*50 Best Restaurants is on newsstands now*
People often ask how many restaurants I visit to find the perfect 50 for the Best Restaurants list. It’s not a strict number, though I could comb through receipts and excel sheets and in this sprawling locale, miles logged. I usually respond: It’s a year’s worth of eating. Every taste can lead to inclusion for November’s issue.
But this year was different. There was more than one mouth.
I was on maternity leave in the spring, and Rina Rapuano wrote reviews (while I was slurping bean soup at home) and stayed on through the early fall to help eat and write for the 50 Best Restaurants issue. Rapuano is a longtime food writer and professional eater, and I was thrilled she was willing to drive to Marshall for dinner.
Here are her highlights, from a custom-order steak to an over-sized dosa, during her summer of suburban eating.
Mind-blowing dish: Whole rockfish at Asian Origin (pictured above)
First off all, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big. It came to the table and was just massive. Everybody around us was just staring at us. It’s loaded with lotus root and onions and chilies and cilantro and it’s so beautiful. We started digging in and it just punches you in the face with flavor, a perfect balance of spice and herbs and aromatics. It’s just amazing. That’s the dish I think about all the time.
I’d spend my own money at: Rangoli
I’m really excited Rangoli opened back up in Manassas. I was a fan of Rangoli in South Riding and when I realized it had closed I was really disappointed. If I’m ever in Manassas that’s where I’m going. The masala dosa is ridiculously large; I like large food, I guess (see above). Your eyes pop out of your head when it lands on the table. It’s so thin and papery and it’s filled with potatoes and onions and it’s warming and comforting and delicious. There’s chicken chettinad, a black-pepper curry from southern Indian with just tons of spice, unlike any other spicy Indian dish you’ve ever had. They’re so nice, too.
Most gracious service: Ray’s the Steaks
I don’t know a ton about my favorite steak. I like a New York strip, but I wanted to try something different. I never had somebody let me custom-order a steak, and then turned out there was this off-menu rib eye that she said would be perfect for me and it really was. It was delicious.
Coolest bathroom: Bistro L’Hermitage
It’s so European. There’s a fire-engine red toilet and sink, and it’s way taller than the rest of the restaurant and there’s paintings and gold. It’s just wild.
Favorite dining moment: L’Auberge Chez Francois
The patio at L’Auberge Chez Francois was completely magical. It happened to be on a perfect July day, and it was so pretty I couldn’t even deal with it. I could have stayed there forever. I was there with my mom, it was for her birthday, and my son. And he’s asked to go back there for his birthday, unfortunately his birthday is in January and so we’re gonna have to sit inside and it’s not going to be quite the same experience. On the kid’s menu, they have this plate of pasta with shrimp and he’s like, “That’s all I want to eat.”