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.
Another unassuming Arlington restaurant tucked well away from a Metro corridor has received a glowing write-up.
King of Koshary, at 5515 Wilson Blvd in Bluemont, “serves Egyptian food fit for royalty,” a Washington Post headline declared atop a new review that was published yesterday.
The restaurant, which opened in 2019, is helmed by “two chefs who pushed each other to create a first-class koshary in the suburban corridors of Washington,” wrote critic Tim Carman. The signature dish gets top billing in the review.
There are, perhaps, only a handful of moments in our eating lives that make us see a dish in a new light. This was one. Unlike my friend, I have had and enjoyed koshary numerous times. But King of Koshary’s version was different. I hit a kind of bliss point that words cannot capture. The condiments enveloped these grains and legumes, providing heat and aroma and order, but that alone didn’t explain my reaction (or that of my friend, who was pounding down that koshary by the spoonful). The dish reminded me, all over again, of the genius of necessity. Koshary, often called a “plate of the poor,” is further confirmation that a rewarding meal does not always begin with expensive ingredients. Paupers can eat like princes, for a small fraction of the cost, without any sense of self-delusion.
Last month the Post’s food critic ranked Charga Grill on Langston Blvd in Arlington No. 1 on his list of the D.C. area’s 10 best casual restaurants of 2022.
It has been a stellar start to the year for Arlington restaurants outside of the Metro corridors. Two weeks ago, four Arlington eateries made Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list, including CHIKO in Shirlington, Ruthie’s All-Day in Arlington Heights and Cafe Colline on Langston Blvd. SER in Ballston also made the Washingtonian list.
ARLnow has been hearing for some time that readers are interested in reviews of local restaurants.
Just one problem: we’re far from being food critics. And we don’t have the time and funds to try multiple dishes at numerous new restaurants each year.
Reader-submitted restaurant reviews were previously considered, but it seemed like a lot of effort to coordinate — effort that was better kept focused on simply reporting on factual stories like restaurant openings, closing and renovations.
However, thanks to new automation capabilities, there appears to be an opportunity to launch reader restaurant reviews without distracting too much from our main work.
Here’s how the ARLnow Dining Club would work:
- Interested readers sign up to join the club
- A number of club members will be selected at random to review a new restaurant a couple of months after it opens
- Those selected will get an email and will be able to accept or decline the assignment
- The reviews, entered into an online form, will be compiled by AI and an overall review summary will be posted along with each individual review (reviewers may go by their name or a pseudonym)
- Other readers will also be able to weigh in after publication, via the comments
There would be no cost to join the club, but we’re also not going to be paying for reviews or comping meals. Reviewers will be asked to not reveal that they’re reviewing the restaurant nor ask for free food or drink. If you sign up, you’re doing so for the love of food and restaurants and the fun of being a secret reviewer for the day.
So that’s the plan, as currently envisioned. What do you think — good idea or bad idea?
Arlington’s summer days have always consisted of a sweltering combination of high humidity and temperatures. This month has been no exception.
Yet summer is also the season to venture out, try new things, and explore new places.
In the interest of remaining active while cooling down, here are eight tasty, cold goodies in Arlington you can try before summer ends.
1. Nutella ice cream from Nicecream
Nicecream in Clarendon (2831 Clarendon Blvd) uses the process of freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Its selection of ice cream flavors rotates weekly and has flavors spanning from white chocolate peanut butter to grapefruit creamsicle. However, Nutella is a must-try.
2. Nutella açaí bowl from South Block
Similarly, did you know you can get some of that addictive chocolate hazelnut spread in your South Block açaí bowl? We did, so we figured you would want to try that to cool off. Topping off South Block’s Nutella açaí bowl are mixed granola, banana, strawberry, coconut and Nutella.
3. Peanut butter icebox pie from Bakeshop
Bakeshop in Clarendon (1025 N. Fillmore Street) is no ordinary bakery. Offering a slew of flavors of cupcakes, bread, cakes, cookies, pies and macarons, Bakeshop also offers vegan and gluten-free options. Its Peanut Butter Icebox Pie is the perfect pick-me-up for peanut butter lovers.
4. Ice cream cookiewich from Bakeshop
One of the most popular summer treats at Bakeshop that is a must-try is its ice cream Cookiewich. This Cookiewich consists of two mouth-watering chocolate chunk cookies enveloping vanilla ice cream. Bakeshop’s Cookiewich is, in the opinion of this reviewer, beyond any ice cream sandwich you have ever tried.
Trash Collection Starting Earlier — “In an effort to get a jump on the day and maybe beat a bit of summer heat, curbside collection crews will be starting their routes 30 minutes earlier in the morning beginning next week. The new start time of 6:30 a.m. is considered a pilot, with the results to be evaluated after a few months. As usual, recycling/trash/organics carts need to be at the curb by 6 a.m. on weekly pick-up day. Putting them out the night before is perfectly fine–if that’s how you roll.” [Arlington County]
Bezos Space Firm Has Arlington Office — Blue Origin “has a small existing office at 1530 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington… which the Blue Origin website describes as its ‘East Coast business office supporting government relations, sales and business development efforts.’ A lobbying disclosure form filed last month with the federal government also puts Blue Origin’s presence at that address. The Rosslyn office will remain open after Blue Origin occupies its new Reston space.” [Washington Business Journal]
Prolific Arlington Architect Dies — “Fredrick Sheridan of McLean passed away at home on June 30th at the age of 95. Fred was President and a founder of SBE & Assoc, an Arlington architecture firm for over 55 years… He was an early and major contributor to the development of local building and zoning codes in Arlington, advocating for residents and landowners. His scope of work included more than 200 projects. Fred’s versatility of design expertise extended from Courtland Towers to the Monastery of the Poor Clares to Marymount University.” [Legacy]
Forestry Commission on ‘Missing Middle’ — “The Arlington County government’s Forestry and Natural Resources Commission… while saying it agrees that a broader range of housing options should be available in Arlington, seems to be joining a growing chorus that the proposed zoning alterations should be phased in over time, to see what works and what doesn’t, before being implemented throughout Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods.” [Sun Gazette]
Group Lauds Board’s Antisemitism Resolution — “The Arlington County Board has received praise from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. Board members passed a resolution in support of the language in June.” [Sun Gazette]
Crystal City ‘Midsummer’ Production Reviewed — “If ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is only as enchanting as a production’s take on the mischievous fairy Puck and bumbling actor Bottom, then Synetic Theater is fortunate to count spellbinding performances from Ariel Kraje and Vato Tsikurishvili among its assets.” [Washington Post]
NPS Seeking Ideas for Daingerfield Island — “The National Park Service is soliciting public feedback for ideas to overhaul part of Daingerfield Island near Potomac Yard. The idea is to revitalize the area around the Washington Sailing Marina at the former Indigo Landing Restaurant.” [ALXnow]
It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy during the day, then rain and possible storms at night. High of 86 and low of 73. Sunrise at 5:52 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]
Giant Spiders May Drop In — “An invasive species of spider the size of a child’s hand is expected to ‘colonize’ the entire East Coast this spring by parachuting down from the sky, researchers at the University of Georgia announced last week… Andy Davis, author of the study and a researcher at Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, tells Axios that it isn’t certain how far north the spiders will travel, but they may make it as far north as D.C. or even Delaware.” [Axios, Fox 5, NPR]
Anti-Growth Group Decries Route 29 Planning — “On March 6, ASF wrote to the Arlington County Board expressing concerns that significant new land use and zoning plans will cause seismic shifts for the communities now lining Langston Blvd. We believe the process — which will soon produce a new Preliminary Concept Plan that likely will be fast-tracked like other county planning processes — will neglect or defer costs of critically-needed new infrastructure, will displace those earning 60% or less than the Area Median Income, and will make it difficult for local entrepreneurs to stay in business.” [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future]
Polish Pike Pierogi Purveyor Praised — “‘Oh my god, it smells so good it’s driving me crazy!’ my husband reported after picking up a pierogi order from chef Ewa Fraszczyk, who shares kitchen space with La Cocina VA, selling her pan-fried Polish dumplings from the nonprofit’s Columbia Pike café every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Arlington chef’s pierogi, all delicate and delicious, come six to an order ($10-$12) in four varieties.” [Arlington Magazine]
Apartment Child Care Bill Advances — “House members voted unanimously on March 8 in support of a measure by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington-Fairfax-Loudoun) to amend the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and permit child-care facilities in apartment units. That followed earlier, also unanimous, support in the state Senate.” [Sun Gazette]
Teen Stabbed in Va. Square Area — “At approximately 6:28 p.m. on March 8, police were dispatched to the report of a fight involving a group of approximately 6 – 10 juveniles. Upon arrival, the juveniles were no longer on scene and officers canvassed the area and located evidence of an injury in the 500 block of N. Quincy Street. At approximately 7:14 p.m., the juvenile male victim arrived at Virginia Hospital Center for treatment of stab wounds suffered during the fight. The victim’s injuries are considered serious but non-life threatening.” [ACPD]
Bus Driver Nearly Causes Wreck on I-395 — From public safety watchdog Dave Statter: “Watch: A ‘professional’ driver does no better trying to quickly get across 4 lanes of interstate highway. This one almost takes out a car–twice!! Must have been a fun bus ride.” [Twitter]
Takeout for a Cause at Four Courts — From Ireland’s Four Courts: “Stop in or order takeout on Thursday for dinner. We are donating 20 percent of our food sales to @PathForwardVA help #endhomelessness in Arlington.” [Twitter]
It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 52 and low of 35. Sunrise at 6:28 am and sunset at 6:12 pm. [Weather.gov]
Slight Dip in Apartment Rents — “The average rental rate for an Arlington unit over the past month was down 0.4 percent compared to the month before, according to figures reported Nov. 1 by Apartment List. Arlington’s rental rates averaged $2,032 for one-bedroom units and $2,460 for two-bedroom units. Arlington was one of 22 of the nation’s 100 largest urban areas to see pullbacks in rental rates over the month.” [Sun Gazette]
Federal Funds for Local Bridge? — From reporter Michael Lee Pope: “@RepDonBeyer #VA08 infrastructure projects requested: $9 million for renovating the bridge connecting Mount Vernon Avenue in #AlexandriaVA to Arlington Ridge Road in #ArlingtonVA” [Twitter]
Post Reviews Lyon Park Restaurant — “When not hawking food, she is a parking enforcement officer with the Arlington County Police Department… In September, she moved indoors when she took over El Fuego Peruvian Kitchen, an Arlington business that had already made the successful transition from street vendor to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.” [Washington Post]
Wild Incident on Columbia Pike — “At approximately 9:30 a.m. on November 6, police were dispatched to the report of an assault just occurred and fire department units were also responding to investigate the smell of smoke and natural gas. Upon arrival inside the residential building, the suspect approached responding officers and began shouting. As the officers attempted to place the suspect into custody, he actively resisted and a brief struggle ensued before he was detained without further incident. The investigation determined that the suspect was allegedly acting irate and damaged the doors to multiple residential units.” [ACPD]
Parents Group Calls Out APS Calendar — “In prior years, APS aligned its calendar with neighboring (and vast) FCPS – an effort to support staff who worked and lived in different jurisdictions. This year’s calendar has a different start date and Spring Break than FCPS, and APS is off for five holidays when FCPS is not, which makes the schedule almost impossible for staff and working families to navigate.” [Arlington Parents for Education]
Rare Opening of Tomb Plaza — Updated at 9 a.m. — “Arlington National Cemetery will open up the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza Tuesday and Wednesday to members of the public and allow visitors to lay flowers for the first time in almost 100 years. The privilege is typically reserved for members of ‘The Old Guard,’ sentinels in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment who stand watch constantly at the Arlington National Cemetery landmark, officials say.” [NBC 4]
It’s Tuesday — Today will be near perfect, with sunny skies and a high of 72. Sunrise at 6:44 a.m. and sunset at 4:59 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 67. [Weather.gov]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Local Real Estate Market Slowing — “When it comes to housing prices and sales, red-hot Arlington County cooled a bit last month compared to last summer — a modest slowdown that the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors says was typical throughout the region. NVAR reports the median price of a home that sold in Arlington County last month was 9% lower than a year ago, and the average number of days on the market, or how long it took to sell a home, was up 35% compared to last July.” [WTOP]
County Board Still Opposes Gondola — “This week, all five members of the Arlington County Board confirmed to the Washington Business Journal their position hasn’t changed. Even the two new Democrats to join the board since it penned that 2017 letter — current Chair Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis — said in interviews that they remain unconvinced, despite the proponents’ recent success in pushing the District to budget $10 million toward the purchase of a potential D.C. landing site near the Key Bridge.” [Washington Business Journal]
Review of Pentagon City Irish Eatery — “Armstrong’s talented hand again showed itself when I sank my teeth into the corned beef. The chef says that each brisket takes three weeks of preparation before it’s ready for diners. He adds that corned beef is more of an Irish-American food than an Irish one, owing to a fusion of influences that met in New York or Boston. His version certainly owes a debt to Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Arlies Voting: Urgent Care Clinic — Voting on the latest Arlies category ends Tuesday afternoon. Let us know about your favorite local urgent care clinic. [ARLnow]
Breakthrough Covid Cases Underreported? — “Virginia’s breakthrough case numbers are likely an undercount. Issues with data reporting made it difficult to report and verify cases among vaccinated people.” [Virginia Mercury]
Nearby: Car Swept Away in Flood Waters — “Here’s what can happen when a huge amount of rain causes flash flooding. A reader sent this photo of a car in the Upper Long Branch Stream between the cul-de-sacs at 6th Street and Glen Forest Drive in Bailey’s Crossroads.” Arlington County firefighters responded as mutual aid on this water rescue call, per scanner traffic last week. [Annandale Blog]
Free Cinco de Mayo Rides — “Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the 2021 Cinco de Mayo SoberRide program will be in operation beginning at 4:00 pm this Wednesday, May 5, 2021 (Cinco de Mayo) and operate until 2:00 am on Thursday, May 6, 2021 as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk holiday.” [Press Release]
Extra ACPD Traffic Enforcement — From the Arlington County Police Department: “As part of the regional Council of Governments StreetSmart campaign, officers conducted high visibility speed enforcement along Lee Highway today. With warmer weather upon us, there is increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in the County. Remember to slow down, obey posted speed limits and remain alert for other travelers.” [Facebook]
School Board Hopefuls On Math Controversy — “With the Virginia Department of Education under attack – fairly or unfairly – for what critics say is an attempt to dumb down math instruction across the commonwealth, the two candidates for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board gave state officials neither a rousing endorsement nor a ringing denunciation in a recent forum.” [Sun Gazette]
Critic Praises Local Restaurant — “Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that checks off so many boxes, you wonder if it had taken a poll of diners’ wishes. Right now, that restaurant is a place in Arlington that combines a warm welcome with good food in a spot that locals might recall as a former paint store or a chocolate factory… Ruthie’s All-Day.” [Washington Post]
Covid Concerns for Local With India Ties — “Singh, a 28-year-old consultant, walked her dog in her Arlington, Va., neighborhood where people lined up to get inside a rooftop tiki bar and a group pedaled by on a party bike, drinking beer. She returned to her apartment and stayed up until 2 a.m. scouring Instagram for phone numbers of Indians who might have oxygen and getting no replies to a flurry of messages. Singh is among thousands of Americans struggling to help Indian relatives survive a catastrophic coronavirus surge that has caused the health care system to collapse.” [New India Times]
Nearby: Fairfax Co. Lowers Tax Rate — “Fairfax County adopted a budget Tuesday that lowers the residential property tax rate… the tax rate drops by a penny to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. Prince William County officials also recently shaved a penny from their tax rate, now at $1.115 per $100 of assessed value. Loudoun County lowered its rate by 5 .5 cents, to $0.98 per $100 of assessed value, while Arlington County froze its rate at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value.” [Washington Post]
Tow Truck Chase Ends in Arlington — “A suspect involved in a domestic dispute in Prince George’s County lead officers on a chase through D.C. and into Arlington, Virginia, Tuesday night… police believed the suspect was armed and had kidnapped a young child, but the child was safe in Maryland.” [NBC 4, Twitter]
New D.C. United Player Dines at El Pollo Rico — “Great to see legendary #ArlingtonVA business, El Pollo Rico in @dcunited’s video introducing their new #10, Peruvian Edison Flores.” [Twitter]
Rave Review for New Rosslyn Restaurant — “Sfoglina exceeds the preview offered by the sfogline in the window. The fare is comforting to the core and will leave you wanting more of Trabocchi’s cooking. You’re in luck, he’s considering opening more restaurants in Northern Virginia.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
ACFD Helps Retrieve Wayward Pentagon Flag — “When the flags came loose earlier this month at the #Pentagon, Truck 105 from Crystal City was called in for a rescue. Good work everyone!” [Twitter]
(Updated at 1 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is asking for residents’ feedback on its bus “service, policies and procedures” as part of a comprehensive review scheduled this spring.
The school system’s Department of Multimodal Transportation Planning is helming the review, which will address issues including budget, congestion, and rising enrollment, per the announcement.
Arlingtonians are invited to a series of workshops in March and April to share their thoughts in person:
- Monday, March 25 at Wakefield (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street)
- Wednesday, March 27 at Yorktown (5200 Yorktown Blvd)
- Wednesday, April 3 at Washington-Liberty (1301 N. Stafford Street)
- Saturday, April 6 at Patrick Henry (701 S. Highland Street)
Participants will also have an opportunity to submit comments online in a questionnaire scheduled to be released this month, per the APS announcement.
“Whether your student currently rides a bus or you would like to know how bus eligibility is determined, or your student used to ride the bus or may ride the bus in the future, we’d like to hear from you,” APS said, noting that the last time APS held a top-down review of its bus system was in 2005.
Some adjustments have been made since then, such as trying to shore up attendance on buses in 2012 with a voucher system.
APS is also conducting a public survey with the county until Thursday, April 4 to overhaul the industrial lot where its school buses are stored. The 38-acre “Trades Center” lot has struggled with overcrowding for years, officials say, leading APS to shift some school vehicles over to the “Buck site” on 1425 N. Quincy Street starting last year.
Flickr pool photo by afagan