This month FW&D visited Shirlington, which has become a dining destination in its own right, thanks to its recent expansion to include new restaurants, as well as the relocation of the award-winning Signature Theater to the neighborhood. As a result, Shirlington now has more dining options than ever before, with three new restaurants slated to open soon: Café Pizzaiolo, Lotus Grill & Noodles, and Medi. See the end of the review for a run-down of all the restaurants in Shirlington and pick one to visit!
Shirlington is Cheesetique’s second location. Originally established in Del Ray in 2004 by Jill Eber, Cheesetique offers two distinct wine and cheese experiences. The front of Cheesetique
is a “gourmet specialty cheese boutique specializing in hard-to-find
selections from around the world” according to the website. The
storefront, painted yellow, is visible to passersby via floor to ceiling
windows, creating a bright and cheery space for browsing. A large,
refrigerated counter showcases beautiful cheeses and meats from around
the world. On the opposite side of the store, gourmet crackers, sauces,
antipastos, and more beckon to be paired with the cheese and meat. The
center of the store features, of course, wines from all over the world.
The Cheese & Wine Bar, separated from the store by a half wall of
wine and hostess stand, provides a casual, yet intimate dining
experience with low lights, candles, and subtle music playing in the
background. The “tin” ceiling, dark wood, warm red accent wall, and
large colorful posters complete the ambience. An antiqued mirror running
behind the bar and chalk boards on the wall display easily changeable
tidbits of information, including wine specials and charts of
recommended cheese and wine pairings to help the diners make decisions.
Red accents, including lamp shades, shelves, and candles, bring the room
The night that FW&D visited,
the relatively small dining area was completely packed, so on a Tuesday
night we found ourselves taking a seat at the bar with what looked like
some regulars, although the hostess graciously offered to move us to a
table opening soon. FW&D noted the quality finishes used in the restaurant, including the marble top of the bar, which closely resembled a marble that FW&D
had selected for a personal renovation job. The crowd that night
consisted mostly of talkative professionals in work attire. The
atmosphere was lively, though it was not difficult to talk and be heard.
The Cheesetique staff
really knows their wine, and they do their best to educate their
customers, splitting the wine list into descriptive categories. Whites
were categorized as fresh, lush, or sweet; reds were light, smooth, or
bold. Each category featured at least three different selections, with
most wines available by the glass or bottle. “Fizzy” wines, rosés,
dessert wines, and a large beer selection rounded out the menu, with the
beer also grouped into helpful categories like crisp, fruity, malty,
hoppy, roasty, or boozy. To further educate customers, Cheesetique
offers monthly cheesemonger classes taught by Jill Eber, and wine
classes featuring experts in the field.
The first thing you notice about the menu is its simplicity–a variety
of cheese and meat boards, soups, salads, small plates, macs,
sandwiches, flatbreads, grilled cheeses, and desserts. However, a closer
look reveals unique dishes like Burrata (mozzarella curd), Nicoise
Salad, Billy Goat Mac (with chèvre), Gluten-Free Mac (potato pasta), or
Gjetost and Banana—a Norwegian, salty-sweet grilled cheese on cranberry
walnut bread, which they recommend with bacon. What you’ll remember
about the menu is the combination of delicious ingredients consistently
prepared each time.
The first dish that FW&D
sampled was the Pear and Gorgonzola Flatbread, with Gorgonzola Dolce,
fresh pears, toasted walnuts, and a caramelized port-balsamic reduction.
The presentation was beautiful, the flatbread drizzled with the
balsamic, topped with crushed walnuts, and served on cheeseboard. The
dish seemed simple but was full of flavor and cooked perfectly, leaving
the sweet pear with a pliant yet still-firm texture. The thin flatbread
crust had just the right amount of give and crisp to it. We asked for
advice on a wine pairing, and the bartender recommended the Santorini, a
very crisp and tart Greek white. The wine complemented the dish,
providing a good balance to the strong Gorgonzola flavor.
The next dish was the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese, served with potato
salad. Cheesetique does grilled cheese right—you can’t go wrong with
this dish, with perfectly toasted bread and a nice blend of melted and
gooey cheese. FW&D added ham,
which brought a subtle smoky/salty flavor. The German-style potato
salad, featured large chunks of potato with onion, bacon, and sliced
baby dill pickles—a “secret ingredient” that made the dish. The salad,
drizzled with an oil and vinegar dressing, was not your typical potato
salad, but light and full of flavor. Again, FW&D
asked for a wine pairing recommendation, and decided on the Nebbiolo
blend, a light Italian red. While tempted by the desserts on the menu, FW&D
decided that it had done enough caloric damage for the night and ended
the meal there, though we would have loved to try one of the five
dessert items, especially the warm Apple Cherry Cobbler served with
All in all, FW&D enjoyed Cheesetique’s
delicious, well-prepared food and thinks the ambience is perfect for an
after-work happy hour, dinner with friends, pre-theater bite,
post-theater drink, or date night. Wine recommendations were
thoughtfully dispensed, as were tastings before you committed to a full
glass of something that you wouldn’t be happy with. The restaurant
features daily happy hours from 3–6 pm, Thirsty Tuesday discounts, and
Wine Down Wednesdays with $5 glasses all day. The first Thursday of the
month, enjoy live jazz in Del Ray or celebrate Shirlie’s Girls Night Out
in Shirlington. For special occasions, Cheesetique offers gift buckets, gift cards, party platters, and catering.
Shirlington Restaurant Mini-Reviews and FW&D Favorite Dishes
Aroma Indian Restaurant – With three locations in the DC area, Aroma
features authentic Indian dishes and will adjust the spice according to
your palate. Tandoori and vindaloo (for those who like spicy) are
favorite Indian preparations.
Aladdin’s Eatery – Originating in the Midwest in the 90s, this
franchise focuses on authentic, healthy Lebanese food made from scratch
with no sulfites, preservatives, or artificial flavors. FW&D
recommends the Loubie Bzeit (green beans sautéed with onions, herbs,
garlic, and tomato sauce) and the desserts.
Best Buns Bread Company – This official bakery of the Great American
Restaurants group, including Carlyle (see below), serves freshly-baked
bread, pastries, specialty sandwiches, desserts, and Starbucks coffee.
On weekends, the line for breakfast often extends out the door, and
first-come, first served sandwiches frequently sell out before lunch.
Bistro Bistro – A long-standing Shirlington restaurant, Bistro Bistro
serves a variety of good dishes with an international flair. Enjoy a
drink after work or a Sunday brunch featuring waffle and omelet
stations. On the weekend, Bistro Bistro offers karaoke to entertain the
Bonsai Grill – This authentic Japanese restaurant is a long-time
Shirlington establishment, offering fresh sushi and sashimi, in addition
to tempura and teriyaki dishes. Spicy tuna rolls are a favorite of
The Bungalow – Around the “back” of Shirlington, The Bungalow caters
to sports fans, with big screen TVs, pool tables, dart boards, and
foosball. Pool tables turn into dining tables during football season,
and happy hour crowds enjoy nightly specials. FW&D favorites include
the turkey reuben, and mimosa specials on Sunday for game day.
Busboys and Poets – This recent addition to Shirlington originated in
DC and has expanded to four locations in the area. Busboys and Poets
features a casual, lounge atmosphere and global exchange fair trade
market. The food is fresh and sustainable from local farmers. The menu
offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. FW&D enjoys
brunch on the weekend and lunch weekdays.
Cake Love – Started by former lawyer-turned-Food Network star Warren
Brown, this bakery features homemade cakes, cupcakes, and pastries made
Capitol City Brewing Company – This restaurant literally brews beer
right on site, offering four core beers year round, plus seasonal brews.
Its private back room offers a great place to host a party. FW&D
recommends the burgers and famous pretzels with horseradish dip
Caribou Coffee – A nationwide chain, Caribou Coffee serves 100%
Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee and espresso, in addition to
smoothies, snacks, and other beverages. FW&D enjoys a cold press
iced coffee on a hot day.
Carlyle – Known for its consistently excellent food and setting the
standard for great service, Carlyle never fails to please. FW&D
favorites include Sesame Crusted Seared Rare Tuna Salad, Sautéed Jumbo
Lump Crab Cakes, and Simply Grilled Filet Mignon. Sunday brunch is a
truly delicious experience.
The Curious Grape – Originally a wine shop on “the strip” in
Shirlington, The Curious Grape expanded and relocated next to the Energy
Club and now features a wine bar/restaurant in addition to a wine shop.
FW&D has yet to eat here; perhaps this will be a choice for a
Extra Virgin Modern Italian Cuisine – This Italian restaurant describes
itself as offering “traditional Tuscan cuisine, with a modern flair.”
The restaurant features live music weekly in its elegant, upscale
lounge. FW&D recommends the pizza and a chicken wiener schnitzel
dish not on the current menu.
Guapo’s – This festive, family-friendly Mexican restaurant is always
bustling, and a fun place to go for a birthday celebration (wear a
sombrero!) or with a large group. You can’t go wrong with the Tacos al
Carbon, Sizzling Fajitas, or Seafood Burrito. The Cadillac margarita
packs a punch.
Hilton Garden Inn – While not officially a restaurant, the Hilton Garden
Inn offers a good happy hour, and the local crowd is beginning to
discover its charms.
Johnny Rockets – With locations nationwide, Johnny Rockets is a
throwback to a simpler time and resembles an old-fashioned malt shop
complete with a jukebox at every table. This family-friendly, fun
restaurant offers hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, shakes, floats, and
more for the kid in all of us.
Luna Grill & Diner – Another Shirlington veteran, this diner
offers traditional American food like meatloaf, daily specials, weekly
specials like ½ price burger or ½ price pasta nights. FW&D enjoys
the brunch menu, particularly the omelets and breakfast burritos, served
every day until 3 pm.
PING by Charlie Chiang’s – PING, another long-standing eatery, was
renovated recently to include a sleek bar and updated menu featuring
traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes; sushi; unique small plate
specials; and steamed, diet-friendly dishes. FW&D enjoys the
appetizers, drinks, and take out.
Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastro Pub – Featuring authentic Irish beverages
and fare, Beckett’s has become a popular recent addition. Some of
FW&D’s favorite dishes include Open Faced Irish Smoked Salmon on
homemade brown bread (lunch only), Pan Roasted Scallops with Irish
potato cakes, and Sam’s Lamb Burger topped with Cashel blue cheese.
Robeks Fruit Smoothie & Health Eats – This nationwide franchise
offers juices, smoothies, blends, and shakes, touting fresh ingredients.
The entire storefront opens to the public on nice days. Literally step
off the sidewalk and place your order!
Subway – Tucked on the back side of Shirlington, you’ll find a Subway
for the times when you want a quick, reliable bite. FW&D recommends
the chicken breast on wheat.
T.H.A.I. Shirlington – This popular restaurant offers consistently
good Thai food prepared by a chef who grew up in Thailand. The
traditional menu includes many vegetarian dishes and many different
spice levels. FW&D enjoys the green curry dishes and drunken noodles
if you like spicy foods.
Yogi Berry – This recent addition to Shirlington capitalizes on the
popular trend of self-serve frozen yogurt. Enjoy traditional flavors as
well as exotic ones like taro root and mango. Add your own toppings for a
truly unique dessert!
For a more detailed review of all these great eateries and restaurants, click HERE.