Aladdin Restaurant, located in a Bangladeshi strip mall in Arlington’s Yorktown section at 5169 Lee Hwy, was my first foray into Bangladeshi food. For the Indian/Pakistani food lover, a lot of the food here will be familiar: there are samosas, kabobs, lamb vindaloo and even chicken tikka masala.
However, the must-try dish here and the specialty of the house is the kacchi biryani, which takes hours to make and is only served on Saturday. Aladdin Restaurant’s website said to call ahead to ensure that kacchi biryani was available but I simply lucked out and it was on the menu the Saturday that I went. This unique biryani is made by cooking marinated baby goat, lamb and chicken under a bed of uncooked rice in the oven, such that everything is cooked at once. This makes the rice extra flavorful and is the reason this dish takes so long to prepare.
At Aladdin Restaurant, a mere $13 will score you a generous plate of this extra-flavorful biryani, made with lots of TLC. This is a true, home-cooked soul food and I’m sure a place like Rasika would charge an arm and a leg for the privilege of eating it off one of their gold plates. As you might imagine, the décor at Aladdin Restaurant is basically nonexistent, but that’s not what you’re here for.
At first glance, this small, storefront Thai restaurant in Arlington looks like a run of the mill Thai restaurant. But look more closely, and you’ll notice signs that this is no ordinary Thai restaurant. The picture on the wall, for instance, is of people on horseback on a steppe with a yurt. That’s because the owners of Thai Eatery aren’t Thai at all but are, in fact, Mongolian and this is a spot that (in addition to an extensive Thai menu that I didn’t try) serves up authentic Mongolian food. How did I know that? Well, I probably would just have bypassed this place as just another Americanized Thai restaurant had it not been for the fact that a college classmate of mine lived in Mongolia for a time and tipped me off about the place. I ordered raisin juice to drink, which is a traditional and refreshing Mongolian beverage. In case you’re wondering what raisin juice is, you’re not alone. I, too, couldn’t fathom how a dry raisin could produce juice, so I looked it up. It turns out that it’s made by soaking raisins in water and then evaporating the excess liquid.
For food, I ordered khuushuur, which are fried dumplings filled with juicy beef, and a bit of broth, making them reminiscent of soup dumplings, but fried. An interesting Mongolian tradition is the belief that holding warm khuushuur between your hands will boost circulation thereby promoting health. I’m not sure there have been scientific studies showing whether the boosted circulation offsets the artery-clogging that is sure to occur from eating these. Either way, they are delicious (but very heavy).
Thai Eatery certainly isn’t fancy, but it’s a solid place to grab a tasty and reasonably-priced Mongolian meal.
Thai Eatery is located at 1926 Wilson Blvd in Arlington.
Yemen may be the poorest country in the Middle East, but it is blessed with a rich culture, ancient history and some of the region’s best food. House of Mandi, located in the Brockwood section of Arlington, serves up fantastic Yemeni food in a beautiful space with friendly service. I ordered two dishes to share with my Afghan friend, who commented that (despite the distance between Afghanistan and Yemen) the food reminded her of her mother’s cooking. The first dish was (shocker) mandi, which consisted of beautifully tender and flavorful lamb with rice. The second was lamb bormah, a hot pot of slow-cooked lamb served with rice and bread cooked in a tandoor, much like Indian naan. Though House of Mandi is a bit of a trek for those living in DC, it is well worth it and I highly recommend it.
House of Mandi is located at 5515 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA.
Cassatt’s, a cute little cafe in Arlington, is the lone representative of Kiwi cuisine in the DC area. What is the cuisine of New Zealand, you ask? Food today in New Zealand is diverse and reflects influences from the Pacific Rim, as well as from the UK. However, the first British settlers in New Zealand ate a hearty meat-heavy diet and Cassatt’s honors this by providing a wide selection of savory and delicious New Zealand-style meat pies. My lamb pie was very tasty, and paired with a glass of New Zealand pinot noir, was a wonderfully satisfying meal for a summer Friday evening. Very friendly service rounded out a solid dining experience.
Cassatt’s is located at 4536 Lee Hwy in the Waverly Hills section of Arlington.
I must admit that I’ve been known to bash Moroccan food a bit. While I’m a big fan of Tunisian food, Moroccan food’s spicier and more seafood-oriented cousin, I tend to lampoon the national dish of Morocco, the tagine. Tagines are an overcooked stew of generally under-seasoned meat and vegetables and as a food, are highly overrated. So at Magazan, I did not order a tagine but instead stuck to two Moroccan foods that I actually like: harira and bastilla. Harira is a lentil soup, which is tough to mess up too badly. Mine was pretty average, though I didn’t find any small pieces of lamb in it, a usual component. I also ordered the chicken bastilla, pastry filled with chicken and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The sweet/savory combination turns some people off to bastilla, but I really like it. In Morocco, bastilla is just as commonly made with pigeon, and while I was not surprised that pigeon wasn’t an option at Magazan, it would’ve been cool. Nevertheless, Magazin’s bastilla was delicious and beautifully presented.
The major flaw with Magazan, at least in my experience there, was the service. I went in the late afternoon when the restaurant was nearly empty and plenty of staff were there. Nonetheless, my server, while pleasant, was relatively inattentive and slow to take my order. They also brought me the wrong menu (a cheaper menu of lunch specials first) before apologizing and bringing me the dinner menu, because the lunch deals ended earlier despite the fact that I was still there at an off-hour and far too early for dinner. This place has the makings of being great; the food is tasty and the decor is sleek, but the service needs an upgrade.
Magazan is located at 2901 Columbia Pike in the Westmont neighborhood of Arlington, VA.
Rappahannock Coffee is a cozy, though not flashy, coffee shop that roasts its own beans in house. It has a bit of a faded feel to it, but I appreciated the fact that even though I was there on a Saturday, it wasn’t especially crowded and I could easily find a seat. That is not the case at many of the coffee shops in the DMV area. The menu is small and fairly basic, but this place gets the job done. It’s not the sort of coffee shop that I would make a destination out of (there are some, like Qualia Coffee, that I will go out of my way to go to) but if you’re in the area, it’s solid.
Rappahannock Coffee is located at 2406 Columbia Pike in the Pennrose section of Arlington.
The DC area is known for its profusion of Ethiopian spots, including markets, restaurants and coffee shops, but what makes Dama Pastry and Cafe (a market, restaurant and coffee shop all rolled into one) especially interesting is that you can sample Ethiopian pastries there. Ethiopia doesn’t really have much in the way of desserts, aside from Italian imports like tiramisu, but Ethiopia does have some breakfast pastries (which also appear to be Italian in origin, but which Ethiopians have made there own). At Dama Pastry and Cafe you can enjoy a delicious coffee while gorging yourself on a large Ethiopian-style bombolonas (donut of Italian origin) or Ethiopian fried dough called pasti. The bombolonas is tasty, but only lightly sweet.
Dama Pastry and Cafe is located at 1505 Columbia Pike in Foxcroft Heights, Arlington.
Pho 75 is a Vietnamese restaurant located at 1721 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, with multiple other locations throughout the DMV area. Don’t expect to get a Banh Mi sandwich here. They only serve pho (17 different varieties) and you can choose your size (regular or large). The regular costs only $6.20 and is a very hearty portion as is. This is one of those places that takes a no-frills, no-nonsense, utilitarian approach. If you are alone (as I was) you will be seated at a long table next to a stranger. Decor is sparse and service is about nothing more than bringing the delicious pho to you as quickly as possible. Upon the recommendation of my server, I ordered the #12, which comes wth slices of steak and brisket in it. It was absolutely delicious. Once you finish eating, you simply pay at the counter and go on your way. For a hearty meal at a great price, it’s hard to beat Pho 75.
Boccato Gelato & Espresso is a gelato shop and coffee house located at 2719 Wilson Blvd in Arlington. It is a spacious coffee shop with a cozy atmosphere and plenty of seating. Since it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I ordered a chocolate Guinness-flavored gelato which was a cool concept. The gelato itself was a bit too icy and not creamy enough for my taste, but my latte was good. Overall this is a solid coffee shop in Arlington to hang out in and work in.
The Java Shack is (unsurprisingly) a small coffee house located in Arlington at 2507 Franklin Road. It is a small, sparsely decorated place without a lot of seating. I went on a chilly, rainy day and didn’t manage to snag a seat inside. Mercifully, the outdoor patio has heat lamps, which helped a bit. They do have a few cool and cleverly-named coffee drinks (including “Java the Nut,” which is pretty funny. Otherwise, it’s a pretty average and small spot, but I root for any and all independent coffee shops.