Falls Church Neighborhood Guide

Even though I grew up in Northern Virginia, the city of Falls Church was always a bit of a mystery. Compared with neighboring Fairfax and Arlington counties, the incorporated and independent city is tiny, and yet it breeds a kind of loyalty that is rare among the usually interchangeable NoVa suburbs. It took marrying a native Falls Churcher to understand its appeal. The area combines a small-town community feel with the advantages of living 15 minutes outside the District. And with a number of new establishments in the area, including a temple to beer and one of the region's best pizzerias, there is more reason than ever to check out what's happening on Broad Street. Here, with the help of Fritz Hahn and David Malitz, are some favorite spots in the neighborhood.
 
 
1

Pizzeria Orso

400 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-226-3460  |  Web site »

Even though the paint on this new restaurant's walls is still fresh, and the pies are still being discovered, pizzaolo Edan MacQuaid is himself hardly an unknown. In the past, MacQuaid's pizzas have made such spots as 2 Amys, Pizzeria Paradiso and Red Rocks destinations. Now, his suburban wood-fired ovens are putting out some of the area's absolute best pizza. The Neapolitan pies boast a soft, tangy sourdough crust and spots of char and are served uncut. Come for such classics as the Margherita, spotted with melted puddles of buffalo mozzarella; return for interesting items such as the ripieno salame -- diced pepperoni, salami, fontina and ricotta cooked in a folded crust. House-made cannoli shells and such appetizers as suppli al telefono(fried risotto stuffed with buffalo mozzarella) and arrosticini (lamb skewers with bruschetta and citrus) show that the charm extends beyond the pizza menus.

2

Bowl America - Falls Church

140 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-534-1370

Now this is how it should be. Not a nightclub masquerading as a bowling alley. Here you can get a pitcher of Budweiser for just a few bucks more than the cost of one game at a downtown hot spot such as Lucky Strike. The only dress code is that you have to be dressed. Fifty lanes, a stale cigarette smell that no deep cleaning will ever remove and the sound of pins flying is all you'll get at the Falls Church location of this national chain. How much grimy cred does this place have? In 2007 the building was condemned, the result of roof damage from a snowstorm. It has been open without incident the past three years and remains an ideal location for rolling a few frames. And that's all. Thankfully.

3

Penzeys Spices

513 W. Broad St. , Falls Church, VA 22040  | 703-534-7770  |  Web site »

Yes, it's a national chain, and you can also find it in Rockville, but as a food lover, it's hard not to get excited by this emporium of whole and ground spices. With jars full of vanilla-infused sugar, house blends of pork chop spice, fenugreek and dried chiles of all kinds -- Penzeys goes far beyond the grocery store spice aisle. It's also a surprising gift location. One corner of the store is filled with a large selection of gift boxes, from specialties such as grilling spices to large boxes designed to serve as the foundation for a spice cabinet.

4

Mad Fox Brewing Company

444 West Broad St., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-942-6840  |  Web site »

Mad Fox is a top-flight beer bar that sells great beers made right on Broad Street. Award-winning brewer Bill Madden -- formerly of the Capitol City Brewing Co. -- opened Mad Fox in July, and the response has been tremendous, with beer lovers literally drinking the tanks dry. It's a real neighborhood place, with folks from Fairfax and Falls Church rubbing shoulders at the 60-foot wooden bar and at the adjacent communal tables, sampling the outstanding slow-roasted pork belly and Neapolitan pizzas. The food is good, but the beer is rightly the draw. There are about eight selections on draft, ranging from the delicate Kolsch to one-off selections, which may include strong, malty Scotch ales known as Wee Heavy or 80 Shilling, or a rich Belgian IPA. Don't overlook the cask-conditioned ales, served in true British style. Mad Fox can get frustratingly crowded on weekends. The best way to enjoy it is to stop by early in the week. Happy hour makes this easy: All of the regular house-brewed ales and lagers are $3 a glass every afternoon between 3 and 7 p.m.

5

La Caraquena

300 W. Broad Street, Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-533-0076  |  Web site »

Dining-wise, the greater Falls Church area is probably best known for the expanse of Vietnamese restaurants found in the Eden Center shopping plaza. But a mile-and-a-half west on Route 7, in downtown Falls Church, one can find a Latin American kitchen that is as delicious and as authentic as the best of those Eden Center eateries. At La Caraquena, chef Raul A. Claros pays tribute to his Venezuelan birthplace and Bolivian upbringing. Saltenas, savory braided pockets of dough stuffed with meat and potatoes, hail from Bolivia, while arepas, ground corn cakes stuffed with any number of fillings, including black beans with cheese and steak with onions, recall Venezuela. And although its location in the Stratford Motor Lodge seems incongruous, the comfortable interior and warm familiarity of the staff give off the transportative feeling of dining in a friendly home.

6

Ireland's Four Provinces Restaurant & Pub

105 W. Broad St., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-534-8999

At first glance the Four Provinces looks like the kind of cookie-cutter Irish pub that seems to sneak its way into every neighborhood. But spend any time there and you quickly realize that it is something much rarer in this area: a true townie bar. Locals know the bartenders by name and don't need a menu to recite the daily specials. A killer Wednesday trivia night and a Sunday brunch buffet keep them coming back. Sure, there is Guinness on draft, Jameson and Bushmills behind the bar and live Celtic music several times a week, but just try going there with someone who graduated from George Mason (Falls Church's only high school) anytime in the past 20 years. It's almost a guarantee that you will spend the evening smiling politely while a train of high school acquaintances stops by to catch up.

7

Brown's Hardware

100 W Broad St., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-532-1168

It's almost sad that Brown's is so remarkable. Every neighborhood deserves a mom-and-pop hardware store like Brown's. Yet the neighborhood hardware store is a dying breed, and a truly exceptional one like Brown's is hard to find. Every inch of the store is used, and it seems as if it has everything in stock: hammers, mousetraps, cast-iron pans, rakes, broom handles, spare keys, garden hoses, umbrellas in the summer, sleds in the winter -- it can be almost overwhelming. Except that the staff is so helpful and friendly. You tell the folks at Brown's what you have to get done and they'll tell you what you need, where to find it and how to use it. Of course, they are also happy to let you wander the store to browse the stock and envision the endless project possibilities it holds. A good rule of thumb: Even if you know exactly what you need and where to find it, budget an extra 20 minutes or so. It's easy to spend half an hour buying a pair of garden pruners you found in the first five minutes.

8

The State Theatre

220 N. Washington St., Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-237-0300  |  Web site »

The Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. These acts will never, ever play in Falls Church. But their tribute bands have made the State Theatre a regular tour stop, earning the 800-capacity concert venue a reputation as the place to hear your favorite songs, just not by your favorite bands. This means regular visits by the likes of Satisfaction, Bruce in the U.S.A., the Machine and Zoso, along with the venue's most bankable act, local '80s tribute band the Legwarmers -- which regularly plays to sold-out, fully costumed crowds. The venue also hosts plenty of bands that play original music, too, specializing in roots-rock, reggae and jam bands. Wondering where '90s radio favorites Blues Traveler and Rusted Root went? Here's your answer.

9

Victory Comics

586 S. Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046  | 703-241-9393

Located in a surprisingly spacious showroom with light wood floors and window-lined walls, this young comic-book shop stands out against the stereotypical image of the dark, cramped and generally cave-like refuge best exemplified in the Android's Dungeon of the Simpsons. And although its retail presentation may be light-filled and open, its stock of new and used comics, action figures, sports cards, games and collectibles easily rivals that of its fictional Springfield counterpart. More than just a one-stop gift shop for the genre fan in your life, it will surely bring a smile to the face of anyone not immediately repulsed by the idea of a 12-inch plastic wookie.

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