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.
At Stella Restaurant, head chef Ray Niederhausen uses the techniques he honed at Stratford University's School of Culinary Arts to showcase a menu built around the use of fresh fish and local, seasonal ingredients. Seafood is the house specialty, making an appearance in everything from a signature lobster guacamole to a spinach-and-artichoke dip made richer with crab, and all fish arrives fresh each day and is never frozen or allowed to watch TV. While his grills sear savory lines into swordfish steaks or grouper fillets, Chef Ray is hard at work satisfying the meat-eating masses by braising tender lamb shanks or hand cutting steaks from slabs of certified Angus beef. To pair with their chef's culinary creations, owners George and Stratton Liapis have curated a collection of wines from around the world, and tastefully showcase many of the colorful empty bottles in elegant and whimsical wall sconces. Guests enjoy the artful plating of each selection in the streamlined waiting room, where silvery schools of painted fish dance by the light of hanging globe lamps and the sounds of the rapping wait staff.
Norito Hwaro offers a duo of decadent dining, with patrons having the choice between Norito or Hwaro seating upon their arrival to the restaurant. Flip a coin, or emulate the atom-splitting work of Ernest Walton and John Cockcroft and split up your party, and delve into Norito's Japanese menu or Hwaro's Korean menu. Highlights of Norito's nourishment include the edamame ($5)—steamed soybeans—or a traditional Nabeyaki udon bowl ($12) brimming with thick noodles, seafood, and organic veggies, and numerous sushi and sashimi options ($13–$50). All are capable of whisking palates away to the land of the rising tongue.
There's not a single individually portioned entrée on the menu at La Tasca. Rather, diners are meant to split small plates or large pots of paella in a convivial environment that melds food and the joys of company. The extensive tapas menu features about a dozen vegetarian options, such as baked baby eggplant with vegetable stuffing, and also roams toward seafood and meat choices, like slow-roasted duck. The shareable-eats motif extends to the Spanish charcuterie menu as well, with imported favorites such as Ibérico ham and spicy salchichón.
La Tasca keeps conversations flowing away from the dinner plate too. The Arlington location features twice-monthly painting workshops, in which guests sip house sangria as an instructor guides them on how to paint a masterpiece without first losing an ear. At the D.C. location, a block from Verizon Center, hockey fans can prep for the game with a special Caps tapas-and-sangria package.
Made-from-scratch recipes and fresh ingredients have been setting The Original Pancake House apart from its breakfast-spot competition since 1953. That's when its owners established an all-day empire committed to ingredients such as pure hard-wheat unbleached flour and butter made from fresh sweet cream.
Today, The Original Pancake House cooks across the country still construct scrambles and omelets from fresh Grade AA eggs. Powdered sugar lines the rims of oven-baked dutch baby pancakes, and granny-smith apples simmer in oven-baked pancakes (two of more than a dozen styles of pancake on the menu). Even the toppings are made in-house, including whipped cream, specialty syrups, and sauces. To complement these flavors, staff fill cups with fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices and coffee blended specially to match the Original Pancake House's menu and upholstery. Although each location takes on the local charm of its surrounding city, all of them share in common a homey atmosphere that welcomes families with perks such as color-in place mats and kids' menus.
Name aside, The Original Pancake House isn't just a breakfast spot—in fact, it stays open for three meals a day, or six if you follow most doctors' advice to take a small pancake break every few hours. The savory side of the menu holds sandwiches piled with thick-cut meats, caesar salads, and savory crepes stuffed with cheese and veggies.
At Primo Italiano, customers can get a taste and fill boot-shaped stomachs with 10 types of fresh pasta, New York–style pizza, and classic Italian baked dishes prepared according to family recipe. Fried ravioli adds crisp texture to a creamy pocket of cheese ($5.95), while an antipasto platter makes for a good appetizer to share with friends or a handsome fork ($10.95). Secure a hot sub on your lunchtime agenda such as the grilled italian sausage, heaped with grilled peppers and onions ($8.45). Treat your mouth to one of Primo Italiano’s specialty dishes such as baked penne with ricotta and mozzarella ($12.95), or test the strength of a boastful plate of muscles by topping them with fresh linguini and a double dose of marinara ($17.95).