Community Gathering Place: Cafesano Italian & Mediterranean Bistro

“This is where you can go to get healthy food every single day,” explains Gino Maza, the general manager at Cafesano. Maza oversees Cafesano’s kitchen, dining area and the restaurant’s very busy take out business. “It’s been a success since the day it opened its doors,” writes Reston real estate agent Eve Thompson in Reston Now about Cafesano. The name translates to “healthy café” in Italian.

Cafesano has morphed into a popular neighborhood-gathering place, and Maza says they have “a ton” of regulars. “You can eat a burger or steak once a week, but here there are so many good things you can choose from that are healthy—Panini’s, salads, wraps—and they’re all homemade, made from scratch,” says Maza. The menu’s selections include kabobs, brick-oven pizza, and pasta, all with an Italian/Mediterranean flair. The restaurant uses only olive oil, fresh produce, and prime cuts of meat and fish.

Located in the South Lakes Village Shopping Center, Cafesano debuted eleven years ago, led by an inspired owner, Paul Swinley, who is also a vegetarian. Maza says Swinley wanted a restaurant with lots of options. He wanted the food to be healthy—not heavy or overly spicy—the way you might cook yourself, if you had excellent ingredients and the patience to execute each step with care. “Paul says our food is based on traditional recipes. The food is simple—like you make at home—and tasty; that’s why we have a lot of people coming back here. The service is really good too,” notes Maza. With this history of success, Cafesano recently opened a second location in Dulles Town Center. They also make it easy to order take out and catered food using an online service and separate storefront in South Lakes Village.

Cafesano’s modern décor and glass atrium allows an abundance of light into the dining area. The front patio has cheerful flower boxes, and the restaurant’s windows offer bright glimpses of Lake Thoreau. Cafesano’s lunch crowd is bustling and dinner brings a steady stream of customers, though less of a crush. During the summer months, many diners make their way to the restaurant both by hiking trail and by boat.

Based on Maza’s recommendations, I started with the bistro’s signature dips. After just one bite of creamy, lemony hummus, I was hooked. Triangles of soft pita bread were the perfect vessel to gobble down this delectable dip. The restaurant’s dip platter is especially popular with catering customers—roasted red pepper dip, eggplant (baba ghanoush), and tzatziki are all prepared using the cook’s emphasis on raw, whole ingredients. No dip is heavily seasoned, but for those who prefer their food a little saltier, hotter or sweeter etc., Cafesano has a seasoning bar with lots of options.   

Chicken Parmesan Panini is a hearty lunch selection, with tender chunks of chicken, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and a brush of pesto. It’s served with the homemade lavash chips and allows you to choose whole grain or regular ciabatta bread. Cafesano’s Signature Salad is  a satisfying platter of ingredients, including artichokes, Kalamata olives, romaine, hunks of mozzarella, and half an avocado sliced on top. It comes with your choice of house made dressings; one is a low-calorie, no oil lemon-tahini worth sampling.

Maza says he loves pasta, and it’s one of the house specialties. The ravioli and all the sauces are made in-house daily. I dug into a bowl of angel hair pasta with Arrabbiata gravy—a zesty combination of chopped olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, and capers. Cafesano can substitute whole-wheat penne as an alternative in several pasta dishes. Pasta dishes come with a slice of garlic bread that’s been grilled until it’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside—it’s useful for scooping up errant sauce.

My personal favorite, besides the irresistible hummus, was the salmon kabob. Large chunks of salmon, charred and bathed in a luminous marinade, arrive on a plate of basmati rice, skewer of vegetables, tzatziki, pita, and a small salad. This is a dish I could definitely eat a few days a week and feel quite smug about how healthfully I was eating. Besides the obvious nutrition, Cafesano serves up a large, flavorful portion, so you’ll feel you’ve treated yourself too. Why can’t everything beneficial taste this good, I wonder? But this dish, in particular, proves the point that Cafesano has regulars, and because the bistro features chicken, steak, shrimp, veggies, and falafel kabobs, there’s something for everyone’s diet, even your menu-challenged gluten-free and vegan friends.

Another notable aspect worth mentioning is the selection of craft beers and wines by the glass. You can still have your wine while you’re eating healthy, and Cafesano has a tart house made lemonade your kids will adore. No one leaves here hungry or thirsty. So, next time your family and friends are considering where to eat or where to order from, Cafesano is likely to have something that makes everyone in the crowd smile.

11130 South Lakes Dr. Reston, VA | 703-391-2100

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