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Dining Out in Falls Church
The Falls Church area has a wealth of good ethnic restaurants, plus a French-American star. By David Dorsen
Comments () | Published August 1, 2004

Best of Falls Church

Falls Church is a very good place to eat. Its Chinese restaurants rival those of any area community, with most of the best places near Seven Corners. Vietnamese restaurants abound, too, with more than a score in the Eden Center just north of Seven Corners.

Two places deserve special mention. One is 2941, which serves innovative French-American cooking and is one of the region's best restaurants. The other is Argia's, which does a terrific job with Italian food.

Several Falls Church restaurants are on The Washingtonian's 2004 list of the 100 Very Best Restaurants: 2941, Duangrat's, Four Sisters, Haandi, Mark's Duck House, and Rabieng. On our 100 Best Bargain Restaurants list are Bubba's Bar-B-Q, Dragon Star, Flavors Soul Food, Jasmine Garden, Lucky Three, Neisha Thai, Panjshir, Pho 75, and Vinh Kee. Four have made both lists. An impressive record.

The diversity of Falls Church restaurants is remarkable. The possibilities include the less familiar cuisines of Burma, Korea, Greece, Peru, Afghanistan, and Persia along with soul food, barbecue, and delicatessen. There is Indian, Thai, and Japanese. The only major cuisine missing is pure French, and that is a hop and a skip to the north, where La Cote d'Or and Bistro des Célestins stand at the intersection of Westmoreland Street and Lee Highway.

THE VERY BEST

Argia's (expensive). Don't let the happy young faces at the bar fool you: This is a first-rate restaurant. The dining area is comfortable, the service conscientious. Only one negative--the place can be noisy. If this is a problem, go early in the week when the restaurant is less crowded. Prices are quite reasonable for what the kitchen produces, with all main courses but one under $20. The restaurant does not take reservations.

The menu is northern Italian. For just about any dish, diners can choose a regular portion or the "famiglia" size, which serves two or more but costs only about 60 percent more. Excellent appetizers are the beef carpaccio with julienne apples, walnuts, and Parmesan; the mussels Argia, steamed with white wine in a garlic-and-parsley-flavored broth; and the mixed salad with a fine balsamic vinaigrette. Pastas are very good, ranging from spaghetti and meatballs to linguine with sautéed shrimp. Top-of-the line main courses include the braised lamb shank, the loin of pork wrapped in pancetta, and a special of soft-shell crabs. The wine list is good, though it fails to give vintages.

Argia's, 124 N. Washington St.; 703-534-1033. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Duangrat's (moderate). The only Thai restaurant to receive The Washingtonian's Blue Ribbon Award, Duangrat's is something special. It is elegant, with linens, fresh flowers, Thai sculpture, and muted lighting. And the food is superb. Duangrat's is ideal for a special night out but inexpensive enough to serve as your regular Asian restaurant.

Along with the standard appetizers of deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with pork and vegetables, chopped chicken and chilies (larb), grilled-beef salad with red onions and chili, and deep-fried stuffed chicken wings, there are some special dishes. Consider Shell Sea, shredded shrimp and crabmeat with coconut and cilantro layered in crispy rice paper, and Salmon Purse, curried salmon with potatoes and onions in a crisp rice-paper shell. Main courses include standards like beef with basil, shrimp with fried garlic, catfish with red chili paste, and pad Thai. There also are more unusual dishes: garlic-encrusted Cape Tato rockfish; red snapper rawii, a poached filet of red snapper in soy sauce with baby shrimp, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and scallions; and bhram, a chicken breast sautéed with garlic, spicy peanut curry, and napa cabbage.

Duangrat's, 5878 Leesburg Pike; 703-820-5775. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Four Sisters (Huong Que) (inexpensive). A visit to the Eden Center, on Wilson Boulevard at Seven Corners, shows off the competition among Vietnamese restaurants in Falls Church. On a typical day, thousands of Vietnamese-Americans and others check out the restaurants and shops. Four Sisters, in the southwest corner of the center, has consistently been the place to go. For years the family-owned restaurant has been among both our 100 Very Best Restaurants and 100 Best Bargain Restaurants.

The menu lists 210 items, plus specials. The appetizers of crispy spring rolls, soft summer rolls, and crab claws stuffed with shrimp paste are good, but consider the more ambitious green papaya salad and roasted quail. Main courses include standards like chicken curry in coconut milk, caramelized fish or chicken, and shrimp sautéed with ginger and scallions. Also well worth ordering are sautéed frog's legs with silver noodle, mushrooms, and curry, or jumbo shrimp sautéed with black-bean sauce. For a bargain lunch consider a serving of meat or seafood on rice or vermicelli or one of the 50 or so soups.

Four Sisters (Huong Que), 6769 Wilson Blvd. (Eden Center); 703-538-6717. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Haandi (moderate). Among the Indian restaurants of Falls Church, Haandi stands out. It combines a pleasant atmosphere with a menu and preparation that can appeal to Indians and Westerners alike. While it makes no claim for undiluted authenticity, it makes no compromises that would keep devotees of Indian food away.

The star at Haandi, as with many Indian restaurants, is the searing-hot tandoor, which produces everything from succulent lamb chops, kebobs, and the popular tandoori chicken to blistered flatbreads like naan and roti and stuffed breads like onion kulcha. Other winning dishes native to northern India are the biryanis--mounds of saffron rice, nuts, seasonings, and chunks of meat--and wok-cooked mixtures of meat, tomatoes, and onions. Indian curries range from the comparatively mild rogan josh to the much spicier vindaloo. Good vegetarian choices are the silky spinach with house-made cheese, cauliflower with potatoes, and chickpeas with onion and spices. My favorite is aloo do paeezah, a mixture of sautéed potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

Haandi, 1222 W. Broad St.; 703-533-3501. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Jasmine Garden (inexpensive). It's easy to like a place that does so many things well. This small Szechuan restaurant boasts a chef who worked at the Sheraton Hotel in Shanghai, plus other chefs who prepare the cuisines of Thailand and Japan. Owner Robin Wang--a mezzo-soprano getting her doctorate in music at the University of Maryland--performs for her customers on holidays and special occasions; otherwise the background music is likely to be opera. There is an excellent short wine list that is priced very reasonably. A Penfold Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz '01 retails at $23 and costs only $40. Service is exemplary.

Among the many authentic dishes are Peking duck with all the trimmings; crisp deep-fried rockfish; pan-fried codfish steaks in a brown sauce; three-cup chicken made with ginger, soy sauce, and garlic; three-pepper chicken; preserved pork with garlic sprouts; shredded beef with pickled cabbage; and flakes of lotus-flower bulb with chicken or shrimp. The restaurant's handmade noodles are very good in soup or with a sauce. On weekends fine northern Chinese dim sum is served.

Jasmine Garden, 8106 Arlington Blvd. (Yorktowne Shopping Center); 703-208-9989. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Mark's Duck House (inexpensive). Mark's Duck House is the only Chinese restaurant in Virginia to make the list of our 100 Very Best Restaurants. Despite its plain name, it is one of the best Hong Kong-style restaurants in the region. More apt is the literal translation of the Chinese characters: "Great Crowded Restaurant."

Take time to look at the two lengthy menus--both offer authentic dishes. One lists appetizers, main-course soups, and noodle and rice dishes; the other lists everything else. Duck is excellent, whether Peking, roasted, or braised. About 18 casseroles are available--I liked the one of sizzling chicken and another one of pig and oysters. Among the popular shrimp dishes, try the salt-baked shrimp with chilies with head on or the shrimp with bitter melon in black-bean-and-garlic sauce. Lobster or Dungeness crab with shredded scallions and ginger are good.

This is a great place for lunch. Cantonese dim sum is served from rolling carts seven days a week. Or order meat or fowl "on rice"--the portion is smaller, but the prices top out at $6.50.

Mark's Duck House, 6184-A Arlington Blvd.; 703-532-2125. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Rabieng (inexpensive). For excellent Thai food in an informal setting, go to Rabieng, which is near its more aristocratic sibling, Duangrat's. At Rabieng you'll find provincial dishes served family-style on bamboo placemats rather than white tablecloths. Prices are low. Except for seafood, almost all main courses are under $10.

Good salads to start with are marinated beef strips with hot Thai sauce or green papaya with shrimp and chili lime juice. The standard appetizers are good, but consider essan sausage, a well-seasoned dish from northeastern Thailand made from grilled pork and lemongrass; mee grob, thin crispy rice noodles with a sweet-and-sour sauce; Tidbit, a crispy rice cake served with a coconut-and-pork dip; and pla dook, fried chopped catfish filet enlivened with chilies, lime juice, red onions, scallions, and cilantro.

First-rate main courses are the roast pork, tender meat in a sweet, dark soy sauce, pickled young ginger, and chili vinaigrette; essan grilled chicken or quail with sticky rice and a choice of sauces; southern sotah shrimp sautéed with chili paste and fava beans; beef Mussaman curry; peppercorn beef; and the familiar pad Thai. The sticky rice with mango is a nice ending. Beer drinkers may want to try the special Singha beer.

Rabieng, 5892 Leesburg Pike; 703-671-4222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No wheelchair access.

2941 (very expensive). This is one of Virginia's stars, and it looks the part. On the ground floor of a high-rise office building, the 30-foot-high wall of windows looks out on Fairview Lake. Two large stone fireplaces provide warmth in winter. Overseeing the kitchen is Jonathan Krinn, a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda and an alumnus of Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Making the place a family affair is Krinn's father, a retired ophthalmologist who bakes daily ten kinds of bread, each better than the next. For all this diners pay around $13 for appetizers and $32 for main courses.

The French-American menu changes monthly. First-rate appetizers include Louisiana crayfish with creamy white corn, morel mushrooms, and a brandy crayfish sauce; marinated artichokes and asparagus with olives, smoked bacon, and Parmesan black-pepper vinaigrette; and a large Chesapeake soft-shell crab. Rack of lamb, grilled New Zealand loin of ostrich, and sautéed duck breast with foie gras, kumquats, and citrus wine vinegar have all been very good. Less successful was rockfish with black mussels and chorizo--the sausage overwhelmed the fish. Krinn makes his own very good desserts. Lunch is a relative bargain. The wine list is long, varied, and--alas--more expensive than it should be.

2941, 2941 Fairview Park Dr.; 703-270-1500. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner, Sunday for brunch.

VERY GOOD RESTAURANTS

Athens Restaurant (inexpensive). Greek food usually doesn't get much respect, sometimes for good reason. Some Greek restaurants try to make a simple homey cuisine into one that is elegant--and it doesn't work. This restaurant serves good, honest food. Its offerings include such basics as stuffed grape leaves, spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie), tiropita (baked cheese pie), moussaka, pastitsio (Greek pasta cooked à la moussaka), and avgolemono (Greek lemon soup). The best main courses are the lamb shank baked in a tomato sauce and the shish kebobs on rice.

Half the menu is devoted to southern Italian dishes, mostly pastas and pizza. The pizzas--served by the slice in the informal downstairs area mostly populated by the carryout crowd or served whole in the pleasant upstairs--are very good and reasonably priced. A ten-inch pizza with one topping is $6.50; a 17-inch with one topping is $13.25. A sandwich menu ranges from souvlaki to veal parmigiana.

Athens Restaurant, 3541 Carlin Springs Rd.; 703-931-3300. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Bubba's Bar-B-Q (inexpensive). The decor, if that term even applies, is dominated by pigs--pictures, figurines, and more. Pork is the featured attraction offered by Bubba, who comes to Falls Church from Iran via Memphis. His ribs come both dry, with the spices rubbed into the meat, and wet, with a Memphis-style sauce. I like the dry, adding one or more of the bottled sauces at the table, including a fine hot sauce. Also good are the pulled and minced pork.

Diners looking for other meats can savor the barbecued chicken, which is moist and invigorated by excellent seasonings. Beef lovers can choose the smoked London broil or the lean beef brisket, which has just enough fat to provide the right flavor. The good chili is made with diced brisket, beans, and sauce. For sides, try the spiced fried potatoes, coleslaw, and baked beans over the string beans and onion rings. Bubba clearly likes people to drink beer with his food--a 16-ounce draft of Budweiser is $1.75; a bottle of Sam Adams is $2.75.

Bubba's Bar-B-Q, 7810-F Lee Hwy. (Merrifalls Plaza); 703-560-8570. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.

Celebrity Delly (inexpensive). While there may not be an authentic New York deli in these parts, several places supply good deli food at reasonable prices. Celebrity Delly offers a wide range of deli products, plus the opportunity to eat breakfast all day--and 29 years in business have taught it plenty.

Topping the list is the house's corned beef, which is thinly sliced, lean without being starved of fat, and presented in ample quantity, a good deal at $6.99 for the sandwich. The corned-beef Reuben sandwich is one of several elaborate combinations. The beef brisket and pastrami don't quite match the quality of the corned beef. These and other meats can be ordered as platters with sides of coleslaw, potato salad, or other accompaniments. Other good choices are the stuffed cabbage, cheese blintzes, meatloaf, and matzo-ball soup. Fans of lighter fare can try the shrimp salad or tuna salad spiked with horseradish, or the pita sandwiches.

Celebrity Delly, 7263-A Arlington Blvd. (Loehmann's Plaza); 703-573-9002. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Cho Cu Saigon (inexpensive). Do not be misled by the name of this hard-to-find restaurant--it serves very good Hong Kong Chinese food. It's in the Eden Center, the heart of the local Vietnamese community, and it serves a largely Vietnamese clientele. While it is very small and informal, it serves fine Cantonese food. A more upscale version of the same cooking can be found at Vinh Kee, which shares the same management.

Many diners stick to the menu of simple dishes, which includes Hong Kong-style noodle soup loaded with wontons or shrimp dumplings. Toppings for the soup include roast duck, roast pig, or pork, which also can be ordered separately. The soy-sauce chicken is good. The full menu features the likes of clams with black bean sauce, casseroles of meat and vegetables, and excellent stir-fried vegetable dishes. The daily specials are consistently good bets.

Cho Cu Saigon, 6763 Wilson Blvd.; 703-538-2168. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Dragon Star (This restaurant has closed). Located in Eden Center, this Chinese restaurant draws a clientele of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese as well as non-Asians. It is a large place with a long menu--written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and English--that includes rarely seen preparations. Where else locally can you find a soup of oo-goo chicken with radix diocorea fructus licii?

Most diners will savor the roasted ducks, pork loins, chickens, and pigs that hang from hooks near the entry. Such live seafood as lobster, Dungeness crab, and fish will appeal to others, especially when steamed and served with ginger and scallions. Other treats are pepper-and-salt pork chops, pork-chop hot pot, crispy-fried beef brisket, Hong Kong-style eggplant in hot-sauce casserole, and any of the stir-fried or deep-fried noodle dishes.

Dragon Star also serves an excellent Cantonese dim sum lunch seven days a week.

Dragon Star, This restaurant is now closed.

Flavors Soul Food (inexpensive). Here is straightforward food in a homey atmosphere, where neighborhood regulars sip their drinks and chat. Most of the food is offered on steam tables, a treatment that does no harm to the soul-food stews and vegetables steeping in their own juices. Other dishes are cooked to order, such as the deep-fried chicken, thinly cut pork chops, and fish, often whole croaker, whiting filets, or sea-trout filets. If you're in a hurry, stick with the steam table.

Other simple pleasures are the meaty ribs, pork barbecue, and macaroni and cheese, all with accompaniments of collard greens, black-eyed peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy when you order the dinner. The most popular dessert is the sweet-potato pie, but cakes and fruit cobblers have their fans. There is a full bar.

Flavors Soul Food, 3420 Carlyn Hill Dr.; 703-379-4411. Open Tuesday through Sunday.

Full Kee (inexpensive). Diners familiar with the fine Full Kee in DC's Chinatown need no further inducement to try this new outpost of its cooking. Operated by the original Full Kee team, it is larger, brighter, and more colorful than DC's branch. The good news is that the cooking is virtually the same quality, largely because the Chinatown team opened the restaurant and broke in the staff while the DC place was undergoing renovations.

The dishes that made Full Kee famous are here. Try the fragrant chicken broth loaded with egg noodles, wontons, or shrimp dumplings and topped with one of the barbecue offerings of roast pig, duck, or pork loin. Or enjoy the "gourmet" dishes, which include the likes of pig's knuckle and the excellent combination of pig's skin and turnip. Good offerings from the regular menu include clams in black-bean sauce, oyster casserole with ginger and scallions, snow peas stir-fried with garlic, tofu stuffed with shrimp, or deep-fried shrimp coated with seasoned salt and served with edible shell and head.

Full Kee, 5830 Columbia Pike; 703-575-8232. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Genji (moderate). This Japanese restaurant, in a strip shopping center off Lee Highway, looks forbidding from the outside and isn't much better inside. But when it comes to what counts--the food, service, and prices--Genji does very well. The large Japanese-American clientele attests to that.

The menu is varied, starting with a full array of sushi and sashimi, available at the small sushi bar as well as at table. If you want the fare of a Japanese steakhouse, go to the front room and sit at one of the four teppan-grill tables.

Start with chicken yakitori or the less familiar oshitashi, made of spinach, ginger, scallions, and shredded bonito. For a simple meal have the nabeyaki udon, a soup with thick rice noodles, tempura, seafood, vegetables, and a fried egg; katsudon, a pork cutlet on seasoned rice; or kakiage, deep-fried shredded vegetables that resemble tempura. Very good are the steak teriyaki and the sukiyaki, made at tableside.

Genji, 2816 Graham Rd.; 703-573-0112. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Han Sung Oak (moderate). Korean cooking hasn't made it big in Washington. Although some preparations might give non-Korean diners pause, many should appeal to the moderately adventurous diner. This restaurant is a good place to try them. Each table has a grill for the ever-popular Korean barbecue. The presence of so many Korean diners reassures patrons that they are getting good, authentic Korean food. Note that dishes marked as hot and spicy will be just that. Prices range from $8.95 to $19.95 for the grilled beef dishes. Side dishes of spicy kimchee and other vegetables accompany the meals.

Good choices are the saeng sun jun, grilled fish filets coated with egg and flour; bibim bap, a warm rice salad with grilled marinated beef and vegetables and a fried egg with a hot sauce on the side; man doo gook, a mild beef broth with dumplings; and mae ween tang, a spicy fish stew featuring cod and tofu in a stoneware pot.

Han Sung Oak, 6341 Columbia Pike; 703-642-0808. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

La Granja de Oro (moderate). If you want to eat south-of-the-border food, this is the place to go. The cooking is Peruvian, which means no nachos or enchiladas. The crowd is mostly Spanish-speaking, but there is no problem ordering. A guitar and vocal combo plays on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 PM and 2 AM.

Good appetizers are the tamale with chunks of fried pork, avocado stuffed with chicken, sautéed marinated octopus with garlic sauce and broiled potatoes, and the stuffed potato--mashed potatoes filled with sautéed beef, rolled in seasoned flour, and deep fried. Among main courses, broiled rotisserie chicken is a good bet. So are the steaks, cut thin but with abundant flavor. The mixed grill with chicken, pork, beef, beef heart, sausage, and fried potatoes is very good and for $15.95 is large enough for two. Fish and shellfish are well prepared--try the saltado de mariscos, a mélange of sautéed shrimp, squid, and scallops in a tomato sauce served with fried potatoes and rice. The margaritas are excellent, and most beers are from South America.

La Granja de Oro, 2920 Annandale Rd.; 703-534-5511. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Lucky Three (inexpensive). Sharing ownership with the excellent New Fortune in Gaithersburg, this restaurant offers very good Cantonese cooking. It is a large place, but you may find yourself waiting for a table at midday. On weekends, the excellent dim sum served from rolling carts brings out the Chinese-American community. On weekdays, a mixed crowd gathers for the best Chinese buffet within miles. Along with the normal complement of noodles and stir-fried dishes, the buffet includes a large selection of dim sum brought out at short intervals. There are also special dishes, such as deep-fried shrimp with head on and hard-shelled crabs.

The regular menu of some 200 items covers all the bases. Seafood is good, especially the whole steamed fish with brown sauce, clams with black-bean sauce, oysters with ginger and scallions, and salted baked shrimp. Also good are the pork chop with salt and pepper, roasted squab, and a hot pot of minced pork and eggplant or of black-pepper pork chop. The list includes many noodle and vegetable dishes as well as Hong Kong-style soups.

Lucky Three, 5900 Leesburg Pike; 703-998-8888. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Mirage (inexpensive). This is a combination Persian restaurant and Lebanese sweet shop. Many customers stay just long enough to purchase a box or two of pastries--some two dozen varieties are made from the several doughs, syrups, nuts, and creams displayed along a wall. Other customers stay for lunch or dinner. Service is informal, with orders placed at a register and with the food served on paper plates with plastic flatware.

The core of the menu is the selection of kebobs. Choose among platters offering one, two, or three skewers of meat plus rice and grilled tomatoes. Available are chunks of lamb, beef, and chicken, as well as ground beef and slices of filet. Prices start at $5.99 for the ground-beef platter and go to $14.99 for a trio of skewers of beef, chicken, and ground beef. There are daily specials, such as a stew of lamb and spinach with a handful of kidney beans. Appetizers include hummus, baba ghanoush, and salads. Dessert is a no-brainer.

Mirage, 5916 Leesburg Pike; 703-845-1600. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Miu Kee (inexpensive). While the word "kee" is the Chinese equivalent of apostrophe-s, the three restaurants on this list with Kee in their names share several attributes. All offer full menus of primarily Hong Kong-style Cantonese cooking, and all feature hanging roasted duck, chicken, and roast pig, described as "barbecued." They also offer soups with dumplings and wontons as well as congee, a sort of rice gruel with a topping of peanuts, bacon, or the like. They tend to be frequented by Chinese-Americans, and they stay open late.

At Miu Kee, an attractive place, the menu ranges from the Kee standards to such ambitious--and good--dishes as filet mignon served with onions on a hot plate; deep-fried spicy pork chops; and flounder fresh from the tanks and either steamed with ginger and scallions or served with the flesh stir-fried with snow peas and the skeleton deep-fried until all but the backbone is edible.

Miu Kee, 6653 Arlington Blvd.; 703-237-8884. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Myanmar Restaurant (inexpensive). Twenty-five years ago it was hard to find a Burmese restaurant in Rangoon, much less outside of the country, now called Myanmar. The one Burmese restaurant in Rangoon back then catered to the few tourists. Now there are several such places in Washington.

Myanmar is small, cheap, and good. The storefront eatery is bland outside, cheerful inside. There are only 38 seats, and no dish is too expensive. The food is medium on a hotness scale and accessible to diners familiar with Asian cooking. Start with the pork, beef, or chicken satay, the fried shrimp, or one of the salads, such as green papaya, mango, or ginger. Then go to the pork cooked with fresh mango, beef cooked with lemongrass, shrimp in chili sauce with basil and tomato, or Penang-style noodles with curry sauce and a choice of meats. The dessert to try is golden shweji, a cake of baked cream of wheat, rice flour, coconut cream, and palm sugar with an apricot flavor.

Myanmar Restaurant, 7810-C Lee Hwy.; 703-289-0013. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Neisha Thai Cuisine (inexpensive). A storefront in a strip mall, this Thai restaurant offers very good food in an attractive setting. As at other Neisha Thai locations, the decor places diners in a cave with clever lighting. The menu alerts customers to the level of spiciness with a zero-to-three-chili system.

Good appetizers are the grilled flank steak with chilies; grilled eggplant cooked with scallions, red onions, and a spicy lime dressing; salmon rolls that resemble Japanese maki; deep-fried spring rolls; and calamari with a sweet-and-sour sauce. Main courses to order are Passion Beef, marinated beef served on a sizzling platter with fresh ginger; Goong Gai Prik Pow, chicken and shrimp stir-fried with scallions in roasted chili paste; and Spicy Pacific Noodles, a combination of seafood and vegetables over egg noodles in a brown sauce. Soothing desserts are mango with sticky rice and house-made coconut ice cream.

Neisha Thai Cuisine, 6037 Leesburg Pike; 703-933-3788. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No wheelchair access.

Old Hickory Grille (moderate). This Louisiana-oriented restaurant offers good food in pleasant surroundings. The menu is long, varied, and reasonably priced. Daily specials at lunchtime are bargains. Caution: The basket of excellent cornbread and chili-and cilantro-laden biscuits that welcomes diners can ruin a hearty appetite.

Good starters are the fried, corn-flour-coated calamari, the buttermilk-and-corn-flour-coated crawfish tails, the deep-fried Buffalo wings with bleu-cheese sauce, thinly sliced and battered fried onion rings made from red onions, and the spinach quesadilla. Main courses to order are the center-cut pork chops with Cajun spices; meatloaf made from Angus beef and then grilled over hickory; Cajun jambalaya of chicken breast, andouille sausage, peppers, red onions, and plum tomatoes; a marinated and roasted half chicken; and the barbecue spare ribs. A long sandwich list includes po'boys, jerk chicken, burgers, and blackened salmon. Good desserts are the chocolate pecan pie and the fudge brownie with cream cheese frosting.

Old Hickory Grille, 7263-G Arlington Blvd. (Loehmann's Plaza); 703-207-8650. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Panjshir (moderate). After the upheaval in Afghanistan a quarter century ago, émigrés opened several restaurants here. The cuisine of the landlocked, mountainous country features meat--mainly lamb--and rice.

Start with aushak, virtually the national dish, a flat dumpling filled with scallions and topped with ground meat, seasoned yogurt, diced vegetables, and a sprinkle of mint. Heading the list of main courses are kebobs, with choices of marinated chicken, lamb, and beef, all served with saffron rice and the unusual ridged Afghan bread. Palows--close relatives to the Indian biryani--are chunks of meat with white rice along with tomato sauce, onions, and garlic. Vegetarians can savor similar dishes featuring spinach, pumpkin, turnips, and potatoes.

Panjshir, 924 W. Broad St.; 703-536-4566. Closed Sunday. No wheelchair access.

Peking Gourmet Inn (moderate). This Chinese restaurant is upscale and tends to have fewer Chinese customers. Many of the dishes are adaptations of Chinese preparations rather than authentic versions. Yet much of the food is excellent, and the restaurant draws large crowds, including presidents, ambassadors from China, and other celebrities whose photographs cover the walls.

The star of the show is the Peking duck, beautifully bronzed and carved at tableside. This dish alone is worth a visit, though at $35 it is not cheap. Another terrific high-end dish is lamb chops Peking-style, a whole rack of boldly seasoned New Zealand lamb in a brown sauce--again not cheap at $26.95, but not overpriced. Also appealing are the black-pepper jumbo shrimp, sea scallops with roasted garlic, and garlic sprouts with chicken. Sweet-and-sour pork, chicken with cashews, and chicken with snow peas are good and cost around $12. There is no whole fish on the menu.

Peking Gourmet Inn, 6029 Leesburg Pike; 703-671-8088. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Pho 75 (inexpensive). One of perhaps a dozen Falls Church places that feature pho, the Vietnamese main-course soup, Pho 75 has long set the standard. Most of the patrons at pho houses are Vietnamese who come for breakfast or lunch. But a soothing bowl of the anise-scented beef broth, to which any number of items can be added, is worth trying anytime.

Thin rice noodles, onions, and cilantro are givens in pho. Diners can add thinly sliced meats alone or in combination--brisket, flank steak, soft tendon, meatballs, and tripe. Served separately are bean sprouts and basil along with a squeeze of lime, slices of chili peppers, hot chili sauce, and hoisin sauce. The customer mixes it all up and attacks the bowl with chopsticks in one hand and a ceramic soup spoon in the other. Regulars drink powerful drip coffee or a house-made soft drink, such as salty lemon.

Pho 75, 3103 Graham Rd.; 703-204-1490. Open daily from 9 AM to 8 PM.

Sarita's (moderate). This Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant is brighter and larger than most of its competitors. The food and service are good and the prices reasonable. A pair of tacos, pupusas, or enchiladas is $5.95, while more elaborate specialties range from $9.95 for the chicken stew to $17.95 for a combination of shrimp, croaker, and a small steak.

The Mexican appetizers of quesadilla and nachos served with chicken or beef are good. Even better is the yucca with pan-fried pork cubes, which are very tender. Among the main courses, the steaks are thin and generally cooked well-done despite entreaties to the contrary, but they are loaded with flavor. The zarzuela de marisco is a large bowl of seafood in a broth that includes white wine, tomatoes, garlic, and butter. The grilled Cornish hen and the pork chops sautéed with onions and tomatoes are good bets. The rice and refried beans are tasty, too.

Sarita's, 2794 Graham Rd.; 703-533-9448. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Sweetwater Tavern (moderate). Part of the operation that brings you Carlyle and Artie's, this is a place that serves upscale bar food as well as steaks, seafood, and other popular specials. It is large, noisy, and attractive. The walls are adorned in cowboy themes. There is a bustling open kitchen and a busy bar with lots of TV sets. It is not cheap--main courses range from $9 to $30--but you get quality for your money.

The deep-fried calamari and the hot spinach-Parmesan and artichoke dip are good appetizers. Solid main courses are the hickory-smoked barbecue baby back ribs, the prime rib, available in several sizes, the rib-eye steak, and the filet mignon. Seafood choices include crabcakes and a salmon filet. The group that owns Sweetwater has its own bakery, and the bread is very good. A brewery on the premises turns out several beers.

Sweetwater Tavern, 3066 Gatehouse Plaza; 703-645-8100. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Thai Spice (inexpensive). Open nine months, Thai Spice competes against a number of good Thai restaurants in Falls Church. It is a small, colorful place with lovely Thai artifacts. Offering traditional and innovative dishes, the restaurant acquits itself very well, particularly with the old favorites.

Good appetizers are the crispy spring rolls, the papaya salad, the room-temperature and spicy Thai Spice Steak with roasted garlic, and the mussels samui--eight plump mussels carefully laid out on a plate with ginger and garlic and a coating of white wine and lemon juice. Good traditional main courses are chicken with basil; green curry with meat and string beans, eggplant, bamboo shoots, and basil leaves; and pad Thai. Very satisfying is the unusual spicy shrimp pasta, made with fresh linguine or spaghetti along with a spicy red sauce with mushrooms. The restaurant has a short but impressive wine list.

Thai Spice, 6395 Seven Corners Center; 703-533-9480. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Vinh Kee (inexpensive). This popular Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, whose menu is written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and English, has a lot to offer. The specialty is seafood, as evidenced by the tanks of swimming fish, lobsters, and Dungeness crabs, but there is much more.

Hong Kong-style soups, which include noodles, dumplings, and wontons along with such tasty toppings as barbecue duck, roast pig, and pork loin, are practically a meal alone. The barbecue meats are also offered separately and make good appetizers. The very tender soy-sauce chicken is another good choice. For a main course, consider ordering live steamed seafood served with shredded ginger and scallions. Other good choices are the sautéed beef ribs with black pepper, clams with black-bean sauce, and sautéed shrimp with macadamia nuts. Casserole dishes are also good, especially the chicken or roasted pig with oysters versions. Rounding out the long menu are vegetable dishes, including stir-fried snow-pea leaves, and a selection of noodles.

Vinh Kee, 3103-D Graham Rd.; 703-645-0118. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/01/2004 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles