DC Suburbs: Maryland vs. Virginia

How do the DC suburbs of Maryland and Virginia compare?

Tyler Cowen compares Maryland and Virginia, especially their DC suburbs and exurbs:

The food says a lot: Maryland has kosher food and Caribbean food.  Virginia has better Bolivian, Vietnamese, Korean, Afghan, Ethiopian, and Persian food.  (Here is a new piece on minorities in Virginia.)  Both have excellent Sichuan food.  Both have very good El Salvadoran and Thai food.  Neither has real barbecue.  Maryland used to have better Indian food, now Virginia has much better Indian food, including dosas.  Apart from Bethesda, Maryland has virtually no “fine dining.”  Maryland has many more Russians, albeit without a decent restaurant.

Virginia has Tysons Corner, Tysons Mall I and II, The Palm, and a Ritz-Carlton, or in other words a lot of tacky, revenue-generating corporate assets.  Virginia has better and more consistent school systems.  Virginia has better Beltway on- and off-ramps.

Bethesda is better integrated into DC than is any part of Virginia, with Arlington playing catch-up.  Virginia has the airports, the Pentagon, a better business climate, and lower taxes.


Virginia has more ugly colonial houses, and more arches and pillars, Maryland has more tacky old American box houses.  I dislike ugly colonial.

Virginia feels more like an assortment of minorities working within an essentially Protestant framework.  Maryland was originally founded as a Catholic colony.

This strikes me as about right, although I’m amused at Cowen’s pet peeves. I happen to like Tyson’s and its malls and am quite happy with my center hall colonial.  I’ve not stayed at the local Ritz-Carlton, although I do like their properties generally.  The Palm is a little frou-frou for my tastes but I do tend to like high end chain steakhouses.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Metz says:

    Being a South Carolinian, BBQ is third only to family and college football in my priority list. Willard’s in Chantilly is at least decent. Not Wilber’s or Lexington #1, but decent.

  2. Tony says:

    Can anyone explain to a foreigner what the difference is between an ugly colonial and a non-ugly colonial? If we’re just talking absolutely massive entrance porches, I’m very much with Cowen. Beyond that, I think a lot of colonial-type houses are quite charming. As a Brit, I also feel there’s much to commend in having multiple clearly defined reception rooms. Houses in Florida make me want to scream.

  3. DC Loser says:

    What’s ugly are the colonials with the brick on the front (street) side only but vinly siding on all the other sides. Tacky!

  4. James Joyner says:


    Rockland’s is quite good. And two of the chains, Smoky Bones and Famous Dave’s, do a quite credible job of BBQ. Carolina-style is hard to find, since the vinegar-based sauce hasn’t spread regionally as well as the Texas and Kansas City styles, but Smoky Bones has a pretty good version.

    DC Loser:

    I’m with you on that score, even though my own house is of that variety. It’s very hard to find one that’s brick all around, alas, and retrofitting is too expensive.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    James, you should re-label the post to make it clear this is referring to VA and MD only from a DC point of view. For example, the good schools and fine dining comments certainly don’t apply outside the beltway area for either of those two states.

  6. James Joyner says:

    MM: Done. I made the distinction in the opening paragraph but you’re right, this is just about the DC area and not the two states as a whole.

  7. DC Loser says:

    Depends on how you define “outside the beltway.” Most of Fairfax and Montgomery counties are outside the beltway, but they are the largest population centers for the suburbs in their respective states. When people talk about good schools, those two counties are the standard against which others are judged. Metropolitan area is a better descriptor.