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Restaurant Talk: Where We Eat (and Drink)

by Nick Freshman — February 15, 2013 at 9:45 am 1,389 56 Comments

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner ofSpider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon.

Restaurants in ClarendonThis is a column just begging to get picked apart. I could mention a Peruvian chicken place and start a war between the Super Pollo fanatics and Pollo Rico acolytes. Name a kebab joint and the Ravi rowdies will have at it with the Kabob Palace crazies. I came up with the idea for this column, then thought to myself: Maybe this is a bad idea.

What the hell. Anything that gets us all talking more about the places in the community we value is a good thing. And to beat the commentators to the punch: This is an absolutely biased list. Our bias.

The fact is we in the industry don’t go out to eat much. Between long hours, late nights and tight budgets, most servers, bartenders and cooks don’t have a lot of time or money for dining out. That said, there are a few spots in the county where you are almost guaranteed to run into the server who took care of you the night before. These places tend to be cheap, casual and almost always have a bar. At many the food is terrific; at others, the drinks are the draw.

What follows is a list of our crew’s favorites. Most are close to work, and there are no doubt many great places not mentioned. This is not supposed to be a comprehensive list, nor a list of the best spots; it’s just our list.

El Charrito Caminante Taqueria

First off, it’s closed on Tuesdays. I have no idea why Tuesday, but I guess they have to close sometime. The parking is tough and the service attentive but, um, brief, and there may be no better place that fits the descriptor “no frills,” but the tacos here are the best. It’s cheap, fast and authentic, and since it’s right on my way to work, I often stop to pick up a bag of tacos for the gang. Other than the namesake product, go for the Yucca con Chicharron–salty fried pork cubes with crispy yucca–and an orange soda. Oh, and bring cash.

Pho 75

Service with a smile? Don’t count on it. And if you really appreciate the sumptuous decor at Eventide, then drive right by this place. But the pho is incredible, the portions huge and the prices cheap. And if you have a double shift ahead, you can order a Vietnamese coffee which will have your heart surging out of your chest by the time you leave.

Nam-Viet

The spot on Hudson Street that separates this classic Vietnamese spot from the back doors of Eventide and Spider Kelly’s is well-worn. Most of the time, we place multiple orders for multiple people pre-shift. We almost always get it to go, but I see a number of our staff, and staff from neighborhood spots, dining in on their days off. The food is great either way, but sitting down gets you the benefit of consistently good service. Crispy spring rolls wrapped in lettuce are a huge hit amongst our crew and the pho always warms us up, but my favorite is #61: the Pad “Thoi.”

O’Sullivan’s. Or, as we like to call it, The Office.

I asked five or six of our guys what they like to eat there, and I got a number of answers that ranged from “I’ve never eaten there” to “Jameson shots.” So, here is a shout out to the ultimate insider watering hole. Always open and always friendly, our neighbor to the west takes great care of our staff when they want a chance to be on the other side of the bar. Stop by late on a Sunday or Monday night and you’ll get a taste of Arlington’s “industry” crowd. We’ll see what the recent renovations bring; more business for them, I’m sure.

Jay’s Saloon

Twenty years ago (gasp), Kathy hired me as a server one summer so I could make money for college, and my career in the business officially began. At the time I figured it was a temporary thing, but had I listened to my instincts, I’d have known this was where I really wanted to be. It’s still there, and so is its gracious owner. Cold beer, cheap prices; the latter is hard to find in Clarendon, which makes it a favorite for insiders. Kick back on the patio with a pitcher and you get a sense of what Clarendon was like before the explosion.

Other mentions:

Italian Store

Come by at 3:30pm, before we open, and you will often see a bartender sitting at a stool trying to get through a huge Italian sub. The slices are always nice as well.

Northside Social

Just great coffee. And we drink a lot of coffee. Well, really, I drink a lot of coffee. When the night drags on, it’s nice to know they are open late and the coffee is always fresh.

Green Pig

The new bistro with a nose-to-tail focus is a hit with the staff when they want a grown-up dinner.

Even though we often have the inside track on what’s good to eat and drink in town, we also only have limited time to poke around. Is there somewhere we’re missing? Let me know.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

  • LP

    Great list and couldn’t agree more with your choices, except for Green Pig Bistro. As much as I want to love this place, I just can’t love the food (even though I’ve tried 4+ times).

    With that being said, it’s still a great bar and a nice change of pace from other Clarendon watering holes.

    • Maitreya0208

      That’s a drag. I’ve been there twice, and I thought it was great both times. I like the place….I’m surprised to find that I actually want other people to like it, too.

      Jay’s? I’ll see you all there.

    • VisitArrakis

      I’ve really been enjoying Applebees as of late

  • drax

    “This is a column just begging to get picked apart.”

    Wow, you really know your audience well, Nick.

    • newty25

      Yeah… Pho 75 is the only game in town. I wouldn’t recommend Pho 75 to anyone unless they wanted pho and it had to be in the RB corridor. By all accounts, it’s decent, but it’s worth the drive out to Eden Center or Falls Church for much better options.

      • Eden Boy

        10000% agree. Pho 75 and Nam Viet are terrible. Go to Eden or anywhere in Falls Church to get actual Vietnamese food. I wouldn’t recommend Nam Viet to my worst enemy, it gives Vietnamese food a bad name. The pho there is flavorless.

  • Captain Obvious

    The problem with this list is that the author admits he goes to Jay’s and O’Sullivan’s to drink, not to eat. The food at both places is execrable.

    • ArlingtonNative

      Which is probably why they go there to drink. Some times it is more about a well poured Guinness or an icy cold pitcher on a hot day … and not having to share the bar with someone bitching about the food being ‘execrable’.

      • MC 703

        ^^ This

      • Chuck Smith

        It’s more often then not about where they know they are going to get an industry discount. Nothing wrong with that, just sayin.

        • Matt

          Ah the age old myth of the industry hook up. If only the tip l left didn’t cover the missing part of the bill plus some.

          • Chuck Smith

            It’s usually a little of both.

    • Deadite

      I don’t see how that’s problematic at all. Did you not notice the parenthetical aside in the headline? He’s listing some great places to eat and some great places to catch a buzz. Sometimes those things are mutually exclusive and he was clear to point that out.

    • Doug

      Which is why the headline says ‘Where We Eat (And Drink)’ !

    • Swag

      Liquid diet ftw.

    • Maitreya0208

      The food at Jay’s isn’t THAT bad. It is, admittedly, “utility” food. But I would never go so far as to call is “execrable”. Then again, I’ve never tried ordering it outside of weekend days and weekday happy hours.

    • John Fontain

      The food at Jay’s is actually great. You don’t go there for gourmet, but if you’re looking for a great steak and cheese, burger, grilled cheese sandwich, nachos, etc., it’s really good. And the prices are very fair.

  • Regular234

    Great ideas for staff to go afar and find good drink and food. Because there are few things more annoying than going into your favorite watering hole and finding the majority of the stools taken up by staff about to come on or just after getting cut.

  • AA

    Uh, alcohol is made from gains. A major food group I believe

    • novasteve

      Not all alcohol is made from granes, take grappa, wine, brandy for example. I guess if you consider sugarcane a grain, as it’s a form of grass, then rum technically might be considered a grain. Potato vodka isn’t made from a grain either. Mead isn’t made from a grain either. List could go on and on.

      • dr seuss

        Cmon Steve, that was a friendly attempt at humor.

        • drax

          Way to get the joke, steve.

          • Jon

            Do not feed the trolls.

  • dr seuss

    That is a great list for the Courthouse-Clarendon area, no doubt. And great job with Eventide, btw. Spider Kelly’s is a great hangout spot too.

    • CW

      I can understand Nick’s obvious professionalism in not plugging his own place, but I’ll do it for him – I love half-price burger night at SK’s!

    • Tchu2dive

      I agree but he did talk about being arlingontians. Right? No mention of lower Arlington? No mention of the Ballston neighborhood? Industry staff is all about after work locations to drink and unwind, Late night food spots, and lunch locations. I feel he hits these except for Late night food. Bob and Edith’s should have been on the list.

      • it’s probably a timing thing

        If they’re off at 12-1AM, and if they’re living close to where they work; they’re likely to stay that close so they can eat/drink and walk back home the same way they would otherwise and save $$, time, tickets/safety on transport… I’m a native arlingtonian, but I grew up in North Arlington, when I’m in South Arlington obviously I’ve gone to a ton of places in SA, but when I’m near home or I’ve worked in the area closest to where I live, I don’t go out of my way to get there late at night after work. Now, late at night after a night out with friends on a night off of work is another story. :)

  • CW

    This is a great, great list. If you had asked me to write my list from scratch, it would be 80% overlap. I am big on the concept of value and these are all places where you can get a lot of great food for relatively little money. Even Green Pig, the most expensive of these, is a good deal compared to other places doing the whole “farm to table” thing – and the quality is way up there.

  • Ashton Heights

    Good choices. I’ll give Nam-Viet a try; have never been there. I happen to love Green Pig. We’ve been there twice now, so perhaps I’m missing something, but so far all is good. Kale Caesar. Fabulous bruschetta with white beans and lardons (it’s beans with bacon on toast, when you get right down to it). Tastes like it’s not made hours in advance; what I appreciate is that it seems super fresh — recently made, and thoughtfully put together. Also enjoying the new Indian place by Gala Furniture on Wash Blvd.

    • Clarendon

      I’ve got to try that new Indian place – have heard people plug it before. It’s not much to look at and not sure there is any place to sit down but if they can make good spicy Indian, I’m there. Its Masala Express I think.

      Nam-Viet was the only Vietnamese place I didn’t go often when Clarendon had Cafe Dalat, Little Viet Garden, Queen Bee, etc. I’ve had the Pho and some grilled Salmon that was good but also was disappointed with some pork dish. Will try the #61…

      Nam-Viet really is one of the very few places left from the 70′s-90′s Clarendon.

  • Hank

    I like the fact that Nick gives props to other restaurants that might be considered competitors for food or drink. Makes me like Eventide even more.

    • CourthouseChris

      Figured he had to after the last column where he just ragged on food trucks.

  • Anthony

    This list is so far off. Only good for those who work in Clarendon

    • Deadite

      Well he does own two restaurants in Clarendon and built this list mainly off of where he and his staff go to eat and unwind. This one of many misplaced criticisms I’ve seen on this thread so far. Did anyone actually read the article or did everyone just look at the names of the restaurants he listed and commence bashing?

      • Doug

        Exactly, I didn’t see anywhere in the headline or the article where it said that this was the definitive list of places to eat in Arlington County.

  • Arlington, SSR

    I see a lot of industry people at First Down, Front Page, and Bailey’s over in Ballston.

    • JamesE

      Buffalo chicken tacos at First Down are basically the best thing ever.

  • OnlyAsianInClarendon

    While I appreciate the love for Pho 75, it’s sub-par pho. I genuinely mean that. Walk into the restaurant any weekend and observe how many Vietnamese folks are there (this includes their other locations). The broth lacks any depth.

    A stone’s throw away, I highly recommend Pho Hai Duong in Eden. Go where those born in home-kitchens brewing with this magical broth go.

    Sincerely,

    Only Viet guy in Clarendon

    • DeportEmAll

      Eden Center is not a “stone’s throw” from Pho 75.

      • OnlyAsianInClarendon

        DeportEmAll: Thank you for your substantial contribution to the thread.

        • Jason

          Have to agree with Deport on this one, Eden center is quite a hike from the Clarendon area and not very metro accessbile. If you have time and transportation available to you I can’t argue you’ll find better options out there, but that’s doesn’t fit with the theme of this story.

  • Frank Tomago

    Did you really have to post these right between breakfast and lunch?? Now I’m starving. Great picks though!

  • BettyBoop

    Masala Express, the new Indian Carry-out on Pershing Drive between Wash. and Arlington Blvds is an excellent addition to the area and the owners are super friendly and give generous portions and tastes to new customers.

    • Maitreya0208

      +1. Masala Express is awesome.

  • JimPB

    Thanks for an informative and stimulating column.

  • n00bbanker

    I’m bummed El Charrito Caminante is being outed. Am I naive for thinking it’s a secret?

    • Maitrea0208

      I don’t think El Charrito Caminante is a secret. They’ve been in business in the same storefront for 10 years, and they had a very successful food truck prior to that. They’ve made a lot of lists and articles over the years, and nothing has changed. The crowds are the same, the food is the same, even the prices are (mostly) the same. A taco was $2.00 in 2003, and it is 2.00 in 2013. One change, however, is that now they charge sales tax separately, and it used to be included in the advertised price.

      • Maitreya0208

        Anyway…my point is, don’t be bummed. They will still be the same tomorrow and the day after.

  • JAY

    I asked jose at el charrito why tuesdays when he started closing once a week. He gets a lot of customers with hangovers on Monday, and Tuesday is less busy than Monday. JAY, dcfud.com.

  • atozwriter

    Someone mentioned the kale Caesar at Green Pig. I am dying to know who the $#%@ decided kale was in this year. I hate it, and I’ve been seeing untold number of recipes involving kale.

  • PlainJane

    Pho 75 is where I go for breakfast when I have a cold or flu. The first time was after an early morning doctor’s appointment when I was feeling miserable, and I quipped to my Vietnamese-American doctor that I sure would welcome a bowl of pho. She told me Pho 75 was open, so I went. There were plenty of customers there — including many who were perfectly healthy and just love to start their day with pho!

    • Bulldogddev

      Pho is actually a breakfast food in Vietnam. Hence, why authentic pho houses open early and close early.

      -Vietnanamese dude

  • Ballston

    Don’t knock the food at The Office. It’s quite good and reasonable.

  • Justin

    Earls Sandwiches. Best beef chili in Arlington.

    • Miss Steff’s

      I went to Earl’s two times and never again. Something was wrong with the HVAC or grill venting system both times; a faint but awful smell of exhaust permeated the little place. And the sandwiches didn’t have super fresh ingred.s like the place that used to be there. Has it changed?

  • Jeff

    The only Pho 75 worth going to is the one on Graham Rd. in Falls Church

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