They’re located on the waterfront, in quaint downtowns, down windy country roads — and even in the mall. They offer cuisines that come from all over the world, and some fuse more than one style to create extraordinary meals that you will savor and remember for years to come.
Some feature upscale, fine-dining experiences while others offer a far more casual atmosphere but still have what we consider to be the most important element for making this list: outstanding food.
This year, you’ll find several newcomers on our 50 Best Restaurants list. Another change: We’ve updated our pricing key to better reflect the costs of an entrée in the region due to inflation. What remains the same from previous years? Our critics chose these spots from all over NoVA to help you discover restaurants where you and your companions can enjoy a special meal.
By Olga Boikess, Dawn Klavon, Alyssa Langer, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew
Price Key: Entrées = $ 15 and under | $$ 16–25 | $$$ 26–40 | $$$$ 41 and over | * = prix fixe only
No. 1: 2941
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$$
The 2941 odyssey — a delicious marriage of nature and art — begins on a winding, tree-lined road that leads to a modern building with a sculptured view of a koi pond and an artificial lake. Inside the soaring space, a talented contemporary American kitchen staff transforms top-flight ingredients into culinary art.
The five-course tasting menu shows off that kitchen in top form. A dramatic presentation makes the fish course a standout. Pearly white sea bass is presented in a black pottery bowl with a vivid red yuzu kosho sauce that provides a subtly spicy contrast. A surf-and-turf course of filet mignon and braised monkfish likewise offers a sophisticated, yet hearty, spin on tradition.
There is a vegetarian option for each course. So while one diner savors foie gras with roasted cherries, their partner finds ricotta gnocchi with crisped summer truffles, hazelnuts, and goat cheese a happy choice. Both find common ground in the baba au rhum.
À la carte options such as grilled rib-eye with crisped potatoes or wild black cod with clams and Australian prawns can be just as captivating. A three-course prix fixe menu ($65) with a fish, a meat, or vegetarian choice offers an accessible taste of this dining destination’s artful luxury.
See This: A dramatic space with wraparound windows showcases parkland while the inside provides a cosmopolitan vibe.
Eat This: Five-course tasting or three-course prix fixe menus — or à la carte choices like rib-eye, pastas, cod, and duck
Service: Well-drilled servers are professional and knowledgeable.
When to Dine Here: Your party is looking for a thoughtful meal in one-of-a-kind surroundings.
Lovettsville | Modern American | $$$$*
Most of the restaurants on this list will provide a filling repast that will live on only in photos and reminiscences at best. A dinner at Patowmack Farm is an unforgettable experience, and one that follows you home.
Under newly minted executive chef Colby Janowitz, an alum of Sonoma County’s famed farm and restaurant, SingleThread, the eight-course Progression Menu begins with a bloom-festooned basket packed with goodies. On a given day, it might include a collection of amuses-bouches such as charred, pickled mushrooms that taste like bulgogi; earthy housemade seed crackers; peaches wrapped in ham; and crumbly biscuits with soft, salted butter. The term “gift from the kitchen,” does it no justice, though it does feel a bit like unwrapping a birthday present.
From a corn custard served over tastebud-slapping pesto, to olive oil–poached striped bass with a vast collection of preparations of squash, to pâte à choux filled with chocolate mousse and surrounded by blueberries, each plate will remain fresh in your mind long after it’s been digested.
The kitchen sends guests home with a treat for the next day, not that they will need a smidgen of help remembering such an event.
See This: In the warm months, your dining room is all of the outdoors, with a view of the hills surrounding the Potomac. When it’s cold, settle into the greenhouse.
Eat This: The working farm supplies what’s on plates, so be ready for a surprise each visit.
Service: Be prepared for an event that fills the whole evening, spent with a staff of food lovers who aren’t just earning a paycheck.
When to Dine Here: That special someone is planning a memorable night.
Middleburg | Modern American | $$$$
An artful blending of nature and tradition defines the dining experience at this luxurious destination. Strolling through the surrounding park’s natural beauty is a delightful prelude to an impressive culinary event. The lofty main dining room offers a contrast between the clubby feel of polished wood and leather-lined booth seating and the wraparound windows that bring the surrounding greenery’s charm indoors.
The Salamander Resort’s must-visit garden comes to the table in appealing ways. A baby-corn and artichoke appetizer — spiked with leeks, pickled snap peas, and grated Parmesan — is a crisp sampler. Vegan mushroom ravioli is anything but Spartan. Flavor-packed mushrooms — some sliced, some whole, some chopped — shine through a decadent sauce. Its creamy mouthfeel would satisfy the most stubborn skeptic.
True to the upscale vibe, high-quality meat and seafood options range from steaks to lamb loin, braised short ribs, duck, and lobster. A focus on local and regional sourcing refreshes the traditional dishes. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras offers a rich counterpoint to a honeyed tangerine purée. Grilled octopus is bedded on black-eyed peas sparked with the contrast of chorizo.
One dessert blends house-grown lavender and berries with pistachio ice cream and a dense chocolate cake. Garden meets tradition in every bite at this restaurant.
See This: You know you’re in horse country with the stable-style entry into a country club–like dining room with landscaped views.
Eat This: Mushroom ravioli, foie gras, wagyu filet
Service: The staff manages to be both friendly and highly accomplished.
When to Dine Here: The big round booths are perfect for special occasions, but why not simply cap a country drive with an elegant meal?
No. 4: Field & Main
Marshall | Modern American | $$$$*
The field comes to the table in compelling ways at this charming destination.
Sitting in a dining room decorated with ephemera unearthed from nearby meadows, a five-course tasting menu celebrates the area’s bounty. A dish of roasted red beets on goat cheese mousse, dotted with pickled mustard seeds, is followed by an equally visually appealing plate of smoky morels and asparagus over a pea purée. Succulent grilled cauliflower follows.
Blistered tomatoes and squash accompany a main course of grilled fish. On one visit, chewy, full-flavored beef kabobs with a carrot purée are subbed in for the fish for one diner. On another visit, we can’t stop forking up the juicy roast chicken with savory sea island peas. Delicate frozen yogurt mousse in a refreshing rhubarb and strawberry consommé completes our edible foray into the countryside.
Composing a meal from the main menu requires hard choices. Locally sourced vegetables such as blistered wax beans, crispy potatoes, and hearth-roasted carrots are offered in innovative ways. Shrimp and grits, bison strip steak, and the popular OooMami smash burger showcase nature’s bounty brought to life on your table.
See This: Rustic indoor and outdoor settings take full advantage of a charmingly preserved centuries-old building and its lovely gardens.
Eat This: Morel mushrooms, grilled swordfish, chicken leg confit
Service: Staff could not be more accommodating or adept.
When to Dine Here: Destination dining that brings the field to the table deserves to be visited as often as you can.
No. 5: Ellie Bird
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$
Co-owner and managing director of Ellie Bird, Carey Tang, isn’t sure that the new Falls Church restaurant she owns with chef-husband Yuan Tang should be categorized as Modern American. Though the menu includes dishes such as an Amish chicken piccata, most plates mesh the disparate influences of Yuan’s diverse kitchen staff. Even the drinks use ingredients like gochujang and pandan. But we would argue that this is exactly what modern America is.
The housemade pastas, for example, might include a seasonal spaghetti dish that combines cheesy Italian cacio e pepe with Mexican elote. Peppery corn cream sauce isn’t yet a tradition, but it tastes like it could join that pantheon. The same goes for Vietnamese French onion soup, which adds the colonized country’s aromatics to its colonizer’s well-known comfort food. Another French classic gets an Asian remake in the form of kimchi-flavored bouillabaisse.
There’s no question that the food and drinks at Ellie Bird are a representation of what America is today and where it is headed. We’ll raise a glass of rye-spiked ube bubble tea to that.
See This: The bird is the word here, where avian-shaped LEDs share space with tables contained in birdcage-style bars.
Eat This: Vietnamese French onion soup, cacio elote, Rachel’s Chocolate Cake
Service: The friendly staff is always ready to fulfill your needs. It’s no surprise that the owners’ first restaurant, Rooster & Owl, earned a Michelin star.
When to Dine Here: Your family is ready for a taste of America’s future.
No. 6: Nostos
Vienna | Greek | $$$
The white tablecloths are a good indicator — this is not the place for a gyro. Nostos proves that there is so much more to Greek cuisine.
To start, you can’t go wrong with spanakopita; two large, perfectly crisped phyllo triangles are stuffed with spinach, feta, and scallions. The dips with pita are made to be shared, so opt for the combination of three, including tzatziki, tyrokafteri, and taramosalata, and spread the love.
You’d be remiss to not experience the arni youvetsi, a generous, fall-off-the-bone-tender portion of lamb shank that’s braised in a wine-tomato sauce and served with orzo. Meat lovers also will appreciate the moussaka, a rich, layered dish of baby eggplant, potatoes, ground beef, and béchamel.
Seafood’s key role in Greek fare isn’t overlooked here. The garides saganaki — sautéed shrimp served in a tomato-based sauce with feta, onions, and raisins — and lavraki (branzino) are both winners.
It will be a challenge to save room for dessert, but three different baklava variations beckon. These interpretations are the kind of upscale sweet you’d have to go to a fine restaurant to try, even in Greece.
See This: The subtle nods to Cycladic architecture, such as curved, white-washed walls, are an ideal backdrop to saganaki flamed tableside.
Eat This: Combination of dips, arni youvetsi, traditional baklava
Service: Knowledgeable, welcoming, and attentive
When to Dine Here: You want a traditional-yet-elevated meal that will show you the finer things in Greek life.
No. 7: NUE
Falls Church | Modern Vietnamese | $$$
There are restaurants that serve an exciting menu. There are spots that beckon with visual beauty. Then there is NUE, where the art-filled dining room sets the scene for the fireworks on plates.
The first true modern Vietnamese restaurant in NoVA comes from the team at Happy Endings Hospitality, best known for casual restaurants Chasin’ Tails and Roll Play. But don’t expect mere crawfish or banh mi here. Instead, co-owner Tuyet Nhi Le took her mother’s recipes and worked with executive chef Daniel Le to bring them into the 21st century.
To taste exactly what this means, diners need only order the short ribs. Based on Le’s mother’s bo kho, a spicy beef stew usually served with crusty bread, here it’s served over al dente pappardelle. Think of the best Italian beef ragú you’ve tasted, then amplify it with spice, acid, and the love of a Vietnamese mom. Even better, an eye toward luxury allows you to add freshly shaved truffles to the pasta — or anything else on the menu. Guests can’t lose.
See This: Impressionistic flowers decorate the walls of the airy main dining room, while blooms tumble from the ceilings, all a tribute to Vietnamese artist Le Pho.
Eat This: Pho pâté, short ribs pappardelle, coconut curry risotto
Service: The team earns the 20 percent service fee that’s included in the check.
When to Dine Here: The dining room is unabashedly romantic — bring your other half who’s as passionate about up-to-date flavors as you are.
No. 8: L’Auberge Chez François
Great Falls | French | $$$$*
When it comes to bucket-list dining in NoVA, this idyllic French country escape is a stalwart. Diners here savor masterful cuisine and enjoy exquisite service. Every detail is meticulously curated, from superb bread service to sommelier-paired wine to stunning presentation.
The five-course prix fixe menu includes chef Jacques Haeringer’s amuse-bouche, which might be an elegant sampling of creamy leek soup, sprinkled with fresh herbs. Maine rope mussels and a chive crêpe that encases wild mushrooms are two of many delectable appetizers, each portioned to satisfy without filling up.
Fresh salad options all originate from the vibrant onsite garden and choosing one main course proves to be a challenge since every entrée sounds exceptional. Whether a diner orders veal scallopini, grilled duck breast, rainbow trout, or rack of lamb, the 48-year-old landmark consistently offers timeless classics.
Chateaubriand arrives with a perfect pink hue, tender and tastefully enhanced with a tiny pot of Béarnaise. Lobster appears out-of-shell, accompanied by jumbo lump crabmeat, all bathed in a dynamic citrus wine sauce.
Soufflés impress here, and each dessert tastes as good as it looks. L’Auberge Chez François lives up to its reputation, making every visit worthy of your bucket list.
See This: A gazebo offers deluxe outdoor dining with a view of the garden.
Eat This: Homard du Maine, chateaubriand, tarte au chocolat
Service: The flawless service sets the gold standard.
When to Dine Here: Visit this captivating destination for celebrating life’s special moments.
No. 9: Trummer’s
Clifton | Modern American | $$$
Trummer’s is a tale of two culinary traditions. The modern American bistro food nods to co-owner Stefan Trummer’s Austrian roots and chef Zack Ridenhour’s southern Virginia heritage. Farm-fresh ingredients are at the center of the plate. Austrian-inspired dishes get low country Southern twists. Exhibit A is a schnitzel where pork subs in for veal and the potato salad has a creamy base.
Moist, flaky halibut offers a foil for Southern-inspired sides. Flavor-packed Sea Island red peas and braised collard greens are bathed in a deeply flavored gravy. Heirloom Carolina rice anchors the entrée. Another night finds okra and succotash in the fish’s supporting cast. Rotisserie-roasted, succulent duck breast, a bit gamy in a good way, is accompanied by duck-fat-roasted potatoes. The dish bridges culinary traditions.
An apple strudel, based on cranberry apple cake, is burnished with caramelized apples, a toffee sauce, Chantilly cream, and candied walnuts. Succulent roasted peaches with just a hint of bourbon are bedded on homey pound cake, along with soft ice cream and the crunchy contrast of oat crumbles. It’s a sweet ending that tastes of home, no matter where you came from.
See This: A welcoming and graceful space encourages diners to dress up or come casual; you’ll see a variety of choices at the same table.
Eat This: Pork schnitzel, halibut with Southern sides, rotisserie-roasted duck breast
Service: Relaxed, yet attentive and professional; servers do a first-rate job in an unintimidating way.
When to Dine Here: Celebrate anything or nothing at all with skillful treatments that draw from Austrian and regional American traditions.
No. 10: TRIO Grill
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$$
Diners peer across a white tablecloth, basking in the soft glow of golden lighting. They might be co-workers bonding over cocktails, folks treating themselves to a fancy (but not stuffy) dinner, or twosomes on a blind date. No matter the occasion, it’s easy to feel relaxed and pampered at this sophisticated restaurant.
TRIO Grill is a classic steak and seafood restaurant that sources from regional farms and purveyors. The extensive selection of wines and spirits is stocked in floor-to-ceiling glass cases.
Among the appetizers, housemade gnocchi is a standout. The pillowy potato puffs are sautéed in brown butter and piled atop a mélange of spinach, asparagus, and punchy sundried tomatoes. Also stellar: Oysters Rockefeller, featuring locally sourced bivalves topped with foamy hollandaise.
Omnivores will not be disappointed, especially with the bison New York strip from New Frontier Farms in Madison County, Virginia, with its bed of potato hash and drizzle of habanero mustard.
Whether diners choose a seat by the outdoor fireplace, banquette, or long maple bar, they’re in for a night of fine food and camaraderie.
See This: Architectural elements in shades of orange and brown, with bold fixtures casting pools of light onto white tablecloths
Eat This: Housemade gnocchi, Oysters Rockefeller, New Frontier bison
Service: Servers are well-informed, gracious, and responsive.
When to Dine Here: This neighborhood restaurant cultivates conversation and celebration.
Alexandria | Modern American | $$$
Did you hear that? It’s a 75-day dry-aged New York strip calling. Or maybe it’s the 60-day bone-in rib-eye. Either way, the bite will be juicy, with just a hint of beefy funk.
Sides might include coal-roasted asparagus drenched in white-chocolate Béarnaise, roasted sweet potatoes flavored with goat cheese and Urfa chile, or multilayered hash brown pavé with smoked paprika aioli.
All this is to say that Ada’s is a steakhouse with imagination. But it’s possible that not everyone in every group wants steak. And for those occasions, the restaurant does many other things very, very well.
Smoked swordfish melts with each bite in a pool of smoky mustard cream sauce, accompanied by crispy pomegranate-flavored Brussels sprouts. Coal-roasted grapes and jalapeños add élan to a hefty bone-in pork chop. Vegetarians will be thrilled, too, with smoke-infused pasta dishes.
There are times for steak, but they are fewer and further between than the need for a flavor-forward repast that goes beyond the basics. As long as innovative preparations of crowd-pleasing meals appeal to your party, Ada’s on the River is the answer.
See This: Potomac River views compete with the high flames of the grill in the open kitchen
Eat This: Wood-fired chicken thighs, smoked swordfish, Almond Joy cake
Service: On one visit we were forgotten, but usually the professional staff will bend over backward to please.
When to Dine Here: It’s steak night, but not everyone in your party wants beef.
Tysons | Mediterranean | $$
There is so much more to Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine than pita and hummus, as Agora demonstrates.
The menu is ideal for sharing, so come with friends and order several different dishes. Between the spreads and unlimited pita, tableside flambéed saganaki, hot and cold mezzes, and pide flatbread, one can easily fill up before even reaching the second page of the menu.
The menu appeals to omnivores. The köfte — tender, juicy patties of ground lamb and New York strip steak — are highlights, but vegetables take center stage in the form of dolmades and falafel.
For a decadent ending, order the künefe, crispy shredded phyllo surrounding a sweet cheese center, saturated in simple syrup and served warm with fragrant Turkish rose ice cream and crushed pistachios.
Yes, you can order the hummus, but at Agora, guests get to experience an array of dishes that goes beyond the familiar.
See This: The open kitchen gives diners the opportunity to see the action as they’re escorted to their table.
Eat This: Htipiti spread, pide flatbread, künefe
Service: The kitchen is speedy getting dishes out to diners; waitstaff gets the job done but doesn’t offer much in the way of menu guidance
When to Dine Here: Your group of adventurous eaters is eager to share a large variety of smaller plates.
Arlington | Balkan | $$$$*
Can’t pinpoint the Balkans on a map? No worries. Just come hungry. This convivial Arlington bistro’s abundant, hearty fare spans the many cultures of southeastern Europe for a set price. The common denominator of the extensive, all-you-can-eat menu is tantalizing food.
Dig into a starter of dips and Balkan salad that are an approachable first taste of Serbian and Bosnian cuisine. Don’t miss the airy, crispy, layered cheese pie, another regional specialty.
Loosen belts for the likes of slow-cooked, fall-apart chunks of lamb and roasted potatoes that are infused with the meat’s gamy essence. Housemade cevapi beef sausage is another staple here. It tastes of the grill and is complemented by a roasted pepper and feta cheese emulsion.
Fish and seafood choices nod to the area’s rivers and seacoasts. Crispy-skinned trout is enhanced by saffron-infused lentils that add an earthy counterpoint to the velvety fish. Pasta is another regional staple. Mushroom-sauced and truffle-accented Istrian gnocchi and a goulash with savory noodles in a light meaty essence are worthy examples.
The dessert plate, for an additional price, is highlighted by rich baklava and a dense chocolate cake with a light cocoa mousse. It’s a vivid geography lesson guests won’t soon forget.
See this: A pink-and-white floral canopy floating over the white-walled dining room lends a springtime festivity to any meal.
Eat this: Cheese pie, slow-roasted lamb, rainbow trout
Service: Staff provide spot-on service so that the parade of plates is well-timed and never overwhelming.
When to dine here: You and your companions are hungry for an all-you-can-eat culinary tour of the Balkan region.
McLean | Afghan | $$
For both connoisseurs and newcomers to Afghan cuisine, there’s something for everyone at this well-appointed restaurant. The feast of flavors begins with warm flatbread accompanied by three tempting sauces: mango chutney, cilantro yogurt, and chatni, with mouth-puckering heat and garlic-cilantro freshness.
To sample a variety of Afghan cuisine, and get the best bang for your buck, order the Taste of Aracosia at $50 per person, opening the floodgates for a mountain of traditional food. First on deck is a dumpling assortment, offering spicy beef, pumpkin, and leek-scallion versions. Drizzled with tangy yogurt and herbs, the appetizers awaken diners’ palates for the extravaganza that follows.
Delight in perfectly grilled beef tenderloin and lamb chops, succulent Lamb Shank Moghuli, Rumi’s Veal, and chicken sabzi lawaan. Each flavor-packed meat is a testament to the culinary traditions of the region. Aracosia doesn’t skimp on sides — enjoy tasty stewed chickpeas, herb-forward sabzi greens, kadoo butternut squash, or eggplant, as well as two versions of basmati rice.
Aracosia enchants while it preserves the culinary heritage of Afghanistan, evident in every marvelous dish.
See This: Gorgeous multicolored glass lighting fixtures enhance the elegant dining room.
Eat This: Taste of Aracosia sampler platter
Service: Helpful and efficient
When to Dine Here: Your adventurous group is hungry to try many dishes.
Woodbridge | French | $$$
What a delicate balance it is to enjoy upscale dining in a comfortable, relaxed setting. Such is the case for diners at this charming bistro. From the moment guests sit, attentive servers dote, presenting freshly baked bread and a tureen of soft whipped butter.
Take a look around this former Chinese restaurant, renovated by owner Youssef Eagle Essakl and opened in 2007. Embrace the cultivated French provincial feel, with freshly cut flowers on every table and an eclectic mix of knickknacks.
Sample a myriad of irresistible appetizers, like Gratine des Hâlles onion soup (excellent, delivered beneath a slice of Gruyère-encrusted bread) or friture d’huîtres, a scrape-the-plate-clean serving of crispy oysters enhanced with avocado mousse and saffron aioli. Seafood fans swear by crevettes à l’ail — large, sautéed garlic shrimp partnered with Israeli couscous and baby spinach, surrounded by a decadent moat of herb-infused sauce.
Bistro L’Hermitage’s chefs create memorable dishes like salade Cesar classique, poulet rôti, and mousse au chocolat, seamlessly delivered to eager diners. Refreshingly light pommes au gratin, enhanced with vanilla ice cream, provides a sweet ending to an impressive meal. Guests head home satisfied and thoroughly spoiled by this quaint bistro’s meticulous attention to every detail.
See This: Charming knickknacks cover every wall.
Eat This: Friture d’huîtres, Coquilles St. Jacques, poulet rôti
Service: Outstanding and attentive
When to Dine Here: Bring your family for monumental moments to feel comfortable, pampered, and indulged.
Arlington | French | $$$
It’s “la vraie affaire” (the real deal), says my dining companion, spooning up an elegantly presented escargot at this French gem. Born and raised in France, she is equally enthusiastic about the roast chicken and the salmon.
We are seated on bentwood chairs in a long narrow room. There’s a cushy banquette running along one wall opposite a long, convivial bar. Antique mirrors hung above the banquette evoke the bistro’s Gallic bent.
The minced snails in a spinach-and-mushroom purée, topped with bite-size puff pastry rounds, are a delightful take on the French classic. Potato-crusted salmon is an equally successful update of a tradition. It’s lapped with a creamy-yet-light lemon beurre blanc and served on puréed spinach enriched with mushrooms and shallots.
The roast chicken is anything but a sop to unadventurous tastes. Half a succulent bird boasts crispy skin and melt-in-mouth, moist meat bathed in a luscious pan jus. The accompanying potato gratin, with its thinly sliced, tender spuds, is yet another testament to the glories of French cuisine.
A voluptuous chocolate hazelnut pot de crème is the perfect finish. Surprisingly light, yet full-flavored, the dessert dates to the 17th century. It is easy to understand its enduring appeal — just ask a native.
See This: Tasteful contemporary storefront with food and service that transports you to Paris
Eat This: Escargot, roast chicken, pot de crème
Service: Helpful and friendly without being intrusive; servers defy the stereotype of snooty help
When to Dine Here: Your party is ready to satisfy cravings for delicious, authentic French fare served with obliging charm.
Manassas | Mediterranean | $$$$
Doting service and memorable cuisine in a tranquil setting define this old-school gem. Located in Old Town Manassas, this family-owned restaurant has served Italian and Portuguese dishes for 37 years.
Most notable is the Fred Flintstone–sized costelao de vaca, 32 ounces of bone-in prime rib on a rich bed of roasted garlic mashed potatoes. After you and your guests get over the sheer size of the dish, enjoy the seasonings and tender meat. Topped with mushrooms, peppers, and a Barolo demi-glace, the indulgent dish exceeds expectations.
Another standout is the veal medallions, served with risotto, sugar snap peas, fontina cheese, and asparagus. We’re always on the lookout for an impressive veal dish, and Carmello’s offering is just that. Cooked to perfection, the blend of butter-bathed green vegetables with decadent risotto is an ideal backdrop for the generous portion of veal.
Worth-the-calories dessert options include a Black Forest cake and crème brûlée, both reliable ways to cap the evening.
Carmello’s is a quiet restaurant, with Rat Pack tunes gently playing for ambience. Diners don’t come here for trendy dishes or a cosmopolitan vibe, but the elegance it exudes is palpable.
See This: The impressive glass-encased wine refrigerator holds many delights.
Eat This: Vitello Rafaelo, costelao de vaca, paelha Valenciana
Service: Exceptional, with extra touches like complimentary sparkling Portuguese wine upon arrival
When to Dine Here: On a date night or when you want to impress a group
Ashburn | Modern Indian | $$
There’s been much (probably too much) written about the fact that millennials and Gen Zers are in love with big, bold flavors. These are also the generations in their prime to be dining out. It’s no coincidence that a restaurant like Celebration by Rupa Vira would be a hit.
Equipped with a creative chef who uses spices as her artistic medium, this is one restaurant that makes every meal an experience. Dry ice, colored lights, and gold leaf are all part of a dinner here.
To take full advantage of Vira’s showmanship, begin with the seasonal starter, currently known as Golden Shots. (Last summer it was Glow Gappa.) A play on gol gappa, also known as pani puri, the interactive dish featured crispy shells ready to be filled with a fruity spiced liquid. But first, the server pours water over the dry ice, allowing diners to take time to immortalize the ritual with their phones.
But it’s not all cheap tricks here. Even if the curries are presented with edible flowers, it’s the balance of spices that stands out, whether it’s a stew of crispy vegetables or tender bone-in chicken. And you don’t have to be a member of a younger generation to appreciate that.
See This: At dinner, large parties swarm the colorful dining rooms, filled with art that matches the plates of food with their brightness.
Eat This: Golden Shots, sabzi mandi, chicken purana
Service: Mixed; cordial servers have a way of disappearing later in a meal.
When to Dine Here: Your friend group is seeking new hues and flavors for dinner.
Fredericksburg | Steakhouse | $$$$
The meat is what attracts guests to make one of the most coveted reservations in Fredericksburg. Steaks are certified Angus and Virginia-born when possible. They’re massaged with a proprietary spice rub, then seared in an 1,800-degree broiler that produces a crusty exterior with a melting center. But that’s just part of the story.
Chef Mark Manjarrez’s creativity doesn’t begin and end with perfecting protein. It would be easy to create a meal at Fahrenheit 132 (named for the temperature of an ideal medium-rare steak) from nothing but side dishes.
Miles beyond basic creamed spinach is the creamed Tuscan kale. The usually austere leafy greens are cooked with thick-cut cubes of bacon in an asiago-topped cream sauce that will haunt your meaty dreams. Truffle mac-and-cheese is toothsome, cheesy, and sophisticatedly earthy. The local market vegetable changes with the seasons, but might include Manjarrez’s take on Mexican street corn, or fresh squash that tastes of far more than the garden.
Yes, you will leave singing the praises of flavorful meat, but it will be its accompaniments that bring you back for more.
See This: Exposed brick, lit by candles, reminds diners that they’re in Fredericksburg’s historic Old Town.
Eat This: Tuscan kale, dry-aged New York strip, bread pudding
Service: At the top of their game, with staggering knowledge of even the timeliest seasonal specials
When to Dine Here: You and your significant other want steak but hope to be impressed by far more than grilled beef.
Ashburn | American | $$$
This restaurant from José Andrés–trained chef Jorge Chicas entices diners with well-crafted classics. The dishes here light up guests’ taste buds with the best of them, thanks to quality ingredients and a bit of culinary alchemy.
Chicas’ cuisine focuses on transforming local meats and seafood into comfort food that delights a local audience. Rib-eye steak hails from Seven Hills Food Co. in Lynchburg. It’s dry-aged, seasoned to near-perfection, and served in a red-wine jus with a topping of garlicky chimichurri. Smashed fingerling potatoes on the side are by turns crisp and creamy. Asparagus is marked by the grill but left to speak for itself.
The neighborhood diners who come here do so to escape their day-to-day responsibilities, so it’s only natural that they must order dessert. The chocolate pot de crème is the best bet. Intensely flavored with dark chocolate and enhanced with coffee cream and a shower of nutty pistachios, it tastes new somehow, though its path is well established. And that is the subtle genius of Farm & Fork Kitchen.
See This: Posters of produce conjure the theme, but the open kitchen brings it to life.
Eat This: Watermelon and feta salad, dry-aged rib-eye steak, chocolate pot de crème
Service: Helpful when present, but apt to slip away
When to Dine Here: Mom and Dad are able to get some time away from the house and let someone else cook for once.
Centreville | Korean | $$$$
It’s a carnivore’s carnival at this upscale bistro that elevates the Korean barbecue tradition with top-grade meats. Both dry- and wet-aged flesh is complemented by thoughtful presentation.
The show is staged at well-padded booths in the charcoal-toned dining room. A waiter covers half the table with a cavalcade of well-curated banchan, including a fiery scallion salad. On the other side of the centerpiece tabletop grill, he lines up prime meats, and the show begins. As the cuts sizzle on the grill, a parade of appetizers and side dishes appears. Among them is a notable kimchi pancake — untraditionally topped with cheese. The meal focuses on a merry-go-round of succulent meats, notably bulgogi, tender skirt steak, and flavorful pork with contrasting soupy stews.
The restaurant is a three-ring circus with a marquee roster of starters. At a midday visit, the kitchen performs something like a high-wire act balancing tradition with modern flavors and trends. A parade of preparations, many starring kimchi, set the stage. The main act is a meal pairing grilled, marinated brisket with soybean and kimchi stews. Pickled vegetables are cast as supporting sides. All the world’s a stage, but especially tables at Honest Grill.
See This: The cosmopolitan setting of cushy booths with embedded tabletop grills is well-suited to convivial get-togethers with friends or family.
Eat This: Brisket, kimchi pancakes, kimchi and soybean stews
Service: Servers here know what they are doing and do it well. It may take a few minutes for them to respond to special requests when the place fills up, but it all gets done.
When to Dine Here: You and meat-loving companions are looking for a little theater.
Annandale | Modern Korean | $$$$*
Are you glued to social media? TikTok videos of this Korean restaurant’s edible works of art draw food lovers to its unassuming storefront in Annandale. Executive chef-owner Justin Ahn offers a fixed-price, book-online, five-course dinner that lends Thai and Japanese touches to Korean-inspired dishes. The menu changes several times a year.
The shareable dishes brought to the table on one visit include a colorful noodle dish with fresh clams perched on greens and a nest of udon. Brick-red, pickled Fresno peppers lend a spicy accent to a lush green curry. Another subtle and distinctive course features pleasantly chewy slices of melt-in-mouth beef bavette flanked by crispy cucumber and a Korean sweet potato cream.
It’s followed by a clever Asian play on fish and chips. Crispy, panko-breaded cod is paired with bok choy and green radish in a sweet-and-spicy glaze. Ahn’s penultimate salvo is a knockout, solidly Korean pork dish. Perfectly cooked, moist, flavor-packed pork belly slices are layered atop pickled cabbage and accented with a walnut bean paste and scallion salad. The dish leaves diners humming with contentment.
Although traditional Korean meals usually do not end with a dessert, Ahn indulges his guests. The perfect finish to an adventuresome meal? Fresh berries and crunchy macadamia nuts atop rich, not-too-sweet mascarpone, punctuated with mint.
Ahn also accommodates walk-ins with a casual wine bar menu that is hot on Instagram. Those diners can snap pics of shrimp toast, beet tartar, and kimchi beef ragú with cocktails, wine, and beer sure to light up their social media feeds.
See this: Colorful plates set off against gray-green walls and minimalist décor
Eat this: The five courses of riffs on classic Korean dishes change, so be prepared for a surprise.
Service: The welcoming and helpful staff take evident pride in the kitchen’s work.
When to dine here: Come with a group of food-loving friends for a repast worthy of enshrining online.
Editor’s note: After we went to press, Incheon started serving an à la carte menu.
Vienna | Korean | $$$$
Interactive restaurants — hibachi, hot pot, and Korean steakhouses — incorporate diners into the preparation of their own food at their table. But there can be drawbacks to these restaurants (think smoke, lack of clear cooking instructions, and noisy grills) that can cloud anyone’s enjoyment. Ingle Korean Steakhouse manages to avoid every potential pitfall.
Upon entering Ingle, diners would never guess there are grills at each table; they are small and discreet, and the chic, modern décor grabs your attention instead. Servers carefully tend to their tables’ grills, ensuring each cut of meat is cooked properly and then cut into smaller pieces to be shared by chopstick-wielding guests. Diners can sit back, relax, and enjoy their hands-off meal without worrying about under- or overcooking their meat. After all, nobody wants to ruin a $60+ piece of wagyu.
Speaking of the luxe beef, steak is the star of the show at Ingle. If you want to splurge, the wagyu strip loin is a great choice. For a more budget-friendly cut, try the outside skirt (tender and flavorful, despite minimal marbling) or marinated galbi (more marbling and very tender).
The supporting cast — the starters and sides — are just as important to round out the meal. Don’t miss the japchae: The thin glass noodles are tossed with an umami sauce and an abundance of mushrooms and vegetables. The scallion pancake is a greasy treat featuring crispy scallions and shrimp. Ingle even manages to transform basic fried rice into an elevated experience. This version is topped with a generous scoop of roe and filled with an indulgent amount of lump crab.
If interactive restaurants aren’t usually your cup of tea, give Ingle Korean Steakhouse a chance; the high-quality meats, satisfying starters and sides, and attentive service may change your mind.
See This: Your own steak grills to perfection (and your preferred temperature) in front of your eyes, at your table.
Eat This: Japchae, wagyu strip loin, crab fried rice
Service: Friendly, polite, attentive to grills, and willing to guide customers with recommendations
When to Dine Here: You want an upscale, fuss-free, interactive dining experience and are willing to splurge on high-quality meat.
McLean | Singaporean | $$$
There is “mall food,” and then there’s Jiwa Singapura, which happens to be located in Tysons Galleria. The restaurant highlights the flavors of Singapore with modern flair.
To start, order the popiah, chilled spring rolls that are perfect for sharing. The curry puffs and sweet-and-sour pork are also noteworthy.
Although noodle dishes only comprise a small fraction of the menu, they are a highlight. The mushroom noodle dish is a savory powerhouse with wok-fried egg noodles that are made in-house. Char kway teow is another winner — this slightly spicy bowl of wok-fried flat rice noodles is tossed with squid, shrimp, and Chinese sausage.
Don’t dismiss dessert. The ice cream loti offers a Singaporean spin on an ice cream sandwich, with vibrant green pandan ice cream served between slices of toasted pandan brioche. Chocoholics must order the Milo chocolate sundae.
Jiwa Singapura’s modern, stylish dining room and patio — combined with top-notch service — effortlessly transports diners from the stresses of mall errands to a luxurious Singaporean oasis.
See This: The restaurant showcases a sizable, impressively quiet open kitchen.
Eat This: Popiah, mushroom noodles, ice cream loti
Service: Waitstaff is willing to offer guidance and recommendations, and courses are paced well.
When to Dine Here: You have errands to run at the mall but the food court is hardly your scene.
Fairfax | Lebanese | $$
All too often, restaurants forget that dining out should be fun. Not here. Diners new to Lebanese cuisine can relax and enjoy an odyssey of outstanding kebabs, hummus, and pita.
Shareable dips and apps start things off right, with fried Brussels sprouts sizzling in an impressive pomegranate glaze. In a crowded field of the brassica, these are some of the best around. Our favorite dip — the muhammara — surpasses all others with its mesmerizing blend of walnuts, peppers, and pomegranate.
This is the place to bring a group and sample a little of this, a little of that among the alluring offerings. The $75 Kebab Shindig brings the best to one platter. Sample chicken shish taouk, lamb shish kebab, Aleppo-spiced steak, dukka shrimp, oyster mushrooms, and beef-lamb blended kofta, proudly displayed on a mountain of golden turmeric rice. Signature “sauce buddies” accompany the meal and helpful staff recommend how to coordinate with meats, but there’s no wrong answer.
The fun of Kirby Club is creating your own favorites, trying some dips, some meat, some rice — it’s your choice. You’re all but guaranteed to have fun and walk away inspired after one of your most memorable meals on record.
See This: A wall of family photos makes you feel right at home.
Eat This: Muhammara, fried Brussels sprouts, lamb shish kebab
Service: Plentiful staff really go the extra mile.
When to Dine Here: You’re part of a group ready for a feast.
Alexandria | Modern Indian | $$$
“If I am making lamb, I have to grind all the spices right before making it,” chef Ajay Kumar told us last year. “If you compare with other restaurants, you can see the difference.”
There are plenty of innovations on the menu — think paneer stuffed with seasoned ricotta, served in a spicy tomato sauce — but the best way to taste what Kumar is talking about is to partake of his classics. Chicken tikka masala burns with a pleasant heat and soothes with sweet acidity, all in the same meaty bite. Get it with pillowy garlic naan.
Most diners start their meal here with tandoori cauliflower. The white veggie is dyed red with spices. The soft center is jacketed with blistered edges created by the heat of the clay oven.
Expect a palate cleanser in the form of a frozen lozenge of cranberry and rosewater. It’s a preview of the subtle desserts, like raspberry-and-coconut rice pudding and cardamom-scented warm carrot halwa. Yes, even the sweets benefit from the addition of freshly ground spices. And Kumar’s expertise with the Indian-grown ingredients is evident in every bite.
See This: The stark white dining room is modern, indeed. Sit at the bar to see colorful dishes flow out of the busy kitchen.
Eat This: Tandoori cauliflower, chicken tikka masala, garlic naan
Service: Simply solid
When to Dine Here: You and your friends value well-applied spice and want to share a collection of plates.
Sterling | Modern American | $$
Fluffy, porous, crusty, and just a bit chewy, an excellent slice of bread can be an elusive thing. But not at this new Cascades restaurant. Order the bread plate with cultured butter, olive oil, and sea salt, or better yet, get it with the loaded labneh dip. The tangy strained yogurt is the foundation for cucumber slices that buttress fried shallots.
Married couple Ally and Michael Stebner, Sterling locals, serve a menu of seasonal, freshly prepared basics that your parents would likely make if they were professional chefs. The word “wholesome” applies, but don’t let that deter you. Instead, enjoy the grill-charred salmon. It’s served over a healthy quinoa tabbouleh and is flavored with oregano-dotted lemon vinaigrette.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll be eating rabbit food. Pastas are a centerpiece here. The housemade noodles range from pappardelle piled with blue crab to fusilli in a lightly spicy vodka sauce.
But don’t miss the Lo-Pro lamb burger. It’s available at both lunch and dinner for a reason. The juicy meat is piled with pickled peppers, arugula, and roasted tomatoes on a pillowy sesame focaccia that’s spread with more labneh. It’s yet another reminder that when in doubt at Local Provisions, get the bread.
See This: Wallpaper portraying tins of sardines will catch your eye almost as much as the open kitchen.
Eat This: Chargrilled scallops, loaded labneh dip, Lo-Pro lamb burger
Service: Green but eager
When to Dine Here: The family requires its daily bread — and pasta.
Fairfax | Chinese | $$$
It’s a family affair at Mama Chang. Both large and small groups gather around tables happily sharing dishes that can feed up to four people for under $120. No wonder guests return time and again.
To foodies in the DMV, chef Peter Chang is a beloved institution. But at Mama Chang, diners are treated to the dishes the chef enjoys at home. Peter’s wife, Lisa, is the “Mama” in Mama Chang. The Changs are from the Hubei province of China, and recipes reflect a taste of their homeland. Daughter Lydia Chang runs the show.
You can find the patriarch’s tantalizing hot and numbing dishes here, but most of the menu is composed of subtle flavors. Dishes such as pork and shrimp dumplings in paper-thin wrappers are free of heavy sauces. Heads of baby bok choy in garlic sauce are delicate and fresh, and the vegetable’s essence is the star.
There are bold flavors, too. Lychee chicken is a revelation with its crispy, sweet, caramelized coating. A seductive rendition of tender baby eggplant tangoes with undertones of plum and green chiles. Travelers to China attest to authenticity with dishes such as tofu skin salad. Platters come out fast, and no one leaves hungry.
While China is not famous for desserts, Mama Chang has a few up her sleeve, and her specials are inspired by the season. At this spacious restaurant, every night feels like family dinner with the Chang clan.
See This: The dining room hosts touches like white leather banquettes and oak tables with wall tiles from Hubei province.
Eat This: Lychee pepper chicken, green beans with pickled cabbage, eggplant in garlic sauce
Service: Fast, friendly, and attentive, but casual
When to Dine Here: Bring a group for dinner and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Falls Church | Vietnamese | $
Attention diehard pho lovers: This casual location in a busy strip mall draws hungry folks for a quick — and we mean really quick — bowl of fresh, flavorful pho for a low cost.
Pop in for traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup, and choose from myriad add-ons at this warhorse establishment. It’s nothing fancy; but once your pho arrives, the giant bowl of colorful nourishment brightens up the room.
Grab chopsticks and a soup spoon from the communal collection between tables and dig in. Sprigs of fresh basil, bean sprouts, sliced hot peppers, and lime wedges accompany your bowl, so the power to customize your meal is in your hands. Hoisin and Sriracha are standing by to kick taste buds into gear as plentiful rice noodles, cilantro, and scallions swim playfully in herb-infused broth. Choose meat toppings à la carte, or order one of the numbered chef recommendations that combines cuts. The well-done brisket delivers just-right-sized thin slices of tasty beef easily eaten in one bite.
Bring cash and pay at the counter at this no-frills spot. Your stomach — and your wallet — will appreciate a return trip anytime a pho craving hits.
See This: Massive bowls of soup with fresh basil, bean sprouts, and lime
Eat This: Pho with well-done brisket or flank steak
Service: Pho-nomenally fast
When to Dine Here: You know that you want pho and you want it now.
Falls Church | Vietnamese | $$
If you’ve overdone it with pho, head to Rice Paper, where diners are treated to a wide array of less common Vietnamese dishes featuring garden-fresh ingredients, served in group-sized portions. It’s no surprise that customers gladly wait in line to dine at this eatery in Eden Center.
Dried rice paper is a staple of Vietnamese fare. Soften it up with water, then wrap the rice paper around slices of pork, pickled veggies, herbs, and condiments to create a harmonic medley of flavors.
While the restaurant is hailed for enticing meat dishes, the kitchen also produces tangy salads that refresh the palate between bites of skewered beef or chicken. Perhaps the best are the lotus and papaya salads, both showered with nuts, herbs, light fish sauce, and citrus.
Don’t shy away from trying something new, like bo nuong la nho, ground beef wrapped in grape leaves. For a twist on an Asian classic, com chien uong chau, or combination fried rice, will comfort anyone new to the cuisine.
There’s no shame in choosing savory bowls of pho at this family-friendly restaurant, but Rice Paper delivers best on muscular hunks of meat and textured, herbaceous dishes.
See This: A streamlined bistro with an exposed brick wall and turquoise banquettes. Circular orbs dangle from the copper tiled ceiling and pattered metallic wallpaper complements the textured blue bar.
Eat This: Nem nuong, bo nuong la nho, pho
Service: Hectic, friendly, and fast. Ideally, avoid peak dining hours.
When to Dine Here: You’re seeking an authentic cultural dining experience.
Ashburn | Nepalese | $$
In one corner, a large Buddha sits in meditation. Across the bar, Ganesh stretches his many arms. On the stereo, a radio station straight from Nepal plays the latest hits of the homeland. And in the dining room, guests relax into a different mindset.
There’s a calm to dining at Roadhouse Momo & Grill that’s as soul-feeding as what’s on the plates. And that’s saying something.
Diners are greeted with a lengthy menu of Nepalese dishes that aren’t available at other restaurants that serve the same cuisine. The emphasis here is on street food that shows off the tastes for spice and fresh ingredients that typify Himalayan cuisine.
Just be prepared to work up a chile-induced sweat. Chow mein is far from the stodgy noodles served in Cantonese restaurants. The pasta, woven with vegetables, sears the tongue with a complex, spicy sauce. Momos (dumplings filled with vegetables, pork, chicken, or buffalo) are more subtle but no less appealing, especially when covered in a sweet-and-hot chilli sauce.
This baptism by fire has a natural result: After a meal here, diners feel restored — and leave with a new set of cravings.
See This: Everything here is personalized to the elegant restaurant, from the embroidered leather chairs to the cutlery.
Eat This: Momos, chow mein, chilli chicken
Service: A 20 percent service fee tacked onto the bill ensures that the staff is poised to fulfill your every need.
When to Dine Here: Your group is seeking a calm refuge from the hustle with plates of spicy food.
Vienna | Italian | $$$$
Comforting Italian cuisine goes upscale at this chef-owned haven. Step inside and embrace the warm ambience, where stunning Chihuly glass light fixtures add intrigue to the homey dining areas.
Begin your meal with tempting antipasti like aragosta e granchio — exquisite crab-and-lobster salad enhanced with buttery avocado and a Parmesan dressing. Or try the fiori di zucca — fried zucchini blossoms with ricotta, mint, and a hint of nutty cheese. Neither should be missed.
Entrées include ever-changing pasta dishes that showcase seasonal produce and the artistry of acclaimed chef Roberto Donna. Indulge in a bowl of velvety fettuccine alla Parmigiana, created tableside from a monstrous wheel of cheese. Or savor the richness of a perfectly balanced fettuccine con bolognese bianca, draped in a white bolognese sauce showcasing a 50-50 blend of veal and pork. Branzino al forno is accompanied by a dollop of fresh pesto, creating a harmonious blend of textures and flavors in every bite.
Donna’s tantalizing housemade desserts include a not-to-be-missed chocolate mousse tiramisu that delivers a creative take on the rich classic. For a gustatory adventure that goes far beyond spaghetti and meatballs, this new Vienna classic is a must.
See This: Multicolored Chihuly glass lighting fixtures set a tone of quiet opulence.
Eat This: Bread basket with pane sfogliato, aragosta e granchio, fettuccine alla Parmigiana
Service: Caring without being intrusive
When to Dine Here: You’re seeking an intimate Italian dinner with a touch of class.
Arlington | Southern | $$$
Meat-and-three restaurants, haunts that first arose in the American South, usually imply soul food roots with their stick-to-your-ribs grub. And there’s no question that chef Matt Hill, despite a James Beard Foundation award nomination, is still cooking with his soul, as well as some influences from Seoul.
His food, smoked and grilled over live fire, might include brisket or ribs, but also charred kimchi dirty rice. In other words, Hill is upholding traditions of Southern food but isn’t afraid to predict the future of the genre. That includes a global palate of dishes that would not be found at a classic purveyor of meat-and-threes.
Here, lighter fish dishes like wood-grilled branzino, served crisped and fileted, with its tail fanned to the edge of the plate, are every bit as appealing as the burgers and chicken tenders. This is Southern food for everyone, even those who typically veer away from the heavy hitters of the cuisine. And Hill continues making a name for himself, one soulful dish at a time.
See This: The green-and-white décor looks like it belongs in your stylish best friend’s house, but sit on the patio for a view of the smoker and kitchen herb garden.
Eat This: Yellowfin tuna tartare, wood-grilled branzino, warm campfire cookies
Service: Unerringly friendly and casual
When to Dine Here: The gang is eager to taste the evolution of Southern fare and share a large roster of creative side dishes.
Arlington | Tapas | $$
A cloche fills with smoke. The vapors dance around a 32-ounce grilled rib-eye, then, as a server lifts the clear covering, billow forth around the room. This much is theater, but there’s no question that the real entertainment comes at first bite.
The Chuletón Vasco is one of five entrées on the menu, all Latin American in origin. Though you arrived here craving tapas, there’s no getting around it: This is one of the best steaks in NoVA.
But that doesn’t mean that you and your group can’t also fill up on small plates. Vegetables like crispy fried zucchini with a pair of garlicky sauces, or salad topped with matchsticks of apple and Manchego, are apt companions for juicy meat. Don’t limit yourself to the greens, though.
This restaurant, from a group of Latin-born former employees of José Andrés’ Jaleo, goes beyond Spanish tapas with South American flavors. Want ceviche? It’s robustly tangy, yet well balanced. Arepas? They’re bite-sized and presented with shredded chicken or beef on top.
Whether eating a chimichurri-painted steak or a chocolate cake served in a flowerpot, the imagination here is palpable. And for gustatory explorers, the small plates mean that too much of a good thing truly can be wonderful.
See This: Cheerful colors set the upbeat mood here, but it’s what’s on the plate that really impresses.
Eat This: Arepitas, Chuletón Vasco, la maceta de chocolate
Service: Matter-of-fact and efficient
When to Dine Here: You and your adventurous group want to share as many plates as you can stomach.
Manassas | Italian | $$$
From the moment diners are greeted by the polished hostess until they are sampling the outstanding Italian cuisine created by chef Franklin Hernandez, this unassuming strip-mall restaurant hits the mark. The service staff is practically clairvoyant — one step ahead, delivering new cutlery, butter, lemon, or whatever your heart desires.
Simple treasures like the calamari fritti stand out with zippy marinara sauce accompanying the crispy squid, while generous portions of creamy formaggio enhance the burrata alla Caprese. Seafood fans embrace exceptional linguine di mare, heaping with meaty clams, mussels, and scallops in tangy cherry tomato sauce. Meat seekers enjoy the ample veal saltimbocca, finished with white wine sauce and earthy sage.
Pasta is housemade and Hernandez puts noticeable TLC into every creative dish. Try the ravioli polpa di granchio — a lump crabmeat-filled pasta surrounded with indulgent lobster bisque.
Delicious desserts are in large supply, but the namesake semifreddo is the bucket-list item here. The light-as-a-feather frozen mousse, with caramelized walnuts and amaretto cookies, tops the meal with a flavorful ending.
Semifreddo sets a high bar and brings civilized, excellent Italian cuisine to the table — all hidden in its strip-mall setting.
See This: The open kitchen reveals entertaining chefs creating culinary art.
Eat This: Calamari fritti, lamb meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo con gamberi
Service: Some of the best in the region
When to Dine Here: Bring a date to this dark horse for an unforgettable evening.
Ashburn | Thai | $$
Here’s an unpleasant truth for you: Too many Thai restaurants in our region trade in thin, soupy curries and too-sweet pad Thais. Even the well-respected ones are often a disappointment for experienced diners.
But not Sense of Thai St. For seven years now, the One Loudoun centerpiece has assaulted the senses in a delightful way. From the bright, spacious dining room to the creative cocktails and sometimes incendiary dishes, this modern classic hits all the right notes.
It starts with service that is friendly but never too familiar. Lamb lollipops are a sensible entry point to an impressive repast. The trio of grilled goodies is marinated for an easy bite that transcends mere tenderness but never falls apart, thanks to a thin jacket of char. Served with a basket of sticky rice and tamarind chile sauce, it prepares the palate for the complexity to come, whether it’s an unassumingly floral curry or heat-packing plate of drunken noodles.
The moral is that it doesn’t really matter what you order at Sense of Thai St. It will doubtlessly be among the best Thai dishes in NoVA.
See This: Vintage Thai movie posters and old family photos remind diners of the past, while the busy bar with its forward-thinking cocktails propels them into the modern age.
Eat This: Lamb lollipops, crispy whole fish, mango and sticky rice
Service: Solid and seamless, despite a usually packed dining room
When to Dine Here: You want Thai food and need it done right.
Arlington | Spanish | $$$
The show goes on at virtually every table at SER, a Spanish bistro that offers a wide-ranging menu of its country’s fare with a bit of flair. Convivial groups welcome bone-in rib-eye torched tableside. Crispy roast pig is dramatically chopped for service with the edge of a plate. Paella is dished up from sizzling skillets with style.
A meal might begin with a fusillade of tapas hitting the table: crispy, deep-fried mini squid drizzled with a subtly spiced, lemony aioli; crunchy croquettes with a soft, savory, meaty center; briny sardines with a peppy vinaigrette-dressed salad; and a hearty vegetable stew topped with balsamic-coated goat cheese. Caramelized foie gras, with a haunting mineral taste, adds a relatively affordable bit of luxury.
The waiter dramatically lifts the domed lid over a pork entrée releasing its savory aroma. The smoky flavor of the romesco sauce complements the sliced meat, as do the roasted potatoes nestled nearby.
While a custard cup soufflé provides a deep chocolate hit, the dessert we can’t stop spooning up is a classic rice pudding. SER’s version is amazingly creamy yet tastes light. The caramelized, sugary crust offers the perfect crunch. This is a restaurant that backs up drama with memorable fare.
See This: A large semicircular, contemporary dining room and bar with a sweeping outdoor patio allow the food and its theatrical presentation to provide the pizazz.
Eat This: Caramelized foie gras, roasted rabbit, rice pudding
Service: Helpful waitstaff bring well-rehearsed drama to tableside food presentations.
When to Dine Here: You’re on the hunt for a wide-ranging menu of Spanish fare.
Arlington | Italian | $$$
Carbs. You know you love them. The only thing keeping you from gorging on them every day is your nagging waistline. But sometimes we all have to tell our ego to shut up and go with the id’s desires.
On those occasions, there is nowhere better to do it than at chef Fabio Trabocchi’s pasta palace. It is possible to eat a delightful meal of salad and grilled branzino here, but that would be an error in judgment. You’re here for al dente pasta of nearly every fathomable shape.
The $75 pasta tasting allows diners to share three heaping bowls of Trabocchi’s creations. Strands are grand, but his very best work is in the realm of stuffed pastas. Tortelloni Emilia Romagna is a thin-skinned dream of salty prosciutto and mouth-watering rosemary crema. Braised beef agnolotti del plin rupture to reveal fibers of flavorful meat bathed in earthy truffle pesto.
There’s no skipping dessert here. Not when there are three cakes sized for sharing. The Piedmontese gianduja cake will have chocolate lovers obsessed, while the many layers of pistachio cake and silky mousse will inspire new desires.
Next time you’re craving carbs, just say yes to Sfoglina.
See This: From the newspaper-style menus to the servers’ Sophia Loren–style attire, every detail is idiosyncratically Italian — and chic.
Eat This: Grilled spiced calamari, tortelloni Emilia Romagna, pistachio cake
Service: Astute and ready with recommendations
When to Dine Here: You’re planning to bust your diet in the best possible way.
McLean | Japanese | $$$
Everyone needs a reliable, go-to neighborhood sushi spot, and Tachibana is that place. The menu is varied, offering a wide selection of classic sushi and Japanese specialties — making it a satisfying option for parties with a mix of sushi and non-sushi eaters.
For some crowd-pleasing appetizers, look no further than the fried shumai, gindara misoyaki (broiled black cod), and gyoza. Shrimp and vegetable tempura (offered in appetizer or entrée-size portions) is also a must — the shrimp are large and the portion is generous.
Beyond sushi, the vegetable sukiyaki is a favorite; boasting plenty of vegetables, tofu, a rich-yet-light broth, and thin glass noodles, this soup will keep you and your spoon coming back for more. For something a bit heavier, the chicken katsu is an excellent choice; the portion is sizable, it’s not overly greasy, and it arrives pre-sliced, making the dish simple to eat with chopsticks and ideal for sharing.
If you’re looking for a no-frills, classic, Japanese meal that will satisfy everyone’s cravings and preferences, make Tachibana your next sushi night spot.
See This: The décor is minimal and traditional with the centerpiece of a lengthy sushi bar.
Eat This: Gindara misoyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura, vegetable sukiyaki
Service: Attentiveness is hit or miss depending on how busy the restaurant is, but service is friendly and polite.
When to Dine Here: You want a solid, no-frills meal and a variety of Japanese dishes beyond just sushi.
Paris | Modern American | $$$$
Expect the unexpected at this boutique country house restaurant and hotel in horse country. Here, you’ll find rustic dining rooms in a pastoral setting serving decidedly contemporary cuisine. Plates are carefully composed with each component deliberately arranged.
Classic country pâté is intricately plated with red wine–braised onions, fig jam, dabs of truffle-scented mayonnaise, and cornichons. It feels like one would be disturbing a still life painting to dig in. Another eye-catching arrangement, this one featuring tender octopus, is the centerpiece of another starter.
One delightful dish is a modern take on shrimp and grits that contrasts well-cooked monkfish and red shelled crawfish with creamy grits. In another, thick cuts of juicy pork and colorful peach chutney are bedded with a chickpea purée and roasted carrots in a masterful combination of textures and flavors.
Entrées here can be decadent. A truffle-laced pasta, with housemade noodles and plenty of cream is pure indulgence. In contrast, desserts, like a zabaglione semifreddo, with lashings of white chocolate, berry caviar, and mascarpone, are a surprisingly light ending to a sophisticated meal — one more unexpected touch.
See This: A bucolic setting — complete with cozy, rustic dining rooms and a lovely sun porch —helps you leave the bustle of the city behind.
Eat This: Country pâté, lobster, steak
Service: Expect formal service from disciplined waitstaff.
When to Dine Here: You and your companion are looking for a country escape with big city manners.
Manassas | American | $$$
Looking for a setting that matches the quality cuisine? Whether you’re in the mood for a simple BLT or a more refined miso-sake sea bass, the army of servers in blue-and-white-checkered-shirts here has you covered.
The centerpiece of Farm Brew Live in Manassas, The Black Sheep caters to an eclectic audience — all of whom are at this refurbished, 94-year-old dairy barn for interesting takes on world-inspired comfort food. A Nueske bacon tower, torched table-side; jalapeño honey-drizzled crispy chicken sandwich; and grilled filet mignon with Béarnaise are all stunners.
Diners may dress up or dress down; either way they’ll fit in nicely in the barn-chic setting, and the locally sourced menu’s variety meets every budget. A robust selection of whiskey, wine, and other adult beverages attracts a cocktail-toting crowd. Massive semicircular booths line the barn’s chandelier-punctuated dining room, and extra touches like purse stands dot the open floor.
On weekends, diners come for dinner, then enjoy live music just out the door at the impressive amphitheater. The Black Sheep is a destination for the whole family, as evidenced by the throngs of multigenerational visitors to the Farm Brew campus. It has a winning combination: outstanding cuisine and excellent service in an Insta-worthy setting.
See This: Glistening chandeliers light the high ceilings of this historic barn.
Eat This: Spanish garlic shrimp, jambalaya, Mongolian beef bowl
Service: Attentive but not over the top
When to Dine Here: Enjoy brunch, lunch, or dinner with family — get dressed up or wear jeans to this stunningly refurbished setting.
Leesburg | Modern American | $$$
Get your chocolate fix satisfied at The Conche. This convivial Leesburg spot impresses at every cocoa-covered turn. There’s even a glass-enclosed chocolate lab mid-restaurant for your viewing pleasure.
The cocoa-themed destination subtly delivers chocolate additions across the board, from mussels to burgers to poke, adding that je ne sais quoi that elevates each item. Caesar salad is exceptional with grilled romaine and cocoa nib brittle shards.
Braised short ribs display incredible richness in a chocolate-Burgundy reduction atop garlic-infused goat cheese–potato purée. Even tiny details, like lightly fried tempura Brussels sprouts or mouthwatering house-marinated heirloom cherry tomatoes, exude quality.
Talented chef Santosh Tiptur has earned a loyal following for masterminding traditional dishes with creative twists and unusual ingredients. Meals are beautifully displayed, whether á la carte or in three-, five-, or seven-course prix fixe offerings. Servers and managers tag-team tables, providing insightful commentary and recommendations, along with gold-standard service.
Splurge on the $24 spaghetti and sweet balls dessert for an entertaining presentation mimicking the classic Italian meal, except created with chocolate-filled cream puffs and raspberry caramel sauce.
From start to finish, The Conche is a chocolate lover’s dream come true.
See This: The executive pastry chef and chocolatier create magic in the glass-encased chocolate lab.
Eat This: Caesar salad, scallops, spaghetti and sweet balls
Service: Well-informed staff enhance the experience.
When to Dine Here: Visit this comfortable, unpretentious spot for a date night or special occasion.
Arlington | Seafood | $$$
Roadside shacks, Styrofoam containers, and picnic tables are usually defining facets of New England–style seafood. The Salt Line elevates this experience, offering updated favorites in a casual-yet-chic coastal setting.
No seafood feast is complete without clam chowder. The cream-based broth here is lighter than most, but it is also quite bacon-forward, providing extra depth of flavor. The tuna crudo is a must as well.
The fried fish sandwich may sound simple, but it’s expertly executed: the fish itself is light and not greasy. The crispy skin rockfish is another great option, boasting a super-crisp skin that shields tender, moist white flesh.
The crispy Brussels sprouts — tossed with a nori Caesar dressing, pecorino Romano, and fried garlic breadcrumbs — deserve an honorable mention. And the berries and cream “over the top” milkshake, made with local Ice Cream Jubilee scoops, is indulgent to say the least, thanks to Biscoff cookies and two heavenly housemade oatmeal cream pies.
No need to head Northeast; next time you’re craving the ultimate New England seafood experience, The Salt Line is waiting for you.
See This: Watch your oysters get shucked by pros at the raw bar.
Eat This: Clam chowder, fried fish sandwich, berries and cream “over the top” milkshake
Service: Mindful and friendly
When to Dine Here: You’re craving a quality New England meal in a refined setting.
Alexandria | Mesoamerican Fusion | $$$
Costa Rican–born chef Tomas Chavarria first arrived on this list last year with a menu that was a paean to his homeland. This year, he has refined those dishes, but included something new — Korean touches that blend Mesoamerican traditions with those of East Asia. With that, he has created another experience you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
Chavarria’s take on Korean short rib lettuce wraps are filled with apple kimchi and house pickled radishes to lighten up the substantial cubes of beef. Spicy gochujang enhances that dish, as well as the crispy octopus chicharron, which sits in a Day-Glo-pink beet purée.
But some of Chavarria’s best new menu items continue to update his own cultural flavors. Achiote jus is the medium with which he enhances a smoked magret duck breast in one dish. His coconut rice pudding is an al dente stunner, populated with warm, chewy cookie crumbles; berries; and edible flowers.
The casual elegance of Alexandria’s historic Morrison House won’t prepare you for the one-of-a-kind innovations you’re about to taste.
See This: Flashes of light blue and gold on the walls and jazz on the stereo conjure another time — a stark contrast to what’s on plates.
Eat This: Kalbi ssam, Duck & Achiote, arroz con leche
Service: Kind, but with a tendency to disappear for a stretch or two
When to Dine Here: Upscale dining is on the menu, and you want to try something you’ve never had.
Falls Church | Italian | $$$
Fresh ingredients frame every modern classic dish here. Diners delight in chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson’s mouthwatering meals that bring the seasons’ bounty to their table. The showstopping starter: octopus a la plancha. It’s a dazzling dish, which includes a ‘who’d-have-thought-of-that?’ blend of snap peas, radicchio, and chorizo with a pickled pepper purée.
Burrata is order-worthy here; gently charred peaches combine with incredibly sweet cherries, arugula, chiles, and noteworthy balsamic vinegar to create an intriguing nest below the soft cheese.
Of course, outstanding pasta options are plentiful here. Fresh housemade gnocchi gets cozy with just-off-the-farm squash and zucchini, marinated in smoked tomato butter. Saffron linguine unites lobster, shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a dreamy broth with spicy nduja, infusing hints of pork sausage throughout. The well-balanced dish offers delicate seafood, hearty pasta, and zesty sauce with a hint of citrus.
The restaurant can get loud, but the gaggle of diverse diners doesn’t seem to mind. End your meal on a high note with the creative rhubarb tiramisu, yet another fresh take on an Italian classic — something Thompson Italian does well and often.
See This: Oversized concert bills decorate the walls of the bar.
Eat This: Octopus a la plancha, saffron linguine, rhubarb tiramisu
Service: Can be hit and miss
When to Dine Here: Your group — or significant other — is craving an up-to-date meal of Italian favorites.
Clifton | Italian | $$$
Outstanding pasta reigns at this busy Clifton outpost. While the extensive Italian menu offers a smorgasbord of tempting starters and sumptuous salads easily combined to create a tasty meal, opt for superior entrées like the housemade crabmeat bucatini. The tube-like noodles envelop a zesty, creamy sauce mingled with flaky Maryland blue crab and sautéed cherry tomatoes.
Meat lovers: Embrace cavatelli arrabbiata, the tiny, hot dog bun-shaped pasta that cradles zesty tomato basil cream sauce, sautéed spinach, and savory Italian sausage. A touch of heat from Calabrian chile oil seals the deal.
Those not in a pasta mood applaud the flounder-and-crab duo, wrapped in crisp parchment paper. A flavorful blend of roasted peppers, ripe tomatoes, white wine, and finely chopped herbs enhances the delicate seafood.
Trattoria Villagio’s indoor areas are bustling and very loud — the main dining room is a thoroughfare between the adjoining pizza shop and restaurant kitchen, so employees zip back and forth. The relaxing patio, surrounded by leafy trees and tangerine-hued umbrellas is a different experience. Trattoria Villagio’s strength lies in its excellent pastas, so wherever you sit, savor those craveable offerings.
See This: The charming patio draws alfresco diners.
Eat This: Cavatelli arrabbiata, crabmeat bucatini, flounder-and-crab duo
Service: Sometimes slow
When to Dine Here: Dinner on the patio is calling to you, whether it’s with family or for a date night.
Middleburg | Modern American | $$$
The chorizo is on fire. Fortunately, it’s supposed to be. A server tends the rum-based blaze, spooning boozy flame over each link, blistering it for a crisp skin. She mixes the remaining 151-proof liquid into a bowl of aioli for dipping. Welcome to Tremolo Bar.
Oenophiles already know owner Jarad Slipp as former estate director of RdV Vineyards. Pizza lovers have tasted his pies just down the street at Knead Wine. His newest project combines his Michelin-recognized pedigrees in food and wine again with flavor-forward dishes intended to be paired with a glass or two.
But don’t expect anything too formal. The relaxed vibe translates to a menu labeled “snacks,” featuring small plates that range from house-fried potato chips with four-onion dip to slices of hanger steak sunken into a line of piquant sauce au poivre.
Dishes lean Mediterranean but include surprises that will wake up any palate. Persian cucumber salad, for instance, combines funky fish sauce with miso and bird’s eye chiles for a zap of Asian-inflected heat. Cool it down with a bowl of labneh that’s flavored with pomegranate, mint, and pistachio. The chorizo isn’t the only thing on fire here — bring your paramour, and your heart will be, too.
See This: The spare white dining room serves as a blank canvas for a wine-soaked night.
Eat This: Persian cucumber salad, labneh, chorizo al infierno
Service: A mix of serious professionals and newbies
When to Dine Here: You want to keep things light for an evening of romance.
Leesburg | American | $$$
Tuscarora Mill is the Swiss army knife of restaurants — there’s a little something for everyone. The crowded Leesburg landmark draws diners again and again for what will most assuredly be a tasty meal in a comfortable spot.
Set in a rustic grain mill, Tuskie’s (as the locals call it) caters to every palate with interesting options to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. It’s upscale, it’s casual. It’s curated cocktails, it’s craft beer. Tuskie’s checks off boxes for excellent service and creative fare in a warm setting.
We recommend the atrium room for dining, with its dappled sunlight and sprawling plants. Persuasive menu starters like barbecue bacon-wrapped shrimp deserve attention, especially thanks to its zesty corn salsa, grilled onions, and mild chipotle cream. Another winner: pork belly tacos, enhanced with Korean slaw with a touch of sweet chili.
Basics like grilled Angus burgers, garnished with smoked cheddar and a side of fries, take diners to their happy place, but more daring dishes like grilled Creole-seasoned trout deliver exponentially. Don’t miss warm butterscotch bread pudding for dessert with Bruster’s ice cream and a generous caramel drizzle.
Any way you slice it, Tuskie’s impresses diverse diners with its comfortable cuisine, jovial service, and agreeable digs.
See This: Remnants of the 1899 grain mill’s massive working parts can be seen near the hostess stand.
Eat This: Pork belly tacos, barbecue bacon-wrapped shrimp, grilled Creole-seasoned trout
Service: Brisk but efficient and accommodating
When to Dine Here: Come for lively family dinners or an upbeat dinner with friends.
Alexandria | American | $$
Meet Virginia’s Darling, a cozy woman-owned bistro that serves small plates and women-made wines. The space presents an enchanting flower-covered ceiling and comfortable spots for indoor or outdoor seating, as well as a welcoming green-tiled bar.
Enter through the connecting Mae’s Market & Café, which itself is a destination for its pastries and sandwiches. Once seated, consider the interesting menu, chock-full of shareables and an admirable number of wines by the glass, moderately priced cocktails, and beers.
Grilled housemade bread and fancy butter might sound pedestrian, but those wise enough to order it are blessed with a massive, toasty slice with a dollop of sweet butter. Fried salt-and-vinegar pistachios present a savory crunch to enjoy with a cocktail.
Order as a group, and your party can share in the culinary freshness displayed here. The English muffin–enclosed Frenchie burger proves to be a charbroiled treasure. The crunchy fries on its plate won’t last long, so don’t be shy about grabbing your share. Sole meunière intrigues with a gentle lemon-caper butter drizzled on the sautéed fish. Choose a buddy and share the admirably seasoned 14-ounce strip steak, a carnivore’s delight.
Simple desserts include the banana pudding ice cream sandwich from Mae’s Market. Virginia’s Darling leaves guests thoroughly satisfied, charmed, and eagerly planning their next visit. Score one for the girls.
See This: A whimsical, flower-covered ceiling delights diners.
Eat This: Cheese & charcuterie, New York strip for two, Frenchie burger
Service: Accommodating and kind
When to Dine Here: Grab a glass of wine and share some plates with a friend.
Arlington | Japanese | $$$
There’s a club-like vibe at Yume Sushi. EDM music pounds through a dining room with industrial-chic architecture and walls with graffiti murals. But chef Saran Kannasute and his team are serious about creating edible art. Options range from basic rolls to creations with luxe ingredients like wagyu, lump crab, and truffle oil.
The Yume roll is a highlight, blending myriad flavors and textures into each bite. Spicy tuna and avocado are on the inside, and it’s topped with seared tuna, jalapeño, spicy mayo, eel sauce, and tempura bits. The Salmon Lover roll is another winner. Yume also offers an omakase, if you’d like the chefs to surprise you.
If you want to venture beyond sushi, the poke bowl boasts a generous portion of fresh, raw fish and is great for sharing. The shrimp tempura and wagyu buns are also worth ordering.
Sushi might be what brought you to Yume, but the vibes are what will draw you back.
See This: Sit at the sushi bar, with a dramatic graffiti-meets-geisha mural backdrop, to watch the sushi chefs up close.
Eat This: Poke bowl, Yume roll, wagyu buns
Service: Friendly, attentive, and quick to bring dishes to the table, the staff doesn’t go out of its way to explain the menu or provide recommendations.
When to Dine Here: Your requirements for a sushi meal include a modern aesthetic.
Feature image of Field & Main by Shannon Ayres