Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Alexandria boasts a rich heritage, picturesque blocks, and a thriving food scene filled with independent restaurants that serve elevated comfort food dishes and award-winning beer (in addition to the state’s respected wines). Here are the places worth checking out when you visit this Virginia town:
Where to Eat
Hank’s Pasta Bar: Located on Montgomery Street, this local favorite, which the Washington Post named one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in the D.C. region in 2016, boasts a cozy, laid-back atmosphere, as well as 13 types of hand-made pasta made daily. The dinner menu includes bucatini Cacio e Pepe ($16), fettuccine with clams ($21), and seafood all'arrabbiata ($32), along with classic Italian entrees like chicken marsala ($20) and eggplant parmesan ($16), plus desserts such as rhubarb panna cotta ($7). Compared to D.C., where these same dishes would run you more than $20, these plates are a delicious bargain.
Cheesetique: This gourmet cheese boutique (hence the name), located in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, specializes in hard-to-find cheeses, meats, and accompaniments. At the back of the shop, you’ll find a restaurant that serves ooey-gooey dishes, along with a large selection of wine and beer. Its Mac N’ Cheesetique ($12), with goat gouda, asiago, cacio de roma, and a truffle-infused bread crumb topping, was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best mac n’ cheeses in the country. Other stand-out items include its pimiento grilled cheese ($11), the ‘Tique cheesesteak (a riff on the classic Philly staple, $15), and traditional cheese boards with a mix of cheeses, charcuterie, a fresh-baked baguette, and flatbreads (starts at $18 for three cheeses).
Old Town Dolci Gelati: The co-owner of this Fairfax Street gelato shop, chef Gianluigi Dellaccio, was recently named the official ambassador of gelato for the United States, which means he sort of serves as the gelato police, ensuring that folks are selling the real deal. His flavors have won several awards, including “Best Gelato Flavor” for his Honey Mascarpone Fig at the Gelato Festival America. He’s also become known for his clever spins on the Italian ice cream, such as his avocado gelato—basically a dessert version of guacamole that’s made with cilantro and caramelized onions and served in a waffle cone taco. The shop also sells coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and pastries. A scoop of gelato starts around $5.
What to Drink
Port City Brewing Company: Founded in 2011, this artisanal brewery, located about 2.5 miles west of Old Town, offers tours and tastings where you can try its selection of award-winning unfiltered brews, including Optimal Wit (a Belgian-style white ale), Monumental IPA, and its flagship Porter, which just took home silver in the “Robust Porter” category at the 2018 World Beer Cup. Public tours take place Thursday through Sunday and cost $12; that includes six tasters of what’s on tap. Many D.C. breweries do offer free tours to the public, but they typically don’t include samples. Here, you’re able to wet your whistle and taste six different beers for a little more than the price of a pint.
Captain Gregory’s: This secret cocktail lounge is hidden inside a doughnut shop because, um, why not? Along with small bites like brussels sprouts with ricotta salata ($14) and pork belly with red cabbage ($13), plus dessert (yes, you can order a doughnut or six from the adjacent Sugar Shack Donuts), the nautical-theme speakeasy serves hand-crafted libations. Try a drink called The Color He Turned at the Sight of Her ($16) with grapefruit- and lemongrass-infused gin, coriander, strega, and dry vermouth; or the Ponce and Boulevard ($15) with Rittenhouse rye, Campari, and house-made vermouth. While the drinks are on the pricey side for Alexandria and even D.C., the added kitsch factor of the bar is worth the couple extra bucks. It’s open Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill: Back in 1799, Washington’s distillery, one of the largest in the country at the time, cranked out 11,000 gallons of whiskey. Today, the fully functioning recreation produces small-batch spirits on site. From April 1 through October 31, visitors can watch the whiskey production at the distillery, which is located 2.7 miles from the president’s Mount Vernon estate; shuttles run to the site from the mansion. Tours cost $18 for adults (when purchased online; $20 on site). Although tastings aren’t available during the tour, the Inn at Mount Vernon offers a selection of its offerings at the bar and during dinner.