cheap eats w/in 10 miles of Dulles
Looking for anything ethnic, quirky, or just plain divey so I don't have to eat at a hotel restaurant on an upcoming visit. Thanks for your help!
In Clocktower Shopping Center in Herndon there are an assortment of foreign and domestic restaurants. My personal favorites are Minerva [Indian] and Chao Phra Ya [Thai]. If you go to Chao Phra Ya, you absolutely MUST order the duck with chilis and basil. Minerva has an inexpensive lunchtime buffet, which is delicious but really contributes to afternoon lethargy ;)
To get there, take Toll Road [bring quarters] to Exit 10 and find 2443 Centreville Road [you can't miss the large clocktower in the middle of this complex]. There's also a billiards hall, a grocery store, a bank, and a Mediterranean deli of sorts if you are interested in running errands.
Other noteworthy dining choices in the area include the Reston Town Center, which has a mix of chains and upscale eateries, and Worldgate Plaza, which has a mix of chains and "okay" eateries, in particular a Sushi place and "Mongolian" BBQ. Again, both are easily accessible from the Toll Road.
If you like beer, head over to the Old Dominion brewpub in Ashburn. Check out their web page at link below.
In Herndon, there's a Hard Times Cafe, great Texas chili there.
Also in Herndon is the Tortilla Factory, a family sort of place, maybe a tad eclectic, which has been around for probably 20 years. I haven't been in a while, but have fond memories of carne machaca. Ask for it 'the old way' with the tortillas on the side instead of a burrito stuffed with the meat.
re: Jim Dorsch
All of these suggestions have been great for this post -- but I have to post on the recent changes to the menu at Old Dominion Brewery. They expanded the dining area and changed the menu -- completely. The menu online doesn't exist anymore-- and has gone upscale. We were there about 2 months ago and they had four entrees on their dinner menu. FOUR. None of them were under $15. The waitress kept pushing the ribeye steak and roasted chicken, and I was very firm that we came to a brewpub for brewpub food. We weren't financially prepared that night to dish out $60 for the 2 of us to have dinner and a beer, so she finally brought out the bar menu which had a few of the old sandwiches and platters. I was really upset with the change, and have no motivation to return there now.
Just my two pennies.
Generally I find criticism far more helpful and motivating than praise. If a customer is unhappy with any aspect of their experience, I wish to hear of it so that it can be effectively corrected. When criticism is aired publicly (and not accurately),however, I feel the need to respond.
We do offer a more extensive menu in the evening than before our expansion. We generally run four entree specials per week, with at least two of them coming in under $15 dollars. The two of you could have had dinner and a beer for $35, pre-tax and tip.
We offer every customer a copy of the dinner menu and the bar menu, which is basically a slightly reduced version of our lunch menu. The bar menu has seven sandwiches, three salads, eight appetizers, plus fish & chips and bratwurst. If the waitress "kept pushing" the ribeye and pan chicken it is because they are exceptional items and a great value. Nowhere in your post did you happen to mention whether or not you had dinner.
You say that you came in for "pub food", but fail to define what that means to you. Is it a culinary style, like Cajun or Tex-Mex ? Or is it simply a euphemism for cheap and bland? We offer an extensive menu with sandwiches, salads, and entrees. The most expensive item on our bar menu is $9.25, and dinner specials rarely exceed $18. It is a menu designed to appeal to a wide swath of tastes at reasonable prices. I'm sorry if you didn't even see it that way.
General Manager-Old Dominion Brewpub
Although I have not been in a while, Dominion Brewery has great pub food. Of course, the complete selection of their beers on tap is another nice reason to drop in. It may be a bit tricky to find (it is in an industrial area near Redskins Park) but is worth tracking down.
You've gotten some good tips already. For sheer volume of good cheap eats get off the Dulles Access Road/Toll Road at Rte. 257 (Centreville Rd./Eldon St.), the same exit as you'd take to go the Clocktower Shopping Center, and head the other way, up Eldon St. into Herndon.
Fabulous array of restaurants, many dirt cheap.
Some places to check out on Eldon St. are:
Euro Bistro (Austrian food but also some Asian dishes; quirky and good)
Pollos Inka (Peruvian chicken that is excellent)
Bamyan (delicious Afghan)
Thai Luang (really good if you like your Thai food spicy)
Delhi Dhaba (dirt cheap Indian, right next to Bamyan; the butter chicken is very popular)
Hard Times Cafe (chili and great onion rings)
Jimmy's Old Town Tavern (good pub grub; very popular locals' spot)
Teocalli Tamale (branch of a Colorado burrito chain that recently invaded the area)
Enjoy your stay!
re: Joe H.
I disagree with the Rio Grande recommendation. Everything about this establishment reeks mediocrity.
The food is reminiscent of what one might find at On the Border, Chevys, Anitas, and the dozens of other chain Mexican places around the DC Metropolitan area. Boring, over-Americanized, over-seasoned. The noise level [music/crowds] is comparable, if not worse, to what one might find at Macaroni Grill or most other open-air type restaurants. The service is typically shoddy, which is no surprise as it is performed by your typical Reston redneck, high school dropout, or gold-toothing bearing trash [which are often one the in same].
I could never figure out why any of my former colleagues would select this place for their "last lunch" prior to leaving the company [other than the fact that it can accomodate large groups]. What is even more puzzling is how this place was allowed to rent in the Reston Town Center with far more savoury offerings like Clydes or Big Bowl.
I can only speak of two good things at this place: their addictive salsa and their decent plate sizes. Little else impressed me.
I'm sorry that you disagree with my recommendation. I am also sorry that you disagree with Zagat (highest Mexican food rating in the D. C. area), Washingtonian (best Tex Mex in D. C., three stars and one of 100 best restaurants) and the Washington Post where it has been repeatedly recommended since it first opened in Bethesda in the late '80's when Phyllis Richman first raved about it. Uncle Julio's (of which it is a clone) was D Magazine's top rated Tex Mex in Dallas throughout the '90's. The Dallas Morning News gives it three stars which is also the highest rating of any Tex-Mex restaurant.
Rio Grande/Unclue Julio's has nothing in common with any of the "chains" (a two city "chain", Dallas and Washington) that you noted and what is Tex Mex if it is not "Americanized" Mexican food?
As for your comments about "Reston redneck" and your "former colleagues" who suggested Rio Grande for "their last lunch prior to leaving the company" I would respectfully suggest that they probably wanted to frustrate you one last time knowing how much you hated to go there.
By the way, what is your standard for Tex-Mex (i.e. Americanized Mexican Food)? Also, I'm not surprised that you acknowledged the size of the plates (they are large) or the salsa which is free? You did overlook the free chips.
I find it interesting that you did not have any specific criticism of any of the food such as their fajitas, camerones or different quesos. Have you actually eaten anything at Rio Grande other than the salsa and chips?
re: Joe H.
I am not going to even bother dignifying your citation of other reviewers to justify your own opinion. Many of the publications you cited give Galileo superb (3 to 4 star) ratings. However, popular opinion runs quite the contrary. Is it any surprise that Washingtonian readers rated Galileo Washington DC's top Italian restaurant but also rated it Washington DC's most overrated restaurant? Correct me if I am wrong, but this seems to be a fundamental tenet of the Chowhounds: formulating an opinion independent of the media and other culinary entities.
In regards to your erroneous blathering about Uncle Julios, let me state the facts. Uncle Julios is a chain that consists of nine restaurants, having a variety of different names: Hacienda, Rio Grande Café, Casa Grande & Julio, and Juanita's. While they are owned by the parent company and have similar offerings, none of them are "clones". Especially Rio Grande and the Dallas Uncle Julio's.
In regards to your questions/commentary about Tex-Mex, let me state my opinions and a few facts in between. When I think of authentic Tex-Mex, I think of things like anticuchos, chili (with more beans than beef), torta, barbacoa, and bolillo. I think of things like burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas as bastardized (or "Americanized") Tex-Mex. If made poorly (which seems to be the case with Rio Grande Cafe), the flavors become indistinguishable.
It does not surprise me that you have premised your argument on fajitas and quesos. I think the true test of a Tex-Mex restaurant is not how they handle those items but how they handle items such as fish, beans, and grains. I am yet to find a restaurant outside San Antonio which can prepare these items properly.
"Authentic Tex Mex?" Barbecoa, bolillos are not Tex-Mex certainly not that which is popular in most Dallas and Houston area restaurants which are labelled as such. San Antonio? I've eaten my way through it from Mi Tierra to Boudro's and, yes, barbecoa is on a lot of the menus. I would suggest that San Antonio Mexican food (Houston based Pappas Bros.' Papasito's and others aside) is not what is regarded as Tex Mex in other parts of Texas.
A chimechanga is Arizona Mexican.
You are right about Uncle Julio's now having a multi state chain such as Uncle Julio's Hacienda outside of Chicago. My apologies. It's been a while since I felt the need to research this and the "group" has grown since then.
Don't ever accuse me of raving about Galileo. Obelisk, Tosca, certainly not Galileo.
You might consider being abit less agressive in your comments on this board. "Reston redneck" is not something that is going to endear you to myself living in Reston where more than 50% of the residents have at least two degrees. Not everyone will feel that Rio Grande is superb; but it IS excellent Tex Mex, let us say by the Dallas definition. If it were not then why are the lines so long every night? And why have they been this long for 15 years since the first one opened? The lines disappeared years ago at Anita's and I rarely see a line at the On The Border in Reston. Too many poor excuses for Tex Mex have opened in the middle Atlantic states and elsewhere. Rio Grande Cafe is a wonderful exception to those other experiences.
re: Joe H.
All this talk of Tex-Mex is really making me hungry...
Anyway, it's seems to be a recurring theme that people become passionate about foods that are clearly a regional specialty. NY Pizza/bagels/deli and authentic Tex-Mex always seem to spark the biggest debates.
I crave for things like sonoran food, dungeness crabs, and chianina beef. However, I wouldn't expect them to be as good in DC or anywhere else as when I had them in Tucson, Bodega Bay, or Castellina respectively. C'mon, I'm sure people have seen what pathetic excuses pass for crabcakes outside of the MD/DC area.
As for Rio Grande, I eat there occasionally and I think the food is very good. Perhaps my only criticism is that I don't think the food is worthy of an hour plus wait. However, I usually don't care about that or anything else for that matter after my 3rd margarita anyway :)
Joe, have you or any other Chowhounds ever eaten at Picante in Chantilly?
re: Moe Green
Yo Moe, I've mentioned Picante! The Real Taco a few times on here over the past couple of years.
For those who haven' tried it, Picante! is a family-run Mexican (NOT Tex-Mex) eatery that specializes in regional dishes that are not often seen in these parts.
It's located in a nondescript plaza just west of Route 28 on Route 50 that is also home to Thai Basil, another little gem.
Here's a link to a short Washingtonian review of Picante.
The Washington Post Fairfax Weekly reviewed Picante a few weeks ago but I can't seem to find a link to that review.
re: Joe H.
In regards to your comments about Tex-Mex and the assortment of cuisines and restaurants you have "eaten your way through", let me state something that is one of the many fact/opinion hybrids that have typically arisen from Texas: Tex-Mex was invented in San Antonio. Sure, you can debate it until the sun goes down by dropping the names of all the famous institutions you have frequented, but the bottom line is that San Antonio is further South than Dallas [hell, Dallas is barely *in* Texas] and holds a far more significant place in the culinary and cultural history of Texas/Mexican integration.
You obviously did not read my reply very carefully. I never accused you of supporting Galileo. I accused you of using outside citations to transusbstantiate your thoughts on Rio Grande from opinion to fact. Lots of prominent media/reviewers rant and rave about Galileo. Lots of Chowhounds [and people exterior to the Chowhounds community] moan and hiss about Galileo. The same can be analogously applied to Rio Grande. You seem to forget that, because it is premised on the mind's interpretation of sensation, cuisine cannot be evaluated objectively. So enough of your babbling about some "Dallas definition". There is no "definition". I made the same stupid mistake by trying to assert that Washington pizza was not authentic because it didn't meet my New Jersey standards.
In regards to your statements about Reston, I am terribly sorry you reside in such a disgraceful community. Vienna will always hold a place in its heart for you.
Philadelphia Mike's (Philly Cheesesteak fare) next to the toll road in Reston
Thai Luang off Baron Cameron where Herndon meets Reston