You’ve overdosed on pad Thai, California rolls and kung pao chicken. You’ve eaten your body weight in food-truck burritos. Want to introduce your taste buds to something new and different? How about a lesser-known cuisine, such as Lao or Afghan? Or perhaps one of the mysterious dishes featured only on the non-English menu at that hole-in-the-wall you pass every so often.
In an area where nearly one quarter of residents were born outside the U.S. and public school kids speak 94 languages (per county statistics), authentic ethnic cuisine isn’t hard to find. We sent two of our top food writers on a mission to taste-test the dishes that Americans typically don’t order (but should). Here’s what they recommend.
Eyo Restaurant and Sports Bar
3821-B South George Mason Drive, Falls Church; 703-933-3084
Always wash your hands before dinner—especially when you’re going to use them instead of a knife and fork. At Eyo, most dishes are served on a bed of slightly sour, spongy Ethiopian injera bread (choose between one made in-house, or an even-tangier option that is flown in daily from Addis Ababa), and the bread serves as your utensils. Rip off a strip, pinch it between your fingers and use it to grab a bit of meat with a dab of lentils. And be sure to let the pocked surface of the flatbread soak up some sauce. It’s hard not to derive a primal pleasure from eating this way, which could be why so many patrons here are smiling as they dig in to their dinners.
Owner Bizuwork Tafesse and his wife, Hiwot Fesseha (who developed the recipes and does some of the cooking), have been offering up generously portioned Ethiopian fare since 2007. As a general rule, Fesseha advises neophytes to start out with the vegetarian combo—a circle of injera bread, topped with mounds of yellow lentils, a citrus-infused cubed tomato salad, stewed cabbage and more. The best bite on the plate is the red lentils amped up with berbere, a traditional spice mix containing chilies, cloves, coriander and other seasonings, which Fesseha hand-imports from her homeland whenever she visits.
Carnivores should move directly on to the tibs, which are slow-cooked beef cubes served in several different stews that vary in spiciness. The awaze tibs dish, served in a rich tomato-based sauce with garlic, jalapeno and berbere, was my favorite. The doro wat—chicken served in a spicy red pepper sauce with a hard-boiled egg—is equally worthy of attention. To beat back the heat, order a St. George beer, a golden lager that’s been brewed in Ethiopia for nearly a century.
Tucked into the Build America plaza in Bailey’s Crossroads, the eatery is outfitted with eight flatscreen televisions, which are usually showing soccer (pardon me, football) games from around the world. During the FIFA World Cup, the sports bar overflows with fans. “It gets a little crazy,” says Fesseha. “People are really into it.”
Sounds like a good excuse to order another round of St. Georges for the table.