The End of the Road
April 16, 2010
This will be the last installment of my weekly food column for the Falls Church Times. No more obsessive Farmers Market taste tests. No more waxing poetic about the Eden Center. No more bashing Pie-Tanza and Elevation Burger. It’s all over. I’m off to graduate school to begin the next chapter in my life.
To say that I’ll miss the Times is a gross understatement. Food and writing are two passions of mine that I was able to indulge simultaneously with this gig, which also allowed me to work with some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I’ve met—the Falls Church Times Staff.
Stan Fendley has backed me up no matter what I’ve written. I’ve gotten words of encouragement and advice from Dave Witzel, Scott Taylor, Annette Hennessey, George Bromley, Gina Caceci, and Stephen Siegel on numerous occasions. And Man About Town Columnist George Southern, well, he’s been about the best editor a writer could ever have—helping me along every step of the way with uncommon thoughtfulness. I can’t imagine a more supportive group of people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my columns as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. For the most part, I’ve avoided writing about the City’s most popular places, which I don’t see the point in reviewing. Instead I’ve focused on lesser known ethnic places and foods available here that aren’t available elsewhere. There are many places I didn’t get a chance to profile and many dishes I didn’t get a chance to try, but I had a blast exploring new restaurants, shopping at ethnic grocers, and expanding my horizons at the Farmers Market.
I’ll leave you with one last labor of love—a list of the “Top 10 Food-Related Things I’ll Miss the Most in and Around the City of Falls Church.” It’s a long title for a list but I can’t think of a better name. I’ve tried to cover all the bases, from markets to restaurants to places in the City and outside of it but not too far away. At best I think it’s a useful tool for any City resident interested in getting the most of the unique food offerings around the Little City. I call it a list of things I’ll miss, but from your perspective it’s really just my list of the “Top 10 Food-Related Things to Take Advantage of in and Around the City of Falls Church.”
If I mention a place that I’ve written a story about in the past then I’ve included a link to that story to give you some more information about it. If I mention a place that I didn’t get a chance to write a story about I’ve included the address in parentheses. And if I don’t mention a place you think I should’ve mentioned, well, I’m sorry about that. So here’s the list, beginning with the place I’ll miss the very most…
Top 10 Food-Related Things I’ll Miss the Most in and Around the City of Falls Church
- The Eden Center- I’ve probably written more about this City gem than anything else. The Eden Center is a food paradise with over 30 Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries that I’ve only scratched the surface of even though I’ve been there dozens of times. I’ll miss Huong Viet—Eden’s oldest and most often crowded restaurant– the most. Its spring rolls, smoky grilled meats, and gutsy lemongrass-centric stir fries are a terrific introduction to a great cuisine. If you haven’t been to Eden you simply must go. If you only go occasionally then you should go more often. And if you just don’t feel like dealing with the notoriously bad parking at least head down to Present Restaurant in Falls Church to enjoy some just-as-good Vietnamese cooking– its the cuisine this area specializes in better than any other.
The Farmers Market- There are Farmers Markets everywhere. But it’s going to be hard for me to find one better than the one the City is so blessed to have. I’ll miss the tomatoes at Tree and Leaf and Potomac Vegetable Farms. I’ll miss the glorious fruit at Toigo and Black Rock Orchard. I’ll miss Mike Musachio’s sweet corn and spring peas. Most of all, though, I’ll miss the market experience as a whole. The hustle and bustle of a Saturday morning at the Farmers Market is invigorating.
The Ethnic Markets- If you get all of your grocery shopping done at Giant or Whole Foods or Trader Joes you’ve been missing out. Those are fine establishments, but for the curious cook the area’s innumerable ethnic markets are far more interesting (and often more affordable). Few places in the country have such a diverse selection of top-notch ethnic markets. I will miss the luxury of being able to get bulk Indian spices, chewy Arab bread, and dirt cheap Asian vegetables with just a few turns here and there. In the City I particularly like Indian Spices, The Lebanese Butcher, Halalco and Asian Imports. Branch outside of City boundaries and things get even more interesting. The German Gourmet is fun. So is Grand Mart. But two of my favorite places that I never got a chance to write a story about are Great Wall Supermarket (2982 Gallows Rd, Falls Church, VA, 22042, 703-208-3320) and Duangrat’s Market (5888 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA, 22041, 703-578-0622). Great Wall is a Chinese market with an astonishing selection of fresh and funky fruits and vegetables and nearly every Asian pantry staple you’ll ever need. Duangrat’s is the area’s best Thai market behind Arlington’s Bangkok 54 Market (2927 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA, 22204, 703-521-4207), which I urge you to go to if you are serious about Thai cooking and don’t mind a 15 minute drive.
- Peruvian Chicken- The City’s two Peruvian chicken outposts—Crisp and Juicy and Super Chicken—don’t exactly thrill me, but they are still better than 99% of the plain old roast chickens out there. When I did a Peruvian chicken tasting awhile back I recommended hoping over to Arlington to eat at Super Pollo or El Pollo Rico for some seriously marinated birds. I stand by that recommendation still. I don’t know how I’ll live without Peruvian chicken.
- Saltenas- Ahh, saltenas. I still can’t understand why these Bolivian meat turnovers haven’t caught on with a broader audience. There have been cupcake crazes and frozen yogurt crazes and kabob crazes. But no love for the saltena. Go to Luzmila’s or La Caraquena in the City to try one if you haven’t already. The savory-sweet, empanada-like treats are virtually unavailable outside of Bolivia.
- Kasha’s Kitchen—I’m afraid that if I’m back in the area a year or two from now Kasha’s won’t be here. The locally run sandwich shop (which is inside Kennedy’s Natural Foods) with a granola-hippie twist just doesn’t get the business it deserves. It has all the charm and spunk that the chains don’t and the food is shockingly good. A Power Veggie or Lentil Burger along with an oversized cookie is one of the most satisfying lunches in the City.
- Our Tasty Neighbor Arlington—I haven’t written much about Arlington because, well, this is an online newspaper dedicated to the City of Falls Church. But there are some cheap eats in the nearby suburb that we have no equivalent for in the City where you can eat like a king for less than 15 bucks a person. The most obvious one is Ray’s Hell Burger (1725 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA, 22209, 703-841-0001), the ground meat Mecca that became uber-famous when President Obama and Vice President Biden ate there. I’ve never had anything less than a spectacular burger there. Another Arlington institution that the Little City has no answer for is Ravi Kabob (350 N Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA, 22203, 703-522-6666), a swoon-inducing Pakistani dive with excellent kabobs and justifiably legendary chickpeas. For the taco-freaks out there, I have to throw in a plug for El Charrito Caminante (2710 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA, 22201, 703-351-1177), the only taqueria I’ve encountered that’s worth going to in Northern Virginia (the chorizo, beef, and pork taco variations are my top picks). The place in Arlington I’ll miss the most, though, is the Italian Store (3123 Lee Hwy, Arlington, VA, 22201, 703-528-6266), which mastered the art of the greasy Italian-American hoagie long ago. I always feel better about going a little out of my way when the final destination is really affordable and delicious and is something I just can’t get near my house. These places fit the bill for City residents, requiring only a ten minute drive for budget-friendly bliss.
- The Proximity of Hard-To-Find Cuisines- Within a few mile radius of the City there are some excellent restaurants specializing in cuisines that the vast majority of Americans have never had the opportunity to eat. I will sorely miss having such places at my disposal. Two that jump immediately to mind are Hong Kong Palace and Myanmar, a duo of Falls Church gems just outside the City that offer up seldom seen dishes. The latter has a full roster of Burmese specialties. The former sports a greatest-hits menu of incendiary Szechuan delights, including Chengdu Spicy Cold Noodles and Cumin lamb — two of the most addictive plates of food I’ve eaten all year. Meaza, an Ethiopian palace on the edge of Falls Church, is another hard-to-find-elsewhere restaurant that I encourage you to take advantage of. The complex vegetarian stews and rich, spicy meat dishes will seduce you into many repeat visits. A slight detour to Annandale will drop you in the middle of dozens of Korean restaurants. The mom n’ pop Gom Ba Woo (7133 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA, 22003, 703-642-1577) is a cozy introduction to this underappreciated cuisine. Try the seafood pancake or the dumplings or the barbecued pork (well-charred pork belly, actually) with red pepper sauce—it’s hard to go wrong. The City of Falls Church is ideally located to explore these and so many other fascinating cuisines. Get out there and challenge your palate a little—you won’t regret it.
- Rabieng- This long-standing Thai restaurant a mile outside the City is far from perfect, but it excels in enough areas to warrant repeat visits–and to make this list. Truth be told, I probably crave food from here more than I do from any other area restaurant. The coconut milk-rich curries are without peer in the area, as are some of the soups and chili-basil stir-fries.
- Good Old Haandi- There is a perception out there that Haandi was once good and is now only mediocre. Food critics say there are newer and better options these days for Indian food. Well, that may be true to some extent, but I think Haandi is a reliably good neighborhood Indian spot with fresh bread and rice, rich and satisfying curries, and decent prices. What’s not to like? My colleague George Southern sang its praises last year.
That’s it. That’s the list.
By Jimmy Scarano
April 16, 2010