Saturday, November 1, 2008

NoVA Favorites

Updated 11/29/2013:  Updated a few odds and ends.
Updated 8/11/2012:  Lined-out a couple of restaurants that have closed.
Updated 12/24/2010: Added Baltimore day trip, USMC museum, and deleted a couple of restaurants that closed.
Updated 01/27/2010: Added bike rides
Updated 12/14/2009: Added Wegman's in Leesburg & Glory Days Grill in Broadlands.
Updated 09/02/2009: Added Kayaking and Tubing.
Updated 12/15/2008: Added Brunswick Railroad Museum.

For the year we were in Hawaii, I kept going back and updating one blog post as an easy reference point of our favorites on Oahu.

Now that we're back in the Northern Virginia (NoVA) suburbs of DC (a.k.a. Loudoun County (LoCo), I figure I should start a new update the old favorites list. I will periodically come back and update this blog post as we discover new fun things and good restaurants in the area.

If there's a website for the place or event, then the link in the title will take you to that website. If I've written a blog post about that specific place or event, then there will be a "blog post" link after the name.

Restaurants: I won't list national chains that you're all familiar with. These are locally unique places that you'll want to check out for something different.


- Bonefish (blog post) in the Broadlands Shopping Plaza almost always has excellent service and very good food.  Kid friendly - our 7 year old son always asks, "Can we go to Bonefish?" Bonus we are within walking distance and can all enjoy a cocktail or wine with dinner. I just wish we could afford to eat there more than on special occasions.
Aside: Okay so I lied. Bonefish is actually a chain. My wife tells me they go as far south as Florida. I don't think they're as common as a Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang's or Olive Garden though, and it's still our favorite restaurant around Ashburn.

- Clyde's Willow Creek Farm in the Broadlands. The Clyde's restaurant group also own's my favorite restaurant in downtown DC, The Old Ebbitt Grill. My wife and I went to Clyde's for our 10th anniversary dinner. They really did a fabulous job of renovating this old farm into a beautiful restaurant. The service was friendly and attentive. It seemed they did a sort of zone defense because we had several different servers stop by our table to deliver things or ask if we needed anything. The food was absolutely to die for. I had the pumpkin ravioli with cranberries and walnuts in a cream sauce. My wife had the lobster special - a 1 1/4 pound lobster for $18.95, flown in fresh daily from Maine. The waiter recommended the chocolate bread pudding as the house specialty for dessert, so we had to try it. It was similar to the molten chocolate lava cakes you find at other restaurants, but it had a delicious port wine reduction sauce on it and there was no molten lava part in the center. Bonus that it's walking distance from our house, so we could both enjoy wine with dinner.

- American Flatbread (blog post) in the Broadlands off Ridgeway Drive. A localvore eatery (a place using fresh produce purchased from local farms). AWESOME, delicious pizza flatbread. (CLOSED :-( )

- Mediterranean Breeze across the street from the Ashburn Volunteer Fire Department, just north of where the W&OD bike trail crosses Ashburn Road. I go there for the Greek salads, gyros, and such. The kids always get pizza. Our boys frequently ask to go here, but I'm pretty sure it's because they like watching the fire trucks across the street. Good food, reasonably priced and good service.

- Mezza Grill in the Broadlands Shopping Plaza. Really delicious Mediterranean cuisine in a warm, friendly, clean family restaurant. I had a sampler (Mediterranean Delight) of just about everything they make. It all tasted very fresh and delicious, and I didn't get an MSG headache the next day. That's a huge success in my book. (CLOSED :-( )

- Nagoya Japanese Steakhouse in the Giant Shopping Plaza, corner of Claiborne and Ashburn Farms Parkway. This is one of those places where you have 8 or so chairs seated around the big grill. The chef comes out and does lots of fancy slicing, dicing, tossing, and setting things on fire for your entertainment. The food is delicious, the chefs are entertaining, and it's not quite as expensive as other Japanese steakhouses like Benihana.

- Glory Days in the same shopping center as American Flatbread (right next door as a matter of fact). This is a small regional chain with restaurants in Virginia and Maryland. The food is excellent. The service inside the restaurant is usually excellent. Tuesday nights they give a military discount, so we normally like to go there on Tuesdays. They have several TVs up on the walls, and at each table is a little speaker which you can select to whichever TV you want. One of the TVs is always on the Cartoon Network, so our boys like going and turning the speaker to that channel. They have a couple of cool drinks for kids, too. Our boys love the "Shark Bite." It's Sprite served with a plastic toy shark sticking up out of the drink. The shark is full of red food coloring or syrup, so you turn the shark over and dump it into the Sprite and it's sort of like blood, but it essentially makes a shirley temple. They advertise having curb-side to-go service, but we've tried it twice and have NOT been impressed (poor, in-attentive curbside service, got the orders wrong).  (CLOSED :-( )

Dulles / Sterling area (near Dulles Town Center mall):

- Sweetwater Tavern. This. Place. Is. Awesome. My favorite restaurant in the Dulles / Sterling area, and one of my overall favorites in NoVA. I rank it right up there with Bonefish. Sweetwater is the epitomy of my "breweries serve awesome food" theory, except it's a much nicer restaurant than your average brewery. The food is to die for and the beer is heavenly. Be sure to check out their custom made chandeliers and the awesome ginormous mural on the wall. Go in the autumn and try their Pumpkin Ale with the pumpkin pie crust seasoning around the rim of the glass. You can even buy a tankard of beer to take home with you, and they'll even give you a little pouch of the pumpkin pie seasoning to rim your glass at home. You can bring it back another time to be refilled for $8. The service is always top notch. Again, I wish we could afford to go here more often. Aside: The owners of Sweetwater also run a couple of other restaurants in the area. We have also tried and really liked their Coastal Flats restaurant down in the Fair Oaks area.

- Wegman's! (Near the Junction of Rt. 28 and Waxpool Road) Okay, so it's technically a grocery store, but they have an awesome sort of food-court on the right hand side where you can get fresh sandwiches, sushi, soups, pizza, chinese food, and all sorts of other stuff. If nobody in your family can agree what they want for lunch, then this is a great place to satisfy many different tastes. We go here frequently on Saturdays for lunch. Update 12-14-2009: A new Wegman's opened in Leesburg, and they are some distinct differences between the two.

Leesburg and western Loudoun County (LoCo):

- Blue Ridge Grill.  There are actually two locations of BRG - one in Leesburg and one in Brambleton.  Both are extraordinarily good and in close competition with Sweetwater for the title of my favorite restaurant in Loudoun County.  We have been to BRG many times and have never had a bad experience.  The service is always impeccable and the food is always to-die-for delicious, and the prices are very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food and the quality of service you receive.  Speaking from experience, do NOT try to go here on Mother's Day or Father's Day without reservations.  For that matter, don't try going ANYPLACE NICE in Loudoun County on Mother's Day or Father's Day without reservations. 

- Tuscarora Mill a.k.a. "Tuskies." A very nice restaurant. Lunch prices aren't bad ($10-15 entrees), but dinner is pricey ($20-$30 entrees). However, you definitely get what you pay for - excellent food and service. There's also an attached cafe with a smaller menu and lower prices.

- Magnolias at the Mill Purcellville. Is actually owned by the same people who own Tuskies. Magnolias is another very nice restaurant with fantastic food and excellent service, but this one is set in an old mill. It's also pretty pricey, so we couldn't afford to go there on a regular basis. My recommendation: Plan your fall or spring Loudoun County Farm Tour trip around ending up in Purcellville for either lunch or dinner at Magnolias.

- Wegman's! There is a new Wegman's just off Rt. 7 on the east side of Leesburg. As I mentioned above, there are some distinct differences between the Dulles / Sterling Wegman's and the Leesburg Wegman's. Dulles does kids meals with a slice of pizza or chicken strips, they do NOT offer that option at Leesburg. They DO however offer subway-type sandwich kids meals at Leesburg, which they won't do at Dulles. Leesburg has a burrito station in the food court. Another thumbs-up for the Leesburg location is they have COKE, whereas the Dulles location has Pepsi. Bizarre, eh?

Local Chains with several locations:

- Five Guys! If you've ever been to Southern California, Five Guys is very similar to In-n-Out burger. Very simple menu. Hamburgers. Fries. Soda. Fries made fresh. They post on a dry-erase board where the potatos came from that they used to make your fries.

Aside: There was a really interesting article in the Washington Post (3 April 2006 in the Financial Section) about the family that started five guys and their reluctance to franchise. They're VERY particular about EVERYTHING being done RIGHT in EVERY store, from the type of pickles (Mt. Olive), to the number of shakes of seasoning they are to put on the french fries (15 shakes), to the order in which they place the burger, the tomatos, the pickles, etc. Oh, and you can't just opt to build ONE Five Guys. If you apply for a franchise, you have to build FIVE of them.


- Dulles Plane Pull in October. This is a fund-raiser for the Special Olympics held on the tarmac at Dulles airport. You can enter a team to participate in the contest and pull a commercial jet from a start line to a finish line marked on the pavement. Or you can have fun just watching. Besides the plane pull contest, they have many static aircraft displays set up for kids to climb around real airplanes and helicopters. There's also a kids' school-bus pull contest.

- Loudoun County Farm Tour (blog post). One in the fall and one in the spring. Check out the website and mark your calendar!

- Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship offers educational walks (blog post). One is a bird walk on the 4th Saturday of each month. Once in the fall and again in the spring, Phil Daley leads a family nature walk. We took our boys on the fall walk. We really enjoyed it and learned a lot about local trees, plants, and animals. Phil was great with the kids - showing them things, asking them questions, and keeping them engaged.

- Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial. The USMC Silent Drill Team does an awesome performance at the Iwo Jima Memorial during the summer time. It's open to the public. See this blog post for more information and links to the website.

Sunset Parade at Iwo Jima Memorial


- Naval History Museum on the Washington Navy Yard. This is a hidden gem. The website isn't very exciting, but provides you the basic information about the museum. Although it is on a military base, it is open to the public. If you have a DoD decal and ID card, then you can go whenever you want. If you aren't military, then you need to contact them and make a reservation in order for them to meet you at the gate and escort you in.

Final Bearing and Shoot!

There's a LOT to see at this museum. It's generally laid out in a timeline with the oldest stuff closest to the front doors and gradually going through eras of naval history. There's a room off the side near the entrance devoted to submarines with two periscopes that stick out the roof of the museum. There's also an old destroyer, USS BARRY there open for tours along with a lot of other cool static displays on the waterfront like 16-inch armor plating with bullet holes in it from testing the armor.

- National Museum of the Marine Corps down in Quantico is EXCELLENT and FREE.

- Udvar Hazy Center just south of Dulles Airport. Admission is free. However (comma) it costs $12 to park, so pack as many people into one car as you can. There is also a free shuttle that runs from the National Air and Space Museum in downtown DC out to the Udvar Hazy Center. Here you can see the Enola Gay, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a concord, and a lot of other cool stuff.

Make sure you DON'T go on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (6 August), or you might get red paint thrown on you by the protesters trying to attack the Enola Gay.

Also make sure you go into the space wing of the museum and look for the model of the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The nerds who built it hid a bunch of objects on it like a tie fighter, R2D2, a traffic light, a cemetery, a school bus, and a submarine. There's a list of the hidden objects posted on the side of the display. See if you can find them all!

- Luray Caverns and Carriage Museum. Just a couple hours' drive outside of DC over in the Shenandoah Valley, these caverns are spectacular, and the carriage museum has a lot of really nice antique cars.

- Frying Pan Farm in Herndon, VA, runs using technology from the 1920-1950 timeframe. They keep their website updated with news of the birth of baby animals for you to stop and see. There are lots of historic displays of antique farm equipment. There's a nice playground for the kids, and a pretty cool gift shop, too.

YB and ES pet a goat at the Frying Pan Farm.


YB climbs on the playground at Frying Pan Farm.

There is also a really cool geocache at the Frying Pan Farm. You need to print out the clue sheet from the geocache listing and seek the answers to the questions on the historic signs and displays around the park. Once you locate the answers, it will give you the coordinates for a traditional ammo-can geocache.

- Brunswick Railroad Museum in Brunswick, MD. (Blog post) Bigger and more to see than the NoVA model railroad place in Vienna (see below), and open every weekend. You have to pay admission though - $6 per adult and $3 per kid. I thought it was worth it though.

- Northern Virginia Model Railroad in Vienna. They are open one Saturday per month for an open house. It's a fairly small place compared to other model railroad museums we have visited, but it's still fun for the kids. They have a trolley car train that the kids can operate and get a qual card signed off showing they're a certified engineer. It's right on the W&OD trail, and there's also an old caboose you can walk through.

ES and YB by the caboose in Vienna, VA.

- Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. We went on this ride as part of a group rate arranged by my office. It was a really pretty ride through the countryside. It takes you from Cumberland, MD up the hill to Frostberg. Everyone gets off and you can get some lunch in town while they turn the locomotive around on a turntable (that's neat to watch, too). Then the train brings you back down again.

Blunoz Family Portrait in front of Western Maryland Railroad Station

The Boys on the Locomotive

View from the train

- Baltimore is just a short hour or so drive up the road from DC, and there is a TON of cool stuff to see and do with kids around Baltimore.  We took an awesome family weekend getaway there (click on the Baltimore link to read about it).

- Kayaking. There are lots of beautiful spots around the Potomac River, Goose Creek, Antietam Creek, Beaver Creek Dam Reservoir to go kayaking or canoeing around NoVA, and there are a few outfitters around that will rent kayaks/canoes and/or provide livery service if you have your own (for example: River Riders, Jack's Boathouse, more are around on Google).

- Tubing on the Shenandoah River. We went with a large group from our church, but you can go anytime you want. River Riders runs buses to the put-in and pull-out points along the Shenandoah River every 30 minutes.

- Downpour at Algonkian Regional Park. Fun water park in the summertime. There's a little kids section and a big kids section with a water slide. We bought the season pass. I think you have to go like 3 times in order to get your money's worth from the season pass.

Great Wolf Lodge! Not exactly a local excursion, but I recommend a trip down to Williamsburg to go to the Great Wolf Lodge and their indoor water park. It really is worth getting a room there for one night, because paying for one night there gets you admission to the water park on both the day of your arrival and the day of your departure. Go down, play in the water park, stay the night, play in the water park again, drive home.

Bike Rides:

- Although the W&OD trail goes right through Ashburn, you need to be careful of all the Lance Armstrong wanna-be's who ride on their high speed bikes and don't so much as give you a heads-up they're going to scare the bejezus out of you when the FLY past you at Mach 3. However, there are some other really awesome rides in the area.

- C&O Canal Tow Path is nice because (a) it's close by, (b) the hard pack dirt/gravel keeps the Lance Armstrong wanna-be's away, and (c) the scenery is beautiful along the way. There are several points you can get on or off the C&O Canal Tow Path. I went on a very nice ride from Point of Rocks, MD down to the White's Ferry crossing.

- Great Allegheny Trail. This is another railroad converted to bike path. It starts waaaaay up in Pennsylvania and comes down through Frostburg and Cumberland, MD, and it ends where the C&O Canal Tow Path starts. I went on an awesome bike ride up over the eastern continental divide and down into Cumberland, MD. They joke that you don't need pedals from the eastern continental divide down to Cumberland - just brakes.

- Want a great bike ride with your kids? You can buy a one-way ticket on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and take your bike on the train with you, then get on your bikes and just ride back down the hill into Cumberland. I saw a lot of families with small children doing this when I went on the Greater Allegheny Trail ride, and I made a mental note to myself that I'd like to take my wife and kids to do that.

Like I said, I will come back here periodically and update it with new stuff.


divrchk said...

I'm trying to think of what you might have missed... Cherry Blossoms? Still thinking...

soldier fun said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dani said...

I know a lot of the restaurants you mentioned ... my inlaws took me to Clyde's over the summer when I visited on my way home from RI. Five Guys has always been a favorite of ours (so glad there's one near by). There is a lot of neat stuff in NoVA!

divrchk said...

OK, I remembered more. You left out Coastal Flats (Tyson's Corner and Fairfax Corner) which your LW raved about last time you lived here - it's part of the group that owns Sweetwater Tavern and they both serve those yummy dough balls.

Also, an interesting aside... Bonefish is owned by the same restaurant group that owns Roy's

divrchk said...

OK, one more :-) If you're ever coming out this way for dinner, is really good and non-chain. It's not too far down Georgetown Pike.

C said...

Here's another restaurant for you to try, though it'll have to be in DC:

DH and I went to their Annapolis cafe location a lot when we were there.

Anonymous said...

Noe I want to come to DC/NoVa on vacation just to do all the things you've posted about and eat at all the restaurants! I agree...Bonefish is great...I think that might where my girlfriends are taking me out for my "farewell" when I go home to NC in a few weeks!