Alexandria Appetite: 2 Restaurants Hidden in Plain Sight

Alexandria Appetite: 2 Restaurants Hidden in Plain Sight

Finding these gems requires a bit of searching, but the result is worth it.

May Island offers an abundance of sushi selections, complete with artistic adornments to each platter.

May Island offers an abundance of sushi selections, complete with artistic adornments to each platter. Photo by Hope Nelson.

Tucked away amid retail shops, barbershops, and numerous other storefronts, some of the city’s restaurant gems are a bit tricky to uncover. But the result is worth the search. Here are two of Alexandria’s best strip-mall selections.

May Island, 1669 N. Quaker Lane


May Island’s façade belies the quaint, welcoming ambiance inside.

It’s easy to miss May Island, sitting adjacent as it does from a 7-11 near Fairlington. But when you’ve got a hankering for sushi, don’t drive by before stopping and seeing all the restaurant has to offer.

The first surprise is the ambience. Step through the doors and you’ll see that the mirrored windows out front are obscuring a wonderfully quaint sushi bar with more tables than you might expect before setting foot inside. Order a sake — May Island has plenty to choose from, from higher-end selections to the more day-to-day options — and peruse the menu, which is extensive.

By this point, the breadth and depth — and taste — of the sushi menu shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Each roll is well done and each platter brings artistic flair, from the arrangement of the sushi itself to the little birds whittled out of sweet potatoes. Whether ordering a la carte — maybe an Alaska roll filled with salmon, avocado and cream cheese or a shrimp asparagus roll — or by the platter, which offers up a range of options, there’s little room for error. And vegetarians won’t be left out of the mix, either; the vegetable-sushi selections are copious and interesting, deviating from the standard avocado and/or cucumber roll (though there are those too).

While sushi is certainly May Island’s hook, there are other alternatives as well, ranging from teriyaki to General Tso’s, from lo mein to yaki udon or soba noodles. A well-rounded restaurant deserving of an evening meal, indeed.

Thai Lemongrass, 506 C&D South Van Dorn St.

Tucked away in a corner of the Van Dorn Station shopping center, Thai Lemongrass is an unassuming storefront with a kitchen that’s bursting with flavor. Walk into the room and you’ll inhale the aroma of deep, rich curries and Thai spices; sit down and order and you’ll get a taste of some of the best Thai in town.

If you’re looking for the hottest in upscale ambience, you should probably turn away from Thai Lemongrass. Its dining room may seem a bit workaday, but its food is anything but bland. Start off with the spring rolls or a bowl of Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup with chicken), and then launch straight into dinner. The panang curry is a star — whether paired with chicken, beef, seafood, or tofu, the curry is rich and creamy, spicy yet smooth, and makes the taste buds sing. Or give one of the lo mein dishes a try — the noodles and their accompanying vegetables and protein are fresh and flavorful, without a lot of the additional oil that can be so prevalent in Thai-for-American-palate cooking.

Thai Lemongrass also offers a “Lunch Box Special” on weekdays, where diners can get many of their favorite dishes for lunchtime prices — a perfect reason to sneak away from the office for a meal out.

Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at Email her any time at