This striking restaurant puts out some of the most sure-handed Indian cooking in the area. Samosas and pakoras emerge nearly greaseless from the fryer. Papadi chaat, the cool, tangy potato-and-chutney salad, is refreshing and refined. But the true standouts are the velvety, creamy stews—chicken in a chili-stoked cashew sauce, shrimp korma, tomatoey butter chicken—perfect with a basket of chili-dotted roti and the puffed fry bread called puri.
645 Elden St., Herndon; 703-796-1527. Entrées $11 to $23.
With its slate patio ringed by a stone wall and its cool, wooded interior, this sushi house feels like an eco-friendly lodge. To start, skip the miso soup and shu mai in favor of agedashi tofu, a hard-to-find appetizer that pairs scallion and bonito flakes with fried squares of the star ingredient. While edamame and ponzu-brushed beef tataki are also good, go for the kitchen’s strong point: sushi rolls. Stuffed with an entire soft-shell crab, the spider roll is a good choice, and its presentation—claws peeking out from a flat roll—is dramatic. Equally flavorful is a California roll topped with chopped spicy scallops.
12184 Glade Dr., Reston; 703-391-9006. Entrées $12.50 to $27.
This international chain says there are more than 300,000 ways to build your own burger from its selection of meats, toppings, and sauces. Choices range from the conventional (cheddar, dill pickles) to the head-scratching (dried cranberries, apricot sauce). It’s usually better to stick to just a few garnishes: The buns (regular, wheat, and English muffin) can’t hold up to many additions, and it’s worth saving room for a side of thin sweet-potato fries, a tangle of onion strings, or a peanut-butter milkshake. On Wednesday from 4 to closing, a $12 special includes a preset selection of four mini-burgers with four sauces and four four-ounce draft beers.
11922 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-796-1008. Entrées $7.25 to $10.25.
Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food
All-booth seating, smart and smiling servers, and a roster of comfort food with a creative twist make this Reston Town Center eatery as easy to like as its Great American Restaurants siblings (Carlyle, Artie’s, and Coastal Flats among them). Many of the company’s greatest hits are on the menu—the goat-cheese-and-pecan salad, the just-bound-enough crabcakes, the flourless chocolate waffle. But Jackson’s has some favorites all its own, such as deviled eggs with sugared bacon, macaroni and cheese with hunks of lobster, and lemon pie with a fluff of marshmallowy meringue. Reservations are limited, but you can call ahead to put your name on the waiting list.
11927 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-437-0800. Entrées $9.50 to $25.
Minerva Indian Cuisine
All four outposts of this restaurant (others are in Fairfax, Chantilly, and Gaithersburg) look like banquet halls, but what they lack in atmosphere, they make up for in flavor. If it’s heat you’re looking for, go for the lamb vindaloo, or ask for dishes—such as the excellent dosas—that come with sambar, a fiery soup. Milder is the butter chicken, its creamy tomato-based sauce punched up with ginger, or the glowing-red meat that makes up an order of Chicken 65, flavored with coriander, garlic, and fried curry leaves. Unlike many Indian buffets, the lunchtime spread here doesn’t offer soggy versions of its food—it’s the biggest and best midday version in the area.
2443-G1 Centreville Rd., Herndon; 703-793-3223. Entrées $9.99 to $13.95.
Chef/restaurateur Jeff Tunks has plenty of popular restaurants (DC Coast, Acadiana, Ceiba, TenPenh). This seafood-focused eatery is the most ambitious and showy—check out that raw bar—and many think it’s the best. Meals begin with a horseradish/whitefish spread that’s hard to stop eating. Move on to a clams-casino-inspired dip, fried oysters done up like Buffalo wings and served with cool blue-cheese slaw, and a Southeast Asian spin on lobster, blanketed in a fabulous red curry. Don’t have a reservation for the crowded dining room? You can dabble in sushi rolls and sake flights or order off the regular menu at the long, curvy bar. But chances are it’ll be packed, too.
11960 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-230-3474. Entrées $19 to $35.
The three shops that make up this local chain (others are in DC’s Logan Circle and Baltimore’s Fells Point) scoop some of the creamiest gelato and smoothest sorbet around. The secret is in the sourcing: Milk and eggs come from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; hazelnuts from Piedmont, Italy; Bronte pistachios and almonds from Sicily; and vanilla from Madagascar. We’re fans of the gelato with Italian nuts as well as the simple fior di latte—the addition of cream lends it an extra-rich texture. Citrusy sorbets (try the lemon or lime with mint), available year-round, are very lively. In summer, ask for the flavors with local fruit.
11942 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-606-9906. Regular (up to two flavors) $4.85, large (up to three flavors) $6.50.
Wegmans Market Cafe
Looking for a fast lunch? The cafe that fronts this mega-grocery will fit the bill. Sushi chefs are constantly rolling maki, six to ten kinds of chicken wings sit in their own bar, and pastas are boiled and tossed to order. We head for the sandwich counter, which makes a Bronx-worthy Italian sub, or the seafood section for a shrimp cocktail. For dessert, a case holds freshly filled éclairs and sprinkle-topped cupcakes.
45131 Columbia Pl., Sterling; 703-421-2400. Sushi $5.99 to $14.99, sandwiches $5 to $8.29, pasta $5 to $10.