Spanning 70,000 square feet, there is certainly plenty to explore at the Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic flagship in The Boro, a sparkling mixed-use development that opened last fall in McLean. And since grocery shopping while hungry is a terrible idea, perhaps it’s best to begin your expedition by grabbing a bite at one of the food stalls located on the main or upper levels. Here’s how we suggest filling your belly before filling your cart.
Spoiler alert: We’re starting with the best in show. This adorable counter looks like it was lifted out of a chic, urban food hall and plunked down in the ’burbs. Staff members are incredibly helpful with walking wide-eyed newcomers through the menu. An outstanding crab cake with zero fillers perches atop an addictive celery root slaw studded with capers and red onion. Golden fried oysters tumble across a stack of Old Bay-seasoned fries, all served with remoulade and cocktail sauce. The rich oyster stew is loaded with plump, briny bivalves, sliced fingerling potatoes and good-quality bacon. Everything tastes incredibly fresh, perfectly cooked, seasoned with precision and thoroughly delicious—and not just by grocery-store standards, by any standards. Serving eat-in orders on real dishes instead of in plasticware, this place strikes exactly the right balance between fast-casual and restaurant-quality fare.
Is the ramen here going to win any awards? No. But as part of a well-established national chain, the Japanese izakaya turns out a fine version that nevertheless has nearby office workers lining up on drizzly winter days. The original tonkotsu ramen teems with springy noodles, red ginger, seaweed, mushrooms and a marinated half of an egg with an impressively runny yolk all swimming in a nutty, slightly sweet pork broth. Less impressive is the thin, dry and fatty chashu pork found in both the ramen and a bao bun. Try the bang bang shrimp bao bun with its spicy sauce instead. Shrimp was a star of the sushi taco trio too, with the tempura maintaining its crispiness despite being loaded up with a creamy sauce and a tiny pile of green onion.
With so many choices of doughs, glazes and toppings, curiosity quickly turned to confusion. Potato, sourdough, yeasted, not-quite-vegan, super cake—all of them looking pretty tasty but difficult to remember after all the varieties of the day have been rattled off. Just give into the excess of it all and order a dozen, see which one you like best and share the rest. Our favorites were the pineapple glazed and the peach glazed, and a lemon twist had a great lemon zest flavor along with a nice, crispy crust.
Whole Foods is admittedly playing fast and loose with the word “pub” here, but this upstairs bar is a friendly, bright, casual place to grab a local beer or a glass of wine with co-workers or with the kids in tow on a Sunday night. A nacho hot bar features chips, braised meats and Tex-Mex fixings, and another food bar offers favorites like chicken tenders, pizza and chicken wings sold by the pound. Large TVs peppered throughout the space show sports matches, while all ages will want to try their hand at retro arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man and pinball. There are also three shuffleboard tables, plus an outdoor terrace with lounge seating for when the weather improves.
As an offshoot of the DC restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Nicholas Stefanelli, expectations were high. Pasta offerings are basic to boot, so they should be fairly easy to nail—yet this food stall doesn’t yet come close to living up to the chef’s reputation. Cacio e pepe arrived soupy, drowning in a creamy sauce that tasted faintly as if blue cheese had been accidentally thrown into alfredo sauce. The rigatoni alla norma was slightly better, but the eggplant lacked silkiness and the sauce wanted seasoning. A warmed porchetta panino somehow managed to register as both oily (the bread) and dry (the meat). Better to sit this one out until these folks get the process down. // 1635 Boro Place, McLean