73. BlackSalt ★★½
4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-342-9101
Cuisine: Of all the restaurants in Jeff and Barbara Black’s local empire, this fishhouse is the most polished and most expensive. But the premise is wonderfully simple: an ever-changing roster of often rustic dishes built around well-sourced seafood and fish, from Maryland rockfish to Japanese hamachi.
Mood: A tidy fish market fronts the restaurant: A stainless-steel-accented bar/cafe is the casual counterpart to the bistro next to the glass-walled kitchen in back. The spaces share tight quarters, a menu, and—when the place is full—lots of energy.
Best for: Seafood lovers who don’t want precious preparations of raw fish.
Best dishes: Sweet Nantucket bay scallops atop a zesty puttanesca; a many-splendored salad of bitter escarole, sweet candied almonds, salty bacon, and tart apples; creamy chowder with crisp fried clams; steamed mussels with chorizo and tomato sauce; tart Key-lime pie; butterscotch pudding with a Scotch milkshake.
Insider tips: You can easily make a meal from a couple of happy-hour-menu small plates and $5 Champagne cocktails, available daily from 4 to 7 in the bar and cafe. You can order one of pastry chef Susan Wallace’s seasonal fruit streusels from the market up front.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.72. PassionFish ★★½
11960 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-230-3474
Cuisine: It’s easy to look at this slick, bustling operation as a corporate seafood house in a Reston shopping center, but chef/owner Jeff Tunks’s kitchen makes a genuine effort to stock local produce and sustainable fishes for executive chef Chris Clime’s globally inspired dishes—from a simple bucket of fried clams to Peruvian ceviche.
Mood: The raw-bar items laid out on ice near the kitchen set a tone of authenticity, and the room has the buzz of a fishmonger’s stall. Because the space expands vertically, there’s not a bad seat in the house—all diners can enjoy views of the first-floor action, though things are slightly more subdued in the upstairs gallery.
Best for: A night of downtown sophistication for Virginians—without the traffic or the long drive home from DC.
Best dishes: Clams casino; fried clams; hamachi crudo with grapefruit and jalapeño; eight-piece “kamikaze roll” of tempura prawns, avocado, and spicy tuna; red Thai curry lobster; honest, lightly bound crabcakes; whole-roasted branzino; freshly fried doughnut holes.
Insider tips: A special kids’ menu is a welcome departure from the usual chicken-fingers kind of offering. Servers here know their wines—one of the chefs lives on a nearby vineyard—and will bring samples.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.
71. Present ★★½
6678 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-531-1881
Cuisine: The New Age–sounding names of many of the dishes, together with the over-the-top presentations (fried shrimp dangling in an elegantly carved pineapple boat), suggests an operation founded on kitsch. But there’s plenty of steak to go with the sizzle: This energetic restaurant has emerged as one of the leaders of Vietnamese cooking, turning out dishes of complexity and refinement—dishes that, at their best, rival the efforts of non-family-style places that typically cost three times as much.
Mood: From the tinkling fountain to the lodge-like surround of wood, a serenity belies the expectation of most ethnic family-run restaurants, which tend to emphasize a stark efficiency and a minimum of atmosphere. Present aims to dazzle you, and not just on the plate.
Best for: Special occasions on the cheap.
Best dishes: A mouthwatering hash of clams served in a giant sesame shell; a spot-on preparation of bun, with grilled pork and shrimp, a nest of veggies and a twirl of vermicelli; any of the masterful soups, including the Sour Spicy Seafood; a tenderer-than-usual rendition of “shaky” beef called Cow on the Open Field, tossed in a complex and zingy sauce; the best banh xeo, or stuffed crepe, in the area.
Insider tips: Many of the dishes are large and best suited for sharing.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.