Executive chef Liam LaCivita elevates the restaurant/bar at Liberty Tavern with Modern American takes such as roasted-corn tamales with lamb-confit mole, smoked and grilled swordfish with eggplant caponata, and a wood-oven pizza with white cheddar, Granny Smith slices, caramelized onions, and prosciutto. (3195 Wilson Blvd.; 703-465-9360)
Whereas Liberty is a come-one, come-all sort of place, LaCivita’s newer brasserie, Lyon Hall , has a more sophisticated feel. Food leans Franco-Austrian with hearty plates such as pork schnitzel, choucroute, and house-made bratwurst, while pickled sardines and steamed mussels in white wine shore up the lighter side. There’s also a terrific beer list. (3100 N. Washington Blvd.; 703-741-7636)
At the warmly lit Tallula chef de cuisine Mike O’Brien takes a global approach with cheese boards and house-made charcuterie—think salmon terrine and pork-jowl rillettes—and big plates ranging from cavatelli with veal-sausage/escarole sauce to spicy prawns with noodles and dumplings. (2761 Washington Blvd.; 703-778-5051)
In Crystal City, chef Morou Ouattara presides over a reincarnation of his former Old Town eatery, Farrah Olivia, tucked in back of his Italian restaurant, Kora. Fans who crave Ouattara’s shocked tuna with sardine powder, sautéed gnudi with baby artichokes, and lamb chops with a stripe of palm sauce and mint “caviar” flock to Farrah Olivia’s minimalist dining room. At Kora, look for pastas such as orecchiette with a robust marinara studded with mushrooms, kalamata olives, and sausage; house-made noodles with chicken and creamy Alfredo sauce; and delicate spinach-and-ricotta filled tortelloni. Don’t miss the crisp-crusted pizzas—we like the BLT with spinach. (2250-B Crystal Dr.; 571-431-7090)
The upstairs wine bar at Northside Social channels a hipster vibe with edgy art and a mood-setting candelabra. Along with a well-put-together list of wines are house-made cheeses and salumi as well as little gems such as fava-bean purée with pear mostarda, deviled eggs with crab, and vitello tonnato. Downstairs is all about coffee (from Counter Culture), Polyface farm egg sandwiches, and Chunky Monkey scones. (3211 Wilson Blvd.; 703-465-0145)
Spanish Cavas and fino sherries pair well with José Andrés’s classic and creative tapas at Jaleo. Jamón Ibérico from acorn-fed black-footed pigs, salt-cod fritter with honey aïoli, and apple-fennel salad with Manchego, walnuts, and sherry are all savory possibilities. (2250-A Crystal Dr.; 703-413-8181)
Rough-hewn booth dividers and cement floors give the new Clarendon branch of Cava an industrial look. Make a meal of updated Greek mezze such as jumbo shrimp spiked with the Greek firewater known as ouzo, feta flecked with jalapeños, and burnt-butter orzo. Wash it all down with a glass of ouzo. (2940 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-276-9090)
The lounge at Willow is a gathering spot for wine lovers sipping the eclectic pours along with chef Tracy O’Grady’s inspired snacks: gougères gilded with black-truffle butter, deviled eggs smoky with paprika, and a guilt-free miniature fish and chips. (4301 N. Fairfax Dr.; 703-465-8800)
Ray's the Steaks
You’re likely to wait for a table at Michael Landrum’s Ray’s the Steaks, but these well-priced, well-marbled Hereford and Angus cuts are worth standing in line for. We like the top-loin sirloin with blue cheese and diablo sauce or the hanger steak and rib eye with horseradish cream or béarnaise. For the meat-shy: The crab royale is marvelous. (2300 Wilson Blvd.; 703-841-7297)
Ray's Hell-Burger and Ray's Hell-Burger Too
If you prefer your steak ground, Landrum has covered that base with Ray’s Hell-Burger and Ray’s Hell-Burger Too , where prime, aged beef is ground in-house and grilled on an open flame. Upgrades such as Vermont white cheddar and Époisses and novelty burgers including the Dogcatcher, with bone marrow and persillade, add to the fun. (1725 Wilson Blvd.; 1713 Wilson Blvd.; 703-841-0001 for both)
Newly opened this fall is Landrum’s steak-frites place, Ray’s3. You’ll find greatest hits from his other restaurants, such as smoked and fried chicken and crab royale, as well as gentler prices—steak plates start at $16.99 for a hanger steak with béarnaise, fries, and a salad. (1650 Wilson Blvd.; 703-974-7171)
BGR the Burger Joint
Hefty patties of juicy dry-aged beef dressed with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, grilled onions, and pickles are tucked into brioche buns at BGR the Burger Joint. Also good: sweet-potato fries, shakes, and the Greek-style lamb burger. (3024 Wilson Blvd., 703-566-1446; 3129 Lee Hwy., 703-812-4705)
The Bolivian plates at El Pike make the most of every part of the cow, with weekend specials such as steaming beef kidney and beef-tripe soups. Other good bets include lomo, the classic thin steak with fried eggs and fries; asado en olla, sliced beef with boiled potatoes and a spicy tomato-based sauce; and salteñas, savory turnovers. (4111 Columbia Pike; 703-521-3010)
The salsa is smoky and the chips house-fried at Guajillo, where cowhide-wrapped chairs and burnt-orange walls make for a rustic cantina feel. Go for tangy shrimp ceviche, plantains with black beans and crema, or chicken enchiladas with a rich, nutty mole sauce. (1727 Wilson Blvd.; 703-807-0840)
You can make a meal of starters at stylish Bangkok 54. We like the cucumber- and scallion-filled duck rolls, firecracker shrimp, and chili-stoked green-papaya salad. The crispy duck tossed with basil is wonderful, too. (2919 Columbia Pike; 703-521-4070)
Vietnamese classics are done well at Minh’s. That means top-notch vermicelli bun with grilled pork, fried yam-and-shrimp cakes, and “shake beef” with lime-pepper dipping sauce. Fresh-squeezed, tart lime soda is the perfect match. (2500 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-2828)
Ravi Kabob House I and II
Wonder what a kebab house in Peshawar might be like? Check out the atmospheric Ravi Kabob House I and II where naan is baked to order and kebabs of lamb, beef, and chicken steep in a secret marinade for 18 hours before they hit the grill. (305 N. Glebe Rd., 703-522-6666; 250 N. Glebe Rd., 703-816-0222)
Steaming bowls of anise-spiked beef broth and noodles with your choice of meat—from tripe to brisket—are the raison d’être for Pho 75, part of a local chainlet of pho parlors. Table add-ons include fiery Sriracha sauce and sprouts, basil, jalapeños, and lime. (1721 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-7355)
The Russian and Kazakh fare at Café Assorti makes a nice change from the same old: Look for savory pastries stuffed with beef and eggs, cabbage rolls, pan-fried flattened chicken with walnut sauce, and salads such as shredded beet, walnut, and garlic. (1800 Wilson Blvd.; 703-465-0036)
Chinese street food and Szechuan hot pots are the thing at Mala Tang. Home in on pork dumplings, scallion pancakes, and dan-dan noodles. And if you’re headed for the hot pot, the richly marbled pork and fresh-calamari versions are the ticket. (3434 Washington Blvd.; 703-243-2381)
Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza
Newest on the scene in Arlington’s pizza explosion is the DC import Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, best known for its garlicky white-clam pie—though the sausage-mushroom is pretty fabulous, too. Crisp-chewy crusts, zesty sauce, and locally sourced fixings are hallmarks of these pies and slices. A changing monthly antipasto plate is nicely done, too. (3017 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-527-7383)
The food cart turned restaurant Pupatella is devoted to thin-crust, brick-oven Neapolitan pies crafted with Italian buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and offbeat toppers such as arugula and chorizo. Panini come on house-baked bread, and there are potato croquettes studded with prosciutto to consider. (5104 Wilson Blvd.; 571-312-7230)
Also pushing the pizza envelope is the upscale beer-and-pizza joint Fire Works, with its Smokey Blue pie with Gorgonzola and balsamic glaze and the signature Fire Cracker with pepperoni and olives. (2350 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-527-8700)
Neapolitan vs. New York style? You don’t have to choose at Café Pizzaiolo, where brittle-crusted Neapolitan pies with basil and mozzarella share menu space with thicker, chewy-crusted New York–style rounds. (507 S. 23rd St.; 703-894-2250)
Lost Dog Café
And longtime favorite Lost Dog Café is still turning out such classic and creative takes on pizza as salty pepperoni and onion, garlic butter and crabmeat, and barbecue chicken. (5876 Washington Blvd., 703-237-1552; 2920 Columbia Pike, 703-553-7770)
David Guas brings a slice of his native New Orleans to Arlington with Bayou Bakery. Crescent City staples such as muffuletta, gumbo, and shrimp with green-onion rémoulade can be had daily, and specials include red beans and rice. Pralines and the Oreo-ish Dat-O cookies are pure nostalgia. (1515 N. Courthouse Rd.; 703-243-2410)
Though not strictly Southern, EatBar is skewing toward Dixie now with deftly done takes on chicken and waffles and toasted cornbread with jalapeño jelly. (2761 Washington Blvd.; 703-778-9951)
4000 Campbell Ave.; 703-931-0777
Carlyle is also showing Southern leanings—crispy crab fritters with corn salsa, a plump lobster roll, pecan-crusted trout, and hickory-smoked and grilled Black Angus rib eye.
3 Bar and Grill
2950 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-524-4440
You may want to skip dinner and go straight for the bacon-studded waffle with maple-bacon ice cream at 3 Bar and Grill. But then you’d miss such dishes as house-cured and smoked bacon on a stick, fried catfish with hoppin’ John, and seared scallops with corn-okra-and-tomato succotash.
2605 Wilson Blvd.; 703-248-0150
Two can easily share the Pork and Fries sandwich at Earl’s. Filled with thin-sliced roast pork, pickles, red peppers, and chopped onions, it’s big, messy, and delicious.
3123 Lee Hwy.; 703-528-6266
For subs, the Italian Store is the place—we like the Roma with prosciutto, provolone, and hot and sweet peppers. Keep an eye out for pantry staples from Italy plus Italian wine finds such as the plummy d’Alessandro Nevo d’Avola from Sicily.
El Pollo Rico
932 N. Kenmore St.; 703-522-3220
The plump, juicy birds at El Pollo Rico get their kick from a 24-hour bath in a “secret” spicy-salty-peppery marinade before twirling on the rotisserie. Rice and beans make it dinner.
Lebanese Taverna Market
4400 Old Dominion Dr.; 703-276-8681
Put together a mezze repast at Lebanese Taverna Market with tahini-rich hummus, spicy falafel, and beef shawarma with tahini sauce and garlic purée. Don’t forget the pistachio-filled mamoul cookies.
1025 N. Fillmore St.; 703-524-0007
For a chocolate fix, head to Artisan Confections, where Jason Andelman is turning out elegant miniature candy bars, such as the melt-in-the-mouth crispy peanut-butter praline, in addition to his exquisite filled chocolates.
Red Velvet Cupcakery
3035 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-243-5660
Craving a cupcake? Red Velvet Cupcakery has opened a new location in Arlington. Go for the classic “b-day” variety with delicately flavored almond cake, Valrhona milk-chocolate frosting, and sprinkles.
818 N. Quincy St.; 703-650-9676
Meanwhile, Alexandria’s Buzz Bakery has set up shop in Ballston. It’s best known for its Buzz Signature cupcake—devil’s-food with espresso icing—and the 9:30, which tastes like an upscale Hostess cupcake.
Boccato Gelato & Espresso
2719 Wilson Blvd.; 703-869-6522
Homegrown Boccato Gelato & Espresso keeps it fresh with offbeat flavors including the Andean-inspired lúcuma, with its notes of butterscotch, toffee, and caramel.
This article appears in the November 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.