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Dining Around the World in 26 Square Miles
By Tom Adkinson

ARLINGTON, Va. – When Amazon starts moving people to Arlington to staff the Virginia half of its second headquarters, employees won’t have any problem satisfying whatever culinary cravings they have.

Arlington actually is quite small, just 26 square miles, but it has residents from around the world and international cuisine restaurants to match. A dining trip across the globe is easy here.

arlington noodle maker
A street market noodle maker in Zhangye, China, puts on a show preparing noodles for Uyghur dishes; image by Tom Adkinson.

There’s even a Uyghur restaurant. What’s that, you ask? Uyghurs are a largely Muslim population in far western China of Turkik ethnicity. Recent publicity about China’s treatment of Uyghurs has enhanced their international visibility. Politics aside, Uyghur food is colorful and distinctive.

In a three-day span that involved one car ride from a friend, a Lyft ride, two zips on the Metro (subway) and just a bit of walking, I filled up on foods from Spain, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Mexico, Germany and western China. I had shots at down-home Italian, Vietnamese, Peruvian and even New Zealand cuisine, but I ran out of time and belt notches.

ambar salad
A colorful Balkan salad is one of almost 60 items available to you in Ambar’s Balkan Challenge; image by Tom Adkinson.
You almost can imagine you’re in sunny Spain dining alfresco in warm months at Pamplona in Arlington; image by Tom Adkinson.

My tour began with Spanish food at Pamplona, where friends of my Arlington friend gathered for happy hour. An extra sangria sharer and tapas passer fit right in. Of the several small plates, a favorite was albondigas (beef meatballs sprinkled with a cheese from northern Spain called idiazabal).

Big temptations for return visits were the Taste of Spain ($35 for an all-you-can-eat tapas experience) and the squid ink paella or the duck paella.

A bit of restraint at Pamplona made it logical to scoot from Spain to the Balkans for a whirlwind tour of eastern European food at Ambar, a two-story restaurant that gets high marks in a Michelin Guide review.

Experiment with Ambar’s hefty menu via the Balkan Experience. Lay down $35 for an unlimited choice of almost 60 items. Try a lamb prosciutto appetizer, a Balkan salad (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, aged cheese), a bowl of veal soup, piquillo pepper croquettes (panko-breaded peppers stuffed with cheese and kalamata jam), beef short rib goulash and then a wild boar patty accented with bacon, smoked gouda, pickles and pesto. Then, take a deep breath and start over – if you can.

heidelberg bakery
Coffeecakes, along with many hard-crusted European breads, are popular at the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe; image by Tom Adkinson

  queen amannisa vegetables
Vibrant vegetables fill a lunch plate at Queen Amannisa, Arlington’s destination for Uyghur cuisine; image by Tom Adkinson

Common sense says to go slowly, chat with the server to learn the subtleties of what you choose and resolve to do heavy manual labor the next day to work off the feast you selected. Ambar has a second location across the Potomac in Washington, D.C., and a third one even farther away in Belgrade, Serbia.

Queen Amannisa is Arlington’s Uyghur outpost. Queen Amannisa, a poet and musician who collected Uyghur classical music and songs, is beloved by this Turkik ethnic group living in several countries in eastern and central Asia. By appearance, food and faith, Uyghurs are different from the majority Han Chinese.

Two of the most popular and authentic dishes here are polow and laghman. Polow is a rice dish with lamb carrots and onions (raisins and pomegranates are optional), while laghman is a pulled noodle dish made with ginger, garlic, tomato, celery and bell peppers complemented by mincemeat, chicken or beef.

A visit to Queen Amannisa really might make Uyghur food your favorite; Image by Tom Adkinson

Germany, in the form of the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, lured me out one morning. Immigrant Wolfgang Buchler spoke no English when he arrived from Heidelberg, but starting in 1975, he became metro Washington’s go-to guy for crusty European-style breads and elegant pastries. Presidents, ambassadors and other dignitaries have been his customers.

The bakery makes satisfying breakfast and lunch sandwiches (the German cold cut sandwich has salami, schinkenwurst, gelbwurst and muenster cheese), and a case is filled with whitefish salad, German potato salad, sauerkraut and herring fillets in wine sauce or cream sauce. On Saturdays from May through October, Buchler rolls out a smoker to grill bratwurst, knackwurst, debrizener (spicy sausage, beef and pork) and more.

One more stop on my tour was Guajillo (pronounced wa-he-yo), a Mexican joint that transcends most south-of-the-border expectations. A good Guajillo sampler is the Taconazo – five nicely presented tacos (beef, lamb, pork, carnitas and fish).

More intimidating is the Cachudo Challenge, “the biggest, baddest, hottest burrito in town.” It’s 16 inches long, features four meats and is doused in “voodoo sauce.” An enticing libation is the “Agave Rita” (Espolon Blanco tequila, lime juice and Cointreau).

The location of Guajillo speaks volumes about Arlington’s culinary offerings. It’s in a strip mall that also has a Greek café, a chili parlor, an Italian restaurant and Rolls By U, which is not a bakery, but a sushi emporium.

Trip-planning resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published November 30, 2018

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