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Restaurant Talk: Where We Eat (and Drink)

By Nick Freshman

Friday - 2/15/2013, 9:45am  ET

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner ofSpider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon.

This is a column just begging to get picked apart. I could mention a Peruvian chicken place and start a war between the Super Pollo fanatics and Pollo Rico acolytes. Name a kebab joint and the Ravi rowdies will have at it with the Kabob Palace crazies. I came up with the idea for this column, then thought to myself: Maybe this is a bad idea.

What the hell. Anything that gets us all talking more about the places in the community we value is a good thing. And to beat the commentators to the punch: This is an absolutely biased list. Our bias.

The fact is we in the industry don’t go out to eat much. Between long hours, late nights and tight budgets, most servers, bartenders and cooks don’t have a lot of time or money for dining out. That said, there are a few spots in the county where you are almost guaranteed to run into the server who took care of you the night before. These places tend to be cheap, casual and almost always have a bar. At many the food is terrific; at others, the drinks are the draw.

What follows is a list of our crew’s favorites. Most are close to work, and there are no doubt many great places not mentioned. This is not supposed to be a comprehensive list, nor a list of the best spots; it’s just our list.

El Charrito Caminante Taqueria

First off, it’s closed on Tuesdays. I have no idea why Tuesday, but I guess they have to close sometime. The parking is tough and the service attentive but, um, brief, and there may be no better place that fits the descriptor “no frills,” but the tacos here are the best. It’s cheap, fast and authentic, and since it’s right on my way to work, I often stop to pick up a bag of tacos for the gang. Other than the namesake product, go for the Yucca con Chicharron–salty fried pork cubes with crispy yucca–and an orange soda. Oh, and bring cash.

Pho 75.

Service with a smile? Don’t count on it. And if you really appreciate the sumptuous decor at Eventide, then drive right by this place. But the pho is incredible, the portions huge and the prices cheap. And if you have a double shift ahead, you can order a Vietnamese coffee which will have your heart surging out of your chest by the time you leave.

Nam-Viet.

The spot on Hudson Street that separates this classic Vietnamese spot from the back doors of Eventide and Spider Kelly’s is well-worn. Most of the time, we place multiple orders for multiple people pre-shift. We almost always get it to go, but I see a number of our staff, and staff from neighborhood spots, dining in on their days off. The food is great either way, but sitting down gets you the benefit of consistently good service. Crispy spring rolls wrapped in lettuce are a huge hit amongst our crew and the pho always warms us up, but my favorite is #61: the Pad “Thoi.”

O’Sullivan’s. Or, as we like to call it, The Office.

I asked five or six of our guys what they like to eat there, and I got a number of answers that ranged from “I’ve never eaten there” to “Jameson shots.” So, here is a shout out to the ultimate insider watering hole. Always open and always friendly, our neighbor to the west takes great care of our staff when they want a chance to be on the other side of the bar. Stop by late on a Sunday or Monday night and you’ll get a taste of Arlington’s “industry” crowd. We’ll see what the recent renovations bring; more business for them, I’m sure.

Jay’s Saloon.

Twenty years ago (gasp), Kathy hired me as a server one summer so I could make money for college, and my career in the business officially began. At the time I figured it was a temporary thing, but had I listened to my instincts, I’d have known this was where I really wanted to be. It’s still there, and so is its gracious owner. Cold beer, cheap prices; the latter is hard to find in Clarendon, which makes it a favorite for insiders. Kick back on the patio with a pitcher and you get a sense of what Clarendon was like before the explosion.

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