Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

Restaurant reviews in Tyson's and surrounding area... mostly

Saturday, September 24, 2016

On September 28 Celebrate National Neighbor's Day at Side Street & Sushi Bar at Tysons Corner in Vienna, VA!

Side St. & Sushi Bar by i-Thai - a neighborhood newcomer - 

On Wednesday September 28, 2016, celebrate
National Neighbor's Day with your neighbors.

Grab a few complimentary cocktails* 6:00pm-8:00pm 
and save 30% on your food bill all day long.

*Complimentary cocktails include:
Roselltini – Absolut citron, grand mariner, fresh hibiscus juice
Silver Bullet – Gin, sake, Cointreau, lemonade, wheat grass and fresh lime squeeze

As space is limited, please RSVP to 
to reserve your table!

Mention that you're invited by
the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog!

Side St. & Sushi Bar by i-Thai

8603 Westwood Center Dr., Ste #100

Vienna, VA 22182
Tel : 703-992-7923

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Halal Guys - Middle Eastern fast-casual food in Springfield, VA

6304 Springfield Blvd
Springfield, VA 22150
Tel: (571) 282-3444

A true American success story - The Halal Guys - a mid-town Manhattan hot dog cart launched by three Egyptian immigrants in 1990 is now a successful franchise with 30+ locations, many of which are brick and mortar around the country, as well as Canada and Asia. Three of these have kicked off in Northern Virginia (Springfield and Vienna are now open, Fairfax coming soon).  

Each opening of The Halal Guys' locations is celebrated by hundreds of eager eaters waiting in long lines around the corner to be the first to get in. The food is basic Middle Eastern fare in a fast-casual setting with an assembly line of smiling servers compiling your choice of protein, starch and veggies. 

The idea is simple, wonderful and efficient. Once-upon-a-decade, it was pioneered by McDonald's: a limited basic menu that appeals to the entire multi-generational family. Our readers will recall that Northern Virginia was home to the original Five Guys, which built on that very idea and has become a national success. Incidentally, The Halal Guys are in good hands. They have tapped into the expertise of the same franchising company Fransmart that helped spur Five Guys' expansion.

The efficiency of this approach cannot be understated. You can see The Halal Guys food cart in action in this YouTube link. While New Yorkers always appreciate the direct communication and speedy pace of service without sacrificing quality, the simplicity of the limited choice and assembly line compilation clearly lends itself to pushing the frontiers of all ethnic cuisines and offering fast and good food across the country. Teriyaki Madness launched the first Northern Virginia location recently with fast-casual Asian food, and there are many more examples.

This recent Bloomberg article points out the rapid rise of the Halal market in the U.S., making it a $20 billion industry in 2016, up by one-third since 2010.  But in the spirit of catering to the North American market, the typical Middle Eastern meat staple - lamb - has been taken off The Halal Guys' menu, focusing instead on the more popular North American meats - chicken and beef.

The Halal Guys' mid-town Manhattan food truck actually has its own website 53rd and 6th. After running highly successful food trucks in New York for over 15 years, they decided to open up their first storefront. You can see the YouTube video here posted by Sameer's Eats about the first brick and mortar location on 14th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan in the neighborhood of my alma mater New York University. One of the main menu additions with the opening of the storefront was a variety of vegetarian options.  

The halal aspect of the food is what got the business started nearly 26 years ago in New York City. The objective was to fill a then-void of catering to the Muslim cab drivers who wanted to grab a meal on the go. It is the wide appeal and popularity of The Halal Guys' food that clearly transcends ethnic boundaries today.  

 Springfield, VA location in a local strip mall

 Ready to serve up

 Servers compiling a fresh Shwarma platter

 Entertainment built in - you can watch the cooks cut up the Shwarma behind the serving counter

 Decor takes you back to The Halal Guys' original digs in NYC

 French Fries

 While sitting at the counter, you can see photos of the original The Halal Guys NYC street cart, where it all began almost 26 years ago

 Hummus, Babaghanouj and Fresh Pita

 Chicken Shwarma Platter with The Halal Guys' White Sauce, which is a house recipe

 The Halal Guys' signature sauces - very very HOT sauce and a mild White sauce

 Crispy falafel

Delicious Baklava

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge in Vienna, VA (Tysons Corner area)

2070 Chain Bridge Road
Vienna, VA 22182
Tel: (703) 537-5700

There is nothing not to like about the newcomer Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge, which claims to be the largest restaurant (by seats) in Fairfax County. Located in the "toilet bowl building," as it is known in the neighborhood, the restaurant is the brainchild of Masoud Aboughaddareh, well-known D.C. area restauranteur and nightclub impresario. Families, couples, friends, and diners of all gastronomic orientations will find a menu that is diverse and accommodating, as well as evening themes to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. 

Greenhouse is four restaurants in one. First, it is an upscale dining environment offering sustainable "nature-to-table" dishes, including some outstanding all-organic, vegetarian and vegan choices. Food is sourced primarily from local and regional farms... did you know there are over 300 farms within a 250-mile radius of where we are? The chef, Dale Schnell, originally from the West Coast, has an impressive resume, including the famous Russian Tea Room and the Rainbow Room in New York City. His creations have an urban vibe with an emphasis on the healthy and the light... as he says,  "foods that energize."  

Second, depending on the night you dine here (note: they are closed on Mondays), you will get an entertainment treat.  We came here on Thursday - Flamenco night - with a live guitar band and dancers that twirled around the restaurant.  While the music was a bit loud at times, the extravaganza was definitely entertaining, exciting and fun to watch. By the end of the evening, we saw families of all ages dancing near the band and enjoying a fun evening out that multiple generations can enjoy. The entertainment selection is a clear a manifestation of many years of nightclub experience carrying a distinctive Middle Eastern and Spanish style from Middle Eastern and Latin DJs to Flamenco and Latin American pop and rustic beats.

Third, the adjacent Samovar Tea Lounge provides a completely different feel.  It is a more relaxed, quiet, subdued and secluded atmosphere.  A dimly-lit romantic setting, it is a separate large room, outfitted with couches, embroidered pillows and, yes, samovars that brew an extensive variety of delicious flavored teas. There is a selection of food pairings that accompany the samovar service, ranging from baked pastries to fresh veggie and herb dishes. Food pairings can include savory finger foods or sweet baked pastries.

Fourth, is the large outside patio area with coffee tables and couches on one end and dining tables on the other, where you can enjoy the same menu as indoors. The patio has ground-up heating, so even on colder days, this is a place where you can hang out. You can come here either in shorts or dressed up... up to you.

Now for the food. There are plenty of options for carnivores, pescatarians, flexitarians, and vegetarians, including some vegan. Some dishes have a hint of the delicious Middle Eastern flavors interwined throughout the various items on the menu, using herbs and combinations to create a nice medley of tastes.  There is also the traditional Persian brunch that is offered here on Sundays.

All the dishes we tasted are pictured below. We enjoyed all of them, but particularly liked the salads and the short ribs in the dining room. In the Samovar Tea Lounge, the veggie platters were terrific - really that could be a great dinner in and of itself, as well as all the desserts offered here, which were wonderful.

We would definitely return here. 

 Outdoor view of the "toilet bowl building" with the Greenhouse patio

 Restaurant patio food menu

 Modern welcoming decor

 Walls are lined with an "herb garden" as well as flat-screen TVs

 Live Latin American Band with Flamenco Dancers

 Enjoying drinks out in the patio bar area
Chargrilled East Coast Octopus $17

 The Hearty Salad $13

 The Greenhouse Salad $13

 Atlantic Codfish $25 Inspired by the Spanish Paella

 Vegetarian Pizza

Half-Roasted Organic Chicken $21

Burgundy Braised Short Ribs $12 with palm puree

Hearts of Palm Sea Cake $16 with vegan (cashew) tartar sauce

Greenhouse at night

 DJ stand

Samovar Tea Lounge carries a more Middle Eastern decor vibe than the main dining room

Samovar, claimed both by Russians and Persians as their own invention

Samovar Tea Lounge menu

 Couches in the Samovar Tea Lounge

 Fresh veggies and herbs that accompany the Samovar Tea Service

Ricotta Reignets $8 with strawberry-rhubarb dipping sauce

 If you're not in the tea kind of mood, and have not had enough energizing food in the main dining room, you can order a perfect cup of cappuccino

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Puente De Oro - Salvadorian and Mexican food, Fairfax, VA

10312 Willard Way
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: (703) 691-3232

Puente De Oro recently moved down the street from a different Fairfax location, presenting itself as more of a family restaurant, rather than the sports bar it used to be. We've never been to the previous location of Puente De Oro, but were encouraged to visit this new location by the Yelp reviews... ok, there were only seven of them, but they were all five-stars, and it's been a while since we ventured out for Central American cuisine, so we headed out here.

As everything is relative, some of the Yelp reviews pointed to the fact that the previous restaurant in this same location was pretty bad. We've never visited the previous restaurant in this location, but can definitely see how there are at least a few aspects of the New Puente De Oro that are quite appealing.

The Pros: There is ample parking in this Safeway/CVS plaza. The restaurant is large... with two equal-size rooms separated by a clear glass wall. Television sets line the walls to keep diners updated on everything from news to sports. All-wood dining booths and long bar tables are all roomy and comfortable. Happy hour specials abound and the prices are very reasonable. Portions are large, more than enough to share or for doggie bags.

The biggest Pro is the greeting and wait Staff, which is clearly the best asset of Puente De Oro - they are all friendly with bright shining smiles, making you feel like the most wanted guest in the restaurant.

All those things are great and almost sufficient reason to dine here, if you're in the area.

The Cons: Food is "not bad," but to those of us who prefer more bolder stronger flavors, this is definitely not the place to go. Salsa that accompanies chips is EXTREMELY BLAND... Without a sizeable dose of hot sauce that is on the table, it is a warm, tasteless tomatoey mush.

Admittedly, good ceviche is difficult to find, so we had to try it here, especially since one of the Yelp reviewers recommended it. In conclusion, we'd have to say, keep moving.... nothing to see here on the ceviche front. We asked for the ceviche to be served without shrimp, and told by our waitress that this was no problem, sure enough the ceviche came out with shrimp, but it was hidden on the bottom....

Chicken tacos were the blandest thing that probably ever existed in the universe of Latin American food.....

We came here with a group of friends, so while we have photographs of various dishes, we did not taste all of them. Most of the feedback on the food was that it was good or ok, not sure if it was out of politeness or because the meat seasoning on the Mixed Grill entrees was better than on anything that we ordered....

The worst thing on our table was the Fried Yucca dessert with molasses syrup. You'd think that anything fried and served with syrup could never disappoint... yes it could! There was not a single person in our group who liked it and we ended up leaving most of it on the table....

Since Puente De Oro has no website and no menu online, we can't even tell you the names of all the dishes, but at least we can show you what the look like. 

Also, Yelp lists this restaurant as serving Salvadoran and Spanish food, but their menu clearly says they serve Salvadorian and Mexican food....

It is a shame that the restaurant does not take its online absence or its consistency in marketing seriously.

Our server Ileana was very sweet, efficient and helpful in recommending various dishes. She was really the highlight of the visit here.

Even though our experience was - not bad - it is unlikely that we'd ever return.

 Ample seating in bar area

Ample seating in dining area

Ceviche ($10.95) with a Happy Hour Dos Equis Beer ($1.50)

 Chips and Salsa

 Front Cover of Menu

 Wide selection of food either a la carte or as larger entrees

 Mixed Grill

 Salvadorian Fish Dish recommended by the server

 Charcoal Mixed Grill


 Corn Tamale with Crema ($2.50)

Chicken Tacos ($8.95)

Fried Yucca Dessert