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Best of Del Ray: Real Good Eats
Where to find creamy frozen custard, tasty tacos, and excellent charcuterie
Del Ray’s neighborhood pizza joint turns out the same pies that made a success of its older sibling, Café Pizzaiolo in Crystal City. There’s the thin but sturdy Neapolitan version, its crust infused with olive oil, and the more substantial New York style made with a whisper of sourdough. The options with fewer toppings keep the crusts from wilting; the basic Caprese and the Diavala with sausage and peppers are good bets. Families should stake out a table in the 60-seat dining room—stocked with a collection of board games—while other customers can take advantage of a smaller bar area with flat-screen TVs and a Tuesday two-for-one pizza deal.
3112 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-837-0666. Pizzas $12.99 to $19.50, pasta and panini $7.99 to $14.95.
A refreshingly whimsical model of the wine-bar trend, this snug cafe features a menu of bargain-minded but upmarket indulgences made with selections from owner Jill Erber’s front-room cheese shop. A griddled pimiento-cheese sandwich gets a boost from two kinds of cheddar and a peppery Gouda, macaroni and cheese is drizzled with truffle oil, and a pastrami panino comes with house-made ranch dressing. Unlike lots of like-minded restaurants that serve their cheese and charcuterie boards with just baguette slices, Erber offers thoughtful accompaniments, including glazed figs, raw honey, and olive tapenade. Summertime means tables are set up on the sidewalk.
2411 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-706-5300. Entrées $8.50 to $10.
With its grilled doughnuts and menu of mashed-potato mix-ins, this yellow-tiled dining room is one of the more whimsical restaurants around. Kids appreciate the Shirley Temples and miniature filets mignons, while grownups browse the menu for finds such as bacony linguine with clams, rich polenta topped with sweet scallops, and a nicely cooked New York strip with béarnaise. Kick things off with paprika-heavy deviled eggs or a decadent plate of fried green tomatoes and we dare you to leave room for that doughnut.
3106 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-739-4335. Entrées $8 to $26.
Wisconsin has given the world Usinger’s brats, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and more cheddars than we can count. But perhaps its greatest gift is frozen custard. Owner Liz Davis hails from Waukesha, and her custard—vanilla, chocolate, and a daily flavor—is as thick and creamy as you’ll find. You can get it in sundaes and floats, but if the featured flavor involves a baked good, don’t miss it. Vanilla-custard-topped strawberry shortcake is made with a fresh biscuit, and berry-flecked summer pudding is fluffy with angel-food cake. Davis also makes popsicles, in flavors that go beyond the ice-cream truck, such as Vietnamese coffee and grilled pineapple/pink peppercorn .
2310 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-683-7767. Frozen custard $2.75 to $4, sundaes $3.75 to $4.99.
If a 1950s diner and a modern bistro got together, the result would look something like this neighborhood spot, where the floor is black-and-white checked, the walls are mustard yellow, and the menu is an eclectic mix, from homey mac and cheese to refined scallops with summer succotash and tomato jam. The options in the restaurant’s two hip lounges—the Majestic in back and the No. 9 upstairs—skew toward upscale comfort food: Grilled Buffalo wings and a Mediterranean-inspired seven-layer dip share billing with a tuna melt. Desserts, created by Buzz pastry chef Josh Short, are usually excellent. In summer, the corner bend of sidewalk can be a nice place to while away an evening.
2000 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-549-5051. Entrées $15 to $28.
The green leather booths at this casual Cajun restaurant have been filled with loyal locals for more than two decades. The staff is helpful and friendly, and the kitchen sends out easy-to-like plates that are piled high. The food can be relentlessly rich, but crisply fried oysters, ultra-rich she-crab soup, and crab-and-crawfish imperial are worth the caloric splurge. Pair them with a high-octane hurricane or Sazerac, and Bourbon Street won’t seem so far away.
3804 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-684-6010. Entrées $14.95 to $28.95.
Everyone from toddlers to hung-over twentysomethings start crowding into this tiny cantina early in the day. What sets it apart from your average neighborhood burrito joint? Thoughtful touches that lend an air of authenticity. The guacamole is always fresh, and a cooler of fresh lime juice arrives with a dropper of sugary syrup. Deep-red salsa comes with tortilla chips and, if you ask for them, crunchy spears of jícama. Tacos are the thing to get, and they’re served individually so you can mix and match. The flour tortilla stuffed with grilled shrimp and vinegary onions is the standout, but we also like the soft tortilla stuffed al pastor style with pork and shaved pineapple as well as the crispy corn shell holding chile-braised beef.
2400-B Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-548-8226. Tacos $3.75 to $5.25, entrées $9.95 to $14.95.
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