Northern Virginia’s many Modern American restaurants offer bright, fresh flavors and new takes on classic dishes. Check out these 12 spots, carefully selected by our food critics as some of the Best Restaurants of 2023.
By Olga Boikess, Dawn Klavon, Alyssa Langer, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew
Price Key: Entrées = $ 15 and under | $$ 16–25 | $$$ 26–40 | $$$$ 41 and over | * = prix fixe only
2941 (No. 1)
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$$
The 2941 odyssey — a delicious marriage of nature and art — begins on a winding, tree-lined road that leads to a modern building with a sculptured view of a koi pond and an artificial lake. Inside the soaring space, a talented contemporary American kitchen staff transforms top-flight ingredients into culinary art.
The five-course tasting menu shows off that kitchen in top form. A dramatic presentation makes the fish course a standout. Pearly white sea bass is presented in a black pottery bowl with a vivid red yuzu kosho sauce that provides a subtly spicy contrast. A surf-and-turf course of filet mignon and braised monkfish likewise offers a sophisticated, yet hearty, spin on tradition.
There is a vegetarian option for each course. So while one diner savors foie gras with roasted cherries, their partner finds ricotta gnocchi with crisped summer truffles, hazelnuts, and goat cheese a happy choice. Both find common ground in the baba au rhum.
À la carte options such as grilled rib-eye with crisped potatoes or wild black cod with clams and Australian prawns can be just as captivating. A three-course prix fixe menu ($65) with a fish, a meat, or vegetarian choice offers an accessible taste of this dining destination’s artful luxury.
See This: A dramatic space with wraparound windows showcases parkland while the inside provides a cosmopolitan vibe.
Eat This: Five-course tasting or three-course prix fixe menus — or à la carte choices like rib-eye, pastas, cod, and duck
Service: Well-drilled servers are professional and knowledgeable.
When to Dine Here: Your party is looking for a thoughtful meal in one-of-a-kind surroundings.
Alexandria | Modern American | $$$
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.
Ellie Bird (No. 5)
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$
Co-owner and managing director of Ellie Bird, Carey Tang, isn’t sure that the new Falls Church restaurant she owns with chef-husband Yuan Tang should be categorized as Modern American. Though the menu includes dishes such as an Amish chicken piccata, most plates mesh the disparate influences of Yuan’s diverse kitchen staff. Even the drinks use ingredients like gochujang and pandan. But we would argue that this is exactly what modern America is.
The housemade pastas, for example, might include a seasonal spaghetti dish that combines cheesy Italian cacio e pepe with Mexican elote. Peppery corn cream sauce isn’t yet a tradition, but it tastes like it could join that pantheon. The same goes for Vietnamese French onion soup, which adds the colonized country’s aromatics to its colonizer’s well-known comfort food. Another French classic gets an Asian remake in the form of kimchi-flavored bouillabaisse.
There’s no question that the food and drinks at Ellie Bird are a representation of what America is today and where it is headed. We’ll raise a glass of rye-spiked ube bubble tea to that.
See This: The bird is the word here, where avian-shaped LEDs share space with tables contained in birdcage-style bars.
Eat This: Vietnamese French onion soup, cacio elote, Rachel’s Chocolate Cake
Service: The friendly staff is always ready to fulfill your needs. It’s no surprise that the owners’ first restaurant, Rooster & Owl, earned a Michelin star.
When to Dine Here: Your family is ready for a taste of America’s future.
Field & Main (No. 4)
Marshall | Modern American | $$$$*
The field comes to the table in compelling ways at this charming destination.
Sitting in a dining room decorated with ephemera unearthed from nearby meadows, a five-course tasting menu celebrates the area’s bounty. A dish of roasted red beets on goat cheese mousse, dotted with pickled mustard seeds, is followed by an equally visually appealing plate of smoky morels and asparagus over a pea purée. Succulent grilled cauliflower follows.
Blistered tomatoes and squash accompany a main course of grilled fish. On one visit, chewy, full-flavored beef kabobs with a carrot purée are subbed in for the fish for one diner. On another visit, we can’t stop forking up the juicy roast chicken with savory sea island peas. Delicate frozen yogurt mousse in a refreshing rhubarb and strawberry consommé completes our edible foray into the countryside.
Composing a meal from the main menu requires hard choices. Locally sourced vegetables such as blistered wax beans, crispy potatoes, and hearth-roasted carrots are offered in innovative ways. Shrimp and grits, bison strip steak, and the popular OooMami smash burger showcase nature’s bounty brought to life on your table.
See This: Rustic indoor and outdoor settings take full advantage of a charmingly preserved centuries-old building and its lovely gardens.
Eat This: Morel mushrooms, grilled swordfish, chicken leg confit
Service: Staff could not be more accommodating or adept.
When to Dine Here: Destination dining that brings the field to the table deserves to be visited as often as you can.
Middleburg | Modern American | $$$$
An artful blending of nature and tradition defines the dining experience at this luxurious destination. Strolling through the surrounding park’s natural beauty is a delightful prelude to an impressive culinary event. The lofty main dining room offers a contrast between the clubby feel of polished wood and leather-lined booth seating and the wraparound windows that bring the surrounding greenery’s charm indoors.
The Salamander Resort’s must-visit garden comes to the table in appealing ways. A baby-corn and artichoke appetizer — spiked with leeks, pickled snap peas, and grated Parmesan — is a crisp sampler. Vegan mushroom ravioli is anything but Spartan. Flavor-packed mushrooms — some sliced, some whole, some chopped — shine through a decadent sauce. Its creamy mouthfeel would satisfy the most stubborn skeptic.
True to the upscale vibe, high-quality meat and seafood options range from steaks to lamb loin, braised short ribs, duck, and lobster. A focus on local and regional sourcing refreshes the traditional dishes. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras offers a rich counterpoint to a honeyed tangerine purée. Grilled octopus is bedded on black-eyed peas sparked with the contrast of chorizo.
One dessert blends house-grown lavender and berries with pistachio ice cream and a dense chocolate cake. Garden meets tradition in every bite at this restaurant.
See This: You know you’re in horse country with the stable-style entry into a country club–like dining room with landscaped views.
Eat This: Mushroom ravioli, foie gras, wagyu filet
Service: The staff manages to be both friendly and highly accomplished.
When to Dine Here: The big round booths are perfect for special occasions, but why not simply cap a country drive with an elegant meal?
Sterling | Modern American | $$
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.
Paris | Modern American | $$$$
Expect the unexpected at this boutique country house restaurant and hotel in horse country. Here, you’ll find rustic dining rooms in a pastoral setting serving decidedly contemporary cuisine. Plates are carefully composed with each component deliberately arranged.
Classic country pâté is intricately plated with red wine–braised onions, fig jam, dabs of truffle-scented mayonnaise, and cornichons. It feels like one would be disturbing a still life painting to dig in. Another eye-catching arrangement, this one featuring tender octopus, is the centerpiece of another starter.
One delightful dish is a modern take on shrimp and grits that contrasts well-cooked monkfish and red shelled crawfish with creamy grits. In another, thick cuts of juicy pork and colorful peach chutney are bedded with a chickpea purée and roasted carrots in a masterful combination of textures and flavors.
Entrées here can be decadent. A truffle-laced pasta, with housemade noodles and plenty of cream is pure indulgence. In contrast, desserts, like a zabaglione semifreddo, with lashings of white chocolate, berry caviar, and mascarpone, are a surprisingly light ending to a sophisticated meal — one more unexpected touch.
See This: A bucolic setting — complete with cozy, rustic dining rooms and a lovely sun porch —helps you leave the bustle of the city behind.
Eat This: Country pâté, lobster, steak
Service: Expect formal service from disciplined waitstaff.
When to Dine Here: You and your companion are looking for a country escape with big city manners.
Leesburg | Modern American | $$$
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.
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm (No. 2)
Lovettsville | Modern American | $$$$*
Most of the restaurants on this list will provide a filling repast that will live on only in photos and reminiscences at best. A dinner at Patowmack Farm is an unforgettable experience, and one that follows you home.
Under newly minted executive chef Colby Janowitz, an alum of Sonoma County’s famed farm and restaurant, SingleThread, the eight-course Progression Menu begins with a bloom-festooned basket packed with goodies. On a given day, it might include a collection of amuses-bouches such as charred, pickled mushrooms that taste like bulgogi; earthy housemade seed crackers; peaches wrapped in ham; and crumbly biscuits with soft, salted butter. The term “gift from the kitchen,” does it no justice, though it does feel a bit like unwrapping a birthday present.
From a corn custard served over tastebud-slapping pesto, to olive oil–poached striped bass with a vast collection of preparations of squash, to pâte à choux filled with chocolate mousse and surrounded by blueberries, each plate will remain fresh in your mind long after it’s been digested.
The kitchen sends guests home with a treat for the next day, not that they will need a smidgen of help remembering such an event.
See This: In the warm months, your dining room is all of the outdoors, with a view of the hills surrounding the Potomac. When it’s cold, settle into the greenhouse.
Eat This: The working farm supplies what’s on plates, so be ready for a surprise each visit.
Service: Be prepared for an event that fills the whole evening, spent with a staff of food lovers who aren’t just earning a paycheck.
When to Dine Here: That special someone is planning a memorable night.
Middleburg | Modern American | $$$
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.
TRIO Grill (No. 10)
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$$
Diners peer across a white tablecloth, basking in the soft glow of golden lighting. They might be co-workers bonding over cocktails, folks treating themselves to a fancy (but not stuffy) dinner, or twosomes on a blind date. No matter the occasion, it’s easy to feel relaxed and pampered at this sophisticated restaurant.
TRIO Grill is a classic steak and seafood restaurant that sources from regional farms and purveyors. The extensive selection of wines and spirits is stocked in floor-to-ceiling glass cases.
Among the appetizers, housemade gnocchi is a standout. The pillowy potato puffs are sautéed in brown butter and piled atop a mélange of spinach, asparagus, and punchy sundried tomatoes. Also stellar: Oysters Rockefeller, featuring locally sourced bivalves topped with foamy hollandaise.
Omnivores will not be disappointed, especially with the bison New York strip from New Frontier Farms in Madison County, Virginia, with its bed of potato hash and drizzle of habanero mustard.
Whether diners choose a seat by the outdoor fireplace, banquette, or long maple bar, they’re in for a night of fine food and camaraderie.
See This: Architectural elements in shades of orange and brown, with bold fixtures casting pools of light onto white tablecloths
Eat This: Housemade gnocchi, Oysters Rockefeller, New Frontier bison
Service: Servers are well-informed, gracious, and responsive.
When to Dine Here: This neighborhood restaurant cultivates conversation and celebration.
Trummer’s (No. 9)
Clifton | Modern American | $$$
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.
Feature image of 2941 by Shannon Ayres