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Don't Patch The Hole In The Wall
A little piece of the fascinating D.C. suburbs, and affordable commercial space
The other weekend, we took a friend to this restaurant in Northern Virginia—just over the western border of Fairfax County, into a rapidly developing semi-rural stretch of Loudoun County—which serves momos, or Himalayan (particularly Tibet and Nepal) dumplings. You’ll find them in some Indian restaurants too, where they’re also eaten.
I used to occasionally order momos from a food truck when I worked in D.C., and I’ve had them at a few restaurants. Think something similar to a Chinese dumpling but with Indian flavors. I think this particular place makes the tastiest (and cheapest) ones.
And here it is:
To the untrained eye, there’s no sign for the momo half of the place, compared to the better advertised fried chicken half, which is very good too, if it hasn’t been sitting too long.
This is the restaurant counter and seating area:
And the bathroom and the view out the small bathroom window:
The little vacant storefront in the middle of this building used to be a thrift shop, but now it’s just used for storing tires. Back when it was completely empty, a couple of years ago, I snapped this photo through the window. For some reason, this poster of a strip mall was hanging up in there, which, of course, made me very curious.
Google Street View captured the thrift store, too. A restaurant, thrift store, gas station, and auto shop, all in one, pretty much in between big new subdivisions and data centers.
When I see something like this—that sort of makes me wonder who really goes there—it makes me realize there’s much more to a place than you see. Places, even these suburban edge areas, are multidimensional.
I love how wonderfully archaic this building is, a little remaining outpost of the previous era here, along with the saddle shop just about next door. The official county record says it was built in 1950—a little gas station mart which has survived for over 70 years! The record also shows that since 2008, when the online records begin, the property has well more than doubled in taxable value. That tells you, sadly but inevitably, that it may not be here that much longer.
But for now, there’s an incredible international restaurant, owned and staffed, with some additional help, by a Nepalese immigrant—originally in IT, now restaurants—and his wife, on a stretch of U.S. 50 called John Mosby Highway.
These are just the coolest things in the world.
But the food.
There are a few menu items here, but the best ones are definitely the plain and spicy chicken momos. There are sauces on the side too, one mild and one very hot. It’s all homemade and handmade, the momos are steamed to order ( so call ahead) and everything is bursting with delicious flavor.
The place has gotten a few write-ups—the Washington Post, Northern Virginia Magazine, and a foodservice industry magazine—and according to those, the owners prep vegetables and herbs, grind fresh chicken, and make homemade dough, the result being hundreds or thousands of momos sold each day. Customers can be other immigrants, foodies, or old Virginians who go for gas or fried chicken and give the unfamiliar international dish a try.
One of these plates of momos is about $13, which, given the region we’re in and given inflation, is a steal for something homemade and obviously of very good quality.
The thing, is the setting of the place, in this old gas station, alongside a fried chicken joint, isn’t incidental; it’s probably the reason the place exists at all and is so affordable. The owners bought the chicken franchise first and then used it as a platform, essentially, to launch their Nepalese restaurant-inside-a-restaurant. And the cost of the space is low.
This is what you might term naturally occurring affordable commercial space. It’s why some of the absolute best food is in a dinky old strip plaza or low-slung box on a highway; why most new retail development is mostly chains; why redeveloping old landscapes may be good but should be done with caution; and why treating places already settled as blank slates should never be done at all.
Stuff like this, in no small way, is what keeps us in Northern Virginia. There are so many stories, so much human interest here, where affluence, diversity, and old and new landscapes have created a melting pot. People who talk about this region as a soulless place where you put up with Beltway traffic while you get rich working for contractors don’t know what they’re talking about.
Maybe they drive right by the old gas station, or never drive past it at all. Explore, observe, stop. There’s as much, almost anywhere, as you’re willing to see.
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