The eateries in the shopping center are bringing a modern take to mall food.
It’s still a mall. You know that song that plays in the beginning of Clueless, “But we are young, we run green” (“Alright” by Supergrass)? It’s blasting in this gargantuan food court. Lots of people tap on laptops, zone out on phones, not exactly the image of scrunchies and Timberland boots from decades past. But then again, this is Tysons Galleria, and one must walk past guards at Gucci to find a slice of pizza.
And the pizza at Andy’s is great, simple, easy, New York-style slices behind a glass: cheese, white with ricotta, pepperoni, mushroom. Crispy bottoms and glistening, just-right greasy tops.
When Isabella Eatery shuttered nine months after its opening in November 2017—the closing was a part of the demise, Chapter 11 bankruptcy to be specific, of all Mike Isabella Concepts restaurants in DC, Maryland and Virginia—it wasn’t long until the New York-based Urbanspace christened it as A Taste of Urbanspace.
The first tenant announced: Stomping Ground. It was as if Nicole Jones were trolling Isabella, whose takedown stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit. “It’s just kinda funny,” Jones said about the second location of her cafe and biscuit shop, “that a queer woman is taking over the first space that you come into at the Isabella Eatery, and I’m sure it wasn’t by accident.”
In the mall, Stomping Ground loses the quirky appeal of its original Del Ray home, but in Tysons it takes on a different persona. There’s a shadowy glow from the huge wall of windows at the entrance and the back wall jam-packed with what seems like a football field of faux greenery, shrubbery and the like. Inherited from Isabella Eatery, the entire space, plastic plants included, is more or less the same, save for Urbanspace’s larger-than-life black-and-white illustrated character stickers plastered around the perimeter. “They’re good for selfies,” says Jones, scanning the hall.
Stomping Ground’s food is just as good: silky cappuccinos from local roasters Rare Bird and Lost Sock, crisp-tender oatmeal cookies with a thick cream sandwiched between and biscuits more reminiscent of Mama’s kitchen than what used to be served as food court grub. The food is approachable (egg salad in to-go tubs), and exactly how we eat today: a hash starring farro, parsnips and a poached egg; a green salad with roasted chicken and a harissa vinaigrette; and Southern bites: fried chicken, grits and pimento cheese.
If grain bowls and third wave coffee are a step into modern mall territory, Donburi and Sen Khao shatter the legacy of Taco Bell and Cinnabon.
An offshoot of the DC-based shop, Donburi is an introduction to Japanese rice bowls and curries. There’s gleaming, fresh raw fish over rice, panko-crusted proteins and a particularly fetching tofu version: cut into long, thin squares, crunchy on the outside and downright luscious in the middle, a tofu built to convert haters.
The gem in this food court is Seng Luangrath’s Sen Khao. Lao food has officially arrived. When Luangrath took over Bangkok Golden in Falls Church, she kept the menu Thai. She slowly added Lao dishes, from off-menu options, to a secret menu, to now, front and center and reflected in the name change of the restaurant: Padaek, a fermented fish sauce essential to Lao cuisine.
Luangrath has since opened a Lao-only restaurant in DC, Thip Khao, and is now bringing her cult-hit crispy rice salad to the masses at Tysons Galleria. Served in a bowl lined with romaine leaves, the crunchy rice plays with peanuts, pork, leafy herbs and shows off a whole lot of bright, zingy flavors. It’s a must order in the Luangrath canon, and a way to on-ramp to the vivid experience of Lao food.
The menu is compact, but varied: curry puffs that are doughy and a drop sweet, and a boon to bite on throughout the meal if things get fiery later on; a spicy lemongrass pork sausage, made in-house, with pockets of silky fat, served with rice and a cucumber salad; and a seemingly simple chicken noodle soup with thick udon noodles in an aromatic broth garnished with cilantro, fried shallots and chili oil.
Across the hall is America’s favorite dessert, ice cream, of course. And the flavors from Ice Cream Jubilee: Thai iced tea, cardamom amaretto and Earl Grey lavender, of course. // Tysons Galleria: 2001 International Drive, McLean; Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner
This was originally published in our March issue. Subscribe to the print magazine here to get it delivered to your mailbox every month.