NFT Washington DC Ballston


GoRemy's "Arlington Rap" described Ballston perfectly: malls, pricey condos, and townhouses filled with Pottery Barn furniture, and aging frat boys in brown flip-flops drinking coffee at the Starbucks (at the Starbucks, at the Starbucks, etc.). Yes, Ballston has a bit of a college town feel, what with all the twenty- and thirty-somethings who flock to the area. But families and more mature adults are part of the community, too: after all, who else can afford the half-million dollar (and up) townhouses and condos?

While many Ballston residents are lured out to Clarendon or DC on the weekends, there's still a lot to do here. Willow's chefs regularly get rave reviews and Tutto Bene is a local spot offering casual Italian. If you don't mind bland bars ensconced in shopping malls, relive college days elbowing for happy hour specials at See more.

>Rock Bottom Brewery or Bailey's Pub. For a less-packed venue, head to The Front Page, or to Carpool for billiards, or, if you must, catch the Orange Line at the Ballston metro stop to find your nightlife in the city.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

Rustico is one of the newest additions to Ballston's burgeoning Wilson Boulevard area. With more than 300 beers and a diverse menu, Rustico is just one of the local bar/restaurants bringing variety to an area otherwise known for cheap pub grub. Rustico is more adult, just a tad more expensive, and reminiscent of Clarendon's finer establishments. There is a fireplace, dim lighting, and comfortable, plush bar seating in addition to a sizeable dining area. The grilled dry-aged cheddar burger with toasted brioche, red-wine shallot aioli, and malted fries is bar food gone upscale, while the rest of the menu features a variety of salads, seafood, and meats. The pizzas come with goat cheese, fig spreads, and a number of other playful toppings. Rustico is a welcome addition, and a precursor to the opening of more places perfect for those in their post-collegiate, post-intern stage of dining in Arlington.

Posted By:  Rachel Tepper
Photo:  Rachel Tepper

Michel Patisserie
Pastry chef and owner Michel Giaon studied for more than ten years in Paris learning the art of the macaron. His shop in Arlington offers numerous flavors every day in addition to special seasonal flavors (like 'Cherry Blossom,' in honor of Washington's famed cherry blossom trees). Macarons aren't to be confused with coconut macaroons, which while delicious, are completely different. Macarons are traditional french pastries comprised of two cookie wafers with a creme or ganache between them. Basically, they're fancy cookie sandwiches. The word on the street is that Michel's creations are the closest imitation of Laduree macarons (from the famed French bakery) you'll find in the area. Don't worry if you can't make it out to his shop, though. You can order them through the website to be couriered or shipped.

Posted By:  Emily Groves
Photo:  Mark Willcox

Ted's Montana Grill
Buffalo meat is "in" and you don't have to go to Big Sky state to taste it. For a burgers and fries place, Ted's Montana Grill sure doesn't feel like it; it features high booths, tile floors, and white linen tablecloths--not how I imagined Montana. Each of their many gourmet burgers comes with a buffalo meat upgrade (for an extra few bucks), but since buffalo meat is supposed to be tastier and leaner than regular beef (and should be the reason you decided to visit Ted's in the first place), it is worth spending the extra few bucks. Ted's fries are homemade (you can see the fancy schmancy potato cutter at the bar) and each of their onion rings was the size of my hand. I'm not exaggerating. Bottom line: Ted's may be a chain, but it's a chain that makes a fine buffalo burger… and it will satiate both your hunger and your buffalo meat curiosity. (Note: if you still want to embrace the buffalo craze without spending too much, you can always visit the buffalo meat guy at the Saturday Courthouse farmer's market.)

Posted By:  Elisabeth Grant
Photo:  Elisabeth Grant

Tutto Bene
From the outside Tutto Bene looks deceptively small, crammed between a Mercedes Benz dealership and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, but once you walk in the atmosphere switches completely. You're no longer at a generic looking restaurant on a busy street you're in... could it be... Italy?! Okay, not quite, but the interior is definitely more inviting than the outside, with dark burgundy walls, waiters in suits, and white tablecloths. It's casual enough for a family dinner (perhaps sharing one of the nine pizza options), but also nice enough for a first date (stare deep into each other's eyes over Mozzarella Alla Marinara or Zucchini Fritti). But well-prepared, generously-portioned, classic Italian dishes like Scaloppine Marsala and Eggplant Parmeggiana aren't all this "Arlington tradition" has to offer, they also have Bolivian fare (a reflection of the owner's heritage), allowing worldly eaters to enjoy flavors from different continents at one meal. Parking is limited but Tutto Bene validates for those who park at the Ballston mall (just across the street).

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

It’s that time of year again. Everyone who spent the winter crammed into a stuffy bar is heading to the decks and patios of their favorite haunts. That means Carpool has yanked open those garage doors to let the air flow freely. Granted, there’s a heck of a lot to do inside, what with all the pool and shuffleboard tables. But there’s just something so pleasant about skipping out of work early on a gorgeous spring day and sipping a discounted happy hour beer, while sitting on Carpool’s patio and watching the working folks go by. If you’re having a schizo kind of day and can’t decide between going outside or staying inside for the proximity to the bar and pool tables, plop down at a table next to the huge, open garage doors for the best of both worlds. Whether you’re dressed up for work or grubby from a day of chilling, this come-as-you-are bar begs to be patronized by those who love a good mix of cold beer and warm spring weather.

Posted By:  Elisabeth Grant
Photo:  Elisabeth Grant

Big Buns
At Big Buns Gourmet Grill in Ballston, ordering a meal starts off simple, with just four choices: burger, chicken, Mahi Mahi, or portabella mushroom. Step two is even easier; want it in a bun or in a bowl? But then, in a Fibonacci sequence kind of way, the options begin to compound. Cheeses, toppings, sauces and dressings, sides, drinks, shakes and beer. Ordering may leave you breathless, but it’s worth it for the end result. Once you’re sitting with your Angus beef burger (on a bun, thanks), topped with roasted corn salsa, pepper jack cheese, and bacon, with a side of sweet potato fries, you’ll be thankful for all those options. Besides, any place that offers both pitchers of beer and shakes has my vote. Just don’t get either too often or you’ll be the one with the big buns. This gourmet grill is just a quick jaunt from the Ballston metro, right around the corner of Glebe and Wilson. Fax orders in for a more efficient lunch experience.

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

Buffalo D's
Every neighborhood needs a good dive bar. A smallish place where the beer is cheap, the jukebox plenteous, and the giant TV playing sports. In Ballston, that bar is Buffalo D’s. I found it while stumbling off the Ballston Metro one night, as it is located directly across the street. I’m tempted to keep this place a secret so it doesn’t get overrun by the clubby crowd on their way home from a bender in DC, but I need it to be patronized just enough to stay in business. Now don’t get me wrong, even though it’s a dive, D’s isn’t scummy. It’s clean, newly renovated, but it is what it is—a neighborhood bar. Although they’re known for their wings, which can come in 20 or so different flavors, I haven’t had the best of experiences with them. Your best bet is to order grub from the tiny kebab restaurant adjoining Buffalo D’s: The Food Factory. That Middle Eastern food is tasty, and you can munch on it while taking a few puffs of hookah in the back room. Cheap beer… fun locals … hookahs… TVs. If that’s not enough to satisfy your late night fun quotient, I can’t help you.

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

The Front Page
Mmmmmm...apps. I'm a sucker for a good appetizer. In fact, a lot of times when I go out to eat, I opt for an app or two instead of an entree. But put together a couple of starters and you're often paying more than a full dinner. Not at The Front Page in Ballston. The weekday happy hour boasts half price apps, cutting the cost to about $3 per plate. Much to my delight, I discovered this wasn't the standard greasy happy hour fare either. The bruschetta is fresh, the fried ravioli perfectly crisped. (The Front Page in DC has a slightly different menu.) If that's a little too bold for you, there are always wings or quesadillas. Any songbirds out there--or those who think they are--can stop by on the first and third Sundays of the month for karaoke. Or kick back and munch on free popcorn during movie night every Monday. But above all, try the cheap weekday apps. It's tastier, less expensive, and less artery-clogging than a meal from Mickey D's. If you don't have anyone to go with, check if bartender Chris is working. He'll keep you entertained all night.

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

Hunan Gate
There are a few different kinds of Chinese restaurants. The first is the modern fusion eatery embellished with the hippest décor. The second could be called a dive, but has that good old Chinese comfort food you crave in a pinch… like General Tso’s chicken or a solid egg roll. Hunan Gate is the latter. You won’t be bowled over by the atmosphere (or lack thereof), particularly the booth seats held together with duct tape. But get a table near the window and watch the bustling of Ballston while munching on good, hearty food. This is the kind of Chinese I crave; it’s no frills, and you always know exactly what you’re going to get. There’s no worry that the Kung Pao chicken will be under-spiced. The Moo Shu pork is just as sweet and tangy as you’d expect. Meals here are extremely satisfying, and may leave you wanting a nap afterward. The prices are reasonable and the portions are so generous you could probably get a couple of meals out of just one trip.

Posted By:  Mac Carey
Photo:  Mac Carey

Metro 29 Diner
The Silver Diner with a little more panache, Metro 29 is a 1950s throwback breakfast all the time any time kind of place. And one of the few restaurants in the area where you can get a half decent poached egg. Here Sunday mornings have the anticipation of a Friday night, reservations and all. Don’t be discouraged though, because the wait is rarely longer than 15 minutes. The peak time on Sundays also brings together a strange cross-section of the population. Pastel clad flocks of churchgoers rub elbows with spaghetti strapped Saturday nighters preparing themselves for the journey homeward.

Posted By:  Kelley Coyner
Photo:  Kelley Coyner

Kettler Capitals Iceplex
Suddenly a horizontal obelisk appeared on the horizon on Wilson Boulevard heading west. (Though it has potential in a look-a-like contest, it is not a UFO mounted atop a suburban parking garage.) Finally the wrap is off: the Tyvek cover over the glass peels back to reveal of the new double rink ice skating facility at Ballston Commons. Last November the rink finally opened to lessons and hockey games and for its first public skating session. We were there with our noses pressed against the glass literally waiting for the doors to open. (With some luck, this Janie-come-lately skater will not end up with her nose on the ice!). The squadrons of preschoolers barely able to totter without their skates hardly gave me the best of cover. With the friendly tips of the skating instructors I have the concept of swizzling and marching on the ice. I have also watched with great interest the lessons on how to fall. How this will fare as an entry in my personal winter sports choices remains to be seen. The chance to watch the pros practice—be they instructors or Capitals players. Now that has potential.

Posted By:  Kelley Coyner
Photo:  Kelley Coyner

Aladdin's Eatery
For weeks I watched impatiently for Aladdin’s Lamp to open. After such anticipation I expected the interior to knock my socks off. Sadly the final design could have been mistaken for any other boring eatery in 2007—inoffensive contemporary. Luckily, the menu makes up for the rather functional surroundings. The building blocks are hummus, shawarma, falafel, kebab, lentils, spinach, garlic, lemon, and tahini. The variations run from traditional presentation of Lebanese fare to pita roll ups and pita pizzas. Top off lunch with a baklava or take a sampler back to the office. Want something other than the usual fare of turkey sandwiches at office lunch meetings? Give your boss the take-out menu and win praise for the price as well as the food.

Posted By:  Kelley Coyner
Photo:  Kelley Coyner

Sometimes you just you have to know where to look for the best offerings on the Orange Line. The Food Factory located across from the Ballston Metro Stop is one of those places. Unlike years past, there is a sign on the Fairfax Drive side of the strip mall directing you around back. What is not clear is that you can either cut through the deli or through the side alley. (The sign says a bit infelicitously—2221 Rear End. The freshly grilled shish kebob, cooked to your specifications, makes the sleuthing worth the extra effort. They have half a dozen shish kebob choices from lamb to chapli (a spicy ground meat option from Peshawar and fresh tandoori bread. There are great daily specials and a buffet with lots of options for the veggies in the house. I recommend hitting the buffet early in the lunchtime window when everything is in its prime. Décor is 4 star Formica—3 stars are for inoffensive functionality and the fourth is for cleanliness.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Courtesy Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals have a new home. No more trekking out to lame Loudoun County for Ovechkin and the gang. Now they only have to hop on the Orange line to practice their knuckle pucks, dekes, and bodychecking opponents so hard they smash the glass. The Iceplex is the Caps’ brand-new, state-of-the-art practice facility—which includes two NHL-sized ice rinks, a pro shop, a snack bar, and more. The practice rink accommodates a whopping 1,200 people, and now, everyone can go and watch the Caps slap it around for free. But if you’d rather not sit on the sidelines, and prefer to hit the ice yourself, the Iceplex will also offer beginning skate lessons, figure skating classes, youth and adult hockey, public skate time, and—wait for it… broomball! This is the first and only indoor rink that is within the Beltway and Metro-friendly. Add in the fact that these rinks sit eight stories above street level, with panoramic views of the entire National Mall and the Mason Temple in Alexandria, and the Iceplex promises to be one great community barn.

Posted By:  Ursula Gross
Photo:  none

Rock Bottom Brewery
Dollar pints until 9:00. I could end my blurb right there because it’s not often you find a deal like that ever, but Rockbottom even serves real beer that it brews on site, which makes your drinking experience that much better than if you were drinking Generic Lite for a dollar. Chances are, you will have to wait in a line (unfortunately indoors in the Ballston mall) before getting in, but once inside, the place is surprisingly not too crowded. Admittedly, there is definitely a young, urban, and professional vibe happening, but there’s also good, cheap beer and really tasty appetizers (which are, sadly, normal priced).

Posted By:  Nancy Dunham
Photo:  Nancy Dunham

Metro 29 Diner
If you crave sushi or even a fine Caesar salad full of anchovies and croutons, go elsewhere. Mashed potatoes and gravy, burgers, and grits are the staples at the 29 Diner, built in the days before carbs, South Beach, and rock & roll. The booths are small, cramped, and torn, the floor is worn, and the waitress (to call her a server would just be wrong) peruses the newspaper while she slurps coffee and simultaneously chews pie and chats with the cook until you beckon. “This is like Back to the Future, my 20-something friend Matt says as he scans the beef- and pork-laden menu featuring side dishes such as grits, fries, and scrapple (if you don’t know, you might not want to ask). I think it’s more like “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” but I do get his point. The 29 Diner (which fans call the “Tastee”) is as far from a chain as you can get. For all the media coverage it’s gotten through the years (displayed proudly on the walls) and on television commercials of nearby car dealers, it remains an unspoiled place to get a good meal at a low price. Yes, it’s old fashioned. But what’s funny is that the cell phone talking professionals in business suits are the ones that seem out of place–but more than welcome.

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