If a trip to Europe is out of the question at the moment, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy authentic cuisine from across the continent. Whether you want to daydream about eating pasta in Italy or crème brûlée in France, a meal at one of these European restaurants is sure to satisfy.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Arlington / Balkan / $$$$*
“Balkan food has lots of meat, dairy, butter, and gluten,” says the waiter, pointing to the menus on the table. Looking around at the animated faces in the bustling Clarendon dining room, we reply, “They must be happy people.”
Indeed, this Eastern European spot aims to please, with a kitchen adept at bestowing modern-day nuances on grandmotherly comfort food. Not the least of its winning strategies is a set-price menu that lets diners order all they can eat from its extensive list of small plates.
Most guests begin with a sampler of dips, breads, pickles, and house-cured charcuterie. It’s a festival of captivating flavors and textures.
Of the many other choices, the creamy-textured sarma (pork belly-stuffed cabbage) is a must-try. It literally melts in your mouth. Another winner: grilled shrimp in a compelling corn purée. Beefy, charcoal-grilled meatballs, crunchy with bacon bits, have a subtly spicy, velvety tomato sauce. Dishes can offer surprises, like a spurt of cheesy goodness when a fork cracks the stuffed pepper’s dark, crispy crust. Even vegetables are memorable, such as the earthy roasted cauliflower nubs accented by tahini and pine nuts.
It’s hard to save room for dessert, but it’s worth the effort for the likes of the nougat cake. It’s a subtle mix of textures and flavors — airy vanilla, nougat, and chocolate cream and pomegranate mousse atop a chewy hazelnut brownie.
See this: Hanging plants give the modern upstairs a garden feel, while photo montages of the Balkans add a cosmopolitan touch.
Eat this: Sarma, grilled shrimp, cauliflower
When to dine here: To celebrate anything (or nothing), knowing that there’s something on the menu for every appetite.
Woodbridge / French / $$$$
Not every restaurant needs to charm with its modern innovations. At Bistro L’Hermitage, it’s traditional French cuisine, like decadent lobster bisque; indulgent, garlicky escargots with puff pastry; and expertly prepared filet mignon that delights guests over and over.
Fresh-cut flowers and eclectic décor transport diners to the French countryside, as if visiting grand-mère in Normandy. Order on the safe side with conventional French fare, or consider more creative options. Poached shrimp with watermelon cocktail sauce, roasted duck breast with cherry-thyme sauce, and crêpes du jour are all inspired choices.
Staff is welcoming, quick to share the menu’s hidden gems, and attentive enough to make all feel like regular guests. Pleasant chatter erupts between waiters and patrons; clearly repeat visitors show up in numbers for yet another lovely visit to France just outside downtown Occoquan. Arriving diners are greeted warmly and presented with fresh, crunchy bread and a dangerously inviting tureen of beurre.
The brunch menu presents substantial dilemmas: Should onglet de boeuf et oeuf (steak and eggs) be the order of the day? Or oeuf Benedict a la Norvégienne (eggs Benedict with sautéed spinach and smoked salmon)? Plentiful options make decisions très difficile.
See this: Mismatched knickknacks fill walls, tabletops, and even the exterior, making for a cozy European-antique-shop feel.
Eat this: Lobster bisque, poulet rôti, crème brûlée à la vanille de Tahiti
When to dine here: Special occasions fit the bill for the above-average experience and expense.
Arlington / French / $$$
The congenial team at Arlington’s Café Colline rightfully takes great pride in every dish served at their charming restaurant. Staff members, one after the next, exuberantly describe executive chef Brendan L’Etoile’s regional French cuisine with breathless detail. The cozy bistro came on Arlington’s restaurant scene in 2020 but found its footing once eat-in dining resumed at its lovely Langston Boulevard location. Masterfully prepared traditional French offerings are presented in an inviting setting with warm leather seating, a myriad of mirrors, and a stunning herringbone-patterned wood floor.
The crunchy (yet succulent) confit canard undergoes a meticulous three-step cooking process for the duck to reach perfection, accompanied by a medley of braised chard, wild rice, carrot purée, and sauce à l’orange. Moules-frites deliver dynamic flavor from steamed mussels adorned with a soothing, fennel-dominated broth. You wouldn’t be wrong to dip your crispy frites in the potent potion. Classic steak frites with béarnaise sauce may summon nostalgic memories of romantic Latin Quarter dinners.
Don’t skip dessert: Try pots de crème, skillfully created with Nutella and crushed chocolate cookies. It is, as they say, the crème de la crème. No wonder the amicable staff can’t say enough about how special this café is. After a visit, diners won’t be able to, either.
See this: Multicolored French bovine awards above the kitchen
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon, confit canard, steak frites, pots de crème
When to dine here: A special lunch may be a prelude to a future private group dinner in the cozy wine cellar.
Manassas / Italian & Portuguese / $$$$
In quaint Old Town Manassas, Carmello’s has been a special occasion go-to for 35 years. The Italian restaurant from Portuguese owner Alice Pires delights diners with its Mediterranean menu, elegant ambiance, and old-world charm.
Servers are formal and particularly polished, springboarding dining experiences to an elevated level. The award-winning wine list is a star in its own right, with Wine Spectator accolades lining lobby walls. Start with the Portuguese picada de bife, filet mignon tips flavored with garlic and olive oil, marvelously infused with a port wine reduction.
Pasta fans may enjoy the comfort of Italian gamberi griglia Genovese, massive marinated shrimp atop beautifully seasoned angel hair pasta. Color and flavor collide as the julienned vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and pesto wine sauce create culinary poetry. Remarkably, the inevitable leftovers taste even better for lunch the next day.
Meat lovers take note: The memorable vitello con pancetta will leave you trying to decipher the savory, earthy ingredients that make this bacon-wrapped veal with bucatini pasta so special.
And for dessert? Strawberry shortcake served in a chic martini glass will wow and satisfy for a lighter post-meal treat.
Carmello’s continues to thrive for good reason: Its cuisine, service, and overall experience rise to any occasion for which faithful diners visit.
See this: The enormous glass wine cellar
Eat this: Grilhados mistos, vitello con pancetta, torta de amoras
When to go: This is a special occasion place — any birthday, anniversary, or graduation will do.
Great Falls / French / $$$$
In bucolic surroundings that look like the setting for a fairy tale sits a legendary French country restaurant that attracts a steady stream of guests celebrating special occasions and romantic afternoons.
After 47 prosperous years, chef Jacques Haeringer and front-of-the-house manager Paul Haeringer continue to serve classic French country food with an authentically European flair. Dishes like trout amandine and beef bourguignon are what their customers demand, and they do them well. The Haeringer family comes from the Alsace region, where heavier preparations of German-influenced food suit the cooler climate.
The high-value prix fixe menu allows diners to sample mushroom crêpes, bouillabaisse, and a decadent soufflé all in one dining experience. The meals are accompanied by the chef’s daily amuse-bouche — perhaps a demitasse of cream of pea soup — along with a basket of fresh breads and a pot of Bibeleskaes, a housemade cottage cheese with herbs.
Impeccable, seamless service by dedicated staff, along with a soothing ambiance, are key factors in L’Auberge’s longevity. And while many restaurants tout farm-to-table sourcing, the Haeringers grow their own herbs and vegetables right on the 6-acre property. Vintage crockery enhances the presentation at this lovely landmark, which never really seems to age.
See this: The brick fireplace warms the dining room, while outdoors, diners are serenaded by a bubbling fountain and fragrant garden under a tented patio.
Eat this: Crêpe à la ciboulette, trout amandine, chocolate soufflé
When to dine here: You’re celebrating a milestone, or are looking to feel pampered.
Arlington / French / $$$
Tucked away in West Arlington lies this quaint restaurant reminiscent of the French countryside. For many, it is a welcome escape from the bustle of the city just a few miles away. It’s a place to pause, where a warm croissant or bowl of bouillabaisse can cure all ailments. Chef Jacques Imperato’s culinary repertoire aims to transport diners across the sea without going far from home.
Sumptuous Burgundy-style escargots are served sans shell, each topped with a buttery puff pastry for a delightfully light, bite-sized treat. The beef bourguignon is equally delectable with tender bits of beef, velvety soft potato gnocchi, pearl onions, and mushrooms bathed in the rich sauce that makes the dish beloved by so many. Even rainbow trout boasts French flair. It’s prepared in amandine style, referring to the toasted slivered almonds atop the flaky fish. And at brunch, both the croque madame and open-faced crêpes showcase ham and cheese in a way that only the French can.
Imperato never fails to prepare an exquisite meal worth remembering. And the best part is, you can leave La Côte d’Or Café knowing you don’t have to travel far to return to this small slice of France any time you like.
See this: For a sidewalk café ambiance, request a table in the yellow patio located off the main dining room.
Eat this: Croissant, warm brie, beef bourguignon, croque madame
When to dine here: Head here when you want to up your brunch game.
Alexandria / French / $$$
Food lovers on the left bank of the Potomac find a delightful corner of France tucked away in historic Alexandria. This cozy, brick-walled dining room, serving exceptionally well-made stalwart fare, has transported diners for decades. Its hideaway atmosphere, warm hospitality, and steady kitchen stand the test of time.
Starters on the menu range from the traditional escargots, pâté, and foie gras mousse to well-composed salads like one with tender beets, goat cheese, and a delightful puréed beet dressing. Still, the exemplary onion soup is hard to pass up. A deeply flavored broth and velvety onions lurk beneath a cap of melted, cheesy indulgence.
A fan of pink-centered duck breast, judiciously sauced with a rich, savory-and-sweet raspberry purée, is plated with a garlicky potato gratin, puréed carrots, and sautéed cabbage. Like the salmon served with a creamy béarnaise or veal scallops simply sautéed with butter and lemon, it’s proof of why such dishes are classics.
Desserts — chocolate mousse, fresh fruit Melba, and crème brûlée — also hew to proven provisions, and their deep flavors surprise and delight. It’s all edible evidence of Gallic cuisine’s enduring appeal.
See this: Vintage posters and memorabilia crowding the walls evoke an atmosphere of Gallic intimacy.
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon gratinée, canard avec sauce aux framboises, le filet de saumon béarnaise
When to dine here: Reserve ahead to relive (or conjure up) a romantic dinner in the French countryside.
Vienna / Modern European / $$$$*
You won’t be wowed by the ambiance at Maple Ave Restaurant. The window-wrapped box of a dining room looks out on a not-so-charming view of next door’s car wash. The fact that it’s cracked the top 10 is a testament to the cuisine of chef Justė Židelytė and the thoughtful service of general manager Ricardo Teves.
All this combines for one of the most disarmingly romantic dining experiences in NoVA. That’s because the four-course tasting menu includes two choices for each round. Židelytė recommends that you try everything that way, nibbling half of your partner’s empanada in peppery sauce or their truffled, vegetable-dotted mushroom risotto.
But no pressure: You might each need your own portion of dishes as inspired as the smoked tomato fettuccine. Quite simply, it’s one of the best pasta dishes in the region. Slick, squiggly housemade noodles are coated in a sauce that betrays just enough smoke to add a note of mystery. Italian pork sausage and tiny bites of cauliflower are there for both texture and flavor, as is a crunchy shower of garlic-chile breadcrumbs.
They say never to order pasta on a date, but it’s worth making an exception here. The spare space will allow you and your other half to be transfixed by each other — and an unforgettable meal.
See this: It’s the colorful plates that will catch your eye, not the no-frills dining room.
Eat this: Grilled peach salad, smoked tomato fettuccine, bird’s milk
When to dine here: You and your date know there’s nothing more romantic than a shared dish.
Vienna / Greek / $$$
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.
Vienna / Italian / $$$ – $$$$
Personal touches can make a world of difference. Chef Roberto Donna and his wife, Nancy Sabbagh, understand this truth at their new restaurant in Vienna. Right down to the pane sfogliato rolls delightfully blessed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, this inventive Italian destination proves great food brings people together.
Donna has been on the DMV restaurant scene for decades, bringing his magic to more than a dozen dining establishments. At Roberto’s, opened earlier this year, the décor is as inviting as the cuisine. Captivating Chihuly chandeliers explode from the ceiling, and porcelain Venetian masks adorn walls.
Sophisticated food is the star here, with unforgettable dishes like veal scallopini and fettuccine alla Parmigiana, tossed tableside. It’s an impressive performance, with a massive Parmigiana wheel presented, scraped, and blow-torched, and Donna himself might roll fresh, warm pasta in the wheel’s hollow belly. No less memorable, Alaskan halibut is surrounded by a tantalizing moat of basil-mint sauce, an unexpected accoutrement bringing flavor and visual appeal.
Dessert includes showstoppers like raspberry tiramisu, dazzling with minty mascarpone, almond nougatine, and crowned with berry coulis.
Early diners sit barside for excellent value on superior noshes during Aperitivo Hour. Think mind-blowing meatballs and Insta-worthy pizza.
At Roberto’s, guests are sure to savor even the tiniest details in every bite, from antipasti to dolce.
See this: Joan Miró–style art fills the restaurant that boasts special touches everywhere.
Eat this: Aperitivo Hour fare, Alaskan halibut, raspberry tiramisu
When to dine here: Even a weekday dinner will be crowded — and delightful.
Manassas / Italian / $$$
Chef Franklin Hernandez earned his stripes mastering his craft in renowned DC restaurants and now propels Semifreddo Italian Cuisine to bucket-list status. The jazzed-up strip-mall location may be its weakest link, but what Semifreddo lacks in ambiance it makes up for in extraordinary service and cuisine.
Ever-popular calamari fritti takes on new meaning thanks to jalapeños mixed in with the crunchy squid. The accompanying marinara dares to pucker lips with more than a dash of crushed red pepper.
Caesar connoisseurs embrace the grilled Romana salad, intriguing with charred romaine, dappled Parmesan shavings, and drizzled dressing. Veal fans delight in vitello Marsala, tender scaloppini bathed in Marsala wine and christened with freshly chopped herbs. Pasta lovers: Look no further than ravioli polpa di granchio — crab ravioli with luscious lobster bisque cascading over every indulgent bite. The exquisite house-crafted pastas are fine-tuned to perfection, leaving diners satisfied but not overstuffed.
Save room for dessert. Tiramisu is a solid choice, artistically embellished with calligraphy-like berry and peach coulis. But the dolce menu’s star is unequivocally the namesake semifreddo, a splendid frozen mousse displaying caramelized walnuts and amaretto cookies.
Hernandez finishes strong with his outstanding signature dish, rounding out an Insta-worthy, food-focused experience for lucky diners.
See this: The open kitchen offers top-chef action for interested diners.
Eat this: Calamari fritti, excellent daily specials, fettuccine Bolognese, semifreddo
When to dine here: Date nights or family dinners beckon at this surprisingly dressy strip-mall location.
Arlington / Spanish / $$$
A bit of theater can make for a memorable evening. That’s exactly what the shared plates at this handsome, convivial Ballston Spanish restaurant offer.
A versatile kitchen produces a wide range of regional specialties. It’s hard to resist the allure of the crispy roast pig, presented in huge chunks for two or four. Dramatically chopped for serving with the edge of a plate, it’s a must-have for group dining. The whole rabbit is another show-stopper. It’s marinated overnight and baked low and slow, then given a crispy finish. A touch of apricot purée adds a sweet-salty interplay.
And, of course, there is paella. The portion for two could feed a family, and there are meat, seafood, and vegetable variations. A constant is perfectly textured, crispy rice to scoop from the bottom of the pan.
The tapas selection is also worth exploring. It ranges from the familiar, such as a moist, softly textured tortilla (potato omelet), to the ambitious, including greaseless, perfectly fried shark bites bathed in aromatics and green herbs.
Desserts are expertly crafted, too. Manchego cheesecake, a house specialty, offers a beautifully textured, not-too-sweet take on the classic. The chocolate soufflé is special, as well. It’s all part of a show that shouldn’t be missed.
See this: Dramatic food presentations — Iberico ham sliced from a classy rack, roast pig chopped tableside, paella sizzling in the pan — make a meal a special occasion.
Eat this: Cazón en adobo, cochinillo asado, paella
When to dine here: You have a group (or a hungry date) ready to share the best of what Spain has to offer.
Arlington / Italian / $$$
There’s more than pasta to draw diners to this Rosslyn destination. Top-flight mozzarella, salads, and choice fish and meat entrées tempt, too. But widely acclaimed chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi sure does have a way with thinly rolled dough.
The pasta tasting option, an indulgent invitation to order three of the dozen or so choices to share family-style, is enticing. The housemade pasta choices pair a dizzying variety of shapes with mouthwatering sauces. Classics like the pappardelle with ragù Bolognese mate broad noodles with a rich, meaty sauce. Seafood — razor and surf clams in a lush, briny essence — enhances pillow-like bites of casarecce. Filled pastas, most notably the lush goat cheese–filled ravioli San Leo sparked with lemon and herbs, are further evidence of the kitchen’s artistry. Come early and watch the pasta maker at work in the windowed display kitchen.
Consider beginning a meal with the mozzarella bar, a mix-and-match adventure of rich, creamy cheese paired with prosciutto or vegetable relishes and an irresistible grilled flatbread called piadina. Other appealing non-pasta choices include succulent meatballs with polenta or moist, flaky fish accented with a seasonal vegetable ragù. Just make sure to pair them with some noodles.
See this: Set in the atrium of an office building, the deceptively spacious white and crimson setting oozes the casual chic of Milan, with oversize custom fixtures hanging from rustic beams and stylized poster art.
Eat this: Mozzarella bar, pasta tasting, and vanilla gelato, backed by an espresso
When to dine here: Date-night duos find it worth the cost and calories; it’s also a premier choice for an indulgent lunch.
Alexandria / Greek / $$
The cuisine at this Greek spot has passed the test of time and then some. Many recipes for its classic fare date back to ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. And Taverna Cretekou can claim similar laurels. Its owner, Christos Papaloizou, has been welcoming guests here since 1973.
Sampler platters of familiar mezethes — luscious rice-filled grape leaves, crisp-crusted spinach and cheese pastries, red caviar whipped with Greek olive oil, hummus, and eggplant mousse — testify to the restaurant’s knowledgeable sourcing and talented kitchen staff.
Complex dishes based on ancient folkways highlight the menu. Expertly braised lamb is simmered with black olives and both fresh and sun-dried tomatoes. The latter adds a sweet-sour tartness to the rich sauce. The dish hails from the Cyclades, where a hot, windy climate makes its sun-dried tomatoes much prized. Another specialty is a firm fish baked in parchment with coriander — an herb used in Hellenic cooking since antiquity for its earthy, citrusy notes — along with spinach, leeks, and scallions.
Greece’s culinary roots are honored on the dessert menu, too. One sundae-like creation features poached apricots, a stone fruit of ancient lineage; yogurt; and honey. Another pairs lemon custard cream with grape preserves. Like everything at Taverna Cretekou, these provide the end to a meal with serious staying power.
See this: The courtyard’s lush greenery makes an alfresco meal seem like a minivacation. The white-walled dining room, with its year-round Christmas tree, is more high-energy.
Eat this: Ouzeri mezedes, Arnaki Kikladitiko, Verikoka Aphrodite
When to dine here: You’re craving an escape to the Greek Isles.
Falls Church / Italian / $$$
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 / Italian / $$
Abbondanza, the bountiful celebration of food in good company, is the sentiment that energizes this charming Clifton retreat. Its rustic dining rooms, with their heavy wooden beams and vintage accents, and the delightful garden patio are well suited to the celebrations that fill the tables.
Alluring dishes, designated as appetizers, are so full-flavored and generously portioned that several of them make a satisfying shared meal. Shrimp Badda-Bing, the restaurant’s signature starter, is a brimming bowl of crispy sautéed crustaceans smothered in a creamy white, sweetly spicy sauce. A touch of Old Bay is responsible for its elusive flavor, our server confides.
Beefy meatballs, savory with mushroom and onions, are bathed in a bright, well-balanced marinara sauce, with lots of gooey melted cheese. Accompanying crostini, made with house-baked ciabatta bread, sop up the sauce.
Even if the appetizers fill diners up, the cheese course is too enticing to miss. The noteworthy selection includes hard-to-find samplings like Ubriacone and pecorino al pepe. It’s no wonder the bar is filled with couples pairing wine and cheese, as well as exploring the raw bar selection. It’s all in the spirit of abbondanza.
See this: A charmingly rustic setting that works as well for an intimate tête-à-tête as for a group celebration, with an exceptionally lovely garden patio.
Eat this: Shrimp Badda-Bing, meatballs marinara, an artisanal cheese plate
When to dine here: To celebrate anything — or just because you deserve a treat
Clifton / Modern European / $$$
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.