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March 2005 Best of Chinatown: Eat First
Comments () | Published March 1, 2005

With the Rebirth of Silver Spring Comes a Wealth of New Dining Opportunities--Ethnic Places, Chains, and Ambitious New Chef-Owned Restaurants

Silver Spring has sprung--or so says the city's new ad campaign. The AFI Silver Theatre, Discovery Communications, and City Place--the new mall-movie-restaurant complex--have given downtown Silver Spring a jolt of activity. Much of the foot traffic ends up at City Place's outdoor plaza, a town square of sorts and the scene of weekly concerts this summer.
In the last year, nearly every restaurant chain on the planet has put down stakes here. High-design fast-casual stops like Chipotle and Noodles & Co. couldn't open quickly enough. Nor could the more established Red Lobster, Romano's Macaroni Grill, and Ben & Jerry's. These slick new places, all in or around City Place, are attracting crowds. But some of the best eating is to be found in the city's trove of ethnic ma-and-pa restaurants, particularly humble Latin American ones.
Ambitious restaurateurs and chef/owners are also headed here. The chic but casual Red Dog Cafe opened to sellout crowds a few months ago. Jackie's, a New Southern eatery in a hip, renovated warehouse at Georgia and Sligo avenues, is generating excitment with former Cashion's chef Sam Adkins, Ann Cashion herself as a consultant, and plates like the Elvis burger with pimento cheese.
Also coming: the Breeze, a palm-tree-strewn Carribbean club and restaurant with an opening planned for the end of the year at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue; Paya Thai, an outpost of the attractive Tysons Corner dining room; Ceviche, a Latin nightclub and eatery; Galaxy Billiards Café, a pool hall/sports bar/eatery; and the Edgewood Country Inn in nearby Burtonsville, which opened briefly but closed for repairs when an ancient tree--the inn dates to 1858--crashed through the kitchen roof.
At the moment, Silver Spring doesn't have any restaurants on The Washingtonian's 100 Very Best Restaurants list--a state of affairs likely to change with the area's renaissance. The area is represented on the magazine's Best Bargain Restaurants roster by El Gavilan, Half Moon BBQ, Negril, and Oriental East. Also expected to open soon is Mandalay, which is relocating from College Park. So while Silver Spring is still a city on the verge, there's no shortage of interesting places to eat--and more on the way. Here are the 20 best.
The Very Best
Cubano's (moderate). Plantain chips, slick with garlicky mojo, and one of the bar's classic mojitos, made with fresh mint, will get things off to a roaring start. Other possibilities are yuca rellenas, stubby fritters stuffed with the ground-beef mixture called picadillo, and chicharrones, here made with chicken--and delicious. Classic black-bean soup wows, cream of green-plantain soup even more so.
Main-course wonders range from tender roast pork and ropa vieja to more esoteric dishes like pan-fried shredded steak with mojo and caramelized onions, and red snapper with Pernod and peppers. Watch for specials like paella and pan-fried trout. Coconut flan and bread pudding layered with guava and caramel are the desserts of choice--tres leches cake is as dry as Zwieback. On warm fall evenings, the terrace, twinkling with tiny white lights and bright with cascading flowers, is the place to be. But inside beckons, too, with its colorful walls, cubist art, and overstuffed red couches evoking vintage Cuban chic.
Cubano's, 1201 Fidler La.; 301-563-4020. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Lebanese Taverna Café (inexpensive). At the hub of the new downtown, this casual Middle Eastern stop is a bright spot in a sea of national chains. In fair weather, head for the green market umbrellas and splashing fountain outdoors. A soaring atrium brings the outside indoors as well.
The menu revolves around Lebanese mezze, kebobs, and rotisserie chicken. Feast for Two--a sampling of 15 dishes for $21.95--offers a bit of almost everything. À la carte stalwarts include kibbeh, lamb and pine nuts in a crushed-wheat shell; shashouky, pungent eggplant with pomegranate; and fatteh dishes, which bring together layers of meat or vegetables, chickpeas, toasted pita wedges, and warm yogurt sauce. Specials to watch for are thin-sliced grilled lamb with lemon-butter-parsley sauce ($10.95) and the lamb shank ($12.50), both good deals. The menu and format are similar to the Rockville branch, which is on The Washingtonian's 100 Best Bargain Restaurants list.
Lebanese Taverna Café, 933 Ellsworth Dr., 301-588-1192. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Red Dog Cafe (inexpensive). This is the sort of place you want to clone. Great food. Great prices. Great design. No wonder it has become a local gathering place. Morning brings house-made muffins--blueberry-corn muffins channel New England--and a coffee and juice bar. Afternoon is time for lunch, with chef Janis McLean's wood-roasted mussels, ancho-spiked black-bean-and-meat chili, sandwiches of pulled pork Piedmont-style or with Pommery mustard sauce, and salads like braised duck with roasted grapes and port vinaigrette. Main attractions are the creative pizzas, crisp from the wood-burning oven and topped with the likes of smoked Gouda and roasted peppers, or wild mushrooms, Gorgonzola, and caramelized onions. Even the classic pepperoni gets a shaving of red onion.
At night look also for a short roster of comfort plates: mac and cheese made with aged cheddar; crisp-skinned Tuscan chicken cooked under a brick; and salmon roasted on a cedar plank--get the herbed potato wedges as a side with this one. For dessert, try house-made sweets like rich bread pudding or crunchy apple crisp. Or go for an iced white-chocolate mocha, a riff on the usual cocoa.
Red Dog Cafe, 8301-A Grubb Rd.; 301-588-6300. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sergio's Ristorante (moderate). The unexpected is what makes life sing. And finding a restaurant like Sergio's on the ground floor of the Hilton is worth an oratorio. Part of what makes the place fun is owner Sergio Toni, a Roman who quips and charms his way through the dining room decorated with architectural drawings and a wall mural. The kitchen holds up its end with authentic Roman and regional Italian dishes.
Eat as you might in Rome and start by sharing a pasta or two--ask for it al dente. Toni makes much of it himself: noodles with a ragoût of meat, red wine, and tomatoes, or done up with shrimp, clams, garlic, and mushrooms. Rollata della Nonna is an extravagant pasta roll-up filled with ground pork and veal in a sauce of cream and mushrooms. House-made ravioli is worth considering, too--a recent special of duck-filled squares on a sea of red pepper sauce were smashing. Pork is given a star turn in a Gorgonzola-stuffed chop and in a tenderloin with a white-wine cream-and-mushroom sauce. Veal dishes are for the most part deftly done, as are house-made tiramisu and crème caramel. The wine list is short, and by-the-glass choices are limited, but then, when was the last time you had at least a few bottles for less than $25 to choose from?
Sergio's Ristorante, 8727 Colesville Rd.; 301-585-1040. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner.
Other Good Restaurants
Addis Ababa (inexpensive). Goatskin rugs and handcrafted tables and chairs make for a stylish setting, and the food adds to the exotic feel. This is communal dining of the grazing kind, where you use bits of the spongy flat pancake known as injera to scoop up stews of meats and vegetables.
A good way to sample many tastes is with one of the combination platters served on a large round tray. On it you'll find such morsels as doro wat, chicken with hot peppers, ginger, and garlic; yebeg tibs, lamb with jalapeño and seasoned butter; kifto, minced meat served raw, medium, or well done with hot red pepper; tikil gomen, cabbage with onions and peppers; and yatakilt wat, green beans, carrots, and potatoes with turmeric. All are also available à la carte. The spicy fare goes well with sweet Ethiopian honey wine or the Ethiopian beer Harrar. If you're with friends, finish with the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Addis Ababa, 8233 Fenton St.; 301-589-1400. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Bombay Gaylord (inexpensive). When curry calls, head for Bombay Gaylord, which despite its lack of sidewalk appeal dishes up authentic northern Indian cuisine in a gracious pale-pink dining room. Start with a bit of crunch by ordering papri chat, a cold salad of chickpeas, flour crisps, yogurt, and tamarind, or the appetizer platter of beautifully fried vegetable samosas along with onion bhajias and chicken pakoras, both fried in chickpea batter. Flatbreads, be they the buttery sautéed Punjabi paratha or naan, and roti baked in the tandoor have just the right snap.
The tandoor also turns out succulent bone-in chicken and boneless chicken tikka, both better than the shrimp or lamb, which tend to be dry and chewy. Chicken also shines in curries like chicken malai, made with yogurt, and chicken tikka masala, with cilantro, vegetables, and cream. Lamb vindaloo may not be as fiery as some versions--the kitchen tends to spice for Westerners--but makes up in flavor what it lacks in heat. Saag paneer the familiar puréed-spinach-and-cheese dish, is expertly done, as is the less common malai kefta, vegetable croquettes in a creamy nut-based gravy. Mango lassi is the traditional accompaniment, but there's also Taj Mahal beer. To cool things down, try the dense house-made almond kulfi, a rich Indian ice cream.
Bombay Gaylord, 8401 Georgia Ave.; 301-565-2528. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch buffet daily and dinner buffet on Sunday.
Crisfield Seafood Restaurant (expensive). This seafood house looks the part--a weathered wooden counter for solo diners, a small dining room with a collection of oyster plates, checkerboard tile floors, and paper placemats. Food has its ups and downs, but there are some perennial stars. Here's the place for a shrimp-, crab-, or lobster-salad sandwich. Or for creamy seafood bisque--clam aficionados are better off with clam stew than with the chowder.
In season, try fried oysters or soft-shell crab. The rest of the year, stick to tried and true standards like crab imperial, crab Norfolk (better than the shrimp and lobster versions of the dish), or the cold seafood platter with loads of crab, shrimp, and lobster to dip in tartar or cocktail sauce or spritz with lemon. For fried-seafood lovers there are combo platters as well as solo takes like fried shrimp and fried scallops. The point here is seafood, so don't waste time with also-rans like baked potatoes, and don't expect much of a wine list. Greater attention to details would take this gem from sentimental favorite to a real contender, but regulars who pack the place like it just the way it is.
Crisfield Seafood Restaurant, 8012 Georgia Ave.; 301-589-1306. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Eggspectation (inexpensive). Yes, it's loud, and service can be iffy. But when it comes to eggs Benedict and burgers, the kitchen at this Canadian-based chain of restaurants knows its stuff. The look is homey-rustic with a Gallic riff--crazy twisted wrought-iron railings, brick walls, gas fireplace, wooden booths, and shelves of books that look like the Cat in the Hat was there. At first glance the menu might seem overwhelming, but you can quickly write off anything resembling a dinner entrée and some of the sillier breakfast notions. Omelets, waffles, and pancakes--I like the layered "high rise" with bacon and sausage--are all respectable, but it's the eggs Benedicts that draw the raves--smoked salmon and Chesapeake crab versions are tops.
Burgers hit the mark, too--handmade patties with a good meat-to-bun ratio and classic toppers like bleu cheese, cheddar, and mushrooms. One wild-card burger that works is the Parisienne, with Gruyère and hard-boiled egg slices. Main courses like grilled salmon are rather lackluster and, surprisingly, so are French imports like the rubbery crepes and the Croque Monsieur, which bears little resemblance to the original. Desserts suffer from diner syndrome--they look better than they taste.
Eggspectation, 923 Ellsworth Dr.; 301-585-1700. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
El Golfo (inexpensive). Serapes hang like fluid sculptures on the walls of this engaging Latin American spot. The long menu cuts a swath through Central and South America with a focus on authentic Mexican and Salvadoran dishes. Queso fundido, a sort of Latin fondue-on-a-plate studded with spicy chorizo sausage and with flour tortillas for scooping, makes for a flashy start. So do the taquitos--chicken-filled mini-tacos--and chicken and chickpea tamales. For a light meal try a fragrant main-course soup: Yucateca chicken scented with lime; saffrony shrimp; or a robust bowl of short ribs and broth bolstered with plantains and yuca, a specialty from El Salvador.
Feeling like Mexican? Go for piquant red and green chili enchiladas or spicier chiles rellenos with their eggy batter. Also worthwhile: whole rockfish simply done with herbs; fish fajitas; and masitas de puerco, fork-tender pork morsels in bitter-orange thyme-flecked gravy. Refried pintos, stewed black beans, and fried plantains are all expertly turned out, and the buttery, garlicky rice is as much a player as any other dish. From a kitchen that sings, tres leches cake is one of the best versions around.
El Golfo, 8739 Flower Ave.; 301-608-2122. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
El Guajiro (inexpensive). Why go to this sunny Cuban storefront eatery with burnt-orange and yellow walls? Pork in all its guises. You can have it slow roasted until crusty and tender; marinated and fried with sautéed onions; or in the Cuban sandwich, where it joins ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo in a Cuban-style baguette that's pressed and grilled. This Latin panino is one of the area's better renditions of this Cuban mainstay. A similar sandwich with sliced pork and mojo criollo is also mouth-worthy.
If pork is not your thing, there are other pleasures to be had. Ropa vieja, the shredded beef dish punctuated with garlic, onion, and red and green peppers, is one. Picadillo, a traditional hash of sorts with beef and green olives, is another. Chicken friscassee is a homey turn, as is classic arroz con pollo. Flan and a creamy arroz con leche are the familiar desserts, but if it's in season, try the papaya with cream cheese.
El Guajiro, 8650 Colesville Rd.; 301-565-4985. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Golden Flame (moderate). With the closing of Greek Taverna, this is the best game in town for Greek. Golden Flame has been dishing up moussaka, not to mention steaks, seafood, and pasta, for decades. Mini murals of the Aegean liven up the large dining room formal enough for tablecloths but casual enough for a salad bar.
Greek classics like tzatziki, moussaka, nicely charred whole rockfish, and rack of lamb enlivened by oregano are standouts. There are a couple of shrimp dishes with oregano and feta, lamb shish kebab, and roast lamb with ample jus. Lamb is cooked the way Greeks like it--well done. If you prefer it medium rare, choose something that can be made to order. And though other corners of the menu have their attractions--the crab balls are chock full of lump crab and beautifully fried--it's the Greek dishes that will bring you back.
Golden Flame, 8630 Fenton St.; 301-588-7250. Open Monday to Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.
Izora (moderate). The outdoor Palm Patio invites dining under the stars and to the sounds of Latin and reggae bands and jazz combos. Inside are the lair-like Martini Bar and VIP Lounge and on the lower level a somewhat more sedate dining room/supper club with faux trees giving the place a junglelike feel.
There is nothing daunting about the West African-Caribbean menu of hits like curried chicken and goat; thyme-scented red snapper; rice and red beans with a choice of chicken, fish, or meats like oxtail and goat; and pan-fried catfish with yam fries. Main-course soups include Egusi, made with ground melon seeds and known for its distinctive sweet aftertaste, and the Nigerian Ogbono, named for the seeds that flavor this tripey brew. Joloff rice, West Africa's take on fried rice with onions and tomatoes, works as an entrée or a side. Even better is the delicately flavored rice cooked in coconut milk--have it with jerk chicken wings for a light meal. Downstairs gets livelier later in the evening when a DJ starts spinning international pop.
Izora, 1115 East-West Hwy.; 301-495-2960. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Los Arrieros (inexpensive). Named for South America's cowboys, Los Arrieros covers the usual Mexican-Latin fare well enough, but a lineup of Colombian dishes not found elsewhere is the real draw. One is a starter known as arepas, corn cakes reminiscent of pancakes with savory toppings--cheese and chorizo versions are best. Colombia being a coastal country, seafood plates are attention-getters, too. Shrimp bound by a creamy garlic sauce and well-seasoned fried snapper and widowfish show the kitchen's know-how. Best of all is the seafood soup--there's a fabulous all-shrimp version, too.
To eat like the cowboys, go for the platter simply named the Colombian Dish, a filling roundup of thin grilled steaks, fried pork, rice, beans, avocado, plantains, and arepas. Fruit shakes are a fine finish, though there are real desserts as well. The live bands that draw an appreciative Latin crowd to this large rustic dining room offer a chance to dance the night--and all those carbs--away.
Los Arrieros, 7926 Georgia Ave.; 301-495-9459. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Marrakesh de Paris (moderate). Though Paris is represented, the complex, delicately spiced Moroccan dishes are the headliners. A trickling fountain and Moorish ceramics and artifacts keep the small dining room from looking like just another shopping-plaza stop. And once food starts appearing--service can be relaxed--it's not hard to imagine yourself deep in a Paul Bowles novel.
Airy Moroccan bread is paired with a creamy eggplant spread that doesn't seem to have a counterpart in any other cuisine. Bestilla, a balloon of sweet-savory pastry filled with duck, chicken, or vegetables, makes for a dramatic and delicious first or main course. Tagines, Moroccan stews of preserved lemons, olives, dried fruit, and sweet spices like saffron and cinnamon, can be had with lamb, chicken, or beef, though the chicken baldi and merguez are best. Heaping platters of couscous are embellished with a choice of sausage, lamb, chicken, and duck. For an authentic finish, have mint tea served with Moroccan cookies.
Marrakesh de Paris, 14418 Layhill Rd.; 301-438-1100. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner.
Mi Rancho (inexpensive). An expanded outdoor patio with flower boxes and ceramic planters has been packed since mid-summer. The inside has a rugged feel, with exposed beams and wood paneling. The menu is devoted to Tex-Mex standards like beef nachos, marinated steak fajitas, pork tamales, dry pork ribs, and chicken enchiladas--ask for both red and green chili sauce. Fish is given its due with perfectly cooked whole snapper and shrimp soup.
The indecisive have combo plates to choose from. This is not the place to order sangria, which is cloyingly sweet. Concentrate instead on the beer list--Negra Modelo, Bohemia, and Sol-Carta Blanca. For dessert, try custard-filled plantain empanadas with ice cream, Mi Rancho's answer to the banana split.
Mi Rancho, 8701 Ramsey Ave.; 301-588-4744. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
My Le (inexpensive). Vietnamese menus tend to be long, and the one at this family-run eatery is no exception. There are stir fries and casseroles, rice dishes and stews and soups, including a worthy rendition of the beef soup known as pho. A hefty vegetarian roster adds to the mix. Start with grilled skewers of sweet salty pork, beef, or chicken done with lemon leaves, followed by a round of crisp spring rolls or soft summer rolls. Vietnamese crepe, a mega half-moon crammed with crunchy and savory sprouts, pork, and shrimp, works as a starter or a main course.
Egg noodles are your next stop. Though these tangled, whisper-thin strands aren't made on the premises, they're fresh rather than dried, and distinctive. Have them with fish, fowl, or just vegetables. Also a must is salt-baked shrimp, a dish found on many Chinese and Vietnamese menus but truly memorable here. Shell-on shrimp are deep fried with coarse salt and pepper, then heaped with spring onions, crunchy shallots, and thin-sliced hot chilies. You don't have to bite into a chili to get the rush. Oils from the peppers give every morsel of shrimp a bit of sweet heat.
My Le, 8077 Georgia Ave.; 301-588-8385. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Old Hickory Grille (moderate). American cooking by way of the South is the idea in these rustic, wood-beamed dining rooms where plates are heaped with fried oysters and barbecued meats. The oysters are dipped in buttermilk and corn-flour-fried for crunch. Crayfish tails get similar treatment, but this time there's a spicy kick. You can nibble on these as a starter or get them in a po' boy. Or you could heed a different call and end up with a bowl (big enough for two) of cheesy grits smothered with shrimp and tasso ham gravy. Hickory-grilled meatloaf with a mound of red-skin mashed potatoes is another piled-high plate. Pecan-crusted catfish, jambalaya, and Bourbon Street pasta fiery with Cajun cream sauce and andouille sausage all make spiffy showings, too.
Still, the kitchen may be spread too thin. Some dishes have a what-am-I-doing-here feel, and the smoked ribs are a disappointment--leathery with way-too-vinegary barbecue sauce. Desserts are supersized: chocolate pecan pie, banana cream pie, and a massive strawberry shortcake, which the menu acknowledges is best shared by at least two.
Old Hickory Grille, 15420 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville; 301-421-0204. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant (inexpensive). Though Parkway is no Katz's, it does have its charms. The pickle bar is one. An elixir-like matzo-ball soup is another. Matzo balls that are light instead of leaden, a robust broth, eggy noodles, and tender chicken make for a comforting bowl. Chopped chicken liver goes it alone on the good rye or as a schmear on corned beef and pastrami, which though lean, make an acceptable sandwich. Stuffed cabbage and stuffed derma with gravy also have their fans.
Sable is the best of the smoked-fish choices--smoked Nova Scotia salmon and whitefish are also available. Parkway has a large local following; at lunchtime and on weekends the place is jammed. It also has the feel of a place that's been there forever. And in a world where real delis are being replaced by chains, that counts.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant, 8317 Grubb Rd.; 301-587-1427. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Samantha's (inexpensive). The margaritas--available by the glass or the pitcher--are tart and icy, just the thing to accompany Samantha's salty-spicy Mexican classics like red-and-green-chili enchiladas, tacos al carbón, and chiles rellenos, available with beef or cheese and among the best in the area. The paper-thin tortilla chips made in house are worth a rave, too. Other items of note on the pan-Latin menu are Salvadoran pupusas, including a stellar seafood version along with the usual pork and cheese; simple pan-fried trout; tender Cuban-style pork with a sauce of bitter-orange and mustard; and Peruvian lomo saltado, that crazy toss of meat (here tenderloin tips), peppers, red onion, cilantro, and French fries that soak up the flavors and juice admirably. Parrillada Argentina for two--a pileup of meat with fries and salad for $33.95--is really enough for four. Less successful is quasi-Spanish roast duck with olives. For dessert, go for the tres leches cake, a moist slab of sweetness.
Samantha's, 631 University Blvd.; 301-445-7300. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Thai Derm (inexpensive). Thai Derm isn't one of those glitzy Thai restaurants. Homey and family-run, this welcoming address has other things going for it--fresh daisies on the tables, Thai art, and a kitchen that turns out bright renditions of traditional fare. Open-face dumplings of crab and pork get a gloss of sweet winey sauce. Thai salads, such as the jumble of ground pork, peanuts, red onion, and chiles, are authentically spiced. Two delicate soups--shrimp with lemongrass, and chicken with coconut milk--offer solace.
Classic noodle dishes like pad Thai and drunken noodles are deftly done, as are stir fries of basil and hot chili or ginger root and onion, each with a choice of beef, pork, seafood, or poultry. It's hard not to love garlicky black-pepper shrimp or spicy panang curry. Look for more elaborate specials like deep-fried whole fish with three sauces and spicy duck. But leave room for dessert. House-made coconut ice cream and Thai custard satisfy the sweet tooth and then some.
Thai Derm, 939 Bonifant St.; 301-589-5341. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and daily for dinner.
The cost of a dinner for two includes three courses, tax, and a 15-percent tip. At restaurants with the Cheap Eats logo, dinner for two is $50 or less. Thomas Head reviews DC restaurants, David Dorsen reviews Virginia restaurants, and Cynthia Hacinli reviews Maryland restaurants. Unless otherwise indicated, all restaurants are wheelchair accessible.
The outdoor plaza at City Place has become the town square of the new Silver Spring.
Order kebabs individually or as part of a mezze platter. They make a good inexpensive meal at Lebanese Taverna Café.
A good pick for vegetarians at Addis Ababa is the Beyaynetu platter with a choice of any five vegetable dishes.
The Addis Ababa special meat platter includes chicken with ginger and hot peppers, spiced raw or cooked beef, and tomato salad.
El Guajiro near the AFI Silver Theatre makes the best Cuban sandwich in town and a terrific papaya milkshake.

Quick Bites in Silver Spring
With its wooden bakery cases and cheerful cafe tables, Kirsten's Cafe (9326 Georgia Ave.; 301-495-9686) is worth visiting for savory quiches with tender crusts, gourmet sandwiches--I like the roast beef, caramelized onion, and Boursin on sourdough--and old-fashioned scones, sticky buns, brownies, berry upside-down cakes, and blueberry crumble, all made in-house.
Mayorga Coffee Roasters (8040 Georgia Ave.; 301-562-9090) is an airy, modern space with marvelous coffee--they import and roast their own beans. You can get light nibbles and pastries all day and offbeat martinis at the snazzy little bar at night. On Sunday there's a bargain $15 brunch that includes made-to-order Belgian waffles, omelets, and fruit.
When I want a hero, DaMarco Italia Gourmet (8662 Colesville Rd.; 301-588-6999) beckons. I like the Italian cold-cut sandwich and the house-made mozzarella and roasted pepper on a hard-crusted or softer-skinned torpedo roll.
For pizza by the slice, calzones, and stromboli, Mamma Lucia (Blair Shops, 1302 East-West Hwy.; 301-562-0693) fits the bill.
Crisp & Juicy (Leisure World Plaza, 3800 International Dr., 301-598-3333; Blair Shops, 1314 East-West Hwy., 301-563-6666) has flavorful Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken with rice, beans, and tortillas to eat in or take out.
Dozens of Latin storefronts also offer possibilities. The empanadas and saltenas at Pike #2 (8417 Georgia Ave.; 301-587-2788), a Bolivian stop, are outstanding, and if I'm there on a weekend, I'll order a round of pork fricassee with hominy.
A yen for tamales is easily satisfied at El Nopalito Grill (2259 Bel Pre Rd.; 301-598-1736). What's tough is deciding between duck with red mole and chicken with smoked chipotle and green tomatillo sauce.
When I'm up for a big feed, the Guatemalan La Bamba (8241 Georgia Ave.; 301-589-3712) obliges with a mountain of chorizo, rice, eggs, and beans and homey beef stew. The enchilada Guatemalteca, a crisp tortilla with shredded beef, shredded cabbage, and sliced hard-boiled egg, will do for smaller appetites.

Researcher J.R. Wellington and editorial interns Courtney Barnes, Talea Miller, and Andrew Phillips contributed research to this article.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 03/01/2005 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles