Washington DC

Vietnamese Chefs in DC Share Their Lunar New Year Traditions

And the best places around DC to try Vietnamese dishes.

Photo Courtesy of Moon Rabbit
Photo Courtesy of Moon Rabbit
Photo Courtesy of Moon Rabbit

Lunar New Year is celebrated by myriad cultures around the world and, for Vietnamese families, it means three things: family, tradition, and a huge feast.

“Tet Nguyen Dan” or “Tet” takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar to the third day (this year, February 12-15). The days leading up to Tet are full of bustle-people shopping, traveling to return home, cleaning their homes, and cooking traditional food meant to bring prosperity. Expect to see a lot of red and yellow flowers around this time, as Vietnamese believe the colors will bring good fortune.

You can get a taste for it all at Huong Binh, a bakery and deli that has called the Vietnamese hub  Eden Center home since the early 1990s. “It is a very festive time of year in Vietnam,” says Huong Binh owner. Quong Le. “There’s lots of open-air markets for flowers, paper, and other typical items that are purchased at this time. We try to capture that spirit in the store with flowers and gift envelopes and other items families purchase for the New Year.”

Photo Courtesy of Houng Binh
Photo Courtesy of Houng Binh
Photo Courtesy of Houng Binh

Typically, Eden Center hosts a large celebration with fireworks and dancers to recreate the atmosphere of Vietnam. But things look a little bit different with the COVID-19 pandemic and the center will be featuring a much more scaled-down version. Of course, food plays a very important role, too.

Bánh chưng is a traditional food that we typically eat during this time, which is basically sweetened rice with mung beans and pork,” Le says. “Typically, this takes many hours to cook and we eat it with pickled radish. They are wrapped in banana leaves and look like beautiful packages.” Le also mentions that candied fruit (coconut, mango, ginger), known as “mut” is also served to guests. At Huong Binh, they import these candies from Vietnam and are one of the few places in the area to carry this special treat. 

For a true Vietnamese experience, it helps to know what ingredients to shop for, traditional dishes to make, and maybe have a friend in the know help you along the way.

1914 nineteen-fourteen
1914 nineteen-fourteen
1914 nineteen-fourteen

“Because these dishes are traditionally ingrained in almost all Vietnamese families for a long time, we either make them at home or know of a relative/friend who would provide them per request before Tet,” says Khuong Nguyen, manager at 1914 by Kolben, a Vietnamese restaurant in Shaw that is offering a set menu for Tet. “These can be commonly found at most Vietnamese markets in the Eden Center. This is the reason for families to come together during this time, to provide these edible offerings as a form of blessings to each other.” 

Family gatherings and an overabundance of food seem to be the throughlines when chefs share memories about Tet. 

“There is always too much food,” says Chef Kevin Tien of The Wharf’s contemporary Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit. “My grandmother usually makes a whole steamed fish with lots of aromatics, and my mother fries up a lot of spring rolls.”

Moon Rabbit
Moon Rabbit
Moon Rabbit

A special tasting menu created for the New Year celebration at Moon Rabbit includes a version of his grandma’s fish-whole roasted Branzino with sautéed snow pea leaves, scallions, garlic chili soy, and forbidden black rice.  And diners are in for a special treat, too. 

“Typically, the elders of the family give out red envelopes with money to the kids,” Tien says. “We are recreating this at the restaurant with a little something for every diner.”  Giveaways include $100 gift certificates, an overnight stay at the hotel with a private Moon Rabbit dinner for up to four guests. “In addition, traditionally moon cakes filled with bean paste are eaten for New Year, but I’ll be giving guests egg tarts. I love them.”

While you may not be able to pack your bags and have a real deal experience in Vietnam, here are spots where you can get a taste for it right here in DC.

Moon Rabbit
Moon Rabbit
Moon Rabbit

Moon Rabbit 

The Wharf
Chef Kevin Tien has prepared a special tasting menu available February 11-14. The tasting menu includes Hamachi Crudo to start, whole roasted Branzino with sautéed snow pea leaves, scallions, garlic chili soy and forbidden black rice, followed by salt and pepper churros with tamarind caramel and miso cremeux for dessert. 
How to order: Book a table via Resy.

1914 nineteen-fourteen
1914 nineteen-fourteen
1914 nineteen-fourteen

1914 by Kolben

Shaw
Although closed on Lunar New Year, look out for Tet specials that will be offered on the website. A relative newcomer, 1914 is popular for its rice and noodle dishes, barbecued pork, and Vietnamese egg coffee. 
How to order: Make reservations online.

Photo Courtesy of Huong Binh
Photo Courtesy of Huong Binh
Photo Courtesy of Huong Binh

Huong Binh 

Falls Church, Virginia
Pick up traditional rice cakes, flowers, and candies for a home celebration. The bakery inside Eden Center also serves up a full menu of Vietnamese specialties, so pick up platters of spring rolls, fried rice, barbecued pork and more. This would be the perfect spot to experience some of the festivities around the New Year. 
How to order: Visit the bakery, and 125 other eateries, at Eden Center. Masks required.

Photo Courtesy of Le Bledo
Photo Courtesy of Le Bledo
Photo Courtesy of Le Bledo

Le Bledo

Springfield, Virginia
At this Springfield bakery, you can pick up the Banh Chung and Banh Tet specials for Lunar New Year, but also a whole slew of Vietnamese desserts, sandwiches, and soups. 
How to order: Order takeout here.

Four Sisters Restaurant
Four Sisters Restaurant
Four Sisters Restaurant

Four Sisters

Falls Church, Virginia
Four Sisters was one of the pioneers of the Vietnamese restaurant scene in the city, and now has a standing location inside Merrifield’s Mosaic District. Crispy spring rolls, a plethora of rice and noodle dishes, and tasting menus that are family-style feasts are popular. 
How to order: Order takeout and delivery online.

Mi La Cay
Mi La Cay
Mi La Cay

Mi La Cay

Wheaton, Maryland 
Mi La Cay is the spot to go for Maryland folks-the beef noodle soup (bun bo hue) is one of the best around. Other noodle and grilled dishes and traditional Vietnamese fare like banh mis are on point here as well. If you like duck, you’ll love the duck soup with egg noodles.
How to order: Open for takeout and outdoor seating.

Photo Courtesy of VietAroma
Photo Courtesy of VietAroma
Photo Courtesy of VietAroma

VietAroma 

Vienna, Virginia
Popular with suburbanites in Vienna, this family-run establishment has a loyal following for its famed pho and summer rolls. 
How to order: Order takeout online.

Hai Duong 

Falls Church, Virginia
A family-friendly Eden Center standout, Hai Duong excels at clay pot rice, shaky beef, and pho. 
How to order: Visit Hai Duong, and 125 other eateries, at Eden Center. Masks required.

Pho75

Multiple locations
With multiple locations around the DMV, this is easily the most well-known pho shop around here. The spot specializes in pho and it’s pretty much all it does. 
How to order: No frills, cash only.

RICE PAPER
RICE PAPER
RICE PAPER

Rice Paper

Falls Church, Virginia
Another Eden center standout, Rice Paper’s extensive menu is solid end to end, but the broken rice dishes and the hot pot is a crowd favorite.
How to order: Visit Rice Paper, and 125 other eateries, at Eden Center. Masks required.

Thanh Son Tofu 

Falls Church, Virginia
Long lines are the norm here inside this Eden Center café that specializes in homemade tofu. The deep-fried lemongrass version is especially popular and has converted many a tofu skeptic.
How to order: Visit Thanh Son Tofu, and 125 other eateries, at Eden Center. Masks required.

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Aparna Krishnamoorthy is a freelance food and travel writer based in Washington DC. You can generally find her obsessing over the next meal or planning the next getaway. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more dining and wanderlust adventures.

Washington DC

The Eight Most Exciting Suburbs Outside DC

You could use a little space.

Regine Poirier/Shutterstock
Regine Poirier/Shutterstock
Regine Poirier/Shutterstock

When people say Washington, DC, it’s hard to tell if they’re talking about The District proper, or the sprawling metro area that is sometimes nicknamed the DMV: The District, Maryland, and Virginia. The fact is that DC is made whole by its vibrant suburbs, whether you’re looking for a shopping center dedicated almost entirely to Vietnamese cuisine, a rock climbing wall in-you guessed it-Rockville, or a wetland preserve that’s wide open for hiking and fresh air.

The DC suburbs practically have it all, and you can reach many of these neighborhoods by bike, public transit, or a set of four wheels. Here are eight great suburban destinations that you may find yourself visiting soon. We won’t judge you if you want to stay.

Earth Treks Rockville
Earth Treks Rockville
Earth Treks Rockville

Rockville

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
Many people will inevitably cruise Rockville Pike, aka 355, for all of its big-box delights, since this retail corridor has always been a sprawly place to shop for decades. But more recently, Rockville has become something entirely different. It’s walkable and bikeable, thanks to the Pike & Rose development. And it remains a destination for some of the best Chinese soup dumplings in the DMV at A&J Restaurant and Bob’s Shanghai 66. Rockville is also, fittingly, home to the best rock climbing wall attracting serious spelunkers and climbing newbies alike. And it remains a place for family-run restaurants, many of which are run by immigrants. For a small taste of the magic of this Montgomery County suburb, visit Bombay Bistro for Chef K.N.Vinod and Surfy Rahman’s take on Indian fare from the country’s southern region. Like many of the best eateries in Rockville, this restaurant is tucked away in a shopping strip. When you find it, you’ll be rewarded with mouth-watering dosas, biryani, and vindaloo.

Fresh Baguette
Fresh Baguette
Fresh Baguette

Bethesda

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
Anyone who grew up near Bethesda has probably spent their early teenage years loitering at the Bethesda’s Regal Cinema or by The Barnes & Noble water fountain. Now, both of those legendary spots of yesteryear have been transformed into a suburban-style city with sidewalk cafes, trendy shopping, and an upgraded Capital Crescent Trail-a longtime favorite with joggers and bikers. Bethesda is also home to a world of flavors: Fresh Baguette for Parisian-style pastries, Pesca Deli for Portuguese, Taqueria El Jalapeño for tasty tacos, and Passage to India just to name a few. To reach all of these places, you can hop aboard the Bethesda Circulator, a free shuttle service that picks you up at the Bethesda Metro station and takes you in a loop around town.

Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks
Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks
Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks

Wheaton

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
There is absolutely no beating Wheaton when a food craving hits, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This Maryland suburb, just north of DC on Metro’s red line, has one of the best diners in the region, Nick’s Diner, owned and operated by Nick Markopoulos and his Greek family. For lunch, Wheaton is home to a handful of pupuserias that are indicative of this neighborhood’s Salvadoran community. Pupuseria La Familiar, Los Chorros, and Irene’s Pupusas are three great options. Finally, for dinner, Peruvian chicken at El Pollo Rico or Bolivian fare, and specifically the beef silpancho, at Kantuta’s are hearty and tasty offerings. Finish your day of dining on a high note with a cannoli or rainbow cookie from Filippo’s Deli. After a day of eating, you’ll need to walk off all those carbs. Go for a leisurely stroll around the pond at Wheaton Regional Park’s Brookside Gardens. The park is a five-minute drive north of Wheaton’s retail corridor, and it’s free and open to the public year-round.

Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.
Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.
Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.

Hyattsville

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
A brewery tour is a safe bet when visiting Hyattsville, Maryland-a community with a small-town vibe, located in Prince George’s County, just across The District line. A primary reason why beer nerds flock here is Franklins, a brewpub that last year opened a tiki-themed bar in its parking lot to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than a dozen beers on tap, plus Franklins makes its own root beer if you prefer some nonalcoholic suds. That’s in addition to a historic hardware shop that’s been converted into a bottle shop, with a wide collection of craft beer and local wine. Nearby on Route 1, find a local brewery that specializes in outdoor drinking. Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. opened two years ago and is named in homage to the 82 Streetcar line which ran by the brewery’s site from 1888 to 1957. This converted auto garage now serves hop-forward beers and has bike rack parking and picnic tables, perfect for a Sunday Funday. For more craft beers from around the country paired with wood-fired pizza, Pizzeria Paradiso is a top-notch eater across the street, and cap off your crawl by swinging by Maryland Meadworks, which serves a range of meads from sweet to semi-sweet to dry.

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

Upper Marlboro

Distance from DC: 45 minutes
Fulfill your childhood wonder and delight at the greatest playground in the DMV. Watkins Regional Park is great for kids (or the kid at heart) looking to romp around themed playgrounds. The first is a horse-racing-themed playground, part of Maryland’s legacy as a horse racing capital. Meanwhile, the second option is the stuff of fairy tales-a Wizard of Oz-inspired playground, complete with a yellow brick road, a ruby slippers slide, and an Emerald City climbing wall. Grownups and kids alike will also enjoy the hiking options at nearby Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, an expansive preserve that’s part of the tidal reaches of the Patuxent River. There are more than 1,700 acres of unique freshwater marshes, forested wetlands, creeks, meadows, pines and sand barrens, plus fields and park areas for an afternoon picnic. If you’d rather fuel up than bring-your-own food, Upper Marlboro’s Main Street Coffee & Treats is where the community gathers for coffee, pastries, fresh-pressed juices, and vegan cupcakes at all hours of the day.

Photo Courtesy of Ada's on the River
Photo Courtesy of Ada’s on the River
Photo Courtesy of Ada’s on the River

Old Town Alexandria

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
With waterfront views, historic homes along cobblestone streets, and a trolley that goes up and down King Street for free, it’s hard not to imagine why Old Town Alexandria wouldn’t be on our suburban list. You might come for the charm, but there’s a lot more to this city than just Instagram-worthy streetscapes. The Torpedo Factory is a burgeoning artist enclave for purchasing one-of-a-kind sculptures and artwork. Those who prefer a pleasure cruise down the Potomac can take the Potomac River Water Taxi to or from the city. And outdoor eating by the water offers plenty of space and social distance. The food and outdoor surroundings at Ada’s on the River and King & Rye, two of Alexandria’s latest eatery additions, are great places to book a weekend brunch.

Eden Center
Eden Center
Eden Center

Falls Church

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
Most people know Falls Church as the home of Eden Center-a shopping center with dozens of Vietnamese businesses and restaurants. This might be the biggest draw for Falls Church food lovers. However, there are several more reasons to make this Northern Virginia suburb a part of your food bucket list. Start at Takumi, a popular Japanese sushi spot, serving quality grade sashimi, sake, and sushi tastings. Got a craving for cavatelli? Then book it to Thomspon Italian. Chef Gabe Thompson and Pastry Chef Katherine Thompson are a husband and wife team who make this spot feel more like home. While the dining room remains closed, Thompson is offering several of its top dishes, including housemade pasta and gelatos, for pickup.

Wolf Trap
Wolf Trap
Wolf Trap

Tysons Corner

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
When you visit Tysons Corner, you’re probably here to do one thing-shop until you drop. Tysons is home to two malls, sometimes nicknamed Tysons I (Tysons Corner Center) and Tysons II (Tysons Galleria). The former is pretty typical while the latter leans more upscale. Not surprisingly, Tysons II also has good taste in food. Find the Urbanspace Food Hall, home to Donburi DC and Andy’s Pizza, plus an upscale pastry shop called Lady M. Aside from the shopping and dining, another good reason to visit Tysons this summer might be for a concert. The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts recently announced its outdoor summer concert lineup, which could start as soon as the end of May. We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

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Tim Ebner is a contributor for Thrillist. 

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