Visiting the Chirilagua Neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia

This post is also available in: Español

Visiting the Chirilagua (Arlandria) neighborhood is one of the best things to do in Alexandria. This hidden gem offers a vibrant blend of Central American culture, diverse culinary experiences, and rich community spirit. 

Tips for visiting Arlandria (Chirilagua) neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia

Known also as Chirilagua, named after the region in El Salvador where many neighbors trace their roots, this unique Alexandria neighborhood is full of Latino flavor and culture. Exploring this neighborhood is about delving into its rich history, which adds depth and authenticity to the experience.

Visiting Arlandria immerses oneself in Central America’s authentic flavors and traditions while connecting with its residents’ welcoming and resilient spirit. As someone born in Guatemala who missed my culture and food, I felt familiar and welcomed as I wandered through Chirilagua’s Mount Vernon Avenue. Signs of Central American culture are everywhere, from the language to the cuisine.

History of Chirilagua (Arlandria) Neighborhood in Alexandria

Arlandria, affectionately known as Chirilagua, embodies a rich tapestry of history, culture, and community spirit in Alexandria, Virginia. Initially settled by immigrants from Central America, particularly El Salvador, in the 1980s, Arlandria has evolved into a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that reflects the diverse backgrounds of its residents. The name “Chirilagua” pays homage to a town in El Salvador, serving as a poignant reminder of the area’s Salvadoran roots and the journey of its early settlers. Over the years, the community has grown and flourished, welcoming residents from various backgrounds and contributing to its eclectic atmosphere.

Arlandria’s history is deeply intertwined with the immigrant experience, reflecting the resilience and determination of its residents. As waves of immigrants arrived in the United States seeking refuge and opportunity, Arlandria became a beacon of hope and solidarity for many Central Americans fleeing conflict and unrest in their homelands. Despite facing challenges such as gentrification and economic disparities, the neighborhood has remained steadfast in preserving its cultural heritage and fostering a sense of belonging among its residents. Today, Arlandria stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of its community, offering a vibrant tapestry of cultures, traditions, and stories that continue to shape its identity.

Guide to the best things to do in the Chirilagua neighborhood in Alexandria:

Here’s a guide to some of the best things to do in this dynamic neighborhood:

Visit the Tenants and Workers United Murals

Stroll along Mount Vernon Avenue and admire the vibrant murals Tenants and Workers United created. These captivating artworks are a testament to community unity and advocacy, with messages written in Spanish, English, and Amharic. On the front uplifting images of resilience and empowerment to powerful statements against racism and mass incarceration,  created by youth artists, with MasPaz. These murals offer a glimpse into the heart and soul of Chirilagua. 

Visiting the Chirilagua neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia

Attend a Concert at the Birchmere

The Birchmere, known as “America’s Legendary Music Hall,” is a great place to immerse yourself in nostalgia and music. This intimate venue with only 500 seats and a dinner theater atmosphere was founded in 1966 and is known for a nightly line-up of classic as well as up-and-coming jazz, country, R&B, folk, and bluegrass artists. The Birchmere has hosted beloved musicians like Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, and other famous artists like Arlo Guthrie and Suzanne Vega, Kevin Bacon (the Bacon Brothers), Charles Esten, and Jeff Daniels.

The Birchmere.
The Birchmere. Photo by Matt Smith

Enjoyo the Best Pupusas at El Pulgarcito

One of the highlights of Chirilagua is El Pulgarcito, a beloved Salvadoran restaurant known for its authentic pupusas. These savory stuffed tortillas are a staple of Salvadoran cuisine. El Pulgarcito serves them fresh and delicious, topped with tangy cabbage slaw. Classic fillings like cheese and beans are available, as are more adventurous options like loroco (a Central American flower bud). You can also try other Salvadorean dishes like the sopa de mondongo, enchiladas salvadoreñas and Mexican favorites from tacos to burritos and fajitas. 

The best Salvadorean food in Alexandria Virginia at El Pulgarcito restaurant

Explore the Farmers Artisan Market

Every Sunday morning, the Farmers Artisan Market pops up at Four Mile Run Park, offering a delightful array of artisanal foodstuffs, produce, and crafts. This vibrant market, run by the community, showcases small businesses, local farmers, and emerging entrepreneurs, creating a lively and diverse atmosphere. As you stroll through the market, you’ll discover everything from fresh pasta to fermented switchel and abundant fruits and vegetables. With live music adding to the ambiance, the Farmers Artisan Market is the perfect destination for a leisurely Sunday morning outing.

Indulge in Some Pan Dulce at Veronica’s Bakery

No visit to Chirilagua is complete without a stop at Veronica’s Bakery. This cozy bakery offers a tempting array of pan dulce (sweet bread) and other traditional treats that satisfy your sweet tooth. From conchas (shell-shaped sweet bread) to empanadas filled with fruit or custard,  Veronica’s Bakery is a must-visit for anyone who loves authentic Central American pastries.

Grab a Snack at a Corner Fruit Stand:

As you wander through Chirilagua, stop at a corner fruit stand to sample some of the neighborhood’s freshest produce. Here, you’ll find a colorful array of tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, and guavas, traditional snacks like nances (tiny fruits with a tangy flavor), and Tajin-seasoned mango slices. It’s the perfect way to indulge in some local flavor and support small businesses in the community.

Fruit stand at Chirilagua neighborhood

Experience the Taste of El Cuscatleco

Established in 1986 by Oscar Salinas, El Cuscatleco has become a beloved South Arlington fixture. From its humble beginnings in Shirlington Park, this family-owned restaurant has grown into a cherished local gem, offering a warm and welcoming atmosphere and authentic Salvadorian cuisine. Step inside El Cuscatleco and be transported to El Salvador, where friendly service, lively ambiance, and delicious food await. Indulge in favorites like yuca frita con chicharron, pupusas, plate tipico, and carne de res desilachada. Remember to save room for their unique empanadas de platano for dessert.

Enjoy a Ceviche at Huascarán’s Authentic Peruvian Cuisine

At Huascarán, owners Paula and Celia Coleto pay homage to their native Peru with a menu boasting over 70 dishes. Named after Peru’s highest summit, Huascarán offers a culinary journey through the flavors of Peru, from mouthwatering seafood ceviche to savory lomo saltado and beyond. With each dish crafted with care and authenticity, Huascarán invites you to savor Peru’s vibrant and diverse cuisine right here in Chirilagua.

Huascaran Restaurant
Huascaran Restaurant. Photo by Mischa Enriquez

Reasons to Visit Chirilagua as a Latinx

Exploring new places is always an adventure, but it’s even more special when I stumble upon a hidden gem like the Chirilagua neighborhood in Alexandria. What makes it truly remarkable is how it allows me to reconnect with my cultural roots as a Latinx, particularly with my Central American heritage. Arlandria, or Chirilagua as it’s affectionately known, instantly feels like home, with its vibrant streets echoing the rhythms of Latin American culture. Here, I found a sense of belonging that resonated deeply with me, making it one of my favorite things to do in Alexandria. Let me share with you some of the highlights of my experience in Chirilagua as a Latinx:

Tenants United Mural in Arlandria
Tenants United Mural. Photo by Misha Enriquez

Cultural Connection 

Stepping into Chirilagua, or Arlandria, felt like a homecoming for me as a Latina. I saw signs of my culture everywhere I looked, from the colorful murals depicting scenes from Latin America to the lively chatter in Spanish filling the air. Connecting with familiar traditions, languages, and flavors from home was heartwarming, creating a sense of belonging that made my visit truly special.

Authentic Cuisine

One of the highlights of my visit to Chirilagua was exploring the diverse culinary scene. From Salvadoran pupusas bursting with flavor to Peruvian ceviche that transported me back to the streets of Lima, each bite was a delicious journey through Latin America. The local eateries, like Huascarán and El Cuscatleco, offered an authentic home taste, served with warm hospitality and friendly smiles.

Where to eat in Arlandria neighborhood, El Pulgarcito restaurant

Community Atmosphere

What struck me most about Chirilagua was the strong sense of community that permeated the neighborhood. From the moment I arrived, residents who treated me like family welcomed me with open arms. Whether I was chatting with locals at the farmers’ market or sharing a meal with newfound friends, the warmth and camaraderie made me feel right at home.

An Opportunity to Speak My Home Language

As a Spanish speaker, I appreciated the accessibility of my native language in Chirilagua. Whether ordering food at a restaurant or conversing with a local shop owner, I felt comfortable and at ease communicating in Spanish. It was refreshing to express myself in my mother tongue and connect with others who shared the same language and cultural background.

Vibrant Neighborhood Markets 

One of the highlights of my visit to Chirilagua was exploring the local markets. I found a treasure trove of Hispanic groceries, products, and ingredients. From fresh produce and spices to traditional snacks and sweets, the markets offered a taste of home that I couldn’t find anywhere else. It was a joy to wander through the aisles, discovering familiar favorites and sampling new delights, all while soaking in the vibrant energy of the neighborhood.

Visiting Chirilagua in Alexandria, VA

And every Sunday morning you can visit the Four Mile Run Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market. It’s run by the community and features small businesses, farmers, and new entrepreneurs selling all sorts of homemade foods, fresh produce, and crafts. Sometimes, there’s even live music playing. It’s a great place to stroll around on a Sunday morning and pick up everything from homemade pasta to unique drinks like fermented switchel, as well as plenty of fruits and veggies.

Supportive Community Organizations 

Chirilagua is home to various community organizations and advocacy groups supporting Latinx residents. From educational programs and social services to grassroots initiatives and cultural preservation efforts, these organizations are vital in empowering the community and fostering positive change. 

Visiting Chirilagua isn’t just about sightseeing; it’s about immersing yourself in Central America’s genuine flavors and traditions while connecting with the warm and resilient people who call this neighborhood home. Whether you’re enjoying pupusas at El Pulgarcito, admiring the inspiring murals created by Tenants and Workers United, or simply taking a stroll along Mount Vernon Avenue, visiting Arlandria is an unforgettable experience and a truly unique experience that truly transports you.

Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.