An appetite for gustatory exploration often leads to finding global eats for lunch or dinner. But food explorers shouldn’t feel constrained by the time of day. These restaurants provide some of our favorite ways to start the day full of flavor.
Opens 8 a.m.
If you learn only one word of Turkish, let it be “serpme.” Short for “serpme kahvalti,” which translates to “breakfast spread,” the collection of bites both big and small is indeed distributed across a packed table. The traditional meal is served around our region at restaurants including Oxus7 in Ashburn and East West Café in Arlington, but nobody does it quite like this high-ceilinged Manassas bakery.
Weekend brunches have a way of filling up at My Cravingz, but the serpme is available all day every day, so those who abhor crowds have nothing to fear. Two people will be overwhelmed by the offerings in the $30 My Serpme. The $59.99 Our Serpme will feed a family.
The uncontested star of the meal is the platter of dips and spreads. The housemade simit, which is a skinny relative of the bagel, and a pair of warm rolls are ready to be dipped in a procession of big flavors, both sweet and savory. Fruit jams have no added sugar, and diners delight in the natural essence of fig or slightly tart berries.
A pot of tea keeps guests on their toes for the marathon-worthy carbo-load ahead. Make room for the stretchy cheese of the pizza-like pide; the salty, feta-filled sigara boregi; and zucchini fritters called mücver. Sucuklu yumurta is a flower-like assemblage of sausage surrounded by fluffy eggs.
If it all sounds a bit excessive, it is. Wear your stretchy pants and get ready to indulge in one of NoVA’s best breakfasts.
Mark’s Duck House
Opens 10 a.m.
You don’t have to wait for the weekend to try the dim sum here. An abbreviated menu of heart-touching dumplings and small plates is available every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, visiting for brunch on Saturday or Sunday is a spectacle of carts and bamboo steamers filled with edible delights.
At either window of opportunity, start with the cheung fun: Rice noodles so fine that they’re nearly transparent are filled with a range of foods, including shrimp and pork. A server douses them in sweet soy sauce before leaving them on the table.
Taro puffs, or wu gok, are so fragile that they’re fried to order rather than appearing on the carts. A lacy nest of crispy taro gives way to a saucy center of minced pork. Whether you’re there for breakfast or brunch, don’t leave without an order of egg custard tarts. The buttery pastries complete an indulgent meal that will bolster you through the rest of your day. 6184 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
Opens 9 a.m. weekends
On a budget? Each of the six Salvadoran breakfast platters here rings up at less than $10. If you are like us and prefer a meaty breakfast, there is nothing that will light your fire quite like the Desayuno Campesino, or farmer’s breakfast.
Starting with a pair of voluptuous cubes of chicharrones, this is a meal that can take you straight through to dinner. The meat, served with puffy housemade Salvadoran-style tortillas, is surprisingly not as exciting as the pool of creamy refried black beans. Eat them together, and you’ve got an unforgettable start to your day.
The plate also includes bursting over-easy eggs, a lush blob of crema Salvadoreña — a relative of sour cream — and a crumbly rectangle of funky queso duro. A fried corn tamal provides a sweet element that will make you all but forget the tres leches and cookies that line the cases surrounding your table.
Opens 11 a.m. Tuesday–Sunday
To know the Ethiopian combo plate is to love it. If you’ve scooped up a well-spiced Ethiopian stew with a bite of soft, tangy injera flatbread before, you likely salivate at the very suggestion of it. And you don’t have to wait for dinner to have a taste.
At this elegant outlet, there’s a full breakfast menu, including two combos designed especially for starting the day. Each costs around $20, but we prefer Breakfast Combo 2 for the presence of quanta firfir. The dish features a mix of dried beef and injera prepared with ghee, Ethiopia’s signature brick-red berbere seasoning, and tomato, for a combination guaranteed to rouse your taste buds. It’s accompanied by enkulal firfir — or spicy scrambled eggs — as well as toasted, chopped bread, known as chechebsa.
For something a little more familiar, there’s buttery cracked wheat called kinche. One taste, and you’ll be eating breakfast with your hands regularly.
Le Vingt-Trois Café
Opens 7 a.m. weekdays
Mary Achi may not have grown up in France, but the Australian native is as versed in the cuisine as can be. The result of her years of Francophilia is this sweet café, hidden in the same strip mall as Wooboi Hot Chicken and Enatye.
Le Vingt-Trois’ crew serves up premium coffee and tea alongside pastries and sandwiches that will appeal at any time of day. For a relaxed start, order at the counter and scoop up a croissant or melty-centered pain au chocolat that’s straight from the oven. Croissants are available filled with almond paste or ham and cheese.
A croque monsieur or jambon-beurre sandwich may sound like lunch, but is it really? And if there’s pistachio cake, let dessert be your morning meal — it’s light and not too sweet.
Tatte Bakery & Café
Opens 8 a.m.
Yes, it’s part of a chain owned by an out-of-town company, but we just can’t quit the Israeli-inspired all-day breakfasts at this bright café. How could we, when the menu boasts three types of shakshuka alone?
The North African egg dish is a hit in Israel, from which Tatte founder Tzurit Or hails. The best way to try it? Order the lamb meatball version and get ready for a breakfast that will bolster you for even the most active day. In a pan filled with cumin-spiced tomato-and-pepper sauce, there are the expected soft-cooked eggs, but also four tender footballs of round lamb.
Both the piquant labneh and Peppadews in the dish pack a punch, but not so much as to overwhelm. There’s lightly toasted challah piled on the wood board on which the hearty meal is served, ready to sop up every ounce of liquid flavor.
Opens 9 a.m. Wednesday–Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday
This German store has everything you need for a meal at home worthy of Oktoberfest, but why not pick up breakfast while you choose from the 18 different varieties of sausage?
If this is your introduction to German morning meals, a sausage-egg-and-cheese on brioche is an easy entry point. So is the Farmer’s Sunrise sandwich, which combines a fried egg, rösti potatoes, ham or bacon, soft butterkäse, and tomato.
But if you’re an advanced eater, we recommend going straight for the gusto with the Leberkäse à la Bavaria sandwich. On a brioche bun, the deli staffers pile the fried titular meat — a sort of German bologna equivalent — along with an egg, grilled onions, tomato, melted Swiss cheese, and curry mustard. If you thought Central European food was bland, this eye-opening sandwich will forever change your perspective.
Ashton Family Restaurant
Opens 6:30 a.m.
A Costa Rican tipico, huevos divorciados, and caramel-drizzled Cuban French toast all share menu space at this diner that advertises “Greek, Italian, Tex-Mex & American Cuisine.” The highlight of the diverse breakfast menu, however, is the Guatemalan tipico.
The heavy platter is a trip to the tropics without the airfare. The centerpiece is a garlicky length of thinly pounded skirt steak, ready to be rolled into the warm side of tortillas. But it shouldn’t be alone. Fill them with the over-easy eggs in tangy ranchero sauce and crunchy-cornered plantains, too. There’s a liberal serving of refried beans — spread some on the tortilla, but save a bit for dipping with the crisp tortilla chips provided. There’s Cholula hot sauce on the side just waiting to amp up the heat for a morning repast of staggering complexity.
Olive Lebanese Eatery
Arlington and Reston
Opens 8 a.m. weekdays
American and Lebanese breakfast options fill the stacked menu here, but we prefer to look East when we order. There’s feta-dusted shakshuka, yet we’re especially jazzed about the Beirut Breakfast.
The latter pairs the restaurant’s award-winning falafel with creamy hummus, a savory start to the day if there ever was one. But that’s just the beginning; salty, squeaky grilled Halloumi cheese is on the plate, paired with a selection of olives and tomato-and-cucumber salad. There’s warm pita and creamy tahini to bring it appetizingly from plate to mouth.
On the sweet side, pistachio French toast is made with fresh challah that’s dusted with the crushed nuts. The pancakes may veer away from Lebanon, but their flavoring of blueberry preserves suffused with lavender makes every bite worth it. Both dishes come with a side of crisp turkey bacon to remind you that you’re not eating an indulgent dessert.
Mex-Mart & Deli
Opens 8 a.m.
The phrase “Mexican breakfast on the go” might make you think of eggy tacos or burritos. This market has both of those, but when we’re craving a south-of-the-border-flavored morning, we order the chilaquiles verdes.
An ample stack of tortilla chips is cooked with a tomatillo sauce that coats them in a mouthwatering combination of acid and heat. They’re accompanied by creamy-centered eggs that ooze their own version of sauce. And the steak? It’s marinated with garlic for an allium sweetness that contributes yet more appealing levels of flavor. Finish it with avocado and panela cheese. It’s a meal served in Styrofoam that almost merits fine china.
Also worthy of your time and stomach capacity is the spicy chorizo and egg scramble, paired with refried beans, cheese, and avocado. Tuck the components in a fresh tortilla with a side of housemade hot sauce. 24630 S Point Dr., Chantilly
Desi Breakfast Club
Opens 8 a.m. Tuesday–Sunday
Breakfast is the raison d’être of this Pakistani diner, and it’s available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week. It’s run by the family behind Charcoal Chicken in Chantilly, so there’s no question that a deft use of freshly ground spice is on the menu.
Start with cardamom-scented Pakistani chai, a milky, heavily caffeinated alternative to your morning coffee. The breads are a highlight, including flaky, crackly lacha paratha and puffy fried puri. The latter is best enjoyed as halwah puri, which pairs two of the breads with a trio of stews.
Lovers of Pakistani food know nehari and haleem well. The aromatic iterations of the oily beef and creamy chicken stew here will stick to diners’ ribs and light up the pleasure centers of their brains. Whether the dishes are familiar or new to you, they are craveable comfort foods.
Fairfax Inn Restaurant
Opens 8 a.m.
You may not know it yet, but you want garlic rice for breakfast. This diner, with its long counter, has been a presence in Falls Church since the 1960s, but the Filipino menu here has a history of its own lasting for 15 years. You can still get hotcakes if the need arises, but with our cup of piping hot coffee, we would rather have sweetly marinated beef known as tapa, longanisa sausage, or thinly sliced pork tocino. You’ll never think of breakfast meats the same way again.
And that rice? You can get plain, but we prefer the soft funk of garlic as it’s drenched in the yolks of two over-easy eggs. Pickled papaya called achara lends a satisfying zip to the rich proceedings.
Breakfast dessert? When there’s icy halo-halo on the menu, there’s little reason to resist.
The Swiss Bakery & Pastry Shop
Opens 8 a.m.
Do you want to start your day with Berner rösti? Of course you do! Shredded-potato fans will be bowled over by the nest of crunchy fried cake that’s blanketed in melted Emmenthaler cheese, bacon, and an over-easy egg. It’s served with a brötchen, a crusty roll with a soft center.
But that isn’t the only breakfast diners can choose from the menu at this bustling counter-service café. There are egg sandwiches on a choice of breads, including a house-baked croissant and a laugen croissant — essentially a croissant-pretzel hybrid. Laugen rolls, made with lye, serve as the base of the Bavarian breakfast, which also includes weisswurst and Bavarian mustard.
Those who prefer their breakfast on the sweet side will be mightily rewarded with baked goods ranging from apple strudel and danishes to the special weekend-only sticky buns.
A & J Restaurant
Opens 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
On weekends, this Taiwanese treasure allows diners to replace their doughnuts and oatmeal with youtiao — a crunchy, oily cruller — and congee. Not steeped in the traditional morning repast of the East Asian country? No problem. Individual items are inexpensive enough to make yourself something of a buffet.
Start with sweet soy milk, then order liberally. The highlight for many is the dan bing, a street food that is essentially a scallion-flavored crêpe that wraps around a skinny omelet. Fan tuan are rolls made of sticky rice — why not get both the savory and sweet versions? Shaobing is a flaky breakfast bread that might call to mind the spawn of a flatbread and a croissant. Here, you can order one alone or combined with a youtiao. Finish with a sweet congee flavored with red beans. You’ll be stuffed, but it’s the weekend, and you deserve a nap.
Opens 8 a.m.
There are few breakfasts as satisfyingly meaty as bo ne. And there are fewer still places in the U.S. to try the Vietnamese steak-and-eggs dish. At Hoang Viet in the Eden Center, a cow-shaped platter arrives at the table sizzling. On it, four preparations of flesh sear between bubbles of sweet sauce. First order of business: Cut a crisp-edged egg and let loose the runny yolk, a sauce of its own. Spread liver pâté on the toasted baguette and top it with cilantro and onions. Then, there are the juicy meatballs. But the centerpiece is the steak, with a few cubes of even more tender shaking beef to the side. It’s a hangover breakfast that doesn’t require the lead-up of a wild night. For optimal enjoyment, don’t miss the extra-strong iced coffee on the side.
Feature photo courtesy My Cravingz
This story originally ran in our April issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.