If you’re looking for a fun night out, Arlington is the place to be — especially if you want an incredible dinner to top the night off. Here, you’ll find European fare, Southern comfort food, modern Mexican, and more at Arlington’s Best Restaurants.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
McLean / Persian / $$
The sign outside Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean reads “Persian Fusion,” and the description is spot-on. Everything about Amoo’s screams fusion, from its eclectic décor combining slate tile, marble, and repurposed wood, to the abundant clientele as diverse as the restaurant itself. The inventive cuisine at Amoo’s has been turning heads for years, with a thoughtful mixture of Persian, Jamaican, Argentine, and American ingredients.
Complex stews, like fesenjan — tender chicken breast braised with pomegranate-walnut sauce — marry auspiciously with a starter of tahdig, crispy rice from the bottom of the pot. Dig into the succulent, flame-grilled kebabs. There are alluring interpretations of classics like chimichurri-painted chicken or bison filet partnered with saffron cream.
Every dish gains complexity with the addition of imaginative specialty rice dishes. Don’t miss the shirin polo, offering candied carrots and orange peel in basmati rice, for a citrus-suffused delight. Even the warm lavash served tableside is presented with an unusual chimichurri-like mixture of cilantro, mint, and jalapeño, delivering welcome heat and zest.
Amoo’s dishes are prepared beautifully, supremely satisfying, and offered in large portions. Thanks to the fusion component of the restaurant, adventurous diners will enjoy this outstanding spot for Persian — and global — cuisine. If variety truly is the spice of life, Amoo’s offers a smorgasbord for its patrons.
See this: Elaborate Iranian wall hangings color the interior.
Eat this: Shirazi salad, shirin polo, chimichurri chicken
When to dine here: Budget-friendly meals will satisfy everyone in your group with likely leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Arlington / Modern Mexican / $$$
One could say there are many cooks in the kitchen. That’s because executive chef Jaime Garciá Pelayo Bribiesca stands on the shoulders of world-renowned culinarians and centuries of Mexican gastronomical heritage when he prepares your meal.
Pelayo is a passionate restaurateur who’s studied with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, José Andrés, and Edward Lee, among others. A native of Mexico City, he returns home regularly and travels through Europe to deepen his knowledge and conduct research.
Buena Vida offers diners a chance to sample what he’s learned thanks to a system of all-you-can-eat lunch, brunch, and dinner for a fixed price. When you order, expand your palate with Pelayo’s family recipes. The tortilla Azteca with spinach and Chihuahua cheese gratin is his grandmother’s creation. Corn ribs are a riff on Mexican street corn. Salt-cured cecina steak is served butterfly thin with housemade tortillas. Break the sugar crust over the goat cheese flan to combine texture and flavor.
Add to the experience with a craft cocktail, sangria, or Citadelle gin and tonic. Collegiality among the staff makes you feel like you’ve joined their party. And one thing you’ll learn is that here, at least, there is no such thing as too many cooks.
See this: Three attractive levels for dining, with a South Beach vibe. The center level is quieter, while the rooftop patio has DJs, a retractable roof, and multiple seating options.
Eat this: Tuna ceviche, cecina steak, huitlacoche enchilada
When to dine here: Lunch is the best deal around.
Arlington / French / $$$
The congenial team at Arlington’s Café Colline rightfully takes great pride in every dish served at their charming restaurant. Staff members, one after the next, exuberantly describe executive chef Brendan L’Etoile’s regional French cuisine with breathless detail. The cozy bistro came on Arlington’s restaurant scene in 2020 but found its footing once eat-in dining resumed at its lovely Langston Boulevard location. Masterfully prepared traditional French offerings are presented in an inviting setting with warm leather seating, a myriad of mirrors, and a stunning herringbone-patterned wood floor.
The crunchy (yet succulent) confit canard undergoes a meticulous three-step cooking process for the duck to reach perfection, accompanied by a medley of braised chard, wild rice, carrot purée, and sauce à l’orange. Moules-frites deliver dynamic flavor from steamed mussels adorned with a soothing, fennel-dominated broth. You wouldn’t be wrong to dip your crispy frites in the potent potion. Classic steak frites with béarnaise sauce may summon nostalgic memories of romantic Latin Quarter dinners.
Don’t skip dessert: Try pots de crème, skillfully created with Nutella and crushed chocolate cookies. It is, as they say, the crème de la crème. No wonder the amicable staff can’t say enough about how special this café is. After a visit, diners won’t be able to, either.
See this: Multicolored French bovine awards above the kitchen
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon, confit canard, steak frites, pots de crème
When to dine here: A special lunch may be a prelude to a future private group dinner in the cozy wine cellar.
Arlington / French / $$$
Tucked away in West Arlington lies this quaint restaurant reminiscent of the French countryside. For many, it is a welcome escape from the bustle of the city just a few miles away. It’s a place to pause, where a warm croissant or bowl of bouillabaisse can cure all ailments. Chef Jacques Imperato’s culinary repertoire aims to transport diners across the sea without going far from home.
Sumptuous Burgundy-style escargots are served sans shell, each topped with a buttery puff pastry for a delightfully light, bite-sized treat. The beef bourguignon is equally delectable with tender bits of beef, velvety soft potato gnocchi, pearl onions, and mushrooms bathed in the rich sauce that makes the dish beloved by so many. Even rainbow trout boasts French flair. It’s prepared in amandine style, referring to the toasted slivered almonds atop the flaky fish. And at brunch, both the croque madame and open-faced crêpes showcase ham and cheese in a way that only the French can.
Imperato never fails to prepare an exquisite meal worth remembering. And the best part is, you can leave La Côte d’Or Café knowing you don’t have to travel far to return to this small slice of France any time you like.
See this: For a sidewalk café ambiance, request a table in the yellow patio located off the main dining room.
Eat this: Croissant, warm brie, beef bourguignon, croque madame
When to dine here: Head here when you want to up your brunch game.
Arlington / Vietnamese / $$
There isn’t much physical evidence that Arlington’s Little Saigon, a Vietnamese enclave in Clarendon, ever existed. But one remaining business, Nam-Viet Restaurant, is still dishing out savory sustenance, just as it has been for more than three decades, while continuing to impress a new generation of diners.
Nam-Viet goes far beyond pho and fried rice, with fare like deep-fried pork belly that is so ideally seasoned, delightfully crispy, and lacking in grease that each meaty bite can stand on its own or be paired with the accompanying lemon-pepper sauce for an added zing. Salmon aficionados will savor every morsel of the generous portion of caramelized fish, served in a ceramic pot with fresh ginger, chiles, onion, and cilantro. Each forkful yields a slightly different yet equally vivid flavor.
Craft cocktails have modern twists, such as an old fashioned made with pandan-infused bourbon. The aromatic plant from Southeast Asia gives the cocktail its leafy green hue and unique flavor. For a zero-proof option, there’s a seasonal shrub, which promises something subtly sweet with a refreshing tang.
No matter what you choose, you can’t go wrong at Nam-Viet, where meals have stood the test of time.
See this: Stroll around the dining room to see some famous faces in the photos that line the walls.
Eat this: Anything marked “new” on the menu is bound to please.
When to dine here: You want a laid-back, filling meal away from the weekend brunch crowd.
Arlington / Southern / $$$
Folks hankering for fresh, flavor-packed American classics — barbecue or fried chicken, melt-in-your-mouth smoked brisket, mac and cheese, and other Southern staples — find it here. Chef-owner Matt Hill’s all-day menu taps into his North Carolina roots as deeply as his CIA training and fine-dining cred.
Flaky buttermilk biscuits are a must-order at any meal. The dinnertime biscuit board pairs the gems with cured ham; tangy, creamy pimiento cheese; and pantry relishes. Hearty Brunswick stew — a seldom-seen regional classic that’s chock-full of chicken, lima beans, sausage, and corn — is another compelling starter.
The enticing aroma of wood-smoked meats pervades the dining room, whetting appetites for robust servings of wood-fired chicken, pork ribs, steak, salmon, and trout, as well as duck. Guests order them the old-fashioned way as “meat and two or three.” The combo meals come with a choice of sides like pulled pork pinto beans and braised greens that are worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Meal-sized salads, fried chicken, and yellow fin tuna tartar are other popular choices.
Homey desserts are a treat —notably the seasonal cobbler with its chewy crust, succulent fruit, and melting cream. Just what you’d expect in a restaurant named for the chef-owner’s grandmother.
See this: A bright, cheerful, white- and green-accented room, with roomy booths and group-sized tables, plus a spacious patio equipped with heaters.
Eat this: Brunswick stew, succulent smoked chicken with baked beans as a side, seasonal cobbler
When to dine here: You have an appetite for American classics delivered in solid comfort at value-driven prices.
Arlington / Spanish / $$$
A bit of theater can make for a memorable evening. That’s exactly what the shared plates at this handsome, convivial Ballston Spanish restaurant offer.
A versatile kitchen produces a wide range of regional specialties. It’s hard to resist the allure of the crispy roast pig, presented in huge chunks for two or four. Dramatically chopped for serving with the edge of a plate, it’s a must-have for group dining. The whole rabbit is another show-stopper. It’s marinated overnight and baked low and slow, then given a crispy finish. A touch of apricot purée adds a sweet-salty interplay.
And, of course, there is paella. The portion for two could feed a family, and there are meat, seafood, and vegetable variations. A constant is perfectly textured, crispy rice to scoop from the bottom of the pan.
The tapas selection is also worth exploring. It ranges from the familiar, such as a moist, softly textured tortilla (potato omelet), to the ambitious, including greaseless, perfectly fried shark bites bathed in aromatics and green herbs.
Desserts are expertly crafted, too. Manchego cheesecake, a house specialty, offers a beautifully textured, not-too-sweet take on the classic. The chocolate soufflé is special, as well. It’s all part of a show that shouldn’t be missed.
See this: Dramatic food presentations — Iberico ham sliced from a classy rack, roast pig chopped tableside, paella sizzling in the pan — make a meal a special occasion.
Eat this: Cazón en adobo, cochinillo asado, paella
When to dine here: You have a group (or a hungry date) ready to share the best of what Spain has to offer.
Arlington / Italian / $$$
There’s more than pasta to draw diners to this Rosslyn destination. Top-flight mozzarella, salads, and choice fish and meat entrées tempt, too. But widely acclaimed chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi sure does have a way with thinly rolled dough.
The pasta tasting option, an indulgent invitation to order three of the dozen or so choices to share family-style, is enticing. The housemade pasta choices pair a dizzying variety of shapes with mouthwatering sauces. Classics like the pappardelle with ragù Bolognese mate broad noodles with a rich, meaty sauce. Seafood — razor and surf clams in a lush, briny essence — enhances pillow-like bites of casarecce. Filled pastas, most notably the lush goat cheese–filled ravioli San Leo sparked with lemon and herbs, are further evidence of the kitchen’s artistry. Come early and watch the pasta maker at work in the windowed display kitchen.
Consider beginning a meal with the mozzarella bar, a mix-and-match adventure of rich, creamy cheese paired with prosciutto or vegetable relishes and an irresistible grilled flatbread called piadina. Other appealing non-pasta choices include succulent meatballs with polenta or moist, flaky fish accented with a seasonal vegetable ragù. Just make sure to pair them with some noodles.
See this: Set in the atrium of an office building, the deceptively spacious white and crimson setting oozes the casual chic of Milan, with oversize custom fixtures hanging from rustic beams and stylized poster art.
Eat this: Mozzarella bar, pasta tasting, and vanilla gelato, backed by an espresso
When to dine here: Date-night duos find it worth the cost and calories; it’s also a premier choice for an indulgent lunch.
Arlington / Seafood / $$$
Seafood classics take on new life in Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood. Diners flock to the lively second location of a DC favorite for extensive patio dining, fusing the Chesapeake bounty with New England favorites.
Order the crispy octopus to start. The inventive dish serves one impressive tentacle on a bed of blistered shishito peppers, fingerlings, pomegranate, crushed almonds, and oranges. Clam chowder fans will savor The Salt Line’s version, just the right consistency and brimming with traditional ingredients.
Seafood lovers dive into Portuguese stew, a rich cioppino-like dish packed with meaty mussels, clams, flavorful chorizo, potatoes, and market fish in a fennel-infused elixir. A massive slice of grilled sourdough soaks up extra broth.
Try the creatively presented swordfish on a bed of lemony Broccolini and carrot hummus, topped with a peanut-sesame crunch. Lobster rolls are available with traditional dressing or just butter and pack indulgent flavor into every bite.
For an unusual dessert, experience black tea panna cotta. The refreshing treat combines lemon curd, strawberry sorbet, grilled nectarines, and crushed Nilla wafers for a “somehow it works” creation.
Helpful servers offer fresh local oysters in a range of sizes, prices, and salinity. They’re all delightful options for an oyster lover’s paradise. This is the place to get a serious seafood fix and feel stylish doing it.
See this: A fabulous outdoor bar attracts passersby who are greeted inside by New England–influenced touches.
Eat this: Lobster roll, Portuguese stew, baked pimiento crab dip
When to go: Crowds flock after work for cocktails and healthy (and not-so-healthy) fare.
Arlington / Japanese / $$$$
A dreamlike sushi experience in his youth inspires chef and co-owner Saran Kannasute’s high-end fare at this vibrant venue. Here, he transforms luxurious ingredients like uni, toro, wagyu beef, caviar, and foie gras into multicourse dinners. Diners can order these cleverly conceived creations individually, as well as more traditional nigiri and rolls.
A colorful mural over the sushi counter dominates the buzzy, modernist space. Counter seats offer a mesmerizing opportunity to watch the chefs in action. The metamorphosis of a Canadian lobster into a parade of flavors and textures begins with a sake shooter in which bob tiny bits of the lobster’s brain. The claws, filled with a flavor-packed miso-butter-garlic paste are briefly torched for texture. Succulent tail meat is lined up in bite-size pieces on the shell. Raw claw meat is presented on a minty shiso leaf.
Luxury ingredients invite indulgence. Freshly delivered from Japan, the briny melt of sea urchin, accented by truffle wasabi, becomes irresistible sushi bites. Likewise, a vertical tasting of umami-rich, fatty tuna — from the cheek and two parts of the belly — is presented as delectable sushi. It’s not a dream, but it sure tastes like one.
See this: A vibrant scene dominated by a graffiti-inspired mural and the room-spanning sushi counter below.
Eat this: Let the chefs do their magic with whatever luxury ingredients have arrived that day
When to dine here: You and your companion are in the mood for raw (or seared) indulgence.
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