Where to Eat in Northern VA

Understatement: I like to eat.

Having been a VA/DC/MD resident for the majority of my life, I can’t begin to count the number of local restaurants I’ve eaten at over the years. One of my favorite things to do is introduce people to really good food that they’ve never tried before, especially when a restaurant has a good bang/buck.

One of the best (and often overlooked) aspects of the DC metro area is that there are a lot of strong ethnic enclaves, and the restaurants in these areas are authentic, delicious and cost-effective. [1] It’s not that I’m not a happy patron of big plate restaurant chains (here’s looking at you, Cheesecake Factory), but ethnic eateries in particular offer such a different experience from typical, watered-down Americanized fare. Roast pork hand-drawn noodle soup is immeasurably better than General Tso’s chicken from Panda Express. Beef tongue tacos are immeasurably better than whatever it is they serve at Baja Fresh. Buying sushi from a grocery store should be illegal. With a willingness to extend beyond your comfort zone, the payoff to trying authentically prepared ethnic foods is immense.

Lamb Karahi from Kabob Palace
The Lamb Karahi from Kabob Palace in Crystal City, via iPhone

A couple years ago I was inspired to make a food map of my favorite places to eat in Northern VA, as a friend of mine had similar maps for Maryland, Boston and San Francisco. At the time I was still on a college budget so my tolerance for spending money on a meal was low. I categorized each eatery by price, with a general unwillingness to spend more than $30 on a single meal (which for the most part is still true). I actually had friends who used the map and they sent it to their friends which was pretty cool to see. But the functionality of the map itself left a lot to be desired. I didn’t have the technical know-how at the time, but I knew eventually that I wanted to build the map into something more substantial.

La Mexicana Tacqueria and Bakery in Alexandria
Tacos from La Mexicana Tacqueria and Bakery in Alexandria, via iPhone

A couple weeks ago I realized that I think I finally knew enough JavaScript to turn my enhanced food map idea into a reality. I spent a lot of time looking at the Google Maps Developer’s Guide and JavaScript API, which are very well written. I also found some replacements to the stock google maps icons from Nicolas Mollet, which was another awesome resource. A few coding sessions later and I had a working version of the map that I was pleased with.

The code itself remains a work in progress, and whenever I do sit down to work on it I end up making pretty large changes to both the form and function of the map. I have a long mental list of deficiencies and necessary improvements that I’ll get to in time. But for now I’m pleased. It’s been exactly what I wanted from a side project: interesting enough to keep my continued attention, challenging enough to teach me things, and utlitarian enough that others gain value from it. I have big plans for the map moving forward.

Korean BBQ from Honeypig
Korean BBQ from Honeypig in Annandale, via iPhone

One last note: while I did talk in some detail about the merits of ethnic food, my food map isn’t limited to ethnic food by any means. I’m a sucker for a good burger or slice of NY-style pizza.

[1] Hands down the greatest resource for finding ethnic eateries in Northern VA is Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide. It's one of my favorite things on the Internet.

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