Farewell, Crystal City

Yes, we are moving away from Crystal City. Well, not far though – to neighboring neighborhood, Pentagon City. So we will not actually be saying good-bye to the many restaurants of Crystal City. Perhaps we'll just not be frequenting them as much. Crystal City is definitely an up-and-coming portion of Arlington, VA and the DC area, but really could use a further infusion of great restaurants and night life attractions. For now, it's a little vanilla for our tastes, but we did have some worthwhile culinary experiences here. But all general complaints aside, with us moving next door, now is a perfect time, in my opinion, to reflect on the restaurants in Crystal City, from good, to mediocre, to mediocre, to mediocre to bad.


McGinty's Public House (near corner of South Glebe Road and Route 1, in with Harris Teeter): The newest restaurant in the area and certainly the best. We can't stop going there, and it is finally bringing the slightest bit of nightlife to the area. The bar is open late and they've had some great nighttime entertainment. Plus, the menu is very unique, the food is delicious and the prices aren't bad. It's simply a very fun place and Crystal needs more like it.

Hamlet Restaurant (North end of Crystal City shops off the CC Metro): Consistently the best place to just go for a relaxing burger and a beer. Great menu has lots of nice options and the service is usually quite friendly. The fries aren't that great, but the burgers are terrific.

Jaleo (Crystal Drive and 23rd Street): Great atmosphere place that serves Spanish tapas and al fresco in the nice weather. The tapas themselves didn't all "pop" but they were still very tasty. This is consistently one of the best places in the area.

Legal Sea Foods (Clark Street and 23rd Street): Great seafood menu with delicious, fresh and creative options. The lobster was fantastic. The lump crab soup is terrific as well. Plus they had great accommodations for the vegetarians, something hard to find in a fish place.

Crystal Bonsai Sushi (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, north side of street): Simple, inexpensive, quality sushi. This combination is not easy to find around here, as I've documented. This isn't the absolute greatest place, as it sometimes shows some of its hole-in-the-wall weaknesses, but in all they have some nice dinner combo specials and are a nice easy place to go for dinner.

Charlie Chiang's Restaurant at Crystal City: This woefully under patronized Chinese restaurant actually has some fantastic Chinese dishes as well as the Mongolian “make your own stir fry” option. I've always loved some of the more creative Chinese dishes on the menu. Very unassuming place, but one I like a lot.

Enjera Eritrean (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, north side of street): The more consistent, tastier, less value and less friendly of the two Ethiopian restaurants on 23rd Street (see below). Hey, the food always wins for me.

La Bettola Italiano (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, south side of street): Cute, little Italian restaurant with great rosemary bread and a nice, classic Italian menu. Nothing special here, but as such a little unknown, it's a fun place to come for a romantic dinner. They seem to be closed a lot, so that sometimes sends us to its competitors.

Cafe Pizzaiolo (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, north side of street): Definitely the best pizza around, but service is a major afterthought. The salads are not good and their very enticing array of gelatos yields gelato that is not very special.

San Antonio Bar & Grill (North end of Crystal City shops off the CC Metro): Decent Mexican food, with very good chips and salsa. Their dishes are usually pretty good and huge but sometimes slightly oddly-conceived (i.e. grilled chicken and quail fajitas, where the chicken is deboned and ready to go for fajita-constructing and the quail still has all of its annoying little bones, making it hardly conducive for fajitas. Things like that annoy me and are commonplace here.)

Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen (in Target complex on Route 1, past South Glebe Road): Again, decent Mexican food in a chain restaurant. Sometimes the food is pretty good, sometimes it's pretty lame. The $2 beers and $3 margaritas make it all better though most of the time. The fresh corn chips, salsa and tortillas shine, but the rest of the ingredients tend to be quite mediocre.

Harar Mesob (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, south side of street): The less consistent, less tasty, more value and more friendly of the two Ethiopian restaurants on 23rd Street. This one has fallen from previous glory, as it was a few consecutive underwhelming visits here that even led us to try its across-the-street rival. We haven't been back.

Bebo Trattoria [CLOSED] (Crystal Drive near 23rd Street): This over-hyped Italian place from Chef Roberto Donna was a mess when we went there. They had two wait staff for a completely packed dining room, and they were both incredibly rude. The food took forever and then was completely wrong – the waiter then even blamed us for not saying the right order. When the correct food arrived, it was borderline inedible for the vegetarian pizza Julia ordered. The meatballs I got for $18+ were just that – two small, decent meatballs, no pasta or any garnish. Even the olive oil for the bread was basically cooking oil it was so watery; I'm not even sure it was olive, let alone extra virgin. Needless to say, we were neither surprised nor saddened when we saw that this restaurant closed up a few weeks ago. It will be replaced by a Chef Morou (of Next Iron Chef glory) restaurant and we are incredibly excited for THAT to open.

Cafe Italia (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, north side of street): Bland, weird Italian. Mainly classic Italian menu, this place has struck out several times and just always leaves me feeling a little queasy. Plus, the décor is hideous; the décor reminds me of what you’d see at a place featured on Hell’s Kitchen. Let’s hope the kitchen itself isn’t as bad.

Cantina Mexicana (23rd Street between Eads and Fern, north side of street): Less-than-decent Mexican. I can barely remember this place, but what I do remember was not good. Tasteless chorizo. Bad salsa. Non-fresh tortillas. Slimy tomatoes. Poor service. Let's just say, it took me 20 minutes just now to remember the name.

Matsutake Sushi & Steakhouse (Clark Street near 23rd Street): Sparkly Japanese steakhouses and sushi bars in my neighborhood tend to get me excited. This place looks so enticing and has a nice-looking menu. But the combination of incredibly slow service not even including the wait for a backed-up sushi bar (despite very few customers), practically-inedible sushi due to poor craftsmanship and tough cuts of fish, and bad vegetarian sushi, all paired with unexpectedly exorbitant prices doomed this place quickly. It's now the prime example of restaurants we desperately try to avoid.

The Rest: There are lots of other chains like Corner Bakery, Cosi, Quizno's, Subway, Chipotle and Jerry's that we’ve been to occasionally, and several high-end restaurants like Morton's, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, McCormack & Schmick's and Portofino Restaurant that we haven't patronized yet because of price and/or not having enough vegetarian offerings for Julia. Lack of vegetarian friendliness was also the reason we skipped out on Ted's Montana Grill and Crystal City Sports Pub. All others unmentioned just never met our fancy.

All in all, I give Crystal City a B+ for quantity of restaurants, a B for variety, a B- for restaurant quality, a C+ for uniqueness of restaurants, a D for brunch and lunch and a D+ for shopping and other pre/post-dinner attractions. I still see potential for this area in the next 2-5 years, but right now, Crystal is still searching for the “fun” and “unique” that will definitely put it over the top. Once we move, I'll be just down the street, so I'll still be able to “reap” if and when this area does take off.

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