They hide in plain sight. They announce their names quietly. And despite all their efforts at modesty, they develop a following. These are the hidden gem restaurants. Often tucked away in shopping centers or industrial areas, they are usually not visible from the road. They are not always standalone restaurants, either, preferring to blend into rows of other businesses in an unassuming manner. Unless you serendipitously stumble upon them or are a local, you are likely to drive by, unaware of the perfect bite you just left in your rearview mirror.
Yet, throughout Fairfax County, some of our very best restaurants are off the beaten path. From hidden coffeehouses and microbreweries to other foodstuffs, wherever you stay in Fairfax County, you’ll be near a tried-and-true treasure you’d be hard-pressed to find on your own. So turn on the GPS and join us for a bite at one of our secret, local favorites!
Eat like a local in Alexandria.
In southern Fairfax County, the Alexandria area is filled with lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide good food in plain sight. Long considered one of the top family-owned Indian restaurants in Northern Virginia, Dishes of India is tucked away in the basement of the Belle View Shopping Center. Ask most locals and they’ll tell you that shopping center doesn’t even have a basement. That’s how well hidden this gem is! Nearby, you’ll find the Custard Shack, serving up homemade goodness year-round. (Grab lunch next door at The Haven!)
A bit further south, locals adore Mamma's Kitchen with its Italian and Mediterranean classics, not to mention the loveliest outdoor seating around. Down in the Woodlawn area, you’ll find Momo & Poke, a Hawaiian restaurant getting a lot of buzz lately. And, to round things out, down toward George Washington’s Mount Vernon, you’ll come across Hollin Hall Shopping Center with two solid dining options, Via Veneto and River Bend Bistro. (While at Hollin Hall, you’d do yourself a disservice if you didn’t check out their old-school Variety Store.)
Find the hidden goodness in Springfield.
With its many industrial and shopping areas, Springfield is a great place to hide a restaurant. In fact, one of the top restaurants in the National Capital Region is hidden in an unassuming shopping center: Afghan Bistro’s warm spices and even warmer service are why Washingtonians return over and over again. If you’re in a soupy mood, Hai Duong serves up a great bowl of pho. For traditional Yemeni cuisine, don’t miss the Bint al-sahn at Marib Restaurant. And Le Bledo Bakery and Café gets top scores for a huge selection of affordable and delicious Vietnamese pastries and dishes. (For more on Springfield fun and dining, read this.)
Uncover the yum in the heart of the county.
Running down the center of the county, Falls Church, Merrifield and Annandale have lots to offer an off-roading epicure. In fact, you can read our articles dedicated to Annandale and Falls Church's gastronomic goodness. But there are a few spots you won’t want to miss. Spacebar is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” spot in Falls Church, featuring beer, grilled cheese, and tots. If you’re craving Peking duck, you can opt for the renowned Peking Gourmet Inn (made famous by both Presidents Bush) or the lesser-known, but equally delicious Duck Chang’s Restaurant. Thai food lovers will jump for joy at the creatively named and creatively delicious Elephant Jumps restaurant.
And while many hungry travelers will flock to Mosaic to explore the numerous shops, restaurants, and activities that line the district streets, don’t overlook the rustic-casual roadhouse vibes and wood-fired pizzas at Open Road Grill or the upscale Italian found at TRIO Grill just a half-mile away.
Eat off the beaten path in Fairfax.
Fairfax is a font of great restaurants, many of which are free-standing and visible from the street. But if you look a little closer into the malls and shopping centers, you’ll make some great finds. Like the “guilt-free” chocolates sold by adults with developmental disabilities at Cameron’s Coffee & Chocolates. Or the meat-forward deli sandwiches sold at Chutzpah—A Real NY Deli. Or the family-favorite meals (and popular breakfasts) served at Pan-Am Restaurant. Another great find is Yu Noodles, a respectable entry in the growing Chinese soup dumpling (xiaolongbao) trend here in Northern Virginia. If you have never tried dumplings with soup inside (you bite and drink, then eat the rest of the dumpling) then it’s a must for your visit here.
Seek out the secret spots in Centreville and Clifton.
The Centreville and Clifton dining scenes are marked by diverse dining and Fairfax County’s two native wineries, The Winery at Bull Run and Paradise Springs. So even if you are not staying in this part of the county, you have good reason to visit. In Centreville, you’ll find one of the area’s best Ethiopian restaurants at Manna Bistro & Bakery. A couple of doors down, you’ll uncover a great meal at My Thai Place.
And here’s a fun find—inside the Lotte Market look for Mochinut, a mochi donut shop hidden inside the grocery store! Speaking of spots hidden inside other spots, tucked in the back of Clifton General Store, you’ll find the Main Street Pub with one of the best burgers in the region. Afterward, head to Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot and follow the secret pathway to a frozen treat or try your luck at snagging a sweet pastry or cake at the exclusive new Môtier, a French pastry shop.
Discover restaurants that mean business in Tysons.
The areas of Tysons, McLean, and Vienna are upscale and business-oriented, making for great corporate lunches and dinners. You’ll find the highest concentration of renowned restaurants in Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria malls. But, nearby, Agora Tysons brings the flavors of Mediterranean mezze to Northern Virginia. Nearby in Vienna, aim to grab an exclusive reservation at the divine 10-table Maple Ave Restaurant or find a hefty gluten-free menu at husband-and-wife owned Bazin’s On Church. And if you’re looking for a globally awarded pasty (British hand pie), The Pure Pasty is an international sensation in an unassuming location.
In Oakton, a must-visit is Mama Tigre, a colorful and flavorful Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant in a building that formerly housed a Bob Evans. In McLean, The Union brings fast, fine, and casual fare to plain brick buildings in the business district. Also don’t miss Amoo’s Restaurant, a quaint space filled with classic Persian dishes, and Esaan Tumbar, a standout Northeastern Thai spot that we know you’ll fall in love with.
Plan to find the hidden spots in this planned community.
Reston is a restaurant destination with multiple shopping areas serving as portals to great food and nightlife. Famous to the area, the Reston Town Center is obviously a major hub for fantastic cuisine – you can’t go wrong dining here. But driving down Baron Cameron Avenue, it’s easy to miss the turn into Lake Anne Plaza, an architecturally significant village center on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you will find waterfront dining gems like Kalypso’s Tavern, serving up Greek American fare in a lively atmosphere; Local VA, a self-proclaimed farm-to-table gourmet dive bar; and Café Montmartre, a French-Vietnamese bistro with a great brunch menu. (Lake Anne is also home to a brewhouse, coffee shop/wine bar, and several local retailers, but you can read more about that here.)
Across Reston, overlooking Lake Thoreau, two great restaurants are tucked away in the corner of the South Lakes Village Shopping Center. Red’s Table is a locally owned restaurant serving American fare with a gorgeous water view. Next door is Cafesano, a casual spot for Mediterranean and Italian eats. And for some seriously good barbecue? Head towards the Home Depot shopping center and pull up a seat at Willard’s Real Pit BBQ. We promise your first visit won’t be your last!
Dine fine off the beaten path in Herndon and Great Falls.
Ever taken a gastronomic tour of an office park? In Herndon, adjacent to Public Storage and Boeing HQ—in a place you’d absolutely never look—there’s an explosion of local goodness. A Taste of the World offers “exotic fusion” while Enatye Ethiopian serves up Northern Virginia’s best Ethiopian fare. Local chain Wooboi Chicken corners the fast-casual market with its signature Nashville hot chicken sandwiches. And further exploration among the offices and warehouses reveals Weird Brothers Coffee, the European-style Amphora Bakery, and an Australian-inspired café called Le Vingt Trois Café & Bakery.
Elsewhere in Herndon, you’ll find The Deli, a legit carryout for all things bread, meat, and mayo. And Tava Fry brings the flavors of Mumbai street food to the Dulles corridor. Meanwhile, over in Great Falls with its tony estates and wooded lots, Zamarod serves up Afghan goodness near Colvin Run Mill and Our Mom Eugenia cooks award-winning Greek fare. Both are great ways to refuel after a visit to the park. For an out-of-this-world destination dining experience, book a reservation at the stunning L'Auberge Chez Francois, which while well-known as one of the best in the entire region, is certainly off the beaten path.
So whether you’re a local, a tourist, or a daytripper, you’re going to have to eat eventually. And sometimes there’s just a certain satisfaction that comes from sussing out a hidden gem. Let us know what you find on your culinary adventures in Fairfax County. Share with us on social media using #FXVA or @VisitFairfax.