By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Of the hundreds of places to eat in Arlington and Alexandria, these are some of my favorites. This list is not encyclopedic. There are no rankings. These are just nine places -- some are single restaurants and others are locations offering lots of choices -- that you should know about if you live here.
The Grille at Morrison House
These two elegant dining rooms are among the loveliest in Alexandria. Paintings and chandeliers, handsome draperies, rich leather armchairs, crisp white napkins and an interesting and nuanced menu make the Grille a perfect place for a romantic rendezvous or a special celebration.
The crab cake is a perfect mound of jumbo lump crab meat, accented with a leek cream sauce and yellow corn. The onion soup is rich and flavorful, topped with just enough Gruyere cheese to complement the caramelized onions and broth but not make it a stringy mess to eat. Fish is a specialty -- it's impeccably fresh, garnished with seasonal vegetables and cooked exactly right.
The surprise comes about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when locals begin streaming into the dining room that houses the bar, in preparation for what has evolved into mini-performances by some pretty good singers. Pianist Pat Rohrer has been presiding over this songfest for the past two years; its origins go back about seven years. There are loose-leaf notebooks with the words of the songs scattered about the top of the piano. Some of the participants have sung professionally, but anyone can join in most songs -- such as a rousing rendition of the Kingston Trio's "M.T.A." or a host of Broadway show tunes. Sometimes there are solos or duets especially rehearsed for the show.
116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria, 703-838-8000; http://www.morrisonhouse.com.Jaleo Crystal City
This lively outpost of the downtown Washington original is the classiest of the three siblings (there is another location in Bethesda) in José Andrés's empire. Differing levels in the soaring, triple-height space create a sense of intimacy despite the lively atmosphere.
While every new restaurant seems to serve small plates, this is the original Washington area tapas place, and the proof is in the cooking. The list of tapas is long and constantly changing with the availability of seasonal ingredients. Jaleo is also one of the few places in the United States where you can try the justly famous Iberico ham products. The wine list is voluminous; after all, there's a wine shop on the premises. There's also a private dining room, site of frequent wine dinners.
Two things you can get here that you can't get downtown: reservations and an opportunity to carry on a conversation.
2250-A Crystal Dr., Arlington, 703-413-8181; http://www.jaleo.com.Chadwick's
Its Old Town waterfront location would seem to make Chadwick's a prime tourist spot, but amble in and you'll find local residents in the majority, just as they have been since the restaurant and tavern opened in 1979. You can get a burger, a steak or anything else on the menu until midnight weeknights and 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The cooking isn't sophisticated, but it's solid. Children are welcomed with a special menu. It's not Cheers, but it's close.
The parade of ethnic food along this densely populated stretch of Columbia Pike begins with the area's original Japanese restaurant, Matuba (2915 Columbia Pike, 703-521-2811; http://www.matuba-sushi.com) and the trendy Thai Bangkok 54 (2919 Columbia Pike, 703-521-4070; http://www.bangkok54restaurant.com). The next blocks include Thai stalwarts Thai Square Restaurant (3217 Columbia Pike, 703-685-7040; http://www.thaisquarerestaurant.com) and Rincome Thai Cuisine (3030 Columbia Pike, 703-979-0144; http://www.rincomethai.com). Closer to South George Mason Drive are Pike Pizza (a.k.a. El Pike, 4111 Columbia Pike, 703-521-3010), which doesn't sell pizza but does offer hearty Bolivian fare, and the Pan American Bakery next door (4113 Columbia Pike, 703-271-1113), which has great salteñas -- beef stew in a savory pie that is a Bolivian specialty.Lee Highway From Lorcom Lane To Lexington Street, Arlington
This is another culinary smorgasbord, starting at the Lebanese Taverna Market (its actual address is 4400 Old Dominion Dr., 703-276-8681; http://www.lebanesetaverna.com) and Cassatt's, a New Zealand restaurant (4536 Lee Hwy., 703-527-3330; http://www.cassatts.com). Just up the hill is the best chocolate maker in town, Artisan Confections (4815-B Lee Hwy., 703-239-0616; http://www.artisanconfections.com). The small strip mall just before North George Mason Drive includes the new halal Bangladeshi restaurant, House of Biryani & Kabobs/Curries (5151 Lee Hwy., 703-532-4104), and the Caribbean Grill, which serves Cuban specialties (5183 Lee Hwy., 703-241-8947).
Next comes the Lee Harrison Shopping Center with Pie-tanza (2503-B N. Harrison St., 703-237-0200; http://www.pie-tanza.com) for great wood-burning oven pizzas, and Taqueria Poblano (2503-A N. Harrison St., 703-237-8250; http://www.taqueriapoblano.com) for tacos and Tex-Mex specialties. And just before Lexington Street is Restaurant Vero , a jewel box of a neighborhood restaurant and wine bar, dressed in comforting chocolate and merlot tones and serving a seasonal New American menu (5723 Lee Hwy., 703-538-4600; http://www.restaurantvero.com).Van Dorn Station, Alexandria
The city's West End isn't known for upscale restaurants, but this tiny shopping center (next to a Giant, but their parking lots don't connect) on South Van Dorn Street near Edsall Road is another concise gathering of various ethnic restaurants. There is Japanese ( Akasaka,514-C S. Van Dorn St., 703-751-3133), Indonesian ( Satay Sarinah Restaurant,512-A S. Van Dorn St., 703-370-4313; http://www.sataysarinah.com), Salvadoran-Mexican ( El Paraiso Restaurant II,516 S. Van Dorn St., 703-212-9200) and Vietnamese ( Pho Viet Flare, 514-B S. Van Dorn St., 703-370-9279).
Also in the same shopping center is a halal Afghan restaurant ( Kabul Kabob House,514-A S. Van Dorn St., 703-751-1833), an Italian eatery ( Savio's Italian Restaurant and Bar ,516 S. Van Dorn St., 703-212-9651; http://www.saviosrestaurant.com) and a Thai place ( Thai Lemongrass,506-C and -D S. Van Dorn St., 703-751-4627).Del Ray, Alexandria
Monroe's, an American Trattoria, (1603 Commonwealth Ave., 703-548-5792; http://www.monroesrestaurant.com) and Evening Star Cafe (2000 Mount Vernon Ave., 703-549-5051; http://www.eveningstarcafe.net) started the dining revolution in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood more than a decade ago, and you are apt to find a line at both places on any given night. Now, dining (and shopping) opportunities abound in the teeming commercial district that stretches from South Glebe Road to East Braddock Road.
Among the other favorites in the area are a sibling of Monroe's, Del Merei Grille (3106 Mount Vernon Ave., 703-739-4335; http://www.delmereigrille.com); the original Taqueria Poblano (2400-B Mount Vernon Ave., 703-548-8226); and Del Ray's own frozen custard place, the Dairy Godmother (2310 Mount Vernon Ave., 703-683-7767; http://www.thedairygodmother.com).Shirlington, Arlington
This was one of the region's early shopping centers. Built in the 1940s when the adjacent Fairlington and Parkfairfax communities were built as housing for workers during World War II, the central shopping street had fallen into disrepair by the late 1980s when it was renovated to house a blend of restaurants and small shops. Today, restaurants fill most of the spaces along South 28th Street, and on warm summer evenings, the sidewalks are filled with diners.
The Carlyle (4000 S. 28th St., 703-931-0777; http://www.greatamericanrestaurants.com) is one of the original tenants of the revitalized area and one of the best restaurants. It's the most upscale of the Great American Restaurants group's New American restaurants in Northern Virginia. T.H.A.I. in Shirlington (4029 S. 28th St., 703-931-3203; http://www.thaiinshirlington.com) is a stylish space known for inexpensive lunch specials and lovely presentations of traditional Thai dishes.Essential Ingredients
With Virginia's state control of alcoholic beverages, a good wine store, especially one that stocks cheese and other specialty foods, is a true find. Arrowine (4508 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-525-0990, http://www.arrowine.com) has an extensive wine inventory that goes far beyond the limited selections in most grocery stores, sells good bread and great cheeses, and is a local source for Fra'Mani sausage made by former Chez Panisse chef Paul Bertolli. There is also a large gourmet food section, as well as frequent wine tastings.
Planet Wine & Gourmet (2004 Mount Vernon Ave., 703-549-3444, http://www.planetwineshop.com) is owned by the same group that owns the adjacent Evening Star Cafe. Planet stocks a wide range of wine and a variety of quality cheeses. The Italian Store (3123 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-528-6266; http://www.italianstore.com) has a broad selection of hard-to-find Italian wines, cheese, pasta and a deli counter with lines stretching to the back of the store as shoppers wait for their favorite sandwiches and pizzas. There are also ready-to-heat main courses in the refrigerated cases.
If you have a favorite restaurant that you think deserves attention, please contact Nancy Lewis firstname.lastname@example.org.