With an economy geared toward tourism, Alexandria  is a restaurant town, boasting more than 200 eateries that suit nearly every taste, budget, and food craving. Some of the area’s finest chefs have landed in Alexandria, drawn to its charming architecture easily converted to cozy eating rooms and private dining areas. A steady stream of well-heeled locals and visitors sustains these establishments, many which have been in business for years.
Two consistently excellent and popular restaurants in Alexandria are Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St., 703/706-0450, www.restauranteve.com , bistro lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., bistro dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-10:30 p.m., tasting room dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-9:30 p.m., bar and lounge 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) and La Bergerie (218 Lee St., 703/683-1007, www.labergerie.com , lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m., Sun. 5-9 p.m.), both award-winning restaurants with fine cuisine and extensive wine lists.
Restaurant Eve, under owner-chef Cathal Armstrong, earned Food & Wine’s Best Wine List award in 2005, and its chef was named to the magazine’s Best New Chefs list in 2006. Cuisine is New American with touches of Europe and Ireland, Armstrong’s native country, with an emphasis on locally harvested and farmed organic ingredients. The tasting room menu is an opportunity to experience the creativity of an award-winning chef; the bistro is only slightly less casual than the tasting room (jackets required but ties not necessary), serving perfectly prepared and artfully served mid-Atlantic specialties like rib-eye with mizuna and Yukon Gold croquettes, and freshly caught Chesapeake rockfish with spring garlic cream.
La Bergerie dishes up classic French cuisine with rich sauces and fresh ingredients; its wine list has been lauded by national magazines and local publications as well, designed to enhance its Provençal main menu and chef’s tasting menu. Typical dishes include Dover sole prepared table-side with clarified butter and fresh lemon and tournedos de boeuf accompanied by red-wine shallot sauce and a gratin of Swiss chard and foie gras.
Delicious and expertly prepared cuisine can be found in less formal settings across the city. The Majestic (911 King St., 703/837-9117, www.majesticcafe.com , lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun. 1-9 p.m.) emphasizes local and fresh ingredients along with its house-made desserts in a noisy, bustling art deco space that has served as a café since 1949. In the past five years under the ownership of chef Cathal Armstrong from Restaurant Eve and managed by chef Shannon Overmiller, a veteran of several top Washington kitchens, it has gained a following of steady clients for its Southern and Mid-Atlantic dishes as well as a few Italian offerings that include creamy fresh gnocchi, puffs of morel mushroom, and asparagus ravioli.
For seafood, the Alexandria  offshoot of DC’s Hank’s Oyster Bar (1026 King St., 703/739-4265, www.hanksdc.com , Tues.-Thurs. 5:30-9:30 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-midnight, Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) is known for its New England-style prepared catches, with steamers, chowders, popcorn shrimp, ribs, oysters, and sandwiches that include lobster rolls. Ribs and schnitzel round out the menu for those who don’t care for shellfish. Reservations are advised; this tiny town house fills up quickly.
If the ambience of Old Town has you hankering for Virginia colonial cooking, one of the area’s top two destinations for period fare and ambience is the Mount Vernon Inn (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., 703/780-0011, www.mountvernon.org , lunch daily 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5-8:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-9 p.m.). Expectations of restaurants in tourist venues often don’t run high, but if you can snag a table at the Mount Vernon Inn, you’ll find a surprisingly affordable menu of decently prepared food served by colonial costumed waiters and waitresses. With an extensive menu, a few choices still stand out—the peanut soup (try a cup), the spinach salad, and the rosemary chicken. And maybe by the time you visit, they will have returned their delicious fried chicken, with honey-sweetened batter, to the menu.
The dining room at Gadsby’s Tavern (138 N. Royal St., 703/548-1288, www.gadsbystavernrestaurant.com , lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m., brunch Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.), the other top pick, is not the same place that Jefferson, Adams, and Washington quaffed a few (that is the museum next door), but this space, built in 1799, is equally charming, with sack-back Windsor chairs, candles in hurricane lanterns, tavern tables, and period dressed servers. Menu favorites include George Washington’s pick, duck breast with scalloped potatoes and corn pudding, and gentlemen’s pye, a combination shepherd’s pie and cottage pie with a savory red wine sauce.
Alexandria was founded by Scots, but its current residents have a passion for Irish pubs. Murphy’s (713 King St., 703/548-1717, www.murphyspub.com ) is an Old Town institution, one of those American Irish pubs that serves nachos alongside a nightly regaling of the Unicorn song, but with enough traditional pub fare, tab brews, humor, police patches on the walls, and rounds of the Red Rover to keep it authentic. In terms of dining, the burgers are probably the best thing on the menu. Murphy’s is primarily a bar, drawing boisterous crowds after dinner with nightly entertainment and 14 beverages available on tap, including the usual suspects, Guinness and Harp, along with an India pale ale, a cider, two house ales, and Mooney’s Irish Stout.
Going head-to-head with Murphy’s is Daniel O’Connell’s (112 King St., 703/739-1124, www.danieloconnells.com ), which opened in 2006 aiming to be slightly more upscale than its rival and place a larger emphasis on food. The decor is authentic Ireland, interiors salvaged from castles, old churches, and Irish monasteries. Top choices on the menu include a delicious rib-eye, lamb burgers, and, of course, fish-and-chips. The whiskey and bourbon menus are extensive.
Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, a turn-of-the-century suburb of Sears bungalows and American foursquare farmhouses, has a number of casual restaurants, great for grabbing a meal before a show at the Birchmere or heading back to Washington. A couple of counter stores stand out as great destinations for a quick bite in this neighborhood, including Cheesetique (2411 Mount Vernon Ave., 703/706-5300, www.cheesetique.com , Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.), a specialty shop that carries gourmet cheeses, wines, and beer from around the world. But behind the retail space is a tiny cheese and wine bar that’s open from lunch on with a cheese-centric menu of sandwiches, small plates, delicious soups, and fresh salads and a complementary selection of wine from around the world. In good weather, a patio provides much-needed seating at this popular venue.
Dairy Godmother (2310 Mount Vernon Ave., 703/683-7767, www.dairygodmother.com , Sun.-Mon. noon-9 p.m., Wed.-Sat. noon-10 p.m., closed Tues.) is a dessert destination that features Wisconsin-style frozen custard. Chocolate and vanilla are always on the menu, with sorbets and special flavors like Bordeaux cherry, pumpkin pie, and orange chocolate shortbread changed daily. In addition to its frozen desserts, the DG also bakes cookies and sells house-made marshmallows.