January 2006 100 Very Best RestaurantsTHE SCENE. Even after eight years, this Afghani restaurant remains something of a secret, a hole in the wall frequently overlooked in favor of its glossier Bethesda neighbors. Inside, the effect is that of an Italian trattoria transported to an underground bunker--dark, quiet, slightly mysterious. Some in-the-know Bethesdans, proprietary about the place, wish to keep it that way.
WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. The kitchen turns an unfamiliar cuisine into reassuring and homey meals without sacrificing flavor or character--no small feat.
WHAT YOU WON'T. The menu feels duplicative, with the same ingredients and approaches appearing in different guises throughout. The waitstaff is often unable to guide a diner through the choices or explain the history or finer points of the cooking.
BEST DISHES. The sweet, lightly spiced stewed pumpkin, one of the best vegetarian dishes in the area and a draw for omnivores, too; an intensely garlicky lamb-and-spinach stew; a terrific aushak, a soft noodle dumpling made lush by a rich meat sauce and memorable by yogurt and fresh mint.