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most outstanding ethnic eatery

I'm looking to head to any place in the 'burbs that will be divine. A year or so ago (can't remember timing) that would have been China Star. It can be any ethnicity at all. Only caveat is that it's not expensive. This is for a very special occasion, for two people who love new food experiences more than anything else.

What is your absolute favorite gem? Any ethnicity at all, any strip mall or neighborhood outside/around DC.

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  1. Since you added the qualification of not expensive, I'll put in a word for Shamshiry, just west of Tyson's Corner.

    1. Hee Been for Korean, though the one in Herndon Yee Wha? is good also. Prices might seem high at first, but one order of bbq and some wantons should handle two people easily.

      Eden Center for vietnamese. I'm not the best at keeping most of the places straight by name. While I like 4 Sisters, I prefer many others to it (though for a nicer meal out, they're probably my pick there). You get the added bonus of walking the mall before or after the meal.

      Thai Square or Bangkok 54 for Thai.

      El Pulgarcito in Wheaton for Salvadoran.

      That should get you started at least.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dennis S

        What makes El Pulgarcito special? We eat in Wheaton all the time and I've never noticed this place.

        1. re: shellymck

          Honesty first in that it's been over a year since I've been last, but I went with some regularity for about 3 years I'd say prior to that. This is one block east of GA Ave, and just a few doors south of University, next to that what used to be that music venue.

          It's just incredibly authentic and incredibly good. There's the one on the same physical block, but around the corner (that turns into a dance floor at night), and while it's good, they cater somewhat to the non Salvadoran population. Of all the Salv. places in Arlington, I'd put Aclacatl near the top in the same regard, but EP puts them to shame.

          Sort of like Ruan Thai and Thai Square, this place is only there to serve up their food - no frills whatsoever, but after you eat the food, you'll be a happy hound (hopefully).

      2. Pyramids, 6th and florida. can't get cheaper, tastier, or more outstanding. moroccan.

        1. I periodically travel from my quaint Virginia home to deepest, darkest Maryland just for the eats at two of the best restaurants in the DC area. Go crazy. Over order. It'll be worth it:

          Joe's Noodle House, Sichuan Chinese, Rockville, MD
          China Star is still good. Very good in fact. But it can't make all the wonderful items found here. W01, Wontons in red hot sauce (my favorite version of my favorite food in the world), A05 spicy and sour pickled vegetable - this can be hard core, R26, stir fried rice cakes, A41 peanuts and fried baby smelt, order something bland, too, like V04 shredded potato or F27 shrimp with scrambled eggs. I think you could eat here for a week, never order the same item, and have a knockout meal everytime. Please see link below.


          Ruan Thai, Silver Spring, MD
          This is a place where it really pays off to ask for the food "thai hot." And ask again, just to make sure. But even if you don't, it's still damn good no matter what. My top two items here are the boneless duck and the watercress special. Also good, not mentioned in the link below, is the bean thread hot pot with shrimp.


          It would be really hard for me to decide between these two.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            Yes yes yes yes on Joe's. That's the winner of this post, hands down. Ruan Thai is good, but that's dependent on the drive btwn Arlington and Wheaton.

            While Arlington has great Salvadoran, Wheaton wins there with El Pulgarcito leading a vast charge of other joints. But imo, Alrington beats Wheaton on Thai.

            Alas, different hound tastes come up different in some respects and equal in others. Try them all and throw in your knowing vote!

            1. re: Dennis S

              There are so many Salvadoran places in the area. And I sometimes feel like I've tried them all, but that's impossible. I wish I could say there is one place that does everything well, but all I can say for certain is that I've found a few great dishes here and there. If I lived up in Maryland, I'm sure I'd investigate Samantha's more, because that has the most promise. In Virginia, Atlacatl is a place where I should return.

              1. re: Steve

                Not been to any other Salvadoran places but Samantha's (on University near Piney Branch), but I heartily recommend it.

                1. re: Steve

                  I just saw your response Steve, but had just replied to another post above and referenced Aclacatl. I do love that place but when it comes to the food, El Pulgarcito at least used to beat it hands down - but my honest caveat is that it's been about a year since I've been at this point, after having gone with some regularity for a few years.

            2. This made me think--what is "ethnic"? Is it anything other than burger and fries, steak (things outside what you'd get from Applebees, Friday's type food)? Does French, Italian, English count? Tex-mex?

              I like Aladdin's, Cedar Cafe (in Burke), Abi Azteca in Woodbridge (hidden next to Lowes, it seems only known by locals but it's soo good and seems really authentic), Mui Kee for wontons and dumplings.

              1. Yee Hwa is, sadly, defunct.

                To the Korean list I'd add Yechon.

                Ba Le in Rockville (NOT the one in Falls Church) is a total hole in the wall with very good Vietnamese.

                A&J in Rockville and Annandale is Northern Chinese and an adventure a bit similar to Joe's, though with a shorter menu. The menu is full of small, inexpensive dishes. There is little rice and no seafood--this is inland China, in the wheat belt. Total standout dishes include the spicy cucumbers, the pan-fried pork dumplings (8 to a serving), and the pickled long bean with beef. If you get a noodle dish, get the wide noodles, made in-house. If you are ready for some challenging but good dishes, the spicy beef tendon and the pig ears are both excellent. The Annandale location also serves some of the most consistently good bubble drinks we've found. A&J is actually a chain originating in Taiwan.

                But far and away, the Eden Center gets my vote. As we told a visitor from Lousiana, "We're taking you to Vietnam for dinner."
                We like both Viet Royale (next to 4 Sisters) and Huong Viet, but we have never had a bad meal in the Eden Center.

                1. Very interesting thread. It's almost impossible to choose a single favorite with all the various cuisines available.

                  I have 3 first-level choices: Ruan Thai, Lebanese Butcher, and Myanmar. Like Steve, Ruan Thai is one of the few places I will drive to from NoVa, even though I am 5 minutes from both Thai Square and Bangkok 54. I like both of them, but Ruan Thai beats them out.

                  IMO, Lebanese Butcher is far superior to the ubiquitous Lebanese Taverna, as well as every other Lebanese restaurant I've eaten in in the area. And that's quite a few. I also like the Lebanese style of cooking better than similar foods from other countries of the region.

                  Myanmar, just because it is so different from other cuisines.

                  Of these 3, the one I crave most is Lebanese Butcher.

                  My second level choices would be Huong Viet as Polly mentioned, Taqueria El Charrito Caminante, and Ravi Kebab, all in Arlington/Falls Church.

                  I'm going to stop thinking about it now, because if not I'll think of other "absolute favorites."

                  1. Myanmar has to be near (or at) the top of anyone's list of ethnic eateries (for the food that is, service could stand a bit of improvement)...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: NoVaDog

                      I think it's not really the service per se. The wait staff is fine, but the kitchen can't keep up.

                    2. Weekend night and only one waitress--ten minutes to get water. All is forgiven, though, when the food arrives...