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Variety Spices Up Dining-Out Options

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page PW22

Housing developments along Route 1 in Prince William County are so numerous that some major intersections boast directional signs to a dozen or more communities. Home construction is nearly as brisk in the northern end of the county, around Haymarket and Gainesville. Although many developments include sprawling new shopping centers, the supply of restaurants -- especially upscale, sit-down ones -- still lags demand.

Restaurants are concentrated along the Route 1 corridor, Potomac Mills, Occoquan, Manassas, Manassas Park, Centreville and Sudley roads and Route 29 in the Gainesville area. The number of Subway locations, 26, has eclipsed the number of McDonald's, 24, and there are at least a dozen Domino's in the county.

Owner Nelson Head, above, has strived to get his barbecue ribs at Dixie Bones to taste like the ones he enjoyed growing up. Medina Kabob Restaurant, left, specializes in Pakistani cuisine, such as samosas. (L. William Kobelka For The Washington Post)

As spiffy new shopping centers lure customers to the outer suburbs, many older strip malls and former fast-food restaurants have become home to small, locally owned Mexican and Salvadoran eateries, reflecting the growing diversity of the county's population. The high-end seafood chain Bonefish Grill, which opened in Somerset Crossing, and the arrival of several Japanese-style steakhouses have added to the variety.

These are some recommendations for dining in the area:

DINER: Neither the Ashton Avenue Diner (9920 Cockrell Rd., Manassas, 703-330-5151) nor the Yorkshire Restaurant (7537 Centreville Rd., Manassas, 703-368-4905) is a diner of the open 24 hours, gleaming stainless-steel variety.

The Ashton Avenue Diner's menu is like a New Jersey diner's: breakfast foods, steaks, Greek specialties, Italian dishes and sandwiches. The Yorkshire Restaurant offers standard American fare.

The glammed-up Silver Diner (14375 Smoketown Rd., Potomac Mills, 703-643-2363, www.silverdiner.com) is open until midnight weekdays and 3 a.m. weekends, serving a broader menu.

BARBECUE: Nelson Head hails from Birmingham and laments that he just can't get his barbecue to taste like what he ate growing up down South. But what he might see as shortcomings hasn't deterred the crowds that jam into Dixie Bones (13440 Occoquan Rd., Woodbridge, 703-492-2205, www.dixiebones.com).

The chopped pork has a good, smoky taste and is served with a tomatoey, sweet and spicy sauce. There are no shortcomings in the side dishes. The potato salad is pure southern-style: red potatoes perfectly cooked and mixed with a lot of mayonnaise, a little mustard and egg. The coleslaw is crunchy shreds of red and green cabbage, carrot, a little onion and celery seeds all bound with a perfectly balanced sweet-sour dressing.

Another local favorite is Ben's Whole Hog Barbecue (7422 Old Centreville Rd., Manassas, 703-331-5980). Although founder Ben Morris is no longer in the picture (he sold to the Kim family years ago), the ribs and pulled pork are first-rate. Here the whole hog is roasted, and the barbecue sauce is apple cider sweet.

Arlington-based Red, Hot & Blue (8366 Sudley Rd., Manassas, 703-367-7100, www.redhotandblue.com) serves finger-licking good Memphis-style barbecue.

SEAFOOD: Tim's Rivershore Restaurant & Crabhouse (1510 Cherry Hill Rd., Dumfries, 703-441-1375, www.timsrivershore.com) is the only real crab house on the Potomac in the county. But its days are numbered. After months of fighting with county officials over permits and regulations, owner Tim Bauckman sold the restaurant to KSI Inc., the developer of Harbor Station and Port Potomac. This could be the last summer to arrive by boat (or car) to pick crabs on the deck.

Sea Sea & Company (201 Mill St., Occoquan, 703-494-1365, www.seaseaandcompany.com) still has its riverside perch along the Occoquan in the historic mill town of the same name. The main dining room spills onto a large deck along the town's new riverfront boardwalk, and there is an upstairs deck adjacent to a private dining space. The menu is heavy on crabmeat, though not in the shell, and the decor has a beachside feel.

Along Route 29, away from the river, might seem a strange place for a crab house. But check out the parking lot any evening, and you'll find scores of people who don't agree. Blue Ridge Seafood (15704 Lee Hwy., Gainesville, 703-754-9852, www.blueridgeseafood.com) started out as a house and has had a series of additions. Crabs are the big draw, but other specialties include lobster, Alaskan snow crab legs and alligator -- yes, alligator. There are daily specials and a children's menu.

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