The moment has arrived. Factoring in food, service, and ambience, our food critics have named the 10 finest places to have a meal in Northern Virginia right now.
Lovettsville / Modern American / $$$$
You’ve never had a better biscuit than the one served on the Lovettsville hill that’s known as Patowmack Farm. The warm pastry crumbles and flakes in buttery bliss, aided by the addition of soft, salty maple butter and homemade strawberry preserves.
The nine-course Progression Menu is a longtime standout at this farm and restaurant, made even better for the past two years by chef Vincent Badiee. But it’s not the only way to enjoy the intensely seasonal edible riches. This fall, Badiee debuted Ology, a casual Sunday supper that replaced his restaurant’s popular brunch.
At both, diners will find forward-thinking ideas backed by serious chops, both in the kitchen and among the dining area’s hyper-informed staffers. Badiee brings his training in Italy (as well as in the kitchens of big American names like José Andrés, Daniel Humm, and Daniel Boulud) to dishes like guanciale-topped risotto made mostly from ingredients grown in-house.
Presentation is just as important as sheer delectability, meaning the captivating surroundings aren’t the only thing to excite the eye. But ultimately, what brings diners back here for a world-class experience is as small as the flake of a biscuit.
See this: Natural beauty, including the hills, trees, and mighty Potomac, are all part of your dinner experience.
Eat this: What’s fresh on the farm is what’s on your plate — it’s key to be open-minded here.
When to dine here: You’re in search of an experience that begins with a country drive and ends with treats from the kitchen for the next day.
No. 2: 2941
Falls Church / Modern American / $$$$
There’s a certain glee to watching fish swim by as you’re eating their brethren. Not that the koi in the pond in front of 2941 need to worry. From hamachi to yellowfin, chef Bertrand Chemel sources only the finest fish for his stunning tasting menus.
It’s just one way in which the discourse between natural and manmade create an enticing interplay at this restaurant that’s located in an office building tucked away in a wooded area of West Falls Church. Though the tree-lined road in is romantic, the best of nature is firmly what’s on the plates.
On one recent five-course bill of fare, Chemel offered up his own highly creative takes on some of the most traditional of dishes. Salmon coulibiac is a Russian cousin to beef Wellington. But Chemel turned the old-fashioned, sometimes-stodgy puff pastry dish on its ear by deconstructing it. The layers of dough were still in flaky force, but it rested on top of lightly crisped king salmon. Oregon morel mushrooms soaked up the spinach cream that coats the plate and German beluga caviar popped with every bite.
Chemel’s feat on this and every plate is taking the best ingredients from around the world and making them taste even better than nature intended.
See this: A manmade koi pond, complete with a waterfall, competes for attention with the soaring ceilings and modern art inside.
Eat this: Foie gras tart, salmon coulibiac, baked Alaska
When to dine here: Your gastronome of a date will accept nothing less than premium ingredients, prepared with a creative edge.
No. 3: Blend 111
Vienna / Latin American / $$$$
Surprises abound at this Modern Latin spot tucked away in Vienna’s Restaurant Row. Intriguing dishes explode with unexpected flavors. Their presentation is art on a plate.
Who could resist the day’s special when it’s a whole grilled flounder with mussels, accompanied by coconut rice and a hint of shrimp Creole? Compelling as it sounds, the sizzling casserole dish still exceeds expectations. Beneath its bronzed, crackling, crisped skin, the fish is cooked to moist and flaky perfection. It’s surrounded by meaty mussels nestled in their shells, in a creamy Creole-inspired sauce. The marine dish is brought to earth with coconut rice dolloped with banana vinegar–flavored aioli.
On the regular menu, succulent brisket is another craveable composition, enhanced by a pineapple chutney, smoky black beans, avocado, and tenderly caramelized plantains. Adorable, shell-like blue cornmeal arepas add an earthy note. And for dessert? A guava topping adds balance to a super-creamy tres leches.
But some of the best surprises come on Monday night, when the fish-focused Pescao menu, with a featured raw bar, offers tapas-like options for a date night or a get-together with friends.
See this: A soothing, modern gray-toned space with a wall of live greenery and handsome wood plank accents that don’t distract from the art on the plate.
Eat this: Whole grilled flounder, shredded brisket, tres leches
When to dine here: Bring your foodie friends for an adventure in eating.
No. 4: Divan
McLean / Persian / $$$
Opened in December 2021, Divan in McLean will exceed your expectations at every turn. Enter the chic digs to discover exposed brick, massive industrial lighting fixtures, and expansive high ceilings. Your warm welcome continues with unparalleled service from Divan’s knowledgeable staff, supremely attentive to your needs and helpful with menu suggestions.
A glorious basket of fresh Iranian barbari bread appears tableside with honey-infused butter and olive tapenade. Use restraint not to eat three baskets of bread, which would be easy to do. It will be worth the wait.
The chef’s specialties include mahi shekampoor, a delightful trout stuffed with a succulent blend of green herbs, dried fruits, and pistachio and then baked with an almost addictive butter-saffron lime sauce. The feast includes garlic spinach and saffron basmati rice. It may be the best fish you have ever eaten.
Meat eaters should dive into mahechay. This braised lamb shank is expertly simmered in its own juices with saffron, turmeric, tomato, garlic, and lemon. No need for knives; the beautifully tender lamb falls off the bone.
Divan is divine — it may be the new kid on the block, but with its excellent cuisine and contemporary ambiance, it will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
See this: Large glass storefront doors open accordion- style to offer a sunny outdoor-indoor vibe.
Eat this: Mahi shekampoor, barg, Persian ice cream
When to go: Even novices to Persian cuisine will embrace the cosmopolitan look, feel, and taste of Divan. Bring the whole family.
Middleburg / Modern American / $$$$
Dry ice is usually a cheap gimmick — literally just blowing smoke. But not this time. Not here.
Your server proffers a plate of scallops, served in a jauntily placed shell. Then, she begins to pour herbal tea over a hidden layer of dry ice. The result is a minty vapor that envelops you as you tuck into the seafood that’s flavored with chermoula, which is a refreshing Middle Eastern sauce, as well as coconut and cashews. The result is transformative, a dish that truly relies as much on aroma as flavor.
Resort fare usually earns its reputation as stodgy and safe. And yes, you can get a steak at Harrimans, located at the Salamander Resort, but you’re better off ordering from the ever-changing list of signature entrees. Those composed plates are full of surprises. Think homemade pappardelle with mustard-flecked short rib ragout that’s topped with huckleberries and hazelnuts. Or kampachi flavored with kumquats, salty local guanciale, and baby artichokes.
Desserts are equally inspired. And yes, there’s a good chance there will be a puff of smoke included with those, too. But don’t ever think that chef Bill Welch’s kitchen is one that relies on gimmickry.
See this: A newly remodeled dining room profits from soaring windows that reveal the resort’s well-manicured fields.
Eat this: Agnolotti, Maine diver scallops, Sweet As Salamander Honey
When to dine here: The comfort and upscale service of a resort are calling, but you prefer more forward-thinking fare on your plate.
No. 6: The Study
Alexandria / Mesoamerican / $$$
Most of us associate the word “Mesoamerican” with history. This isn’t wrong. Mesoamerica was an area where pre-Columbian cultures like the Olmecs, Aztecs, and Mayas thrived. But it doesn’t just exist in a textbook.
Costa Rican–bred chef Tomas Chavarria proves that his culture is alive and well at The Study. Ancient techniques inform the menu, and smoke is a central player. A hamachi crudo arrives cloaked in tendrils of the stuff. Though it transports diners to a long-ago fireside, the dish, which combines the fish with passion fruit mayonnaise, finger limes, and avocado, is unapologetically modern.
So is the Steak and Onions, an upscale plate that plays on a common Central American meal of low-quality steak sautéed with chopped onions. Here, it’s elevated with 60-day-aged strip loin served over a pool of creamy onion confit. Best of all, Chavarria creates a beefy jus using Lizano, Costa Rica’s favorite convenience sauce.
This is a nod to the culinary history still being made today. And Chavarria is continuing to forge his own path. Each year, he’ll fuse his native cuisine with that of a different culture. He’s cooked all over the world, from the Philippines to Dubai, guaranteeing plates that challenge the imagination.
See this: Blues and grays bestow a relaxed feel on the small dining room and separate, sweet-smelling bar.
Eat this: Cold-smoked hamachi, Steak and Onions, Churros in a Row
When to dine here: You’re looking for something unique for a romantic evening.
No. 7: Trummer’s
Clifton / Modern European / $$$
The strawberry gochujang has left the building. Last year, chef Daniel Perron brought his Korean heritage to this Clifton classic. With his departure and the arrival of new chef Zack Ridenhour, the menu has taken on a stronger flavor from co-owner Stefan Trummer’s native Austria, as well as the chef’s own Southern Virginian cuisine.
Evidence includes dishes like local rockfish with skin seared to a crisp jacket. It reposes on a bed of sauerkraut that’s almost as sweet as it is acidic. The same can be said for the moat of red currant sauce that surrounds the sour cabbage. A shaved slaw of fennel and red onion adds a refreshing élan to the combination. This is modern, exciting European fare, courtesy of the products of Virginia.
The theme extends to dessert. Krapfen are crispy, fluffy-centered Austrian doughnut holes. They’re served over puddles of no-bake white chocolate cheesecakes and blueberry jam that pops with fresh fruit. With every bite at the refreshed Trummer’s, contemporary Europe feels a little bit closer.
See this: Woven ceiling fans keep the air moving upstairs, but that fresh feeling is courtesy of white walls and lots of windows. For a cozier feel, situate yourself in the downstairs bar area.
Eat this: Salmon tartare, duck leg confit, krapfen
When to dine here: You’re in search of a neighborhood restaurant with tastes that evoke a trip to a city that requires a plane ride.
No. 8: Thompson Italian
Falls Church / Italian / $$$
Chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson bring top-flight talents polished at New York City’s starriest restaurants to a cheery roost in Falls Church. In their hands, deceptively simple-sounding modern Italian dishes like spaghetti alla chitarra — pasta with chile-spiked marinara — and Arctic char bedded on savory seasonal vegetables belie their unpretentious excellence. The chefs are wizards at developing flavors that get the most from carefully sourced ingredients.
Tender bites of octopus and crispy potatoes are tied together by a velvety, nutty, and tangy spring onion tahini sauce, with olives and pickled peppers giving the dish another layer of zest. This is an appetizer worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Likewise, salad bowls — like one filled with farro, seasonal vegetables, and Parmesan cheese, all pulled together by a roasted garlic vinaigrette — could make a meal.
Katherine Thompson’s desserts are a central reason to book here. Her Madeira-laced olive oil cake is widely considered the genre’s benchmark. A delectable crème fraîche mousse and honey-raisin compote enhance the cake’s melt-in-the-mouth crumb. Indeed, there are no misses. Warm fruit desserts, like seasonal cakes and cobblers, are comforting, spicy, and utterly winning.
See this: Presided over by a tomato-red neon sign that reads “Pasta Power,” the subway-tiled bar has a chill vibe, while the artful deep-blue and white dining room, with its family-sized booths and intimate two-top tables, feels a bit more laid-back.
Eat this: Octopus, Arctic char, olive oil cake
When to dine: Seriously delicious food is a priority. This destination is a utility player that encompasses any occasion.
No. 9: Maple Ave Restaurant
Vienna / Modern European / $$$$*
You won’t be wowed by the ambiance at Maple Ave Restaurant. The window-wrapped box of a dining room looks out on a not-so-charming view of next door’s car wash. The fact that it’s cracked the top 10 is a testament to the cuisine of chef Justė Židelytė and the thoughtful service of general manager Ricardo Teves.
All this combines for one of the most disarmingly romantic dining experiences in NoVA. That’s because the four-course tasting menu includes two choices for each round. Židelytė recommends that you try everything that way, nibbling half of your partner’s empanada in peppery sauce or their truffled, vegetable-dotted mushroom risotto.
But no pressure: You might each need your own portion of dishes as inspired as the smoked tomato fettuccine. Quite simply, it’s one of the best pasta dishes in the region. Slick, squiggly housemade noodles are coated in a sauce that betrays just enough smoke to add a note of mystery. Italian pork sausage and tiny bites of cauliflower are there for both texture and flavor, as is a crunchy shower of garlic-chile breadcrumbs.
They say never to order pasta on a date, but it’s worth making an exception here. The spare space will allow you and your other half to be transfixed by each other — and an unforgettable meal.
See this: It’s the colorful plates that will catch your eye, not the no-frills dining room.
Eat this: Grilled peach salad, smoked tomato fettuccine, bird’s milk
When to dine here: You and your date know there’s nothing more romantic than a shared dish.
No. 10: The Salt Line
Arlington / Seafood / $$$
Seafood classics take on new life in Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood. Diners flock to the lively second location of a DC favorite for extensive patio dining, fusing the Chesapeake bounty with New England favorites.
Order the crispy octopus to start. The inventive dish serves one impressive tentacle on a bed of blistered shishito peppers, fingerlings, pomegranate, crushed almonds, and oranges. Clam chowder fans will savor The Salt Line’s version, just the right consistency and brimming with traditional ingredients.
Seafood lovers dive into Portuguese stew, a rich cioppino-like dish packed with meaty mussels, clams, flavorful chorizo, potatoes, and market fish in a fennel-infused elixir. A massive slice of grilled sourdough soaks up extra broth.
Try the creatively presented swordfish on a bed of lemony Broccolini and carrot hummus, topped with a peanut-sesame crunch. Lobster rolls are available with traditional dressing or just butter and pack indulgent flavor into every bite.
For an unusual dessert, experience black tea panna cotta. The refreshing treat combines lemon curd, strawberry sorbet, grilled nectarines, and crushed Nilla wafers for a “somehow it works” creation.
Helpful servers offer fresh local oysters in a range of sizes, prices, and salinity. They’re all delightful options for an oyster lover’s paradise. This is the place to get a serious seafood fix and feel stylish doing it.
See this: A fabulous outdoor bar attracts passersby who are greeted inside by New England–influenced touches.
Eat this: Lobster roll, Portuguese stew, baked pimiento crab dip
When to go: Crowds flock after work for cocktails and healthy (and not-so-healthy) fare.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.