Each year, more fantastic restaurants are opening up in Alexandria. As the food scene in the DC metro area begins to widen and the open spaces between Alexandria and DC begin to close – we will continue to see a large influx in new restaurants. With so many changes happening, it can be hard to keep up with the newbies and decide which ones to try out! This week, we have a list of a few places that are a bit off the radar (always a plus for me!) that I personally enjoy heading to for lunch, dinner, or for a quick cocktail.
Hidden Gem # 1
My first hidden gem is to a lovely Nepalese restaurant on the north side of Del Ray – off of Mt. Vernon avenue. It’s nestled in a neighborhood called “Arlandria.” The restaurant, Royal Nepal, serves up classic Nepalese food sourced from nearby farms. The owner, Dip Magar, developed his passion for food in Kathamandu, the capital city of Nepal. He went on to become a server at Carnival Cruise Lines, where he was promoted to Supervisor, and continued his passion for food and hospitality. Dip later went on to work for Park Hyatt Blue Duck Tavern a 1 Star Michelin restaurant where he learned about wine and spirits and became a “baby somm”. Dip Magar is proud to say that he is the first Nepalese sommelier.
If you’ve never had Nepalese food – you are in for quite an experience. Nepalese food is influenced by India and Asia, especially Tibet. Dishes contain lots of spice (especially curries), the food is fresh, there is no want for protein, and, most importantly, you will walk away feeling healthy and happy about what you put into your body! Royal Nepal serves up entrees that are a burst of flavors that will tantalize your senses; making you yearn to grab your backpack and head to the great mountaintops of Nepal. The colors inside the restaurant are bright, cheerful, and bold. Hot pink, orange, and gray tribal-printed napkins are placed atop white plates on each table. I was lucky enough to have walked in just after they had finished canning their pickled vegetables. The place smelled DIVINE. The pickled vegetable jars lined the window sills, creating an amber glow along the tables. I’ll be frank – this was my first time in a Nepalese restaurant, so I had NO idea what to order. We were greeted and immediately presented with a sweet fried rice flour bread with pickled vegetables. The waiter was very amicable, answering all our questions and pointing out the house favorites.
I was very surprised to see that the most expensive meal on the menu was $25! I decided to pick the lamb chop while my friend chose the Classic Royal Nepali Thali with Goat. The lamb is marinated for six hours in a house-made yogurt-mint sauce and served with an array of vegetables ( eggplant, red onion, cabbage, tomato, crispy brussel sprouts, and daikon), all set upon a block of pink Himalayan salt and garnished with a mint sauce. If you are not familiar with salt blocks, they are heated up in the oven and served to the table slightly hot. While the heat from the meat and vegetables keeps the block hot -the salt evaporates into the food. It was absolutely lovely!
The Royal Nepali Thali is a dish consisting of five different meat and vegetable combinations that sit in separate containers, with the main plate hosting a simple cup of rice with a sunny side up egg. The dish is best enjoyed by mixing the various different flavors with the rice and pickled vegetables. We had such a fun time experimenting with all the different flavor profiles.
Lastly, we enjoyed a sweet yogurt with fruit. It was extra creamy and soft – semi sweet and delicious!
Hidden Gem # 2
The Hummingbird is a fun upscale/casual bar and kitchen, inside of the new hotel Indigo along the Potomac River in Old Town, that serves up classic American seafood: clam bakes and crab boils, fried fish and oyster roasts combined with fanciful dishes such as a raw bar tower (including jumbo shrimp, oysters, chilled lobster and King Crab legs) or local dry-aged rib eye. The decor here is just superb. The restaurant itself speaks of being by the seaside, with cool blue tones and nautical memorabilia lining the walls. Wrought iron is weaved through the gray stone washed wood tables, creating an interesting dichotomy of worn out seaside with rustic, yet elegant, poise. From the domed chandeliers, to the nautical weather vanes with Hummingbirds perched atop, the structure is an architectural delight. The restaurant is run by Chef Cathal Armstrong of the Eat Good Food Group.
I really enjoyed the Hummingbird because I felt a sense of serenity the moment I walked in. Perhaps it is the the amount of light that comes in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. You can easily see the water from most of the dining room, or you could choose to go outside and sit at the patio to get an even closer view of the water. If your not feeling hungry – and just want to grab a cocktail – the Hummingbird has some awesome specials where you will find wine that does not taste like it belongs on a happy hour menu. I was surprised to see Runquists 1448 Proprietary Red blend on for just $6 a glass. This wine is almost $20 retail. I’d say that’s a good deal – and the wine was pretty fantastic as well!
Hidden Gem # 3
Cafe 44 is an upscale eatery serving cafe style sandwiches, salads and select hot meals with craft cocktails, wine, champagne and a selection of specialty coffees. Cafe 44 offers one of the best views (from inside a restaurant) of Old Town and the Potomac as it sits at the north end of Old Town off Canal St in Building 44 on the 4th floor. At first when you are walking in, you begin to wonder if you’ve somehow put in the wrong address, but don’t worry it’s there! ‘Hidden gems’ are supposed to be harder to find! After you take the elevator to the 4th floor and turn the corner you are greeted by an airy, cheerful cafe dotted with bright orange decor, flowers, and champagne – EVERYWHERE. I was sold!
It was a dreary day but that didn’t stop me from going outside to take in the view from their outdoor terrace that overlooks the Potomac River. I hear it has a pretty amazing view of the sunrise over the water – so if your ever looking for that hidden spot to get away in the morning with a coffee (or bubbly – I won’t judge) and a nice breakfast sandwich I’d recommend giving this place a try.
Cafe 44 offers breakfast and lunch Monday- Friday, happy hour specials Wednesday-Friday and a fun champagne brunch featuring champbongs. Yes- chambongs. I had no idea what a chambong was when I walked in, but apparently I’ve been missing out! The champagne is poured into a soft L shape flute where the champagne is… how do I say this eloquently… ‘chugged.’ This would definitely qualify as a place for a fun brunch with a group of friends! For breaking the weekday fast, they offer an array of homemade pastries, hot breakfast sandwiches, a classic scrambled egg and bacon entree, quiche, waffles, and french toast. For lunch you can pick between a selection of hot or cold sandwiches, salads, soup or the weekly specials which include a hot option.
For libations, Cafe 44 maintains a fully-stocked bar, including – whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, beer, red and white wine, and an array of bubbly; you can pick whatever you’d like. Cafe 44 also has a market for you to take items to-go as well as catering.
Hidden Gem # 4
MoHo Kitchen + Cocktails sits inside of the Morrison House on S. Alfred Street. It took me awhile to figure out that this place is actually the former Ashlar restaurant. The website has not been updated since the change took place. So if you find yourself looking to go and are confused as to why it says the Ashlar – this is why! (Also – if you plan on going on the weekend, I’d call ahead to ensure that there aren’t any wedding parties… unless your into crashing parties).
Unfortunately, I didn’t try the food here, so this suggestion is based solely on their cocktails. The restaurant sits at the front end of the hotel lobby. After walking up an elegant white spiral staircase, you enter into a dimly lit room with plush leather chairs reminiscent of something you may see at the Harvard Club. The unique thing about this hidden gem is that the cocktails are inspired by great American and European literary classics. You will find a ‘Grey Gatsby’ featuring Grey Goose Vodka with St. Germain, cucumber and lemon, or ‘Tequila Mocking Bird’ with El Jimador Tequila, orange dry Curacao and lime, or The ‘Catcher in the Rye’ with Bulleit Rye Whisky, absinthe, and bitters. I had an enjoyable time deciding which author I’d like to pay homage to.
Their happy hour features $5 bottled beers, $5 house white, red, or sparkling wine, $10 signature cocktails, and $7 all bar food menu. Needless to say – you can indulge in quite the happy hour without spending too much! Overall, I really enjoyed sitting at the bar and talking with both travelers and locals. They allow dogs here which is a plus in my book, especially when you see someone walking in with a dog after a few drinks!
Well that’s it friends! Thank you so much for joining me on this little adventure to hidden gems in Alexandria. I can’t wait to hear from you all! Please like, comment, and share!
Till next time – Au revoir!