300 W. Broad Street,
Falls Church, VA 22046
What an unexpected lovely surprise at this tiny restaurant adjacent to a Falls Church motel. La Caraqueña, which means “a woman from Caracas” in Spanish, has about 10 tables inside (when the patio is closed due to cold weather). Reservations are definitely recommended because the wait on a Saturday night, at least when we were there, was almost out the door. The waitress explained to us that ever since this restaurant was featured on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program on the Food Channel back in November, they have been trying to keep up with the surge in clientele.
When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by the very cheerful chef himself, who is also the owner, and was, at least at the moment, the host. We were a few minutes early, so we had to wait until our table freed up, which happened right on time for our reservation. From the moment we walked in, we felt welcomed the entire evening. The atmosphere was jovial - every table was filled with diners of all ages, some of whom clearly were regulars, since they knew the chef by name and he came out to chat with some of them. The lively, non-intrusive Latin music was interrupted once and a “happy birthday” broke out as the staff walked over singing with a candle in cake to one of the larger parties. Everyone applauded as the birthday person and a friend jumped up and danced for about a minute. This was really an animated, warm, family-like, cozy ambiance.
Service was not only very friendly and attentive, but also efficient. Three waitresses and a bus boy hustled to make sure everyone was well-taken care of. Our waitress knew all the items on the menu and cheerfully made recommendations based on our questions. The menu is a combination of Bolivian, Venezuelan and Chilean dishes, most of which were unfamiliar to us, so we were grateful for her help. The menu itself seemed rather limited in choices, but a note on the menu said that this is not a fast food place and patience will be required as each dish is made to order. Although the wait for the food was hardly noticeable, it was clear that each dish was thought-out and prepared with individualized attention. We were disappointed when we learned that they ran out of the only appetizer we wanted – the Empanadas Saltenas. Apparently, this is their most popular appetizer and they still had not been able to plan out their dishes since the Food Channel episode premiered, skyrocketing their customer level. We hope to return and try this appetizer in the future.
The Sopa di Mani, a peanut-beef-rice soup, was a puree of its listed ingredients, with no one component dominating the others, making it a wonderful warm blend on a cold December evening. The ham and cheese arepa (an arepa, we were told, is a typical Venezuelan sandwich) served inside fried corn bread, was also delicious. But the Pabellon Completo con Baranda, the restaurant’s special, was absolutely amazing (see photo). Pulled beef in a superbly flavorful sauce served in a bowl-like plate with rice, black beans, fried plantains, a fried sunny-side up egg, with shaved white cheese and avocados. The fresh homemade jalapeno salsa that was served separately made this meal perfection.
This was a great restaurant that we highly recommend. It has been there for 3 years, replacing the Rose Restaurant, which served Iranian cuisine, and was also very good. Despite its location adjacent to a motel, this “dive” is a neighborhood gem. Hope the success doesn’t go to its head and the delightful spirit and flavors of La Caraquena continue to thrive.