From decadent Italian pastas to the bright flavors of the Mediterranean, Europe’s culinary landscape has a lot to offer. Explore the region’s flavors with these 14 great European restaurants from our 2023 Best Restaurants list.
By Olga Boikess, Dawn Klavon, Alyssa Langer, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew
Price Key: Entrées = $ 15 and under | $$ 16–25 | $$$ 26–40 | $$$$ 41 and over | * = prix fixe only
Arlington | Balkan | $$$$*
Can’t pinpoint the Balkans on a map? No worries. Just come hungry. This convivial Arlington bistro’s abundant, hearty fare spans the many cultures of southeastern Europe for a set price. The common denominator of the extensive, all-you-can-eat menu is tantalizing food.
Dig into a starter of dips and Balkan salad that are an approachable first taste of Serbian and Bosnian cuisine. Don’t miss the airy, crispy, layered cheese pie, another regional specialty.
Loosen belts for the likes of slow-cooked, fall-apart chunks of lamb and roasted potatoes that are infused with the meat’s gamy essence. Housemade cevapi beef sausage is another staple here. It tastes of the grill and is complemented by a roasted pepper and feta cheese emulsion.
Fish and seafood choices nod to the area’s rivers and seacoasts. Crispy-skinned trout is enhanced by saffron-infused lentils that add an earthy counterpoint to the velvety fish. Pasta is another regional staple. Mushroom-sauced and truffle-accented Istrian gnocchi and a goulash with savory noodles in a light meaty essence are worthy examples.
The dessert plate, for an additional price, is highlighted by rich baklava and a dense chocolate cake with a light cocoa mousse. It’s a vivid geography lesson guests won’t soon forget.
See this: A pink-and-white floral canopy floating over the white-walled dining room lends a springtime festivity to any meal.
Eat this: Cheese pie, slow-roasted lamb, rainbow trout
Service: Staff provide spot-on service so that the parade of plates is well-timed and never overwhelming.
When to dine here: You and your companions are hungry for an all-you-can-eat culinary tour of the Balkan region.
Woodbridge | French | $$$
What a delicate balance it is to enjoy upscale dining in a comfortable, relaxed setting. Such is the case for diners at this charming bistro. From the moment guests sit, attentive servers dote, presenting freshly baked bread and a tureen of soft whipped butter.
Take a look around this former Chinese restaurant, renovated by owner Youssef Eagle Essakl and opened in 2007. Embrace the cultivated French provincial feel, with freshly cut flowers on every table and an eclectic mix of knickknacks.
Sample a myriad of irresistible appetizers, like Gratine des Hâlles onion soup (excellent, delivered beneath a slice of Gruyère-encrusted bread) or friture d’huîtres, a scrape-the-plate-clean serving of crispy oysters enhanced with avocado mousse and saffron aioli. Seafood fans swear by crevettes à l’ail — large, sautéed garlic shrimp partnered with Israeli couscous and baby spinach, surrounded by a decadent moat of herb-infused sauce.
Bistro L’Hermitage’s chefs create memorable dishes like salade Cesar classique, poulet rôti, and mousse au chocolat, seamlessly delivered to eager diners. Refreshingly light pommes au gratin, enhanced with vanilla ice cream, provides a sweet ending to an impressive meal. Guests head home satisfied and thoroughly spoiled by this quaint bistro’s meticulous attention to every detail.
See This: Charming knickknacks cover every wall.
Eat This: Friture d’huîtres, Coquilles St. Jacques, poulet rôti
Service: Outstanding and attentive
When to Dine Here: Bring your family for monumental moments to feel comfortable, pampered, and indulged.
Arlington | French | $$$
It’s “la vraie affaire” (the real deal), says my dining companion, spooning up an elegantly presented escargot at this French gem. Born and raised in France, she is equally enthusiastic about the roast chicken and the salmon.
We are seated on bentwood chairs in a long narrow room. There’s a cushy banquette running along one wall opposite a long, convivial bar. Antique mirrors hung above the banquette evoke the bistro’s Gallic bent.
The minced snails in a spinach-and-mushroom purée, topped with bite-size puff pastry rounds, are a delightful take on the French classic. Potato-crusted salmon is an equally successful update of a tradition. It’s lapped with a creamy-yet-light lemon beurre blanc and served on puréed spinach enriched with mushrooms and shallots.
The roast chicken is anything but a sop to unadventurous tastes. Half a succulent bird boasts crispy skin and melt-in-mouth, moist meat bathed in a luscious pan jus. The accompanying potato gratin, with its thinly sliced, tender spuds, is yet another testament to the glories of French cuisine.
A voluptuous chocolate hazelnut pot de crème is the perfect finish. Surprisingly light, yet full-flavored, the dessert dates to the 17th century. It is easy to understand its enduring appeal — just ask a native.
See This: Tasteful contemporary storefront with food and service that transports you to Paris
Eat This: Escargot, roast chicken, pot de crème
Service: Helpful and friendly without being intrusive; servers defy the stereotype of snooty help
When to Dine Here: Your party is ready to satisfy cravings for delicious, authentic French fare served with obliging charm.
L’Auberge Chez François (No. 8)
Great Falls | French | $$$$*
When it comes to bucket-list dining in NoVA, this idyllic French country escape is a stalwart. Diners here savor masterful cuisine and enjoy exquisite service. Every detail is meticulously curated, from superb bread service to sommelier-paired wine to stunning presentation.
The five-course prix fixe menu includes chef Jacques Haeringer’s amuse-bouche, which might be an elegant sampling of creamy leek soup, sprinkled with fresh herbs. Maine rope mussels and a chive crêpe that encases wild mushrooms are two of many delectable appetizers, each portioned to satisfy without filling up.
Fresh salad options all originate from the vibrant onsite garden and choosing one main course proves to be a challenge since every entrée sounds exceptional. Whether a diner orders veal scallopini, grilled duck breast, rainbow trout, or rack of lamb, the 48-year-old landmark consistently offers timeless classics.
Chateaubriand arrives with a perfect pink hue, tender and tastefully enhanced with a tiny pot of Béarnaise. Lobster appears out-of-shell, accompanied by jumbo lump crabmeat, all bathed in a dynamic citrus wine sauce.
Soufflés impress here, and each dessert tastes as good as it looks. L’Auberge Chez François lives up to its reputation, making every visit worthy of your bucket list.
See This: A gazebo offers deluxe outdoor dining with a view of the garden.
Eat This: Homard du Maine, chateaubriand, tarte au chocolat
Service: The flawless service sets the gold standard.
When to Dine Here: Visit this captivating destination for celebrating life’s special moments.
Nostos (No. 6)
Vienna | Greek | $$$
The white tablecloths are a good indicator — this is not the place for a gyro. Nostos proves that there is so much more to Greek cuisine.
To start, you can’t go wrong with spanakopita; two large, perfectly crisped phyllo triangles are stuffed with spinach, feta, and scallions. The dips with pita are made to be shared, so opt for the combination of three, including tzatziki, tyrokafteri, and taramosalata, and spread the love.
You’d be remiss to not experience the arni youvetsi, a generous, fall-off-the-bone-tender portion of lamb shank that’s braised in a wine-tomato sauce and served with orzo. Meat lovers also will appreciate the moussaka, a rich, layered dish of baby eggplant, potatoes, ground beef, and béchamel.
Seafood’s key role in Greek fare isn’t overlooked here. The garides saganaki — sautéed shrimp served in a tomato-based sauce with feta, onions, and raisins — and lavraki (branzino) are both winners.
It will be a challenge to save room for dessert, but three different baklava variations beckon. These interpretations are the kind of upscale sweet you’d have to go to a fine restaurant to try, even in Greece.
See This: The subtle nods to Cycladic architecture, such as curved, white-washed walls, are an ideal backdrop to saganaki flamed tableside.
Eat This: Combination of dips, arni youvetsi, traditional baklava
Service: Knowledgeable, welcoming, and attentive
When to Dine Here: You want a traditional-yet-elevated meal that will show you the finer things in Greek life.
Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano
Vienna | Italian | $$$$
Comforting Italian cuisine goes upscale at this chef-owned haven. Step inside and embrace the warm ambience, where stunning Chihuly glass light fixtures add intrigue to the homey dining areas.
Begin your meal with tempting antipasti like aragosta e granchio — exquisite crab-and-lobster salad enhanced with buttery avocado and a Parmesan dressing. Or try the fiori di zucca — fried zucchini blossoms with ricotta, mint, and a hint of nutty cheese. Neither should be missed.
Entrées include ever-changing pasta dishes that showcase seasonal produce and the artistry of acclaimed chef Roberto Donna. Indulge in a bowl of velvety fettuccine alla Parmigiana, created tableside from a monstrous wheel of cheese. Or savor the richness of a perfectly balanced fettuccine con bolognese bianca, draped in a white bolognese sauce showcasing a 50-50 blend of veal and pork. Branzino al forno is accompanied by a dollop of fresh pesto, creating a harmonious blend of textures and flavors in every bite.
Donna’s tantalizing housemade desserts include a not-to-be-missed chocolate mousse tiramisu that delivers a creative take on the rich classic. For a gustatory adventure that goes far beyond spaghetti and meatballs, this new Vienna classic is a must.
See This: Multicolored Chihuly glass lighting fixtures set a tone of quiet opulence.
Eat This: Bread basket with pane sfogliato, aragosta e granchio, fettuccine alla Parmigiana
Service: Caring without being intrusive
When to Dine Here: You’re seeking an intimate Italian dinner with a touch of class.
Semifreddo Italian Cuisine
Manassas | Italian | $$$
From the moment diners are greeted by the polished hostess until they are sampling the outstanding Italian cuisine created by chef Franklin Hernandez, this unassuming strip-mall restaurant hits the mark. The service staff is practically clairvoyant — one step ahead, delivering new cutlery, butter, lemon, or whatever your heart desires.
Simple treasures like the calamari fritti stand out with zippy marinara sauce accompanying the crispy squid, while generous portions of creamy formaggio enhance the burrata alla Caprese. Seafood fans embrace exceptional linguine di mare, heaping with meaty clams, mussels, and scallops in tangy cherry tomato sauce. Meat seekers enjoy the ample veal saltimbocca, finished with white wine sauce and earthy sage.
Pasta is housemade and Hernandez puts noticeable TLC into every creative dish. Try the ravioli polpa di granchio — a lump crabmeat-filled pasta surrounded with indulgent lobster bisque.
Delicious desserts are in large supply, but the namesake semifreddo is the bucket-list item here. The light-as-a-feather frozen mousse, with caramelized walnuts and amaretto cookies, tops the meal with a flavorful ending.
Semifreddo sets a high bar and brings civilized, excellent Italian cuisine to the table — all hidden in its strip-mall setting.
See This: The open kitchen reveals entertaining chefs creating culinary art.
Eat This: Calamari fritti, lamb meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo con gamberi
Service: Some of the best in the region
When to Dine Here: Bring a date to this dark horse for an unforgettable evening.
Arlington | Italian | $$$
Carbs. You know you love them. The only thing keeping you from gorging on them every day is your nagging waistline. But sometimes we all have to tell our ego to shut up and go with the id’s desires.
On those occasions, there is nowhere better to do it than at chef Fabio Trabocchi’s pasta palace. It is possible to eat a delightful meal of salad and grilled branzino here, but that would be an error in judgment. You’re here for al dente pasta of nearly every fathomable shape.
The $75 pasta tasting allows diners to share three heaping bowls of Trabocchi’s creations. Strands are grand, but his very best work is in the realm of stuffed pastas. Tortelloni Emilia Romagna is a thin-skinned dream of salty prosciutto and mouth-watering rosemary crema. Braised beef agnolotti del plin rupture to reveal fibers of flavorful meat bathed in earthy truffle pesto.
There’s no skipping dessert here. Not when there are three cakes sized for sharing. The Piedmontese gianduja cake will have chocolate lovers obsessed, while the many layers of pistachio cake and silky mousse will inspire new desires.
Next time you’re craving carbs, just say yes to Sfoglina.
See This: From the newspaper-style menus to the servers’ Sophia Loren–style attire, every detail is idiosyncratically Italian — and chic.
Eat This: Grilled spiced calamari, tortelloni Emilia Romagna, pistachio cake
Service: Astute and ready with recommendations
When to Dine Here: You’re planning to bust your diet in the best possible way.
Falls Church | Italian | $$$
Fresh ingredients frame every modern classic dish here. Diners delight in chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson’s mouthwatering meals that bring the seasons’ bounty to their table. The showstopping starter: octopus a la plancha. It’s a dazzling dish, which includes a ‘who’d-have-thought-of-that?’ blend of snap peas, radicchio, and chorizo with a pickled pepper purée.
Burrata is order-worthy here; gently charred peaches combine with incredibly sweet cherries, arugula, chiles, and noteworthy balsamic vinegar to create an intriguing nest below the soft cheese.
Of course, outstanding pasta options are plentiful here. Fresh housemade gnocchi gets cozy with just-off-the-farm squash and zucchini, marinated in smoked tomato butter. Saffron linguine unites lobster, shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a dreamy broth with spicy nduja, infusing hints of pork sausage throughout. The well-balanced dish offers delicate seafood, hearty pasta, and zesty sauce with a hint of citrus.
The restaurant can get loud, but the gaggle of diverse diners doesn’t seem to mind. End your meal on a high note with the creative rhubarb tiramisu, yet another fresh take on an Italian classic — something Thompson Italian does well and often.
See This: Oversized concert bills decorate the walls of the bar.
Eat This: Octopus a la plancha, saffron linguine, rhubarb tiramisu
Service: Can be hit and miss
When to Dine Here: Your group — or significant other — is craving an up-to-date meal of Italian favorites.
Clifton | Italian | $$$
Outstanding pasta reigns at this busy Clifton outpost. While the extensive Italian menu offers a smorgasbord of tempting starters and sumptuous salads easily combined to create a tasty meal, opt for superior entrées like the housemade crabmeat bucatini. The tube-like noodles envelop a zesty, creamy sauce mingled with flaky Maryland blue crab and sautéed cherry tomatoes.
Meat lovers: Embrace cavatelli arrabbiata, the tiny, hot dog bun-shaped pasta that cradles zesty tomato basil cream sauce, sautéed spinach, and savory Italian sausage. A touch of heat from Calabrian chile oil seals the deal.
Those not in a pasta mood applaud the flounder-and-crab duo, wrapped in crisp parchment paper. A flavorful blend of roasted peppers, ripe tomatoes, white wine, and finely chopped herbs enhances the delicate seafood.
Trattoria Villagio’s indoor areas are bustling and very loud — the main dining room is a thoroughfare between the adjoining pizza shop and restaurant kitchen, so employees zip back and forth. The relaxing patio, surrounded by leafy trees and tangerine-hued umbrellas is a different experience. Trattoria Villagio’s strength lies in its excellent pastas, so wherever you sit, savor those craveable offerings.
See This: The charming patio draws alfresco diners.
Eat This: Cavatelli arrabbiata, crabmeat bucatini, flounder-and-crab duo
Service: Sometimes slow
When to Dine Here: Dinner on the patio is calling to you, whether it’s with family or for a date night.
Tysons | Mediterranean | $$
There is so much more to Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine than pita and hummus, as Agora demonstrates.
The menu is ideal for sharing, so come with friends and order several different dishes. Between the spreads and unlimited pita, tableside flambéed saganaki, hot and cold mezzes, and pide flatbread, one can easily fill up before even reaching the second page of the menu.
The menu appeals to omnivores. The köfte — tender, juicy patties of ground lamb and New York strip steak — are highlights, but vegetables take center stage in the form of dolmades and falafel.
For a decadent ending, order the künefe, crispy shredded phyllo surrounding a sweet cheese center, saturated in simple syrup and served warm with fragrant Turkish rose ice cream and crushed pistachios.
Yes, you can order the hummus, but at Agora, guests get to experience an array of dishes that goes beyond the familiar.
See This: The open kitchen gives diners the opportunity to see the action as they’re escorted to their table.
Eat This: Htipiti spread, pide flatbread, künefe
Service: The kitchen is speedy getting dishes out to diners; waitstaff gets the job done but doesn’t offer much in the way of menu guidance
When to Dine Here: Your group of adventurous eaters is eager to share a large variety of smaller plates.
Manassas | Mediterranean | $$$$
Doting service and memorable cuisine in a tranquil setting define this old-school gem. Located in Old Town Manassas, this family-owned restaurant has served Italian and Portuguese dishes for 37 years.
Most notable is the Fred Flintstone–sized costelao de vaca, 32 ounces of bone-in prime rib on a rich bed of roasted garlic mashed potatoes. After you and your guests get over the sheer size of the dish, enjoy the seasonings and tender meat. Topped with mushrooms, peppers, and a Barolo demi-glace, the indulgent dish exceeds expectations.
Another standout is the veal medallions, served with risotto, sugar snap peas, fontina cheese, and asparagus. We’re always on the lookout for an impressive veal dish, and Carmello’s offering is just that. Cooked to perfection, the blend of butter-bathed green vegetables with decadent risotto is an ideal backdrop for the generous portion of veal.
Worth-the-calories dessert options include a Black Forest cake and crème brûlée, both reliable ways to cap the evening.
Carmello’s is a quiet restaurant, with Rat Pack tunes gently playing for ambience. Diners don’t come here for trendy dishes or a cosmopolitan vibe, but the elegance it exudes is palpable.
See This: The impressive glass-encased wine refrigerator holds many delights.
Eat This: Vitello Rafaelo, costelao de vaca, paelha Valenciana
Service: Exceptional, with extra touches like complimentary sparkling Portuguese wine upon arrival
When to Dine Here: On a date night or when you want to impress a group
Sabores Tapas Bar
Arlington | Tapas | $$
A cloche fills with smoke. The vapors dance around a 32-ounce grilled rib-eye, then, as a server lifts the clear covering, billow forth around the room. This much is theater, but there’s no question that the real entertainment comes at first bite.
The Chuletón Vasco is one of five entrées on the menu, all Latin American in origin. Though you arrived here craving tapas, there’s no getting around it: This is one of the best steaks in NoVA.
But that doesn’t mean that you and your group can’t also fill up on small plates. Vegetables like crispy fried zucchini with a pair of garlicky sauces, or salad topped with matchsticks of apple and Manchego, are apt companions for juicy meat. Don’t limit yourself to the greens, though.
This restaurant, from a group of Latin-born former employees of José Andrés’ Jaleo, goes beyond Spanish tapas with South American flavors. Want ceviche? It’s robustly tangy, yet well balanced. Arepas? They’re bite-sized and presented with shredded chicken or beef on top.
Whether eating a chimichurri-painted steak or a chocolate cake served in a flowerpot, the imagination here is palpable. And for gustatory explorers, the small plates mean that too much of a good thing truly can be wonderful.
See This: Cheerful colors set the upbeat mood here, but it’s what’s on the plate that really impresses.
Eat This: Arepitas, Chuletón Vasco, la maceta de chocolate
Service: Matter-of-fact and efficient
When to Dine Here: You and your adventurous group want to share as many plates as you can stomach.
Arlington | Spanish | $$$
The show goes on at virtually every table at SER, a Spanish bistro that offers a wide-ranging menu of its country’s fare with a bit of flair. Convivial groups welcome bone-in rib-eye torched tableside. Crispy roast pig is dramatically chopped for service with the edge of a plate. Paella is dished up from sizzling skillets with style.
A meal might begin with a fusillade of tapas hitting the table: crispy, deep-fried mini squid drizzled with a subtly spiced, lemony aioli; crunchy croquettes with a soft, savory, meaty center; briny sardines with a peppy vinaigrette-dressed salad; and a hearty vegetable stew topped with balsamic-coated goat cheese. Caramelized foie gras, with a haunting mineral taste, adds a relatively affordable bit of luxury.
The waiter dramatically lifts the domed lid over a pork entrée releasing its savory aroma. The smoky flavor of the romesco sauce complements the sliced meat, as do the roasted potatoes nestled nearby.
While a custard cup soufflé provides a deep chocolate hit, the dessert we can’t stop spooning up is a classic rice pudding. SER’s version is amazingly creamy yet tastes light. The caramelized, sugary crust offers the perfect crunch. This is a restaurant that backs up drama with memorable fare.
See This: A large semicircular, contemporary dining room and bar with a sweeping outdoor patio allow the food and its theatrical presentation to provide the pizazz.
Eat This: Caramelized foie gras, roasted rabbit, rice pudding
Service: Helpful waitstaff bring well-rehearsed drama to tableside food presentations.
When to Dine Here: You’re on the hunt for a wide-ranging menu of Spanish fare.
Feature image courtesy Agora
This story originally ran in our November issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.