85. Villa Mozart ★★
4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax; 703-691-4747
Cuisine: Chef/owner Andrea Pace anchors his dishes with familiar Northern Italian flavors—prosciutto with melon, eggplant lasagna—but elevates them with unexpected accents. When he’s successful, which is often enough (chocolate pappardelle with wild boar), the result feels fresh; when he’s not (a caprese salad with buffalo-milk foam), it feels forced.
Mood: Long on charm, this cozy but contemporary townhouse is a prime destination for date nights. Each table is adorned with fresh red roses, and the Italian arias soaring through the dining room set the mood for an evening of romance.
Best for: An old-fashioned date.
Best dishes: Wide bands of smoked prosciutto sharing the plate with hemispheres of sweet cantaloupe; coins of eggplant and zucchini stacked with pungent Taleggio; a dressed-up “meat and potatoes” with lamb two ways (roasted shoulder, grilled rack) and a cube of potato mille foglie; delicately poached halibut filet in a comforting but light mushroom-based broth with white beans and artichokes; chocolate soufflé, cracked and filled with Grand Marnier sauce at the table.
Insider tips: The wine list is small, but the corkage fee for bringing your own bottle is just $25—cheaper than almost anything else on the menu.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.
84. Hell Point Seafood ★★
12 Dock St., Annapolis; 410-990-9888
Cuisine: Bob Kinkead calls his Annapolis waterfront operation Kinkead Lite—a more casual, streamlined, and affordable version of his DC seafood emporium. The kitchen early on was a work in progress but has found its groove. Portions are bigger, execution is tighter, and the familiar-looking plates of mussels, oysters, lobster rolls, and smothered fish are now worthy of the Kinkead name.
Mood: The redeeming feature of the bland space, which for years housed Phillips Seafood, is the gorgeous view of the Annapolis harbor—seats along the glass windows fill up fast.
Best for: That rarest of dining-out pleasures—a good meal with a view.
Best dishes: Sweet mussels in green Thai curry with diced squash; an ever-changing roster of oysters on the half shell; plump, minimally bound crabcakes; cornmeal-crusted flounder in a creamy sauce garnished with tasso ham, mushroom matchsticks, and baby shrimp; swordfish steak with confit of basil-draped baby tomatoes; excellent seasonal tarts (peach in summer, pear in fall, apple in winter); elegant, Eastern Shore–style caramel layer cake.
Insider tips: Think seafood calls exclusively for white wine? Think again: The important thing is to complement the sauce or accompaniment, and the embellishments for Kinkead’s seafood are generally big and bold-flavored. Accordingly, there are red-wine by-the-glass picks that pair well with the restaurant’s catches of the day, including a rosé made from Malbec. And servers will pour a taste of any by-the-glass wine.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.
83. Passage to India ★★
4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-3373
Cuisine: Chef/owner Sudhir Seth tackles his native India’s every culinary corner on his menu, which ranges far beyond commonplace curries and tandoori meats. With an impressive level of accuracy and consistency, he conveys the flavors of not just the familiar north (with its reliance on kebabs) and south (with its breads and veggie stews) but also the east and west.
Mood: The low-lit dining room, with elaborate wood carvings and photographs of Indian palaces, is a throwback in an age of clean-lined, bustling spaces: quiet, serious, almost serene. Waiters in jackets and bow ties tend to their tables with a military-like precision.
Best for: Anyone willing to venture beyond the safe ground of butter chicken; anyone seeking an oasis of calm to dine in.
Best dishes: Sev-murmura chaat, a mash-up of puffed rice, vermicelli, and dates, sweetened with tamarind; a potato-stuffed samosa dressed up with chickpeas and yogurt; juicy, thin slices of lamb cooked in the tandoor oven; shrimp in a coconut-based curry with coriander and garlic; a marvelous pickle plate; a dessert of fresh mango peeking out from a blanket of cardamom-spiked yogurt.
Insider tips: If you want to sample some of Seth’s complex and layered cooking but are on a budget, come at lunchtime. Main courses arrive with a side of lentils, rice, and a salad—all for about $10.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.