One has to only step inside Herndon’s Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano to know that they are in for a rare treat. From the warm and friendly greeting, to the aromas of Tuscan Italian cooking, to the chatter of enchanted diners, Zeffirelli subtly invites you to make yourself at home.
Known for its exquisitely prepared meals, impeccable service and elegant setting in a white-tableclothed atmosphere, Zeffirelli is often the choice for special occasions. Owner Sayed Hussain can recite story after story about engagements that happened here and the couples who return year after year, now with their children, to celebrate. You might also find celebrities and politicians as well as local patrons enjoying a sublime meal.
Zeffirelli is so well known that two of its most popular—and most requested—dishes do not even appear on the menu, although they are always available. They are proudly introduced as specials by the server who describes them in mouth-watering detail: the Lombata di Vietello veal chop and the Linguini Cleopatra.
The large, inches-thick veal chop is buoyed above a perfectly-seasoned demi-glaze and cooked to tender perfection. It is so popular that “People come from around the country demanding our veal chop!” Hussain said.
The Linguini Cleopatra features several seafood options of jumbo scallops and shrimp, an array of mussels, and a grilled lobster tail over a bed of linguini. Diners have the option of selecting the featured champagne lobster sauce or can spice things up with a fra diavolo sauce.
Either selection will elicit the desire to slow down and savor the experience. Enjoy your meal along with a glass of wine from the extensive wine list (Manager’s Special half-price wines on Mondays).
Other daily specials might include rack of lamb in a garlic rosemary sauce, Osso Bucco Milanese, a veal shank with a light demi-glaze over risotto, chicken, duck, or the fresh catch of the day fish entrée. Fresh herbs, grown in the rear garden, enhance most dishes. Additional items are featured for holidays.
Authentic Tuscan Cuisine
The regular menu impresses as well, with classic Tuscan cuisine options including homemade pasta, veal, chicken and seafood. Begin the meal with one of their appetizers like fresh mussels in a tangy marinara sauce or baked stuffed clams, followed by a soup or salad like the mozzarella caprese featuring thick slices of fresh Buffalo mozzarella. And be sure to save room for their homemade Italian desserts. Thick pieces of cheesecake, a lemon sorbet, or tiramisu are among the options that will perfectly cap off any meal.
You could say that Hussain was fortuitous in his choice of Chef Francisco Salamanca, who joined Zeffirelli in 1994. Together they create what can only be called a “dining experience.” “My challenge is to ensure that every meal is perfectly prepared and served, and my staff and I work very hard to make sure that happens,” Hussain said. “Honestly, it brings me joy to know we did a good job.” Zeffirelli is open daily for lunch and dinner.
The building, located in historic Herndon at the corner of Pine and Station Streets, dates back to 1918, and still retains some of its original features, such as the tiled floor and doors of the entryway. It was built on this spot following the big Herndon fire on March 22, 1917 that started at a nearby livery and consumed most of downtown Herndon. In all, 14 buildings were lost. A commemorative plaque about the fire can be found just outside the front door.
The building went through various iterations, serving as a five-and-dime and even a pharmacy prior to becoming a restaurant. In 1991 it opened as Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano. Those who can remember back may recall the stage and dance floor that used to be featured within the restaurant.
By the end of 2017, Hussain will have completed renovations that include repainting the interior to its former white walls with deep green trim, carpet replacement, new chairs and curtains, and upgrades to both restrooms. Plans are even in the works to extend the balcony seating area to a second wall overlooking the main dining room.
Downstairs, Zeffirelli has seating for 110, with another 30 seats available on the balcony. Instead of one large eating area, the space is divided into more intimate spaces or semi-private rooms, with each bearing a name. You might want to reserve a seat by the oversize windows for additional ambiance, although any seat in the restaurant is perfect.
While you’re here, don’t miss the fine wine-themed artwork that lines the walls. It is the creation of Zeffirelli supervisor Moses Rayo who exhibits and sells around the world.
Zeffirelli also offers banquet services for anniversaries, birthdays, rehearsal dinners, wedding receptions, business lunches or dinner, dedicated parties and other occasions. Choices can be customized to accommodate any specific needs.
Whether you are dining out for a special occasion or simply looking to enjoy an authentic Italian meal Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano is worth the visit. Reservations are encouraged.
Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano
728 Pine Street, Herndon, VA 20170
Note: Since the building is historic, those with mobility issues are encouraged to use the back entrance.