There is a certain buzz, expectation and, eventually, a deliverance of something new, surprising and, well, good to eat and drink that makes a restaurant sought-after. It’s that something that creates a wait-list when doors open. It’s where you’d rather sit at the bar and breathe in the laughter of the strangers a stool over than sit in a formal dining room. It’s where the beer is craft, the food is local, and the scene feels fresh and somehow familiar.
These are the new Northern Virginia hot spots: restaurants opened in the last few months that already cultivated a following and welcomed neighbors and friends. You should join. —SG
Photography by Jonathan Timmes
8426 Old Keene Mill Road, Springfield; montyssteakhouse.com
The last person named Monty might not have been born this millennium, but Monty’s the new steakhouse looks as current as “Modern Family’s” Cam, Mitchell and Lily.
The bar plays prominently upfront, rounded like a horseshoe with adults lassoed in the middle, drinking to their schedule-free tomorrow mornings. The room is clean and bright. Dark wood. White Walls. Fresh. Certainly contrasting to its strip mall location in the Springfield Mixing Bowl.
A Friday night invites a packed restaurant and cravings for an end of the week treat. Steak is in its name, and at Monty’s, it’s the best option. Cuts are well seasoned and peppery, and cooked how requested. The sides can feel stale; the potato gratin reminds of frozen dinner. The food presentation is slightly dated—only olives, gin and vermouth should live inside a martini glass, not shrimp cocktail or dessert. The service: delightfully sunny.
100A Purcellville Gateway Drive, Purcellville; coachscornerpville.com
“Our goal is not be a wing place,” says Rob Burton, a little surprised that such interest is not being shown to one of his marquee menu items: the thin-sliced, rib eye cheesesteak. But the owner of Purcellville’s Coach’s Corner might be mistaken. The wing sauce here is 20 years in the making, and its nuanced fire tells a story.
But Burton guards the recipe he and his wife crafted for decades. As a first time restaurant owner at 42, he shies from putting secrets out there, unlike many younger, glory-seekers trading soul-baring tweets for press coverage.
Burton reveals the sauce is made in-house—and is the only seasoning on the wing. First, the wings bake, then land on the grill for a charring so deep it scratches through the quick dip in the fryer. Chili flakes dot the fiery sauce: it brings on that good kind of burn.
Of course, Burton is also right. Coach’s Corner is more than wings. It’s a legitimate party. By 6:30 on a Thursday there’s only two empty stools (which we quickly grabbed) and tables playing host to families, co-workers and moms-on-the-loose. With 22 years coaching youth football, Burton imprints a heavy sports vibe with 13 televisions including one 70-incher tuned to the game. Jerseys hang in frames and there’s a basketball hoop in the back corner.
The menu reads like most sports bars, heavy on topping-jammed burgers (an egg can sit on everything) and packed sandwiches, such as the Pittsburgh homage with pastrami, fries and, of course, an egg. Twelve taps offer mostly commercial beer standards, a shame to ignore local brews. Although, says Burton, he’s in talks to supply Corcoran Brewing Company. Lost Rhino is already on draft.
But Shock Top still fills seats in Purcellville, a town thirsty for a place to grab wings and a beer, any beer.
Fuego Cocina y Tequileria
2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; fuegova.com
When is something hot? When girls who dinner—the new ladies who lunch—plan one of their monthly outings at that new restaurant. And large groups of women celebrating birthdays and pretending to discuss book club congregate at Arlington’s Fuego Cocina y Tequileria.
The price point is as easy to digest as the taco selections. At two-for-$7, the tacos menu, nine total, makes an ideal starter, especially the bits of chorizo with salty queso fresco. Empanadas are also a win, creamy inside and crisp out. The space mandates partying with a lower level dominated by a bar and high tops. A loft-style open view to the upstairs is complete with large booths and a private room in the corner sequesters a long, group table with ceiling-to-floor silver beads.
The service remains friendly, even as servers wait on capacity-level tables. If you notice a blonde woman, eyes darting between tables, clutching an iPad, she real-time calculates how much longer each group needs and enters statistics into reservation software provided by CityEats. A competitor to OpenTable, this new system, says general manager Eduardo Pagan, is “such a quick software,” and helps hostesses, like the blonde woman, provide better quotes for wait time. Which you will hear.
1000 N. Randolph St., Arlington; rus-uzcuisine.com
“We’re not even open yet,” says the man prepping tea kettles behind the bar. That’s right, tea. It was one of the only drinks available as Rus Uz awaits final liquor approval. It was a Friday night at a dry Russian restaurant. And it was packed.
Early in the night moms sat, balancing babies on bobbing knees. Later, silver-haired and finely dressed couples double-dated. Then the young things came in, blonde hair, short leather skirts, tall black boots. It was a mix of a scene, with scents of Russian words (and maybe some hidden flasks …) in the air.
Sharing space with the neighboring framing store, owned by a family friend, the Rakhmapullaev family started Rus Uz as an extension of their catering business of the same name. Within weeks of opening the Arlington restaurant hosted a 60-person wedding, which seems like a feat in this tiny room with fifteen tables and just a handful of bar stools.
Abraham plays GM and server, and this night, tea bag dunker, and his father Bakhtiyor works the kitchen. There’s been a slew of Eastern European restaurants opening in Washington, D.C.—Bistro Boem, Marni Vanna, Ambar—and Rus Uz fills this side’s need for smoked fish, meat pies and beet soups.
But there’s also dishes you might not have associated with the Eastern bloc. Ribbons of omelet mingle with lightly fried house-made pasta in a spiced lamb and tomato sauce. Some noodles take on a crunch, others remain soft. The mix of and textures, with just a hint of grease, form an unusual and rewarding dish.
Hot Spot Hot Pot
3232 Old Picket Road, Fairfax; eatdrinkhotspot.com
There’s something about making your own food at a restaurant that is infinitely more fun than making it at home. There’s no grocery store run, no prepping of ingredients, dirtying the countertops or following recipes. There’s also no clean-up.
Hot Spot opens its pantry for you. What broth do you want? Something spicy or herbal? Do you like prime rib? Lamb? Tongue?
The all-you-can eat buffet is a total DIY meal. Like sushi menus, turn in sheets marking which meats, fish, noodles and vegetables you want. Dip into your selected hot broth. While waiting for the order, pop by the sauce bar. There, the customer-as-cook continues, as you mix together chopped garlic, scallions, sesame seeds and oyster sauce for a personalized dip.
The space is utterly modern, with no reddish hued wood or black lacquer in a nod to Imperial China. The wood instead is light, almost unfinished looking. A bar area opens to the left, with one lone TV and liquor bottles propped in cubbyholes. A black and white mural fills the rest of the wall. Black background and white san serif font spells out the many ingredients available: lotus root, tofu, Napa cabbage. Some of the letters remain solid, others are like that Marilyn Monroe photo, where many tiny images of the tragic heroine form one large, completed photo. Instead of pictures of squid, you can read its genetic makeup: words like “B12” and “potassium” fit together to project the protein’s letters.
Playful art continues on the facing wall. A trio of vertical canvases shows the components of s’mores: one each featuring a single ingredient of marshmallows, graham crackers and a Hershey’s bar. Another pairing: a juice box stands next to a mug of beer and a wine glass poses with a glass of milk, both on ombred blue backgrounds.
But the space remains casual, not highfalutin as everyone from families to first dates find it more fun to cook when someone else cleans.
118 Branch Road, Vienna; pazzopomodoro.com
A table of twenty-somethings share pies and pastas and chat restaurants. And they are not talking about D.C.
“Have you been to Maple Ave yet? Because I need to go.” This is a new Vienna, where the young settle and go to eat. Pazzo Pomodoro isn’t as eclectic and on-trend as the mom-and-pop Maple Ave or as buzzy and stylized as the Mexican small plates, Alegria, but it surely fills tables.
Old-school Italian murals cover wall space with tiny villages, clear lakes and distant mountains. A collage of black and whites of ‘50s Italian beauties snuggle together on another wall. The tables: covered in red and white checks.
On top of those iconic tablecloths are equally classic dishes: lasagna noodles tinged green with spinach, sandwiching mini-meatballs and plenty of cheese. A marscarpone cream sauce smothers agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and needs some more seasoning to awaken its creamy dream.
Pizza exits through a gorgeous blue-tiled, wood-fired oven, and in this restaurant’s infancy, can’t produce just the right crust. But it’s still early. And you know what they say about Rome.
9329 Main St., Manassas; malonesofmanassas.com
There’s a level of comfort that cannot be manufactured. It’s kind of like how George Clooney is just cool. (Can anyone rock a suit-no-tie like this man?) Malones, a new restaurant set up in a historic church in Manassas, feels settled. It is friendly and warm, subtly upscale, calming. It is not revolutionary, but a push toward something new in a downtown that needs a lift.
The menu embraces classics. Mussels pile in a light-creamed white wine sauce with buttery, toasted baguette slices. Crab cakes, much more crab than panko, and refreshingly no Old Bay, come delicately seasoned plated with a caper gherkin and tarragon tartar sauce with a side slaw of apple and carrots bending (almost too) sweet.
The scallops develop a darkened glow from searing and find a friend in grits that would make fellow crustacean shrimp jealous.
The only dessert made in-house is the cheesecake, the chatty bartender says, making sure to detail the numerous versions practiced to end with this particular one. It’s a dense slice, as if the Kitchen Aid refused to blend the cream cheese into the sugar and eggs.
The bottom level is cozy and dim. Some stained glass remains from its time as a chapel, but the art on the wall is soothingly abstract and modern—a push forward for a community in need of somewhere to gather.
The V Virginia’s Eatery and Brew House
44630 Waxpool Road, Ashburn; go2thev.com
When the Vintage Restaurant Group closed Vintage 51 in South Riding (where the second iteration of Ford’s Fish Shack opened, see below), the team moved to a much larger space in Ashburn. The restaurant now has a private room, a patio that seats 70 with an outdoor bar and fire pits, plus a lounge area, a full dining room and two bars inside.
But one of the main reasons the team moved was for the beer. Just like at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, The V expects the paperwork to clear for a summer start date for brewing. But the lack of its own beers doesn’t stop the crowds.
On one Friday night there was a bachelor party, an anniversary dinner (or some sort of occasion that required the host to set a bouquet of roses and a card on the table before guests arrived), a family of four’s night out and a grown-up double date. The place was slammed.
The menu shares plates with its sister restaurant: the smoky cheeseburger sliders with bacon ground into the patty meat, almost half-foot long potato skins, sweet with barbecue sauce and meaty from the double pig of shredded pork and bacon crumbles. Nachos feel upscale as rare ahi tuna slices fit purposefully on each tortilla, with ginger and wasabi packing zing.
1106 King St., Alexandria; nottinghillrestaurant.com
The exposed brick feels stately at Notting Hill, and not an elaborate ploy at industrial chic found at newer restaurants. This Old Town restaurant attempts to bring back fine dining in its classic forms: white tablecloths, elaborate porcelain and dressed-up servers. Owners, business partners, family friends and first-time restaurant owners, Amir Jahangeri brought in Lily Sharifi to open Notting Hill. Jahangeri owns a residential and commercial construction company and Sharifi has worked in event management, fundraising and interior design. Sharifi says Notting Hill meshes masculine structure with feminine touches, creating, a “warm atmosphere, and a little bit homey.”
The food, from veteran chef Frank Morales (formerly of Rustico and the Ray’s the Steaks empire), is unfussy but modern. Chicken liver fills torteloni with black truffles scattered around the dish. Butternut squash soup pops with ginger and crème fraiche. Local oysters, de rigueur of sustainable eating, appear on the menu, as well as Cornish hen, obeying the anything-but-chicken fowl trend. A chocolate meringue and mousse ends the meal, sweetly and richly.
Weeks after opening, dining upstairs feels like a party. On a Friday night a piano in the corner exudes everything familiar from the last half century and Boomers indulge with rounds of drinks from the packed bar, an alcove on the top floor. The piano was bought from the recently closed Bistrot Lafayette, and its crowd of music lovers has since migrated to Notting Hill.
The restaurant is buzzy and refined, the real reason we proclaim: TGIF.
Eamonn’s A Dublin Chipper and TNT
2413 Columbia Pike, Arlington; eamonnsdublinchipper.com
“What do you think of the burger?” I ask my dining companion, as we sit at the bar, folded over fried food and gourmet cocktails.
Also, this isn’t really a burger. It’s battered and fried ground meat and he’s mid-bite. “It’s kind of amazing, huh?” I follow up in his silence. He swallows, shakes his head and answers, nodding, “Probably the worst thing for you.”
“Yes, but it’s still amazing,” and I steal the juicy, pinkish patty from his greasy hand, dipping it into Fronch, a sauce blend of mayo and mustard that defies its simple components.
The new Eamonn’s, the second outpost of the fish and chips shop from the crew of Restaurant Eve, lives on Columbia Pike, a newly bourgeoning strip of restaurants and duplicates (both Red Rocks–see page 113—and Taqueria Poblano have sister spots here).
The space up front feels casual, with picnic bench tables and a counter for easy to-go purchasing. The back bar, separated by a gate-like wall, is a much more low-key dual concept than Eamonn’s original attached bar: the exclusive, speakeasy-style PX. But the more welcoming vibe still triggers gorgeous cocktails with ingredients as varied as carrot ginger syrup and the North African spice blend harisa.
The battered cod and fries are just as good as the Alexandria location and the 50 cents extra for the warm, kicky curry sauce is worth the up-charge. The expanded menu includes battered and deep-fried sausage, sausage wrapped in pastry and fries smothered in curry and eggs. You can also get the fried burger on a bun, natch.
The Bungalow Lakehouse
46116 Lake Center Plaza, Sterling; bungalowlakehouse.com
Do you want a sit-down dinner? Do you want a nibble? Play pool? Smoke a cigar? Lakehouse is all over it.
The sprawling, 12,000-square foot complex is part-restaurant, part-adult playground. Upon entering, it feels like a classic date night, with dark wood and gentile service. To the right is an upscale bar with on-trend snacks: house-made charcuterie, tapenades and rillettes (the yellow fin is like the Lotus of tuna salads). Flatbreads, now a standard menu item, work well here, as one loaded with vegetables and cheese manages to stay crisp. There’s mussels too, off on a recent visit, but the tuna pressed in a million grinds of black pepper provides intense heat on this gorgeous piece of pink. A seared Virginia rockfish is one of the many proper entrees and a nod to local eating.
An after dinner drink is steps away: one room over is a full bar with almost as many flat screens as stools. There’s pool tables too, an outdoor terrace and a closed-off cigar room. Passing through the different rooms is like an “Alice in Wonderland” journey, where different characters fit perfectly into each crowded space.
7380 Atlas Walk Way, Gainesville; graftonstreetva.com
There’s a Ruby Tuesday, IHOP, Panera and Starbucks. And then, in the back corner of the shopping complex, there’s Grafton Street. Gainesville, says owner Justin Holohan, “is very up and coming and it’s lacking upscale casual dining that’s not a sports bar.”
He’s been listening to people in the area talk about driving all the way to Fairfax Corner and Reston Town Center to enjoy dinner. Holohan wants them to save the gas.
Grafton Street, named after a ritzy shopping strip in Dublin—Holohan is from Ireland—is keeping folks in Gainesville on weekend nights. A wait-list for dinner on a recent Saturday started as early as 5:30 p.m.
The menu is familiar: hummus, wings, onion rings. But also reaches out with short rib and shiitake dumplings that just need a more kicky sauce (something soy-based instead of the tomato relish perhaps?) to get them beyond satisfactory.
Cocktails demand attention here, bringing in famed Scottish whisky from Islay, with nothing priced over $10.
The summer will open up the 70-seat outdoor patio as well as the beginning of local sourcing. “People gravitate toward independent restaurants these days,” says Holohan, a 22-year veteran of the hospitality industry, but first-time restaurant owner. He knows people want sustainably raised food from local farms. “There’s a real push to made-in-America,” Holohan says in his strong Irish accent.