Rules for Tri-State Italian food

Piers emails me:

    You’re a NJ native and great at finding good restaurants.

    So what are the rules for finding good old school American Italian restaurants? Not like modern farm to table places full of natural light in Brooklyn or SF, you know what I mean?

    Review aggregators are useless. Horrid “egg noodles and ketchup” places get high scores just for being family run.

It is harder and harder to find such places. I think the Latino-ization of the New Jersey heartland largely has been a good thing, and also a good thing for food (Peruvian!), but it hasn’t helped Italian dining very much. More and more New Jersey Italian places sell to the upper middle class, rather than to the diehards. I have two pieces of advice:

1. Go to a classic heartland road, such as Rt.17 or Rt.46, and try to learn which places still have Mafia ties, or had them recently.

2. Go to a town in the heartland, and ask a person working at a fire station. Heed the answer only if that person has a New Jersey accent.

As a side remark, the good places have either “too good but tacky” decor, or poor, not good enough decor. Either way, it should not feel pleasant, that is a sign the ravioli and lasagna will be ordinary. And you can always resort to Staten Island, the Bronx, and parts of Connecticut, in that order.

If you need to ask what “the heartland” means, you shouldn’t even be trying to eat this food, just drive to Kearny and opt for the lomo saltado or maybe something Brazilian, Dominican or Puerto Rican in Paterson.

Rules for Tri-State Italian food

Originally posted on Marginal Revolution – click to see comments and suggestions.

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San Francisco dining

Dwarkesh brought me to the very good Sizzling Pot King, 139 8th St, San Francisco, genuine Hunan food and yes I have been to Changsha. Don’t walk there though, take an Uber or better yet a Waymo. Dwarkesh was kind enough to call me one for the trip back to the hotel. When I asked for jazz music, I was shocked to hear a very high quality Bill Evans trio cut, not some popular slop.

The Guam restaurant on Mission — Prubechu — is quite interesting and serves largely the indigenous Chamorro food. It is rare that I have the chance to try an altogether new cuisine, in any case I would eat there again.

San Francisco dining

Originally posted on Marginal Revolution – click to see comments and suggestions.

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Mum Aroi

Mum Aroi, web site, 5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA (Baileys Crossroads area), 703-671-4222 (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | Restaurantji | Annandale Today]

This place has the same chef as the former Duangrat’s Oriental Food Mart, now relabeled Thai Value, and is right next door. But now it is also a proper sit-down restaurant, but they kept the food true to its earlier mom and pop roots. Could it be overall the most authentic Thai food around? In any case it sits in the top tier of local NoVa restaurants. The Nam Khao is excellent, as are the “dumplings” (they’re not, get them anyway and use the dipping sauce), and just a powerful restaurant all around, with Thai Noodle soups as well. Definitely recommended.

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Sichuan Legend Hot Pot

Sichuan Legend Hot Pot, web site, 9992 Main St., Fairfax, VA, 703-865-7773, 571-536-7780, closed Tuesday (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | Restaurant Guru]

I don’t love most hot pot but the core Sichuan dishes here are outstanding. Cooked by Chengdu chefs, this is Chinese food for Chinese diners. The best ma po tofu around. The best cumin fish around. Reasonable price too. Ten years ago we would have been amazed this place exists, but in 2024 somehow it doesn’t get attention at all. And yes, you do have to ask for the Chinese menu. Should be in everyone’s repertoire, it is one of my new favorites.

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JD Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar

JD Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar, web site, 6669 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA, 703-717-3871, usually open and music Saturday nights (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | Restaurant Guru | RoadTrippers | Annandale Today]

Monarch Ethiopian used to be in this space, before that Dama. This place is very good, and especially noteworthy for the freshness of the food and the flavors. Excellent kitfo, vegetables, definitely above average. Sometimes the different Ethiopian places blur into each other a bit, but this is the one closest to me, so it will get repeated visits. Nicer to sit in and less dark than some of the smaller places, so recommended both for the novice and the expert in Ethiopian food.

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Hu Tieu Mi Lacay Cho Lon

Hu Tieu Mi Lacay Cho Lon, web site, 6793-D Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, VA (Edene Center), 703-531-1420 (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | RoadTrippers]

Most of all, good noodle soups. Good vermicelli dishes. Appeals to the more traditional Vietnamese crowd, rather than the young and hip. Cash only. This won’t ever be a top place in Eden Center, but you can do worse than to eat here. Predictably delivers with good content on some of the main Vietnamese dishes and for reasonable prices.

 


Hu Tiu Mi Lacay Cho Lon – Eden Center

 

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Pho Ga Vang

Pho Ga Vang, web site, 6767 Wilson Blvd., Eden Center, Falls Church, VA (inside Mr. Wish), 571-375-8281 (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | Washingtonian | Reddit | NoVA Mag]

Most of all, I am pleased to see that the Great Vietnamese Stagnation in northern Virginia is over. Eden Center, in addition to Truong Tien, has another new excellent place. This one is a tip from Jessica Sidman. The lemon grass chicken plate with rice is superb, one of the very best offerings in all of Eden Center. The pho is well above average. The whole place feels fresh and fun and attracts a young crowd. They don’t have too many offerings, but overall that is a good sign, definitely recommended.

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“Around since xxxx”

From a reader, Matt:

    Is “Since 19XX” a positive or negative signal for a restaurant? I passed a BBQ restaurant in Denver recently with such a sign. If it’s been around so long but is good, why haven’t I heard of it before? On the other hand, it’s seemingly a positive market signal?

I view that as mostly a negative signal. It does put the restaurant in the top half of the distribution, so if you don’t know where else to go, OK. But such restaurants are rarely excellent or on any number of cutting edges. They are used to serving large numbers of longstanding customers in a pretty reliable manner. Wonderful. Sadly, most people have OK but not great taste. And such restaurants self-consciously think of themselves as a “franchise,” perhaps a bit frozen in time, in a way to be admired by 67-year-olds. Fine.

For the best meals, mostly you should look elsewhere.

p.s. such restaurants also raise the interesting theoretical question of whether a time horizon can be too long. Arguably the most interesting restaurants will end up obsolete, or in some other other way lose their unique balance or capabilities. They just want to be great for a few years, and indeed they can be. The restaurant that sticks around for 57 years is one that makes “pizza” at a “6.7 on a scale of 10” level of quality. Eh.

“Around since xxxx”Originally posted on Marginal Revolution – click to see comments and suggestions.

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Nue Elegantly Vietnamese

Nue Elegantly Vietnamese, web site, 944 W. Broad St., Falls Church, VA, 571-777-9599 (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | WaPo | Arlington Mag]

Sort of fusion, sort of fancy, way too loud. I quite liked the salad and the asparagus soup, but the coconut rice struck me as too bland and also a little too sweet. Somehow this is just not my kind of place. Some will like it, but for me the price + noise = value proposition just isn’t there.

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Truong Tien

Truong Tien, web site, 6763 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, VA, Eden Center, inside the mall, the back end far from the road, 703-216-2868 (Metro Trip Planner – opens in new window) [Google | WaPo | Reddit]

The best Vietnamese place around right now (Nov. 2023). Everything seems to be quite good, many Hue dishes as well. Get the little scoopy things that you dip in a sauce. Good Seven Courses of Beef, a smaller version. Good pho. It’s just better than the other places, and somehow it reminds me more of the Westminster Vietnamese places in Orange County, CA. Note it is small and fills up early. Let us hope this harkens the end of “the great stagnation” in Vietnamese restaurants in northern Virginia.

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