Where to Eat and Drink in Ballston

Hit this lively Orange Line hub for tacos, beer, paella, seafood and one of the best hot chicken sandwiches around.

Knock back a Hefeweizen and choose among six types of Bavarian stuffed pretzels at Bronson Bierhall in Ballston (Courtesy photo)

Ballston is booming. This bustling high-rise district along Metro’s Orange Line corridor is home to 16,500 residents and some 950 businesses with more than 22,000 employees, according to the Ballston Business Improvement District, and it’s got a robust dining scene to match. All that activity has made it a delicious destination for hot doughnuts, seafood, beers from around the world and one of the most coveted hot chicken sandwiches in the D.C. region. Put these restaurants and bars on your list.


Lobster rolls at The Salt Line (Courtesy photo)

The Salt Line

Miss the beach? This New England-meets-Chesapeake seafood spot will satisfy those coastal cravings. Chef Matt Singer oversees an evolving menu, including weekday happy hours with discounts on select beers, wines and cocktails and savory snacks such classic clam chowder with bacon.  Fan favorites here include lobster rolls (dressed with your choice of mayo or butter),  gigantic double-patty smash burgers and a D.C.-style citrus crush made with vodka, Luxardo and DC Brau Orange Crush Hard Seltzer. The spacious outdoor patio is a prime spot year-round, with covered, heated seating during cooler months. // 4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington  

El Rey1

The patio at El Rey (Courtesy photo)

El Rey

Ian and Eric Hilton’s taco joint opened in December 2021 as a sister outpost to the original El Rey on U Street in the District. The grilled birria tacos (which come with a side of beef consommé for dipping) pair nicely with frozen margaritas in four fruity flavors, including strawberry, lime, mango or watermelon. (If you can’t decide, go for a frozen swirl.) Crowds enjoy piles of nachos during an extended happy hour that lasts from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and all day Sunday. Nested in the heart of Ballston Exchange, the colorful space is insulated from the street, and its wraparound patio is dog-friendly.  // 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington


A feast at Rus-Uz (Courtesy photo)


Now celebrating a decade in Arlington, this Russian and Uzbek restaurant serves classic Central Asian dishes like borscht, manti (steamed lamb dumplings) and the national dish of Uzbekistan, plov, a seasoned rice made with lamb, carrots, chickpeas and raisins. The restaurant has a small patio with umbrellas along Fairfax Drive for outdoor dining. Explore its selection of Georgian wines or try a house-infused vodka. You can also visit the adjacent market for deli items, caviar, fresh baked goods, groceries, souvenirs and Russian beer. // 1000 N. Randolph St., Arlington


Cocktails at Ballston Local (Courtesy photo)

Ballston Local

Co-owner Jason Johnston—formerly executive chef at the MGM National Harbor—oversees the menu at this year-old tavern, turning out wings, burgers and a pair of upscale poutines (topped with short ribs or Old Bay and blue crab), as well as more than a dozen signature New York style-pizzas, available by the pie or the slice. Daily happy hours (even on weekends) bring food and drink discounts, and the pub hosts games, trivia or live music nearly every evening. Hit the patio for Sunday brunch and order the Baller Egg Sandwich, made with cheddar, avocado, bacon and tomato on brioche, and a pitcher of Bloody Marys or mimosas. // 900 N. Glebe Road, Arlington  

El Pollo Rico

This bare-bones but storied eatery—made famous when it received a mention from the late Anthony Bourdain on an episode of “No Reservations”—opened its first Arlington location in 1987 and moved to Kenmore Street 20 years ago.  Revered for its Peruvian rotisserie chicken, it has tables to eat in, but also does a brisk take-out business. Watch for a new location in Fairfax, set to open this fall. // 932 N. Kenmore St., Arlington


Bronson Bierhall (Courtesy photo)

Bronson Bierhall

Now celebrating three years in the neighborhood, Scott Parker’s German-American biergarten serves 16 brews on tap, making it a great place to raise a stein. But it’s not just for humans of legal drinking age. The 3,000-square-foot patio—much of which is covered—is dog-friendly and a popular spot for families. Nosh on five kinds of bratwursts, schnitzel, and enormous Munich-style soft pretzels with house-made beer cheese (or stuffed with jalapenos, cheese, pepperoni and other savory ingredients.)  // 4100 Fairfax Drive, Arlington

Lolas Sandwich

Hot Lola’s fried chicken at Quarter Market (Courtesy photo)

Quarter Market

Tucked inside the former Ballston Mall, the subterranean Ballston Quarter Market houses nearly a dozen counters serving everything from Korean rice bowls and poke to small-batch ice cream. Chef Kevin Tien’s Hot Lola’s has drawn hordes of fried-chicken aficionados ever since it opened in 2019, serving up spicy chicken sandwiches and tenders with varying levels of fiery heat. The airy food court offers communal and smaller table seating, as well as a sunken courtyard with space to eat (and play) outside. Ballston Quarter is also home to several full service restaurants, including True Food Kitchen, Ted’s Bulletin/Sidekick Bakery (try the house-made “Ted Tarts”) and Whino—a restaurant, bar and street art gallery. // 4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

Arroz De Mariscos

Seafood paella at SER (Courtesy photo)


Javier Candon’s impeccably hospitable Spanish restaurant opened in 2015 and boasts one of the largest patios in Ballston, with outdoor dining space for 100 guests. (It’s currently being upgraded for year-round comfort.) SER specializes in shared dishes, including classic tapas and larger plates such as roasted suckling pig and conejo asado (whole roasted rabbit in apricot sauce), as well as several versions of paella. Chef David Cardona highlights vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options on his menu. Try seasonal summer dishes like salted cod fritters with honey-aioli sauce, and seafood salad with octopus, mussels and shrimp.  // 1110 N. Glebe Road, Arlington

Tbdc Breakfast Taco

A breakfast taco at Taco Bamba (Photo by Greg Powers)

Taco Bamba

Opened in 2020, the Ballston location of Victor Albisu‘s homegrown taqueria empire is one of the smallest, but it’s also one of its busiest, with a full service bar and a 17-seat patio space. Several menu items are unique to this particular location, including the “Wario Lopez,” a crispy eggplant-filled quesadilla with pickled jalapeño and chihuahua cheese, and the “Jeneral,” which packs seared ahi tuna, pickled ginger slaw and furikake into a cabbage cup. Enjoy free coffee daily (until mid-afternoon) with any purchase.  // 4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington


A classic margherita pie at Pupatella (Courtesy photo)


Enzo and Anastasiya Algarme’s Neapolitan pizzeria now has seven locations in the DMV and Richmond, but the shop on Wilson Boulevard, just a few blocks from the heart of Ballston in Bluemont, is where it all began. Parking can be tricky in the tiny lot, but the VPN-certified pies, which adhere to strict Neapolitan pizza-making traditions, are worth the wait. The wood-fired margherita remains a top-seller.  Regulars also fancy arancini—fried risotto stuffed with eggplant or sausage—and house-made gelato. A large rear patio is heated in cooler months and has space for kids (and dogs) to play.  // 5104 Wilson Blvd, Arlington


Margs at El Paso Cafe (Courtesy photo)

El Paso Café  

El Paso is marking 30 years of Tex-Mex cuisine in the Buckingham neighborhood, just a few blocks from the heart of Ballston. If you love a good marg, you’ve got multiple options here, including the 1942 Original, made with Cazadores Reposado, Cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice on the rocks. The kitchen turns out giant platters of fajitas, burritos and tacos, and offers an extensive vegetarian menu, including the “Glebe Platter,” loaded up with mushroom enchiladas, a chile-cheese relleno and a fresh corn tamale. Hungry and on a budget? The weekday lunch specials are all under $12 and include enough leftovers for multiple meals.  // 4235 N. Pershing Drive, Arlington


Good Company Doughtnuts Courtesy photo)

Good Company Doughnuts & Café

This veteran-owned family operation is known for hand-cut yeast and cake doughnuts in unusual flavors, like honey-dipped and orange creamsicle. (As a testament to its popularity, the shop’s bakers have worn out eight mixers making buttercream filling in the past year alone.) But the goodies in the bakery case aren’t the only reason to visit. The cafe also offers an all-day food menu with offerings ranging from avocado toast and breakfast shakshuka bowls to brisket sandwiches and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. Next up, Good Company plans to offer catering from a commissary kitchen in Tysons, and a second doughnut shop/cafe is in the works for Amazon’s HQ2 in National Landing, set to open in 2023. // 672 North Glebe Road, Arlington 

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Categories: Food & Drink