We didn’t tackle every delicious corner of the country in our 2015 Summer Road Trip Restaurant Guide, so we are pleased to highlight top restaurants outside Washington, D.C., that are perfect for daytrip dining — or worthy of a stop on your mid-Atlantic road trip.
Sometimes you need to get out of the city for a little while to leave the noise and haste behind. What better reason to escape than a memorable meal? Luckily for DCists, the countryside surrounding the nation’s capital is home to a bounty of road-trip-worthy restaurants. Whether you’re in the mood for a white tablecloth treat or more casual fare, there are plenty of options. We’ve picked our nine favorite reasons to drive outside Washington, D.C., for dinner.
Smokehouse Live, Leesburg, Virginia
A 16,000 square-foot sprawl encompasses three concepts: a dining room/marketplace (Smoke), a bar (House), and a concert venue (Live). Pitmaster Jim Foss, a veteran of Hill Country Barbecue Market and Old Glory, both in D.C., oversees a pair of Ole Hickory smokers. You’d best arrive hungry. Choices include brisket, beef short ribs, pulled pork, buttermilk-brined turkey breast, chicken, Shiner Bock brats, and jalapeno-cheddar sausage, as well as sides such as succotash, deviled eggs, and mac ‘n’ cheese.
The Ashby Inn, Paris, Virginia
You’ll find a slice of Norman Rockwell America nestled in Fauquier County. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this 19th-century house-turned-hotel. Expect big things from freshly appointed executive chef Patrick Robinson, an alum of the well-loved Table and Michel Richard’s now shuttered gastro palace Citronelle.
Volt, Frederick, Maryland
One of the quintessential destination restaurants outside D.C., this bastion of modern-minded New American is the brainchild of Top Chef favorite Bryan Voltaggio. Under the watchful eye of chef de cuisine Scott Muns, who returned to the restaurant after a year at Rose’s Luxury, the restaurant continues to flourish. Dishes are equal parts innovation and tradition with plenty of flair, so expect to overpost on Instagram during dinner.
Mokomandy, Sterling, Virginia
Cajun and Korean traditions live side-by-side, so starters might include gator croquettes and jambalaya alongside dumplings and kimchi pancakes. These contrasting culinary customs are well served by executive chef Daniel Wilcox Stevens, who has mastered both. Equal attention is given to handcrafted cocktails forged with housemade components and plenty of fresh fruits and herbs.
Maple Ave., Vienna, Virginia
The charismatic Fairfax County outpost brings together a panoply of global influences to create singularly enticing results. Shrimp and grits get an assist from blueberry venison sausage, seared scallops come with basil ice cream and coconut risotto, and wings are doused in a mixture of crème fraîche, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and oyster sauce.
The Wine Kitchen on the Creek, Frederick, Maryland
Executive chef Jeff Beard likes having fun by putting unexpected twists on the classics. There’s a salad inspired by strawberry shortcake, fries gussied up Philly cheesesteak-style, and a burger that takes its cues from a French dip. As the name implies, this playful New American eatery with a charming view of Carroll Creek has a well-appointed wine list, including several local standouts.
Trummer’s On Main, Clifton, Virginia
This charming redoubt in the Virginia green belt specializes in locally fortified New American fare heightened with European elegance. Executive chef Austin Fausett puts out plates that showcase the season and the region. If you’re dining with a little one, they can opt for the “Petite Gourmand” tasting menu, which includes both familiar and palate-expanding flavors.
Big Cork Vineyards, Rohrersville, Maryland
One of the latest additions to the ever-growing Maryland wine scene opened this spring in the heart of the aptly named Pleasant Valley. Their boutique bistro showcases local cheeses and charcuterie, grilled goods, and shareable starters, like wild mushroom bruschetta and flatbread dressed up with tomato chutney, arugula, feta, and artichokes. Even better still, you can enjoy your meal while soaking up a stellar view of the 100-acre operation.
Maaza 29, Haymarket, Virginia
The D.C. area is rife with excellent Ethiopian eateries, including this unassuming gem in Prince William County. Start off with sambusa – think of them as African samosas – stuffed with spiced potatoes, lentils, or beef. For an entrée, tibs (sautéed meats with vegetables) served with spongy, tangy injera bread and plenty of rice are the way to go. Remember that it’s customary to eat this food your hands, so don’t be shy about diving in fingers first.
What restaurants inspire you to drive outside D.C. for dining? Tell us here or over on Facebook, G+, or Twitter. And be sure to enter our #savortheroad giveaway for a chance to win one of ten $100 OpenTable gift cards!
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.