The Mosaic District in Fairfax is more than just a residential-retail development near the split of Interstate 66 and the Beltway: It’s becoming a microcosm of Washington’s trendy dining scene, where popular downtown restaurants such as Ted’s Bulletin, Red Apron, Matchbox, Dolcezza and DGS Delicatessen clone themselves for suburbanites who don’t want to make the trek downtown. Not all of the eateries here are repeats, however: We took a four-stop food-and-drink crawl through the Mosaic District, which is a 15-minute walk from the Dunn Loring Metro station.
The tour begins with one of the rare Mosaic District restaurants to offer a happy-hour special. Frankly, Cyclone Anaya’s circular bar and southwestern decor feel dated: You’ll get that shopping-mall feeling here more than at any other restaurant on the tour, possibly because of the soundtrack, which mixes yacht rock and “Party in the U.S.A.” Still, you can’t beat the deals: $3 draft beers from Shiner and Dos Equis, $3.50 cans of Flying Dog and Lost Rhino, $5.25 house margaritas and $5 glasses of Kendall Jackson chardonnay. (Okay, we didn’t say they were all deals.)
Outside of happy hour, the focus turns to 15 “special” margaritas, which fill an entire page of the menu. They can be served frozen, up or on the rocks in a 10-and-a-half-ounce glass ($11) or in a comical 21-ounce “jumbo” glass. They’re fairly standard: The Grand Gold is Jose Cuervo and Grand Marnier; the Crazy Mexican combines Cazadores Silver and Cointreau. The menu promises an “Amazing Margarita!”; we thought it was on the sweet side.
If you’re in need of a quick bite with your drink before you catch a movie at the adjacent Angelika Film Center, there are basic enchiladas, tacos and free chips and salsa to fuel you, but you’ll do better to save room for the next stop on the tour.
2911 District Ave., Fairfax. 703-992-9227. www.cycloneanaya.com.
Could it be? A hipster hangout in the middle of a commercial development in suburban Virginia? That’s what B Side, where bartenders drop the needle on New Order and Beastie Boys records on a turntable behind the faux-distressed bar, feels like. The narrow space — customers place their orders at the bar even if they're lucky enough to snag one of the dozen tables — is cooler than its environs would suggest.
Like the Partisan downtown, B Side is connected to a Red Apron Butchery, but it’s no copy of the D Street charcuterie-forward restaurant. Many of the meats, such as the sour pickled half-smoke or a spiced head cheese, are available only at this location. It’s the same for the dinner menu, where a pork-belly pupusa with smoked chimichurri hits the spot. Of course, you’ll find Red Apron classics, such as Nathan Anda’s burger, on the menu as well.
Jeff Faile, known for his cocktail menus at Iron Gate and, earlier, Fiola, is in charge of the drinks. While Virginia’s stringent liquor laws offer him a smaller palette than the exotic amari and aged bourbons he works with in Washington, there are still good choices here: the creamy 59th Street Bridge, made with Maker’s Mark and a fruity cabernet syrup, or the Needle & the Damage Done, which gets its grassy, herbaceous flavor from green chartreuse, celery bitters and citrusy El Jimador tequila. The beer list is intriguing, with sour and funky ales to rival the coolest spots in Bloomingdale.
8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax. 703-676-3550. www.redapronbutcher.com.
Gypsy Soul is more casual than chef R.J. Cooper’s Shaw restaurant, the multicoursed Rogue 24. And when you take your seat at the bar, you might think how, if this restaurant were on 14th Street, you’d have to surrender an entire night just to get in. Instead, you’re in Virginia, where there’s plenty of elbow room.
Start with the fried chicken skins. Nearly everyone does, a bartender says, and it’s not hard to see why: Salty and crunchy, with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, they check all of the right boxes, especially when paired with one of the restaurant’s complex, smoky drinks.
The cocktails are as praiseworthy as the cooking. Aromatic green tea, sharp green apples and sage join citrusy gin and mezcal in the lightly fruity Ancient Remedy, which works as an aperitif or with the saltier small plates. The more full-bodied Dreaming of Snakes, with VSOP brandy as a base, has espresso and orange notes. And don’t overlook the 16 wines by the glass, priced from $8 to $14, or the deep selection of rare and strong bottled beer.
8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax. 703-992-0933. www.gypsysoul-va.com.
The profligacy of your last three stops will come back to haunt you at True Food Kitchen, the health food cafe inspired by the teachings of frequent Oprah guest Andrew Weil. Upon entering, you’re greeted by an enormous sign that reads: “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” We’re pretty sure those fried chicken skins fall into the former category.
The restaurant was packed last week, so we squeezed into a tiny corner of the bar, where bartenders were pouring shots of Kale-Aid juice and Hangover RX (coconut water, pineapple, vanilla and orange juice). We chose a Thai grapefruit martini, alive with fresh flavors of basil and grapefruit over the organic vodka base, and Spontaneous Happiness, a fruity-sweet concoction of house-infused ginger and vanilla shochu, flowery St. Germain and fresh lime. Keeping with the theme, the menu is packed with wines from sustainable and organic vineyards, and the beer list includes gluten-free and organic options.
With a large illustration of Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid looming overhead, we ordered the messy-but-tasty tofu-shiitake lettuce wraps and edamame dumplings perfumed with truffle oil. For self-proclaimed health food, they were surprisingly indulgent.
True Food Kitchen is an elegant yet kid-friendly restaurant outfitted in a row of white birch trees — a shame-free design element to rest your eyes upon, unlike the sanctimonious signage.
2910 District Ave., Fairfax. 571-326-1616. www.truefoodkitchen.com.