With so many cultures calling the region home, it’s safe to say that Asian cuisine is thriving in Northern Virginia. Whether you’re in the mood for Indian, Korean, or Japanese, here’s where you can find the best Asian fine dining experiences in our area.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Vienna / Indian / $$
Northern Virginia has an abundance of excellent Indian restaurants, but the ambrosial preparations created by chef Deepak Sarin make Bansari a standout. A native of Rajasthan, Sarin is deft at cooking from a range of Indian regions. His expertise is marked by his masterful blending of whole spices, and you can taste the freshness and pungency in every dish.
Among the appetizers is a heaping bowl of fire engine–red cauliflower bathed in a silken chile sauce with mustard seeds for crunch: Gobi 65. Sarin deconstructs the typical samosa, instead building layers of potato pockets, showered with chickpeas, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce.
Sarin incorporates the region’s East Asian influences with Indo-Chinese dishes. The nutty hakka noodles are interspersed with slivers of crisp green and red peppers, cabbage, carrots, and scallions. Bathed in a sweet, salty sauce, it’s a lighter version of lo mein.
Even the tikka masala enjoys a nontraditional spin by folding achar pickles into the marinade before roasting. The tender chunks of tandoori chicken arrive bathed in a smoky sauce, redolent with red chiles and garam masala.
Be mindful that at Bansari, “medium spicy” is quite hot, and even “mild” dishes have a kick. Consider ordering creamy raita to cool and bread to scoop up the juices. It’s all more than enough to stand out from the crowded pack.
See this: Bansari’s brick walls serve as a backdrop for the eclectic décor of crystal birdcages and turquoise leather banquettes with rustic wood and metal tables.
Eat this: Gobi 65, hakka noodles, mango lassi
When to dine here: Your group likes to share dishes and enjoys sampling international cuisine.
Ashburn / Indian / $$$
It’s an unfortunate fact that in the West, Indian food has taken on a casual air. Yes, its distinctive flavors often lend themselves to traveling home in takeout containers. But at chef Rupa Vira’s modern restaurant, the cuisine begs for a more formal reexamination. Here, gold leaf, dry ice, and frothy foams all play a role in a theatrical meal.
The visual appeal of dishes like pansy-crowned tandoori salmon or a gold-bedecked lamb shank doesn’t mean that they are lacking in spice. Each of Vira’s dishes is just as compelling on the palate as it is to the eye. Butternut squash kofta (satiny vegetarian meatballs) are sunken into a creamy sauce that’s flecked with sweet-and-sour goji berries and microgreens. Pair it with chicken tikka meatballs in a smoky, piquant tomato-based sauce. Jeera rice and breads, like the buttery chile and paneer kulcha, cost extra but are necessities that never take a back seat.
Ashburn is awash in Indian options, from pizza to Vira’s own vegetarian restaurant, The Signature. But for the furthest thing from Curry in a Hurry, Celebration hits the high notes worthy of its name.
See this: The festive atmosphere takes a cue from pops of color in each of the bright, painting-filled rooms.
Eat this: Lotus stem chaat, butternut squash kofta, chile and paneer kulcha
When to dine here: A craving for Indian spice is leading you to the opposite of takeout.
McLean / Thai / $$
Need to fight FOMO? Battle the fear of missing out by inviting as many friends as possible to share tempting, creative northeastern Thai cuisine at this strip-mall spot.
Basics like Panang curry and pad thai are superb, promising disappointment anywhere else after indulging in Esaan’s spot-on versions. But the real magic happens when you dare to veer out of your comfort zone to sample distinctive regional house specialties.
Expect marinated grilled meats, chewy sticky rice, and fiery chiles. A glorious trifecta of tart lime, fresh mint, and strong fish sauce define the mouthwatering flavor of many Esaan specialties. Order spicy papaya salad to pair with yum kai zapp, Thailand’s brilliant version of fried chicken. The crispy poultry is tangled with with onion, mint, cilantro, and chile.
Create your own masterpiece with kao kluk ka pi, a tangy dish of shrimp paste fried rice enhanced by a mighty mélange of memorable mix-ins. Meat lovers dive into moo nam tok, marinated grilled pork shoulder that is tender, perfectly seasoned, and presented beautifully.
There’s far too much to love to risk missing out. Reach out to your friends now for a meal that’s all about sharing the wealth.
See this: Esaan’s accolades in framed magazines line the walls.
Eat this: Somtum Thai, yum kai zapp, Crying Tiger
When to dine here: A weekday lunch will brighten your workday, but a group dinner always hits the mark.
Ashburn / Nepalese / $$
The vibrant South Asian population of Ashburn isn’t just limited to natives of India. This becomes abundantly clear with a visit to the city’s newest hit, an elegant paean to the regional cuisines of Nepal. But while you’ll likely see more than a few Himalayan families dining on thalis and hulking servings of biryani, an international crowd fills the cavernous restaurant and bar.
Entrées include curries that range from tender pork with mustard greens to a take on butter chicken, emulsified with cashews and rich yak butter, but the best way to enjoy the broad spectrum of flavors is by ordering from the large pool of appetizers and sides.
The crispy kale, a take on Indian palak chaat, is a reliable crowd-pleaser with its satisfying crunch, sweet-and-spicy tamarind sauce, and soothing drizzles of yogurt. Momos, Himalayan dumplings, are another must. They’re available in a barnyard’s worth of fillings (including a vegetarian version), but well-spiced yak stands out with its unctuous meatiness.
With a recent boom of dining options, Nepalese food appears to be the next big thing in our region. And there’s nowhere better than Himalayan Wild Yak to taste it.
See this: Meet Rocky, the taxidermy yak who greets guests at the entrance they sit down in the high-ceilinged dining room.
Eat this: Crispy kale, yak momos, chicken sekuwa
When to dine here: You’re ready to diverge from tapas but still want to share small plates.
Annandale / Korean / $$$$*
When a chef is at his best, he crafts not just a meal but a memory for his guests. This is precisely what chef-co-owner Justin Ahn does at his boutique Annandale restaurant. The five-course tasting menu incorporates multicultural flavors and techniques with modern sensibility, anchored by his Korean heritage.
Ahn grew up in Southern California eating Korean food at home and a wide spectrum of restaurant dishes. A self-taught cook, Ahn crafts dishes in his head that often riff on Korean classics. His tasting menu is constantly changing to accommodate seasonal produce — and his whims.
A meal may begin with, as he puts it, “a hint of spice and bit of starch to get the digestive juices flowing.” The dish is a rice cake (dduk) that’s fried crisp and served in a Thai green curry.
A grilled New York strip steak and roasted yellow sweet potatoes — Korean meat and spuds — is enlivened by South American chimichurri, along with a salad that mixes Western greens with a Dijon mustard, basil, and doenjang (soybean paste) dressing.
Korean tradition closes a meal with a hearty dish like Anh’s pork belly with pickled turnip, spicy radish, and a complex ssamjang. The melt-in-your-mouth flesh, paired with the refreshingly salty cabbage; the gentle, crispy spiciness of the radish; and the umami of the ssamjang is an ending that indeed remains in the memory long after it has been dispatched from the plate.
See this: Chef Justin Ahn or a member of his staff visits the spare dining room with every course.
Eat this: Delicious surprises that never get out of hand.
When to dine here: An unpretentious backdrop for a convivial evening with good friends.
Arlington / Vietnamese / $$
There isn’t much physical evidence that Arlington’s Little Saigon, a Vietnamese enclave in Clarendon, ever existed. But one remaining business, Nam-Viet Restaurant, is still dishing out savory sustenance, just as it has been for more than three decades, while continuing to impress a new generation of diners.
Nam-Viet goes far beyond pho and fried rice, with fare like deep-fried pork belly that is so ideally seasoned, delightfully crispy, and lacking in grease that each meaty bite can stand on its own or be paired with the accompanying lemon-pepper sauce for an added zing. Salmon aficionados will savor every morsel of the generous portion of caramelized fish, served in a ceramic pot with fresh ginger, chiles, onion, and cilantro. Each forkful yields a slightly different yet equally vivid flavor.
Craft cocktails have modern twists, such as an old fashioned made with pandan-infused bourbon. The aromatic plant from Southeast Asia gives the cocktail its leafy green hue and unique flavor. For a zero-proof option, there’s a seasonal shrub, which promises something subtly sweet with a refreshing tang.
No matter what you choose, you can’t go wrong at Nam-Viet, where meals have stood the test of time.
See this: Stroll around the dining room to see some famous faces in the photos that line the walls.
Eat this: Anything marked “new” on the menu is bound to please.
When to dine here: You want a laid-back, filling meal away from the weekend brunch crowd.
Falls Church / Chinese / $$$$
Quan, a staff member, comes to your table and presents a whole bird with the kind of pride that would make it seem as if she had caught and cooked it herself. Then she begins painstakingly wresting fat from crisp skin. As she carves, a server named Ana joins her and begins to wrap a fresh, floury pancake for you — spreading hoisin sauce and then layering ribbons of scallion and cucumber before gingerly laying down a few rosettes of fowl.
We are talking, of course, about the everyday ceremony that has taken place thousands of times since 1978 at Peking Gourmet Inn, where Peking duck is as much a way of life as it is a dish on the menu. The bird is crisp and oozing hot fat where it should be, in the medallions of skin. The thinly sliced flesh beneath is rich, too, though expertly rendered of adipose tissue.
That could be all diners need at this classic, lined with photos of past presidents who called the restaurant a favorite. Make room for garlic sprouts, a slippery, funky product of the restaurant’s own 133-acre Purcellville farm. They’re best woven with tender slices of pork. But whatever you order, never forget that the duck is what has been attracting guests from the beginning.
See this: The red-and-gold toned Chinese-restaurant scenes from classic films are brought to colorful life here.
Eat this: Pan-fried dumplings, Peking duck, garlic sprouts
When to dine here: You realize that there’s more to American culinary history than home-grown fare, and you want a taste.
Ashburn / Thai / $$
Thai cuisine is one of the traditions most widely represented in our region. That often means much of the pack blends together, one thin curry after another. But Sense of Thai St. brings the heat in more ways than one.
A stylish, modern aesthetic draws in a vibrant crowd for bar manager Jeremy Ross’ forward-thinking cocktails. They’re sipping tipples like Tummy Time, which combines tequila with Asian ingredients such as lychee, lime, grapefruit, and Thai basil. Fans of fiery drinks are best off ordering the elote cobbler, which benefits from the burn of Thai chile, along with tequila, calmed by summer corn–oat orgeat and lime.
And on plates? The som tum, a staple in Southeast Asian kitchens, grabs spice lovers by the throat with its mix of tangy lime and chile that dresses pounded green papaya and a range of fresh vegetables.
Get it on the side with the street fried rice, a spicy tamarind-based dish that’s native to the Southern Chumphon province of Thailand. Sweet Thai sausage provides a foil to what might be the most complex (and moreish) dish on the menu. This is one Thai restaurant that stands out from the crowded field.
See this: At this perpetual hive of activity, look for servers in Hawaiian shirts to bring delights from the enviably stocked bar.
Eat this: Street fried rice, lychee duck curry, som tum
When to dine here: You and your date aren’t afraid of spicing things up.
McLean / Japanese / $$
This is the place to cut through the fanfare and enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine. Casual diners line the tiny entryway to the crowded, no-frills second-floor restaurant, waiting for a coveted table at this busy establishment. It’s worth the wait, as families, laptop-toting groups, and couples revel in the vast sushi, sashimi, and maki offerings.
Try the Sushi Special entrée, an exceptional 11-piece sampler platter. Sushi is freshly prepared, vibrant, and flavorful. Novices to the cuisine should order a dinner box option, which includes well-proportioned tastings of seven outstanding traditional dishes. The beautifully presented “A” Box includes delightfully crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef or chicken negimaki, shumai dumplings, seaweed salad, California rolls, edamame, and yellowtail teriyaki. Get a taste of numerous offerings in these inviting bento boxes.
Noodle dishes are plentiful and popular, served hot, cold, with ramen, soba, or udon noodles for every palate. Service is brisk at this no-nonsense, efficient spot, so be ready with your order when the busy server breezes by.
Still hungry for dessert? Try the matcha green tea crêpe cake, a refreshing twist on a traditional French pastry.
This is the place for Japanese food purists, sure to satisfy every appetite and budget.
See this: The vintage kimonos on display will stay, but art collectors take note: The original art on the walls is for sale.
Try this: Dinner boxes, beef negimaki, tempura seafood and vegetables
When to go: This no-frills location makes up in flavor what it lacks in ambiance; bring the kids, co-workers, or friends for a casual, solid meal.
Arlington / Japanese / $$$$
A dreamlike sushi experience in his youth inspires chef and co-owner Saran Kannasute’s high-end fare at this vibrant venue. Here, he transforms luxurious ingredients like uni, toro, wagyu beef, caviar, and foie gras into multicourse dinners. Diners can order these cleverly conceived creations individually, as well as more traditional nigiri and rolls.
A colorful mural over the sushi counter dominates the buzzy, modernist space. Counter seats offer a mesmerizing opportunity to watch the chefs in action. The metamorphosis of a Canadian lobster into a parade of flavors and textures begins with a sake shooter in which bob tiny bits of the lobster’s brain. The claws, filled with a flavor-packed miso-butter-garlic paste are briefly torched for texture. Succulent tail meat is lined up in bite-size pieces on the shell. Raw claw meat is presented on a minty shiso leaf.
Luxury ingredients invite indulgence. Freshly delivered from Japan, the briny melt of sea urchin, accented by truffle wasabi, becomes irresistible sushi bites. Likewise, a vertical tasting of umami-rich, fatty tuna — from the cheek and two parts of the belly — is presented as delectable sushi. It’s not a dream, but it sure tastes like one.
See this: A vibrant scene dominated by a graffiti-inspired mural and the room-spanning sushi counter below.
Eat this: Let the chefs do their magic with whatever luxury ingredients have arrived that day
When to dine here: You and your companion are in the mood for raw (or seared) indulgence.