Catch a concert from a favorite artist, enjoy Salvadorian, Peruvian and Nepalese dining and admire powerful murals in Alexandria’s Arlandria neighborhood, steps from bustling Del Ray. Also called Chirilagua, after a region of El Salvador from which many of the neighborhood’s residents hail, Arlandria even inspired a Foo Fighters song by front man and former Alexandrian Dave Grohl. “Chirilagua is the neighborhood I call home and where I work,” says Adriana Gomez Schellhaas, executive director of local nonprofit Casa Chirilagua. “Come experience this wonderful place for yourself—where people are welcoming, each block is unique, and the food is delicious.”
From a backyard biergarten to the best place for pupusas, here’s what to do, where to eat and what to see in Arlandria.
1. See the Tenants and Workers United Murals and Learn About Chirilagua
Outside the Arlandria-Chirilagua Community Center at 3801 Mount Vernon Ave., you’ll find two eye-catching displays commissioned by Tenants and Workers United. On one side, find a symphony of colors and community spirit, with messages written in Spanish, English and Amharic to unify workers, expose racism and advocate for the group’s mission to mobilize low-income—particularly immigrant—communities. On the front, youth artists, in partnership with MasPaz, painted the bold-hued wall to defy mass incarceration and promote education and empowerment.
Tenants & Workers United is a pillar of the Arlandria community. The group first organized in the mid-1980’s for a multi-ethnic protest against the mass evictions of thousands of low-income renters in Arlandria, when several developers sought to convert housing into higher-end rentals and condos for largely white D.C. commuters. These early victories eventually led to the establishment of the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.
2. Try Pupusas at El Pulgarcito
El Pulgarcito, “the little thumb,” refers to El Salvador’s tiny size in Central America. The evidence of its small but mighty spirit comes through in pupusas that pack a punch. The soft, circular griddle cakes are stuffed with and served alongside slaw and tomato salsa. El Pulgarcito also celebrates a wide breadth of Mexican platters like tacos de lengua. Pair your savory selection with a sweet and creamy horchata.
3. See a Show at Legendary Birchmere Music Hall
One of the last great listening rooms in the U.S., The Birchmere is the ideal intimate venue to indulge your nostalgia with beloved musicians like Arlo Guthrie, Morris Day and Suzanne Vega as well as other famous names like Kevin Bacon (the Bacon Brothers), David Duchovny and Jeff Daniels. Alexandria native Charles Esten, known as Deacon on the television smash hit “Nashville,” performs each year during the holiday season. The world-famous Birchmere has hosted iconic acts in its storied history like Johnny Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, and other jazz, country, folk, bluegrass and R&B artists. Check out their calendar for artists and bands coming to Alexandria.
Please note: As of August 25, 2021, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours will be required for anyone entering the venue. Masks are recommended when not seated.
4. Raise a Glass at Hops N Shine
Hops N Shine serves up craft and comfort to the Arlandria community. The extensive drinks menu includes more than 50 beers on tap, from hoppy to malty to fruity, as well as an extensive moonshine selection. Pair your glass with a signature loaded grilled cheese. Build your own combo or choose from chef-designed creations such as the Eeezy Capreeze and the Herbalicious. Sweet-toothed diners can snack on the S’More Grilled Cheese, complete with graham cracker crusted white bread stuffed with marshmallow fluff, Nutella and mascarpone cheese. Take your feast to the backyard biergarten and bring your four-legged friend.
5. Enjoy a Taste of the Big Easy at RT’s Restaurant
Locals and visitors alike slide into booths to slurp spicy she-crab soup and crawfish etouffee at this neighborhood standby. And for good reason: RT’s is an institution, its New Orleans-inspired dishes earning it a spot on Washingtonian’s Top 100 Restaurants list 15 years in a row. Dare to indulge in the Death by Gumbo, with shrimp, oysters, lump crab, crawfish tails and andouille sausage.
6. Savor Ceviche at Huascarán
Owners Paula and Celia Coleto named their restaurant Huascarán in honor of the highest summit in their native Peru. The sisters’ menu offers more than 70 items that are representative of Peruvian cuisine, from seafood-filled ceviche to flavorful lomo saltado and beyond.
7. Explore Four Mile Run Park + Farmers and Artisans Market
Four Mile Run Park is home to a permanent wildlife sanctuary and Four Mile Run Creek, a popular fishing and bird-watching spot. It’s also where Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market pops up every Sunday morning. This community-run market hosts small businesses, farmers and up-and-coming entrepreneurs selling artisanal foodstuffs, produce and crafts, often with a live music act onstage. Meander through on a Sunday morning to pick up anything from fresh pasta to fermented switchel to fruits and vegetables galore.
8. Gather at Northside 10
Northside 10, sister restaurant of Old Town’s Southside 815, is an ideal watering hole for friends and family convening for a weeknight happy hour or dinner. Find American comfort food, from jalapeño-honey pulled chicken sandwiches to jambalaya pasta, served up in a laid-back setting, including a pup-friendly covered porch.
9. Indulge in Dumplings at Royal Nepal
This Himalayan-Nepalese hideaway has won rave reviews, including a coveted spot on the Washington Post’s Best Casual Restaurants round-up. Come for the golden-brown momos, steamed dumplings stuffed with yak or goat and accented with tomato sauce, and stay for the sikarni, a saffron and cardamom-spiced yogurt studded with pistachios. The complimentary sel roti (sweet rice bread) resting in a Dhaka-cloth-covered bowl makes for a delightful and delicious jump-start to your meal.
10. Sample a Salteña at Silpancho’s House
Step into brick-red Silpancho’s House on Mount Vernon Ave. for your pick of Bolivian specialties, from the sopa de zapallo (pumpkin soup) to its name-sake dish, silpancho, a feast featuring steak Milanese atop rice and potatoes, decked out with diced peppers, tomatoes and red onions and topped off with fried eggs. The Washington Post writes, “You get the sense the world has been served up on a plate, just for you.” The real stars of the show, however, are the jam-packed salteñas, a sweet-and-savory pastry encasing a stew of meat, olives, raisins and potatoes. Don’t forget to add the green llajua salsa for a dash of color and heat.
11. Dine at the Iconic “Wafle” Shop
Yes, “waffle” is misspelled on this old-school diner’s awning, and no, there are no plans to fix it, especially after customers came to its ardent defense several years ago. Open from pre-dawn to midnight on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends, The Waffle Shop welcomes those fueling up for a grueling day and revelers seeking a late-night repast. What the awning lacks in letters, it makes up for in character and comfort food. Let the gridlers butter you up with a stack of hot cakes, a hearty omelet, or, of course, a syrup-soaked “wafle.”
Header Image Credits, left to right: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria; Silpancho’s House’s Facebook Page; Lafayette Barnes for Visit Alexandria