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Chez Manelle: Unique and Friendly, But Is It Tasty?

by ARLnow.com July 22, 2010 at 11:22 am 1,655 12 Comments

Arlington is home to a relatively new establishment that may be the country’s only restaurant dedicated exclusively to Tunisian cuisine (at least the only one with a web presence and decent SEO).

Chez Manelle (2313 Wilson Blvd) opened in Courthouse late last year. It is a small, independently operated eatery, with a unique vibe, a unique menu and some good old-fashioned friendly service.

It’s a bit of a hole in the wall, just off the Courthouse main drag and well down the road from Clarendon. The front of the restaurant — a two-tone awning amid beige stone brick — does not do the interior justice. The owners have added planters and some outdoor seating, but making the place look like the unique ethnic restaurant it actually is seems to be an uphill battle.

The restaurant has fared well on Yelp, getting high marks for all the reasons stated above. But one particular complaint seems to resurface among the few negative reviews: bland, greasy food.

The blog DC Dives recently posted a review of Chez Manelle, and came to the same conclusion. Here’s an excerpt.

When reviewing restaurants I have tried to avoid making definitive factual statements, because after all my review is just my opinion. However, with Chez Manelle I can say as fact that it is unquestionably the best Tunisian restaurant in the DC area. Sadly it’s not because of its great food, but because it is the ONLY Tunisian restaurant in the area. Located in Clarendon near the courthouse metro, the restaurant is ideally located, yet when we arrived at 8:00 the only people in the restaurant were the 4-5 waiters standing around watching TV. That should have been our first hint, but we decided to go ahead and order several appetizers and a couple of main entrees.

Read the rest of the review here.

We’d love to see Chez Manelle stick around long enough to perfect its food offerings. Amid the influx of pizza restaurants, burger joints and bakeries, the value of having such a unique spot in town should not be overlooked.

  • LP

    Haven’t eaten there, but walked by yesterday on my way to pick up some carry-out from Archa Thai (now Corner Thai) and there were a handful of people sitting outside at lunch.

    Maybe the lunch crowd is more of their scene?

  • Texas Wahoo

    Just don’t go there when someone the owner (manager?) appears to know will be dining there. We ordered our meals and waited…and waited…and waited some more. Meanwhile, the table next to us (which got there after us) was served dish after dish and employees kept asking how they liked it. After we had waited about an HOUR AND A HALF, a waiter finally came and asked my friend if he had ordered the beef or the lamb. They had not even started cooking our food yet and the table next to us had been served three courses! We voiced our displeasure and walked out at that point. It sure doesn’t seem like a good business strategy to serve tables preferentially.

  • peachy

    This place has gotten good reviews on DC Chowhounds, a site with established credibility. I have traveled in Tunisia, and Chez Manelle compares favorably with what I ate there. The DC Dives reviewer is way off base.

  • MC

    My wife also says to me: running a restaurant is tough. So I have a lot of empathy for anyone trying to do something on their own like this, especially a new venture.

    I have been there for lunch — my biggest compliant oddly was the the olives in my sandwich weren’t pitted, and I wasn’t expecting that.

    I encourage folks to give it a try, don’t have over-hyped expectations or pre-negative ones, just see if you like certain things, and politely give the management constructive feedback on what’s good and less good. They will succeed if they solicit feedback and take it on board. It is certainly the kind of business I would like to see succeed.

  • BD

    I love the Tunisian Platter — it’s neither greasy nor bland. Problem is, it’s not on the menu, it’s on the display behind the counter — point it out to your waiter, and you’ll get a really good meal.

  • ZW

    Not really sure what the DC Dives review is talking about, I’ve never had a greasy meal at Chez Manelle. And the quality for the price makes it a favorite of ours in Court House. If you want spicy food with really intense flavors, go and get Thai/Indian. If you want unique foods with subtle yet well-done flavors, go to Chez Manelle.

  • TGEoA

    This “review” of some ethinic food is similar to my review of the iPhone 4.

    It’s great! Except for the part where you use it as a phone.

  • sjkalish

    I really liked Chez Manelle. They provide food in new and interesting ways. I never thought of cumin on my french fries and loved it. I’ve never had a bad meal there…it’s one of my favorites around courthouse…but I agree with the comment above…totally surprised to have pits in my olives in the sandwich. Kinda scary…but now that I know..I’m careful. And it was delicious!

  • First of all let me thank all those with positive feed back. I am happy you like our food and enjoy it and hope you will continue being satisfied. For those who had some bad experiences, I deeply apologize for anything that was done wrong. This is my first restaurant and I am doing my absolute best to make it as welcoming as possible, and try to guarantee our customers’ satisfaction as much as we humanely can. I absolutely am sorry to the group that left, we do not treat any customer any better than any other. As a matter of fact, we never even knew the Washingtonian Magazine nor the the Washington Post staff members that dined with us or any other bloggers that had experienced our restaurant. As you may know, you can almost never keep the same waiters all the time especially during summer break, I am coming to learn. I was told about the incident, and I had to let go of the waiter that caused that incident. Sorry again! I also have taken in consideration the complaints about the olives, and the issue is now resolved. As for the greasy food part, that is one thing I cannot agree with at all, and will not apologize for. I take pride in the quality of food we serve. We use olive oil for almost everything we make. I am very health conscious and greasy foods are my first enemy and I would not serve something I would not eat myself. We can only fix a problem if we know about it, so, please any feedback is highly appreciated and will be given prompt attention. You can always go to our website and email me to guarantee I get your message. Thank you all again.

    • Chedlia,
      Thanks for keeping us updated, and thanks for responding openly and honestly to the criticism. As noted in the article, most reviews were positive — but I think customers will appreciate that you’re not ignoring the negative.

    • MB

      It’s great to see this kind of owner response to feedback. I’ll be stopping by to check things out.

  • AK

    We loved it. The owners were lovely and the food was very well done. Agree with the comment about the food’s uniqueness, and disagree that it was greasy (can olive oil get greasy?). This gave me plenty to munch on, olives included, and plenty to come back to. Rosewater makes baklava sing. The man and woman who run the place were great, and the atmosphere was relaxed and homestyle, which defeats snazzy or hip any day.

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