Patio brunch at Rustico in Arlington, Virginia

I met Amy and Laura on the first day of ninth grade in White Bear Lake, Minnesota (goh beehrs!). I vividly remember meeting Laura in health class, where we had some awkward conversation but both passed the “she seems nice” test. That night, I went home to my parents and told them that I had met the nicest girls that day and didn’t think I would have problems making friends after all.

Fast forward to today, and Amy and Laura are two of my closest friends from high school. Honestly, they’re two of my closest friends, period. Amy moved to DC for grad school in 2012 which brought us much closer as we both dealt with work, school, relationships, family tragedies and life in a new city. Though we didn’t hang out frequently, our time spent together was characterized by deep conversations, reminiscing over memories, advice about anything and everything, sometimes tears, and understanding.

So when Laura told us that she was coming to town for a medical conference (Laura happens to be brilliant), we jumped on the opportunity to hang out. Oh, and to eat. Our first stop was at Jaleo by José Andrés in Crystal City.

Upon entering the restaurant I was immediately taken by how large it was. In stark contrast to most restaurants in DC – even Jaleo’s sister location in Chinatown/Gallery Place – it had soaring ceilings and a cavernous interior that made me as a diner feel small and slightly uncomfortable. I prefer restaurants with tighter quarters and dimmer lighting, where I feel tucked away and unwatched. This felt very suburban strip mall.

But, it was a José Andrés restaurant so it had to be good. His restaurants have some of the best reputations in town – Zaytinya happens to be one of my personal favorites.

Jaleo in Arlington, Virginia

We began with a cheese plate of manchego with apple, queso de cabra with toast and fig jam, and a white cheese accompanied by a cookie. The queso de cabra and white cheese were incredibly rich and flavorful and paired exceptionally well with their side items. The manchego fell a little flat in comparison but was still good. I mean, it is manchego after all.

Unfortunately, after digging into the first couple of dishes I was left less than satisfied with our tapas. The croquetas were had an okay flavor but were on the mushy side. The bacon-wrapped dates were a bit too fried (I mean, bacon-wrapped dates don’t need much else to make them good). The mushroom rice simply fell flat.

Jaleo in Arlington, Virginia

Clockwise from left: croquetas, bacon-wrapped dates, rice with mushrooms.

Thankfully the company was great.

Jaleo in Arlington, Virginia

And I still ate everything because, let’s be honest, I’m a garbage disposal when it comes to food.

I’m not even going to bother sharing the remaining photos of our slimy octopus and other less-than-appetizing entrées. Also, the lighting in the restaurant sucked so the food looks just as unappetizing in photos as it tasted in my mouth (#bloggerproblems). There were a few bright spots, however: the patatas bravas were delectable with whatever cheese and hot sauce they were drenched in. And the inexpensive bottle of tempranillo that we ordered was just what we needed to wash down our subpar meal. It played above its pay grade.

After a disappointing dinner food-wise (but very entertaining conversation), we went our separate ways in anticipation of brunch at Rustico in Ballston the next morning.

Interior of Rustico in Arlington, Virginia

The interior of Rustico. This is more my style.

My expectations were low after our less-than-stellar meal the night before. Thankfully, Rustico delivered as it always does.

Patio brunch at Rustico in Arlington, Virginia

First things first: caffeine.

It was a gorgeous morning – cool with a breeze, finally, after an unbearably hot and humid summer – so we decided to sit outside.

Rustico, Arlington, Virginia

We jumped right in where we had left our conversation the previous night: Talking about everything from our careers to our ambitions to our relationships to our families to high school friendships and where people are now and who we keep in touch with. Hands gesturing, pointing and saying “YES!” when someone brings up a shared memory, laughing at our multitude of embarrassing moments because these are the people who understand our inner workings and motivations and shortcomings.

I always underestimate the ability of old friends to breathe new life into me. What I’ve come to realize is time with Amy and Laura, along with other long-time friends of mine, is something I need to feel understood, whole, accepted. My local friends, as close as we are, have known me for five years. Amy and Laura have been in my life for nearly 15.

Complementing our lively conversation was the bright array of dishes we got for brunch.

Patio brunch at Rustico in Arlington, Virginia

First up was an order of herb pesto rolls, which honestly tasted like rolled-up pizza. Meaning they were rich and cheesy and saucy and delicious.

Amy and Laura ordered traditional breakfast sandwiches, but I was feeling more like a salad. The beet salad was music to my taste buds: light, bright, sweet, rich with the cheese, tangy with the dressing, and all-around satisfying.

Patio brunch at Rustico in Arlington, Virginia


I don’t know how long we sat on that patio, but it was long enough for every table around us to turn over while we still sat there and caught up. Thankfully our waiter kept the coffee and water flowing.

Patio brunch at Rustico in Arlington, Virginia

Laughter is the best medicine.

I was glad that we were able to give Laura a better meal the second day than the first day, and a better setting for sitting and conversing.

Rustico, Arlington, Virginia

After solving the problems of the world, it was time to say our goodbyes. The time passed quickly but I love that I can look forward to many more foodie dates, laughter and deep conversation with these exceptional women whenever and wherever we meet up next.

The Restaurants

  • Jaleo Crystal City – websitelocation. Not recommended at this time. I plan to try Jaleo in Chinatown/Gallery Place to see if I have a better experience there.
  • Rustico Ballston – websitelocation


Have you tried either of these restaurants? Let me know what you thought in the comments!