One of the less-reported stories is the hollowing out of central northern Virginia for really good Indian food; these days it is mostly out by Dulles. But Punjabi by Nature is well above average. The main branch in Vienna has excellent vegetarian dishes, and most of all get their three chicken specials, marked as chef’s specialties on the menu, some of them having a Punjabi twist. The branch in Chantilly has a more regional menu, is more of a mom and pop, maybe preferable for me but they are both good if not quite the answer to my pleas.
At this point in Bolivian reviewing, or should I say Cochabamba reviewing, it should suffice to note the differences across places. Overall they are pretty similar. I would say this one has a somewhat broader menu than average, a larger and livelier crowd than average, and the silpancho is especially moist. So it is above-average in a field that is already itself above-average. That said, I still choose my Bolivian meals on the basis of geography and proximity, and probably you should too.
This is an offshoot of Eyo Sports Bar on George Mason Drive, same proprietor, more or less the same menu. Like its parent, this is one of the best Ethiopian places around, most of all for the kitfo. It is spacious whereas the Sports Bar is cozy. I prefer the Sports Bar for the atmosphere, but if you are actually taking out a group of people this is likely the more comfortable and convenient alternative.
There are two questions here. The first is how well do you know Georgian food? It is the best in the Caucasus and the best from the former Soviet Union. The second is how this place compares in the broader constellation of Georgian restaurants. If you are not up to speed on Georgian, this place is a must. Georgian offerings are subtle, diverse, and combine some of the best ideas from eastern Europe, Persia, Russia, and the Middle East. Get as many small dishes and cold dishes as you can. Get the Khachapuri, the classic Georgian dish, stuffed breads, maybe the best one is with the spinach. Get the just plain Georgian bread, not on the menu you can just ask for it. Get the dumplings with meat. Avoid the larger dishes. That all said, how does this place compare with Georgian restaurants in say NYC or Berlin? Well, it is good enough to go to, but not above average. That said, the average is decently high. The downside is that this place is not super cheap. The bottom line is that in DC we now have a “good enough to go to” Georgian restaurant. And of course for people watching it is superb, hardly anyone who goes there is native-born American.
More Uighur food in Fairfax! Of the area’s Uighur restaurants, this one is the least mom and pop, the one you could take a job interview candidate to. As you might expect, it has the best ingredients of the local selection of Uighur restaurants, but is the weakest on the hot and spicy dimension. But since a lot of Uighur food is not intended to be so scorching, that can be quite a good trade-off. I very much recommend this place, while stressing it can and should coexist with Kiroran and the area’s other Uighur restaurants in your regular repertoire.
The new wave of Ethiopian restaurants in and near West Alexandria is so good it is hard to review each one, as they blur together in a stream of excellence. I can say that this one has kitfo as good as any, slightly below par yellow peas, and is currently #1 for crowd and atmosphere. Definitely recommended, but how to choose between this and all the great competitors?
Contrary to what many people will insist, it’s now possible to eat excellent Mexican food, including tacqueria-style tacos, in D.C., Northern Virginia and nearby Maryland. But this is not the result of a sudden influx of Mexican migrants — long an underrepresented group in the D.C. area — into the dining scene. Rather, earlier Mexican migrants are assimilating, opening larger businesses and spreading quality versions of their food to more parts of this country, just as hamburgers and pizzas earlier transcended their regional origins. This development is consistent with research showing that Mexican-Americans are assimilating more rapidly than previously we had thought. So the next time California, Texas or Arizona snobs complain about Mexican food offerings on the East Coast, tell them it’s better than they think.
The D.C. area also has some stagnating ethnic cuisines. Vietnamese food has continued to penetrate the market in Texas and Oklahoma, but in the Mid-Atlantic region mainstream Vietnamese restaurants seem to be in slight retreat. Vietnamese pho soups and banh mi sandwich shops are popular, and those dishes are feeding into fusion cuisine. But the full-menu restaurants don’t compete well with Thai and Chinese offerings. I am reminded of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which decades ago had fine and reasonably authentic German restaurants, but now they are mostly gone or are shells of their former selves. In the D.C. area, Bolivian is another cuisine that’s holding steady but not advancing in either the number of restaurants or the popularity with non-Bolivian customers.
The broader lesson is that America isn’t going to become endlessly more diverse, whether in its culinary offerings or otherwise. There are natural limits to these processes, and some are self-reversing as immigrants either assimilate or reach a peak influence on the broader American culture. In dining markets for the last 10 years as a whole, I would say the biggest development has been the spread of high-quality hamburgers and pizzas to all price ranges and dining styles, not the growth of cuisines cooked by recent immigrants.
Marib in Springfield is still the very best Yemeni restaurant around, but this is probably number two. Especially good sambusas and lamb mandi, the salteh I thought could have been better. For people-watching, this place is a clear number one among the Yemeni selections, given its close proximity to West Alexandria.