A Wacky, Whimsical All-Day Diner Is Opening Near Amazon’s HQ2

Surreal is the latest restaurant with a modernist twist from Seven Reasons Group.

Tuna poke topped with a crispy rice paper "cloud." Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

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Surreal. 2117 Crystal Drive, Arlington. 

Seven Reasons chef Enrique Limardo has put a modernist Latin twist on Mediterranean, Spanish, and French cuisines at restaurants Imperfecto, TheSaga, and Quadrant. Now, he and co-owner Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger are bringing the same whimsical style to American diner fare at Surreal, an all-day spot that will open near Amazon’s HQ2 on Friday, December 1.

To be clear: this will not at all be your typical diner. The place is enclosed in glass, will host occasional DJs, and has some pretty off-beat dishes. “Never classics,” Limardo says. “It has to be fun. It has to be something different.” Vázquez-Ger adds that they called the place Surreal because “we want to do something that doesn’t exist.”

Surreal’s swordfish carpaccio with “flaming hot totopos.” Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

Swordfish carpaccio with “flaming hot totopos” is one prime example. Limardo says he was inspired by the film Flamin’ Hot, which tells the (not so true) story of a Frito-Lay janitor inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Limardo spent two months trying to replicate the spicy seasonings and chips, which are crushed on the fish in a rim around a guacamole topped with radishes, capers, and olives.

At the same time, a lot of the offerings will be familiar… or at least familiar-ish. The restaurant will open at 7 AM with eggs any style, super airy waffles, and a chorizo shakshuka with queso fundido. The kitchen will also bake its own breads and pastries, including muffins, croissants, and Venezuelan sticky buns called golfeados. The restaurant will also have a small market selling grab-and-go meals as well as a loaves of bread, pasta sauces, cookies, and more.

Rigatoni all puttanesca with anchovies, kalamata olives, and fresh basil. Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

For lunch and dinner, you’ll find salads, burgers, sandwiches, Neapolitan-style pizzas (including one for mortadella lovers), and pastas (rigatoni puttanesca, bucatini alfredo). But some of the dishes aren’t as straightforward as their descriptions. Take a “Caesar salad” that Limardo says will “remind you of a Caesar salad.” He says a local farm is growing a special “crispy, juicy” Salanova lettuce for the restaurant: “I call it one lettuce Caesar salad because we are going to put the entire lettuce in the salad.”

Smash the crispy pillow before digging into your tuna poke. Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

A mango-and-avocado-studded tuna poke bowl is topped with a giant crispy rice paper “pillow”—crack it with a spoon then dig in. “Veal MacParm,” consisting of a breaded veal sirloin in marinara, will be topped with a mac-and-cheese sauce. A foot-long beef hot dog wrapped in bacon is fully loaded with Oaxaca cheese, corn, cabbage relish, crispy garlic, and a housemade “pink mayo.”

Desserts include an upside down pineapple flan cake, chocolate lava cake “service,” and a “banana split” that’s made of banana soft-serve ice cream sprinkled with chocolate crumble and freeze-dried strawberries.

Patrons will be able to sip Surreal’s cocktails in the surrounding park. Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

The cocktail menu likewise has its own touch of whimsy. Limardo says they’re doing a negroni with a fruity, floral foam as well as a “breakfast old-fashioned” with whiskey infused with granola and corn flakes. Surreal’s standalone building is located in the middle of a park which has a special permit that will people to walk around with to-go cocktails.

This will be the sixth restaurant for the Seven Reasons Group, which is still looking to expand both locally and in Madrid. “We have the pressure to open one more in DC. We want to get to number seven. Probably next year,” says Vázquez-Ger. He says they plan to call it The End.

Correction: Surreal is located near Amazon’s HQ2 but is not within it. 

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.