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Travelling to Northern Virginia/DC

Hi 'hounds

I'm going to visit family in Northern Virginia, near DC this month. I come from Toronto and I'd like to know what good local food there is. Family aren't at all adventurous, so nothing "exotic". What I can talk them into (and what I want) is local (Southern?) food. Love some good soul food if that's available in D.C. Nothing too off the beaten track though....see family above.


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  1. You'll probably get some good responses, but I wanted to forewarn having grown up in that area. DC and NoVa really aren't very southern. It's called a 'melting pot' area because people move there from all over the country and the world. You are far more likely to find excellent Vietnamese and Ethiopian food than you are to find truly good Southern food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mojoeater

      Levi's Port Cafe - serves good Southern Soul Food

    2. Bayou Bakery in Arlington has great southern food (chef is from NOLA IIRC). Great biscuits. I've only ever been for Sunday breakfast, and it gets crowded, but the food is great.

      Liberty Tavern in Clarendon has great American food- the often have specials that have a Southern feel. Went for lunch over Memorial Day and the special was fried chicken and biscuits. The regular menu always has simple, straight forward preps with a twist and great quality ingredients. Surprisingly good pastas.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mjhals

        Thanks for that. I am looking for American food rather than anything ethnic as I come from a city with a lot of ethnic food. Any other suggestions? I believe the people I'm visiting live in Woodbridge VA. If I leave it up to them we'll end up in places like TGI Fridays. I'd like to try something more authentic and get them to try something other than chains.

        1. re: ziggystardust

          It depends on how far/how urban they are willing to go. I know quite a few people in suburban areas who will never go into DC itself and are even reluctant to go to the "edge cities" like Silver Spring and Bethesda and Alexandria. I guess it is because of the traffic/parking but I suspect there are other reasons. In any case, if they are willing to go into Alexandria, you can try Southside 815 (but not soul food). We've had a couple of very good meals there, though most have been just OK. There's a new po'boy restaurant opening in Dupont Circle if they are willing to go downtown. Georgia Brown's in DC is very good but not soul food - low country cuisine. Oohs and Ahs (U Street Corridor) has soul food and always gets raves. Also a place called Henry's Soul Cafe - the Oxon Hill location may actually be closer to Woodbridge than the location in downtown DC or the location on U. Street. I don't know anything about this place so can't recommend. Just telling you it exists.

      2. If you go into DC - Matchbox DC (good pizza and other options), any of the Clyde's restaurants, any of the Ray's restaurants (Ray's the Steaks, Ray's Hellburger, etc.), The Standard, and Oohs and Aahs may all work (depending on price point, where you'll be going during your visit, etc.). All of these have good quality American food, so there should be something for everyone.

        If you're going to be spending a lot of time in Woodbridge, good luck avoiding the likes of TGI Fridays chain hell. There is Bistro L'Hermitage, Osprey's Landing Restaurant, and The Garden Kitchen, though it's been a while since I've eaten at any of those, so not sure whether they are currently decent or not. There's also an Uncle Julio's, which I kind of like, but will openly admit it's not "real" Mexican food by any stretch of the imagination.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ForFoodsSake

          I love Bistro L'Hermitage for a special occasion and it was still great the last time I went. Special occasion but it is French, not southern or American. I went to Garden Kitchen once and won't go again. Sandwiches, soups, basics that were poor at best. LOL, Uncle Julio's is probably more American than Mexican. I like their grilled vegetables, though.

          1. re: chowser

            Yeah, I figured Bistro L'Hermitage may not be that helpful, especially for someone coming from Canada -- but just trying to think of some somewhat decent non-chain restos in Woodbridge. There's just not much to choose from out there (at least that I'm aware of).

        2. Good luck - I used to live in Woodbridge and it's mostly chains! You should check out Dixie Bones for Southern BBQ though! http://www.dixiebones.com/index.html

          7 Replies
          1. re: lifestooquick

            Woodbridge has good up and coming mom and pops stores but salvadoran, peruvian, pakistani, not southern. We got take out last week from Dixie Bones and it was really bad. It's gone downhill (if it ever was good great to begin with).

            1. re: chowser

              What do you mean Virginia isn't Southern? There's lots of great Southern food in Virginia. Its the birthplace of all Southern cuisine, in case you didn't know that already.

              1. re: mook1

                Northern Virginia, Woodbridge area where the OP is visiting. What southern restaurant would you recommend in Woodbridge?

                1. re: chowser

                  Red, hot and Blue BBQ
                  Dixie Bones
                  Waffle House
                  There was also a Diner on RT 29 in Fairfax, but I can't remember.

                  Oh, and BTW, DC is not in Virginia, its in Maryland.

                  1. re: mook1

                    Okay, any good barbecue or southern food then? Dixie Bones, as I've said has been terrible when we've gotten it. The collards were good, though. Red, Hot and Blue, meh. It wouldn't hold its own against a real southern barbecue but does okay here because of the dearth of good barbecue. Waffle House is another chain that's found across the country-- you can get the same stuff at any other chain restaurant like TGIF that the OP wants to avoid. Diner 29 in Fairfax (quite a hike from Woodbridge) is forgettable and definitely not worth driving 45 mins w/out traffic for. There are far better places that are closer, as recommended in this thread. I can't think of a decent southern restaurant in Woodbridge that I'd go to, YMMV.

                    Ummm, DC isn't in either Maryland or Virginia. Not that that's relevant to this discussion on good southern food in Woodbridge.

                    1. re: mook1

                      DC isn't "in" MD or VA... it's it's own entity.

                      1. re: Hobbert

                        LOL, that's what I was about to say too, but I had to re-read the thread to see if they were talking about a restaurant with the initials DC.

            2. Thanks for all your posts. It seems like I'm stuck with chains for the most part. I do know that we'll spend one day in DC doing the tourist thing. Anything within walking range (sorry I've never been there so I have no idea about distances) of let's say, the White House?

              12 Replies
              1. re: ziggystardust

                Well, that would depend on "walking distance". From the white house, I'm happy to walk to Old Ebbit Grill (close), Matchbox (moderate walk; I prefer the Chinatown location which is a little further), Central, maybe Clyde's @ Verizon Center? At the very least, many of those would be a short Metro ride.

                I might be a BBQ snob, but I really hate Dixie Bones. If you're up for BBQ, talk your family into making the trek down to Fredericksburg and go to Allman's.

                As you figure out where else your travels may take you while you're here, post up more details! I'm near Warrenton, so I'm reasonably familiar with Fredericksburg, Warrenton......If you guys wander out to Middleburg/Purcellville for some winery tours or antiquing I can help there too. There are lots of options once you get into more mainstream Northern VA (Alexandria, Great Falls, even Fairfax) if you go in those directions too.

                1. re: ForFoodsSake

                  Thanks for all that information. I won't have a car so I'll be at the mercy of my family in that respect. I don't know if I can talk them into a road trip. I think my best bet will be to manipulate them into eating something different/ good whilst we're in DC. I checked out the menu of Old Ebbit Grill and while it seems lovely, it's not what I had in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of fried chicken/waffles or Southern bbq/chicken fried steak and so on. Basically stuff I can't find in Canada.

                  1. re: ziggystardust

                    Southern food - go to The Standard (http://www.standarddc.com/), Oohs and Aahs (http://www.oohhsnaahhs.com/), Georgia Brown's (http://gbrowns.com/), Art and Soul (http://www.artandsouldc.com/), Vidalia (http://www.vidaliadc.com/).

                    Creme Cafe (http://www.cremedc.com/wp/) has chicken and waffles at brunch. Marvin also has them (http://www.marvindc.com/home).

                    That's a mix of mid-end to higher-end southern/soul or southern inspired food in the DC metro area. My mental GPS is not that good, so I can't remember which of these are easy walking distance from the mall area, but I believe most are easy to get to on the metro. Hope this is more helpful -- there's not a lot of good southern food in DC, so the options are somewhat limited.

                2. re: ziggystardust

                  Yes, make a reservation at Founding Farmers. I had a lovely lunch there a few weeks ago and had great chicken and waffles. The green burger was also exceptionally good.

                  1. re: hamster

                    Founding Farmers sounds nice, checked out their website/menu. There are similar restaurants here though. I was thinking something more Southern and/or soul food. It need not be the nicest place in town.

                    1. re: ziggystardust

                      Dude, you're from Toronto. There's really nothing you can get in DC that you can't get in Toronto. The posters have been tried to tell you that this is not really a Southern city and you're not going to find soul food like you do in Atlanta/New Orleans/Savannah.

                      DC does a lot of things well, but if you're trying to find regional cuisine, you're basically out of luck.

                      1. re: reiflame

                        Atlanta is not very "Southern" at all. In fact DC and Atlanta are a lot like in many ways. Both in the South, but non-Southern. Richmond- now thats the South!.

                        1. re: reiflame

                          Exactly. There's plenty that DC does well but it's not southern soul food, definitely not in NoVa which isn't "southern". Bistro Bakery in Arlington might be the closest for New Orleans but it's no different from hitting a southern place anywhere else in the US--a transplanted New Orleans native. Go for breakfast and get the beignets. And, Oohs and Aahs in DC and Flavors Soul Food (fried chicken) in Falls Church, but again from transplants to the area. Coastal Flats in Fair Lakes and Tysons has a good shrimp and grits.

                          It's like going to Hong Kong and wanting to have Szechuan--sure you can get it but it's not local food.

                          1. re: chowser

                            "It's like going to Hong Kong and wanting to have Szechuan--sure you can get it but it's not local food." - very good example

                            Regional food in DC is mainly blue crab, rockfish, river perch, and croaker.
                            Also keep in mind the best Soul Food place are usually in the rougher parts of town off the beaten path thats true whether its Oakland, LA, NYC or DC.

                            1. re: agarnett100

                              Yes--and what a great time of year to be visiting for seafood.

                        2. re: ziggystardust

                          Georgia Brown's has southern fried chicken. It has gumbo. Southside 815 (closest to Woodbridge) has chicken fried steak, gumbo. Shrimp and grits. Oh. Forgot B. Smith's at Union Station. Probably not the real deal, but close enough. They have jambalya, shrimp & grits, collard greens.

                          Oh. Also forgot Acadiana - http://www.acadianarestaurant.com/aca...
                          Always gets good write-ups.

                          1. re: Just Visiting

                            If you want Soul Food vist Levi Port Cafe look at the menu


                            Also I agree with Just Visiting with Southside - they have a great HH

                    2. Good soul food is available in DC, but is at a dive (Oohs and Aahs) and may not work for a skittish family. Four stools in front of a tiny kitchen, plus a place upstairs to take your styrofoam container filled with delicious goodies. Would this work for your family?

                      If not, Georgia Brown's or B. Smith's will probably make ok 'mainstream' if upscale alternatives. Southside 815 is far from any kind of soul food, Henry's Soul Food Cafe not as good as Oohs and Aahs but with the same ambiance.

                      Levi's Port Cafe is probably a good compromise: inexpensive, a regular sit-down restaurant, and non-threatening.

                      1. Try Tim's Rivershore for seafood. You sit on the deck outside,order a barrel of crabs and it's like being on the beach. It's just south of Woodbridge.


                        For more typically "american" food, there's the Great American Restaurants, Mike's would be near you in Springfield. And, in Alexandria/Springfield area, close to Woodbridge is Walker's Grille, one of my favorite new places. They source locally when possible, are LEEDs certified.


                        And, don't forget 5 Guys Burgers. It's a chain but worth hitting on a casual day.

                        If you're here in July, try Nana's Sunday dinner at The Majestic in Old Town. They're having their barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, potato salad dinner. Typically American, imo.

                        In Woodbridge, I've heard good things about All American Steak house (I know people hate reviews if you haven't been but this is from a friend of mine I trust as food goes). It would be better than TGIF.

                        1. Many thanks to all of you! Places that I've read favourably about, here and elsewhere, include Matchbox Pizza, Old Glory BBQ (rec. from Trip Advisor) and Levi's. Thoughts?

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: ziggystardust

                            Try to find this food truck:


                            They're based in Woodbridge. That would a an American experience.

                            1. re: ziggystardust

                              FYI Old Glory BBQ is not worth a trip. Levi's and Matchbox Pizza are solid picks good luck and hope you enjoy what DC has to offer. FYI-I hope to visit Toronto for Caribana this year so I may need your help in the August

                              1. re: agarnett100

                                I hope you can make it up to Toronto for Caribana, it's fun! The Ontario/Toronto board is very active and people are helpful. Post on that board and if I can't help you, others will.

                              2. re: ziggystardust

                                Matchbox for the mini-burgers, medium rare only. Other food is only ok.

                                Old Glory not good at all.

                                In DC, although ti is not Southern, go to Locolat for savory Belgian waffles with a good choice of toppings. Very safe for the family and an out-and-out Chowhound delight. Very casual, medium in price. Favorites include the carbonnade, the queens delight, grilled vegetables, and escargot.

                                1. re: ziggystardust

                                  Matchbox - mediocre at best; don't bother. I do not get the love for this place. And the pizza is simply not good. Old Glory - don't bother. That's not where you go for ribs. Plus Georgetown is a total PITA for driving and parking. From Woodbridge, you can go south for an hour and get good ribs in a couple of different places. I've never been to Levi's so I can't say about that.

                                  If you are able to persuade your family to go into DC, then why eat at mediocre places that aren't close to what you requested? You asked for Southern food and soul food and you've got a number of recs.

                                  1. re: Just Visiting

                                    You're right. So far the best bet for what I'm after seems to be Levi's. It's a shame I can't hit up the other excellent recs but I'll probably have one shot at this. Depending on the outcome of the meal I'll either be a hero or else be banished from food related decisions henceforth.

                                    1. re: ziggystardust

                                      I know that feeling. I don't even try to take my mother any place interesting. We go to one of the various Clyde's group restaurants. We can always get a reliably OK meal. Once in a while a very good meal (no rhyme or reason to it - sometimes the exact same dish is inexplicably fantastic and otherwise just OK the other times). Nothing exciting or different. She likes steak, but she likes it half-burnt, so we can't even take her to Ray's. But hey - she's paying so at least it isn't our own money we are wasting!

                                  2. re: ziggystardust

                                    If you're taking in the monuments, Jimmy's Grill at Maine Avenue Fish Market does a good fry: catfish, whiting, shrimp, oysters, crab balls. If the weather's nice, you can't beat it for al fresco dining. The price is right, too.

                                  3. If you are doing the tourist thing you very may be very close to Sou'Wester in the Mandarin Oriental, which is about one to one and half blocks off the mall on the opposite side of the White House and etc. It is coastal cuisine, very much like a restaurant in Charleston (where the chef worked previously). Very inventive and modern, but easy for everyone to find something. Also it's easy to get right on and off of 395 there for going home and normally has street parking available.

                                    Georgia Brown's is not coastal cuisine, it's more meat and three soul food type- fried chicken etc. I don't think it is worth the price, but I grew up eating this type of food, so I often have a different perspective than an outsider. It is walkable from the White House though.

                                    I would so Sou'Wester over Southside 815, which is also coastal carolina style, but not near as good. The other places are likely to be out of your way. Levi's may not be too far, it's also soul food style cuisine, much less pricey.

                                    Liberty Tavern is good for American food, but a hike from Woodbridge, Alexandria may be more manageable for another meal, I would suggest the Majestic or perhaps Hank's Oyster Bar since that is easy access to the beltway. Maybe Virtue Feed and Grain.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ktmoomau

                                      Second Majestic or Hank's. The last time I was at Liberty Tavern, their "clam chowder" tasted like hot Bacon Ranch soup with no clams.

                                    2. Check out my responses here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/860606

                                      Also, Pizza Paradiso (Dupont, Georgetown, and Alexandria) is one of our faves!