Waffle Shop (Arlington, VA)

A somewhat recent business trip to Crystal City, VA resulted in my having some spare time in which to don my cool Morpher collapsible bike helmet, get on a Capital Bikeshare and explore some of the neighborhoods of Arlington for some breakfast. In this case, I had a relatively clear objective, I was searching for a breakfast joint I hadn’t been to in many years in Del Ray: Waffle Shop.

Located on a wedge of property where Russell Road and Mount Vernon Ave meet at a rakish angle, Waffle Shop is relatively well known for a few reasons, including it’s being one of the most notable holdouts of old Del Ray prior to its current Salvadoran-predominant ethnic mix (indeed, I’ve heard it called Chirilagua), the unfortunate “Wafle” misspelling on its awning (which I can attest to being at least 25 years old now, and has now survived several repaintings and is considered a local landmark), and the fact that it’s one of the very, very few remnants of what was a successful mid-20th century waffle chain.

Back in the 1950s, Waffle Shop was a DC-era diner chain that focused on making diners with a shiny Art Deco ambiance serving up waffle and diner food as a 24 hour experience with lots of stainless steel, swivel stools, bright colors, neon, and boomerang formica. At one point the chain had at least a dozen locations spread throughout the greater DC area, but over the decades the chain faded more than a little. When I first started coming to regularly visit the DC area in the 1990s, there were only four locations I was aware of. One, now gone, was in Columbia Heights. One was in Old Town Alexandria (King and Washington, I think it’s a Chinese place now). Lincoln’s Waffle Shop over in DC is a spiritual cousin to this Waffle Shop; while that “Waffle Shop” had separated from the chain long ago, Lincoln’s had until the early 2000s inhabited the only other location I knew of that still had the Art Deco “Waffle Shop” design and signage (you can still see an example of it over on the excellent Shorpy Photo Archive). But it too in 2010 closed due to development and relocated down the block to a much less impressive storefront as you can read in my 2011 review). As far as I’m aware, the Del Ray location is the only remaining remnant of the chain.

Walking inside, the overall decor is pretty much unchanged: most of the seating is either at the diner counter or some adjacent tabletops (spilling into some outside seating on nice weather days), so unless it’s off peak (and most nights the Waffle Shop is 24 hour, catering often to the crowds coming from the nearby clubs), expect it to be cozy and have a wait. The menu is pure diner, with breakfasts focusing on either waffles (duh!) or omelets, and a reasonable selection of burgers, sandwiches, and grilled steaks for those coming mid-day. Since I was here for breakfast and this was the “Waffle Shop”, I opted for a breakfast combo of waffles, bacon and coffee, and settled back to watch them make my waffle using one of a battery of well-worn waffle makers. A few minutes later, my finished waffle was extracted from the waffle maker using none other than a Philips screwdriver (a unique tool for this that I’ve only seen applied at the Waffle Shop), and I sat back and enjoyed my waffle. This waffle isn’t anything fancy; just your classic non-Belgian waffle, but done up with good batter, served fresh and crispy, this was a good, and cheap breakfast.

Overall, a nice and affordable breakfast outing in a pleasant diner that’s still maintaining the last of a dying Art Deco chain, my experience at Waffle Shop was pleasing. I’ll likely come back another time.

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