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An outsider's first impressions of chowing in NOVA, and a request for suggestions ...

Hi everyone,

I just moved to the NOVA area (Reston/Herndon specifically) from Montreal, Quebec.

I've been trying some of the recommendations posted here to get a feel for the place, here's my thoughts!

Reston Kabob: This isn't authentic Persian kabob by any means, but I go here often for lunch. Portions are sizeable and the price is okay. I like their "white sauce"/tzatziki, and appreciate the fresh flatbreads. Kubideh, while heavily spiced, is pretty good and fatty. Chicken is a bit on the dry side but still quite good and regains new life if you grab one of the lemons next to the soda dispenser and give a little squeeze!

Busara: I was not expecting much from comments here, but I have been impressed by their pork drunken noodle. Noodles cooked perfectly, and the dish was seasoned nicely with some cherry tomatoes tossed in which gave a nice kick of acidity.

Thai Luang: I need to return here, but went once and ordered only one dish - the crispy duck (not sure if that was the actual name on the menu). It was overly heavy & greasy and simply did not make sense as a main dish. I wish the waittress had steered me away from this dish as my main course. The crispy duck might only be good as a complement dish to share.

Chao Phra Ya Thai: I tried more dishes here and enjoyed the experience. The large spring roll was unique and tasty, though I wish the syrupy sauce was served on the side because it overpowered this large appetizer. I ordered the duck panang curry which was good. The place did not blow me away but I would repeat.

Amoo's: VERY impressed with this authentic Persian eatery. For context, I am Persian, and my father ran a successful kabob stand in Tehran after the revolution. I know my kabobs. I think he would be impressed with the food here. I ordered the chicken soltani, a skewer of chicken served with two (!!) kubideh kabobs. The chellow (rice) was perfect. I enjoyed my dish with the traditional raw egg yolk and a cold glass of doogh (a little underseasoned, I fixed that with a pinch of salt). I am extremely excited to try out the other kabobis in the area Shamshiry and Rose.

Jackson's: I like this place. Went once for dinner where I had the lobster roll. I've had maybe 5 lobster rolls in my whole life, so I'm no expert, but it was truly excellent and easily the best I've ever had. Served with above average fries and a perfectly grilled corn on the cob. I topped it off with the white chocolate bread pudding with was disappointingly far too sweet. I must note the service at Jackson's is top notch.

Chickenout: Never heard it mentioned here but this is a great place for quick lunches at a good price. There's healthy options and comfort food-y options, and everything is quite good and consistent for a chain.

Mykonos: This place is terrible. I do not understand why so many people recommended it here. I had the pork souvlaki plate for lunch. The meat was dry and overcooked, the flatbread was tough, the tomatoes in my salad overripe, and the price *ridiculous*. Maybe I am spoiled because in Montreal we have tons of excellent, cheaply priced Greek eateries, but this place was VERY disappointing given the positive feedback given to it here.

Mayuri: A great indian lunch buffet. Pretty standard stuff, just executed well with a large selection. I will only knock this place for the nan which was "meh". At $10 you can't go wrong.

Five Guys: So, I finally got to try Five Guys. The burgers here do live up to the reputation. I like to get the bacon cheeseburger with "everything". It's a definite notch above BK or Wendys (I am a fan of the fast food burger provided by these chains). The fries however were disappointing, though I am very peculiar about my fries, and don't care for most fast food fries).

Il Fornaio: Went once and greatly enjoyed a lamb gnocci, one of the best gnocci's ive ever had. Went back, and it was no longer available. Had the lasagna, which was a greasy mess, especially after having experienced the near perfection of their gnocci. Will have to give the place another chance.

Now ... given some context of what I am experienced so far, I am looking for the following suggestions:

- I NEED some authentic Chinese food. Specifically, a Cantonese place and a Szechuan place. Must be authentic ... I want to see things like tripe, chinese broccoli, szechuan peppercorns, dried chili peppers, and home made noodles used in the preparation. I have tried one place, Ming's in DC chinatown, which did not meet this standard. I know this area is lacking in general for authentic chinese cuisine, but if I could have just one or two decent places to go to, then I would appreciate it.

- Pizza. I'd like a good convenient pizza place to go to. I do *not* prefer thin crust like most -- I like a nice bready, crusty crust. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

- Steak house. What is a good, reliable steak house around here?

- Finally, what have I missed so far? I feel like i've covered most of my bases here, but am curious if there's any major restaurants / cuisines I've been ignoring.


8607 Westwood Center Dr Ste 100A, Vienna, VA 22182

Busara Restaurant
8142 Watson St, Mc Lean, VA 22102

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  1. Of course, there's a lot you are missing:

    Persian: Rose Kabob, Vienna. I go for the gheymeh, torshi, etc.

    Afghan: Maizbon, Springfiled /Alexandria: Look for the house specials

    Thai Square in Arlington: tile fish and lacey catfish appetizers, duck noodle soup (you may have to ask for this - it's on the Thai language menu) , pork knuckle stew.

    Hong Kong Palace, Sichuan, Seven Corners: Chold chengdu noodles, special on the wall of "mouth, mouth, good smelling chicken" - you have to ask about this. Also ask about rabbit special in five spice sauce.

    A & J, Annandale: probably the best place so far for homemade Chinese noodles, though this is a weak spot in the DC area: Ja Zhiang Mian - you have to ask for the 'wide' homemade noodles, Niu Rou Bing, Shredded tofu salad, pickled long beans with beef. pickled vegetables, carot and celery salad

    Vit Goel (aka Lighthouse tofu) Soon du bu, a Korean tofu stew. Specialty of the restaurant, very limited menu otherwise.

    Taqueria El Charrito Caminante, Arlington, Goat tacos

    La Union Market in Arlington , carryout only, Salvadoran, veggie enchilada. Get an ensalada to drink

    Luzmilla's, Bolivian in Falls Church: Saltenas, get the steak a la pobre (I forget exactly how it is listed on the menu, but it's about $12) open daytime only.

    La Caraquena, Venezuelan in Falls Church, get the Domino Arepa.

    Peruvian, Costa Verde, Arlington, get the fish in white onion sauce, must ask for a bowl of cancha for the table Also very good ceviche.
    Myanmar, Burmese in Falls Church: Ginger Salad, fried watercress, pork with fresh mango.

    Chez Manelle, Tunisian in Arlington, Omek hourira, Brikha

    Cafe Assorti, Kazakh,-owned but Eastern European restaurant/bakery in Arlington, featuring various stuffed bread - I especially like the piroshek, the salads, and the soups. The manti are enormous dumplings - get the pink sauce.

    Vietnamese: Hai Duong in Eden Center, get the clay pot of minced clams and rice, the crispy catfish (cha ca than long), and the goat curry special of De Xao Lan.

    Hong Kong Palace
    6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

    A & J Restaurant
    4316 Markham St, Annandale, VA 22003

    Eden Center
    Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

    Thai Square
    3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

    El Charrito Caminante
    2710 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

    La Union Restaurant
    5517 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22205

    Cafe Assorti
    1800 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

    4 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      For authentic Cantonese, best bet in NoVA is XO Taste in Falls Church. If you want to have THE BEST in the DC/Baltimore area, drive up to Odenton, MD (near Ft. Meade) and try Grace Garden. I had my first meal there recently and it lived up to the extensive hype on this board. Chef Li at GG can do both Cantonese AND Szechuan. Just tell him what you want to eat and he can make it for you if it's not on the menu. Since my wife and I speak Cantonese, the Li's (husband and wife) chatted with us for over an hour after hour meal telling us about what he can (and cannot) cook for us on future visits. It was a great experience.

      Grace Garden
      1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD

      1. re: dpan

        Went to XO Taste tonight! Thanks for the recommendation. It hit the spot.

        Nice to see various roast and BBQ items in the corner of the restaurant. Back home we have specific stands in chinatown that would cater to one's cantonese BBQ needs, so it was nice to see XO Taste try to meet all of one's needs in one restaurant.

        I ordered the simple won ton soup to start, followed by the roast pork, and a beef & chinese broccoli chow mein (aka crispy noodle). yes ... I played it safe. I wanted to know how they handled the basics. Presentation was nice, quantity large, and most importantly the taste had that classic Cantonese wave upon wave of umame with hints of sweetness and contrasting textures.

        I will go back again next time I have a Cantonese craving and try to be a little more adventurous with the menu.

        Thanks again. Next stop, Szechuan!

      2. re: Steve

        I'll add to your extensive list--Miu Kee in Falls Church for dumplings and won ton soup, especially Hong Kong Style. The other food is good but I haven't found a better place for either type of soup.

        Steak house--the standard, and my favorite place, is Rays the Steak in Arlington.

        Windy City Red Hots in Ashburn and Leesburg for Chicago style hot dogs. They're worth the drive.

        For something not on your list, try Ethiopian in DC. I like Etete but there are quite a few that are recommended here on the boards. Thanks, btw, for your reviews and thoughts about all those places.

        1942 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

        1. re: Steve

          If you're venturing out of the Reston area for Thai, other good options (in addition to Thai Square) are Sakulthai in Alexandria and Thai Cafe in Springfield.

          Thai Square
          3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

          408 S Van Dorn St, Alexandria, VA 22304

        2. Yeah, RK isn't Persian. But it's good. Make sure you get their chutney (the brown sauce - but ask for it by name - chutney - it's great). Also, try Charcoal Kabob in the center of the Herndon Gastro Experience - it's Afghan/Pakistani style and the sides are incredible. Grill Kabob is also decent (near the more Western intersections of Herndon Pkwy and Elden).

          Busara/Luang/Chai - wow - the loser list of the area for Thai. Luang USED to be about the best in the area, but if you follow some other links on this board there was a major upset. Right now, stick with Thai By Thai up near Sterling (really not that far) or Thai Tada, which is the crew from Thai Luang in the space formerly occupied by Tarin Thai.

          As for Jackson's - it's an outpost of a small local chain called Great American. Jackson's is easily the worst of the bunch, which is a shame for many reasons (including that I'm a big fan, live in Reston). You can make a good meal out of it, but I suggest that sometime soon you try Sweetwater or Arties.

          Indian: Mayuri was the bomb, but I'm pretty sure they lost their main chef. Angeethi was also the bomb, but recent reports show it has been dragging. Paradise is apparently the new big deal in town worth exploring.

          I can give you so much more, but let me know if you're truly interested. I haven't touched the surface of Latino, Viet, Ethiopian, etc.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Dennis S

            If you go to Thai by Thai, be sure and ask for the Thai menu. Their main posted menu may give you some hint of what the buzz is all about (sun-dried beef is on it), but the Thai menu is where most of the really amazing stuff lies. These folks know how to fry pork bellies, and they know how to char wide noodles in their woks.

            There is also a new Lebanese place in Sterling, in the clocktower plaza that has a Burlington Coat Factory, which shows a lot of promise.

            As far as steak houses go, my family heads off to Arlington for Rays the Steaks. There are two dining rooms, a noisy front of the house, and the quieter carpeted dining room. You'll find a LOT of reviews on this board, but it is excellent meat and priced very reasonably.

            1. re: PollyG

              Polly - went back to TBT today and had a sampling, but only one off the Thai menu - fried pork. What other things on the Thai menu are worth looking at? The pork dish is great, but isn't a solo meal deal - more along the lines of the beef jerky at HKP, etc. I'm addicted while it will last. So, for real plates - what should I look at?

              1. re: Dennis S

                I almost never dine there solo, so we're able to put an assortment together. We usually have a nonspicy noodle dish (one of the pad see euw) to keep the 10 year-old happy, plus one of the 3 pork dishes, and either one of the specials or a "salad" like the larb gai.

                The pork with Chinese broccoli could be a solo meal dish, particularly if you ask for less pork, more broccoli.

          2. Thanks so much for the wonderful suggestions Steve, dpan, chowser and Dennis!!

            I think you guys got a feel for the kind of spots I'm craving - really really appreciated. In particular, I'm very excited about the authentic Chinese spots. I've sorely missed the high quality Cantonese and Szechuan eats I've regularly enjoyed back home.

            I'll be referring to this thread every time I go out to eat, and will go through your suggestions. Will post back here to let you all know how it is!

            1. I know that I skew heavily toward "vanilla" when it comes to kabob places, but I look forward to seeing your reviews of any boneless chicken kabob orders that you deem worthy of reporting on. Good naan, rice and sides factor in for me.

              The "brown sauce" or chutney at Reston Kabob is, as Dennis S mentions, exceptional, even though it is not incendiary as it once was. Try it, instead of lemon juice, to reinvigorate the boneless chicken kabob.

              1. Regarding Mykonos; there is one in Rockville (good and often recommended) and one in VA that doesn't have a lot of mentions.

                You might be confusing the two; they're not related.

                3 Replies
                1. re: reiflame

                  Meant to comment on Mykonos in Reston. I don't think it's related to the one in Rockville, but it used to be great. I think it's suffering from lack of traffic due to poor location, which is a real shame because the family is nice and they used to cook a mean meal. If anyone gives them another chance, make sure to try the Spanakopita, the shrimp appetizer in red sauce and I really like their schwarma.

                  1. re: Dennis S

                    Dennis, we went to Mykonos about two months ago, soon after several very good dinners in Tarpon Springs. Myknonos was friendly, warm and felt on a Friday night like an oasis that we should have discovered long ago. Then, we took our first bite...

                    ...it was awful.

                    Tarpon Springs (the nondescript, vanilla sponge docks notwithstanding) was a distant memory that we missed. Sunset Hills' Mykonos drew memories of plastic menus with photos of the dishes they offered. We tried five or six. A huge disappointment.

                    1. re: Joe H

                      Again, due to location they NEVER had good evening traffic, which was probably the first nail in the coffin. I've mentioned this before, but my brother was stationed in Crete for many years and when I took him there he said it lived up, and we had afternoon conversations and ouzo with the owners. But this was at least two years ago and I don't think many people found them in time. I think for a few months they've been in decay.

                      This is a shame that people go to RTC for bland food rather than trying Ice House, Thai Tada, El Manantial, etc.

                2. Meant also to steer you on the Sichuan avenue. From Reston, the closest is Sichuan Village in Chantilly. Only order from the menu, not the buffet. While good, I think it's the weakest in the area (one asterisk coming).

                  The two most regarded places are Hong Kong Palace at 7 Corners and Joe's Noodle House in Rockville. For me, HKP is the best in the area - and it's not that far of a drive. Best to eat with a few people to be able to have a balanced meal and eat a few dishes.

                  The aforementioned asterisk is China Star, which in many ways helped start the Sichuan craze - at least for this board. I refer to the one at Fair City Mall. There is one over by Mykonos in Reston, but this is just your standard American Chinese fare. The asterisk is that I personally haven't been to the Fairfax China Star in years now. I believe Steve reported not long ago that it was still good, but not like it once was. It's closer than HKP, but close enough to HKP that I'd personally keep driving the extra distance down 50.

                  In Reston, for Chinese, there isn't much. Lakeside Asia Cafe has good Singapore Noodles in a pinch.

                  For Vietnamese, outside of pho there isn't a ton in the Reston area. Pho Reston 75 is, imo, the best pho in the area hands down. Not long ago I did a personal pho tour covering Reston, Herndon and Sterling and confirmed my opinion (!). Pho Reston 75 is not related to the chain Pho 75, and has a full menu. While the rest of the menu isn't bad, it's not draw-worthy. A discussion some time ago seemed to build consensus on this board that a place either did pho well or the rest of the menu well (for instance, Nam Viet in Clarendon has an incredible menu but the pho is not the best in the area - and is also in the Northern style which most Americans don't go for).

                  So, outside of Pho, for Vietnamese, I rec Nam Viet in Clarendon (my fave). MInh's gets a lot of mention that I would trust. 4 Sisters is a staple for the area, though I haven't been in years, and then there's Eden Center - a mall of Vietnamese shops and restaurants.

                  Hong Kong Palace
                  6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

                  Eden Center
                  Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

                  Nam Viet Restaurant
                  3419 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., washington, dc, DC 20008

                  Joe's Noodle House
                  1488 Rockville Pike Ste C, Rockville, MD 20852

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Dennis S

                    I can't speak for authentic, but when you don't want to drive down to 7 Corners, I've always found Cheng's, in the Countryside shopping center, to be the best chinese in the area close to Herndon/Reston.

                    1. re: Dennis S

                      Another slightly-closer option for Sichuan than HKP is Uncle Liu's Hot Pot in Merrifield. It's the same folks as HKP, and they do both Sichuan hot pot as well as a fair amount of the Sichuan menu from HKP; they also have a not-bad buffet, although they don't seem to have the specials that HKP has.

                      1. re: sweth

                        Thanks for the reminder on this - I remember hearing about it a while back but completely put it out of my mind.

                    2. Ravi Kabob. This place is pakistani food, but they have excellent kabobs as well as the best nihari and haleem on weekends. They also have a great lamb karahi (served after 2pm). Definitely, one of the best in the area.

                      Ray's the Steaks. I know it was mentioned, but this is a really good steak house and I wanted to make sure you saw it. This is high quality meat at a steakhouse where they focus on high quality meat and cooking it perfectly. Low in price and pretension, this is a great place.

                      Ray's Hellburger. Same owner as Ray's the Steaks. This is an excellent burger joint, arguably the best in the area. It is a little crowed lately due to a POTUS visit, but if you can go off peak times, it is worth it.

                      Bangkok 54. This is the other authentic Thai place in the area (Thai Square being the first mentioned). The food is excellent and they have a grocery store and deli attached where you can buy some delicious prepared foods that are not on the menu.

                      Pizza is tough here. I pretty much hate it all. The two I tolerate are The Italian Slice which is an attempt at NY style (I am from NY hence my bias) and Pupatellas which is a very new brick oven Neopolitan style. Both are thin crust variations.

                      Pho Tay Ho and Mr. Pho are two excellent places for Pho. Also if you are interested in Vietnamese there is a mall called the Eden Center that has dozens of restaurants to explore.

                      Minerva Express for Indian food off Lee Highway and Glebe road. Another type of food I think this area is weak on, but this is some of the best I have had in VA. (This actually really puzzles me as there is quite an Indian population in VA.)

                      I'll add more as I think of it. Welcome to the area.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: sekelmaan

                        Also two superb places next to each other in Fairfax:

                        Sarawana Palace for vegetarian south Indian and Mazadar for Afghan. Mazadar serves an unusual paprika-laced baba ganoush without tahini. Excellent breads.

                        1. re: sekelmaan

                          There are several branches of Minerva, including one in Herndon. That might be more convenient for the OP.

                          I've only been to the one in Fairfax and can't speak for any differences between the various locations.

                          The OP did mention Chicken Out. There is much better rotisserie chicken to be found in the Peruvian places that specialize in this (the sides will differ tremendously from what Chicken Out has, though). I can't speak to any specific places in the Reston/Herndon area; hopefully someone else can.

                          1. re: Lori D

                            The Minerva Fairfax has a large and deep buffet with five different chutneys and some pickled mango to boot. There is an excellent rice curd - like a cottage cheese with some nice spicy heat and pickled items thrown in. Unfortunately almost all the cooked items are a bit tired, the reason why I don't usually go for buffets. I'll pass the next time.

                            1. re: Lori D

                              Area Peruvian chicken:
                              - Guapo's on Elden, North of Alabama Drive: Best yucca in the area, though they skimp on it, and charge for every little thing. An outpost of a small local chain.

                              - Pollos Inka - full Peruvian menu

                              - There is a place up in Sterling in the Burlington Coat Factory strip mall, but I haven't been yet.

                              Guapo's Restaurant
                              4515 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016

                              1. re: Dennis S

                                That one in Sterling is Pollo Inti, and we like it better than Pollo Inka. The Yucca can be outstanding but is occasionally under fried. I love their cabrito.

                                1. re: lblau

                                  Thanks! When I saw it I was finishing up a round of comparing pho places one day at a time in a row.

                                  Relatedly, I've known about Thai By Thai and the Mexican/So. American place directly underneath the clock in the tower for some time, but while doing the pho thing saw that there are a good handful of other Central/So American places around there, including one tucked away on the backside of a building on the North side of 7. I need to start perusing through those places.

                                  1. re: Dennis S

                                    The pho place in the Clocktower plaza in Sterling changed ownership about 2 weeks ago and is now May Saigon. They have a much more extensive menu now.

                                    Our first visit there was mixed--the pho broth was very good, but we were underwhelmed by the two rice in hot pot dishes we tried. My husband's pork was bland, and my baby clams on rice were a downright disappointment. I've never had the baby clam dish pulverized before rather than as individual clam meat, and it seemed to be lacking the bits of crispy pork fat that makes this dish such a delight elsewhere. It was also full of weird vegetables--like cauliflower florets. I'm not anti-vegetable, but I've never had any Vietnamese dish that was composed like this one, and I've had a lot of exposure to Vietnamese food.

                                2. re: Dennis S

                                  The Guapo's in Manassas has the best yuca, hands down! The chicken is good enough, but the yuca is world-class.

                                  Guapo's Restaurant
                                  4515 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016

                                  1. re: Bob W

                                    I am new to the area also and have used this thread to find a lot of good food. Tried thai-by-thai this weekend. I forgot to ask for the Thai menu - I got one of the specials which was a calamari and chicken with black pepper on rice noodles. The noodles were excellent. I also ordered some dumplings but was not impressed.

                                    To add to the list of local finds I like El Rinconcito Del Sabor a salvadorian spot hidden behind CVS in Sterling. I thought the food was tastier and better prepared than Pollo Inca or Guapo's. Pupusas were nices thick and a little crispy on the outside filled with cheese. Sopes topped with carne asada, beans, and avocado. Carne was in small easy to bite into pieces and nicely seasoned. A good variety of Salvadorian food with some mexican dishes. Only downside was the time to serve - but food quality more than made up for it.

                            2. No one mentioned Guajillo's which is a terrific Mexican/Salvadoran place right next to Ray's Hell Burger. We really enjoy it - especially when we go with the specials rather than the comidas tipicas, but the old standbys are prepared well, too. And the best flan on the planet.

                              Ray's Hell Burger
                              1713 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22209

                              1. For Chinese food, make your way up to Ashburn (~20 minutes from Reston) and visit YEN'S CAFE (www.yenscafe.com)... it is a hidden gem both literally (set in the back of office parking complex off the Greenway) and figuratively. It is by far the best Chinese food a pair of NYC refugees have found in this area.... extremely fresh, only natural ingredients and much of it is sourced locally. I understand that the owner's Mom actually makes the Braised Meatballs in a Pot among other things. We've eaten here repeatedly and have not had a bad dish. One word of caution, however, is that the dining room is extremely small.... call ahead for a reservation to insure you get a table... otherwise, you'll be eating in your car.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Parkland6651

                                  What style do they cook? Provincial, wise.