Arlington, VA

Arlington’s own Pupatella was recently named one of the best pizzas places in Virginia by Food & Wine Magazine.

“The only thing more authentically Neapolitan than the pillow-like pizzas practically flying from the oven at Pupatella in Arlington is [owner] Enzo Algarme himself,” reads part of the story’s blurb.

Reached by phone while visiting their parents in Naples, Italy, owners Enzo Algarme and Anastasiya Laufenberg tell ARLnow that they are “incredibly grateful” and “honored” for the distinction. In fact, they were not aware of the story until ARLnow reached out.

The married couple opened their first restaurant in 2010 on Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood — from which they nearly moved last year — after getting their start selling pizza from a food cart.

Since, they’ve opened four more locations including another in Arlington along S. Walter Reed Drive, one in Reston, one in D.C., and their most recent in Richmond.

Expansion is continuing, the owners confirm, with additional locations in the Mosaic District and Springfield planned for the coming months.

Laufenberg says they owe their popularity and the ability to grow, even after a rough pandemic year, to their customers. While it was a challenge those first months, says Laufenberg, they’ve been able to gain nearly all of their business back recently and have rehired staff they had to let go.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the neighborhood,” says Laufenberg. “Our customers didn’t forget about us and have left huge tips for our staff.”

They’ve also recovered by focusing on delivery and take-out, but additionally realizing the need to shift to more outdoor seating.

“One of the biggest ways the pandemic changed us…is our commitment to building out nice, large patios,” says Laufenberg. “People are still scared to eat inside, so having big outdoor patios is a way to help with that.”

Both the locations on Wilson Blvd and S. Walter Reed Drive now have expansive outdoor seating.

Last year, 90% of Pupatella’s sales were from delivery and take-out, she says, but now that ratio is closer to 50/50 with more folks dining outside.

Of course, Pupatella’s popularity is overwhelming due to the quality of its pizza, which has earned it numerous other awards and honors over the years.

“Every region, city in Italy has their own pizza, but everyone knows that Neapolitan pizza is the original,” says Laufenberg about their style of pizza. And that has a lot to do with the wood-fired oven used to them.

All of the ovens used at Pupatella restaurants are certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, meaning they adhere to two-century-old Neapolitan techniques.

The oven bricks are even built using volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944.

The ash provides the bricks the ability to retain heat very well, explains Laufenberg, which allows the oven to heat up fast and cook the pizza very quickly.

“There’s still ash left… we don’t know when it’s going to run out,” says Laufenberg.

Back in 2010 when they first contemplated opening their own business, Laufenberg admits she and Algarme were scared. Building a Neapolitan pizza business is expensive and very labor intensive, after all.

Even training staff to use the ovens is difficult and requires a steep learning curve — hence, why a number of employees have been with them since nearly the beginning. But more than a decade later, even with a pandemic, it is paying off.

“You always wonder ‘is it worth it to go the extra mile? Will people know the difference?” she rhetorically asks. “Well, that extra work is worth it and people have noticed.”

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Many Arlington residents seem to be in the market for new furniture, according to Google Trends.

Perhaps after more than a year of sitting at home during the pandemic, your chairs are getting squeaky or your table is getting scratched. Whatever the reason, ARLnow averaged online rankings of every furniture store in Arlington and within two miles of the county on this side of the Potomac.

Our rankings are below.

1..Casa Furniture (5013 Columbia Pike) — 4.9 out of 5 stars

2. Gala Futons and Furniture (2622 N. Pershing Drive) — 4.65 out of 5 stars

3. Oriental Rosewood Imports Furniture (4050 Lee Highway) — 4.5 out of 5 stars

4. Hardwood Artisans (2800 S. Randolph Street) — 4.45 out of 5 stars

5. Lovesac (1100 S. Hayes Street) — 4.4 out of 5 stars

T-6. Furniture Max (6250 Seven Corners Center) – 4.05 out of 5 stars

T-6. Ethan Allen (2900 Wilson Blvd, Suite 102) – 4.05 out of 5 stars

8. Crate & Barrel Outlet (1700 Prince Way) — 3.8 out of 5 stars

9. Sweet Home Furniture (3501 S. Jefferson Street) — 3.6 out of 5 stars

10. Crate & Barrel (2800 Clarendon Blvd) — 3.5 out of 5 stars

11. Macy’s (1000 S. Hayes Street) — 3.4 out of 5 stars

12. Bob’s Discount Furniture (5845 Leesburg Pike) — 3.3 out of 5 stars

13. Value City Furniture (5516 Leesburg Pike) — 3.2 out of 5 stars

14. Pottery Barn (2700 Clarendon Blvd) — 3.15 out of 5 stars

T-15. Macy’s (685 N. Glebe Road) — 3 out of 5 stars

T-15. West Elm (925 N. Saint Asaph Street) — 3 out of 5 stars

17. Ashley HomeStore (5871 Crossroads Way) — 2.95 out of 5 stars

Photo via Furniture Max/Facebook

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Cuisine from Stellina Pizzeria (Photo by Rey Lopez, courtesy Stellina)

Some Arlington restaurants have been honored, by association at least, in the latest edition of the city-centric Michelin Bib Gourmand list.

A number of D.C. restaurants with Arlington outposts made the list, which highlights great but affordable during experiences.

Among them:

Arlington has traditionally been an also-ran to the District in terms of award-winning restaurants, but has lately been attracting more culinary sophistication. Four of the five restaurants on the above list — Jaleo is the exception — opened within the past couple of years.

Arlington has also recently upped its barbecue cred, scoring four spots on a recent Washington Post list of the top 10 BBQ joints in the D.C. region.

Of course, critical acclaim from professional reviewers doesn’t always equate to relative popularity. None of the above are among the top 40 diner-reviewed restaurants in Arlington, according to rankings on Yelp.

Photo courtesy Stellina Pizzeria

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Anecdotally, at least, restaurants seem to be getting busier around town.

That’s not too surprising, given the warmer weather and the fact that vaccinations are on the rise and now available to everyone ages 16 and up.

The pandemic has not been kind to the restaurant industry. In Arlington, more than two dozen have closed since March 2020. Nationally, some 10% of all restaurants have closed, according to one measure.

Rising vaccination rates point to a light at the end of the tunnel for the industry, though some challenges — including difficulty hiring — remain.

For those who are fully vaccinated and considering dining out, we’ve compiled a list of the top-rated restaurants in Arlington, according to Yelp reviews. Note that the order corresponds to that presented by Yelp, which seems to take into account the number of reviews in addition to the star ranking, and some of the following are actually food trucks.

If you’re not yet vaccinated, or not yet comfortable dining at a restaurant, most if not all of the following also offer takeout and/or delivery.

  1. Idido Coffee and Social House
  2. Paramount Cafe
  3. Tacos El Chilango Food Truck
  4. Superette
  5. Kaldi’s Social House
  6. The Celtic House
  7. Maya Bistro
  8. Good Company Doughnuts and Cafe
  9. Arlington Kabob
  10. Tortas Y Tacos La Chiquita
  11. Fettoosh
  12. McNamara’s Pub and Restaurant
  13. Ruthie’s All Day
  14. Ambar
  15. La Tingeria Food Truck
  16. Chill Zone
  17. El Pollo Rico
  18. El Fuego
  19. Pupatella
  20. Pa’ Tacos El Papi Food Truck
  21. Colony Grill
  22. Charga
  23. Palette 22
  24. Metro Halal Food Cart
  25. Dama Pastry and Restaurant
  26. Oby Lee
  27. Mezeh Mediterranean Grill
  28. Smokecraft Modern Barbecue
  29. Verre Wine Bar
  30. Cava Mezze
  31. Carlyle
  32. Namaste Everest
  33. The Italian Store
  34. Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
  35. Pho 75
  36. Enjera Restaurant
  37. Istanbul Grill
  38. Sushi 2 Go
  39. Galaxy Hut
  40. La Union Restaurant

File photo

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After five years at the top of an annual “Best Cities to Live in America” list, Arlington is now No. 2.

The list, compiled by Niche.com, bases its rankings “on crime, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities, and local amenities,” from various data sources like the U.S. Census and the FBI.

Arlington, as before, got high marks for public schools, nightlife, diversity, outdoor activities, health and fitness, and family amenities. But housing and the cost of living in Arlington received C+ and C grades, respectively, dragging down the county’s average.

Ranking No. 1 on the 2021 list is The Woodlands, Texas, a master-planned community near Houston. Though it ranks below Arlington in some categories, including commute, The Woodlands’ housing grade — based on “home values, property taxes, housing costs” and other factors — is an A- compared to our C+.

The Woodlands “offers residents a dense suburban feel and most residents own their homes,” Niche writes. “In The Woodlands there are a lot of restaurants and parks. Many families live in The Woodlands and residents tend to lean conservative. The public schools in The Woodlands are highly rated.”

The median home value in the Texas community is $374,200, compared to $705,400 in Arlington. Median monthly rent is $1,566 in The Woodlands, compared to $1,970 in Arlington, according to Niche.

After The Woodlands and Arlington, the top five on the Niche “Best Cities to Live” list is rounded out by Naperville, Illinois; Overland Park, Kansas; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The next-highest city in our region is Columbia, Maryland, at No. 8.

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If you’re dating but on a budget, Arlington is a good place to be.

That’s according to a new-for-2021 set of rankings from the website SmartAsset, which examined cities and places from around the U.S., comparing to cost of things like coffee and wine, in addition to access to parks and employment.

“One small upside is that dates during COVID-19 may be cheaper than usual,” SmartAsset wrote about the study. “Many COVID-friendly dates such as picnics and takeout are less expensive than typical activities, so wooers won’t have to dig as deep into their savings accounts to make Cupid strike.”

The couple seen above, Justin and Alexis, proved that thesis on Valentine’s Day this past Sunday. They headed to the View of DC observation deck at the top of 1201 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn — which is free for Arlington residents — and danced to a record player amid the breathtaking vistas.

Arlington ranked No. 2 on SmartAsset’s budget-friendly list, between Madison, Wisconsin (No. 1) and St. Petersburg, Florida (No. 3).

From the website:

Arlington, Virginia ranks at the top of our study for economic favorability, which means that your date in this D.C. a suburb is likely employed and has a decent disposable income. In November 2020, the unemployment rate was 3.8%, the fourth-lowest in our study, and on average, residents pay only 26.14% of their income on housing costs, the second-lowest for this metric. Those looking to share a special meal with a significant other also have a vast variety of options: Arlington ranks 15th for the greatest density of restaurants, with almost 230 for every 100,000 residents in the city.

The rankings compared metrics like “date affordability (cost of two cappuccinos, cost of takeout and a bottle of wine, average monthly internet cost), date access (coffee and snack shop density, restaurant density, percentage of households with internet access, percentage of city made up of parkland) and economic favorability (housing costs and unemployment rate).”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report. Image (bottom) courtesy SmartAsset.

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Morning Notes

Snow Removal Ordinance in Effect — “A recent weather event has concluded and deposited snow/ice accumulations of less than 6 inches. Arlington’s sidewalk snow removal ordinance requires residents and businesses to clear adjacent public sidewalks of snow and ice by 1:00 PM on Wednesday, February 3.” [Arlington County]

More Back-to-School Dates Expected Soon — “We look forward to welcoming Level 2 Career & Technical Education students to the Arlington Career Center for hybrid/in-person instruction starting [today]. We continue to assess additional student return dates… The next group to return will be Level 2, PreK through second grade and countywide elementary special education students. Return dates for this group will be communicated at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Arlington Rent Declines Slowing — “Arlington’s COVID- and shutdown-caused drop in apartment rents appears to be hitting bottom for now, according to new data from Apartment List, but the county’s rental market is still significantly more affordable than before the pandemic. For the year ending in January, rents in Arlington were down 14 percent from a year before… the drop from December to January was just 0.5 percent, lower than in preceding months.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ranks No. 14 in ‘Walk-Friendly’ List — “About 30 years ago, Arlington took the lead in suburban redevelopment in Virginia, creating walkable urban areas around the metro system. Now that momentum has pushed Arlington (and its most walkable neighborhoods of Clarendon-Courthouse, Ballston-Virginia Square, and Lyon Village) into the top walkable cities — something we can expect to continue when Amazon moves in.” [MSN]

Hope’s Prison Oversight Bill Dies — From Del. Patrick Hope (D): “This is not the end — only the beginning. Every agency in Va must be transparent and accountable to the public which they serve. We will regroup and come back next session with a bill that prioritizes [Virginia Dept. of Corrections] oversight.” [Twitter]

Case of the Stray Hockey Sticks — A shipment of hockey sticks destined for the Washington Capitals practice facility in Ballston, to be used by new Caps acquisition Zdeno Chara, was apparently mis-delivered to a random New Jersey man’s home. [ESPN, Barstool Sports]

Bezos Relinquishing CEO Role at Amazon — “Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that he will step down as chief executive of Amazon, leaving the helm of the company he founded 27 years ago. Bezos will transition to the role of executive chair in the third quarter of this year, which starts July 1, the company said. Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, will take over as CEO of Amazon.” The company yesterday revealed designs for the second phase of its Arlington HQ2. [NBC News]

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Arlington is one of the top places in the country for having a positive work-life balance, according to a new set of rankings.

The website SmartAsset ranks Arlington No. 6 on its list, which quantifies “the best cities for work-life balance” in 2021. The top 3 were Madison, Wisconsin (1); Virginia Beach (2); and Minneapolis (3).

To compile the list, SmartAsset took into account factors like walkability, concentration of cultural establishments and restaurants, housing costs, hours worked per week, commute length, and unemployment rate.

Arlington scored well in many categories, but not as well in some others.

The county “has the highest labor force participation rate in this study, 78.0%,” SmartAsset noted. “Arlington also ranks second-lowest in the study for housing costs as a percentage of income – housing costs make up just 26.14% of income on average.”

“People do work a lot in the town, though,” the website added. “Arlington ranks dead last in both the metrics measuring how much people work – an average of 41.3 hours per week and 41.80 weeks per year.”

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

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Arlington ranks No. 21 on a new 2021 list of top places for working from home.

The list, compiled by the website SmartAsset, takes into account factors like “estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home,” “percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2019,” and “housing costs as a percentage of earnings.”

Arlington was No. 1 on the list in terms of ability to work from home — 40.4% of the workforce — but ranked lower as a result of our high housing costs. Also, only 6.1% of workers worked from home pre-pandemic.

A previous set of rankings explained by Arlington’s work-from-home ability is so high.

“A large percentage of the workforce in Arlington, Virginia is involved in two white-collar occupations: management, business & financial operations and professional & related job,” SmartAsset wrote. “According to [Bureau of Labor Statistics] data, 60% of management, business & financial operations workers and more than 42% of all professional & related workers can work from home, so many Arlington workers have that ability.”

SmartAsset noted that remote work is likely here to stay for many workers.

“In the late spring of 2020, about half of American workers were working from home, according to two surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research,” the company wrote. “Many researchers believe that increased work flexibility and work-from-home opportunities may continue even after the pandemic is over.”

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Arlington County is the safest city in the country, according to national data compiled by the website MoneyGeek.

Arlington beat out 303 localities for the distinction by having the lowest societal cost of crime, estimated at $132 per person — or $31.3 million total — in 2019.

That means that the direct and indirect costs to Arlington and its 237,000 residents as a result of violent and property crimes is lower than any other U.S. jurisdiction with more than 100,000 people.

The second safest city in the U.S. is Thousand Oaks, California, with a crime cost per capita of $163, followed by Allen, Texas, at $176.

“Behind all these averages that people like to cite about the crime rates in different communities are individual people and their decisions about how they choose to engage in their community,” Brown University professor Jesse Bruhn told MoneyGeek.

According to the website:

The direct economic costs of crime to individuals and society include medical and mental health care needs of victims, damage to and loss of property and police and corrections costs. Aside from the imminent danger of crime, people living in higher crime areas see depressed home values and pay higher prices for crucial needs, including homerenters and auto insurance.

St Louis, Missouri, was named the most dangerous city, with $9,334 in crime per capita. It was followed by Baltimore, Maryland, at $8,179 and Detroit, Michigan, at $7,080.

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If there’s one thing Arlington does particularly well, from a culinary perspective, it’s barbecue.

Four Arlington restaurants have made it on to Washington Post critic Tim Carman’s new top 10 D.C. area barbecue joints list, placing Nos. 3, 4, 8 and 9.

The overrepresentation of Arlington restaurants on the list is a remarkable achievement, considering that local eateries often underperform on regional restaurant lists and awards.

The BBQ joints that made Carman’s 2020 list (below) include two that opened this year: Smokecraft and Ruthie’s.

  • Texas Jack’s (2761 Washington Blvd, Lyon Park) — “This Arlington restaurant has topped this list for the past two years, a difficult task given the vagaries of barbecue, and it might have retained the title if not for some tiny slippages.”
  • Smokecraft Modern Barbecue (1051 N. Highland Street, Clarendon) — “Darneille buys Duroc pork, Wagyu beef and all-natural chicken and cooks them over six different types of wood, constantly tinkering with techniques to get the best out of his gas-assist smokers. The results are often mouthwatering.”
  • Ruthie’s All-Day (3411 5th Street S., Arlington Heights) — “Formerly the culinary director for the Liberty Tavern Restaurant Group, including its smokehouse in Falls Church, Hill is blessed with an all-wood smoker at Ruthie’s… where he turns out superb specimens of brisket, pulled pork and spare ribs.”
  • Sloppy Mama’s (5731 Lee Highway & 4238 Wilson Blvd in Ballston Quarter mall) — “The shop’s chopped pork, rich and smoky, remains the gold standard. The housemade sausage, a pork link emboldened with brisket fat, snaps on first bite, its richness cut ever so gently with pickle brine.”
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