In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery?s name from ?Athenian Taverna? to ?Lebanese Taverna? so that they only had to update one word on the eatery?s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service caf?s, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare?all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.
BGR The Burger Joint?s burgers start with high-quality ingredients?most importantly, all-natural beef from grain-fed cattle, free to run in the fields and given zero hormones, fillers, or antibiotics. The prime beef is dry-aged, blended, and ground fresh to form patties that are grilled over an open flame, and then placed atop buttery, locally made brioche buns delivered fresh each day. The menu focuses on the Triple D burger topped with an over easy egg, apple wood smoked bacon, grilled jalapeno and cheddar cheese. For nonbeef eaters, the menu's selection of burgers also includes turkey and veggie varieties, as well as The Greek, a seasoned lamb patty topped with tzatziki and feta. Burgers are also available in a lettuce wrap or on a salad in a healthy salad bowl.
Diners can request all of BGR The Burger Joint's freshly made fries?from thick-cut yukon gold potatoes to asparagus fries?be topped with parmesan, rosemary, roasted garlic, or a tiny tiara. The staff hand-spins shakes with Gifford's or Breyers ice cream to create extra-thick treats for finishing off meals, and some shops curate their own selection of bottled vintage sodas and offer beer and wine.
At the age of 13, Domenico Cornacchia was already forming dough into pasta by hand, building manual dexterity that would further his ambitions of becoming a chef. He grew up working in restaurants in northern Italy before moving to the United States, where he opened his own trattoria-style eatery, Assaggi Osteria. The restaurant has been lauded by local publications, such as Viva Tysons and Washingtonian magazine.
Chef Domenico Cornacchia?s authentic menu centers on steaks and seafood, as well as house-made pastas and fresh produce garnered from farmers' markets and Amish farms. Hand-painted plates stand out from golden-yellow walls, which flank dark wood trim and rustic chairs, giving the space the European air of an old-country inn. Though the main room seats as many as 70 guests, the tables leave an arm?s length of space between each other, so that conversations flow freely without crashing into each other or causing sitcom-style confusion. In the outdoor area, lush greenery surrounds tables, ensuring that diners won?t be spotted by roving census workers.
If Cafe Taj’s large stone fountain could talk, the rippling waters would still keep mum, because the restaurant’s authentic Indian cuisine can speak for itself. Warm naan and whole-wheat roti sop up creamy curry sauce from main dishes, and the black tables are loaded down with charcoal-roasted tandoori dishes for pairing with both wine and beer from a fully stocked bar. After sating sugar cravings with rose- and cardamom-scented sweets, patrons can question servers about their catering services or use the dining room’s Romanesque columns to kick off a backflip in honor of an evening well spent.
High-backed, black leather sectional sofas set the stage for seriously fun lounging at the expansive, sprawling Iris Lounge. The sultrily, dimly lit nightspot features drooping lamps that spill red light across the lounge's four red-felted billiards tables as a weekend DJ spins floor-filling party anthems. Throughout the week, salsa, live jazz, and ladies’ nights entertain patrons who would otherwise keep occupied by luring skunks into the crawlspaces of neighbors’ homes. An exclusive members' only cigar bar offers up vintage scotches for smokers, and a menu offers calamari, crab cakes, and customizable grilled cheeses.
The golden upholstery of the elegant chairs catches the eye when tucked beside a pristine white tablecloth. Blooms in bright, cheery colors sway in the breeze above a sidewalk patio, and the reflection of tomato-red chairs beams out from the polished bar. The bold hues that decorate Panache Restaurant match the bold flavors of its dishes. A menu of French, Spanish, and Italian tapas captures the stomach's imagination?the sweetness of dates mingles with prosciutto and arugula, crab croquettes rest atop a nest of sweet potatoes, and salsa verde lights up tender fried calamari.