Ada’s on the River
Alexandria / Modern American / $$$
The steaks at Ada’s on the River may well be the best in Northern Virginia. That’s thanks to executive chef Randall J. Matthews. [Update: Matthews is no longer chef at Ada’s on the River.] The meat, aged from 30 to 90 days depending on the cut, has a crisp, crusty bark thanks to the wood fire over which it’s cooked. The center melts in beefy, salty ecstasy. It’s simply about as good as a steak gets, and with prices starting at $26 for the 20-ounce tri-tip, it doesn’t have to break the bank.
But the à la carte flesh may not be the main attraction at Ada’s—the sides are just as compelling, if not more so. Broccolini is lightly cooked in embers, leaving it crunchy and smoky, but light and tangy courtesy of its sherry-vinegar aioli dressing. Cauliflower is charred but still al dente enough to stand up to a bath in lemon vinaigrette and a live burial in dates and pine nuts, which add nutty sweetness to its sharp paprika aioli.
Matthews’s creativity is seemingly boundless and can’t be constrained by typical courses. The cherry-topped foie gras doughnut, for example, is both sweet and savory enough to qualify as either an appetizer (which is how it’s listed) or as a rich dessert, depending on the diner’s whim. But don’t sleep on the more traditional finishers. Whether balloon-like beignets filled with caramel and apple or a jar of sinfully rich s’mores cake, it’s well worth saving room for something sweet after your steak.
See this: For better or worse, the interior gives us ’70s-airport vibes. Score a seat outside for a look at the water, or get an inside table with an even better view of the open kitchen.
Eat this: Foie gras doughnut; 14-ounce, 75-day-aged New York strip; Jam Jar S’mores Cake
Service: Knowledgeable but informal. Servers will tell you their favorites, but there’s no pressure to order the big-ticket items.
When to dine here: Riverside views are on the menu for a date night or celebration.