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“Joe’s is the past, A Modo Mio is now!”

These are the words from Rosario, part owner of what used to be Joe’s Pizza Place, but is now A Modo Mio.

Joe’s made a name for itself and became a community favorite with its pizza, pasta, subs and most memorably, their buffet. Fast forward to 2020, with Covid in full effect, the restaurant changed its name, concept and menu to stay alive.

A Modo Mio was born.

Located at 5555 Langston Boulevard, A Modo Mio stands as a location serving its community authentic Italian cuisine.

“A Modo Mio, it came to be because of Covid. The previous concept wasn’t Covid friendly. With the buffet and salad bar, you just can’t do it,” co-owner Rosario Farruggio said. “[At first] we didn’t know what to do actually. We knew Joe’s wouldn’t be able to survive.”

The answer: a sit-down dining experience that borrows some of the Italian playbook from its restaurant cousin, the well-liked Georgetown eatery il Canale.

“Joe from Joe’s Place has another restaurant in D.C. called il Canele, and because of that restaurant and because of Antonio, one of the head chefs there when il Canele first opened, they were able to partner up and bring that concept here to Arlington. He knew the cuisine and we had the location, we made it happen,” says Rosario.

Born in the Agrigento region of Sicily, Italy, Joe Farruggio is an award winning restaurateur, pizzaiolo, chef and author that has over 53 years of food service experience. He opened the first Joe’s Place in Bailey’s Crossroads in 1978.

Joe, Rosario, and master pizza chef Antonio Biglietto — who’s from Naples, Italy — all came together to bring a piece of home to life here in Arlington, saving the location’s business.

“In August of 2020, we shut Joe’s down, remodeled and reopened in October as A Modo Mio,” says Rosario. The name translates to “my way” in Italian.

“Not inspired by the Sinatra song,” says Rosario. “It was something Joe came up with.”

What was new about this restaurant, other than the name?

“This is real authentic Italian, not like an Olive Garden. One of the main things that showcases that and what the people appreciate and recognize is that we are VPN certified,” says Rosario.

VPN stands for Vera Pizza Napoletana and can be seen within the menu. To that end, a Modo Mio has a custom made, hand built brick oven from Italy.

“To get certified, you have to be authentic,” says Rosario. “You need to have real Italian ingredients imported from Italy, like our flour and tomatoes, and you need real mozzarella cheese, fresh mozzarella.”

The restaurant’s employees are even trained by a certified Neapolitan pizza maker.

“We have the roots so now we can actually teach that art,” says Rosario. The authenticity extends to other parts of the menu, too.

“The pasta that we have, it’s authentic in how we make it. It’s all house made,” Rosario says.

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Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe offers a German and European gourmet experience like no other.

Aiming to bring a piece of home to Arlington, owner Wolfgang Büchler continues to present his customers with the best baked goods after 48 years in business. Together with his Arlington-native wife, they fulfill that goal.

Located along Langston Boulevard, Heidelberg once occupied a location just down the street.

“The bakery itself opened in February of 1975, and we were down the street in the Lee Heights Shopping Center,” said Carla.

“My husband, Wolfgang, was the one who opened it originally, and then I came in September of 1975 and applied for a part-time job. So this is my first job and only job,” she said with a smile.

About 12 years after opening, they moved to their current storefront.

“In 1988, we moved to this location, and this is where we’ve been since then,” said Carla.

Starting by selling just breads, donuts, and cakes, the move down the street allowed them to expand their offerings. With more space and ambition, the pastry shop added a deli section, offering cold cuts, cheeses, and German wursts. The goal, as always, is to give customers a taste of Wolfgang’s hometown.

“He was raised in a suburb of Heidelberg, Germany,” Carla said of her husband. “Wolfgang completed two apprenticeships, one as a baker and one as a pastry chef, because they are two very distinct arts.”

Wolfgang came to America in 1969 and “worked for a German guy who had a pastry shop in Tysons,” Carla said.

Having grown up in Arlington nearly her entire life, Carla shares how she has seen Heidelberg Pastry impact the lives of those in the community.

“They come through the doors and are very overwhelmed and surprised because it is more than just a bakery, it’s bigger,” she said.

“Here we have donuts, breakfast pastries, breads, rolls, other pastries and deli items like sandwiches, and we even have different German grocery items in our store,” Carla added.

For those growing up on the northern side of Arlington, you may have fond memories of this place providing your family with specialized cakes for celebrations or baked goods for the holidays.

“I think it’s satisfying to have the customers feel as though they are family, and so many of our customers have been customers for more than 40 years,” said Carla. “You’re a part of people’s lives and see people get married, have babies, and when they graduate because we make cakes for them.”

Heidelberg has also been a destination for some homesick Germans in the D.C. area.

“Germans tend to always miss their bread first, so this is a perfect spot for them to come to… and during Christmas time, there are so many traditional German treats we have that your mom or grandma would make in Germany,” said Carla.

Despite its enduring popularity, the shop faced challenges during the pandemic.

“We sold items we don’t normally sell, such as eggs, milk, and butter. A lot of people bought yeast and flour because they couldn’t get it in the grocery store,” said Carla. “People were very supportive and would buy from us in particular because we were a small business.”

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“He still works every day in the restaurant, in the kitchen,” the current owner says about his father.

Wilson Boulevard is home to a few local gems that have been feeding the community for some time, and the long-time, family-run restaurant Two Chefs Pizza in Bluemont is definitely one of them.

Two Chefs Pizza offers a variety of classic American, Italian, and Greek dishes. They even serve breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. From cheesesteaks, burgers, and subs to pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti, and all the way to gyros, souvlaki, and baklava, this neighborhood restaurant has been around for almost four decades and has served a wide variety of meals.

“It’s a neighborhood spot. Customers will come in and see others that are here and they have all grown to know each other and know their families,” Tasos Sgardelis says.

Sgardelis is the son of Greece natives George and Dimitra Sgardelis, who originally opened the restaurant in 1984. I sat down with Tasos to discuss his family’s journey in owning a restaurant that will celebrate another milestone next year.

“My parents bought this place when I was four years old, now I’m 43,” Tasos said.

The Sgardelis purchased the restaurant on April 1, 1984, but their journey to this point started long before.

Growing up in southern Greece, George and Dimitra Sgardelis lived in neighboring villages outside of Monemvasia, Laconia, where they helped their family pick and press olives for olive oil.

George was a teenager when he moved to Athens and worked at a coffee house within the Old Royal Palace, which now houses the Hellenic Parliament of Greece. George later served in the Greek military before becoming a chef on luxury cruise ships, traveling the world.

Eventually, he found himself in New York in the early 1970s, working as a chef in a few classic Greek-style diners.

Before Two Chefs Pizza, the couple owned a restaurant called The Greek Village in Washington, D.C., located in the Dupont Circle area. After a brief run in the local restaurant business, they moved back to Greece, but eventually returned to the United States to open the pizzeria in Arlington in 1984.

“Growing up here, I was here after school every day,” Tasos said. There were about 30 seats, barstools like a diner style, you could watch them cook in front of you. There were a couple of two-seaters and a six-seater and a Pac-Man machine in the back.”

In 1995, the restaurant transitioned into its current layout.

“They bought the space where the kitchen is now and built a new kitchen. They added more than just pizza and subs to the menu, like Greek dishes. My mom was the waitress and she still serves to this day,” Tasos said.

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Arlington Kabob has consistently delivered on its promise to serve the community with fresh ingredients and unwavering support.

I recently spoke with the restaurant’s owner, Susan Clementi. Susan established Arlington Kabob in 2013, creating a woman-owned business that has thrived for nearly a decade.

Like many new restaurants, they persevered through the challenging first couple of years to gain momentum.

“I was looking for a building to open my restaurant and was at Linda’s Cafe, which used to be right next to us. I saw a ‘for lease’ sign on the doors of the former pizza restaurant,” Susan shared.

Linda’s Cafe closed in 2018, and now a Bob & Edith’s Diner stands in its place. Susan quickly found herself inside the former pizza restaurant space nearby.

“There were still pizzas left in the refrigerators,” Susan said.

She saw the potential of the building and spent the rest of the day cleaning and scrubbing the walls.

Delving into Susan’s background and story, it was evident that she didn’t crave attention. Instead, she wanted the focus to be on the restaurant, an Afghan cuisine establishment that values its staff, customers, and the food it serves.

At Arlington Kabob, expect to find kabob platters, sandwiches, wraps, in-house made gyros, and desserts like baklava. For drinks, they offer a unique assortment, including Boylans, Calypso, and Mashes.

Mohammad Saeed, the manager at Arlington Kabob, tells me that the local favorite is the Chicken Kabob platter, which comes with two different types of rice, one veggie side, two house sauces, and fresh bread.

“It is the juiciest chicken you will have in the metropolitan area… you’ll find regulars coming from places like Gaithersburg, Gainesville, and Woodbridge,” Mohammed says.

By the way, definitely go for the chickpeas as your veggie side.

Susan’s top priority has always been the freshness and nutritional value of the food served at the restaurant.

“We cook the food twice a day for lunch and dinner… I would rather tell the customer we ran out than have something we need to warm up for them,” Susan says.

“For me, it’s important to know that the food I make for my daughter is what I serve to my customers… my belief is our cooked food should be simple and cooked fresh daily without added preservatives,” Susan said. “We cut all our meat in-house and marinate daily with fresh herbs and spices.”

Susan’s head chef has been with her for the past nine years, and she expresses immense gratitude for him and all her staff for their loyalty during tough times. During the pandemic, she made sure her staff was well taken care of.

“Arlington Kabob isn’t just me, it’s all of us who work here. We are a tight-knit family,” Susan says.

The high standards that Susan sets for staff care and food preparation make one wonder why this level of dedication isn’t more widespread. It should be the minimum, but the food industry today often falls short in employee care and fresh food.

Arlington Kabob also partners with local schools, including Yorktown and Bishop O’Connell high schools, for various fundraising initiatives.

“Any successful restaurant has an owner that is passionate about their food and community,” Susan preaches. “Those are the ones where our kids will one day bring their kids to experience a great meal.”

When you have an owner like Susan, you can almost always guarantee that the food coming out of the restaurant will be a hit. It’s not just good food being served, it’s the good being done behind the scenes that makes all the difference.

Instagram: @arlingtonkabob
Phone: 703-531-1498
Address: 5046 Langston Blvd, Arlington, VA 22207

Nicholas Barahona is a freelance food writer who often posts his food reviews on Instagram.


La Unión Restaurant offers a blend of both Salvadoran and Mexican dishes for a diverse Arlington community.

To some folks, La Unión is a municipality in the La Unión Department of El Salvador, but for the people here in Arlington, it’s a local restaurant where you can order some top notch inspired Salvadoran and Mexican food.

The story of La Unión Restaurant starts in El Salvador where married couple Jose and Zoila Zelaya, both only 16 and 18 years old, came to the United States to escape tension caused by war in their hometown. They never looked back.

I caught up with the current owner and son of Jose and Zoila, Jose (Joey) Zelaya. Jose was born in providence Rhode Island and was one of  four siblings and is the third oldest. He moved with his family to Arlington in 1981, “We lived in north Arlington, south Arlington, we have a lot of family here so growing up was fun.” Jose said.

A real stand up individual, he is filled with laughs and enthusiasm for his customers, and devoted to the community and the food he serves.

La Unión Restaurant opened in 1998 but Jose says that story starts in 1993 with the La Unión Grocery store, located on what is now Cherry Hill Road. The family owned this spot up until 2019, when they sold it.

“The restaurant came about because we wanted to build a kitchen inside the grocery store but at the time the county wouldn’t let us,” said Jose. “That’s when we looked for a restaurant and that’s how La Unión Restaurant came to be.”

But where did the Mexican inspiration come from? After all, La Unión Restaurant recognizes itself as both a Mexican and Salvadoran restaurant.

“Pops started working for a Mexican restaurant, El Ranchero, as a dishwasher, but had such an interest in learning how to cook that the late owner, Felipe and his wife taught my dad how to cook,” said Jose.

El Ranchero closed in 2003.

When the Zelaya family bought the retail space at 5517 Wilson Blvd in Bluemont, it was a Greek restaurant.

“Jimmy and George, a father and son, were running it and today, George is currently running a business down the street in that’s a dry cleaning alteration business,” Jose said.

Each of the family’s children have played a role in helping out their business, though it was Jose who fully embraced the business and fell in love with running the restaurant, leading to him acquiring full control of the business in 2008.

It is easy to see and hear how much Jose appreciates the hard work of his parents and how he expresses extreme gratitude towards them in almost every aspect.

“They loved cooking… my mom’s history in cooking goes back to when she was growing in El Salvador in the 50s and learning how to cook through her mom and a lot of the recipes have actually came from my grandma,” he said.

When starting out, they were serving out food they themselves would eat as a family, including French, Italian, American, Mexican and Salvadoran cuisine.

“When first opened we used to have spaghetti,” Jose noted.

They quickly noticed that the Salvadoran and Mexican food was selling the best and, in 2000, they stuck with it.

“That really was the standout in terms of what we were selling, and in 2000 that’s when it started taking off,” Jose said.

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El Pollo Rico continues to shine and live on a dream that has kept true for a consecutive 35 years.

If you live in Arlington, there’s a good chance you’ve had or at least heard about El Pollo Rico’s Peruvian chicken.

Regardless of your preference between other Peruvian chicken joints in the area, El Pollo Rico — at 932 N. Kenmore Street in Virginia Square — has built its reputation as being a restaurant with some pretty good chicken. Don’t believe me? Maybe hearing about visitors such as tennis goddess Serena Williams and late food icon Anthony Bourdain, who don’t just walk into any ol’ restaurant, will convince you otherwise.

Starting out in 1984, El Pollo Rico was born from Peru native Victor Solano and his dream idea of bringing a bit of home to the United States. The original location, for those who remember, was on the corner of Washington Boulevard, Fillmore Street and 10th Street N.

“We had to move because they put a building there that is now condominiums,” says current co-owner Ivan Solano.

When El Pollo Rico first opened it only offered coleslaw, fries and the mild and hot sauces. But let’s be honest, your chicken can be the best in the land, but if the sauce is not just as good, you’ll never have a path to the throne for best Peruvian chicken. For El Pollo Rico, however, the sauce is a strength.

“With our sauce, we take pride in making and have a secret recipe for it,” says Solano. “The people seem to love it.”

Fast forward to today and the legacy continues and has expanded, with Victor’s children now running 3 of the 4 Peruvian chicken locations — in Arlington, Woodbridge and Fairfax. And El Pollo Rico still has their original sides, of course, but now also has plantains, rice and beans to go with your order.

Solano highlights the importance of family and the connection to customers just as equally or even more so than the quality of chicken. Of course nothing stays around this long or keeps its popularity without doing something right with the food, but this devotion towards hospitality shows the core values held within the business and how it translates into the food.

“I know everyone keeps telling us that what separates us is the taste of the chicken, I want to hope that our hospitality does too,” Solano says.

Asking about the famous and notable people who come to visit from all over the world, he said the restaurant is more focused on its regular customers.

“Visits from celebrities are always a plus… but we have been very fortunate and blessed to have the customers that we have come in on a daily basis,” Solano said, adding that he is particularly proud to have built relationships with customers that have lasted over 30 years.

Discussing challenges faced through the years, it was no surprise that Covid was mentioned.

“Covid did hit us and made us pretty much rush into having delivery services… we had planned on doing so but this just made us pretty much jump into it right away,” Solano said.

At the height of the pandemic, there were cheers when news broke that El Pollo Rico was finally delivering. What followed was nothing but ringing phones and countless deliveries of chicken orders.

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