Clarendon Neighborhood Guide

Sometimes it's easy to see Clarendon as just another generic place to run errands. From block to block, you can easily hop from one super-mega-chain-store to another: Starbucks to Whole Foods to Barnes & Noble to Apple to another Starbucks.

Still, that dominant picture of Clarendon-as-Blankville is not a complete one. In the past few years, the area has struck a balance between the corporate and the homegrown. And people seem to be happy. Not some of the time or most of the time. But pretty much all of the time. What follows are 10 places in Clarendon that make us happy.

-- David Malitz and Justin Rude

 
 

Lyon Hall

3100 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-741-7636

Located next door to the remodeled post office a block south of the Metro, this eatery offers a menu of contemporary French bistro cuisine. Lyon Hall is a product of the Liberty Tavern team and shares the Wilson Boulevard restaurant's attention to detail, which is reflected both in the good and European-heavy beer and wine lists and the exciting selections of cheese. The menu is heavy on sausages and wursts, and it is with the sausage and charcuterie that the kitchen does its best work. The volume turns up on weekend nights and a nightclub vibe takes over, complete with DJs and a more boisterous crowd. One odd suggestion: Make sure you hit the restroom before you leave. The designers installed a mischievous surprise that we won't spoil here.

Screwtop Wine Bar and Cheese Shop

1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-888-0845  |  Web site »

Part wine bar, part gourmet sandwich counter and part boutique cheese and wine shop, Screwtop manages to walk a line between trendy dining and food retail while retaining a quirky charm that makes its gourmet selections feel accessible. The staff is friendly, helpful and professional, and the rack of for-sale bottles are labeled with tasting notes to help you make your decision. The cheese selection is good without being overwhelming and always has interesting or hard-to-find options. The cheese plate portions for dine-in guests are generous. The sandwiches and other food options are simple but thoughtful and always taste fresh. It's a fun shop, and if no particular part of it sounds unique, trust us: The charm of Screwtop is that it all works well together.

Artisan Confections

1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, VA 22207  | 703-524-0007  |  Web site »

Is it food? Is it art? Is it both? Okay, it's food, but it's still pretty to look at. And definitely more delicious to eat. Owner (and former TenPenh pastry chef) Jason Andelman's chocolate creations have been a hit since his store opened in June 2006. But a November move from a Lee Highway storefront into the heart of Clarendon has helped business pick up. That means making even more salted butter caramels, the most popular of the 15 pieces he offers. "There's a little bit of salt that balances well with the chocolate; the texture is creamy. It's a winner," Andelman says matter-of-factly. Four flavors change seasonally and feature intricate designs by local artists. "People think they're hand painted," he says. "That's nuts; it's like a decal process." Andelman also teaches classes roughly once a month in which people can learn the process behind his craft and make and take home their own chocolates.

Kinder Haus Toys

1220 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-527-5929

A bright red awning and vibrant window display on Fillmore Street mark the location of the local toy store. Originally at the Lee Heights shops, owner Sue Pyatt's Kinder Haus Toys came to the neighborhood about four years ago, and it has been a perfect fit. Stocking a mix of toys, clothes, books and crafts, Kinder Haus is not only a wonderland for the little ones, but a one-stop shopping destination for anyone looking for presents. The store carries big-name brands, such as Lego and Playmobil, but also toys from lesser-known makers, including Plan, an ecologically sound company that makes wooden toys in Thailand from trees discarded during the rubber-making process. "I've always had a very strong emphasis on wooden products," Pyatt says, "because wood is durable and ongoing. It's not going to wear out quickly; it's going to be in the family a long time." And family is a focus of the store as well. Pyatt's daughter, Jennifer, is the store manager, and sisters Dana and Laura Grossi handle merchandising and the store's twice-weekly story time, respectively. The bright merchandising won last year's best holiday display award from the Clarendon Alliance, and the story-time readings, which take place on Monday and Friday from 10:30 to 11 a.m., have been a big hit.

Iota Club & Cafe

2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-522-8340  |  Web site »

Is it possible that one of the area's best venues for live music isn't in the heart of downtown Washington but is tucked away in Clarendon? Iota has been almost single-handedly keeping Arlington's rock-and-roll quotient at a respectable level for more than 15 years. A parade of future stars has performed at the 160-capacity club: from easygoing chart-toppers John Mayer and Norah Jones to indie favorites Joanna Newsom and Drive-By Truckers. But even when a soon-to-be-superstar isn't gracing the stage, there's a good chance you'll hear something worthwhile as you soak in the club's laid-back atmosphere. How laid-back? There's no backstage area, and there are no advance tickets.

Boccato Gelato & Espresso

2719 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-869-6522

Try to walk down the sidewalk of the 2700 block of Wilson Boulevard on a sunny weekend afternoon and you will almost certainly have a tough time navigating as you approach the corner. It's there that you'll find a mass of families and couples sitting on benches or simply standing around and savoring a Chilean peach cone or a cup of black raspberry. And that's not to mention the folks who haven't gotten their cool treat, standing in a line that is always flowing out the door. In two years, Boccato has become a favorite dessert destination thanks to its impressive array of flavors, which customers are encouraged to add to by suggesting a new one on the store's chalkboard. It's a testament to the quality of the gelato that even in winter the store draws a crowd; of course, there are also the tasty espresso drinks.

Galaxy Hut

2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-525-8646  |  Web site »

Sometimes you can tell a Galaxy Hut first-timer based on how long he or she spends examining the beer list. But it's just as likely you'll see furrowed brows from regulars who simply can't decide which tasty, unique brew to choose. Maybe Green Flash West Coast IPA? Or perhaps a goblet of Bruery Hottenroth? Those are a couple of Lary Hoffman's favorites, but the owner of the storefront bar (which is about the size of a studio apartment) makes sure to keep the lineup fresh. At least one of the 20 taps is changed each week, giving beer lovers reason to return often. He's constantly pestering distributors for their latest and greatest. "My first question when I call the reps to place my order is, 'What's new and exciting?' They are probably pretty sick of that," he says. Hoffman has owned the bar -- which hosts live music twice a week and monthly karaoke -- for the past five years, but it has been a Wilson Boulevard fixture since it opened in 1990, when it was called Roratonga Rodeo. It maintains its offbeat atmosphere with its existentialist paintings by Ben Claassen, punk-rock soundtrack and charming patio, which is the most pleasant alley in which to enjoy a pint.

Earl's Sandwiches

2605 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201  | 703-248-0150  |  Web site »

First off, there's nobody named Earl. So don't ask to speak to him when you want to give somebody a compliment on that Louie (roasted turkey with pesto mayonnaise) or Monty (roasted beef with a homemade barbecue sauce) you just devoured. The Earl of Sandwich is the namesake of the cozy little shop that unlike, say, Cosi, roasts its own meat every day. You can find soups, salads, chilis and delicious hand-cut fries on the menu. But there's a singular focus -- and that's two slices of bread and the tasty stuff that goes in between. Meat dominates, but vegetarians will like the Mona Lisa (grilled eggplant, provolone cheese, roasted peppers, garlic and mushrooms), among others. Two more added bonuses: Breakfast is served all day, and save for the made-to-order crab cakes, nothing costs more than $8.

Ray's the Steaks

2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209  | 703-841-7297

With Ray's the Classics, Ray's Hell Burger, Ray's the Steaks at East River and a handful more restaurants to come (Ray's the Game, Ray's the Glass, Ray's the Catch), its easy to forget the original Ray's and what made it such a hit. Now in its eighth year, Ray's the Steaks may occupy a larger, more modern space, but it continues to offer prime cuts of beef priced for the everyman, free sides and an excellent wine program. One thing that has always separated Ray's from its contemporaries is its outspoken owner, Michael Landrum. Whether you find the iconoclastic restaurateur a folk hero or a boor likely depends on whether he has ever expelled you from Ray's for (allegedly) being rude. Landrum clearly does not think that the customer is always right, fiercely defends his staff and believes that the guest-host relationship is one in which respect must go both ways. Landrum's sometimes uncivil demands for dining room civility are just part of a larger pattern of the owner looking out for the regular folks he sees as his primary customers. In any case, Ray's the Steaks remains one of the Arlington restaurant scene's brightest stars.

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