There are plenty of noteworthy restaurants in this city that that are worthy of recognition, but I chose an establishment outside of D.C. for the first time this month because the place I went to is just that good. Located at 120 Maple Avenue in Vienna, Virginia (MAP), I rode to The Vienna Inn for lunch, and for February’s end-of-the-month restaurant review for this blog.
Draped in smoke and the aroma of chili dogs and beer, “The Inn” as it is often fondly referred to, has been a preeminent “dive” in the Northern Virginia area for more than half a century. Opened in 1960 by Mike and Mollie Abraham, the restaurant’s décor falls squarely within the category of “Restaurants That Time Forgot.” The classic neighborhood restaurant and bar has changed so little since it opened that one would be hard pressed to know what decade it currently is from its no-frills eclectic decor, which includes wood-paneled walls adorned with photographs and trophies from local area sports teams sponsored by The Vienna Inn over the years, as well as hand-drawn works of art from their youngest patrons, pinball machines in a corner, vintage booths and tables, all of which wobble and creak, and dim lighting that somehow just puts you at ease. And despite being sold by the Abraham family in 2000, current owner Marty Volk and manager Katie Herron have been able to maintain the same traditional laid-back and friendly atmosphere.
Despite being a dive bar, The Inn enjoys the dichotomy of also being a family-friendly restaurant as well. Despite an always boisterous crowd, one of its main differences from other bars is that cursing is not allowed in The Inn – even if you’re a local icon, like Washington Redskins Hall of Fame running back John Riggins. There is a local story about John Riggins visiting The Inn one night and using profanity, at which point the whole place went quiet. After being appropriately chastised by the owner, he had to stand up and apologize to the crowd for cursing. At that point he was told that he could stay.
The Inn is known for its chili, especially its ridiculously inexpensive chili dogs and French fries, which are my favorite. The fact that they sell more than 10,000 chili dogs every month indicates how good they are. But there is enough variety on the menu that there is definitely something for almost every taste. You can start off with their take on classic bar food and appetizers such as Buffalo Shrimp, Fried Red Chili Peppers or Boneless Chicken Wings. But don’t fill up too quickly, because the rest of the menu is not to be missed. You can enjoy lighter fare such as their soup of the day or a fresh salad. The Blackened Tuna Salad is particularly good. But if you’re hungering for something more substantial, classic comfort food such as meatloaf is always a good choice. As I said, their world famous chili dogs and fries are my go-to choice, but if you’re still looking for something else I also highly recommend any of their more than two dozen varieties of specialty sandwiches and burgers.
And don’t forget breakfast. The Inn opens early, at 7:00am every day except Sunday, when they open at 9:00am. And it’s worth a separate trip for their extensive breakfast menu. They offer all the morning basics. But their offerings also include such diverse choices as Tex-Mex omelets, chocolate-chip hotcakes, cream chipped beef on toast, salami and scrambled eggs, and fat French toast. In my opinion, if you can’t find something you like on their menu, at breakfast or any other time of the day, then you’re either not trying or not hungry.
Finally, adding to The Inn’s distinctive nature is the fact that it’s also a great haunt for area bike riders. I frequently enjoy a stop for breakfast while on a long weekend bike ride on the nearby Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail, which runs through the town of Vienna and right past The Inn, which is located near Milepost 11.5. The bike racks out front serve as a welcome mat to area bike riders, but everyone is always welcome at The Inn.