Bistro 1521

Since Bad Saint was the inspiration for this blog with their horrible, salty, over-hyped, line-causing disaster of a restaurant, I wanted to give Filipino cuisine a second chance (and have another restaurant to share the “Filipino” tag for the sake of fairness to the people of the Philippines).

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Quick side note: if you think, “Oh yeah, let me just drive to Arlington on a Sunday night, no big deal,” you should probably check what time of year it is. If it’s the first weekend of April, just lock your doors, turn out your lights, and hide under your bed until Cherry Blossom Fest is over. Don’t even think about going to Arlington. Also, if you plan to go to Arlington in general, just don’t. The parking is a nightmare and nothing good ever comes from this place (except tortas).

My dining companions had already ordered appetizers by the time I arrived. We had the lumpiang shanghai (egg rolls) and ukoy (veggie and shrimp fritters). I appreciated the crispy simplicity of the egg rolls. They were mostly shell with a small amount of filling, but it was well-seasoned regardless. The fritters were enormous and served with a thin, spicy-sour sauce that worked really well. On the other hand, they also weirdly included shell-on shrimp. They were delicious but why? Why do I have to pick apart a fritter in order to shell my own seafood? Why am I even paying for not-quite-prepared food? It’s even worse in fritter form.

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When we ordered, it turns out that the people in our group fell into two camps: the people who wanted spicy pork tenderloin and the people who wanted chicken on top of noodles. Our table of five ordered two of each of these things, plus I had a mango salad and we got an order of chicken adobo fried rice for the table. My husband ordered his bicol express pork dish extra spicy, as per usual.

First, let me talk about the mango salad. I guess I just assumed this would be a salad that was actually made from mangoes, not a salad with a few sad julienne slices of mango on top. Disappointing. Not even worth posting.

The bicol express was plentiful and looked like this:

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It had a good texture and a very unique flavor, which I will attribute to a seafoodiness from shrimp paste. On the other hand, I hesitate to call this “extra spicy,” and maybe it’s not even fair to call it “spicy,” which is the warning they offer on the menu. As compared to the regular spicy version, the extra-spicy had a couple extra chilis thrown in last-minute. They weren’t even super-spicy chilis. So spicy was not its forte, but it was satisfying.

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The chicken bihon looked and tasted like your typical chicken-noodle-vegetable amalgamation. The chicken was kind of dry, the dish was composed primarily of vermicelli noodles. I was fairly underwhelmed by this too.

The standout of the meal for me was the 1521 fried rice, which I’m actually shocked that I liked considering that I think rice is the number one most useless food to ever exist. But damn, throw some chicken adobo and some hard-boiled egg in there and I’m all over that noise. One again, pretty dry chicken but the oiliness of the rice made up for it.

The unsung hero of Bistro 1521 was the cocktail selection, though. We were all very satisfied with an interesting mix of liquors and authentic juice flavors, and everyone had a second round. I bet this place does a mean happy hour.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Well, it’s a lot cheaper and less salty than Bad Saint, so if for some reason you absolutely need to eat Filipino food and nothing else will quite cut it, this might be a decent option. Otherwise, come for the apps and beverages, then fill your belly at one of the other fine establishments that I’m sure exists somewhere in Arlington. Can’t help you with that one.

Tortas y Tacos La Chiquita

Ah yes, Arlington. That place you go to for the sole purpose of buying stuff on Craigslist. Which is exactly what I was doing this Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t planning on a lunch out. Frankly, in my mind, Arlington is the bastion of Panera. And yes, yes, I know that Arlington has plenty of good independent restaurants but we were out in the heavy suburbs and I didn’t want a big sit-down meal.

After retrieving the Craigslist loot, I was headed home, thinking there wasn’t anything on the way, when I ended up in the middle of this adorable Main Street at the corner of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike, and dining options abounded. What even is this place? It’s sort of in this No Man’s Land between Ballston and Pentagon City. Crossed the street, and there, in all its glory, was La Chiquita.

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It’s next to the theater and looks like nothing much. But looks are often deceiving, as I was made painfully aware of last night at Shaw’s Tavern. Inside, their flashy electronic menu rotated between options, flashing a picture of each one. A little voice told me I needed the carnitas torta. It arrived crazy fast and looked like this:

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It was piled high with moist pulled pork, topped with avocado, tomato, and pickled vegetables, dripping with cheese, and absolutely smothered in mayonnaise. The bread was soft and warm. The meat was juicy. The vegetables were spicy pickled perfection. The salsa served on the side was a perfect addition. I’m ambivalent about mayonnaise and even I didn’t think this was too much (even though it really was too much…I had to eat this sandwich with a knife and fork). I was audibly moaning with pleasure by the time I finished this meal.

This torta was so good that I considered buying another one just to keep the feeling going (it was plenty of food). If I could have this experience all over again, I would have bought two just for the variety. I’m sad that I only tried the one thing because La Chiquita has plenty of non-torta plates if that’s your thing: tacos, quesadillas, etc. I’m sure they’re all amazing. I’m glad I don’t live in this neighborhood because I would be SO. FAT.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: You need this torta in your life. It’s worth a special trip.