64. General Store ★★½
6 Post Office Rd., Silver Spring; 301-562-8787
Cuisine: A loving and affordably priced tour of the simple, soulful dishes that define Americana, from pot pie to fish tacos to fried chicken. Chef Gillian Clark cooks what she loves, and when she’s on—which is often—it shows.
Mood: Burlap sacks of potatoes and quirky bits of memorabilia—vintage magazine ads, a stuffed bear—lend the front half of this eat-in/takeaway a homey flavor. But the two dining areas in back don’t really have a sense of place.
Best for: Eating cheaply without resorting to the chains or fast food.
Best dishes: Crispy shrimp on baguettes; meatloaf with sweet-sour onion gravy, an occasional special we’d like to see more often; tangy collards studded with pork; not-too-cheesy macaroni and cheese; nicely fried battered chicken; an ever-changing roster of luscious pies, including a wonderful coconut cream and lemon chess.
Insider tips: Best to go for lunch, when crowds are usually at bay. The scene at night, especially on weekends, can be frenetic, and with so few tables it’s wise to consider takeout rather than a sit-down meal. Whole pies are available if you call a day or two ahead.
Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive.
63. Nava Thai Noodle and Grill ★★½
11301 Fern St., Wheaton; 240-430-0495
Cuisine: If it’s not Washington’s best Thai restaurant, it’s easily the most interesting. Owners and cooks Suchart and Ladavan Srigatesook have culled a fascinating assortment of dishes from the night-market stalls and floating barges in Thailand. The cooking is bright and bold, perhaps nowhere more so than in the marvelous and complex soups and the vivid papaya salad (made to order). Even pad Thai is transformed from a gloppy noodle dish into a small symphony of flavor.
Mood: The multi-room setting once housed a Greek taverna, and the rustic-chic appointments aren’t an ideal match for the restaurant’s vision of quick-serve Thai street food. The giant olive-oil bottles of fish sauce that sit on the tables feel almost comical. Then again, the atmosphere is cozy, and when the place is packed on weekends, it’s lively but not loud.
Best for: Food adventurers.
Best dishes: Papaya salad; pad Thai; hot-and-sour squid; a crispy frittata of mussels with green curry; Floating Market Noodle Soup, sweet and funky and sour and incendiary; drunken noodles.
Insider tips: Don’t hold out for the desserts—none are worth the calories, even those made that morning.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.
62. Minh’s ★★½
2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-2828
Cuisine: To judge by the inclusive menu at this East Coast outpost of the Nguyen family’s popular San Jose restaurant empire, this is one of the area’s preeminent destinations for Vietnamese cooking. Both northern and southern dishes are given their due—as are budget-minded diners: No entrée is more than $17.
Mood: The expansive dining room tempers its office-building locale with white tablecloths and soothing red walls. Although large groups are often the norm, the space retains its calm, Zen-like energy.
Best for: A good introduction to Vietnamese food, and the menu is broad enough to include something for just about every taste and sensibility.
Best dishes: Luscious pork vermicelli, both northern (saltier) and southern (sweeter); banh xeo, an oversize, web-like crepe with bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork; fried shrimp-and-yam patties; a fragrant, dill-laced catfish, to be broken into hunks and folded into giant leaves of lettuce; a clay pot bubbling with a sweet/peppery caramel sauce and bits of catfish; chicken, tart with lemongrass and covered in red-pepper flakes.
Insider tips: Bring a large group—most dishes are served family style and can feed several.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.