Paris / Modern American / $$$$*
The gift from the kitchen before the meal starts is a single plum. “Did you see the tree by the parking lot?” asks your server. Order the duck breast, and you’ll find more of the homegrown fruit in a balsamic-emboldened sauce that lights up not only the crisp bird, but also shattered duck-fat potatoes and purslane, the latter wildcrafted from around the property.
This is country living at its finest, where your meal starts with a Parker House roll and a duck-fat bun topped with a fresh tomato and cheese. Your server knows the menu like the back of her hand and can answer every question about sourcing and preparation you throw her way. Other staffers will refill your water glass before you even realize you’re ready for more.
We live in complicated times. Consider The Ashby Inn your escape to an era of simplicity and delicious comfort.
See This: An old-fashioned dining room will make you feel like you’re really dining in a country inn, but eat outside for the best view of the rolling hills of a nearby farm. Chances are you’ll hear the Black Angus cattle mooing.
Eat This: Wild mushroom strudel, smoked Rohan duck breast, blood orange panna cotta
When to Visit: You have a special occasion worthy of a drive to rural Paris.
Middleburg / Modern American / $$$$
Foodies often pooh-pooh beef tenderloin as flavorless. They haven’t been to Goodstone Inn. There, the meat is cooked to perfection, with just a bit of fat left on the exterior to allow the beefy flavor to come through in every bite. It’s amplified by a pool of rich demi-glace that enrobes every element on the plate in a savory meatiness. There are the garden vegetables, which means multicolored carrots and cauliflower from the garden on-site, not some faraway farm. The thin bar of au gratin potatoes melts and stretches with cheese.
It’s a dish your grandparents would have loved, likely their grandparents, too. And that’s what Goodstone Inn exists for: elegant meals in a space that will wow, and service that’s so refined you’ll barely notice it.
Splurge on the prix fixe, and you’ll be treated to four courses of chef Jan Van Haute’s most seasonal handiwork. Whether it’s white asparagus and morels or a honey-roasted peach with green almonds and white chocolate, it’s fresh perfection you’ll never forget.
See This: Sit by the pool, facing the adjacent farm. In the colder months, dine in the glass-covered dining room for a light-filled meal. It’s especially pretty in the rain.
Eat This: The prix fixe changes with what’s at its best for the season. It’s the most direct path to freshness.
When to Visit: Celebrations or an intimate date night with a partner who loves the classics
Great Falls / French / $$$$*
François Haeringer moved his restaurant from DC to Great Falls in 1976, and ever since the bicentennial, little has changed. Haeringer’s son Jacques continues to prepare his father’s classic recipes using produce grown on the property. Even the hops for the beer made in-house come from the restaurant’s 6 acres.
The space is timeless, and so is the food. There aren’t many places left at which you can indulge in the old-timey tradition of ordering your soufflé before dinner, leaving you to excitedly anticipate deflating it all through your meal.
Not that you won’t be distracted by course after course of excellence. We defy you not to let out a little bit of a moan when you take your first bite of escalopes de veau or Châteaubriand. But there’s nothing like the thrill of that first bite of soufflé.
See This: A warren of rustic rooms that recall the French countryside, circa the middle of last century, gives a historical feel. For a look that’s more modern, sit outside, where you can listen to the splish-splash of the fountains.
Eat This: Dinner is a five-plus-course prix fixe, but you have options. We like the crêpe à la ciboulette, escalopes de veau and hazelnut soufflé.
When to Visit: It’s time to impress a Francophile—or a friend passionate about local history.
Leesburg / Mexican / $$
You’re in luck. Watermelon is plentiful at 10-acre Fairbrook Farm. Chef Jason Lage’s farm supplies Cocina on Market, as well as his other restaurants, Market Table Bistro and Market Burger Fries & Shakes. But tonight, the meal is Mexican. You’ll enjoy a lime-brightened watermelon margarita and ahi tuna ceviche that’s dressed up with pickled watermelon. Another night, blackberry tres leches cake comes courtesy of a harvest at nearby Nuts About Berries Farm.
There are few places where it’s as smart to eat entirely off the specials list as it is at Cocina on Market, but you’ll be just as happy feasting on menu staples such as queso fundido flavored with mushrooms and mole or carnitas tacos made from local pork and topped with salsa verde, pink pickled onions and a single chicharrón.
Your almost suspiciously well-informed server will guide you to the dishes you’ll love, and that includes dessert. The crisp churros are a delight, presented on a plate delicately drizzled with warm, spiced chocolate sauce that will have you wishing for more of everything. Luckily, it’s always churro season.
See This: Orange tones, colorful art and a lamp above the bar that resembles an agave plant set the scene indoors, or get a view of Leesburg from the rooftop patio.
Eat This: Ceviche, carnitas tacos, churros
When to Visit: You’re craving Mexican that’s a cut above.
Clifton / American / $$$
Let’s face it: You’re stressed. You need short ribs in your life. Whether they’re presented over polenta with onion gravy; in broth as kavalierspitz, a dish from owner Stefan Trummer’s native Austria; or in whatever form chef Jon Cropf has thought of now, Trummer’s is bringing the tender, braised beef.
Now more than a year into its life as upscale comfort-food destination Trummer’s, not fancy-schmancy Trummer’s on Main, this restaurant is settling in nicely. This is a place for cornbread that’s so crumbly it almost doesn’t hold together long enough to be spread with honey butter and homemade strawberry jam. It’s the home of a chocolate pecan pie sitting in a pool of salted caramel and covered with rosettes of whipped cream light enough to remind you of grandma’s house—if your grandma was a great pastry chef. All that is the handiwork of Meagan Tighe, who is indeed a fine pastry chef, if far from a grandmother.
Have a question about the menu? Servers seem legitimately excited to provide guidance, whether they’re recommending the hand-cut pasta or the Titanic, the signature cocktail so named because of its iceberg-like scoop of Champagne sorbet. Just one sip will make that stress melt away.
See This: Tropical woven ceiling fans in a stunning white room upstairs are the perfect backdrop for an elegant meal. Feeling more casual? Try the comfortable bar downstairs.
Eat This: Cornbread with honey butter and strawberry jam, beef short ribs, chocolate pecan pie
When to Visit: You want simplicity done right.
Leesburg / Eclectic / $$$
We believe in food as medicine. And what better medicine is there than chocolate? Fortunately, it’s in practically everything at The Conche.
Not many restaurants are led by a pastry chef like Santosh Tiptur. Fewer still employ a master chocolatier like Sara Dobson. That is the cacao-driven magic of this unassuming restaurant in the Village at Leesburg.
Dishes that you’ve never seen with chocolate before have just enough for you to get the impact. Crispy calamari, bright and beautiful with Fresno chile aioli and pink pickled radishes, has chocolate stout in its batter. The flavor of the burger is grounded by a deep, dark chocolate barbecue sauce. The short ribs? They’re in a chocolate-espresso sauce.
It’s no surprise that the actual desserts are overwhelmingly of the chocolate variety and mind-bogglingly delightful. The Illanka, for example, centers on a dark chocolate butter cake and gilds the lily with chocolate cremeux and almond-cacao nib streusel, then gilds it some more with smoked chocolate ice cream. It might sound excessive, but it’s actually an adventure in pure pleasure, a swim in a chocolate fountain without the messy cleanup. And no doubt, you will be renewed—and full.
See This: Historical posters from French chocolate companies decorate the walls, but the real attraction is watching the chocolatiers at work behind a large window.
Eat This: Crispy calamari, harissa chicken, Illanka
When to Visit: Just a little bit of chocolate simply isn’t enough.
Falls Church / Modern American / $$$$
You won’t see it coming. There shouldn’t be a restaurant here, not in the 15-story office building surrounded by wooded trails. And if there is, it shouldn’t be this good. Chef Bertrand Chemel’s cuisine is hidden in plain sight, but the secret has long been out.
It’s not the setting you would expect, but one look at the goat cheese ravioli and you’ll be thoroughly disarmed. There’s nothing “office park” about the handmade pasta, shaded with a forest of julienned black truffle. Service, too, is far from what one might expect in such a building—your waiter knows his return customers’ preferences and quirks as well as he knows the menu.
To a meat lover, he recommends the fork-tender braised lamb shoulder, woven with yet more fungi in the form of wild mushrooms. Their flavor of the forest floor melds marvelously with soft porcini polenta. He guides a sweet tooth toward the clafoutis, a cherry dessert presented with housemade vanilla ice cream. “You need the vitamin C,” he jokes.
Yes, you’re in an office building, but you’re no drone. This is where diners come to escape the ordinary, one compelling plate at a time.
See This: The koi pond and manmade waterfall are impossible to ignore, but once inside, soaring ceilings make the modern space feel almost as if you’re still outdoors.
Eat This: Goat cheese ravioli, braised lamb shoulder with porcini polenta, cherry cake clafoutis
When to Visit: You want an ultra-modern experience without heading into the city.
Marshall / Modern American / $$$
Middleburg Montessori School has a regular project for its students: raising pigs to sell to local businesses. The porkers live an idyllic life, cared for by gentle little hands until it’s time for them to leave this mortal coil. But their afterlife is just as picture-perfect. They fill menu space at Field & Main, nearby Marshall’s destination for farm-to-table fare.
Chef-owner Neal Wavra adjusts the menu daily to fit in the ingredients that are at their best, but whatever he’s doing with pork is sure to be a juicy delight, whether it’s a chop served with miso poached pears or the lunchtime Pigstrami sandwich. The season’s bounty is both the fuel for and the raison d’être of Field & Main. Wavra is also a wine specialist who fills glasses with the wares of local vineyards, including wines on tap.
A sense of fun pervades the restaurant. One option on the wine list is a mystery glass. Customers who can guess the grape get it for half off. During COVID times, diners sanitize before eating using towelettes that grow from tablets in an antibacterial liquid bath at the table. Servers know regulars by name, and you can bet they can tell them exactly where the pork came from. They might know the pig’s name, too.
See This: An elegant house complete with chandeliers is filled with rustic art to remind you you’re in the country.
Eat This: The menu changes daily, but keep your eyes open for local pork.
When to Visit: You want to taste the local landscape, one plate at a time.
Arlington / Spanish / $$$
Tapas are great. They can be better than great. But there is far more to Spanish food than tapas. As the name of SER suggests—it means “to be” in Spanish, but it also stands for “simple, easy, real”—Spanish food at its best is ingredient-driven, fresh and focused on flavor. Sometimes, you crave more of a dish than a small plate can provide.
Case in point is the presa de cerdo Ibérico ahumada, a full-size dish of smoked pork. The centerpiece is densely marbled and crusty seared meat that melts in your mouth like wagyu, a wisp of smoke defining the flavor of each bite. It sits atop an orange pool of mojo picón, a sauce that balances earthy cumin and luminous vinegar, elevating each bite of pork and the soft Canarian-style papas arrugadas—multicolored potatoes that add an additional burst of flavor to the plate.
It’s far from a tapa, but you’ll still wish you could order more than one just to keep experiencing its wonders. Luckily, there’s far more to love. From pans of paella to churros dipped in intensely cacao-flavored chocolate mousse, there’s lots to help you indulge your taste for Spanish flair.
See This: The letters S, E and R are displayed in lights above the kitchen, which is viewable through a small window. A collection of hams hangs nearby, priming diners for good things to come.
Eat This: Croquetas de puchero, presa de cerdo Ibérico ahumada, churros con chocolate
When to Visit: Barcelona beckons, but you and your guests are hungry now.
Vienna / Modern Latin American / $$$$
When former tech CEO Michael Biddick opened Blend 111, he had sustainability in mind. The menu still speaks to this, from the ethically fished scallops to the biodynamic wines to the house-roasted fair-trade coffee beans. But something else distracts diners from the feel-good principles: profound deliciousness.
That’s thanks in large part to new chef Andrés-Julian Zuluaga, who brought with him an affinity for the flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean. Servers bring dishes to the table as if they’re proud parents, confiding their affection for the flavors. It’s easy to taste why.
Just order the red snapper with clams. The crisp piece of flaky fish is surrounded by toothsome farro, peas and shishitos, sunken in a klieg-bright salsa verde. Or try the Marquesa, a chocolate dessert that originated in Venezuela. It’s covered in gold leaf and fresh figs that are just as precious. The layers of chocolate-on-chocolate melt with each other in sweet ecstasy. It’s a meal that will make you happy, but almost as importantly, you’ll still feel virtuous when it’s over.
See This: Wine and eclectic art, including a tile-like wood installation, decorate the walls. The former parking lot out back is now a dining room strung with festive lights.
Eat This: Victory garden salad, red snapper with clams and farro, Marquesa
When to Visit: Wine (or a cocktail or a mocktail) is as much a part of the plan as big-flavored Latin food.
SEE THE FULL 30 BEST RESTAURANTS 2020 LIST HERE.
Entrees = $ 12 and under | $$ = 13-20 | $$$ = 21-30 | $$$$ = 31 and over
* prix fixe only