Chefs use grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, and steroid-free pulled pork that hail from sustainable sources to craft a bounty of tortilla-wrapped treats that take their names from the likes of Caddyshack, Fletch, and Seinfeld. It's this dual mindset of serious food and irreverent attitude that tinges every one of the eatery's southwestern morsels, from the Art Vandalay burrito to the John Coctostan quesadilla. As the kitchen staff crafts their daily batch of guacamole to join the lineup of six zesty salsas, diners choose from a list of more than 20 ingredients to fill out the entree that will soon be conjured before their eyes. Because dishes are made to order, each finds easy customization for vegetarian, gluten free, and low-calorie diets, and the absence of microwaves, trans-fats, and MSG keep eats wholesome. Meanwhile, a complimentary accompaniment of chips and salsa turns portions into full meals faster than an industry-grade blow-up ray.
Ethiopian owner Meaza Zemedu's Meaza Ethiopian Restaurant, which has been featured in such press outlets as the Washingtonian and the Washington Post, was born of humble roots. Zemedu started her business by supplying local Ethiopian stores with her home-baked injera bread, a crepelike staple of Ethiopian cuisine. Demand for the tangy bread grew, allowing her to open her majestic restaurant, which welcomes guests to dine on traditional Ethiopian fare. Northern Virginia Magazine heaped praise upon the menu, including the doro wat stew—the national dish of Ethiopia—which includes chicken, red pepper, garlic, and hard-boiled eggs. Many of Meaza’s dishes are flavored with purified, spiced Ethiopian butter, from the ye beg kikil—lamb stew in spicy sauce—to the kifto—ground beef traditionally served raw or rare and mixed with cardamom and a mitmita spice blend. The chefs still bake Zemedu's injera from teff grain as an ubiquitous side and utensil alongside the fare.
The complex Ethiopian spice blends enchant guests throughout the 7,000-square-foot space—which comprises a dining room, grocery store, and banquet hall—as they admire portraits of Ethiopian emperors painted on lambskins along one wall. Throughout three elevated tiers, white and red cloths coat each table and patrons recline into patterned cushioned chairs. Sweeping bands of color swirl and draw eyes toward the ceiling, enhancing the dining room’s air of spaciousness.
Bamian Restaurant gained the attention of The Washington Post in 2006 when its traditional Afghan cuisine drew in an Afghan ambassador and embassy staff from Kuwait and Qatar. Plates teem with housemade flatbread prepared in a tandoor oven and kebabs grilled over open flames, earning the restaurant a "very good to excellent" Zagat rating. Vegetarian items include the sautéed pumpkin with yogurt and mint and hummus dusted with paprika.
The interior of Bamian Restaurant is elegantly decorated with leopard-print chairs in the foyer and sparkling chandeliers in the dining room. Gayot describes the restaurant as "large-as-a-barn and gussied up like a deb ready for a coming-out party." The large space includes a full dance floor, which lends itself to hosting large parties, wedding receptions, and rehearsal lunches to practice for dinner.
The chefs at Jerusalem Restaurant transport diners' mouths to the Middle East with traditional and authentic dishes. Stuffed grape leaves smuggle rice filling in a film of foliage ($4.95), and a quartet of small pies wraps spinach, onions, cheese, and spices in a crust of fresh, homemade dough ($5.50). The grilled chicken kabob spins merrily upon its skewer ($9.95), and the kabsa gently places lamb stew atop a bed of rice and sings it a soothing lullaby ($10.95).
At Vannipa Thai restaurant, cooks introduce tastebuds to the complex, perfectly balanced flavors of Thai cuisine with dishes culled from all-natural, MSG-free ingredients. Like a Rodin sculpture made of marzipan, each dish is an edible masterpiece: Bone-white dishes frame colorful peppers and coriander leaves, slices of Thai eggplant, or morsels of roasted duck and fried fish. Palm sugar sweetens papaya salad and pad Thai, whereas spicy Thai peppers and curries add piquant notes to dishes including chicken stir fry and steamed rockfish.