From Thai classics found off the beaten path to a neighborhood newcomer’s fresh take on Italian, here are the best places to eat in Falls Church, listed in alphabetical order.
By Stefanie Gans and Rina Rapuano
Falls Church | Thai | $$
Things that don’t happen in real life: elephants jumping. Things that do happen in real life: finding a great meal at Elephant Jumps. The Thai restaurant tucked into a shopping center down the street from Mosaic District is a discovery into a world beyond pad see ew (though the version here is certainly better than other neighborhood Thai spots). Specials on the blackboard are a good idea, as are hoy jaw, a mix of shrimp, crab and pork wrapped, fried and sliced into bites of savory crunchiness; fried shrimp in kicky, beguiling tamarind sauce; and a whole red snapper decorated in purple onion strips, shredded mango, whole cashews and a lot of sassy, in-your-face flashes of flavors. // 8110 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
Falls Church | Vietnamese | $$
As the Eden Center, the Vietnamese-dominated cultural hub for food, drink and shopping, continues featuring spots for Korean, Bolivian and hot pot, it’s good to know Four Seasons provides pho. This pho is a chicken noodle soup, warm broth, salty and bright, packed with noodles and slivers of chicken. It’s not cluttered with a lot of extras and garnishes, a straightforward bowl for a purist. There’s another soup filled with wontons that is somehow so good it’s buttery. There is a dish featuring cubes of tofu, crispy in a way that the exterior seemingly crystallizes into something snappy, while leaving the insides creamy. This is a display of dazzling tofu manipulation, and it’s why Four Seasons can charge nearly $20 for a plate of sauteed snow pea leaves. It knows what it’s doing. // 6767 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church
Falls Church | Barbecue | $$
Sure, Brooklyn gets the credit, and blame, for the preciousness of today’s restaurant scene. Think kale everywhere, vintage wallpaper and esoteric cocktail names. Brooklyn also helped energize and modernize the barbecue scene, and around here, Liberty Barbecue is the borough’s legacy. The Falls Church family-friendly spot (from the group of restaurants that gave us Lyon Hall and Northside Social), takes its cue from pitmasters all over the world. Find smoked chicken wings with an Alabama white sauce, Texas brisket that’s a little smokey and plenty moist, and char siu-style pork belly for a nod to Cantonese expertise. The fried chicken, crispy and juicy, is a sure bet (practiced over the years at sister restaurant Liberty Tavern), as are the beans blessed with smoky burnt ends and fried Brussels sprouts, the true signifier of the new food world order. Thanks, Brooklyn. // 370 W. Broad St., Falls Church
Falls Church | Lao & Thai | $
Not many non-new, non-city, non-trendy restaurants command a full dining room on sleepy summer evenings in the middle of the week. Most aren’t Padaek. Under the glow of Lao food trailblazer and legacy codifier, Seng Luangrath, who spreads her countries’ culinary feats at Sen Khao in the food court at Tysons Galleria and Thip Khao and Hanumanh in the District, Padaek is a yellow-walled, tiny spot making the case for custardy fish grilled in a banana leaf or wok-fried rice noodles in a caramel fish sauce. But really, it’s all about naem khao thadeau, or how it’s better known in foodie circles, crispy rice. That’s all anyone needs to hear and it’s obvious the next step is to order a bowl of Luangrath’s soulful mix of crunchy, porky, sour, sweetness. It’s fascinating even after all these years. Or, what the regular at the next table over told his new-to-Padaek friends: “We might have to get two.” // 6395 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church
Falls Church | Vietnamese | $$
People are creatures of habit, and it’s tempting to order the same dish every time at this Eden Center mainstay. But Rice Paper is a place where experimentation brings great rewards. Yes, the pho is delicious and totally hits the spot when the craving hits, but consider bringing a few friends and incorporating a new dish or two. Worthy options include the Rice Paper combo platter, a massive mound of veggies, fresh herbs, ground beef in grape leaves and grilled seafood and pork, all of which can be tucked into lettuce leaves or one of the DIY rice wrappers that guests soften in warm water at the table. The special-style fried rice with filet mignon and sweet Chinese sausage lives up to the title of “special”—it really is head and shoulders above your average fried rice, thanks in part to wonderfully tender, marinated chunks of beef and a sunny side up egg. Caramelized fish in a clay pot is a sweet-and-savory bowl of white fish chunks in a peppery sauce that might turn into yet another thing you need to order every time. // 6775 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church
Falls Church | Japanese | $$$
Takumi has figured out how to be the sushi restaurant everyone wants. The space is minimal, sparse, but welcoming with a touch of whimsy, like those illustrations of deep sea creatures hanging from the wall. It also serves damn good fish. The sashimi is cut with precision, and gleams in saturated hues of pink and orange and iridescent shades of cream and white and tastes just as clean, fresh and beautiful as it looks. It’s in the show, with a dab of garnish that amplifies the differences in breeds and varieties, a sweet and rich hamachi or a delicate walu or a creamy salmon or a deep, soulful tuna. Surrounding the sushi menu are options ranging from grilled baby octopus or scallop ceviche to a seaweed salad full of varying crunchy and slippery textures, fried tofu with a silky interior and a slew of puffy, tempura vegetables. Falls Church is lucky, and also, you have permission just to order the fish. // 310 S. Washington St., Falls Church
Falls Church | Italian | $$
Katherine and Gabe Thompson ignored the adage. Cliches are for the boring and the uninspired, not the power couple who left New York working for Michelin three-star chefs and their own family of celebrated Italian restaurants.
Native Arlingtonian Katherine did, in fact, come home again, and she set up shop in neighboring Falls Church. Thompson Italian is a welcome back gift to us all. The vibe feels effortlessly cool with white subway tiles behind the bar, brass light fixtures, warm jewel tones, unironic wallpaper accents and a quirky jumbo print of a Moka pot. The food is good, comforting, unfussy: like you showed up unexpectedly at Alison Roman’s house and she already had a few things going. There are hearty meatballs with pops of spice—the Thompsons quickly point out that this is not an Italian restaurant, but their version of modern American cuisine with Italian inspiration—as well as housemade ricotta plated with a mix-and-match salad of crisp nectarines, tangles of arugula and pistachios dressed in a snappy vinaigrette. All the pastas are made by Gabe’s kitchen, and the gemelli proves that in its chewy bite, tossed in a Diablo-like sauce with heat thanks to Calabrian chiles. Gnocchi are dense, and can stand up to the lamb ragu that’s equal parts humble and dazzling.
Katherine’s tutelage in high-end pastry shines here with composed desserts like the chocolate hazelnut torta, a frilly, fancy and delicious sweet that makes sure diners remember it’s why we let talent leave and learn, as long as they come back. // 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church
Falls Church | Modern American | $$$$
Pro tip for dining at this colorful dining room with soaring ceilings and larger-than-life artwork: When in season, order the Maryland soft-shell crab tempura. It might be served with tomato aioli and scallion salad one week and accented with ramp aioli and pickled pearl onions the next, but no matter. It’s a must-order because the main ingredient is so perfectly golden and delicious. Starting with a fish tartare is equally safe, whether it’s an unctuous dice of salmon with chunks of truffled fried potatoes cleverly dotting the bearnaise sauce, all garnished with pea shoots, or the tuna with Grand Marnier aioli, avocado mousse and fried shallots. These are the odds one must play with a highly seasonal, ever-changing menu—can the kitchen pull off tweaks and changes every week of the year, perhaps even changing day to day? In the case of longtime chef Bertrand Chemel, the answer is yes. // 2941 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church