Driving west on Maple Avenue in Vienna, it’s easy to miss Bear Branch Tavern, but you won’t want to. The warm and welcoming atmosphere, tasty menu choices, and weekend entertainment will keep you coming back again and again.
Set back from the road in an unassuming office building, Bear Branch Tavern offers several surprises. At first glance, parking appears tight, but if you continue around to the back, you’ll find a larger lot along with the restaurant’s entrance. The interior manages a blend of rustic and contemporary decor that puts diners at ease. The lighting is bright enough to read the menu easily but subdued to encourage relaxation at the end of the day. The dining room tends to be a little loud, making it hard to communicate with the wait staff, but they do a good job making sure they get your order right.
The restaurant includes two bar areas, one open to the main dining room and another in a separate bar and dining area in the back, facing Maple Avenue, where local entertainers perform on Friday and Saturday nights.
Owned by the Vintage Restaurant Group, whose other offerings include Dogwood Tavern in Falls Church and Rhodeside Grill in Arlington, Bear Branch Tavern serves up hearty portions of classic bar food as well as interesting menu selections that cross cultures. For example, alongside the menu’s standard nachos with black beans, cheese, and jalapenos on tortilla chips are tuna poke nachos with seared yellowfin ahi, seaweed salad, poke sauce, and sriracha aioli over light and crispy wontons.
Among a selection of burgers, cheesesteaks, a ribeye, and a cobb salad are a torta with pork carnitas, ham, fried chicken, cheese, and house-made pickles or a miso braised pork belly featuring shishito peppers, fingerling potatoes, peas, corn, and kale. The food is well-prepared, with the fried buttermilk chicken crispy and juicy, the side of bacon mac and cheese creamy, and all the dishes flavorful, although a few may be a little spicy for some diners. You might want to skip the sriracha mayo that comes on the fried chicken sandwich or ask for it on the side, same with the sriracha aioli included on the tortilla-crusted mahi tacos with jicama slaw.
The portions here are large, and the plates get a little overwhelmed. Fries or salad greens tend to spill off the sides of the plate as you try to get to your entree. A bigger plate or separate dishes would be appreciated.
The menu features some gluten-free items but not many vegetarian choices. The few vegetarian options do sound tasty, though. They include a falafel burger, falafel and couscous bowl, and a Buddha bowl featuring red quinoa, brown rice, baby kale, cherry tomatoes, beets, grilled corn, garlic chickpeas, arugula pesto, avocado, country olives, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The menu description for the Buddha bowl includes a hardboiled egg, so diners who don’t eat eggs would need to ask that it be left out.
In addition to its main menu, Bear Branch Tavern also offers a late-night menu starting at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a DIY Bloody Mary bar. Specials include happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and a Tuesday raw bar beginning at 4 p.m. and featuring $1 oysters on the half shell and other seafood specials.
Bear Branch Tavern is located at 133 Maple Avenue East, Vienna. Appetizer prices range from $6 – $15, and entrees average from $16 – $30.