The western arm of the Orange Line links the heart of DC to North Arlington Virginia, where it’s no longer just office buildings and government agencies, but young professionals working, living, playing and eating in hip urban villages. Arlington officials had great foresight when they turned down plans for highway expansion in favor of rapid transit along the Wilson Boulevard corridor. The result was the Metro Orange Line, which opened along with the Blue Line to South Arlington in 1977. Since then, Arlington’s population has boomed and the area has been transformed into a series of lively mixed-use pedestrian friendly communities.
Arlington County officials pulled off this amazing smart growth with a vision statement “to be a world-class urban community” and lots of careful planning. They used a “Bull’s Eye” approach to concentrate the densest development within ¼ mile of each transit station. They developed individual visions for each area, resulting in each neighborhood having a different vibe. Lucky for us, each of these visions included a growing restaurant scene. We took the Metro out to Ballston-MU and worked our way back, getting off at every other stop, and finally landing back in DC at Foggy Bottom-GWU. The new Silver Line parallels the Orange Line along this section, so you can take either train.
At the western terminus of the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor, the county envisioned Ballston to become a new downtown with a bustling mix of commercial, office and residential space.
Five blocks from the Ballston Metro, Mike Isabella opened his fourth restaurant, Kapnos Taverna, on Wilson Blvd in January 2015. A contrast to it’s sister restaurant, the meat-focused Kapnos on 14th Street, Kapnos Taverna emphasizes the seafood side of Greek cuisine. Kapnos chef George Pagonis oversees the kitchens of both restaurants.
Kapnos Taverna opens at 11:30 a.m. for lunch on the weekend and serves the lunch menu until dinner takes over at 5 p.m., making it easy to drop by at any time, as long as you don’t mind eating in the bar area between 3 and 5p.m. For us, the comfortable Mediterranean style bar was a pleasure to eat in, with several tall tables in addition to the bar.
We started with one of the spreads: the melitzanosalata was a flavorful blend of smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, and walnuts sprinkled with feta cheese. It was served with a warm slab of freshly baked flatbread.
The menu is largely composed of mezze—small plates. From the many intriguing seafood options, we were most excited to try the Charred Octopus. The ridiculously tender fat tentacle was grilled and served atop a dollop of skordalia—a puree of potatoes, walnuts and olive oil—and drizzled with a chunky red pepper and caper sauce. Our only complaint is that we wished there was more. Great octopus can be hard to find, so we tend to get greedy when we find it.
Our past experiences with Greek wine have been disappointing, but this was a great opportunity to learn. Fortunately, the bar manager, Kent Marquis, knows a lot about Greek wines, which are predominant on the wine list and helped us choose the perfect companion to our food. He recommended the Xinomavro Foundi, Naoussa 2008. This mid-weight red wine had lots of nice red fruit flavors along with baking spice and pepper notes that was excellent with our two plates. Kudos to Kent! After an overall great first experience, this is definitely a spot that we’ll come back to, especially once the proposed 60 seat patio with a fire pit opens.
In the master plan, Clarendon was destined to become an “urban village” with medium density mixed use, focusing on preserving the older commercial buildings to blend with the new and conserving the existing surrounding neighborhoods.
Our first stop in Clarendon was Lyon Hall on Washington Boulevard. Lyon Hall opened in 2010 as part of the restaurant group that also includes The Liberty Tavern and Northside Social. These guys are known for rescuing historic buildings in Clarendon for their restaurants. In this case, an art deco building that housed a trophy shop was transformed into a French brasserie. Executive Chef Matt Hill, formerly of Brian Voltaggio’s Range, joined the group in January 2014.
We were here for the mussels, and went classic with the Vin Blanc Mussels served in a creamy sauce of garlic, crème fraiche, shallots, parsley and spinach. The mussels themselves were a bit small, but it was a generous portion. Of course we had to have a second round of the house-baked bread to sop up the last remnants of sauce in the pot. The Saison Dupont Belgian farmhouse ale paired nicely without overpowering the delicate flavors of the mussels. If you happen to be there during happy hour, which starts at 3 p.m. everyday, the mussel pots are only $10.
There is so much going on in Clarendon that we decided to stay for a second restaurant. A few blocks away, back up on Clarendon Blvd, is Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, a member of the Passion Food Restaurant Group that serves up modern Mexican cuisine. (Update: Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is permanently closed as of October 2016) The two level restaurant has a large, lively bar area downstairs.
We were drawn to the tacos, with nine tempting filling options folded up into fresh house-made corn tortillas. The Jalisco-style Roasted Goat and the Slow Braised Beef Tongue were both flavorful and tender. They were served with three different sauces: a fiery hot habanero salsa, hot rojo salsa and a milder salsa verde.
What better way to wash down spicy tacos, than with a spicy margarita? The Mala Suerte margaritas are made with habanero infused tequila and a splash of grapefruit juice in addition to fresh lime. The citrus and spice sipped through a sugared rim is an addictive combination. Specialty cocktails are only $5 during Happy Hour, which is from 11a.m.-3p.m. on Saturdays and all day on Sundays.
I confess that we have spent many Sundays eating and drinking our way through the Happy Hour menu, so we knew what we were doing. The Passion Food Hospitality’s Loyalty program rewards you with points for every dollar that you spend. Yes, we’ve been lured into one more round “for the points” and we’ve done well. We used our points for Passion Food gift cards. I’m sure they would make great gifts—but we’re keeping them for ourselves!
As the gateway into Arlington, Rosslyn is planned to be a new “urban center” with a skyline of high rise office buildings mixed with retail, restaurants and entertainment. Its close proximity to DC also makes Rosslyn a popular base for visitors and many major hotel chains can be found there.
We went on the search for Heavy Seas Alehouse, and we really had to search for it. The address is 1501 Wilson Blvd, but the entrance is in the back corner of the large office building. You need to turn right on North Oak Street and head toward the corner of 18th Street.
The Baltimore brewery opened this location in February 2014, just two years after the first Heavy Seas Alehouse in Baltimore in 2012. The Heavy Seas Brewery is kept separate from the restaurants—beers are not brewed at the alehouse locations due to Maryland law—but the Heavy Seas theme is licensed to the restaurants.
The open nautical themed space has lots of seating and a large bar. They were into the dinner menu by the time we arrived. Sticking with our taco binge, we ordered the Smoked Short Rib Tacos. The three tacos were stuffed with plenty of smokey shredded short rib meat topped with a tangy pickled chayote slaw. There were seven Heavy Seas beers on tap, plus a few in casks, along with other Guest Draft beers from Virginia. We each had a beer sampler of four beers so that, by sharing, we could try eight beers total, including the very special Siren Noire imperial chocolate stout, hand pumped from the cask.
Following the Orange Line back into DC, we made one last stop in the city for dessert. Established as the town of Hamburg by German settlers in 1765, Foggy Bottom was the site of one of the earliest settlements in the area that is now DC. By the mid-1800’s, it was mostly an industrial zone populated by Irish and German immigrant workers. The Washington Gas Light Company’s West Station Works was razed in 1948 to make way for the Watergate complex, and the Olde Heurich Brewing Company was closed in 1956 and torn down to make space for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The area has also been the site of the George Washington University’s main campus since 1912.
One block north of the Foggy Bottom Metro station are some of the best burgers and milk shakes in town. Burger Tap & Shake is located on Washington Circle, where it shares kitchen space with District Commons, both members of the Passion Food Hospitality group (hey—more points!). You either place your order at the counter and then seat yourself at a table, or like us, grab seats at the bar.
They grind their own blend of aged, naturally raised beef chuck and brisket to make burgers with tempting toppings like fire roasted green chilies, smoked Benton bacon and fried green tomatoes. Their house burger – the Six Buck Chuck – is one of the best $6 burgers we’ve found.
They have about twenty craft beers on tap, but we were more interested in the adult milkshakes —or Shaketails. The Apocalypto blasted my husband’s taste buds with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, homemade marshmallows and chocolate ice cream. I slurped down the Talladega Nights—Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and house made Limoncello with vanilla ice cream. Of course there are also non-alcoholic shakes available too, which you can take with you for a digestive walk around town.
From here, there are many options for the rest of the evening. A stroll on the deck of the Kennedy Center or a long walk down to the water at Washington Harbor makes for a nice way to finish a full day of food crawling.
If you like this article, take it with you to DC by downloading the GPSmyCity app for your smartphone or tablet.