If you live in DC, you probably think of Arlington as your redheaded stepchild. But there’s a reason half of your office lives here - it’s convenient, cheaper, and has a lot going on, including some really great restaurants. If you already live here, consider this guide more proof you don’t need to take a $23 Uber ride into the District with a driver who won’t give up the aux cord to have a good meal. Here are the best places to eat in Arlington.
Ambar is one of our favorite spots for a group dinner in Arlington. The food is Balkan, which means you can expect a mix of Mediterranean and Eastern European, with flatbreads and croquettes, as well as things like lamb pate and crispy smelt. You’ll inevitably have trouble narrowing down your order, so our advice is to go for the “Balkan Experience,” which gets you unlimited small plates for $35. After your fourth bowl of tzatziki, have a post-dinner drink at Baba, Ambar’s cocktail bar next door. They also serve a limited food menu if you’re looking for a quicker bite.
Located between a gas station and a 7-11, Pupatella may not look like the home of the best pizza in Arlington. But don’t let appearances keep you out - this place is the real deal. If aliens ever landed in Ballston, we’d present them with one of their meatball pizzas as a peace offering. Takeout is usually our move here, but there are a few seats inside and a nice patio out back. Also, two pizzas get you a half-priced bottle of wine. Schedule that third date accordingly.
You can’t go wrong with any of The Italian Store’s classic subs, each topped with hot and sweet peppers and their special dressing. Our favorite is “The Napoli,” in all its pepperoni-ham-mozzarella glory. If you don’t want a sandwich, New York-style pizza is good too, and can be ordered by the slice. Seating is tight (they do have a small patio at the Washington Blvd. location), so we’d suggest taking your order to-go. If you’re feeling really motivated and want to actually cook for yourself, their market, with hundreds of bottles of wine, gelato, cheese, and pasta, has all the ingredients you need for an Italian feast.
Pho 75 is cash only, no frills, and no nonsense. And delicious. The service is quick, and we’d carry around a water bottle of their broth if it were socially acceptable. The inside looks like a middle school cafeteria, but instead of day-old frozen pizza you get authentic pho and no anxiety about getting invited to the cool table. You’ll be in and out in a half hour completely satisfied, and a meal for two comes in under $20, making Pho 75 one of the best cheap eats options in Arlington.
Liberty Tavern is our pick for an early in the game date spot in Arlington. Get there before your reservation and start the night with a few drinks at their street-level bar, and then head to the upstairs dining room for dinner. The menu has stuff like jalapeño hushpuppies, pizza, and spicy crab spaghetti, and all of it is pretty good. If things are going well at the end of the meal, you’re a short walk to the rest of Clarendon’s bars to continue the night.
In the middle of Clarendon, Cava Mezze is a solid spot for a light dinner and a few drinks before heading to the bar. Go with a group and fill up the table with a mix of their Mediterranean small plates - get the spanakopita. Check it out on the weekends for a $35 all you can eat brunch.
If an episode of Master of None ever took place in Ballston (budget cuts?), Aziz Ansari would eat at Yona. This ramen spot is perfect for a date or dinner with a friend - it looks like a warehouse mixed with a Swedish cabin, and there are usually some ’90s hip-hop jams playing. Get the miso porky ramen and JFK (Japanese fried chicken), and wash it all down with some sake.
At Mussel Bar, the name speaks for itself. Pots of mussels are the move - try the broth with mushrooms, bacon, and truffle, get extra bread, and soak up the pot until it’s dry. When it’s not too humid out, grab a table for happy hour on their outdoor patio.
A few blocks off the main drag of Clarendon, Green Pig Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Arlington. Come with a few friends, sit at one of the large communal tables, take in the smells coming from the open kitchen, and prepare for a meat-heavy meal. And make sure that meal includes the meatballs and the pork shank, which will make you want to bow to the next pig you see.
Out of all the Mike Isabella spots in Ballston, Kapnos Taverna is where you go when your family is in town or you’re celebrating a promotion. It’s an upscale but not stuffy Greek small plates spot that was made for big groups. In addition to the shareable mezze options, there are seafood spreads and huge for-the-table meat options. Go for the entire lamb shoulder, and hope that either your boss or those out of town family members is paying.
Cheese boards, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, brie sandwich - notice a trend? If you’re not a fan of cheese, first, look in the mirror and reevaluate your life, decisions, and beliefs, and second, just skip to the next place on this list. Cheese is central to practically everything on Screwtop’s menu. This small wine bar is ideal for dinner with the parents or an early date. Seating is first come first serve for parties of four or less, but get glass of wine to go with the complimentary truffle butter popcorn and the wait will be a breeze.
Go to Citizen Burger for the juiciest burger in Arlington and a massive craft beer list. There’s a 100% chance you’ll regret eating “The Hotness” (with jalapeños, sriracha mayo, and chili) a few hours later, but in the moment it’s glorious. With a side of their fried pickles and a local brew in hand, it’s greasy burger ecstasy.
Ray’s the Steaks is an old-school steakhouse in the middle of Courthouse that would make New York City proud - but without Manhattan prices. The steaks are gigantic, each cut is as quality as the last, and most are round $30. Try the “Diablo” for their secret smoky, spicy glaze, and throw that A1 in the trash.
At Pepita, there are more than 30 cocktails to go with your guacamole and shrimp tacos. They have names like El Chapo and Angry Elf, and they’re some of the best drinks in the area. The outdoor patio doesn’t provide the most epic views unless you love watching construction of the Ballston Mall, but it’s a comfortable place to kick back with a refreshing cocktail. Check it out on the weekends for $19 all you can eat tacos.
Finding good Chinese food in Arlington isn’t easy, but Peter Chang is an exception. Chef/owner Chang is the former chef of the Chinese embassy, and if you’ve ever wanted to use a straw to consume a dumpling, “Peter’s Big Bun” soup dumplings will help you accomplish that goal. For things that don’t require slurping, get some of the massive stir-fry hot pots. You will not leave hungry.
Texas Jack’s has one of the best weekday happy hour deals in Arlington. Post up at the bar for $5 brisket sandwiches, $6 beer, wine, or rail drinks, and plenty more cheap, smoked meats. Their barbecue brunch is also a nice change of pace and a good excuse to eat short rib before noon.
When Jessica, that girl you vaguely remember from high school English class, randomly messages you on Facebook saying, “Let’s catch up!!”, either ignore her and pretend you were too lazy to ever download the Messenger app, or go to Northside Social. During the day, it’s a coffee shop with healthy-ish options for lunch (and excellent homemade poptarts) and a low-key patio. At night, the upstairs turns into a wine bar perfect for grabbing drinks and a light bite. It’s great for a low-commitment meet up. With Jessica or anyone else.
In Arlington, it feels like you’re never too far from a lobbyist-in-training on his way to either Gold’s Gym or this Peruvian chicken chain. Both locations dish out cheap and reliable fast food, and it takes the willpower of a Tibetan monk to walk past and not be physically pulled in by the smell of their charcoal chicken.