It felt like walking in London or Paris.
Yesterday, the weather in Northern Virginia (NOVA) was as usual, unperceived with highs and lows of sunshine and cold temperatures. It was the perfect day to go to Old Town Alexandria where historic establishments paved way for great dining, window shopping and for those who were brave enough to enjoy a cup of gelato on a 50 (which felt like 40) degree- Fahrenheit weather.
It would be nice to have this house as my future home, big enough for 20 kids running around. Okay, not really. It’s pretty though!
I, for one, loves Old Town Alexandria especially in the cold seasons because there are no tourists, plaguing the town with traffic, and because of its charm, boasting through lamp-lit street lights and its dainty historic buildings, that makes it ideal for romantic walks and midnight kisses. As a NOVA local, I’ve walked the brick-stoned sidewalks of King St., the main boulevard per se of Old Town Alexandria, countlessly over the past oh-so-years. I grew accustomed of walking at the same boulevard to the point of actually getting sick of the place. The city lost its charm as I grew more familiar of King St. and Duke St. since most business establishments were found there.
In hopes of invigorating my love for Old Town, I researched unfamiliar shops and restaurants unknown and tucked away to the typical touristy-eye. I searched for shops that were locally owned and that were also friendly to my wallet’s stinginess.
Here are the two restaurants that my boyfriend and I visited yesterday:
Extra Perks Coffee Shop and Cafe
I have oddly picked Extra Perks Coffee Shop and Cafe
as our first destination. I decided that it seems fitting to sit down on a nice cup of hot tea and share a small snack as soon as we arrived to Old Town. I’ve never been to the shop and I was excited to explore it since it has good reviews for having delectable breakfast menus at a reasonable price. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I figured it’s alright to sit there, even if we’re not having their best breakfast entrees. The journey from King St. to North Fairfax St. by foot, was almost 15- 20 minutes since I had to find it with my GPS. I saw huge, neatly decorated, fancy and cozy townhouses turn into rough, unfitting, and a disarray of closely-packed townhouses that bore fences,which separated each house and uneven paved sidewalks. Clearly, I could see an imaginary boundary line between the affluent homes and the less auspicious neighborhood. It was almost like traveling to Manhattan then to a roughly-patched neighborhood that no longer shows the glitzy and dreamy side of the city. I honestly was nervous and kept looking behind us hoping that we’ll be safe.
Despite my mild paranoia, we arrived in the restaurant- safe. It was a cloudy afternoon and the shop’s atmosphere was dark, quiet and was almost close to empty. It was small, quaint and quirky at the same time. There were different tables covered with random images of newspaper clippings, UK flags, and different colorful tables of blues and yellows. The place had peculiar decorations with irrelevant picture frames that didn’t unify into a single theme. I didn’t know if I walked into a coffee shop or a foreign country. Nevertheless, there were a few customers that enjoyed the black leather couches located next to an electric fireplace and that pretty much turned the little, odd shop into a cozy destination.
Ordinary cup that perfectly goes with the quirkiness of the cafe.
The service was fast and we didn’t have to wait for a long time for our food (because it wasn’t busy). The prices are inexpensive and the restaurant’s menu had different types of breakfast entrees which are good for a wondering drunkard who’s craving for some drunken-munchies. The staff (cashier rather) was alright, but he could be more friendlier. Overall, I’d give it a 6/10, 10 being the highest favorable score. Maybe I’ll change my rating if I come back for breakfast.
It was an ‘okay’ sandwich for a snack.
Since the 40 or 50 degree weather deemed appropriate for a warm bowl of soup, I picked a Vietnamese ‘pho’ restaurant for our dinner. I was hungry and cared less if it was the same bowl of soup I ate two days ago. Heck, pho is unbeatably the best solution to a cold shivering body in a chilly November weather!
Caphe Banh Mi
CLOSE: Oh, no! But I NEED PHO!
If you, by any chance, crave for a bowl of warm pho on a chilly weather and you are in Old Town Alexandria, you’d think you won’t find such a thing around King St., then you’ll have to venture out into the cold and walk a block to Cameron Street and find a hidden gem hiding behind these red doors. Also, if you do decide to go there, make sure you know when they open and close since they honor siesta time. Unfortunately, I was so hungry that I didn’t visit their site and found myself reading in fine print, outside their closed red door: CLOSE from 2:30- 5pm on Monday to Friday.
Check their store hours BEFORE heading out there!
I have been in different Vietnamese restaurants around NOVA and Caphe Banh Mi stood out from the rest. It was different because it was smaller and yet it lived up to Old Town Alexandria’s charming treasures. It was warm, inviting, cozy and a romantic place to dine in. My boyfriend and I arrived there around 5 or 6 pm and it wasn’t heavily packed.
Behind the red door is a dainty, romantic spot.
I personally admired the restaurant’s wooden chairs as opposed to the customary metallic and often times, plastic chairs found in most Viet restaurants. I guess a Viet native would say the restaurant doesn’t conform to tradition or that it’s too Americanized, but in my opinion, because of its unique and atypical Western- Viet-style, it really stands out.
I love the spotlights that emphasize the shop’s own Viet heritage.
Also, the staff were very welcoming and they were helpful. Unlike the other Viet restaurants where I have been dining before, I didn’t feel rushed or that I’m another one of their customers that keeps adding up. It was really a nice, sweet and lightly-paced dining with no staff circling around your table if you’re done. But hey, maybe because we arrived around 5 which was early for dinner that it wasn’t busy. Either way, I’d come back here for another treat when I’m craving for pho in Old Town.
I would say that the bowl of pho that I ordered falls in the mid-range spectrum as it didn’t give me that ‘oomph’ feeling. The meat was cooked medium rare and the taste seemed different from the typical pho I’ve eaten before. The bowls were bigger than the other pho places I’ve been to. Also, it seems that they had more variety in meat choices and you could also customize your own pho. Their menu had more choices and it’s English-friendly. I don’t know if it’s more authentic (considering how I’m not Viet to judge) or that it’s Westernized. No matter, it was the perfect choice in a rather dreary and chilly evening.
The littlest things make the most statements.
The wooden chopsticks, which were color -coordinated with the wooden table and the red themed layout of the restaurant, makes the dining experience authentic, bold and demure. Overall, the presentation of the restaurant and its staff has finesse and it wasn’t too overwhelming, but it makes such a bold statement.
That’s what I call oriental- style deco with class.
It’s funny that my boyfriend and I concluded that the oriental style- sink (found in the bathroom) is the final icing on top of all the restaurant’s demure and elegant appeal. I love that it didn’t fall into my typical expectations of dining at a Vietnamese restaurant. Instead, it impressed me and made it as the highlight of our evening. I’d give this an 8/10.
Reasonable dinner price at a well-decorated restaurant.
A break down of our expenses in Old Town Alexandria, VA:
Parking for 2 hours: $ 3.50
Extra Perks Coffee and Cafe Shop: $13.33
Caphe Banh Mi bill + tips: $21.26 + 4= $25.26
For one person: $ 21.04 (NOT BAD!)