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.
Five Guys may be a large burger chain now with over 1,000 locations, but they got their start right here in Arlington. Five Guys continues to have a heavy presence throughout the DMV area with several locations in the District, in addition to locations at Reagan National Airport and in Arlington, Hyattsville, Kensington, Bethesda, Fairfax, Potomac, Alexandria, McLean, and Annandale. While the “better burger” market has become saturated in recent years by new offerings like Smashburger and Shake Shack, Five Guys was the first of the “better burger” chains I tried and I still think it’s one of the best. For starters, the burger (despite the fact that you can’t order it less than well-done) is always flavorful and juicy (some people might say it’s greasy, but I find it delicious). And there’s a large selection of toppings- I always get a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, pickles and ketchup. The fries are tasty (if you like them with the skins left on) and I love that they serve free peanuts while you wait. The wait is usually pretty brief (rarely as long as at Shake Shack. Be aware that Five Guys doesn’t do much other than burgers and fries; they do have hot dogs (I’ve never tried one) but you can’t get a veggie burger. They’ll make you a sandwich of veggies on a bun, but that doesn’t sound too appetizing. Since I love burgers and I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t really care. Some Five Guys serve breakfast, which is basic, but tasty. You can get a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich or add a burger patty to that for an extra charge (and extra calories). They do have coffee but it’s pretty meh (what did you expect?).
Sweetgreen is a fast casual salad restaurant chain that began in the DC area in 2007. It has various locations throughout DC and the suburbs, including in Foggy Bottom, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, Crystal City, Ballston, College Park, Silver Spring, McLean, Tysons, Fairfax and Reston. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not often eat salads because I almost never feel full after eating them. The salads at Sweetgreen are no exception in this regard, but they are very tasty and innovative. I can totally see the appeal of this place for those who do like salads, so I am rating it based on that. I ordered a seasonal specialty called the Umami Grain Bowl, which was healthy and delicious (though I was of course still hungry after). There are numerous other inventive salad choices, such as the “Rad Thai,” which is a Thai-inspired salad with shrimp. For those counting calories, however, be warned that some of the salads are highly caloric- the winner in this regard is the “Earth Bowl,” which packs a whopping 775 calories (as a comparison, a Big Mac contains 563 calories). Of course, there’s a lot more to healthy eating than calories, and there is certainly far more nutrition in Sweetgreen’s food than in Mc Donalds’. Sweetgreen also has delicious house made fountain drinks and everything (aside from the reusable bowl) is compostable. Sweetgreen gets major points for offering nutritious, environmentally conscious food in a casual, bright atmosphere. It just isn’t a filling enough meal for me
Flaky samsas (or sambusas as they’re called in Tajikistan) are a satisfying comfort food.
RuzUz is an Uzbek and Russian Restaurant located at 1000 N Randolph St in Ballston. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent a summer in Tajikistan, which has food that is very similar to Uzbek food. I have a soft spot for the region’s cuisine, and have only tried their Uzbek food, not their Russian food. I recommend their mantoo (meat dumplings), samsas (ground meat samosas), compot (a sweet, refreshing fruit drink) and plov (rice pilaf with lamb and carrots). The food is hearty and satisfying, though nothing fancy. Service is good, and the decor is pleasant, featuring scenes from Uzbekistan and the traditional Central Asian blue and white china that is in the design of a cotton plant. The place is good, though I must admit I gave it five stars partially because it is so nice to have a place to go for solid Central Asian fare in the DC area. It’s definitely worth a trip for those looking to try new cuisines.
Pictured here are plov (called “osh plov” simply “osh” in Tajik, which means “rice food”) is the traditional banquet dish of Central Asia. It is heavy, oily and satisfying. There is a traditional side salad as well, plus compot, a sweet fruit drink.