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Why is NoVA so devoid of good homey fair?

Leesburg, Frederick, Fredericksburg, they all have nearly half a dozen local places each that I crave often, but fairfax/vienna/tysons/fallschurch/'hell' has basically nothing when it comes to farm-to-market/Localyowned/American/pubfood fair?

is there some place I'm missing? dogfishead is basically it.

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  1. That's a big bunch of umbrella's you're packing there. More than GAR, more than stuff like Pan Am Family, more than Fosters, etc? Please give more detail cuz I think they're out there. Also - with that range, are you okay with northern FFX too?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      I was just at Pan Am for the first time today. A huge plate of Stuffed Cabbage for $9 including a salad. Very good. Served with peas and carrots that had some nice crunch to them. If the rest of their food is this good, it may be the best diner in the area.

      1. re: Steve

        I need to again myself, but sometime try the pizza. They used to have a crazy good sauce.

    2. American pubfood? Like burgers, nachos, fries? There are plenty of that but no one ever talk about them since they're no better than Cheesecake Factory.

      1. When I read the title of your post - I immediately thought of Payne's in Centreville. That is a homey place. But - certainly nothing like Dogfish.

        Paynes is a great place to go for an "old fashioned breakfast". It is not a diner, but serves that sort of food. I do feel like I am in a blast from the past when I go there.

        Not gourmet. Not fancy. Not adventurous. But - if you are looking for homey, this certainly is that. (PS - an it is not farm to market, either!)

        2 Replies
        1. re: MarietteB

          Yes, I thought of Payne's too. Another along those lines is the Virginia Kitchen (AKA Waffle King) in Herndon.

          1. re: MarietteB

            Horrid place! Lousy Food! Dirty kitchen and the best thing is IT IS CLOSED.

            sorry. not a fan at all.

            If you're in the C'ville / Manassas area - try Yorkshire Restaurant on 28 in Manassas (Park?). The breakfast is great! The people are nice, and the kitchen looks ok.

          2. i think i know the types of places you're talking about...sort of like the places on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives...locally owned, funky places with good food, eclectic menus, and, ideally, locally sourced ingredients.

            you are correct. we have none of those and it makes me angry.

            10 Replies
            1. re: CoconutMilk

              I take it you've never been to Vienna Inn. Or Tastee Diner. Or Amphora. Or Pan Am.

              Vienna Inn
              120 Maple Ave E, Vienna, VA 22180

              Amphora Restaurant
              377 Maple Avenue West, Vienna, VA

              29 Diner
              10536 Lee Hwy, Fairfax, VA

              Pan Am
              Lee Highway and Nutley St, Fairfax, VA

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                Amphora is awful and only worthwhile because of its hours. 29 Diner is horrible food and over-priced for what it is. I mean, yes... we have the eastern meditterearean owned diner thing on lock (I personally prefer Sparta down in Burke). but... none of these places are of the type I want... a new-ish place with a smart beer list and decent american food.

                anyone wanna open one with me? theres a few buildings a block or two from oldetown fairfax that'd work nicely.

                1. re: Crocken

                  I agree about Amphora's and 29 Diner. I've been to both Amphora's (Vienna and Herndon) and wasn't impressed with either. I thought 29 Diner tried far too hard to be the trendy homey place and priced itself as such. Food was more unusual than Silver Diner but I don't think the quality was any better (and that's not saying very much).

                  If you build a good homey place, I'll come.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I've had good luck with the Greek food at Amphora, but everything else has been pretty meh. At least they still use real gyros off a spit instead of that grey prepackaged bologna abomination.

                    Silver Diner is a complete nightmare, which is a shame because they used to be quite decent. Then they tried to be all things to all people and the suckage continues to this day. You'd figure with bankruptcy, they'd re-organize and focus on diner fare instead of overpriced IHOP meets Applebees.

                    Of all the Tastee Diners, 29 is probably the weakest. I prefer the Laurel branch: Silver Spring is too clean, Bethesda is too crowded.

                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                      We've been to the one in Vienna a couple of times, a long time ago, and thought it was meh, as you said. We heard here that the one in Herndon was better. My husband had the greek platter w/ moussaka, pastitzio and something else and found them dry. But, for all those dishes, he's only had what I made at home so it's hard to compete w/ freshly cooked foods. I can't remember what I had but my nephew had ribs that were dry. I thought it was pretty pricey, too. I'll have to try the gyros. I love a good one and find it's more often too dry.

                      I haven't tried Silver Diner in years but 29 Diner in comparison tries more upscale food, with the corresponding price, but not substantially better in quality. I was surprised at how packed it was, about 2pm, and how unfriendly the service was.

                      But, overall in NoVa, I can't think of a great homey restaurant or a place that has good brunch/breakfast foods like the OP asked. I'd love to find one. Maybe smaller neighborhoods, like Del Ray might?

                      1. re: chowser

                        When people in this thread say "29 Diner," are they referring to Metro 29, the place on Lee Hwy in Arlington, near the intersection with Glebe Rd.? As noted above, "29" is also the name of a diner in Fairfax, on Rte 29/50 off Chain Bridge Rd. near Brown's Fairfax Mazda. I've eaten many breakfasts there while my car was being worked on. It is classic greasy spoon cuisine, with the emphasis on grease. But then, as with cars, we all occasionally need lubrication.

                        As for Metro 29, I've never understood the fascination or the lines out the door. It's okay, but has no character at all.

                        1. re: Gonzocook

                          At something like 26$ for a steak and egg breakfast, the Metro 29 is ridiculously expensive for a diner, even for Arlington. For $12 at the Double T Diner in Frederick, you get a perfect 12 oz. New York strip with your eggs and they have a breakfast special with pancakes or French toast sausage, bacon, eggs and fruit for under $7 that is too much to finish. There are at least a dozen good breakfast spots in Frederick. You have to go further and further from DC to get a decent breakfast or lunch for a reasonable cost. Crazy, isn't it?

                          1. re: Gonzocook

                            I mean Metro 29. I've wanted to try the diner on Rte 50 and looks like a good old diner.

                            1. re: chowser

                              29 Diner is a good greasy spoon. Metro 29 is a hot mess.


              2. I am not sure what you mean by pubfood, but if you really mean pub food then Eammon's in Alexandria is your place- fish and chips is about as pub food as you can get.

                In Falls Church Old Hickory Grill has some good things on the menu. But do you want farm to table or pub food or American, or do you think all these are the same? Or you want a mix of all of them? I am a bit confused.

                1. Falls Church has more homey fare than most places of its size in the US. It's just homey fare from other countries.

                  Examples: Myanmar; La Caraquena; Luzmila's.

                  Dogfish Head is just fine, but what on their menu can't you get elsewhere?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Bob W

                    That's a good point, homey fair from other countries....but homey fair should be big portions and fair prices...i dont think la caraquena (as great as it's saltenas are) fits that bill at all. i think the portions are wayyyy too small for the price and it isnt an overly friendly place either.

                    1. re: CoconutMilk

                      The appeal of La Caraquena is a mystery to me. I ate a decent meal there, but I had to eat another an hour later because I was hungry. The portions sizes are tiny, the prices high, and it feels like the lobby of a seedy motel. Oh, it is the lobby of a seedy motel. Never mind.

                      1. re: Ziv

                        The domino arepas with black beans and white cheese, the black bean soup, the tequenones (cheese wrapped in pastry) are all winners at la Caraquena. All of these are very good examples of the genre.

                  2. This is off the subject, but what are the places in Fredericksburg that you are referring to? I have never found a place in F'burg to which I want to return. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: beanodc

                      F'burg: Sammy T's, Sunken Well Tavern, Capital Alehouse
                      Frederick: Volt, Brewer's Alley, Cafe Nola
                      Leesburg: Fireworks Pizza, and some others I can't remember off hand
                      Alexandria: has plenty.

                      my basic wants are : a decent draft beer selection, locally sourced ingredients, and daily or weekly specials.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Don't expect any of the bar food at Jimmy's to be locally sourced. Heck, I don't think it's even locally cooked.

                          1. re: Steve

                            We love the Frost Diner in Warrenton, VA and Frost Cafe in Culpeper, VA (both owned by same owners). The Frost Diner and Frost Cafe have great country-style breakfasts, homemade country biscuits (not pre-baked or frozen), country sausage and gravy, and country ham. Also, great homemade desserts and other foods.

                            Old Salem Cafe in Marshall, VA is also owned by the same people of the Frost Diner/Frost Cafe as well as the Blue Ridge Seafood restaurant in Gainesville, VA. Old Salem Cafe does a great Sunday brunch buffet.

                            No website that I know of.

                            Good luck and good eats!!

                            1. re: menmom1

                              See, that's the problem--once you get out of NoVa, there seems to be a plethora of place but no place that makes their own good country biscuits here.

                              1. re: chowser

                                The best bisuits I can think of in the DC area are at Southside in Alexandria. They're pretty darn good.

                            2. re: Steve

                              Steve, I so respect you and am still sad you had a bad experience there, but Jimmy's really does pull it together on many items. Much of the bread does come from a block away (Great Harvest) - some made for them specifically.

                              Aside from that, I'm sure not much comes from overly local, but this thread has taken quite a turn from the original request.

                              On that note, on the breakfast bent this has taken, I'll put out Virginia Kitchen in Herndon as a good breakfast joint.

                              I'll also second the Frost Diner and throw in Hi Neighbor in Strasburg.

                              New thread anyone?

                      1. What about Payne's in Centreville? Albeit is only for breakfast.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: dpan

                          I just found out today that Payne's has closed. 8<(

                          But, the Yorkshire Restaurant down 28 towards Manassas has similar breakfast fare.

                        2. I just read through through this whole thread and, well, does it seem to anyone else that there are two different definitions of "homey fare" going on here?? A lot of the suggestions or comments seem drawn to big american breakfasts or diners but based on the follow-ups through the thread it seems to me OP is really looking more for what I personaly think of as upscale American without being "fine dining" (arguably a la GAR).

                          I live in Centreville and I'd agree I don't have much of that around to go to. Unless you want various ethnic cuisines, which can be strong in this area, you don't many options for more "American" cuisine. Particularly with local ingredients...though you might want to check the Centreville farmer's market (friday afternoons) which has a food truck serving up great local fare. I forget the name of it but it was profiled over the summer in the WP Food section at one point. Otherwise, all you've got is GAR, maybe Bazin's...can't think of any other I know of or have tried...if there are others along these lines I'd love to know too.

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: cookie44

                            There are not too many places in the entire DC Metro area, and maybe not too many places anywhere at all that promote themselves as major outlets for locally sourced ingredients. I don't think anywhere makes a big deal of it, if they do. So you are not going to get a lot of response along those lines. Now if we were in San Francisco, that would be a different story.

                            In North Arlington, quite a few places have opened up that produce 'American' food. Liberty Tavern, Restaurant Three, Boulevard Woodgrill, Talulah & Eat Bar, Spider Kelly's, 11th St. Lounge (not sure what exactly is going on there at the moment), Rays The Steaks, Tap & Vine, Dogfish Head, Vero, Portabello's. Then some older places: Rhodeside Grill, Metro 29, Front Page. Further out, Sign of the Whale, PJ Skidoo's, well the list goes on. I once had a very good Cajun-style dish at Sign of the Whale!

                            But on all of these, YMMV. RTS is the only one that gets underscored on these boards, and maybe for a reason: the lot of them are not particularly worth mentioning. I'm not saying you can't eat well at them, but they don't really send anyone, unless you call everything 'great,' and are prone to hyperbole.

                            So try any of the above and report back. You might find something you like, but I wouldn't go out of my way. Heck, I don't go to these places when they are IN my way.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Restaurant Eve promotes the fact that they source much of their menu from regional farmers. Don't think this is what the OP had in mind by "pub food," though. Their Lickety Split Lunch is still a great deal.

                            2. re: cookie44

                              Good point. The original poster mentioned Dogfish Head Alehouse as "about it" which seems to be just a little less fancy setup than a GAR.

                              You really aren't going to find a lot of meat loaf - chicken fried steak - pot roast - ham and buscuit places that don't do a pretentious version of it because most people in NoVa are either pretty affluent or have an ethnic background that steers them toward their own homey foods.

                              Has anyone here dared eat at Brinkley's (7 Corners) with the big "Steak and eggs $4.99 any time" sign in the window? It's a 5 minute walk from my house and I haven't eaten there in about 25 years. They did have a pretty good bacon cheesburger back then, though.

                              1. re: MikeR

                                Eammons is certainly pub food :)

                                I think the problem is this- pub food is normally burgers, fries, wings etc. These are not generally locally sourced.

                                Then you toss in homey in the title which for a lot of us is country cooking, which doesn't seem to be what the OP wants.

                                Does the OP really want pub food? I think Steve is right the the OP really wants more locally sourced ingredients in a casual atmosphere.

                                However, one problem is that the OP seems to want this not in Arlington, but in Fairfax County and generally Fairfax county is where more of the good ethnic food is- Vietnamese, Indian, Persian, Afghan, Korean, Lebanese, etc. So there isn't a lot of American food. What about American Flatbread, they have local ingredients? I think there are places in Alexandria and Arlington. I think Passionfish in Reston has some amazing soups and other local food, not per se casual, but certainly you could eat at the bar too. Since I live in Arlington I am not as familiar with Fairfax County places...

                                1. re: ktmoomau

                                  This is the type of restaurant I'm thinking of, out in Front Royal, that you can't find in NoVa. Locally sourced, inexpensive, casual:


                                  Restaurant Eve is fine but a different ballpark. American Flatbread I've heard good things about but aren't they way out in Leesburg or farther? I would love to try Passionfish but again, pricey. I do think a place like J's Gourmet would do well here.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    OMG Chowser, that place is exactly exactly exactly what I'm talking about. I'd go twice a week if something like that existed here.

                                  2. re: ktmoomau

                                    That's what I got from OP too - in Fairfax County but not ethnic food. That said I just agree - yes that is hard to find and yes I wonder why considering, as one other poster pointed out, much of the clientele going out to eat in Fairfax County (not at ethnic restaurants) is bound to be at least somewhat affluent. I would think they go for that sort of thing.

                                    1. re: ktmoomau

                                      Yes, Ktmoomau, you're right... my first post was unwieldy at best, and there are a number of places that fit the bill in Arlington/Alexandria/DC....

                                      American Flatbread is EXACTLY what I want. But... is prohibitively far away, and frustratingly enough they're opening a second location... in Arlington. Both locations are out of the area i'm really talking about (Basically within the 123 corridor ( Burke/Fairfax/Vienna/Tysons ).

                                      1. re: Crocken

                                        The area you're talking about is why you're going to have a very hard time finding what you're looking for. Rent there is still governed by DC economics, unlike areas like Front Royal (where J's Gourmet is), so any place that's vaguely upscale is going to be much more expensive than you want, and the demographics are such that the cheaper food is going to be ethnic.

                                        In my experience, the larger the metro area you're in, the harder it is to source food locally in the first place, and thus the rarer (relatively speaking) locavore-friendly eateries will be; while the 123 corridor is a relatively affluent area that *could* presumably provide demand for things like locally sourced food, it's also historically been much more conservative than neighboring areas in NoVA, and thus not the first place in the area that someone opening one of those (relatively rarer) locavore-friendly restaurants would choose.

                                        1. re: sweth

                                          I wouldn't mind paying more for one near by but there doesn't seem to be any that are so casual. I'd think Del Ray, Old Town, Arlington, Falls Church proper, even Occoquan would be able to support something like that.

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Once you start charging higher prices, things get less casual. But even so, there are places that I think fit the bill pretty well in most of those areas: Del Ray has La Strada; Arlington has 3 Bar; Old Town has Majestic; I wouldn't call any of them casual per se, but they seem about on par w/ J's Gourmet from the website pics for that establishment, and all source food locally.

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              Glad you mentioned Del Ray. I am actually a big fan of the frickles and the deviled eggs at Del Meirie Grille. Some other very good items as well on special, so this could be just the type of place the OP is looking for.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                Good suggestion. I only went once a few years ago. I wasn't that impressed but they were having a big private Christmas lunch so I wanted to try it again. I need to get there.


                                          2. re: Crocken

                                            I haven't been and I don't plan on going, but the new Chef Geoff's in Tysons I think fits your criteria.

                                    2. I just received a flyer for Merrifield Garden Center. In their Merrifield location, they apparently have a cafe w/ a chef who makes soups, sandwiches and different specials from fresh ingredients, as well as her own baked goods. I'm going to give it a try and will report back.

                                      1. One reason is that shopping centers want established chain/corporate restaurants to occupy their spaces because they are less likely to go out of business. That's the way they think in Reston anyway.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: lukeinva

                                          true :(.. its the lack of 'oldtowns' as they say here in virginia. Fairfax/Vienna/Herndon all have the type of older buildings that could host a place though :/

                                        2. belliceaux in Richmond is my new favorite restaurant and also the exact sort of place I long to exist in the 123-corridor.