Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Argia's Italian Restaurant - Falls Church City, VA (revisited several times)

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

We were happy that Northern Virginia Magazine selected Argia's for its feature restaurant in the Taste of NoVa last week! Argia's is a local restaurant in Falls Church City that we enjoy visiting, so we invited our friends and braved the cold to have lunch here.

After about a half a dozen meals here since its re-opening under new ownership in 2013, we know to expect a good meal and great service. We wrote about it last summer.  Staff is usually friendly, attentive and efficient. Food is better than decent. One of our barometers for a good restaurant is the consistency of our dining experiences to this establishment and Argia's definitely passes that test, so you know what to expect when you come here.

On this particular Saturday afternoon Argia's was hosting two large parties in its large dining room, with over 50 people total. Good thing we made a reservation! We got the only table out in the bar area, which is a bright, sunny area, and was quite nice.  However, the wait staff was frazzled trying to service the large parties, so our service fell somewhat short of the typical excellent this time, which we are writing off as a hickup.

There is one important factor that truly value in Argia's, which is the flexibility of the chef and the billing structures. Not only can they accommodate individual orders within larger parties, but whenever we have requested something that was either not on the menu, or a substitution of any kind, the kitchen has accommodated our requests happily, flawlessly and deliciously. Seems like the management instills in its employees the importance of treating each individual customer like family and the chef is the perfect manifestation of this spirit.

Ask any regular customers and they will rave about the baskets of warm bread that are generously dispensed from the kitchen. The bread, notably baked on premises, has somewhat of a gritty texture, and is delicious and fluffy, with just the right hint of herbs. It is served up with some delicious olive oil.  The Mista Salata and Caesar's Salad were fresh and only lightly dressed. The cup of Minestrone soup was quite good. The Pappardelle and Trout entrees were also good and fresh.

We were most pleased when the owner Salina came over and chatted with us, proudly telling us that Argia's was chosen as one of the winners of the Taste of Falls Church last year.  Well deserved!!!

Prix Fixe Menu January 12 - 18, 2015

Minestrone Soup and Mista Salata

Caesar's Salad

Pan Roasted Trout entree

Papperdelle with Roasted Pulled Chicken entree

Awards wall

Front dining room (the smaller dining area) and bar

Friday, January 23, 2015

Will Thomas, FOX 5 reporter presents: "Will You Eat There?"

DC FOX 5's Will Thomas offers a weekly spot on the newscast entitled,  "Will You Eat There?"

This series is fun to watch and offers a unique competition and review of the selected establishment.  Check it out at:  http://www.myfoxdc.com/category/293968/will-you-eat-there

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chuy's Tex-Mex chain restaurant new to NoVa - Fairfax, VA

11219 Lee Hwy
Fairfax, VA 22030

Something in the food at Chuy’s made a detour between Austin, TX and Fairfax, VA.  We say this because it seems that if you ask anyone they’ll tell you that Chuy’s is a staple in the Austin, TX area.  So, if you’re making Tex-Mex and you’re in Austin, it’s GOT to be GOOD.  Right?  Uh, no. While the décor was pleasant and the service was tolerable, the food was quite average and certainly not the best Tex-Mex we’ve ever had.  As a matter of fact, some of the best Tex-Mex meals that we've had outside of Texas were in the south of Spain at a place called Restaurante Casa Texas México, very “autentica comida mexicana.” But we digress.

It’s a shame, because NoVA is seriously lacking good Tex-Mex. Some places come close like El Tio in McLean, which we reviewed here, and even Anita’s in Vienna, which we've also reviewed here. Chuy’s sounded promising, but in the end we think it compares only with other national chain Tex-Mex brands, like On the Border and Chevy’s, which have had a long-time presence in Northern Virginia.

Following the schools of decorative fish that adorn the ceiling, the reception area centers a break - to the left is the restaurant's several large dining rooms and to the right the bar. On a Saturday evening, the restaurant was quite crowded with large families with children, groups, and couples, with a wait of about 20 minutes, so after evaluating whether or not we wanted to wait, we grabbed an available table at the bar. We loved the many dog portraits on the walls, but that was about all that we loved about this restaurant.  

An opened car trunk section holds the bottomless chips, salsa and queso available to anyone who wants to get up to refresh their obligatory chip and salsa portions when the wait staff is running behind, which seemed to be almost all the time.   

Chuy’s is obsessive with cleanliness.  They work it into conversation, the silverware is wrapped in a “Sanitized for your protection” paper envelope, and go out of their way to use a small plastic shovel to refill the chip bowl.  Ironically, one of our knives was spotted with dried food and needed replacement. 

Our server seemed rather disinterested in engaging with us when we tried to enlist her help in explaining the differences among several dishes. Instead of helping us, she kept eyeing some of the other diners, even as we were ordering, so we are assuming there was something more interesting happening a few tables away. The fact that our dirty dishes were piling up as wait staff zoomed past us without noticing, we think is because they were very busy, although it is certainly no excuse, and frankly, don't recall service this weak at Chevy's.

The chips and salsa were enough for appetizer. The salsa was relatively good, though a bit watery. It may be a pleasant alternative for those who don't care for the deep red tomato-y standard. It was light with tiny diced veggies. A watery salsa may not be for everyone. 

We ordered pretty standard Tex-Mex entrees - a beef fajita and the #1 Combination, which included an enchilada a taco, and a flauta. We asked that both the beef taco be substituted with chicken.  This did not happen on their first attempt, so they brought the chicken taco somewhat later when reminded that this is what we asked. Despite a long list of signature sauces on their menu, even those with 4 chillies were quite bland. There was really nothing wrong with the food, it was the same that could be expected from any of the old familiar chains in the area, like Chevy's, which is bound to be Chuy's main competitor here.  Even their logos look similar!

Will we go back?  Probably not. At least, not for a long time. For a better meal and better service in a restaurant of this kind, we will still go to Chevy's or On The Border.  However, we certainly believe that competition improves quality in everything, including of course restaurants, so we welcome Chuy's to Northern Virginia!

 Chips bar

 How can you not like a place that features our best friends?

 Happy Hour info


 Bottomless chips and salsa

 Signature Sauce selection

 Combination Deluxe $11.99

 Beef Fajita $14.99

Dirty plates piling up

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tara Thai - Falls Church, VA (re-visited many times)

7501-E Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22043
tel : 703.506.9788
E-mail : tarathaifallschurch@gmail.com

Just a quick update that Tara Thai in Falls Church is still awesome. We have reviewed it previously, but just wanted to let you know about the consistency of the food, the service and the overall quality of the dining experience in this neighborhood strip mall restaurant.

For those who like ethnic dives, Tara Thai does not have the ethnic dive vibe.  Its large windows let in a lot of light, its aquarium decor is well-maintained and bright, and its staff all speak excellent English, are cheerful and knowledgeable.  Just needed to get that part out of the way, now on to the restaurant.

There is no dish here that is not absolutely delicious.  It's one thing to have a great selection on the menu, it's quite an added bonus to execute each dish the same way every time for a reliably undeviating experience when you've got the yearn to satisfy that specific craving. Tara Thai Falls Church is a hit every time.

Service is also consistently attentive, friendly and flawless.  Staff here are clearly knowledgeable and happy, while courteous and efficient.  

Last night we decided to stop by for happy hour. Their menu selection is typically listed on the wall. All drinks are half-price (wine, beer and cocktails) and there are about 8 appetizers that are also heavily discounted. Their wine selection during happy hour is limited to only "white or red," so if you'd like a wider selection from their well-stocked bar, be prepared to choose from the non-happy hour menu.  The happy hour appetizer selection is available only at the bar and a few tables nearest the front door. Theoretically, sitting so close to the entrance on a cold January night can feel drafty, but the vestibule is heated and insulated perfectly, so it's quite a comfortable location.  

We have mentioned in previous blogs that the Num Tok (beef salad) here is excellent.  This is an appetizer for those who enjoy intense flavors.  A particularly savory flavor is in the liquid that remains in the cradle of the plate once the beef, red onion, green onions and cilantro garnish are gone.  Their fried calamari appetizer is also excellent.  It comes glazed in a medium-intensity sweet and sour sauce, which is more on the savory side, with diced onions, green peppers and red peppers.  The Spring Rolls are delicate and perfect for finger-food type of snacking with a deliciously-mixed Cosmopolitan or a nice wine.  The Curry Puffs (two to an order) are delicate fried and potato-ey, accompanied by a clear sauce with small jalapeno pieces, which is more sweet than spicy.

The happy hour  section can get quite crowded, but luckily, Tara Thai accepts reservations for that section, which is quite unusual and definitely welcomed!

One thing that we did notice over the many years we have been regular customers at Tara Thai in Falls Church is that the entree portions seem to have gotten smaller.  The small mint that used to accompany the bill was discontinued several years ago.  There were some other changes, that appear to have been a result of needing to meet the bottom line.  Though these small changes are noticeable to folks like us, we still consider Tara Thai to be a wonderful place for a great dining experience and a terrific meal.

We could not sign off without noting that not all Tara Thai's are alike.  We have visited the Tara Thai in Ballston, VA (Arlington) several years ago. Our experience there was nowhere close to the one in Tara Thai Falls Church.  It is no wonder that Tara Thai in Ballston closed.  We have also visited Tara Thai in Vienna, VA and reviewed it here. Our experience there was also far inferior to what we describe here for Tara Thai Falls Church.  Be mindful of these differences and please do not judge them all by your experience in one.

 Cosmopolitan with what's left of the Num Tok appetizer (sorry was too excited to dig in before remembering to take a photo)

Spring Rolls appetizer

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rabieng Thai Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

5892 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, A 22041
(703) 671-4222

After the first few bites of almost any dish at Rabieng, all the other Thai restaurants seem to kinda blend into a grey background.  The variety and quality of flavors at Rabieng's, combined with its unpretentious calming atmosphere, are tough to beat.  In this post, we are not going to go into extensive comparisons of Rabieng with its parent restaurant Duangrats, which incidentally we found to be inferior to Rabieng, or its well-deserved raves and ratings in the Washingtonian, Zagats, and USA Today, which you can find on its webiste.  To remind our readers, our blog is mainly about our particular dining experience(s) in the restaurant, and all dining experiences at Rabieng for us have been consistently great.

Rabieng is a small unassuming 2-story restaurant that is easy to miss around the corner of a strip mall in Bailey's Crossroads, an area rich with top-notch ethnic dives in Falls Church.  There are only about 7 or 8 booths and 2-3 tables downstairs, all decorated with a fresh orchid stem, where patrons are seated first before the hosts offer upstairs seating.

The Fried Calamari and Plantain Tempura appetizers were terrific. Fried Calamari is served in a bowl on top of lettuce.  When the calamari is gone, the lettuce turns into a salad with the remainder of the sauce as a dressing.  The sauce is somewhat on the sweeter side, but is sweet and sour and definitely has a kick! Plaintain Tempura is basically fried bananas (or plantains), a dish that by its nature is on the sweeter side with a crispy outer layer and a soft delicious middle.  Roasted cashews are a wonderful side to any of Rabieng's dishes, and are prepared in a subtle and simple way.  A bit of a disappointment was the Beef Nam Tok salad, where the meat was quite limp and flavorless, even when covered by herbs and sauces.  This is probably the only dish we wouldn't order again, and actually prefer the way it is prepared at Tara Thai in Tysons, where the meat is a bit firmer and more savory.

All entrees at Rabieng are delicious. We have tried many of them over the few times we have visited on our own and with friends. On this particular afternoon, we tried the Chef's Signature Specials. The Chicken Horapa comes sauteed in a gentle roasted chili sauce served on a bed of noodles.  If you prefer your noodles al dente, you might want to tell them in advance. The Bhram, which is chicken breast pieces sauteed in a peanut sauce, comes out stew-like on a bed of napa cabbage, rendering the cabbage slightly wilted, yet crispy enough to give the dish a pleasant texture.  Both entrees are very well-prepared and well-seasoned, although those with a penchant for more heat can add the delectable fish sauce that they serve upon request.

Our server Nit was efficient, pleasant, knowledgeable and attentive. So was the rest of the small team of servers. Can't ask for better.

We will definitely be back to Rabieng!

Btw, if you decide to be a little adventurous in your own kitchen and want to replicate some of the dishes you tasted at Rabieng, a small aian Asian Grocery Store next door, incidentally also owned by Duangrats, offers all the spices that can make this possible.

 First floor

 Modern and clean

 Second floor

 Stairs leading to second floor

 Fried calamari appetizer

 Beef Nam Tok salad and Plantain Tempura

 Roasted cashews appetizer

 Chef's Signature Specials: Chicken Horapa (top) and Bhram with chicken (bottom)