Old Town Alexandria—the nationally designated historic district in downtown Alexandria, Virginia, along the Potomac River waterfront—is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Pre-dating Washington, DC, colonial Alexandria provided a place for the country’s founding fathers to congregate and plan their new democratic government. Lined with multimillion-dollar historic town homes, boutique storefronts, and quaint brick sidewalks, Old Town has been incredibly well-preserved, providing visitors with a detailed glimpse into America’s past.
There are also many great restaurants! Old Town is popular among tourists for its historic charm and proximity to DC, but the eateries cater to locals as well. Some are very rooted in Alexandria’s history—many of the buildings housing restaurants date back to the mid-1700s, and many of the eateries themselves have been open for decades, making them indispensably intertwined with life here.
From sushi to ice cream to Maryland crab cakes, these nine favorite Old Town Alexandria restaurants cover all the bases and should definitely be on your to-do list the next time you visit. Some will say it barely scratches the surface of what’s available in this beautiful riverside town, but you have to start somewhere! In between meals, consider a historical ghost tour, browse the small independent shops, or soak in living history exhibits (like the Carlyle House, recommended below), which give visitors a better feel of colonial life in Alexandria. And don’t forget to head down to the water for a beautiful view of Washington, DC.
A note about geography: As Old Town Alexandria existed during colonial times, the city’s main streets are dedicated to the Crown. Many restaurants are on King Street, the main downtown artery, but there’s also Duke, Queen, and Prince Street, honoring all the royals. The King Street trolley is free and will take you from the metro stop down to the waterfront.
Virtue Feed + Grain
Named for the building’s history as a feed and grain warehouse back in the 1800s, this Old Town Alexandria restaurant is known for its creative cocktails and great happy hour, which includes discounted appetizers and drinks. It currently serves more than 50 types of whiskey from around the world. There’s a pretty eclectic restaurant menu too, spanning tacos and bucatini, fried green tomatoes and duck poutine.
The restaurant itself has three different vibes: the outdoor dog-friendly waterfront patio, the neighborhood-y bar downstairs, and the cozy hipster lounge upstairs. Our favorite space is the upstairs area, with its comfortable couches, exposed brick, and wall-length bar. For a more private dining experience, you can reserve a table with sheer curtains on the edge of the lounge. We recommend the Old Town crab dip, served straight from the oven with tortilla chips. Virtue Feed + Grain, 106 S. Union St., map
Gadsby’s, a registered national historic landmark dating to 1770, is for history lovers. Sit in here and you’ll feel like George Washington could join you at any moment (especially since the staff dresses in colonial garb). In reality, 250 years ago, George Washington was a frequent customer here, along with other founding fathers including John Adams and James Madison.
The tavern, originally a hotel and restaurant, sits right across from city hall and one block from King Street. The original hotel footprint now holds the restaurant, while the original restaurant area is a museum dedicated to the tavern’s history. The menu hints at an earlier time with traditional dishes, including our favorite, the baked Brie en croute, and a dish titled George Washington’s Favorite: roasted duck with corn pudding, roasted potatoes, and cherry-orange glacé (there would have to be cherries involved, right?). You can also try peanut soup, a classic Virginia dish combining peanuts with chicken stock, garlic, and ginger. The burgers, available for lunch, are very good too. Gadsby’s Tavern, 138 North Royal St., map
Momo Sushi and Café
This small, quiet sushi restaurant is nestled away from King Street and is always filled with regulars who will want to tell you their favorite sushi roll. We’ve always been a fan of the shrimp tempura roll and tamago (rolled egg) nigiri, but you can’t really go wrong. (Note that despite the name, there are no momos, or steamed Himalayan dumplings, on the menu!) If you’re looking for a quiet, delicious, very local spot, this is it. Momo Sushi + Café, 212 Queen St., map
Pop’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream
This ice cream shop, which dates back to the 1940s, is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Like other Old Town Alexandria restaurants, there’s a presidential connection here: Ray “Pop” Giovanni spent his early days catering events at the White House, including serving Eleanor Roosevelt her favorite ice cream.
The nostalgic ambiance hasn’t changed much. They serve about 30 homemade ice cream flavors with old-timey flair. Pop’s ice cream sundaes, in particular, will whisk you back to your childhood whether you’re a banana split fan or all about the whipped cream and cherry on top. We love the Kahlua chocolate chip ice cream—don’t worry, the alcohol is burned off, so it’s kid-friendly too! Pop’s Ice Cream, 109 King St., map
For a more international feel on the ice cream front, head here. It’s one of the newer additions to Old Town, but it provides the same cozy feel inside. Try the deliciously rich affogato to experience both the locally roasted coffee and creamy gelato on offer here. If no seats are available, go next door to a real-life secret garden at the Carlyle House, an historic 18th-century mansion with a beautiful garden. While there is a fee to enter this historic home (guided tours are available), the garden is free to enter. Dolci Gelati, 107 North Fairfax St., map
Earlier in the pandemic, several streets downtown were closed to provide restaurants with the opportunity to put out more tables. Today the last block of King Street remains filled not only with tables, but also with beautiful flowers and daily jazz performances. The following restaurants are located within this area.
Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant & Bar
O’Connell’s is a popular live music spot on King Street. For anyone craving that auld-school feel and a proper pint, there’s an inviting traditional pub area near the front. I usually head here in the winter to enjoy the large fireplace and lively environment. Dinner wise, this restaurant is great for large groups as it has two floors with extensive seating. Our go-to dish? The shepherd’s pie, which is accompanied by house-made Irish brown bread, paired with a Magners cider. But there’s tons of delicious, traditional Irish fare here, from fish and chips to full Irish breakfasts. Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant & Bar, 112 King St., map
A bit farther up King Street than some of the other restaurants, Taverna Cretekou is worth leaving the waterfront area for—both for the consistently delicious Greek food and its spacious garden patio. This family-owned restaurant has been an Old Town staple since the early 1970s, and it continues to serve some of the best regional Greek food in the area. Inside, the whitewashed walls with pops of blue transport you to Santorini. We appreciate that the menu breaks down the Greek dishes by region, so you know that your moussaka is from Crete, your tiropita is from Andros, and your agria manitaria (grilled mushrooms) hails from Kastoria. We love the spanakotiropita, the traditional spinach and feta pie. This restaurant is surrounded by a bunch of small shops worth a browse post-meal. Taverna Cretekou, 818 King St., map
One of the largest restaurants in Old Town Alexandria, decades-old Chadwicks is a great spot for American-style seafood and Southern classics, like shrimp and grits. Despite its size, the ambiance conveys an intimate vibe, as there are cozy nooks for couples, spacious booths for families, and a handsome bar area. The food is delicious and varied, with lots of seafood (salmon BLT, fish tacos, seared scallops), meat (buttermilk fried chicken, burgers, BBQ ribs), and vegetarian-friendly dishes (black bean burger, grilled pimiento cheese, taco salad) on offer. There’s something for everyone here! Its brunch is particularly popular, between the drink specials and water views. Chadwicks, 203 Strand St., map
A great fine dining option for a business lunch or dinner date, The Warehouse features steak, seafood, and lots of Cajun cuisine—including our favorite dish, fried catfish smothered in crawfish étouffée. We also love the Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cakes here, and the creamy she crab soup. Maryland crab cakes are broiled or baked, shaped somewhere between a ball and a patty, and this restaurant cooks them to perfection. The Warehouse, 214 King St., map
About the author: Katrina Warren is from Fort Washington, Maryland. She is an avid traveler who has visited over 30 countries. She currently runs Alexandrian Consulting, a travel consulting firm dedicated to increasing global minority travel.