I normally think a restaurant is best if it sticks to one cuisine. But there are always exceptions to the rule, and Ashton Avenue Family Restaurant in Manassas is just that.
This modern-day diner, at Cockrell Road and Ashton Avenue, lists Greek, Italian, American and Mexican (really Tex-Mex) as its specialties, and it delivers on all four.
Edin Esquivel, one of five brothers who own the restaurant, explains that when the business opened in 2002, he and his brothers had a Greek partner. That explains the Greek dishes on the menu. The Italian fare hails from brother Mirlon's former employment at an Italian restaurant in Alexandria. The American and Tex-Mex items on the menu come from the various brothers' work at other restaurants in the area, and perhaps a bit of their native Guatemala.
All five brothers -- Victor, the eldest, Mirlon, Edin, Minor and Edwin -- work at the restaurant, though Victor now also owns Primo Pizzeria on Liberia Avenue.
And though most of the other businesses in the small strip shopping center are aimed at Latin American customers, Edin Esquivel says the restaurant's clientele is "99 percent American," adding that it draws few customers from nearby businesses.
The space is light and bright, with pale walls and several tasteful murals that give diners a view of something other than the parking lot or busy intersection outside. The dining room is laid out with discreet nooks and crannies for a more intimate feeling.
The menu lists a couple of hundred items, including breakfast specialties, which can be ordered all day, every day.
Spinach pie, a traditional Greek dish, is served as both an appetizer and a main course. The phyllo dough is crispy on top, and the spinach and feta filling is flavorful, though it seems a little tired. An appetizer salad, part of a dinner special, is served on a chilled plate. The assortment of lettuces is crisp, the plum tomatoes have a real tomato taste and the house vinaigrette adds a bright note.
Tex-Mex offerings include fajitas, one of the most popular selections here, tacos and quesadillas. Tacos al carbon are served open-face, Mexican-style. Cubes of grilled beef are heaped on white corn tortillas that form the base, then topped with gently spiced pico de gallo. The beef -- grilled before it is cut, which allows the meat to brown on the outside and leaves the middle medium-rare -- is especially tasty. A dinner order of the tacos comes with Mexican-style rice and refried beans, along with a dollop of sour cream and a small scoop of guacamole.
A quesadilla has a golden flour tortilla for a base and is filled with mild cheeses, peppers and onions, and accented with guacamole.
The restaurant's gyro equals its fajitas in popularity. Another Greek pita sandwich, pork souvlaki, includes juicy and tender strips of grilled pork, feta cheese and a savory dressing on plump pita bread, served with a side of crisp french fries.
The Ashton Steak and Cheese adds grilled pepper, mushrooms and onions to a standard steak and cheese for a satisfying sandwich.
Meat lasagna is a happy marriage of ground meat, ricotta cheese, tomato sauce and mozzarella that heralds that it is homemade. And the crab cake sandwich has a good crab taste without too much filler.
The restaurant has daily specials at lunch and dinner on weekdays, including mesquite-grilled pork chops. Although they are thin, the pork chops have a rich pork taste and are accompanied by roasted red potatoes. Soup or salad comes with the specials.
Although the chocolate cake may be the most impressive-looking dessert in the refrigerated case, it's purchased elsewhere and is too fudgey and dense to be diner-good. But the house desserts, including a pineapple cheesecake that is creamy with bits of pineapple throughout, are the real winners. Other offerings made in-house include baklava, rice pudding and Oreo cheesecake.
Breakfast items include not only standard American fare but also huevos rancheros (fried eggs served on corn tortillas and topped with ranchero sauce, cheese and refried beans); a Guatemalan breakfast with eggs, refried beans, fried plantains, sour cream and Mexican cheese; and Cuban French toast (slices of Texas toast dipped in egg and served with fried plantains, caramel sauce and toasted coconut and syrup).
During the week, Esquivel said lunch is the more popular meal, but Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are busy all day.
--Nancy Lewis (May 24, 2007)