January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Memorable Asian fusion on downtown Bethesda's restaurant row.

No. 96: Raku Bethesda

Jammed in with the hordes in the early evening, you might think that pan-Asian cuisine had just been invented. But dig into a creamy coconut Thai curry bouillabaisse or a wok-charred Chilean sea bass with ginger-tomato sauce, and you begin to understand the popularity of this colorful cafe on Bethesda’s restaurant row: Raku rescues the cliché, knitting the threads of Japanese, Thai, and Chinese into something memorable.

It’s also family-friendly and easy on the wallet. The menu can suit any appetite or occasion. More peckish than hungry? Go small and make a meal of sushi: The Wasabi Dynamite Roll, a hand roll with slivers of salmon, yellowtail, and tuna sprinkled with wasabi tobiko, is the standout among a roster of tasty rolls; the Seoul Train roll combines tuna and spicy kimchee. And the signature tuna tartare is as vivid as ever, lemon basil and a scattering of peanuts counteracting the butteriness of the fish. Bigger appetites, meanwhile, should gravitate toward the rib-eye teriyaki or plump shrimp-and-pork dumplings.

Reservations are suggested, and if you want to miss the crush, think late-ish, when the crowds disappear and the parade of plates is more leisurely.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.