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Here are the 21 best restaurants in Fairfax County

From classic Italian food in a strip mall to a three-story steakhouse in Vienna, here are the best places to eat in Fairfax County, listed in alphabetical order.

By Stefanie Gans and Rina Rapuano

afghan cuisine on white plate
Photo by Rey Lopez

Afghan Bistro

Springfield | Afghan | $$

When Afghan Bistro opened three years ago it felt like a new chapter for Central Asian dining in the region. There’s always been great strip mall kabab houses, but this restaurant in Springfield found fame with composed plates and huge chunks of tender meats, like the Arcosian goat seasoned with garam masala, that seemingly dissolves into rice adorned with shredded carrots and raisins. The vegetable dishes should get just as much attention: roasted eggplant that’s just a delight, savory, spicy, soulful. Whether tucked inside of a dumpling or snuggled up to a melange of other vegetables, fall-approved, orange-hued winter squash is just a hint sweet and can ramp up thanks to the quad of house sauces on the table (a favorite is the bright green avocado one with a hint of jalapeno). Most everything is cooked long and slow, making this cozy, crowded spot a place to tuck into as the nights creep cooler. // 8081 Alban Road, Suite D, Springfield

fried fish from amoo's restaurant
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Amoo’s Restaurant **No. 7

McLean | Persian | $$$

It might be a casual Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend, but the minute a plate of incredibly moist and flavorful chimichurri lamb served with a mound of shirin polo hits the table, lunch suddenly feels like a celebration. The lamb arrives with a spicy green sauce that goes quickly, and you feel vindicated with this obsession when overhearing other tables asking for more. There are many versions of rice here, such as the crispy tahdig working great with hearty dishes like the braised lamb shank, but the shirin polo is an alluring pile of fluffy grains topped with pomegranate, pistachios, candied carrots and orange zest, lending each bite sweetness, crunch and pop. Start with a refreshing iced tea laced with rose water and saffron and end with an off-menu saffron ice cream sandwich. // 6271 Old Dominic Drive, McLean

This post originally appeared in our November 2019 issue’s 50 Best Restaurants cover story. For more food reviews, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

asian noodles
Photo by Rey Lopez

Asian Origin

Chinese | McLean | $$

Pickled, diced string beans, crumbles of ground pork, wilted spinach and scallions create a first layer above a tangle of noodles. Toss and toss and toss before digging chopsticks into this vegetable-heavy version of dan dan noodles. Cumin lamb is velvety in texture and heady in scent. Crinkly dry-fried green beans are standard issue from the Sichuan playbook, if a little less spicy in this version. But why it’s worth navigating though Tysons Corner to a nondescript office building is for its fantastical display of fish. A large silver tray hoisted above the table on four legs frames a whole fish decorated in layers of aromatics and spices and herbs and the fish is tender to the touch, but also electric. It’s a vibrant display of the Chinese cupboard, and a meal fit for daily celebrations. // 1753 Pinnacle Drive, Tysons

pizza going in oven
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Assaggi Osteria & Assaggi Pizzeria

Italian | McLean | $$$$ & $$

Farro swirled around a pot like risotto is even better than the Arborio rice version, nuttier, chewier, a mound of grains with more integrity, and somehow steals the spotlight from a duo of delicate scallops, pudgy rounds both tender and almost juicy. During the day at Assaggi Osteria, it’s a ladies-who-lunch scene, and the women know where to find sophisticated dishes, housemade bucatini, long, hollow strands glossed in pecorino Romano and lots of pepper; crisp-skinned branzino next to a fresh, lively bed of greens; and a meal completed with foamy cappuccinos and bombolini, huge, round doughnut holes that are warm and creamy and even better swiped through a patch of Nutella or lemon curd. Next door, a more casual solution is Assaggi Pizzeria, which fires up chewy pies decorated in creamy cheeses and salty meats. Snacks include fried pasta balls (because why fry up rice, as arancini, when noodles sauced in carbonara is an option?), and artichokes, fried where every petal is coated and crunchy and primed for dipping into a smoked aioli. The kitchens share pastry duties, so go ahead and order those doughnuts on this side, too. // 6641 Old Dominion Drive, McLean

fish on fried crabcake
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Ciao Osteria

Centreville | Italian | $$

“I’ll have the penne alla vodka.” It was a statement, not a question. This dish isn’t on the menu at Ciao Osteria, a homey Italian-American restaurant that commands lines on the weekends in its spot in a Centreville strip mall.

The server wrote down the order, no question. Ciao Osteria is a place of comfort, with standards from the red-sauce-joint canon (on menu or off), and also expertly charring Neapolitan-style pies. The toppings—mozzarella, prosciutto de Parma, arugula—are intentionally sparse, better to let the chewy crust have its moment. Follow the path most followed and order the boozy, rich, creamy, can’t-go-wrong tiramisu for dessert. // 14115 St. Germain Drive, Centreville

green sprouts on silver plate
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Clarity

Vienna | Modern American | $$$$

It couldn’t be more clear. It was at the top of the menu with a box around it. Of course, it’s what the restaurant wants guests to order. Is touting “first of the season Alba white truffles” a gimmick? Sure, truffles and its oil passed through the trend machine (on pizza, popcorn, mac and cheese) but the real imports from Italy are a special occasion. Clarity employed the fungi over a plate of radiatore pasta, little nubs resembling radiators, and it delivers on paying $27 for an appetizer portion as soon as that pungent, intoxicating scent floats through the air. A last-of-the-summer soup is thick with peppers, corn and okra, and a little spice cuts through the creamy texture. Softened beef cheeks sink into a soupy polenta that is all the better for the beef’s drippings. Dessert feeds the chocolate monster in us all with a luxe, elegant and large-portioned plate filled with chocolate in various forms, most importantly as a huge disk of pot de creme. // 442 Maple Ave. E., Vienna

noodles with veg and chopsticks
Laghman, a housemade noodle dish with lamb and veggies, is served with an intense homemade chili blend. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Eerkin’s Uyghur Cuisine

Fairfax | Uyghur | $$

Maybe the predictions from 2017 that Uyghur food is the next big thing—when three local restaurants opened in less than two years—didn’t come to fruition. Maybe we still need a pronunciation guide: WEE-gur. Maybe we still need help understanding this cross between Chinese, Middle Eastern and Central Asian food, a Silk Road-fueled journey of the Uyghur people. And, maybe we still need a nudge to try this food. Head to Eerkin’s in downtown Fairfax, a small restaurant with the full range of Uyghur delights: kathlama naan, four golden triangles that are buttery, crispy and flaky, like a flattened croissant; lamb kabobs, the quintessential meat-on-a-stick with the spices so heavily applied you can taste the texture; and manta, dumplings that are all about a salty, savory sauce freshened with cilantro. The true joys are the various noodle dishes—be it the housemade laghman, thick and chewy, almost reminiscent of Japanese udon, or dapanchi, a giant plate with chicken and potatoes, plus silky, flat, jagged-cut noodles, more like a shaggy Italian tagliatelle—no maybe about it. // 4008 University Drive, Fairfax

plate of thin bread with dips
Photo by Stefanie Gans

Enatye

Herndon | Ethiopian | $$

When guests come into town and want something local, something that represents the dining scene, Ethiopian is the way to go. The DMV has the largest Ethiopian population outside of the country itself. It is our local cuisine. Walking a newbie through the meal for the first time is a treat: Use the bread, injera, to scoop up the sauce, not a spoon, knife or fork. It’s unlike food anywhere else, the earthy aura amped up with fiery, but always balanced, heat. “It’s an entirely new flavor,” says the newcomer, talking in circles about the spices, and the vegetables, and how “the combination of textures …” and she can’t even finish the sentence. “I feel so dumb for never having tried it.” We’re not all as lucky to live in Little Ethiopia. // 275 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon

soup with chicken wing
Photo by Jonathan Timmes

Esaan

McLean | Thai | $$

There’s no pad thai on the menu here. In fact, many of the Thai staples American diners have come to know are conspicuously missing. While some might be put off by this, others will appreciate the opportunity to climb out of the green curry rut and revel in the spicy, sour, herbal and fish sauce-scented dishes of Northern Thailand. Carnivores should not even consider leaving this place without trying the spicy grilled pork shoulder—slices of tender meat loaded with dried and fresh chiles, fresh mint and cilantro, onion and fish sauce. Cracked, toasted rice lends a nice crunch to the jumble. Other menu wins include a starter of tiny chicken wings brightened by lemongrass and an array of aromatics; a whole fried rockfish piled high with cashews, ginger and chiles all swimming in a puddle of pungent fish sauce; and a dessert of coconutty, sweet sticky rice (sporting a fun blue color thanks to butterfly pea flower) topped with a creamy Thai custard. // 1307 Old Chain Bridge Road, McLean

three pieces of food with crab
Causa, cold potato cakes, serve as an entry point into Peruvian cuisine at Inca Social. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Inca Social

Vienna | Peruvian | $$

From the first moments inside, taking in the glittery red tiles behind the bar, the eye-catching wall designs created with bright green moss and the large-but-not-quite-life-sized stuffed animal alpaca near the door (or is it a llama?), there’s a sense that fun is high on the agenda at this modern Peruvian spot. Its location near the Dunn Loring Metro and the 23 tap lines featuring mainly Virginia-made craft beers and ciders make it a natural happy hour spot, and the festive patio is a great place to unwind. For those uninitiated in Peruvian cuisine, this is a great place to right that wrong. Servers are extremely friendly in explaining traditional dishes like causa—a base of cold potato cakes that taste like potato salad that’s mashed, formed into a disk and topped with mounds of chopped and dressed beets, chicken or shrimp. Inca balls are another winning appetizer, featuring that same causa potato mixture stuffed with cheese or ground beef that’s then breaded and fried. Lomo saltado, a stir-fry of soy-glazed beef, onions and tomatoes, celebrates the influence Asian cuisine had on some of the country’s most iconic foods. Or keep things lighter with an order of the El Cuzco salad, a squat cylinder of avocado, quinoa and mango with a passion fruit-lime vinaigrette. // 2670 Avenir Place, Vienna

fettucini with shrimp
Photo by Rey Lopez

L’Auberge Chez François & Jacques’ Brasserie

Great Falls | French | $$$$* & $$$

Taking a step back in time isn’t always a good thing. One exception: enjoying a leisurely meal in a restaurant inspired by a nostalgic French country inn plunked down in pastoral Virginia. Settle into the white-tablecloth experience either in the charming dining room or on the equally enchanting patio and prepare to be pampered. A meal begins with an amuse-bouche, such as a rich cream of lentil soup, and moves through a roster of Gallic favorites like French onion soup, lobster bisque and trout amandine. Diners can go light, as with a lobster and citrus salad dressed with vanilla vinaigrette, or heavier with dishes like a stick-to-your-ribs beef cheek stew teeming with mushrooms, vegetables and wine served in a mini Le Creuset crock. With dinner entree prices hovering around $85, it makes more sense to order the prix fixe menu for the same price—which buys diners at least four courses and several nice extras like coffee or tea with mignardises. No matter which way you go, opt for a meal-ending souffle. For those with Champagne tastes on a beer budget, try the a la carte Jacques’ Brasserie, a more casual experience found on the restaurant’s lower level. // 332 Springfield Road, Great Falls

rice dish with egg
Dishes at Malaysian Kopitiam are both comforting and electric, like nasi goreng, fried rice with shrimp and a puffy egg. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Malaysian Kopitiam

Centreville | Malaysian | $$

We all swore we’d never do it. We were young and cool and lived in the city. And then … life. And here we are in the suburban sprawl of Fairfax County. Luckily, Malaysian Kopitiam made the move, too. What was once a restaurant on the edge of downtown and Dupont Circle, is the same core restaurant (so is that city kid in a suburban parent body!), but now in Centreville. Fish puree wrapped in a sheet of tofu is fried to a crinkly, puffy, silky texture; it’s magical, like if tissue paper were edible. The long menu is flush with various rice and noodle dishes in various soups and sauces, like the curry laksa and mee goreng, and they all find ways to taste both comforting and electric. And for dessert, forget what you know about mochi. Here it’s something different: a warm sphere stuffed with sesame paste and coated with crushed peanuts and sugar, and it’s salty and savory with a blast of nutty richness. It’s the first time in many years of dining that the phrase uttered by the server—“It’s not ice cream”—came not as a disappointment. // 5085 Westfields Blvd., Centreville 

table full of food at Mama Chang
The way to get the most out of a visit from Mama Chang is to order as much as you can and share everything, like the (from left) Wuhan sesame noodles, chili fried lamb, green beans, chili flounder fish and dry-fried cauliflower. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Mama Chang **No. 5

Fairfax | Chinese | $$$

The space is bright, open, gleaming white with light wood. This is not the low-key strip mall digs where Sichuan sensation Peter Chang usually sets up shop. This is Mama Chang, the famed chef’s latest venture and one inspired by the women in his life: his mom, Ronger Wang, his wife, Lisa Chang, and daughter, Lydia Chang. The balloon-like scallion bubble pancake is one of the few Chang signatures represented in Fairfax, and it still wows diners with its volume and fantastical deflation. Beyond that are the fiery dishes, a brutally spicy dry-fried cauliflower, a spicy, heady chili flounder and the chili-cumin bits of lamb. A rich, nutty sesame sauce coats noodles and crinkly green beans are salty and snappy. The end can go simple with a squishy pineapple bun or unexpectedly Euro with a dark chocolate sesame flourless cake, featuring a slim line of fudge, and just a touch of sweetness to squelch the burn. // 3251 Old Lee Highway, Suite 101, Fairfax

carrot cake with cream
Photo by Rey Lopez

Maple Ave Restaurant

Vienna | European | $$$

It’s not that Juste Zidelyte doesn’t care that a collection of odds and ends has no business sitting next to each other on a tasting board, it’s that she knows better than we do. There’s chicken liver mousse, pairing well with currant jam, and then herbed ricotta, which could slide across a halved marinated egg—or is that bacon jam topping chicken liver mousse, or bacon jam on the egg? But wait, also find caponata and pickles and pickled raisins and olives. What’s going on here? Not sure? Doesn’t matter. It’s fun to play in this Lithuanian-native’s imagination of what mixes and matches. Not everything is a puzzle. A lamb ragu over housemade cavatelli is just that: saucy, meaty, bright, kicky. But wait, find peas and Calabrian chili, and cool, creamy burrata, and nothing is as exciting as finding a meal inside a sleepy space that has no business serving food this good. // 147 Maple Ave. W., Vienna

plate of colorful food
Photo by Stefanie Gans

Marumen

Fairfax & Sterling | Japanese & Korean | $

Expanding to fresh digs in Sterling doesn’t mean there aren’t still several compelling reasons to visit the original in Fairfax, in what, as any ’80s kid knows, is clearly the repurposed dining room of a former Pizza Hut. The chashu floating in both the shio and shoyu ramen broths was every bit as luscious and flavorful as slurpers want it to be. The server deftly fielded questions about which broth is lighter for one diner, which might be richer and deeper for another diner. Success comes in the form of each declaring their broth is the best. Izakaya mainstays like karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) and a seafood okonomiyaki (pan-fried battered pancake) show off the kitchen’s ability to serve up all the things that go well with an evening of drinks. A three-piece order of mochi speared with toothpicks is the only acceptable way to end. // 3250 Old Pickett Road, Fairfax; 21438 Epicerie Plaza, Sterling 

barbecued meats
It’s always a fun night out with barbecued meats and all the little small plates at Meokja Meokja. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Meokja Meokja

Fairfax | Korean Barbecue | $$

Korean barbecue can be a frenetic affair with K-pop blasting, various meats in various marinades sizzling and smoking and little plates (banchan) settling into any pocket of open space on the table. It’s a fun time, for sure, but not all galbi is the same. Instead of hiding behind sweet sauces, Meokja Meokja lets the beef itself shine: a 16-ounce prime rib-eye is a gorgeous, marbled hunk with only salt to bring out its fatty flavoring. A few minutes on a searing-hot grate—an inset in the table, and manned by servers—helps, too. The sides can be fun, like a vat of melted mozzarella and corn, and traditional, like gyeran-jjim, the custard-like steamed egg over broth that is reason enough to visit the land of Korean barbecue theatrics. // 9619 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax

cheese cubes from nostos
Photo by Rey Lopez

Nostos

Vienna | Greek | $$$

Has one even been to a Greek restaurant if the dip sampler wasn’t ordered? It’s doubtful, and in the case of this white-tablecloth spot tucked into a Tysons Corner office park, just go ahead and dig into the trio of spreads. Find whipped favas, satiny eggplant and creamy, lemony taramosalata filled with the deep umami of fish roe. There are many styles of mezedes (aka, Greek small plates) for grazing, and also hefty entrees like the homey pan-roasted chicken, herb-flecked and served with grilled asparagus and roast potatoes. Fish prepared in the simple Greek style of olive oil and lemon are another go-to here, with options of sea bass, salmon, halibut and a whole branzino that’s fileted tableside.
While taking a few bites of the jam-glazed Greek answer to cheesecake, sit back and drink in the way the decor seamlessly marries modernity and nostalgia with its gray stone accents, black-and-white photos and white walls evoking a trip to Mykonos. // 8100 Boone Blvd., Vienna

french fries with parm
A steak dinner isn’t complete without the appropriate potato accompaniment. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks

Vienna | Steakhouse | $$$$

“It’s definitely out of our wheelhouse,” says Jon Norton, the CEO of Great American Restaurants, a brand known for mid-range pricing, mainstream flavors and an unflinching dedication to consistency. Randy’s is the first new concept in a decade for the local brand built in the 1970s. (Anyone remember Fantastic Fritzbe’s Flying Food Factory?) Named after founder and patriarch Randy Norton (Jon’s dad), the high-end steakhouse in Tysons Corner feels both like a departure and a continuation of this fleet of feel-good restaurants. Would a single monster-sized tiger prawn, priced at $22 at lunch, dare show up at Coastal Flats? Probably not. But the always-professional, always-smiling service feels just as sunny. Steaks are charred and gleaming, cooked just right and made to please. Sides feel special, especially creamed corn turned into a brulee situation topped with shards of crisp bacon. Or, just get the truffle fries showered in Parmesan; a steakhouse is a no-rules land of indulgence. Brown-bag the leftovers and order The Chocolate Cake, a slice that needs all caps to compete with its five layers of cake and ganache that is held together with, what else, a steak knife. // 8051 Leesburg Pike, Vienna

rice dish with chicken
Huge hunks of meat sit atop gorgeous grains of rice at the Yemeni Saba. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Saba

Fairfax | Yemini | $$

Bring friends and wear socks to Saba. This is because the portions are generous and meant for sharing, and it’s best to sit on the back stage area where there are couches, but everyone sits on the floor, shoeless, huddled around mashed bowls of fava beans cooked down with tomatoes (breakfast is available all day!), served with foot-long swaths of naan. Yemini food is full of long-cooked meats paired with rice, which gets as much attention from the kitchen as any protein. Slow-roasted lamb (haneeth) is rich and satisfying and chicken mandi is some of the best roast chicken in the region. Order a hummus here because even though you can get this ubiquitous product at 7-Eleven, when it’s whipped fresh, it’s a whole new world. // 3900 Pickett Road, Unit A, Fairfax

sense of thai food
Photo by Rey Lopez

Sense of Thai St.

Ashburn | Thai | $$

Like any new town center trying to figure out that right blend of retail and restaurants, there is always the short-lived failures, the seasonal pop-ups and the ones who have come to anchor the place and give it character. One Loudoun should be thankful for Sense of Thai St. During dining hours, it shows off a varied world of Thai food, especially in haunting dishes like the crab phak curry, a creamy, spicy sauce with noodles as delicate as a whisper. Backed by an experimental bar program (summer means tiki time), Thai iced coffee is a composed drink with the addition of roasted rice and caramel. And come night, well, it’s a legit party. In a town center. Reston, you paying attention? // 20413 Exchange St., Ashburn

chicken in bowl
Trummer’s rebrand centers around a new kitchen toy: a French-inspired rotisserie for chef Jon Cropf to play with. (Photo courtesy of Trummer’s)

Trummer’s **No. 4

Clifton | Modern American | $$$

This longtime favorite in the heart of quaint downtown Clifton recently closed for about a month, reopening in early autumn sporting a redesigned dining room, a new bistro-style menu and even a new name, since it dropped “on Main” from its moniker. But instead of a complete overhaul, owners Victoria and Stefan Trummer managed to keep everything that worked while revamping just enough to make it feel updated and fresh. The tropics-inspired ceiling fans still command the eye, but modern artwork, a new light fixture made with what looks like driftwood, a fun and funky mural on the stairwell wall and pops of pink and teal velvet bring the three-level restaurant into a new era. The menu, too, deftly blends old and new, thanks to chef John Cropf, who thankfully stuck around to play with the new rotisserie in his kitchen. Selections from the spit include prime rib and a whole (or half) roasted chicken, the latter served with ultra-sweet corn, smoked mushrooms and a rich black truffle sauce. Gnocchi also leans heavily on fall with the addition of local squash, sage, pears and parmesan. Thoughtful salads can still be relied upon, such as a bowl of creamy, stringy stracciatella cheese receiving bitter from chicory, fresh crunch from apples and tartness from a balanced vinaigrette. The dark horse was a dish of spit-roasted carrots scented with vadouvan (the French version of masala spice) over a puddle of herbed yogurt and a vibrant kale sauce. Who knew a carrot could steal the show? Desserts from the talented Meagan Tighe are still playful yet elevated, with new sweets looking awfully similar to those she’s served in the past (think crumbles, pretty blobs, gels and flower petals), but with updated flavor profiles. Her nod to owner Stefan’s Austrian heritage, the layers of chocolate cake and apricot jam known as sachertorte, is a revelation to those who have only sampled versions sold to tourists. So, is Trummer’s new? Yes and no. But it’s still just right. // 7134 Main St., Clifton

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