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.
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?).