather banquettes with rustic wood and metal tables.
Eat this: Gobi 65, hakka noodles, mango lassi
When to dine here: Your group likes to share dishes and enjoys sampling international cuisine.
Vienna / Latin American / $$$$
Surprises abound at this Modern Latin spot tucked away in Vienna’s Restaurant Row. Intriguing dishes explode with unexpected flavors. Their presentation is art on a plate.
Who could resist the day’s special when it’s a whole grilled flounder with mussels, accompanied by coconut rice and a hint of shrimp Creole? Compelling as it sounds, the sizzling casserole dish still exceeds expectations. Beneath its bronzed, crackling, crisped skin, the fish is cooked to moist and flaky perfection. It’s surrounded by meaty mussels nestled in their shells, in a creamy Creole-inspired sauce. The marine dish is brought to earth with coconut rice dolloped with banana vinegar–flavored aioli.
On the regular menu, succulent brisket is another craveable composition, enhanced by a pineapple chutney, smoky black beans, avocado, and tenderly caramelized plantains. Adorable, shell-like blue cornmeal arepas add an earthy note. And for dessert? A guava topping adds balance to a super-creamy tres leches.
But some of the best surprises come on Monday night, when the fish-focused Pescao menu, with a featured raw bar, offers tapas-like options for a date night or a get-together with friends.
See this: A soothing, modern gray-toned space with a wall of live greenery and handsome wood plank accents that don’t distract from the art on the plate.
Eat this: Whole grilled flounder, shredded brisket, tres leches
When to dine here: Bring your foodie friends for an adventure in eating.
Vienna / Modern American / $$$
How’s this for living in the moment? The menu at Clarity changes every day. That means you may have only one chance to enjoy that meal you’ll never forget.
At dinner, a prix fixe menu highlights the market’s best. Scallops are usually offered at lunch and at dinner. Perfectly crisped, succulent, and paired with bouncy mushrooms and black-eyed peas in a celery root purée, they are irresistible. Few restaurants serve game these days or are as adept at preparing it. Tender, pink-centered slices of elk burst with meaty flavor enhanced by a velvety port reduction. Braised bison short ribs, heritage pork chops, and a New York strip steak might be other temptations.
Midday, imaginative salads, well-composed fish and vegetable plates, a top-flight burger, and steak frites please the varied clientele. Business meetings, celebratory luncheons, and casual get-togethers are all welcome here.
Desserts are as balanced as the rest of the menu. A fresh fruit crumble, judiciously sweetened, is paired with an ethereal, deeply flavored, meltingly rich raspberry ice cream. And its ephemeral nature just makes it more enticing.
See this: Glittery lights frame the buzzy bar at the far end of a contemporary, pale-toned dining room. There’s a chef’s counter facing the open kitchen, as well as a charming patio.
Eat this: The menu changes daily, but be sure to look for game meats and market-fresh scallops.
When to dine here: Stop in for a weekday lunch that’s as indulgent as a blow-out dinner — or treat yourself to a memorable burger.
*Editor’s Note: Clarity has been undergoing changes in the time since this review was written. It has been temporarily closed and is expected to reopen in early November.
McLean / Persian / $$$
Opened in December 2021, Divan in McLean will exceed your expectations at every turn. Enter the chic digs to discover exposed brick, massive industrial lighting fixtures, and expansive high ceilings. Your warm welcome continues with unparalleled service from Divan’s knowledgeable staff, supremely attentive to your needs and helpful with menu suggestions.
A glorious basket of fresh Iranian barbari bread appears tableside with honey-infused butter and olive tapenade. Use restraint not to eat three baskets of bread, which would be easy to do. It will be worth the wait.
The chef’s specialties include mahi shekampoor, a delightful trout stuffed with a succulent blend of green herbs, dried fruits, and pistachio and then baked with an almost addictive butter-saffron lime sauce. The feast includes garlic spinach and saffron basmati rice. It may be the best fish you have ever eaten.
Meat eaters should dive into mahechay. This braised lamb shank is expertly simmered in its own juices with saffron, turmeric, tomato, garlic, and lemon. No need for knives; the beautifully tender lamb falls off the bone.
Divan is divine — it may be the new kid on the block, but with its excellent cuisine and contemporary ambiance, it will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
See this: Large glass storefront doors open accordion- style to offer a sunny outdoor-indoor vibe.
Eat this: Mahi shekampoor, barg, Persian ice cream
When to go: Even novices to Persian cuisine will embrace the cosmopolitan look, feel, and taste of Divan. Bring the whole family.
McLean / Thai / $$
Need to fight FOMO? Battle the fear of missing out by inviting as many friends as possible to share tempting, creative northeastern Thai cuisine at this strip-mall spot.
Basics like Panang curry and pad thai are superb, promising disappointment anywhere else after indulging in Esaan’s spot-on versions. But the real magic happens when you dare to veer out of your comfort zone to sample distinctive regional house specialties.
Expect marinated grilled meats, chewy sticky rice, and fiery chiles. A glorious trifecta of tart lime, fresh mint, and strong fish sauce define the mouthwatering flavor of many Esaan specialties. Order spicy papaya salad to pair with yum kai zapp, Thailand’s brilliant version of fried chicken. The crispy poultry is tangled with with onion, mint, cilantro, and chile.
Create your own masterpiece with kao kluk ka pi, a tangy dish of shrimp paste fried rice enhanced by a mighty mélange of memorable mix-ins. Meat lovers dive into moo nam tok, marinated grilled pork shoulder that is tender, perfectly seasoned, and presented beautifully.
There’s far too much to love to risk missing out. Reach out to your friends now for a meal that’s all about sharing the wealth.
See this: Esaan’s accolades in framed magazines line the walls.
Eat this: Somtum Thai, yum kai zapp, Crying Tiger
When to dine here: A weekday lunch will brighten your workday, but a group dinner always hits the mark.
Annandale / Korean / $$$$*
When a chef is at his best, he crafts not just a meal but a memory for his guests. This is precisely what chef-co-owner Justin Ahn does at his boutique Annandale restaurant. The five-course tasting menu incorporates multicultural flavors and techniques with modern sensibility, anchored by his Korean heritage.
Ahn grew up in Southern California eating Korean food at home and a wide spectrum of restaurant dishes. A self-taught cook, Ahn crafts dishes in his head that often riff on Korean classics. His tasting menu is constantly changing to accommodate seasonal produce — and his whims.
A meal may begin with, as he puts it, “a hint of spice and bit of starch to get the digestive juices flowing.” The dish is a rice cake (dduk) that’s fried crisp and served in a Thai green curry.
A grilled New York strip steak and roasted yellow sweet potatoes — Korean meat and spuds — is enlivened by South American chimichurri, along with a salad that mixes Western greens with a Dijon mustard, basil, and doenjang (soybean paste) dressing.
Korean tradition closes a meal with a hearty dish like Anh’s pork belly with pickled turnip, spicy radish, and a complex ssamjang. The melt-in-your-mouth flesh, paired with the refreshingly salty cabbage; the gentle, crispy spiciness of the radish; and the umami of the ssamjang is an ending that indeed remains in the memory long after it has been dispatched from the plate.
See this: Chef Justin Ahn or a member of his staff visits the spare dining room with every course.
Eat this: Delicious surprises that never get out of hand.
When to dine here: An unpretentious backdrop for a convivial evening with good friends.
Great Falls / French / $$$$
In bucolic surroundings that look like the setting for a fairy tale sits a legendary French country restaurant that attracts a steady stream of guests celebrating special occasions and romantic afternoons.
After 47 prosperous years, chef Jacques Haeringer and front-of-the-house manager Paul Haeringer continue to serve classic French country food with an authentically European flair. Dishes like trout amandine and beef bourguignon are what their customers demand, and they do them well. The Haeringer family comes from the Alsace region, where heavier preparations of German-influenced food suit the cooler climate.
The high-value prix fixe menu allows diners to sample mushroom crêpes, bouillabaisse, and a decadent soufflé all in one dining experience. The meals are accompanied by the chef’s daily amuse-bouche — perhaps a demitasse of cream of pea soup — along with a basket of fresh breads and a pot of Bibeleskaes, a housemade cottage cheese with herbs.
Impeccable, seamless service by dedicated staff, along with a soothing ambiance, are key factors in L’Auberge’s longevity. And while many restaurants tout farm-to-table sourcing, the Haeringers grow their own herbs and vegetables right on the 6-acre property. Vintage crockery enhances the presentation at this lovely landmark, which never really seems to age.
See this: The brick fireplace warms the dining room, while outdoors, diners are serenaded by a bubbling fountain and fragrant garden under a tented patio.
Eat this: Crêpe à la ciboulette, trout amandine, chocolate soufflé
When to dine here: You’re celebrating a milestone, or are looking to feel pampered.
Vienna / Modern European / $$$$*
You won’t be wowed by the ambiance at Maple Ave Restaurant. The window-wrapped box of a dining room looks out on a not-so-charming view of next door’s car wash. The fact that it’s cracked the top 10 is a testament to the cuisine of chef Justė Židelytė and the thoughtful service of general manager Ricardo Teves.
All this combines for one of the most disarmingly romantic dining experiences in NoVA. That’s because the four-course tasting menu includes two choices for each round. Židelytė recommends that you try everything that way, nibbling half of your partner’s empanada in peppery sauce or their truffled, vegetable-dotted mushroom risotto.
But no pressure: You might each need your own portion of dishes as inspired as the smoked tomato fettuccine. Quite simply, it’s one of the best pasta dishes in the region. Slick, squiggly housemade noodles are coated in a sauce that betrays just enough smoke to add a note of mystery. Italian pork sausage and tiny bites of cauliflower are there for both texture and flavor, as is a crunchy shower of garlic-chile breadcrumbs.
They say never to order pasta on a date, but it’s worth making an exception here. The spare space will allow you and your other half to be transfixed by each other — and an unforgettable meal.
See this: It’s the colorful plates that will catch your eye, not the no-frills dining room.
Eat this: Grilled peach salad, smoked tomato fettuccine, bird’s milk
When to dine here: You and your date know there’s nothing more romantic than a shared dish.
Vienna / Greek / $$$
Nostos professes a fresh, modern take on Greek culinary culture, and guests won’t be disappointed. Just stroll through the breezy restaurant, with elegant white walls, airy linen curtains, and warm-hued hardwood floors, and you’re transported to a Mykonos evening with close friends.
Silky and fragrant avgolemono, a traditional Greek chicken soup, is presented in a substantial vessel and offers a luxuriously lemony experience. Souvlaki, made from skewered swordfish, beef, or chicken, are perfectly charred and never a wrong choice.
Nostos serves savory and stunning dishes like kreatomezes, a medley of mouthwatering meats that pairs Greek-style meatballs, wonderfully marinated chicken, and skillfully seasoned lamb chops for a delectable “a little of everything” dish. An impressive seafood star at Nostos is the rockfish lemonato, an icon of lean, delicious cuisine basking in tantalizing wine sauce, capers, and mushrooms.
Dessert should not be overlooked. Baxevanis, Nostos’ over-the-top take on baklava, blends apples, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, and ice cream for a wow factor. It’s the genius fusion of blissful baklava and a glorious ice cream sandwich.
Knowledgeable staff provide wine suggestions from numerous Greek varietals. From soup to baklava, Nostos delivers on its promise of fresh, innovative cuisine that transports philhellenists from Tysons to the sultry Greek Isles.
See this: On stark white walls, giant retro black-and-white candid photos of Greek fishermen and celebrities capture the eye.
Eat this: Avgolemono, kotopoulo souvlaki, baxevanis
When to dine here: Visit for elegant date nights or upscale group dinners with fabulous friends who will appreciate the Hellenic food and setting.
Fairfax and Great Falls / Greek / $$
Chef Eugenia Hobson’s sons dreamed of owning a restaurant where their talented mama could showcase her cooking. Hobson earned accolades as head chef at Mykonos and Nostos before the family decided to open their first restaurant in Great Falls in 2016. They’ve since added an outpost in the Mosaic District and have a third planned for Shirlington.
Hobson attended an Athenian culinary school but gleaned her recipes from her mother and grandmother in Zakynthos, an island in the Ionian Sea where she grew up. Her approach is to lighten and brighten traditional Greek cookery.
After a basket of fresh bread, each angular plate arrives, punctuated with a sprig of mint, a drizzle of spiced oil, a lace of cheese, or the crunch of pistachio. Hobson is acclaimed for her grilled octopus and branzini but has a nimble touch with melt-in-your-mouth zucchini fritters and delicate spinach pies.
Hobson expands the menu by rotating ambrosial soups and offering specials like gemista, stuffed vegetables with cinnamon-laced beef and rice. For dessert, share a plate of loukoumades, doughnut balls bathed in honey, cinnamon, and sesame. They’re traditionally served at celebratory events but here they’re on the menu daily.
As is tradition in Greece, everyone is treated like family, from the longtime servers, to you, Hobson’s welcome guest.
See this: Pops of blue against a whitewashed background with meander-tiled floors and beach photos that conjure a Greek taverna by the Mediterranean Sea.
Eat this: Kolokithokeftedes, paidakia, loukoumades
When to dine here: You crave a taste of home — in Greece — without a flight.
Fairfax / French / $$$
French classics sport a modern sensibility at this stylish brasserie, nestled in Merrifield’s shopping mecca. The airy space evokes the late 19th century on the Champs-Élysées, with its long central bar, marble-topped tables, and bentwood chairs, in a contemporary way.
Classic starters are prepared delicately. Take the clever remake of an escargot appetizer: Snail meat is taken out of its shell and mixed with same-size mushroom morsels in a creamy sauce, judiciously perfumed with garlic and herbs. A surprisingly light onion soup offers deeply burnished alliums in a beefy broth capped by a savory, melted cheese crouton. There’s also a very contemporary pickled beet, goat cheese, and lentil salad. Its sharp and sweet flavors are enhanced by its lovely, foamy pink vinaigrette.
Order the classic moules-frites, and a steaming pot filled with plump bivalves awash in an aromatic light and creamy broth comes to the table. Fennel fronds add texture and a subtle flavor to the dish. A succulent salmon entrée, another classic, sports a light potato crust and subtly lemony cream saucing.
Meat lovers can dig into a hefty pork chop served with a seductive potato purée or opt for steak frites, duck, or a rustic beef stew. Classic desserts like rice pudding and crème brûlée are delectable models of their kind. It’s all a delightful update on the French fare we all crave.
See this: A copperplate-like city park mural covers the back wall of a room sporting an understated elegance and an unmistakably Gallic feel.
Eat this: Escargots, moules-frites, pork chop
When to dine here: Date-night couples, girlfriends having a night out, and groups of friends can all enjoy this convivial setting.
Falls Church / Chinese / $$$$
Quan, a staff member, comes to your table and presents a whole bird with the kind of pride that would make it seem as if she had caught and cooked it herself. Then she begins painstakingly wresting fat from crisp skin. As she carves, a server named Ana joins her and begins to wrap a fresh, floury pancake for you — spreading hoisin sauce and then layering ribbons of scallion and cucumber before gingerly laying down a few rosettes of fowl.
We are talking, of course, about the everyday ceremony that has taken place thousands of times since 1978 at Peking Gourmet Inn, where Peking duck is as much a way of life as it is a dish on the menu. The bird is crisp and oozing hot fat where it should be, in the medallions of skin. The thinly sliced flesh beneath is rich, too, though expertly rendered of adipose tissue.
That could be all diners need at this classic, lined with photos of past presidents who called the restaurant a favorite. Make room for garlic sprouts, a slippery, funky product of the restaurant’s own 133-acre Purcellville farm. They’re best woven with tender slices of pork. But whatever you order, never forget that the duck is what has been attracting guests from the beginning.
See this: The red-and-gold toned Chinese-restaurant scenes from classic films are brought to colorful life here.
Eat this: Pan-fried dumplings, Peking duck, garlic sprouts
When to dine here: You realize that there’s more to American culinary history than home-grown fare, and you want a taste.
Vienna / Italian / $$$ – $$$$
Personal touches can make a world of difference. Chef Roberto Donna and his wife, Nancy Sabbagh, understand this truth at their new restaurant in Vienna. Right down to the pane sfogliato rolls delightfully blessed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, this inventive Italian destination proves great food brings people together.
Donna has been on the DMV restaurant scene for decades, bringing his magic to more than a dozen dining establishments. At Roberto’s, opened earlier this year, the décor is as inviting as the cuisine. Captivating Chihuly chandeliers explode from the ceiling, and porcelain Venetian masks adorn walls.
Sophisticated food is the star here, with unforgettable dishes like veal scallopini and fettuccine alla Parmigiana, tossed tableside. It’s an impressive performance, with a massive Parmigiana wheel presented, scraped, and blow-torched, and Donna himself might roll fresh, warm pasta in the wheel’s hollow belly. No less memorable, Alaskan halibut is surrounded by a tantalizing moat of basil-mint sauce, an unexpected accoutrement bringing flavor and visual appeal.
Dessert includes showstoppers like raspberry tiramisu, dazzling with minty mascarpone, almond nougatine, and crowned with berry coulis.
Early diners sit barside for excellent value on superior noshes during Aperitivo Hour. Think mind-blowing meatballs and Insta-worthy pizza.
At Roberto’s, guests are sure to savor even the tiniest details in every bite, from antipasti to dolce.
See this: Joan Miró–style art fills the restaurant that boasts special touches everywhere.
Eat this: Aperitivo Hour fare, Alaskan halibut, raspberry tiramisu
When to dine here: Even a weekday dinner will be crowded — and delightful.
McLean / Japanese / $$
This is the place to cut through the fanfare and enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine. Casual diners line the tiny entryway to the crowded, no-frills second-floor restaurant, waiting for a coveted table at this busy establishment. It’s worth the wait, as families, laptop-toting groups, and couples revel in the vast sushi, sashimi, and maki offerings.
Try the Sushi Special entrée, an exceptional 11-piece sampler platter. Sushi is freshly prepared, vibrant, and flavorful. Novices to the cuisine should order a dinner box option, which includes well-proportioned tastings of seven outstanding traditional dishes. The beautifully presented “A” Box includes delightfully crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef or chicken negimaki, shumai dumplings, seaweed salad, California rolls, edamame, and yellowtail teriyaki. Get a taste of numerous offerings in these inviting bento boxes.
Noodle dishes are plentiful and popular, served hot, cold, with ramen, soba, or udon noodles for every palate. Service is brisk at this no-nonsense, efficient spot, so be ready with your order when the busy server breezes by.
Still hungry for dessert? Try the matcha green tea crêpe cake, a refreshing twist on a traditional French pastry.
This is the place for Japanese food purists, sure to satisfy every appetite and budget.
See this: The vintage kimonos on display will stay, but art collectors take note: The original art on the walls is for sale.
Try this: Dinner boxes, beef negimaki, tempura seafood and vegetables
When to go: This no-frills location makes up in flavor what it lacks in ambiance; bring the kids, co-workers, or friends for a casual, solid meal.
Falls Church / Italian / $$$
Chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson bring top-flight talents polished at New York City’s starriest restaurants to a cheery roost in Falls Church. In their hands, deceptively simple-sounding modern Italian dishes like spaghetti alla chitarra — pasta with chile-spiked marinara — and Arctic char bedded on savory seasonal vegetables belie their unpretentious excellence. The chefs are wizards at developing flavors that get the most from carefully sourced ingredients.
Tender bites of octopus and crispy potatoes are tied together by a velvety, nutty, and tangy spring onion tahini sauce, with olives and pickled peppers giving the dish another layer of zest. This is an appetizer worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Likewise, salad bowls — like one filled with farro, seasonal vegetables, and Parmesan cheese, all pulled together by a roasted garlic vinaigrette — could make a meal.
Katherine Thompson’s desserts are a central reason to book here. Her Madeira-laced olive oil cake is widely considered the genre’s benchmark. A delectable crème fraîche mousse and honey-raisin compote enhance the cake’s melt-in-the-mouth crumb. Indeed, there are no misses. Warm fruit desserts, like seasonal cakes and cobblers, are comforting, spicy, and utterly winning.
See this: Presided over by a tomato-red neon sign that reads “Pasta Power,” the subway-tiled bar has a chill vibe, while the artful deep-blue and white dining room, with its family-sized booths and intimate two-top tables, feels a bit more laid-back.
Eat this: Octopus, Arctic char, olive oil cake
When to dine: Seriously delicious food is a priority. This destination is a utility player that encompasses any occasion.
Clifton / Modern European / $$$
The strawberry gochujang has left the building. Last year, chef Daniel Perron brought his Korean heritage to this Clifton classic. With his departure and the arrival of new chef Zack Ridenhour, the menu has taken on a stronger flavor from co-owner Stefan Trummer’s native Austria, as well as the chef’s own Southern Virginian cuisine.
Evidence includes dishes like local rockfish with skin seared to a crisp jacket. It reposes on a bed of sauerkraut that’s almost as sweet as it is acidic. The same can be said for the moat of red currant sauce that surrounds the sour cabbage. A shaved slaw of fennel and red onion adds a refreshing élan to the combination. This is modern, exciting European fare, courtesy of the products of Virginia.
The theme extends to dessert. Krapfen are crispy, fluffy-centered Austrian doughnut holes. They’re served over puddles of no-bake white chocolate cheesecakes and blueberry jam that pops with fresh fruit. With every bite at the refreshed Trummer’s, contemporary Europe feels a little bit closer.
See this: Woven ceiling fans keep the air moving upstairs, but that fresh feeling is courtesy of white walls and lots of windows. For a cozier feel, situate yourself in the downstairs bar area.
Eat this: Salmon tartare, duck leg confit, krapfen
When to dine here: You’re in search of a neighborhood restaurant with tastes that evoke a trip to a city that requires a plane ride.
Clifton / Italian / $$
Abbondanza, the bountiful celebration of food in good company, is the sentiment that energizes this charming Clifton retreat. Its rustic dining rooms, with their heavy wooden beams and vintage accents, and the delightful garden patio are well suited to the celebrations that fill the tables.
Alluring dishes, designated as appetizers, are so full-flavored and generously portioned that several of them make a satisfying shared meal. Shrimp Badda-Bing, the restaurant’s signature starter, is a brimming bowl of crispy sautéed crustaceans smothered in a creamy white, sweetly spicy sauce. A touch of Old Bay is responsible for its elusive flavor, our server confides.
Beefy meatballs, savory with mushroom and onions, are bathed in a bright, well-balanced marinara sauce, with lots of gooey melted cheese. Accompanying crostini, made with house-baked ciabatta bread, sop up the sauce.
Even if the appetizers fill diners up, the cheese course is too enticing to miss. The noteworthy selection includes hard-to-find samplings like Ubriacone and pecorino al pepe. It’s no wonder the bar is filled with couples pairing wine and cheese, as well as exploring the raw bar selection. It’s all in the spirit of abbondanza.
See this: A charmingly rustic setting that works as well for an intimate tête-à-tête as for a group celebration, with an exceptionally lovely garden patio.
Eat this: Shrimp Badda-Bing, meatballs marinara, an artisanal cheese plate
When to dine here: To celebrate anything — or just because you deserve a treat
Great Falls / Afghan / $$
The imaginative cooking of Afghanistan is not worlds away, but in our backyard, at a welcoming Great Falls outpost. Zamarod’s chef and owner Dor Niaz was an interpreter for the military who now caters to well-heeled customers seeking distinctive food in a casual setting.
Niaz enjoys introducing diners to his homeland’s signature dishes and says his country grows a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Inspired by such freshness, almost everything at Zamarod is scratch-made, from the yogurt sauce, pasta, and flatbreads to the bold dipping sauce sourced from ghost peppers and cilantro grown in his garden.
Starters are a must, especially aushack, pillowy dumplings draped over scallions, and muntoo, silken noodles layered with ground beef, yogurt, tomato sauce, and chopped mint. Niaz doesn’t skimp on portions, and his stewed lamb is so tender, you can cut it with a spoon. A grilled lamb shank sizzles.
Among the vegetarian options, spinach and pumpkin are the standouts, and saffron adds depth to the buttery rice. Niaz fuses the five Cs — cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander — to create Zamarod’s characteristic spice blend. You’ll be glad to have this gem in our own backyard.
See this: Mustard stucco walls contrast with dark hardwood floors, statement art, and crystal chandeliers. The patio seating is surrounded by gardens filled with tomato and pepper plants.
Eat this: Aushack, kadu chalow, Quabili palow
When to dine here: You’re looking for cuisine with formidable flavors in a tranquil setting.
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