If there’s a truism about Best of Washington lists, it’s this: No matter how well you customize the list — or how well you explain the customization — someone somewhere will complain that you ignored Virginia, Maryland or some lonely outpost that happens to hawk the absolute greatest bowl of pho on the planet. How could you have possibly missed it? Duh!
Case in point: Last week, the Going Out Guide team put together a fine list of my five favorite D.C. restaurants from recent months. Let’s review the criteria: Five restaurants. From the District. In recent months. Yet the comments section practically snarled about the injustice perpetrated on the outlying ’burbs, whose restaurants just happen to occupy seven of the 10 slots on my best cheap eats list from 2017.
Regardless, the $20 Diner is nothing if not accommodating. This week, in a gesture of goodwill to hungry diners throughout the DMV, I offer my five favorite restaurants in the D.C. suburbs, starting with those in Virginia. (You can find my Maryland picks here.) As a bonus: I will feature my five faves since February 2013, when I started this column.
Turnover doesn’t seem to affect the performance of the pit crew here. Since debuting in late 2015, Texas Jack’s has burned through its original pitmaster and an executive sous chef, but the place continues to demonstrate an unwavering dedication to the art and science of smoking meats. Like many urban smokehouses around the country, TJ’s also treats barbecue as a cuisine worthy of the finer things in life: small-batch spirits, craft cocktails and microbrews. 2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington. 703-875-0477.
As a native of Naples, Pupatella co-owner Enzo Algarme is totally in the tank for the pizzas of his home town, the birthplace of those pillowy soft and blistered pies that have become objects of obsession among modern pizzaiolos. He mostly adheres to the strict rules of Neapolitan pizza — importing his ingredients from Italy — but Algarme applies an artist’s eye to the architecture of his pies. They are among the most visually stunning rounds anywhere. Then again, they’re not so beautiful that you won’t devour them on sight. 5104 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 571-312-7230.
The farm-to-table Royal Nepal is more sophisticated than many of its strip-center ilk, a reflection of the founders’ previous experiences in some of Washington’s most elegant establishments. Chef and partner Subash Rai executes and plates his food with refinement but also with respect for the more concussive components of the cuisine. If your experience with Nepali cooking has been limited to those restaurants that also cater to Indian diners, you owe yourself a trip to Royal Nepal, where the owners take serious pride in the foods of their native country. 3807 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 571-312-5130.
Located in the Brookfield Plaza Shopping Center — sort of the Little Karachi of the D.C. area — Dera can cater to all your Pakistani cravings, whether sweet or savory. Chef Ghulam Rubani, a pastry chef back in his mother country, tempts you with a display case full of Pakistani confections: barfi, cheesy cham-chams, syrupy gulab jamun and much more. But he also serves up a generous buffet: a steam table packed with Pakistani-style stews, salads, curries and tandoori meats, some of which pack enough chili-powder heat to turn your head into a lighthouse for passing ships. 7030 Spring Garden Dr., Springfield. 703-866-2233.
Yemeni native Taha Alhuraibi is not a chef by training, but like so many expats, he discovered a love for cooking once living in a foreign land. It was his way to hold on to a piece of home. His platings — sometimes little more than a pile of turmeric-tinted rice topped with meats and crispy onions — are just as homestyle as his cooking. If there’s a commonality to the dishes on Alhuraibi’s menu, it’s that each one feels prepared especially for you, as if you were a guest at a Yemeni house, not a customer at a Yemeni-American restaurant. 3900 Pickett Rd., Fairfax. 703-425-1130.