Top Arlington, VA Restaurants & Cocktail Bars (2024)

As culinary enthusiasts, we knew one of the top things to experience in Arlington was its food and beverage scene. With more than 610 restaurants, Arlington is the ideal location in the DC metro area to try a variety of food and indulge in craft cocktails. There are plenty of opportunities to support the local economy through where you choose to dine. 

We were wowed by Balkan food at Ambar, handmade pasta at Sfoglina, hand-cut doughnuts at Good Company, and cocktails at an underground bar called Salt. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

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Arlington’s Hot Restaurants and Cocktail Bars 

What really struck us about the area was how many different cuisine options there are. In fact, they have more than 45 different ethnic restaurants. Ever wanted to try Balkan food? This is the prime place to do it. Ethiopian cuisine? Check. Bolivian food? Check. 

While there’s simply no way we could have sampled items from every restaurant in the area during our time there, we can at least share our firsthand thoughts on where we dined and what we ate so you can have delightful dining experiences in Arlington too, whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks

Here are Arlington's hot restaurants and bars to try this year. 

Map of Arlington Restaurants We Recommend

A visual map of these restaurants' locations will give you an idea of what is close to where you live, or close to where you're staying, or where you want to go in Arlington that's nearby.

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    Lunch and Dinner Options in Arlington

    Ambar Restaurant

    A couple in a blue booth at Ambar restaurant in Arlington, VA with pink flowers on the ceiling.

    If there’s one restaurant that blew us away in Arlington, it’s Ambar. We had no idea what to expect of Balkan cuisine but we figured why not give it a whirl? And wow, were we floored! 

    We’re really tough food critics, and out of ten or so small plates we ordered there was only one that we thought could use a bit of help in the flavor department. But otherwise, we loved what we ordered. 

    Ambar is located in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood. It’s beautiful inside with a gorgeously tiled bar, striking blue hues throughout the space, plenty of natural light, indoor and outdoor seating, and a ceiling covered with a mix of real plants and fake flowers that somehow don’t feel cheesy. Wallpaper near some of the seating depicts scenes from decades ago in Balkan countries in black and white. 

    Wood table with a small flatbread and two small bowls of food.

    What We Ate and Recommend at Ambar

    Their unlimited-style menu for brunch, lunch, or dinner offers a very reasonable set price for all you care to order and eat. Drinks are a la carte. They have an a la carte happy hour menu at the bar as well. We had lunch for $28 per person. Though their menu might change throughout the year (coincidentally, the staff was in their private room downstairs tasting new menu items while we dined) here’s what we ordered that was absolutely divine and not to miss: 

    • Cheese pie
    • Grilled shrimp
    • Smoked sausage
    • Mushroom flatbread
    • Balkan salad
    • Stuffed pepper

    As we’re looking at the menu right now…we see some of the menu items have changed and we’re already plotting to figure out when we can go back! We also highly recommend the Ambar House Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

    Sfoglina Pasta House

    Red and white interior of an Italian restaurant in Arlington, VA.

    You had me at “pasta house.” If you go gaga for Italian food or handmade pasta like I do, Sfoglina is a must-try. You don’t even have to question if they make their pasta in-house because you can see it being made near the hostess stand before you even get to your seat in the white-and-red decorated restaurant in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood.

    The prices are a little upscale, but the freshness of ingredients, ambiance, and love put into the dishes justifies the cost. For something a little easier on the wallet, try their express lunch menu, available Monday through Friday, between 11:30 am and 3:00 pm. They also have a happy hour menu from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm every day they’re open, Monday through Saturday with small bites and shareable options. 

    What We Ate and Recommend at Sfoglina

    We shared some main dishes for lunch off of their all-day menu. We absolutely loved their Warm Rosemary Bread with Whipped Ricotta and Arugula & Parmigiano salad, with brined lemon zest and Sorrento citronette dressing to start. Both proved that all you need for a successful recipe is fresh, simple ingredients combined by an expert with a fine-tuned palate. 

    After traveling to Rome, we’re suckers for Cacio e Pepe, which instantly jumped out on the menu. At Sfoglina they serve it with a homemade rigatoni. We were stuffed when our dessert of swirled vanilla gelato and strawberry sorbet was delivered to our table, but like champions, we forged ahead and ate it. 

    Sfoglina had one of the classiest moves in hospitality we’ve ever seen – when we asked for the leftovers of our appetizers to be boxed to go, our waitress gave us a ticket to pick it up at the hostess stand when we exited. (Mic drop!) How genius is that? It was so nice not to feel like we had to fuss with the leftovers bag as we finished the rest of our meal, figuring out whether to put in on the table, a chair or…gasp…the floor. It was safe and sound up front and we grabbed it to go upon leaving with full bellies and happy tastebuds. 

    NiHao

    Interior of NiHao restaurant in Arlington, VA with purple and green interior design.

    Of all the restaurants we visited, this one seemed like it was truly the newest, hottest dining venue on the block…or in the entire city. It was hoppin’ so we’re extra glad we made a reservation on the Thursday night we dined there. 

    Chef Peter Chang admits being inspired by Spanish tapas with a restaurant concept serving small plates of Asian dishes. We loved learning that he was the chef for the Chinese ambassador to the United States when he first moved to the US from China decades ago. 

    The service at NiHao is speedy. It may be a good option if you're short on time, but it's a little too quick for our liking if you're interested in a slower – or more romantic – dining experience. Our food was brought promptly to the table before our drinks were delivered to us. Overall it made for a slightly rushed experience.

    The pros of the restaurant, however, were the swanky vibe with modern design and what felt like a little bit of a hipster scene, the colorful plates, and tasting many dishes. Dan and I enjoy the tapas concept for that reason. 

    Table filled with small plates with Asian food.Table filled with small plates with Asian food.

    What We Ate and Recommend at NiHao

    We enjoyed half of what we ordered here. We felt that the duck spring rolls were too oily for our liking and the flavors of the Garlic Cucumber Salad, though beautiful in presentation, and steamed vegetable dumplings were unbalanced. However, because we of the plates we enjoyed and the vast menu we’d go back to taste additional dishes. 

    Here’s what we enjoyed:

    • Vegetarian lo mein
    • Sweet and sour chicken
    • Osmanthus sweet and sour pork ribs
    • 2046 cocktail
    • Fallen Angels cocktail

    Carlyle

    Bird's eye view of a bar at Carlyle restaurant in Virginia with murals on the wall.

    You never really forget the best crab cakes and lobster rolls you’ve ever had. Somehow, the test of a great seafood menu always seems to be a delicately yet deliciously cooked fish, well-balanced crab cakes void of too much “filler” in favor of the majority of it being crab, and a lobster roll filled with naturally sweet lobster, limited if any mayonnaise, and a moist and flavorful brioche bun. Carlyle in Village at Shirlington did not disappoint. 

    We were skeptical when we walked in, given the size of the two-level restaurant and the large menu. However, we were wowed with fantastic service, excellent drinks, and absolutely delicious seafood. 

    Their menu has a little bit of everything if seafood isn’t your thing. And if everything on their menu is made to the level of taste that the dishes we ordered were, we can’t imagine anyone being disappointed. Everything was timed perfectly too. 

    Two plates of food on the table in Arlington, VA.

    What We Ate and Recommend at Carlyle

    Everything we ordered was great. 

    • Lobster bisque
    • Coastal lobster roll served with thin French fries and grilled corn on the cob
    • Sauteed jumbo lump crab cakes – I substituted the French fries for a field greens salad
    • Carlyle Old Fashioned
    • Carlyle 75 

    Kanji Izakaya

    Couple in a booth at a Japanese restaurant with several dishes on the table.

    There’s never a time I’m not craving Japanese food. Trying the new Kanji Izakaya in Ballston was the perfect excuse to satisfy that desire. Having been to Japan several times, we wouldn’t say it’s a true Japanese izakaya. But the Japanese restaurant was very enjoyable nonetheless. 

    The restaurant is sizeable with several seating areas. A seating area towards the back seems like it can be rented for private events or accommodate overflow seating if the restaurant is packed. Two booths near the bar, one of which we sat in, were decorated with panels and screens up top. There was also another area with a wallpapered photo of Mount Fuji that transported us back to rides on the Shinkansen, passing the majestic mountain on the way from Tokyo to Osaka.

    Hand holding chopsticks with a piece of sweet potato tempura in it and Japanese plates around it.

    What We Ate and Recommend at Kanji Izakaya

    The great thing about Japanese cuisine is that you can mix delicately fried tempura with maki rolls and grilled items that make you feel victorious in balancing a meal’s calories. We had a little of everything: 

    • Seared salmon toro
    • Sweet potato tempura
    • Tsukune yakitori skewer
    • Tuna, mango, avocado roll
    • Spicy yellowtail roll
    • Sapporo beer on draught, a favorite of ours that we were happy to see on the menu

    Maker’s Union

    Interior of a trendy restaurant and bar in the Met Park area of Arlington, VA with plenty of natural light.

    Located in an area of Arlington that quickly became a favorite of ours because of its public park, Metropolitan Park, and prime location by Amazon’s HQ2, Maker’s Union has pretty finishes, including blue velvet booths and modern chandeliers. Its central bar calls to passersby who can easily glance inside the open windows on a particularly nice day. The windows were open on the perfect day we visited in June. It called to us, and we went inside.  

    The hostess and server were particularly friendly on a busy Friday during lunchtime. Luckily, we didn’t have a problem getting a table. 

    Two entrees of food with drinks at a restaurant called Maker's Union.

    What We Ate and Recommend at Maker’s Union

    Their continental menu is filled with tempting items like macaroni and cheese, nachos, pasta dishes, seafood, steak dishes, and more. One might say it’s elevated pub food.

    What we would order again: 

    • Chargrilled Maker’s wings with Phoenix Rub
    • Whalin’ G&T

    Cocktail Bars for Pre- or Post-Dinner Drinks and Happy Hour

    Most of the recommended bars we discuss below have food items on the menu, though we stuck to having drinks before or after dinner, or visited for happy hour. 

    Whino

    Plate with a dessert cake topped with ice cream and two drinks in the background.

    After our date night at Cookology, we headed over to Whino, which is in the same Ballston Quarter building. We loved that the restaurant supports artists; several murals are painted on the ceiling and walls, and a significant portion of the space is a dedicated art gallery where visitors can purchase art pieces, including paintings and small sculptures.

    We sat at the bar and enjoyed two cocktails:  We indulged in their banana bread, which was more like a round banana cakelette with chocolate chips, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was delicious! 

    Surreal

    Gray bar with a plate of oysters and cocktail next to it, with fuchsia colored bar chairs.

    One of our favorite things about Surreal was the natural light that shone into the restaurant, which felt like a bit of a greenhouse in Palm Springs, in a wonderful way. Live tropical plants drew our eyes to the center of the space but the fuschia-colored seats at the bar ultimately drew us over during 3:00 pm on a Friday, when happy hour begins.

    We ordered half a dozen raw oysters, Gin of the Lotus, and Time Traveler’s Tipple cocktails. 

    Salt

    Two glasses on a table at a cocktail bar for a date night in Arlington.

    If you are searching for a dim-lit, upscale yet sexy hidden bar in Arlington, this is your spot. It’s so hidden that we had to call the bar to figure out exactly where in Rosslyn it was hiding. Thankfully, someone not only answered the phone on a busy weeknight but came outside to find us and guide us inside.

    The trick is entering Open Road restaurant, finding the staircase down to the “wall” of camouflaged wooden doors, and opening the right door to get inside Salt, which is underground. It’s just across the street from the Rosslyn metro station. 

    No one ever said “speakeasy” to us, but Salt gave us those vibes. (Sans 1920s Great Gatsby decor, for which we were thankful.) The classy cocktail-style destination has a bar and tables of two or six guests so you can choose your seating preference. We cozied up on the booth side of a small round table and ordered drinks. 

    Their happy hour is Monday through Friday from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, with discounts on beer, wine, seasonal cocktails, and Wagyu burgers. We loved their Bees Knees and Savor the Moment, which we very much adored for its “Salt” stamped clear ice cube. The details count!

    Water Bar

    View looking down on Water Bar's park in Arlington, VA on a sunny, summer blue sky day.

    If it’s a nice day in Arlington, run to Water Bar in National Landing. This bar is the crowning glory of the outdoor food hall named “Water Park” which debuted in 2023. All of the food kiosks within the 1.6-acre park are at ground level, and one special bar and restaurant overlooks it all: Water Bar.

    We grabbed two seats on the open-air terrace overlooking the rest of the park, with the calming still water basin at the top of the park’s water feature in the foreground just past our cocktails. I was worried that the Strawberry Sunset would be too sweet for me (I like more savory or sour drinks) but it was perfectly balanced. Dan’s Old Fountain was a good afternoon compliment to a side order of fries we enjoyed with three delicious dipping sauces. 

    Two cocktails on a table with their reflection on the table top.

    Water Park is a 4-minute walk from the Crystal City metro station, and there is ample parking in the surrounding area on the street and in parking garages. 

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      Palette 22

      A beer and a cocktail at Palette 22 restaurant in Arlington, VA.

      Not wanting the evening to end after we had a fabulous dinner at Carlyle in Village at Shirlington, we headed to Palette 22, a block away. We had beer and after-dinner cocktails at this casual restaurant, including a Holy Guava made with mezcal and an Espresso Martini. 

      A small plate of marinated cucumbers was the perfect snack when we got a little peckish a couple of hours after dinner. 

      Arlington Food Halls

      Food halls help satisfy various tastes by providing you with assorted options. Whether you’re with a group of friends or family and everyone wants to try something different or you’re solo and craving Asian dumplings for an appetizer but tacos for your main course, a food hall is perfect for all palates. 

      Upside on Moore

      Interior of a food hall in Arlington, VA.

      This Rosslyn neighborhood classy food hall is conveniently located next to the Rosslyn metro station. It has stalls with various cuisines, including Mexican, Asian, Hawaiian, Filipino, and Italian. You can choose from pizza, sandwiches, salads, dumplings, burgers, tacos, coffee, and the menu at the full bar. 

      The bar’s menu was curated by sommelier and mixologist Elli Benchimol, who owns the acclaimed French restaurant Apéro in Georgetown, housed in a really cute row home. 

      The Moore Street parking garage offers free parking on weeknights after 6:00 pm, even if you arrive before 6:00 pm. Ask the hostess for parking validation inside the food hall. 

      They also host various events, from live music to Tiki Bar pop-ups, to trivia nights. 

      Quarter Market

      Inside the colorful food hall at Ballston Quarter in Arlington, VA.

      In the lower level of Ballston Quarter is a food hall with a fun vibe called Quarter Market. Enjoy sushi, pizza, fried rice, bubble tea, BBQ, and more at these casual food stalls. Don’t forget to get a photo of yourself with the pizza wings mural!

      Arlington Breakfast Spots

      We tried breakfast in three different neighborhoods of Arlington. We’re savory breakfast kind of people and these three spots did the trick, with Bayou Bakery being our favorite. 

      Bayou Bakery

      Inside a New Orleans themed bakery called Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA.

      We headed to the Colonial Village area to enjoy breakfast at Bayou Bakery, inspired by New Orleans cuisine. Chef David Guas proudly serves favorites from his hometown here, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery has been a neighborhood staple since 2010. 

      Dan had a breakfast sandwich of sausage, eggs, and cheese on a Parker House roll. But between our two orders, my benedict was the star. A perfectly cooked poached egg was served on a bed of tator tots (yes, you read that correctly!), with sliced avocado, sprinkled with chopped chives. Yum! The small bowl was surprisingly so filling I couldn’t finish it without Dan’s help. 

      Breakfast sandwich and breakfast bowl with coffee next to it.

      Bayou has an extensive coffee drink menu and an entire case of pastries including scones, brownies, and mini pies. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something sweet, they serve New Orleans beignets covered in powdered sugar all day. 

      Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe

      Exterior of Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe in Arlington.

      Don’t let the name fool you; we were so pleased to see an extensive menu of items in addition to doughnuts when we walked in. We ordered a mini doughnut to scratch the sweet tooth itch and to compliment our savory breakfast sandwiches. 

      The interior was so lovely and filled with natural light we found a seat inside and enjoyed our meal and coffee as we sat and talked about the great time we were having in Arlington. 

      Wood table with coffee mugs and two plates of food with breakfast sandwiches and a mini donut on one plate.

      This family-owned and operated establishment serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The hand-cut doughnuts, however, are any-time treats (I think we can all agree about that). There are several locations, but we went to the newer South Eads Street location in the National Landing area of Arlington, where Amazon’s HQ2 and Metropolitan Park are.

      We liked the atmosphere, donuts, and coffee so much that we went twice in four days! 

      Cracked Eggery

      Black buildings and modern architecture with greenery surrounding them at Water Bar Park.

      During a beautiful late spring morning, we walked from our hotel to Water Park for breakfast sandwiches that we ate outdoors. Cracked Eggery is located in one of the kiosks at this outdoor food hall, which is an incubator for local, minority- and women-led restaurants. 

      With more than 10 breakfast sandwiches and various breakfast bowls to choose from, all of which sounded fantastic, it was hard to select just one for each of us to enjoy. But we were up for the challenge and succeeded! 

      Two breakfast sandwiches on brioche buns in Arlington, VA.

      Dan chose the Abe Froman with sausage, eggs, and cheese. I had the Basic with scrambled eggs and cheese because I was so overwhelmed with the options. I’ll be braver next time and go for the Southern Charm with a fried green tomato and pimento cheese, a real Southern-inspired sandwich! 

      Practical Information

      Reservations

      We recommend making reservations for dinner at Arlington restaurants wherever they are accepted, especially if you want to dine on the weekend. Most places we dined had online reservation systems that were easy to book. We walked into the restaurants we dined at for lunch on weekdays. We would likely make a reservation if dining on a weekend for lunch as well.

      Payment

      Everywhere we went in Arlington accepted credit cards. In fact, they all accept tap and pay if you’re like us and enjoy using your phone’s wallet to pay. 

      Parking

      Parking can be challenging in some of Arlington's busier areas. Though if you’re lucky, you can find metered street parking. If you can take public transportation or walk to the restaurant of your choice, we recommend it. Rideshares like Uber and Lyft are also plentiful in Arlington. These are especially nice options if you plan on enjoying some of the wonderful cocktails in Arlington.

      Arlington: a Culinary Destination

      Arlington's culinary landscape is a vibrant tapestry of international flavors and enjoyable dining experiences. It’s an ideal foodie destination. 

      From the exquisite Balkan dishes at Ambar and the authentic Italian offerings at Sfoglina to the contemporary Asian small plates at NiHao and the impeccable seafood at Carlyle, each restaurant provides a unique gastronomic journey. 

      Chic cocktail bars like Whino, Surreal, and Salt complement these dining options, where you can enjoy meticulously crafted drinks in stylish settings. Whether you're seeking a hearty breakfast, a leisurely lunch, or an elegant dinner, Arlington's diverse and dynamic food scene promises to delight every palate.

      For additional restaurants by neighborhood or cuisine, check Stay Arlington’s curated suggestions

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