Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RusUz Restaurant - Uzbek, Central Asian and Russian Cuisine - Arlington (Ballston), VA

1000 N Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22201
(202) 468-8472

We were delighted to see that RusUz has expanded to almost double its original space, has substantially expedited its already very friendly and courteous service, while maintaining a high quality of delicious food, continuing to be a SUPERB addition to the Northern Virginia dining scene!

We've eaten there several times since we last reviewed it in this blog and each time our experience was better and better.

In January 2014, RusUz was named named one of Washington area's 100 Very Best Restaurants by the Washingtonian Magazine and it certainly deserves the same title in 2015!

 Chicken kebab




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kazan Restaurant - Fine Turkish and Mediterranean Cuisine - McLean, VA

6813 Redmond Drive
McLean, Virginia 22101
(703) 734-1960

If you have been to Kazan before, you are most likely to say, "I love that place!"  Kazan has not disappointed in the dozen or so times we have eaten there. 

Serving diners in the McLean and surrounding areas for 30+ years (since 1980), Kazan is a family-owned and family-run gem of a dining establishment. Most reviewers (yelp, urbanspoon, tripadvisor, and elsewhere) overwhelmingly rate it positively. Zagat has ratid Kazan as one of DC area's top Turkish restaurants for many years (as evident in their foyer, where they simply do not have the space to display all their accolades).  Kazan is also the deserving recipient of numerous awards for its great food and service. There's no arguing that the Uzun family has made a wonderful contribution to the Northern Virginia dining scene by providing us with consistently delicious food and consistently excellent service.  

Whether you are a first-time visitor or one of the many returning customers, you will not only get a scrumptious meal at Kazan, but also be made to feel like you are the most important diner in the place. The restaurant is rather large with two dining halls, separated by a translucent partition that provides plenty of diffused natural light. The outer dining hall gets opened up during warm weather to allow for sidewalk dining and during the colder months has ample heating.

Waiters are always knowledgeable (though not necessarily Turkish themselves, which is even more impressive) in the menu choices, including the wine list.  Respectful and efficient, the staff is most welcoming and accommodating for diners of all ages, allergies, and preferences.  

Last week, we selected Kazan for a small birthday celebration.  We ordered a variety of appetizers such as Babaganush and Hummus, and entrees, including chicken and lamb entrees.  The ones pictured here are the Lamb Doner Kebob and the Chicken Shish.  All were delicious. Entrees come with a crisp greens salad with a savory house dressing. vA steady refill of the basket with freshly-baked pita made the meal even better.  

Turkish food is known for using a mild yogurt as a base for most dishes and not using particularly pungent flavors, so those with sensitive stomachs will be well-served here, as none of the dishes are spicy (hot).  

This restaurant is one of our favorites!  It is certainly a favorite of many Northern Virginia residents, as well, and is sure to remain a staple in Turkish dining for many years to come!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Argia's Italian Restaurant - Falls Church City, VA

124 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA
(703) 534-1033

Had it not been for Groupon, we may not have tried Argia's and it would have been our loss.  

We stopped in at Argia's for a quick lunch and enjoyed our experience. The atmosphere was pleasantly dim (despite a large window at either side of the long dining hall), intimate and modern. Argia has somewhat of an urban feel, as urban as one can get in in Falls Church City, with an exposed ceiling look, solid chunky oak furniture, and simple artwork, including several textured murals and an old-world mural, which adds some warmth.  There is a small bar area, a large dining room, and in the rear of the restaurant there is a small outdoor seating area that is separated from the parking lot by a tall wooden half-fence. 

Our waiter Cal was knowledgeable and friendly without being intrusive.  We promptly received our water, our wine order and a basket of delicious hot bread.  Our menu choices were basic - Spaghetti with Meatballs and Cappellini Fresca.  They cheerfully accommodated our request for spicy marinara sauce, which was delicious. Both entrees come with a side of a green Mediterranean salad with a light dressing.  The food was great, service was great, overall a thumbs up and a definite prospect for a return to Argia's.    

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Portofino Restaurant - Italian Restaurant in Arlington, VA (Revisited)

526 23rd St S, Arlington, VA 22202
(703) 979-8200

Perfection! If you have not been to Portofino in Crystal City, don't walk, run there.  They are a family-owned restaurant (since 1970!) and this certainly comes through in the solid quality of food and service.  Everything about this restaurant is wonderful.  We have eaten here 4 or 5 times (first reviewed here in 2010) and each time can't wait to return. There is so much thoughtfulness, seamlessness and warmth that is conveyed to the customer through each dining experience, we cannot help but think that this is probably the way all restaurants should be.

To begin with, in an area where parking is at a premium, the parking lot behind the restaurant alleviates the time and frustration it takes to park on the busy 23rd Street.  When entering the restaurant from the parking lot through the back door, you are immediately greeted by the owner and manager welcoming you to the dining room through the office / bar area.  There are two dining rooms in Portofino - one with about 15 tables in an ornate (but not over the top, fortunately) atmosphere and one down the stairs toward that back that is huge and seemingly always busy on a weekend evening.  

The menu lists everything that you could ever want to eat at a fine Italian dining establishment, but wait... the manager personally comes to your table and describes the specials, which for us included two different asparagus appetizers and a half a dozen mouthwatering entrees so creatively designed and so deliciously described that it's hard not to order one of everything just to try.  While we were listening to the specials, ice water and freshly-baked bread were served at our table.  There is something about the olive oil set in a bottle on each individual table that somehow was different from most olive oils and was a particularly flavorful dip for the bread.

We had the calamari appetizer that came with a thick spicy dipping sauce with a hint of horseradish.  In addition to the plentiful selection of food between the menu and the specials, Portofino always accommodates any special requests.  Ours was a Puttanesca capellini, which was fantastic.  We also had the Veal Parmigiana that was smothered in a marinara sauce and cheese with a side of vegetables - all heavenly.

Prices were quite reasonable, too.  The calamari was $8.95, the Puttanesca was $14.95 and the Veal $20.95.  Most other similar restaurants of this caliber typically charge much more.

For dessert, we could not resist sharing the ricotta cheese cake that came in a mild and tangy lime sauce, topping off an excellent meal. Of course with a frothy capuccino.

While the wait staff were all very attentive and friendly, we could not write this review without mentioning one of the greatest assets of Portofino - Julio, a waiter who has worked there for 28 years.  He starts off by joking that this is his first day on the job, fooling you for about a second, and then it's clear he is highly versed in what he is doing.

Thank you for a lovely meal, Portofino! And again, we can't wait to return.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant - Falls Church City, VA

232 W Broad St, Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 533-8233

In a small strip mall in Falls Church City, Pho 88 is not to be missed.  It is a low-key Vietnamese dive with large windows brightening up the the restaurant's plainest of plain decors.  Like most ethnic dives, the ambiance isn't the draw here. It is the food in Pho 88 that definitely makes it a neighborhood favorite.  Pho 88 serves up reliably delicious food to a steady stream of clientele for lunch and dinner.

We have been here several times over the last few years and have enjoyed our meal every time.  Our lunch today was no exception.  Their spring rolls served with peanut sauce were very fresh, and, although rather bland, they were still moist and delicious.  Pictured here are spring rolls with shrimp and spring rolls with tofu ($2.95 each).  A few drops of hot sauce brings them to perfection.  We typically get the Pho with chicken that comes in a "small" bowl for $7.95 or a "large" bowl (slightly larger than the "small") for $8.95.  The Pho is aromatic, flavorful and plentiful.  Don't worry if you don't finish the whole bowl, of course you can take the rest home. Pho is better the next day anyway!

Don't forget to order the Vietnamese iced coffee with sweet condensed milk to make the meal complete. It has a strong caffeine kick to it. Just lift up the aluminum press, stir it up with the long tea spoon, pour onto the ice and ENJOY!

During peak hours the service can be a bit slow, but that does not detract from the great experience and the DELICIOUS FOOD.  

The parking lot in the back of the mall can be packed during the weekdays, but usually you can find a spot, and in the evenings it is generally easy to park.  Note their website says they are CLOSED TUESDAYS.

Oh, and as an extra bonus, Tutti Frutti, which recently opened next door, is offering anyone who eats at Pho 88 a 20% discount on frozen yogurt!  This is a limited-time offer, but definitely worth it! 

Btw, if you like sushi, another restaurant that we love in the same strip mall is Manekineko Japanese Restaurant! Review coming soon, so if you are not yet subscribed to our email list, go ahead and sign up so you don't miss any of our highly valuable descriptions of our dining experiences in the Northern Virginia area!

Shrimp Spring Rolls and Tofu Spring Rolls

Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)

Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)

Note: This is an image of Pho 88 PRIOR TO ITS REMODELING in September 2014

Awesome Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Friday, March 28, 2014

CALLING ALL WAITERS AND WAITRESSES!!! Your chance to be on TV!!! Tell your story!!!

Vintage South Productions is a television casting and development company looking for a cast for a new national TV show that will feature waiters and waitresses who have contributed in wonderful ways to their communities
 above and beyond their jobs.  

Is that YOU?  Is it SOMEONE YOU KNOW who has served you food, but also touched your life or done something kind and wonderful that needs to be told?

If you know of a worthwhile candidate for The Kindness Project for waiters and waitresses, please contact Vintage South Productions.  They are looking for servers with a story of serving more than just food - those that 
are serving their communities in other ways. 

They are hoping to cast everyone within the next 3-4 weeks.

This is a nationwide show, but they want to have an episode 
on the Northern Virginia area. 

Contact them and let them know that you heard about it HERE on

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tara Thai Restaurant - Vienna, VA

226 Maple Ave.
West Vienna, VA 22180 
Tel. 703-255-2467

Since Tara Thai in Falls Church is one of our favorite spots for a reliably good Thai meal, we thought we'd try another Tara Thai that is located in Vienna.  In the past, we tried Tara Thai in Arlington before it closed.  Bottom line for us is that decidedly Tara Thai in Falls Church is heads above its namesakes.

Though most of the dishes offered on the menu are standard and familiar Thai choices, the Chef's specials understandably differ from restaurant to restaurant, as does the preparation itself. One of the particularly noticeable issues we found with Tara Thai Vienna is the inconsistency of the spicyness level between the menu and the actual dish.  We ordered dishes with asterisks that turned out mild and dishes with no asterisks that turned out hot.  We suggest that regardless of what it says on the menu, you indicate directly to the waiter the level of hotness you prefer, otherwise you will be surprised when the food arrives, at least in our experience.

We ordered two appetizers - Salt & Pepper Calamari, which was lightly battered and fried, and the Num Tok, a beef dish.  The Num Tok was a bit of a disappointment not only because the two asterisks next to it on the menu did not reflect the actual rather mild seasoning of the dish, but also because the flank steak was just overall not nearly as tasty or juicy as it is in Tara Thai Falls Church.  Would not order it there again. Our entrees were a combination of one standard Thai dish - Pad Thai, which was fine, and one of the Chef's Specials.  We ordered the Tara Thai Vienna's Chef's Special the Crispy Golden Chicken, which was good, but, despite there being no asterisks next to it on the menu, it was on the hot side.

Service was not nearly as friendly or attentive compared with Tara Thai Falls Church.  While Tara Thai Vienna is perfectly fine, if we had to choose, we would select Tara Thai Falls Church hands down.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bangkok Bistro at Ballston - Contemporary THAI Cuisine - Arlington, VA

Bangkok Bistro at Ballston
715 N. Glebe Rd. Arlington, VA 22203
tel: 703-243-9669

Bangkok Bistro is a wonderful, busy, cheerful spot for lunch right across the street from Macy's (Ballston Commons Mall) near the Ballston Metro.  They get you in and out quickly with smiles and just the right amount of attention.  Corner location with huge windows gives the restaurant an open and bright feel.  The dark furniture is clean and modern.  The aromas that hit your nose when you first walk in make it hard not to stay and enjoy your meal.

We ordered wine at $7/glass along with Drunken Noodles ($11) and a Papaya Deluxe Salad ($9).  Both were excellent.  The Drunken Noodles, one of my favorite dishes, had just the perfect amount of seasoning and noodles were cooked to a perfect texture.  The Papaya Deluxe Salad came out with a fun presentation of shrimp on a skewer and was also delicious.  

If you are driving there, expect to see lots of paid street parking around, but on a weekday lunchtime spots are hard to come by.  Parking hint: The garage right next to Bangkok Bistro charges just $1 for the first 3 hours, and the guys there are very friendly and efficient.  Great experience.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chutzpah Deli - Jewish / Russian / Eastern European comfort food - Fairfax, VA

12214 Fairfax Towne Center
Fairfax, VA 22033
(703) 385-8883

If you haven't tried Chutzpah a Real New York Deli in Fairafax, we recommend that you do, at least once.

Don't go too much out of your way, it is not a true New York Deli, certainly not even close to Stage or Carnegie, or really ANY deli in New York City, but it's as good as we get here in Northern Virginia, and that's worthwhile. Don't expect to be blown away or coming away wowed, but you will have a small reminder of the old familiar tastes that you may have grown up with or may have heard about.

There aren't many places in this area you can get Matzoh brei, borscht and a knish all in one order, and that's a real treat.  We have tried all the different kinds of pastrami and all are tasty, but put them on a sandwich and somehow they are... underwhelming.

Chutzpah is a small simple place with about a dozen grey tables and a carry-out area. If you choose to have a sit-down meal in the restaurant, be prepared: the service is atrocious and on top of that, it lacks personality. Both are an understatement.  The phrase "pulling teeth" comes to mind.  If the lack of enthusiasm and hospitality weren't enough, we had to remind our waiter about almost everything that we asked for... twice, so there is also that factor.  

Here is a tip (for you, not the waiter). Chutzpah offers a free bottomless supply of coleslaw and delicious half-sour pickles for its in-house diners.  The trick is that they don't tell you about it.  But ask, and you shall receive!!! It's a great addition to the meal and well-worth the extra conversation with the unenthusiastic wait staff.    

The portions are average to small and it is not cheap for what you get.

Overall, for the taste of the old Jewish Russian New York, Chutzpah is definitely worth at least one visit.

And don't forget to sign up for our mailing list just to the right of this review!  We will notify you each time we visit a restaurant in your area and have something to say about it.  If you'd like us to visit and review a specific restaurant, we will be happy to hear your suggestions - please email us! We hope to be helpful to you, your family and friends, in selecting restaurants based on some input from us and having an enjoyable and adventurous dining experience!  We also hope to be helpful to restaurant management in providing feedback on our dining experience in their establishments!  Please do not hesitate to contact us!  We are happy to hear from you!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Some unique dishes you can only get abroad

12 Over the Top International Fast-Food Items from The Daily Meal

Biryani-Stuffed Calzone?
Kimchi Hamburger?
Mince Pie Donut?
Doubledecker Pizza?

Check out all 12 here: http://www.thedailymeal.com/12-over-top-international-fast-food-items/2514

While you're there check out some more fun fast food stories, like 10 Cutting-Edge Fast-Food Innovations of 2013 or 12 Regional Foods Worth Traveling For.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Meaza Ethiopian Cuisine - Falls Church, VA (Revisited)

5700 Columbia Pike
Falls Church, VA
(703) 820-2870

If there is a go-to Ethiopian restaurant for us, undoubtedly it's Meaza. We first reviewed it back in 2011, but since then we've been there so many times that we felt we needed to update our review. We said in our last blog that we had "one terrific meal" at Meaza, but in reality we've had over a dozen terrific meals there. Below is a photo of our recent meal. 

Two large dining halls in Meaza (one usually reserved for private banquets or evenings with extra need for dining space) are filled with cheerful diners during typical meal times.  Just keep in mind, this is considered an ethnic dive, so dress and set expectations accordingly.  There are the "regulars," both Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians, as well as a rather consistent stream of "newbies" to Ethiopian cuisine.  We particularly enjoy watching the newbies' reactions when the large plate arrives to be filled by the waitress spooning out entrees of freshly made sizzling meats and delicious veggies from kettles, and to be shared by everyone at the table.  The only utensils at the table are one's own clean bare fingers, using the injera bread to scoop up the delicious food.  

We go well-done on the meats, which is probably not authentic, but is more suitable to our palates than the traditional raw kitfo. Along with the kitfo, we also usually get the house specialty Meaza tibs.  Because the Meaza tibs are not spicy, we asked for the kitfo to be made on the spicier side, to complement one another, since one of us likes spicy food and the other one does not.  The kitfo is served with a wonderful side of white cheese, which gives the meal a great flavor and a great texture.  While the meats are offered with one side order of veggies, we added the vegetarian sampler to our order to have a larger selection (and also plenty leftovers to take home!).  This gave us a wonderful array of choices like several types of lentils, cole slaw, potatoes, carrots, spinach and other small samples to make each bite different and delicious. A great choice also, if you're up for it, is the veggie sampler with the option of including fish.  The fish comes out on the tray with its head intact (you may want to ask that the head be removed in the kitchen), but it's one flaky, tender and delicious option that you can choose, although it makes the meal a bit more filling. 

A perfect addition of several glasses of red wine and cold Perrier and we were good to go. Wonderful service by Genet made our meal extra special!

We say "amasat ganalo" (thank you very much) every time we finish our meal because it's truly a gastronomical feast.   

Note to all diners:  Meaza is a winner of numerous awards, including "Best Restaurant" rated by Northern Virginia Magazine and "Best Bargain Restaurant" rated by Washingtonian Magazine.

Note to the frugal budget diners: Although Meaza is certainly a bargain restaurant, they regularly offer a Groupon for half off.  No reason not to take advantage of it and order double!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sarita's Salvadorian Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

2794 Graham Rd
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 533-9448

To the best we could tell, Sarita’s caters to the local Salvadoran community, providing a comfortable atmosphere with familiar fare. For us, however, Sarita’s was a disappointment.

Not sure why www.yelp.com and some other websites list Sarita’s as a Mexican restaurant. It is not. It may be Latin, but not Mexican, at least as we're used to Mexican (see Anita's, El Paso, Tequila Grande or even El Tio),  We went in there thinking it was, but after seeing the menu and tasting the food, we asked the staff, and they confirmed that it is a Salvadorian restaurant.

Let’s start with the cafeteria-like décor. The plastic tablecloths and the dingy furniture, walls and floors were an immediate turnoff.

The dinginess would have been ok if it was compensated by the quality of food and the service. It was not.

The service was pleasant, but clearly serving English-speaking clientele is not the restaurant’s priority. Our waitress was sweet, but rather clueless and definitely inattentive. The few staff hunkered around the bar area chatting with customers who came in after us, no one approached our table to ask us about our meal. The water wasn’t refilled. We felt like we had to pull teeth to get any attention.

As for the food, it was disappointing both in taste and presentation. The bottomless chips were rather greasy and the salsa was tasteless. We had to mix it with the tobasco sauce on the table to give it some flavor. The nacho plate we ordered was a slopyy, soggy mess, as you can see in the photo. The chicken tortillas were blah to say the least. Mushy meat and soft tortillas (plain pupusas) left a lot to be desired. The chicken stew was barely at all a stew, as you can see on the photo. Again, tobasco sauce to the rescue.

If Sarita’s offered a better dining experience the prices, which are rather average to an ethnic dive, would not have been so insulting. But we felt that we paid way too much for the mediocre quality of lunch we had at Sarita’s.

Zagat ranks 10 restaurant power groups with U.S.-based chefs and at least 12 restaurants world wide. Fascinating picks!

One of them is in Virginia (hip hip for Jose Andres!), two in Maryland and three in DC, listed below.

See http://www.zagat.com/b/empire-ranking#8 for the full list of selections and the ranking criteria.

Lettuce Entertain You
Head honcho: Richard Melman
Main turf: Chicago, IL
Restaurants: 99 restaurants
Markets: Illinois/Chicago, Minneapolis, California, DC and Scottsdale, AZ
Average food score: 21.9
Profile: Operating close to 100 restaurants all across the country is nothing to sneeze at, and founder and CEO Richard Melman of the Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You has over 60 partners helping him out, as well as his three kids. The group owns a wide range of restaurants from fine-dining concepts like L20 and Tru, to fast-casual chains like M Burger, Krispy Kreme and Big Bowl. For Melman, it all started with a single Chicago restaurant, a burger joint called RJ Grunt's, in 1971. Read up on the full family history here

Mina Group
Head honcho: Michael Mina
Primary turf: San Francisco
Restaurants: 20
Markets: Arizona, California, Nevada, DC, Florida, Maryland, Washington, Wyoming
Average food score: 25.2
Profile: SF-based chef Michael Mina began his career at age 22, on the day of the infamous 1989 earthquake that struck the Golden Gate City. Over 20 years later, his empire spans across the country, known mostly for his eponymous fine-dining concept, his popular Bourbon Steak restaurants, which are expanding by the minute, and the recently opened Michael Mina 74 in South Beach, Miami.

Head honcho: Jose Andres
Primary turf: Washington, DC
Restaurants: 16 currently open
Markets: DC, LA, Las Vegas, Miami, Maryland, Virginia
Average food score: 25.4
Profile: The innovative Spanish-born chef known for his DC-based Jaleo and eclectic concept The Bazaar(LA, Vegas, Miami) now has 16 restaurants to his credit all over the country. As new SLS Hotels open, The Bazaar concept continues to grow, with rumors that the upcoming SLS Philly may have food offerings from the chef as well.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Imm Thai Cuisine - Annandale, VA

7203 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003
Tel: (703) 750-0880

In the heart of a dining treasure trove of wonderful Korean dives in Annandale known as "Little Korea,Imm Thai Cuisine offers a small unexpected, yet still Asian, detour. On a cold Sunday evening, we decided to give it a shot. We know how wonderful many of the Korean restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars are in Annandale, so why not try something that is a little unusual.

Located in a small building neighboring only a boutique called Gloria Beauttie Fashion, which was doing business late into Sunday evening, Imm Thai Cuisine is a small place that is cozy, clean, simple and friendly.

When we arrived, there was only one other party of about 4 people eating in the restaurant. The waitress / hostess with a huge smile and a welcoming demeanor quickly seated us and took our wine order. They offer two kinds of red and two kinds of white wine, a humble, but sufficient selection for a small place like this.

Our food came out quickly. Our Imm’s Duck Rolls and Larb Gai chicken appetizers were very good. They tasted fresh and flavorful, though the Larb Gai wasn’t very spicy, even though it had two “spicy stars” on the menu. As our entrée choices, we both ordered noodles – Pad Thai and a Drunken Noodles, both with chicken. While they were both very good, the noodles were a little too soft for our taste, making for a texture that was a bit disappointing. In fact the next day when I heated up my Drunken Noodles leftovers, they literally disintegrated in my mouth. This is not something that is typical, not sure what kind of noodles they are using or how they are preparing them that is different from the many other Thai restaurants in the area.

The Drunken Noodles were marked with two “spicy stars” on the menu, indicating a higher level of heat, however they were not very spicy at all, just like the Larb Gai. We requested the spicy sauce tray, which helped to infuse some heat into the noodle dishes.

Overall, this place is OK, but not great, as far as Thai food goes. Tara Thai in Falls Church or i-Thai in Vienna make a much better choice. When in Annandale and craving Thai, this place will certainly do. Prices are quite reasonable and on par with other restaurants in the area. However, we suggest to stick to some of the better-known Korean dives that are plentiful and well-known in Annandale.