The county's best known and perhaps most beloved restaurant is L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls (332 Springvale Rd., 703-759-3800, www.aubergefrancois.com). Snagging a reservation, especially for a weekend, might be difficult because it's popular for special occasions. (Usually reservations must be made no more than four weeks in advance.) Chez Francois specializes in the Alsatian cuisine of founder Francois Haeringer, though now his offspring run this cozy French country inn.
Its closest rival is 2941 Restaurant (2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church, 703-270-1500, www.2941restaurant.com), on the ground floor of one of Northern Virginia's ubiquitous office buildings. The grand space overlooks a lake, with a fountain, and magically it feels as if you are in a French chateau surveying the grounds. The cooking tends to French touches. The bread is baked by the chef's father, and there's cotton candy for evening diners. Le Tire Bouchon (4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, 703-691-4747) is a cozier French option.
The 29 Diner (10536 Lee Hwy., Fairfax, 703-591-6720, www.29diner.com) opened in 1947 and has been dishing out breakfasts, burgers and hot turkey sandwiches nonstop ever since.
A bit more upscale, but a diner nonetheless, the Amphora Restaurant (377 Maple Ave. W., Vienna, 703-938-7877) is in its 27th year of round-the-clock service. Just looking at the desserts does damage to your thighs! A sister restaurant, Amphora Diner DeLuxe (1151 Elden St., Herndon, 703-925-0900), also is open all day.
There are several glammed-up Silver Diners (12250 Fair Lakes Pkwy., Fairfax, 703-359-5999; 8101 Fletcher Ave., McLean, 703-821-5666; 6592 Springfield Mall, Springfield, 703-924-1701; 8150 Porter Rd., Falls Church, 703-204-0812; 11951 Killingsworth Ave., Reston, 703-742-0801, www.silverdiner.com).
On Friday nights, car buffs gather in the parking lot of the Jukebox Diner (7039 Columbia Pike, Annandale, 703-916-8300) to show off their hot rods.
The yellow raised cottage sitting smack in the entrance to Fairfax Corner is the Great American Restaurant chain's latest baby: an ersatz Louisiana bayou/Florida Keys fish house circa the 1950s called Coastal Flats (11901 Grand Commons Ave., Fairfax, 571-522-6300, www.greatamericanrestaurants.com). Expect a crowd, and call early to get on the seating list. The menu tends more to shellfish, with crisp calamari, a spicy shrimp cocktail and mighty good shrimp and grits cakes. The food is worth the wait.
There are a couple of old-time crab houses in southern Fairfax, Ernie's Original Crab House (6319 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, 703-765-1000) and Captain White's (7305 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, 703-765-7900), but most seafood restaurants in the county are part of chains.
Legal Sea Foods, a Boston-based chain, has a location in Tysons Galleria II (2001 International Dr., McLean, 703-827-8900, www.legalseafoods.com). McCormick and Schmick's, based in Portland, Ore., has locations in McLean (8484 Westpark Dr., 703-848-8000) and Reston (11920 Democracy Dr., 703-481-6600, www.mccormickandschmicks.com). Bonefish Grill, owned by Outback Steakhouse, has outlets in Centreville (6315 Multiplex Dr., 703-815-7427) and Chantilly (13005-J Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy., 703-378-4970, www.bonefishgrill.com).
Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton (1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean, 703-506-4300, www.ritzcarlton.com/hotels/tysons_corner) may be the Washington area's best restaurant and one of its most expensive. The surroundings are luxurious, the service impeccable and the chef's intense flavors, unique juxtapositions and stunning presentations rival some of Italy's innovative restaurants.