ALEXANDRIA,VA–As a food reviewer, food lover, and eater, I am often asked what are my favorite places to eat. My first question is to ask for qualifiers. Do you mean breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Fine dining? Casual? Fast food? Ethnic? American?
Let me set the stage a bit with a few things about me. As a person who lives to eat rather than eat to live, I love good food. I grew up in a family that believed in exposing their kids to all sorts of foods. Living in Chicago, we had a wide range to choose from. There was no distance we wouldn’t drive for good food. One Sunday a month was restaurant night for the whole family. This meant good restaurants, not McDonalds or KFC. My favorite meal was at a French restaurant where you could count on me ordering escargot and duck a la orange. We lived in a north side suburb but would drive to Gary, Indiana on the far south side to have fried smelts, lake perch, and fried chicken served family style with big bowls of slaw, cottage cheese, and an iceberg salad. We drove to Milwaukee for steak dinners.
I have one cardinal rule that I learned from a diabetic friend: You do not risk a diabetic coma on a Twinkie. Smith Island chocolate cake? Yes. I rarely eat at chains. It’s the Whopper over a Big Mac but sometimes, you just must have a Big Mac with its special sauce. Pizza Hut, Domino’s, etc. Never. Popeyes is a yes, KFC is a no. Give me a Subway BMT loaded with lettuce, tomato, onions, hot peppers, etc. with provolone? A big yes. Cheesesteak from Al’s Steakhouse on Mt. Vernon Ave. A bigger yes! Five Guys is another yes but only once every three months at most.
It may be a Midwest thing, but I can’t wait for Auggie’s Mussels House, 1106 King St., to reopen so I can have another one of their messy but delicious fried bologna sandwich. Then again, their buffalo mussels are hard to stay away from too. Asian food is one of my favorite ethnic foods Have you ever tried the fried chicken, fried chicken livers (with or without gravy), or a fried pork chop sandwich at the Blue & White on Rt. 1 at Wythe St.? Then you need to go. They are only open from around 6 A.M to 3 P.M. weekdays. They only take cash. They only have chicken livers on Tuesdays but you better get there by 11 A.M. or they will be sold out. They cook a lot of fried food, but you won’t find any grease!
A meal at T-Zo, 5774 Dow Ave., whether carryout or eat in for lunch or dinner makes me very happy. Their Vietnamese Crepe Roll is a thing of wonder. It’s everything to love in a summer roll with the added crunch of a crepe rolled inside. My vegan friends love their tofu summer roll! Suggest lunch or dinner at Padaek in Falls Church and I’m in. This Laotian/Thai outpost features a buffet at lunch that gives you a sampling of both cuisines. Order off the menu for lunch or dinner and feast on the Laotian Crispy Rice Salad – sweet, sour, a bit of heat, a lot of herbs, and a lot of crunch. If they are offering a fish special, order it. Then there’s sushi. I could probably eat sushi at least three days per week. Don’t bother with grocery store sushi unless you have no other choice. Go to Taste of Asia, especially for happy hour and try the salmon or the tempura shrimp roll. If I want something a bit less mainstream, I head to The Sushi Bar at 2312 Mt Vernon Ave. in Del Ray. Their chef finds the unusual and freshest seafood which he turns into remarkable bites. And, the varieties of sake are not to be missed. You can expand your knowledge and delight your taste buds with the offerings available.
Let’s get down to duck – Peking duck, duck a la orange, duck confit, if it’s duck, I want it. Some of the best duck preparations can be found at Brabo, at 1600 King St. Be it confit or a la orange on Thursday, you will find. Who needs to go to DC when you can get everything to love about duck at Brabo. The restaurant is also perfect for special occasions with their beautifully appointed dining room, French/Mediterranean menu, and attentive service. South China, 1302 Mt. Vernon Ave., makes a lovely Peking duck at a reasonable price. You don’t need to fight the crowds at some of the other better-known locations to get a well-prepared duck with the requisite pancakes, scallions, and sauce. The duck is not as large as what you may get but it is certainly going to scratch that itch. Just be sure to call ahead to find out what day they are making it since freshly made is always better. And, while we’re mentioning South China, did you know they have a small but marvelous Malaysian menu? Char Koay Teow is one of my comfort food go-tos. The umami flavors will warm your heart and soul. I almost never share.
What about fine dining in Alexandria? I miss Restaurant Eve, but I’ve filled the void with other restaurants. Have you been to Tempo yet? This shy looking little building housing a simple, yet elegant dining room at 2431 Duke St. is probably one of the best kept secrets in Alexandria. The food is an eclectic mix of French and Italian – some classic, some modern. Whether you are in the mood for pasta, vegetarian, fish, or beer, Tempo should be at the top of your list. And, you will not find better Oysters Rockefeller anywhere else. Another favorite of mine is Bastille, 606 N. Fayette. From appetizers to desserts, all is made in house and meets every diner’s needs. My vegan friend is always happy to be invited for a meal.
Our northern Virginia corner of the world is truly a mecca for food lovers. I’d love to hear about some of your favorites.
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