Best of Bethesda
BETHESDA IS A RESTAURANT LOVER'S dream. Few neighborhoods have the culinary variety found in the area bounded roughly by Wisconsin Avenue, Wilson Lane, Bradley Boulevard, and Cordell Avenue. In recent years, the wedge known as Woodmont Triangle has come alive with stylish new addresses. Young professionals, families, and empty nesters troll the area for parking and a place to dine on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bethesda's most ambitious arrivals include a Woodmont Avenue outpost of Jaleo, José Andrés's popular DC restaurant where white sangria and Spanish tapas rule; the charming Modern American Persimmon on Wisconsin; and Grapeseed on Cordell, a wine bar with inventive cooking that, despite Montgomery County's liquor laws, manages to cobble together an interesting wine list. Local and national chains continue to move in; later this year Daily Grill opens at the Bethesda Hyatt, where the Plaza Cafe used to be, and City Lights of China, an outpost of the popular Dupont Circle Chinese eatery, is scheduled to debut on Bethesda Avenue. Cafe Deluxe, Levante's, and Austin Grill all have branches here, too.
Here are some of the good--and great--places to eat in Bethesda. All restaurants in the main list are wheelchair accessible, but it's a good idea to call to check.
Eleven restaurants in downtown Bethesda appear on The Washingtonian's 100 Very Best Restaurants list, and 11 are on the annual Cheap Eats list. Three places appear on both lists--Haandi (4904 Fairmont Ave.; 301-718-0121), known for its tandoori and Northern Indian cuisine; Matuba (4918 Cordell Ave.; 301-652-7449), a Japanese eatery with a menu of sushi, grilled tidbits, and Japanese classics; and Tako Grill (7756 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-652-7030), with its lively bar serving boutique sakes and a roster of sushi and other Japanese dishes.
Others on the 100 Very Best list are Bacchus (7945 Norfolk Ave.; 301-657-1722), with a dizzying array of mezze, Middle Eastern appetizers you can make a meal of; Black's Bar & Kitchen (7750 Woodmont Ave.; 301-652-6278), a retro-stylish restaurant with Modern American cuisine by way of Louisiana; Grapeseed American Bistro & Wine Bar (4865-C Cordell Ave.; 301-986-9592), with creative cooking and eye-catching desserts; Jaleo (7271 Woodmont Ave.; 301-913-0003), an outpost of José Andrés's DC temple of tapas; and Persimmon (7003 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-654-9860), with inventive Modern American in a dramatic room.
Bethesda restaurants on our Best Bargain list are Cameron's Seafood Market (4831 Bethesda Ave.; 301-951-1000), heaven for fried seafood lovers; Nam's of Bethesda (4928 Cordell Ave.; 301-652-2635), a low-key, family-run Vietnamese restaurant; Olazzo (7921 Norfolk Ave.; 301-654-9496), where irreverent and savory Southern Italian lives on; Rio Grande Café (4870 Bethesda Ave.; 301-656-2981), where the grilled goat on Thursday nights and house-made tortillas are musts, and Sala Thai (4828 Cordell Ave.; 301-654-4676), a more glamorous version of the Dupont Circle original with classic and modern Thai cooking and a jazz trio Friday nights.
ALSO VERY GOOD DINING
Bethesda Crab House (expensive). Get back to basics with a heap of Maryland blue crabs. They're cayenne-crusted and served with drawn butter, mallets, and a massive empty bowl for the shells. The scene both outside and in is lively, sometimes even raucous. Reserve jumbos when they're available--wait till you get there and chances are you'll have to settle for large or medium. Be sure to ask about the all-you-can-eat Crab Feast--including crabs, corn, and cole slaw for $25--available most nights. Doing battle with your dinner not your thing? Crabcakes are first-rate, made with loads of lump crab and just a bit of binder. Peel-and-eat shrimp work as a good starter or a fine main event. Sides aren't the point here, though the slaw makes a fine foil for all the rest. Service can be crusty, but that's part of the charm, too.
Bethesda Crab House, 4958 Bethesda Ave., 301-652-3382. Open daily 9 AM to midnight.
Buon Giorno (This restaurant is now closed). Forget trendy. Buon Giorno, a gracious dining room with black-jacketed waiters, pale lemon-yellow walls, and gold-framed paintings, owes its longevity--it's been a fixture for 28 years--to authentic cooking that evokes the flavors of Italy. Standout starters include a perfect salad of shaved fennel and roasted peppers; the hearty pasta e fagioli soup; and exquisite house-made pastas, available in whole or half orders. Trenette all'antica, a Ligurian specialty, is a pile of ribbon pasta, slightly thicker than tagliatelle, with pesto and green beans. Luxurious and rich crescents, a.k.a. agnolotti, stuffed with spinach, ricotta, and herbs, get a wash of thick cream and Parmesan. And handkerchieflike pasta squares are wonderful with dabs of pesto or a sauce of wild mushrooms and tomato.
Veal dishes are lovingly done--the best is flour-dusted, sautéed, and slicked with a glaze of lemon and mushrooms. Other showstoppers are fin fish, such as trout with parsley and lemon and red snapper with herbs, olives, and capers. For dessert, try the tiramisu in a stemmed glass, or tartuffo, which though not made here is a dense, creamy ball of chocolate-hazelnut ice cream in a cloak of cocoa powder. Before leaving, have a word with co-owner Daniela Nicotra, daughter of Arcide and Angela Ginepro--he's from Genoa, she's from Sicily--who opened the place in the '70s and are still involved in the day-to-day cooking.
Buon Giorno, This restaurant has closed.
La Miche (expensive). The brothers Tepper have a good thing going at La Miche. Adam (the one with the sideburns) runs the front of the house. Brother Jason is in charge of the kitchen. They have taken an old classic and tweaked it for the better.
The feel in the two spacious dining rooms is still country French with cozy banquettes and hanging baskets. But things have been freshened up a bit since Bernard Grenier--now chef/owner of Bistro D'Oc in downtown DC--turned the place over. There are wrought-iron cafe tables outside for al fresco dining, a new pocket-size cafe at the entrance, and some new plates on the menu: rosy rack of lamb, served with the thinnest haricots verts and crusty potatoes, crabcakes, and a generous filet of Dover sole, lightly crusted and drizzled with lemon butter (offered only as a special in the past). The drinks list has been jazzed up with 20 wines by the glass and a clever selection of beers. Nicely done old favorites like crisp-crusted Long Island duckling and filet au poivre keep the regulars coming in, as do ethereal soufflés of chocolate and Grand Marnier. But it's the surprises--Cavaillon melon from France--that are making La Miche interesting these days.
La Miche, 7905 Norfolk Ave., 301-986-0707. Open Tuesday though Saturday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.
Raku (expensive). Edgy and modern, Raku teems with lovers of sushi and Asian fusion. Though there's a restaurant in Dupont Circle with the same name, the two are independently operated. Bethesda's Raku menu swerves into more ambitious territory than its downtown counterpart. Purple and green parasols add whimsy to the lively dining room.
Among the standard sushi stars are white tuna, surf clam, and conch. But Raku's own roll creations, duck roll with asparagus, gobo string (burdock root) and mustard, and mackerel with apple, ginger, and scallion, deserve attention, too. Tuna tartare drizzled with sesame-soy and lemon-basil sauces is the best of the starters, followed closely by yellowtail sashimi with sesame-wasabi ponzu, and red-onion-cilantro salad. Wasabi shu mai--dumplings infused with the spicy Japanese mustard--and the tamer chicken and pork dumplings also make fine beginnings. Crunchy rolls are good but not on a par with those at the innovative Nobu in New York. And there can be disappointments. Delicate duck breast in Raku's take on moo shu was drowned in what tasted like apple-pie filling, and a plate of snapper with Asian risotto was deadly dull. Desserts get things back on track with croissant pudding with vanilla ice cream and an intense chocolate velvet cake with crème anglaise.
Raku, 7240 Woodmont Ave., 301-718-8680. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (very expensive). I'm a sucker for retro chic, so the ice-cold wedge of pale iceberg with bleu-cheese dressing caught my eye. It turned out to be the ideal foil for the Cowboy Ribeye that hung over my plate 20 minutes later. This USDA Prime bone-in version of the classic cut is everything you want in the steak--big, meaty, and flavorful. Hand-cut shoestring fries on the side and broccoli au gratin completed the picture. Had I been in a sharing mood, the porterhouse for two would have looked good. I might have paired it with roasted-garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise.
Service is very civilized at this clubby restaurant of small dining rooms done with dark wood. Cocktails are stiff and desserts sweet. Caramelized banana-cream pie fits in with the theme, but the cheesecake is pretty good, too. Either is a good excuse to down a cup of robust French Press Nicaraguan Estate Grown coffee.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., 301-652-7877. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Thyme Square (expensive). You'd think a restaurant that devotes most of its menu to seafood and vegetarian dishes wouldn't do right by steak, but Thyme Square's organic sirloin from Ridgefield Farms in New York will linger in memory. Bordelaise sauce with shallots, buttery mashed Yukon Golds, and beautifully sautéed spinach make it a perfect plate. Brazilian shellfish stew--shrimp, mussels, and fin fish in a spicy tomato-coconut curry sauce--is a showstopper, too. You don't have to put on a big feed to dine well at this attractive Modern American restaurant. The Margherita Pizza is one of the best pies in Bethesda, and main-course salads sport offbeat items like Italian alici anchovies and red-lentil falafel. Sandwiches also break the mold--grilled chicken with tahini is fabulous. Desserts have a creative, homespun bent: Lemon-berry pie is a hefty wedge with acres of berries and a fabulous sugar-crisp crust.
Occasionally the kitchen sins with overkill. A plate of pumpkin ravioli with asparagus and goat cheese really doesn't need a sprinkling of melted Parmesan, and the wood-oven-roasted artichoke would be a lot more palate-friendly without the lemon-thyme vinaigrette, which overpowers the vegetable.
And Type A's beware: Everything is cooked to order, so service can be relaxed.
Thyme Square, 4735 Bethesda Ave., 301-657-9077. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Tragara (very expensive). Maybe it's the Tuscan-style topiaries at the entrance, the mirrors in the pale-pink-accented dining room, or the waiters in tuxes--Tragara feels like a restaurant for grownups. It is more elegant than most in Bethesda. And it shines brightest at night, when the dining room bustles; lunch on a weekday can be lonely.
This is serious dining at serious prices. Though the motif is Northern Italian, the French roots of the artful chef, Michel Laudier, filter through. Start with house-made mozzarella with organic tomatoes or a savory bowl of pasta e fagioli, the classic white-bean-and-pasta soup, or split an order of pasta (half orders are available, too). Delicate house-made Cannelloni Pulcinella, stuffed with veal, spinach, and mozzarella, is the best of the lot. But the entrées are the stars on this menu. Two real winners: Costoleta Aretuza, a butterflied, lightly floured veal chop that melts on the tongue, and perfectly cooked rockfish paired with buttery escarole and Yukon Gold potato purée.
Not everything works perfectly. Artichokes with olive oil and garlic have been on the mushy side, and fettuccine with roasted shrimp and garlic doesn't set off fireworks. Save room for house-made ice creams and sorbets in flavors like vanilla-rum, mascarpone, and banana-poppyseed.
Tragara, 4935 Cordell Ave., 301-951-4935. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.
OTHER GOOD PLACES TO EAT
Aji Nippon (moderate). You could almost miss this sliver of a sushi restaurant. Fans of the already snug Japanese eatery would love to keep it that way. Service is leisurely--only one waitress has been on duty when I've been there--but sushi is expertly done, as are cooked items on the menu. Besides sushi and sashimi standards like fatty tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and uni, there are intensely flavored novelties like cod roe and sea eel. Embellishments keep things interesting: rolls of crunchy aged soybeans, squid with plum, and fabulous fatty tuna with chili or scallions. Other high points on the menu are a briny seaweed salad, brittle and greaseless tempura, and delicate dumplings of seafood (shu mai) and meat (gyoza). Scallop teriyaki and beef tataki are winning dishes you'll wish were on more local menus.
Aji Nippon, 6937 Arlington Rd., 301-654-0213. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.
Athenian Plaka (moderate). Jaunty new umbrellas and flower-filled planters give the sidewalk cafe more Euro style, and the three brothers who took over last year have expanded the menu of specials at this Greek taverna to include whole fresh fish. The regular menu still has its draws: falling-off-the-bone oven-baked lamb Louvesti and shrimp with white wine, tomatoes, and feta.
If you're mad for mezze (appetizers), orange-flavored Greek sausages known as Loukanico, favas in olive oil and tomatoes, and kefalograveira (fried kasseri cheese) are the way to go. Sides are as good as the rest--don't miss roasted potato wedges or string beans with tomatoes and onions.
For dessert, try the house-made yogurt with honey and walnuts or the galactoburako, custard-filled phyllo pastry. Inside, whitewashed walls and arches and Greek folk tunes make you want to get out the white handkerchief and dance.
Athenian Plaka, 7833 Woodmont Ave., 301-986-1337. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Wednesday and Sunday for brunch.
Bangkok Garden (inexpensive). Here's proof that the humble family-run ethnic restaurant can thrive in urbanized Bethesda. Yes, the decor has been upgraded with framed prints of Thai dancers, new rugs, and festive twinkle lights, but the feel is homey rather than trendy. Bangkok Garden's kitchen turns out food that rings authentic and packs heat.
Two great starters are Kanom Jeeb, steamed crabmeat-and-pork dumplings, and Yam Pla Grob, a spicy sweet-sour salad of shredded papaya and crunchy fried whiting. Both appear without translation on some of the restaurant's menus, so ask if you don't spot them. Go homey with a bowl of steamed salted mustard greens with pork--or go for fireworks shrimp with string beans in a brothy curry. More luxurious is Angel Shrimp, jumbo shrimp in velvety coconut-curry sauce. Pad Thai also gets high marks: No tomatoey heap here, just a tangle of fish-sauce-scented noodles with bits of egg, scallions, and shrimp.
Bangkok Garden, 4906 St. Elmo Ave., 301-951-0670. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Cafe Deluxe (moderate). Cafe Deluxe has something for everyone. A sweeping bar and sidewalk cafe for the singles crowd, a family-friendly menu and crayons for the kids, and a kitchen that turns out clever riffs on classics for Mom and Dad. You'll find plates like grilled meatloaf with spicy Creole sauce, a veal chop with a very grown-up Gruyère mac and cheese, and a steak Caesar.
Go cheap and light with main-course salads or offbeat sandwiches--the snapper club and lamb and goat cheese are divine--or more expensive and substantial with hot plates. Modern American bistro is the motif in this comfortable dining room with white butcher paper on the tables and glossy wood banquettes. So a juicy all-American hamburger is at home alongside a bowl of penne with chicken and vegetables in the lightest of cream sauces. Less successful is the cafe's attempt at French bistro--steak frites with greasy French fries and a piece of meat that's nothing special.
Cafe Deluxe, 4910 Elm St., 301-656-3131. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch.
Cafe Europa (moderate). Continental cuisine is alive and well at Cafe Europa, a pan-European dining room with loads of charm and fine cooking.
Worthwhile starters range from mussels in tomato-garlic broth to crisp fried calamari to a chèvre-stuffed grilled portobello. Salads are more interesting than the ubiquitous mesclun: Endive, watercress, and cabbage is a peppery toss in a dressing redolent of olive oil and mustard with a scattering of walnuts for extra crunch. Sautéed fish, such as trout with capers, is nicely done, as is rack of lamb with crusty potatoes and ratatouille; be sure to ask for the lamb rare unless you want well-cooked meat. Pastas are al dente and lightly sauced--try the Mediterranean with seafood and the lightest of fresh tomato sauces.
The cafe has taken over the building next door, and a two-story jazz club "for grownups" is planned--a great addition to Bethesda's night scene.
Cafe Europa, 7820 Norfolk Ave., 301-657-1607. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch. Lounge open on weekends until 2 AM.
Centro Italian Grill (expensive). Cal-Ital fare is dished up in this trendy dining room for a crowd that's Armani chic. At the sleek bar, Italian wines by the glass take center stage, but you can get a martini, too.
Pastas range from the robust--mushroom ravioli in a meaty osso-bucco sauce--to the more health-conscious penne with salmon and zucchini in white-wine vegetable sauce. Split one as a starter or order a bright salad of beets with grilled shrimp, walnuts, and greens or the classic arugula with shaved Parmesan. Pastas can be had as main courses, but grilled meats and seafood are worth notice, too. Whole fish, simply done with olive oil and lemon, shines. An assertively seasoned pepper tuna steak also delivers. For dessert, try icy gelato in flavors like mocha; a confection called pear charlotte with poached pears, chocolate cake, and pear mousse; or the house tartuffo, really a semifreddo of hazelnut-cream zabaglione dusted with hazelnut praline and cocoa.
Centro Italian Grill, 4838 Bethesda Ave., 301-951-1988. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.
Delhi Dhaba (inexpensive). Outposts of this local chainlet vary from low-key takeout (in Herndon) to this pleasant dining room amidst the bustle of Woodmont's restaurant row. Food varies with the location, but the Bethesda kitchen gets high marks with dishes like creamy coconut-shrimp curry, succulent bone-in tandoori chicken, and lamb rogan josh Kashmiri-style with a sauce of almonds and cream.
For those after a culinary thrill, there's juicy bone-in goat curry; aloo tikki with channa, fried potato croquettes with chutney; and chat papri, a cool salad of yogurt, tamarind, mint, crunchy rice-flour croutons, and chickpeas. Bhatoora, a variation on poori, the puffy deep-fried bread, is an everyday pleasure. Also worth trying are crisp vegetable samosas, tandoori lamb chops, and biryanis--rice dishes with nuts and assorted meats, including goat.
Delhi Dhaba, 7236 Woodmont Ave., 301-718-0008. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Divino Lounge (moderate). With its brash abstract paintings (exhibits change every two months), moody lighting, and loungey dining room, Divino is the most stylish thing going in Bethesda. A long roster of Spanish and South American tapas is popular with the bar-hopping crowd, while grilled meats and an entire menu of Latin sweets make it an in place for expats homesick for the churrascarias and bakeries back home. Black-T-shirted waiters--shades of the young Brando--add an element of edginess.
Owned by Carlos DiLaudo, an event planner at the Argentine Embassy, and Nelson Ayala, owner of La Frontera Cantina in DC, Divino has an authentic feel. Go for small plates of salty cured ham and manchego, chorizo with chimichurri, meat-filled empanadas, and duck leg with prunes. Larger appetites will want to sample grilled meats: steak, short ribs, quail, pork chops, all served with delicious fried potatoes. Savory rooster stew with almonds is one of the more out-there possibilities, though blood sausage and sweetbreads show up, too. As is the custom in Spain, the place doesn't really get going until late--9 or 10 PM--and there's international music on Friday and Saturday nights until 2 AM.
Divino Lounge, 7345 Wisconsin Ave., 240-497-0300. Open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Saturday until 11 PM. Bar open until 2 AM.
Faryab Afghan Restaurant (inexpensive). Fans of aushak, those scallion-stuffed raviolilike squares topped with meat sauce, yogurt, and a sprinkle of mint, will want to add Faryab to their A-list. Also good is close cousin mantu, filled with meat rather than scallions, but it doesn't have quite the same star quality. Both can be ordered in starter and main-course portions at this unassuming storefront with stark white walls and vivid Afghan textiles. Variations on the theme have sautéed sweet-potato rounds and slices of eggplant filling in for the pasta. Another fine way to start is with deep-fried savory turnovers filled with ground beef and chickpeas or mashed potatoes. Follow these with skewered cumin-scented kofta kebab and Quabili Pallow, a sweet/savory heap of rice with chunks of stewed lamb, raisins, and shredded carrots. Pumpkin swirled with yogurt, oniony stewed eggplant, and spinach with garlic are luscious sides or the makings of a fine vegetarian meal.
Faryab Afghan Restaurant, 4917 Cordell Ave., 301-951-3484. Open daily for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.
Green Papaya (moderate). Vietnamese cuisine has gone upscale in this high-ceilinged dining room with bamboo fans and shimmering walls of trickling water. It's romantic enough for a date and formal enough for a business powwow. Prices are higher than at your neighborhood ma-and-pa Vietnamese. When the kitchen's on--and occasionally it isn't--dishes like Chilean sea bass in black-pepper sauce, lemongrass-scented duck breast in caramel sauce, and a salad of lotus, green papaya, and shrimp are more than memorable. The long roster of specials shouldn't be ignored, either. Gems are prawns with eggplant and green beans in a creamy curry sauce; sautéed baby clams with black sesame crackers; a salad of duck, green papaya, and spicy ginger sauce; and the bo bia roll crammed with such goodies as sausage, Vietnamese chestnuts, and dried shrimp and served with black-plum sauce. Banana flambé with zippy ginger ice cream makes for a sweet finish.
Green Papaya, 4922 Elm St., 301-654-8986. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner.
Le Vieux Logis (expensive). Yes, it's a tad kitschy, but you can have a pleasant meal at this old-guard French restaurant. Window boxes spilling flowers and hand-painted trompe l'oeil vines creeping over whitewashed walls make for a façade that elicits curiosity. Inside, the country French motif carries on with copper pots and all manner of Francophilia.This is the kind of place where ordering sagely is a must. Main courses tend to be more satisfying than appetizers and desserts, so focus on classics like calf's liver with sweet onions, Dover sole meunière, rack of lamb, and roasted Long Island duck breast. Lobster bisque is a sure thing, as is French onion soup with port wine and a cheese crouton. The menu has a Danish thing going, so marinated herring and a Scandinavian platter of smoked fish are in the mix, too. Le Vieux Logis isn't for everyone, but for a cadre of loyal fans and those in search of Grandmother's French cooking in Bethesda, it's just the place.
Le Vieux Logis, 7925 Old Georgetown Rd., 301-652-6816. Open Monday through Thursday for dinner until 8:30 PM, Friday and Saturday until 9.
Paradise Restaurant (This restaurant is now closed). Paradise is where Persian expats go when they long for comfort food. Homey stews like the addictive Fesenjan, chicken with walnut and pomegranate, and Qeameh Bamedjan, beef with eggplant, tomatoes, yellow split peas, and dried lemons, go a long way in staving off homesickness. Also look for specials like fork-tender lamb shank with basmati rice, tinged green with dill weed and fava beans.
Paradise has all the usual kebabs--marinated ground beef and onion, spicy ground beef, and lamb are especially good--and a menu of Afghan plates. These aren't also-rans. The Kado Chelow, pumpkin with seasoned yogurt and tomato-meat sauce, is one of the best versions in the area. A variation with fried eggplant is also good. Check out the lunch ($6.95 to $10.95 depending on the day) and dinner buffets ($12.95 to $15.95), a hit with Middle Eastern cabbies the area over.
Paradise Restaurant, This restaurant has closed.
Bethesda has its share of upscale chains, from the seafood house McCormick & Schmick, which I've always found overpriced, to concepts that appeal to the young, like Rock Bottom Brewery, which does a decent job with pub fare--the house burger with caramelized-ale onions and house-made fire-roasted-tomato ketchup with stout is a standout.
Houston's, a smaller player in the chain game, is capable of turning out food with finesse--the wood-grilled artichoke is stupendous. Burgers with shoestring fries and aged prime rib roasted on the bone have pizzazz, but beware the Hawaiian steak.
The cozy bar and charming sidewalk tables beckon, but I'm apt to come away disappointed from Mon Ami Gabi, which attempts French bistro cooking but comes off more American than anything else. Of late, there've been a few pleasing moments: hanger steak with anchovies and mustard, and tart, yogurt-flavored ice cream served with an ocean of berries.
And while I've had enjoyable evenings at Tara Thai, a local Thai chainlet, and at Penang, an outpost of the New York City eatery, recent forays have been disappointing. As for grill-table Asian restaurants like Mongolian Grill and Benihana, they're more about form than substance--fun for the kids, but nothing to crow about.
The lunchtime working crowd, twentysomethings on a budget, stroller moms, and just about anyone on the go will be able to find a quick bite that more than satisfies in downtown Bethesda.
When I'm feeling like a slice of pizza, I head to Vace (4705 Miller Ave.; 301-654-6367), where the only rub is deciding between a square of tomato-cheese pizza and an all-cheese slice piled with caramelized onions. Vace also has the best New York-style heroes in the area--thin-sliced mortadella on crusty Italian bread is Little Italy fabulous. So is a more traditional Italian sub with salami, prosciutto, and other meats. Best of all is the price: $4 for a sub, $1.35 for a slice. It's a true takeout--there's no seating unless you count the parking lot.
Mamma Lucia (4916 Elm St.; 301-907-3399) may be known for pizza, but I'm partial to the calzones made with good ricotta and mozzarella and stuffed with garlicky spinach or sausages, meatballs, and pepperoni. Slices are pretty good, too, and there are both indoor and outdoor tables.
When my Armenian roots clamor for comfort food, I'm off to Moby Dick House of Kabob (7027 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-654-1838) for top-notch Persian kubideh (beef kebabs) and basmati rice with an order of shirazi, the vinegary tomato-cucumber-onion salad, on the side.
After spending time with my husband's El Paso siblings, I'm bound to end up at Chipotle (7600 Old Georgetown Rd.; 301-907-9077) for a crispy taco filled with Bell & Evans free-range chicken and dollops of guacamole and sour cream. California Tortilla (4862 Cordell Ave.; 301-654-8226) is where my pal from Pasadena and I head for a fix of West Coast-style quesadillas with chicken, cheese, and fresh spinach.
Daydreaming about the Italian seaside usually means I'm due at Cafe Gelato (4823 St. Elmo Ave.; 301-913-0050) for a waffle cone of house-made pistachio, gianduja, and vanilla-rum gelato. If I haven't had lunch, I'll grab a grilled panino or a cup of one of the house-made soups.
When I need to feel virtuous, two standbys beckon: Sushi, Sushi (4915 Fairmont Ave.; 301-654-9616), an inexpensive and engaging stop for good-quality sushi and basic Japanese dishes, or Willie & Reed's (4901-A Fairmont Ave.; 301-951-1100), more family-friendly now with new owners, for the you-pick-they-make multi-ingredient chopped salad.