Best of Fairfax: Good Cooking
Authentic Irish pub fare, traditional sushi, and Indian with a twist
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We’ve often been tempted to bypass dinner and go straight for the warm chocolate waffle with a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream. But the thought of pecan-crusted trout with lemony arugula, jumbo lump crabcakes, or hickory smoked rib eye with a loaded baked potato always makes us reconsider. One of the first of the Great American Restaurants (Carlyle, Sweetwater Tavern, Jackson’s are among the others), Artie’s still draws crowds with plates big enough for two, perky service, and updated American cooking. Reservations are limited, but a call-ahead policy makes it easier for big parties.
3260 Old Lee Hwy.; 703-273-7600. Entrées $9 to $30.
The Auld Shebeen
This wood-paneled pub is a lively spot to while away an afternoon or evening. The kitchen turns out standard bar food until you get to the Irish plates: a shepherd’s pie of prime beef with a creamy mashed-potato crust; crisp beer-batter fish and chips; flavorful Guinness beef stew; and a burger finished with Cahill Irish Stout cheese. Sunday afternoon is open-jam day, which means you’re likely to find a dozen Irish-music enthusiasts playing soulful ballads and lively jigs. On Friday and Saturday night, tunes are left to professionals, with Irish bands performing from 7 to 9:30. The lower-level bar has music nearly every night into the wee hours.
3971 Chain Bridge Rd.; 703-293-9600. Entrées $9.95 to $19.95.
Koji Terano, sushi chef at DC’s much-lauded Sushi-Ko and a Fairfax resident, brings his family to this traditional Japanese-owned eatery. Besides expertly cut and rolled sushi—we like the medium fatty tuna and plump botan shrimp—there’s a lengthy menu of tasty small plates such as fried baby octopus, wasabi shu mai, and tsukune, a skewered teriyaki chicken ball. Beyond that are soba-noodle bowls, tempura, hot pots, and other familiar picks. Intrepid eaters will want to check out the multi-course kaiseki dinners, which should be arranged in advance and are testimony to how food can transport you.
9440 Main St.; 703-425-7555. Rolls $2.75 to $10.95; entrées $10.95 to $24.95.
The staff doesn’t break out in song, but there are celluloid shots of Bollywood stars on the burnt-orange walls. And in an area where there’s no shortage of Indian restaurants, Bollywood Bistro stands out with a creative spin on traditional fare. Look for raita made with tangy olives as well as offbeat chutneys such as pomegranate guacamole. Among the best starters: mango aam palak chaat—a cool, crunchy salad of green mango, flash-fried spinach, and spicy tamarind—and shrimp glazed with wine and honey. Savory chunks of charred goat join the usual suspects from the tandoor, while Malabari Chicken is a heady brew of coconut and curry leaves. Add to that a small but serious wine list and you have a restaurant as easy to warm to as a Bollywood extravaganza.
3955 Chain Bridge Rd.; 703-273-0031. Entrées $8 to $15.95.
Craving the crab-and-rock-shrimp fritters at Coastal Flats but don’t want to brave Tysons Corner crowds? Check out the Fairfax outpost. This yellow clapboard beach house has an identical menu and a similar look—it also has a roomy patio out back. Plates to go for include fat crabcakes, fried salt-and-pepper shrimp on a grilled bun, and steamed sea bass with soy sauce. As at Artie’s—owned by the same restaurant group—reservations are limited, but you can call ahead to put your name on the waiting list.
11901 Grand Commons Ave., 571-522-6300. Entrées $12 to $24.
Indian families descend on this banquet hall of a restaurant for authentically spiced regional cuisine and the area’s most expansive lunch buffet. There’s no stinting on heat, so you may want to think a bit before ordering the vindaloo, notorious for its mouth-searing fire. Offerings are many and varied, but dishes to home in on include fried paneer in a sheath of lentil flour; Chicken 65, bites of chicken with fried curry leaves; coconutty curried shrimp; smoky but moist tandoori chicken; and lacha paratha, whole-wheat flatbread slicked with butter.
10364 Lee Hwy.; 703-383-9200. Entrées $8.95 to $13.95; buffet $8.95 weekdays, $11.95 weekends.
Snug and narrow, this Thai eatery serves food that shimmers with bright flavors. You’ll find balanced salads such as nuer nam tok—grilled beef with roasted rice, shallots, and cilantro—as well as complex curries; our favorites are the lush yellow curry with chicken and the subtly spicy green curry with eggplant, bamboo shoots, and pork. A toss of flash-fried watercress with shrimp and scallops moistened with lime juice and studded with cashews is an example of how the kitchen layers on texture and flavor. And you can’t go wrong with sticky rice with slices of ripe mango—ask for an extra dollop of coconut cream—or one of the house-made ice creams in flavors such as Thai coffee, mango, and coconut.
11199 Lee Hwy. E.; 703-591-2525. Entrées $7.95 to $15.95.
Mezze and kebabs are a given at most Turkish restaurants, but this airy, skylit dining room goes beyond the cornerstones of Ottoman cooking with homestyle dishes such as guvec, a vegetable-laden chicken stew, and ground-lamb-stuffed zucchini in tomato broth. Both are delicious, especially with a dollop of yogurt and pita bread to sop up the juices. Other high points include Temel’s Cigar, crispy deep-fried cylinders of phyllo-wrapped feta with parsley and dill; yogurt soup with rice and mint; and paprika-spiced adana kebab made with ground lamb. On weekends, look for doner kebab, lamb roasted on a vertical spit and served in thin slices solo or with pita and yogurt-tomato sauce.
3232 Old Pickett Rd.; 703-352-5477. Entrées $6.50 to $22.95.
This dining room has an intimate vibe, with moody photos of Italian street scenes and white tablecloths. Food is Northern Italian gone creative as evidenced in dishes such as grilled calamari with hot-pepper-infused olive oil and an elegant lasagna of eggplant, zucchini, and Taleggio perfumed with white-truffle veal juice. Among the pastas, the wild-boar ragoût with ribbons of bittersweet-chocolate pappardelle and mint is a standout. Save room for desserts such as the ultra-light chestnut soufflé with a caramelized chestnut. The three-course $39 fixed-price menu available Monday through Thursday is a good deal.
4009 Chain Bridge Rd.; 703-691-4747. Entrées $18 to $34.
We head to Tony’s NY Pizza (13087 Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fairfax; 703-502-0808) for big slices ($2.50) with bubbly browned crusts, a restrained scattering of cheese, and flavorful marinara. Also available are pan, Sicilian, and Margherita pies, but our heart belongs to what Tony’s does best: the New York slice.
At the Centreville outpost of the Korean chain Cheogajip Chicken (13814-C Braddock Rd., Centreville; 703-815-8744), the chicken is lightly battered and crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside, and paired with pickled Korean radish. Regular and mildly spicy are the versions most go for ($13.99); hot and spicy is incendiary.
When nothing but a dosa will do, Woodlands (4078 Jermantown Rd., Fairfax; 703-385-1996) is our go-to spot for the large rice-flour crepes filled omelet style with a mixture of potatoes and onions studded with mustard seeds ($5.95 to $10.95); lassi—available as sweet, salted, or mango—is the best wash-down.
We head to the cafe at Wegmans (11620 Monument Dr., Fairfax; 703-653-1600) for Italian grinders that remind us of New York sub shops, sushi ($3 to $10), kosher rotisserie chicken ($7.99 but worth every penny), and custardy éclairs.
And when we want to kick back and linger over a glass of wine, the Wine House (3950 University Dr., Suite 212, Fairfax; 703-352-2211) is the place. The staff is generous with tastes of wines available by the glass ($6 to $10), and you can buy bottles from the “shop” across the room—there are more than 500 vintages—to drink then and there for an additional $10 corking fee. Plus we like the hot salt-crusted baguette served with truffle butter, pistachio hummus, and olive tapenade ($10).