Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Feb 10, 2010 05:54 PM

Downtown McLean Restaurants--Why are they so mediocre?

With the partial exception of Evo Bistro, the restaurants in "downtown" McLean are not worth a trip around the corner. How can a community with so much money have so little taste? When will a great restaurant open here? When has a great restaurant ever been here? Except for the very expensive Inox, Tyson's does not have much to offer since Maestro closed.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. We'll have to agree to disagree about the downtown McLean meals. If you know what to order, several restaurants offer reliably appealing meals that include some truly excellent dishes. You've already been told about Tachibana.

      Taramasalata and donner kebab at Kazan are outstanding.

      Osteria Assaggi serves wonderful pasta dishes and salads. Their veal loin "saltimbocca" is excellent. Save room for dessert since their Italian doughnuts are sinfully delicious!

      My husband adores all the braised lamb dishes at the Greek Taverna; I'm not a fan of meat with that texture even though I acknowledge that the taste is lovely. If you can get Taverna to make a fresh chicken breast stuffed with spinach and feta for you, it is sublime. (The days it is offered as a special, I think the restaurant makes the dish half-way until ordered. That version is never as good as the freshly-made version.)

      Risorante Capri does a superb job with its whole fish options. The fish is flawlessly fresh, cooked just right, and the wait staff bones the fish quickly and expertly.

      As for the question, when has McLean ever had a great restaurant, the answer seems to be "before your time." Zachary's with its amazing mezze buffet and Rudy's were truly amazing.

      With two high-end restaurants close to McLean -- Inox and 2941 -- why would another restauranteur rush to open one in our general area? If traffic is flowing smoothly on Rte 66 and in DC, my husband and I can drive to most DC restaurants in 25 minutes. (Admittedly, we live in central McLean.) That's not so much longer than our trip to Inox or 2941 that I would make a restaurant choice based on proximity.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Indy 67

        Great post!

        Kazan is a very fine place. Probably my favorite Turkish in the area.

        You make some of the other options sound irresistible.

        I agree with the principle that a Chowhound has to pick and choose the right dishes. It's so important to know what to order.

        1. re: Indy 67

          I have to agree with the original poster. Most of the restaurants in Mclean are mediocre. As far as before your time - i've lived there for 13 years and don't remember Rudy's or Zachary's. I have often asked the question myself and have not come up with an answer. Re: Tachibana - i have not been particularly impressed with the food and the decor is so drab. I find myself going to Arlington and Falls Church for Asian food and to DC or Bethesda for pizzza and Italian food. I have not tried Osteria Assagi. I would love to find lots more ethnic places in Mclean. Perhaps the rents are too high for small independent restauranteurs. Kazan is independently owned, they have been there for a long time and they do a great job. The few times I have tried the Greek Taverna I enjoyed it. That whole complex has a major parking problem. Certainly J Gilberts has a booming business but that is part of a chain. I don't know how or why so many mediocre ones stay in business. Any other opinions?

          1. re: beanodc

            Thanks for all of the suggestions. I've never eaten at Tachibana, but have found Assaggi Osteria, J Gilberts, Capri, Cafe Oggi, and Cafe Tatti not very good. Since I'm not a big fan of lamb, I have hesitated to try Kazan. Ocean M, before folding last year was not bad but not nearly as good as La Colline, partly owned by the same team. It's true that Inox and 2941 are excellent, but they are also quite pricey. Why can't places like Vermilion or the Majestic in Old Town find a spot in McLean? As I mentioned in my original post, I rather like Evo Bistro, particulary since it has doubled in size.

            1. re: beanodc

              I'll repeat "Before your time." The banner outside of Kazan proclaims "In business for 30 years. Well, Rudy occupied the space that Kazan now occupies. Rudy began as a storefront diner -- one counter with old-fashioned swivel stools. His food was so sublime that he became an amazing success story and underwent two expansions to occupy the entire footprint now occupied by Kazan. (Of course, the less said about Rudy's sense of interior decoration, the better!)

              Zachary's used to be located in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center. It occupied the space now occupied by an execrably bad restaurant who name I have happily repressed. Every entree came with unlimited access to the outstanding mezze bar. High-quality coupled with lovely variety. Again, we're talking about McLean history from 30 years ago. Thirteen years...

              1. re: Indy 67

                Indy 67,

                You are an encylopedia of McLean hot/cold spots! Thanks so much. I hope that some of the previous chatters weigh in.

          2. McLean is lackluster but there are a few good bites...

            The Milano sandwich at the Italian Deli is a pretty good Italian-American hoagie. Not up to the Italian store, but good.

            The Moby Dick location remains the only one I still go to on occasion. The daily specials are pretty good, though the bread and some of the meats have gone downhill (the spicing of those meats has changed since the original owner left--when he was there 6 or 7 years ago that place was GREAT).

            The Gourmet Basket has some good Lebanese stuff--pumpkin kibbeh, a few salads, etc.

            Pulcinella is better than most pizza joints if you keep your order simple.

            It's not Arlington or Falls Church or Rockville or Wheaton or Annandale, but you could do alot worse.

            4 Replies
            1. re: CoconutMilk

              I really agree with you. McLean IS lackluster. Do lots of folks here have live in chefs to prepare their meals? If so, that might be a partial explanation for the paucity of fine dining. Neither Kliman nor Sietsema has any downtown McLean restaurants in their best lists.

              1. re: Arabella09

                The answer to your question "Why?" has far more to do with real estate and the economy than to the existence of live-in chefs. George Tawil has bought up huge swaths of downtown McLean real estate and plans to build something on the order of the Reston Town Center in McLean.

                His holdings at least stretch from the Staybridge Suites hotel to across Chain Bridge Road. To orient you, this includes beloved neighborhood places like Ichiban, Burns Brothers, Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, McLean Barber Shop, and The Old Firehouse Teen Center. Now, I won't argue that the food is stellar at any of the restaurants in this stretch, but, if you had been at Ichiban (as I was) yesterday, you would have witnessed the vital role these small, local places play in our community. Folks ventured out yesterday for the first time in days and total strangers were talking with one another interested to learn how each had fared during the storm and offering encouragement for the weeks of winter still remaining. I'll come back to the importance of this sense of community later in my ramblings...

                No serious or heavy-hitter restauranteur is going to open a restaurant in downtown McLean until the uproar about the re-development gets clarified and becomes a reality. And we're talking years away. I don't know where things stand in the approval process. (I've included a link to an early citizens meeting about Tawil's plans below) In this economy, access to money that will finance whatever ultimately gets approved is another major hurdle. Bottom line: the situation isn't likely to change on the order of years.

                Even when the re-development takes place, I worry that we're looking at a classic case of "Be careful what you wish for." Remember, Tawil said his model was the Reston Town Center (RTC). I don't think of RTC as a bastion of the kind of independent, interesting restaurants the OP mentioned. The vast majority of RTC's restaurants are part of national chains. The Great American restaurants in Reston are the closest thing to unique or local offerings, and even these don't fit the model of Vermillion or Majestic that the OP mentioned.

                The arrival of four Metro stations in the Tyson's area will probably drive up real estate prices still more making it less likely that independent, medium-priced or inexpensive ethnic restaurants will be included in the retail mix anywhere between McLean proper and Tysons.

                I think one of the reasons that I look at McLean's restaurant scene with more tolerance than some on this thread is that I've lived here long enough to enjoy the community in the small, lesser, local restaurants. When I go into Pulcinella, I know what to order (Chicken Francese and substitute the mesclun salad) and the owner can refer to the days when I used to bring my toddler son for dinner when my husband was away on business trips. I can check in on the health of one of the co-owners who is fighting a brave battle against cancer. I eat lunch at Ichiban, in spite of the fact that Tachibana is every bit as convenient. Why? Because I get tips about where to dine in the various destinations throughout Asia for my upcoming trip. That they're written in Chinese characters on a clean handy napkin speaks to the kind of homey experience I'm talking about. (Tachibana is for dinner with my husband.) When we eat dinner at Capri, the owner indulges my desire to practice my wobbly language skills by speaking to me in Italian.

                I agree that McLean isn't a Chowhound's fantasy. However, McLean is close enough to the ethnic glories of Falls Church/Arlington or to the gourmet temples of DC for me to be much more accepting of its local restaurant scene than some in this thread. Community has its compensations.


                1. re: Indy 67

                  Very interesting! One Reston Town Center is one too many. Thanks very much.

                  1. re: Arabella09

                    From the tone of your question, I think you're just a big-city snob. No there aren't restaurants in Mclean of the caliber of the ones that you can find in DC. There also aren't enough people in close proximity to support restaurants of those types. As for ethnic food variety, again there just aren't enough people in close proximity to the area. I'm sure the residents enjoy ethnic food, but that doesn't mean that they want to eat it at all times. Many others, as well as myself, enjoy eating foods that are comforting to us, and that aren't necessarily perfected with high quality ingredients and superb cooking skills. Less than is still good.

                    There are very good ethnic restaurants in Falls Church and Arlington, which are easily accessible from Mclean. We have available to us a very good variety of cultural foods which cannot be found in most other metropolitan areas in the world, and yet you seem ungrateful for even having that.

                    While we are on the topic, I'd like to ask what you find distasteful about Reston Town Center, as well as its restaurants? It is a nice place to go for those of us who don't live close to DC, and don't want to drive into DC and take up our entire nights just for dinner. That can certainly be enjoyable on less frequent occasions, but the distance to travel can take away some of the enjoyment. The restaurants found in town center offer a good variety of options, in a small vicinity, which makes it enjoyable for those of us that live here.