Blurbs from the Burbs Volume Three: Ethnic Food


Blurbs from the ‘Burbs is written by Arlington resident Jeff Zeeman.  Jeff previously wrote about Public Art in Bluemont Park.

In my first Blurbs from the Burbs post, I noted that I’d been pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of ethnic food available in Arlington and Falls Church. Now that I’ve had a chance to sample even more top-notch local restaurants, I thought I’d share more details on a few places that are worth the trip on the Orange Line. I note that in no way does this list claim to be comprehensive, as I’ve only lived in the area for a few months now. For example, I’ve yet to try any of the purportedly stellar Korean restaurants in the area. Here are my favorites as of today:

Hong Kong Palace

Hong Kong Palace is easily the best Chinese food I’ve tried in the D.C. area. The cooking is Szechuan style, and the flavors and quality are closely comparable to foodie favorite Peter Chang’s China Cafe near Richmond (which, by the way, I also highly recommend). Note that if you are averse to spicy food, or prefer your Chinese food covered in sticky-sweet sauces per the typical Americanized Chinese, HKP is not for you. The fried chicken with dried chili peppers is a must-try. I also recommend, as appetizers, the dan dan noodles and chengdu zhong dumplings.

Continues after the jump.

La Union

Simply awesome, and awesomely-priced, Mexican / El Salvadorean cuisine, on Wilson Blvd in Arlington. My favorite is El Tipico, which includes really tasty and tender steak, perfectly-cooked plantains, avocados, refried beans and cheese. I also love their fresh salsa — it’s addictive. You simply can’t beat the bang for the buck here. Really friendly staff, to boot.


Another Wilson Blvd staple, Fettosh serves my favorite Middle Eastern food in the D.C. area, and features both a Moroccan and a Lebanese menu. The hummus is wonderfully fresh and delectable, and the chicken shwarma and grape leaves are also highlights. Be sure to solicit recommendations from the owner, whose enthusiasm is infectious.

Four Sisters

I have yet to explore many of the well-regarded Vietnamese restaurants in Falls Church, mainly because I keep going back to Four Sisters, which has yet to disappoint. I loved the shrimp and pork papaya salad, the shrimp toast, and all of the beef dishes that I’ve tried.


Fettoosh’s next door neighbor Pupatella is highly-acclaimed, and for good reason. I’d call it a rich man’s Redrocks, featuring a similar Neapolitan style of pizza, but far superior in every aspect. In fact, I’d say Pupatalla edges out Menomale as the best pizza I’ve had in the D.C. area. All of the ingredients are top notch, in particular the wonderful San Marzano tomato sauce and the stellar meatballs, but he amazingly consistent crust is what truly sets Pupatella apart from its peers. When they have their eggplant parmesan appetizer available, be certain to order it.

Bangkok Golden

Located in the same Falls Church strip mall as Hong Kong Palace. I have not tried their regular Thai menu, although it is reputed to be pretty good. What Bangkok Golden is known for, however, is the special Laotian menu, which you need to specifically request. The style of food is similar to Little Serow’s northern Thai cuisine, and while the caliber is not quite Little Serow-level, it is not too far behind, at about a third the cost, and without the wait. You will certainly experience the same sort of really intense and unusual spices, vegetables, and aromas. The food is fresh, plentiful, and cheap. Like Hong Kong Palace, you have to enjoy spicy food — the Laotian menu is not for the faint of heart (although it is available in different spice levels … if you can handle “Laotian hot,” you are a braver man or woman than I).

Moby Dick’s House of Kabobs

I realize most area kabob-lovers talk up Ravi Kabob, but I actually prefer Moby Dick’s in Clarendon … the meat was slightly more tender and succulent, and I also much preferred the accompaniments, particularly the Greek salad. Either way, Arlington is the place to be for Kabob-lovers. NB: I’ve not yet tried Kabob Palace, which also receives good reviews.

Peking Gourmet

This Falls Church landmark is made famous by its many celebrity government clients, in particular former regular George H.W. Bush (the walls are lined with photos of prominent customers). Its signature Peking duck dish is absolutely succulent, albeit a bit pricier than the other restaurants listed here. You can also get your Peking duck fix at Mark’s Duck House, but I think that Peking Gourmet, while slightly pricier, offers better-quality duck. That opinion, however, is not unanimous in my household.

32 Comment

  • sadly, the dc burbs have the most interesting and inexpensive foods.
    dc itself is getting too fancy.

    • The rent is too damn high!

    • Agreed. I moved to Logan Circle a year ago after living in Silver Spring for seven years. I ate better and for less up there. Wheaton is a cheap ethnic food lovers paradise and it was a ten minute drive. The best Chinese in the area is on Rockville Pike, which was only about a twenty minute drive. We’ve got some nice places around here, but on my salary, and for what they cost, eating out is limited now, whereas when I lived in MoCo I could go out a couple of times a week and eat terrific Thai, Indian, Salvadorean, and various Chinese regional cuisines and not have it cost anywhere near $25-$50 for a simple dinner.

      Also, I’m sure there are some differences in the various Moby Dick’s in the area (it’s like the DC kabob equivalent of Starbucks) but I’d never put any of the locations I’ve tried over Ravi. Hell, they’re not even the same style of kabob – one is Persian and the other Pakistani. A better comparison might be to try Moby Dick and Rose Kabob out in Vienna, which IMO has THE BEST Persian style kabobs in the area.

    • It seems like the people that open these ethnic restaurants are really only interested in having people of their own ethnicity as customers. Hence, you see so many of these places out in the suburbs where they those ethnicities are in greatest concentration.

      • that’s not been my experience dinning at these places.

      • That’s a really weird take on what seems a pretty obvious point: they locate where their most reliable clientele are. The way you write makes it seem as if they don’t want business outside of their own ethnic group.

        • When they don’t even have a single sign in English indicating that their business is a restaurant (as many of these places do, especially the Korean ones in Annandale), they’re not exactly making an effort to introduce their cuisine to new people.

        • I think it makes more sense than the “dc is getting too fancy” explanation. DC is not getting too fancy, but the suburbs are becoming more of a melting pot than DC.

      • Not really true. They simply go to where the rent is the cheapest.

        • Doesn’t everyone though? Business owners try to find the right balance of cost and location– the cheapest locations won’t get enough customers and the ones in the best locations are the most expensive. Apparently ethnic restaurants owners don’t think they’ll get enough business in the city… though judging by the number of DC residents that are willing to travel an hour for a bowl of good pho they are underestimating how adventurous most DC residents are.

          • Considering how DC seems to be going out of its way to kill off food trucks, I wouldn’t begrudge any ethnic eatery from avoiding downtown like the plague. Even with that massive tax break, Ben’s Chili Bowl still has to sell thousands of $8 halfsmokes every day to break even.

          • justinbc

            “Doesn’t everyone?”

            Well, no, not really. See the newly opened Le Diplomate and soon to open Del Campo. I’m guessing what they’re paying on 14th St and Chinatown respectively (if they didn’t buy the spaces outright) is pretty steep. Then again Le Diplomate pretty much became the most expensive restaurant in Logan Circle overnight in order to compensate for it.

    • DC’s ethnic food scene has always been largely in the ‘burbs. Up until the mid-70s, there was almost no ethnic food beyond the odd Italian place or a few middle eastern restaurant like Mama Ayeshas’s and some crappy Chinese takeouts. Talk to people who’ve actually lived here for awhile….DC probably has more decent ethnic places now than it did 20 years ago when i came here the first time.

      OTOH, I’ve been disappointed with a lot of suburban ethnic places that have come highly tauted. There’s plenty of bland, horrible Thai food in NoVA, some of it apparently popular wth actual Thai people; Chinese food with crappy ingredients in Rockville, etc.

      • It makes sense that you would be disappointed, because the best places are usually well-kept secrets, lest they be inundated by out-of-town “foodies.”

  • If you want good ethnic, go down the block from that place you posted, a little gem called Sultana Grill. Amazing Morroccan Food, nice family that owns it, place gets me every time.

  • justinbc

    Some very good choices here, especially the Lao menu at Bangkok Golden, which is one of the few places I’ve actually found in this area that will serve you spicy food when you request it. Another classic suburban establisment is L’Auberge Chez Francois, which has a beautiful outdoor patio in the spring and summer, and fully decorated during Christmas season. I wish I could still give high praise to 2941, one of the best meals I ever had in the DC area, but after they redesigned the concept to be more bistro-like the food quality suffered drastically.

    • Thank you justinbc for mentioning a French restaurant! “Ethnic food” shouldn’t mean “not white people food.”

  • Great post! I will be sure to try all of these places mentioned. Love your series and your writing style. So glad someone is writing about Northern Virginia- and not mentioning any of the generic places!

  • Bangkok 54 in Arlington is pretty good, IMHO.

  • This needs an edit. Hong Kong Palace and Bangkok Golden are nowhere near Falls Church, and there’s at least on dead link.


  • La Union is indeed the bomb.

  • Glad to see Bangkok Golden on the list! We’ve gone out there for their vegan tasting menu several times and it is INCREDIBLE. Seven or eight large-portioned courses for $25, Lao beers for something like $2.50. Amazing deal, delicious food, and really nice staff. Totally worth the trip. Hell, the avocado sticky rice alone is worth the trip!

  • Yeh, shhhhhhhh about Puputella.

  • East Pearl in Rockville has amazing Chinese food, Hong Kong style.
    Moa in Rockville has excellent authentic Korean food that’s outside of VA

  • Anyone else find it odd that a restaurant called “Hong Kong Palace” would serve Sichuan-style food rather than Cantonese style?

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