We’ve probably eaten at the Vienna Inn more than any other restaurant in our lives, and WaPo food critic Tom Sietsema just gave it a half-star review.
His beef with the Northern Virginia institution famous for chili, beer and good company? “Rushed service” … “no one asks how we want ‘the hamburger’ cooked” … “the home fries are not the least bit crisp” … “chipped beef on toast is gray and industrial-tasting” … and so on.
Here’s the thing though: We’ve never ordered anything but fully-loaded dogs (chili, cheese, mustard, onions) and cheese fries. I think our dad used to get the chili mac. Our mom usually ventures off and gets grilled chicken or some shit. But it’s not about the food.
It’s about the place we and every other kid in and around the town of Vienna grew up with. Way-back prices, a laid-back vibe, hot dogs and cold beer are what keep us coming. It’s why it’s hard to find a seat in the joint.
We’ve been there to celebrate victories, take lunch breaks, pregame, postgame, watch a game, whatever. When a friend’s father died we all went there after the funeral. It’s a place to bring out-of-towners, it’s where you’ll see the same old-timers hugging the same barstools and it’s where I took my baby girl the first time we brought her back home.
The ownership is different now, and the waitresses aren’t so salty anymore, but the VI is pretty much the same as it ever was. It’s a slice of NoVa’s old country hanging in there despite NoVa’s suburban sprawl, and to rip it for its culinary shortcomings is to miss the mark by an old country mile.