9528 Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA 22031
Tel: (703) 865-0377
When someone with 20 years of experience in the restaurant business opens a restaurant with someone whose delicious family recipes were passed down from her Mexican grandmother, only wonderful things can happen. This is the story of the Northern Virginia newcomer ABC Canteen in Fairfax.
The menu is surprisingly eclectic. It's comfort food with a Mexican flare. You can order Fish and Chips with a couple Tamales on the side or some Tacos with Cod Croquettes or for some ultimate comfort food, treat yourself to Chicken Wings and Mac and Cheese.
Why this unique selection? Wesley Chen immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 8 and fell in love with Mexican food almost immediately. He has worked his way up in several well-known restaurant chains, both casual fast-food and upscale. Along the way, he met Violeta Vergara, who not only shared his passion for Mexican food, but also wanted to share with the world her grandmother's recipes from Oaxaca. It was the perfect partnership that spun off on its own. Adding to their team one more colleague, whom they've known for over 15 years, ABC Canteen was born in early 2015.
Building off their love of comfort food, Chen and Vergara composed a menu that reflects their gastronomic passions. This is why everything they serve is... wait for it... made from scratch! Even the tartar sauce and... get this... the Chili powder! Only the desserts at ABC Canteen are commercially made, and personally selected by Chen to be placed on the menu.
You really have to love your food to invest so much effort in preparing it just right for your customers. And it shows. On a Saturday afternoon, just after the Blizzard of 2016, the parking lot in front of the restaurant was not fully plowed, but ABC Canteen had a steady stream of customers. Chen personally welcomed many of them by name, particularly those who over the last 10 months since the restaurant opened have become "regulars," whether eating in or taking out.
The fresh, flavorful food is easily a draw on its own. Every item on the menu seems to be popular. But the added bonus is Chen's engaging, though non-imposing, spirit that fills the restaurant with a welcoming cheerfulness making you feel right at home.
The cod prepared at ABC Canteen reminded us of our time in Reykjavik, Iceland some years back, where we had a chance to taste some of the world-acclaimed cod recipes of Icelandic chefs. Chen's Fish and Chips are not at all inferior to those. The main difference was that in Iceland the cod was plucked fresh from the icy waters only a few feet away. ABC Canteen's flaky cod in a crispy light batter was equally delicious. It went great with a side of their home-made tartar sauce and a full plate of crispy fries. We ordered an additional side of the golden brown hush puppies, which were nicely seasoned, just a tad sweet and overall flavorful.
Tamales and Tacos were terrific on their own, though a short trip to the Taco Bar provided options like diced radishes, onions, pico de gallo and jalapenos, and a variety of sauces.
The chicken wings come either in honey barbeque or buffalo sauce. We opted for the honey barbeque with a side of chunky blue cheese dressing.
This was the first time we ever had a Horchata, which is a cold sweet rice milk- based drink, made from scratch, of course, with a hint of cinnamon.
The Pan Tres Leches (Tres Leches Cake) was a great ending to our meal with its light fluffy texture and sweet condensed milk.
Residing in a building that was once an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips, the restaurant's decor is simple, definitely not shabby and not overdone. It complements, does not distract. The dining area is open, clean and bright with floor-to-ceiling windows, overall unpretentious and appealing.
We will definitely be back, and will bring friends. Especially on Taco Tuesdays!
ABC Canteen is in a small strip with Hailey's 24-hr laundromat
and Mary's Pollo a la Brasa restaurant
Chen taking our order
Taco Bar with a selection of toppings and sauces
Fish and Chips with Tartar Sauce
Honey Barbeque Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese dressing
Full dining room with Chen chatting with one of his customers
Pan Tres Leches