The most ambitious restaurant in Ballston is Willow, overseen by Tracy O’Grady—a protégé of Bob Kinkead’s—and veteran pastry chef Kate Jansen. Its quirky menu veers around the globe and changes regularly, but we’ve recently liked a rich rendition of the scallop dish coquilles St. Jacques, smoked salmon with latkes, and a spicy, creamy coconut fish stew presented in a pumpkin. Don’t miss Jansen’s cream pies and layer cakes. An excellent and extensive bar menu offers $5 snacks such as five-cheese fondue, deviled eggs, and Gruyère puffs.
The cash-only, cafeteria-like El Pollo Rico does one thing only: Peruvian-style chicken, caked in a spice blend, charbroiled, and cleavered to order. And as the crowds attest, it’s the Washington area’s best. Grab some extra containers of fiery chili purée and tangy mayo sauce and you’re good to go.
Pupatella, the new brick-and-mortar version of the popular pizza cart (which isn’t on the streets right now), uses an Italian wood-burning oven to quick-fire its pies. Pizzaiolo Enzo Algarme’s creations are thin in the middle, puffy around the edges, and topped with high-quality produce and meats (we like the simple Margherita and the prosciutto-and-arugula versions). A sausage panino—made with crackly bread cooked in the pizza oven, house-made meat pressed with soft onions, and fresh mozzarella—is excellent.
ON THE MOVE
District Taco, which dishes out Mexican breakfast and lunch, and Tasty Kabob, with Middle Eastern meats, are often parked along Wilson Boulevard. Check their Twitter accounts to find out their locations.
Also worth hunting down: Solar Crepes, a hot-pink truck that moves between Courthouse and Ballston and fills its thin pancakes with good-quality fillings.
This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.