Dining Out in Wheaton

Spit-roasted chickens, hearty noodle soups, subs of every variety. Here's a delicious journey through a rich cultural stew.

By: Cynthia Hacinli

There are few neighborhoods where you can eat as adventurously and cheaply as in Wheaton. In this ever-evolving cultural stew, ethnic restaurants and markets morph identities as new immigrants shift the landscape. The result? A place alive with culinary energy.

A few old-time Italian and kosher outposts remain, but these days Salvadoran, Honduran, and Peruvian spots dominate. Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants are in the mix, too, with a smattering of Brazilian, West African, and Ethiopian.

Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard--Wheaton's main arteries--are where much of the action is, but gems also abound on side streets off Veirs Mill Road, Reedie Drive, Amherst Avenue, and Blueridge Avenue. Many are family-run, with grandparents and children peeling vegetables, taking orders, and stirring pots on the stove. These dining rooms are often full of expats, families, and laborers seeking comfort in the authentic flavors of home. At the best places, diners--native or not--are made to feel like family or friends.

Standouts like Good Fortune, Nam's of Wheaton, Suporn's, Matamoros, and Hollywood East Café are already on The Washingtonian's Best Bargain Restaurants list--Hollywood East Café is also on our 100 Very Best Restaurants list. You can see reviews of these five worthy restaurants at washingtonian.com. But Wheaton has no end of eating highs. Here are more favorites.

Asian Adventures

Dusit Thai (Thai; inexpensive). Neon wall sculptures cast an otherworldly glow in this serene dining room. But the kitchen is feisty when it counts. For coolness and heat, tangy and sweet, go for a Thai "salad"--northern pork with minced pork, ginger, and peanuts, or twice-cooked duck moistened with shrimp paste (both get the double whammy of red onions and scallions). Crispy whole fish--recently, pristine flounder--with chili, garlic, and tamarind sauce also juxtaposes sweet and spicy.

Red, green, and country curries have flavor and fire. But chili power isn't everything. Earthy duck rolls, eggplant with basil and black-bean sauce, and squid with white pepper are marvelous, too. Stir-fries let you choose seasonings and meat, poultry, or seafood. If you seek familiar fare, the excellent pad Thai--studded with egg, chicken, and shrimp--will more than satisfy.

Dusit Thai, 2404 University Blvd. W.; 301-949-4140. Atmosphere: Welcoming and appealing. Entrées: $7.25 to $10.95. Bottom line: A solid Thai eatery with eye-pleasing decor. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Full Key (Chinese; inexpensive). Chinese regulars know to dine on the early side lest the kitchen run out of the roasted meats this bustling restaurant is known for. The combo platter offers a chance to try all three: roast duck, roast pork, and soy-sauce chicken.

Round out the meal with specials like clams with black-bean sauce, stir-fried snow-pea leaves with garlic, and Lotus Root Delight. Soy-sauce noodles and shredded pork with pan-fried noodles are worth ordering from the regular menu. Congee fans have several to choose from--the beef-squid-and-peanut version rocks, and the casserole of eggplant with salted fish and chicken will do strange but wonderful things to your taste buds. Shrimp dumpling and noodle soup is a soothing meal in a bowl, Hong Kong-style.

Full Key, 2227 University Blvd. W.; 301-933-8388. Atmosphere: Friendly, small, and usually busy. Entrées: $5.95 to $16.95. Bottom line: Fans of Hong Kong-style Chinese will want to try this younger sibling of DC's Chinatown original. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Moby Dick (Japanese; inexpensive to moderate). This sliver of a restaurant with classic sushi-bar decor is where locals go for a Japanese-food fix. Start with edamame, steamed soybean pods, or crunchy "crab" salad made with surimi, cucumbers, and tobiko and flavored with mayo and sesame. Fried fixings--tempura shrimp and vegetables and tofu--are done right, as is that Japanese soul food, broiled eel over rice with a thick soy sauce. Sushi and rolls are in the Korean style, not as delicate as traditional Japanese sushi. The tempura roll with shrimp and crab and the California roll with egg are good bets.

Sakes are limited to one hot and three cold; the usual Japanese beers are available. And for diehard Marylanders, there's spicy steamed shrimp, a holdover from when Moby Dick was a seafood shack. Don't miss the fried green-tea ice cream wrapped in mochi--a traditional Japanese New Year's sweet.

Moby Dick, 11220 Triangle La.; 301-949-3910. Atmosphere: Small and cozy with traditional sushi-bar decor. Sushi rolls, entrées, and bento boxes: $7.95 to $22.95 with special sushi assortments going up to $49.95. Bottom line: A solid neighborhood Japanese eatery. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Paul Kee (Chinese; inexpensive to moderate). The noodle is king at this Hong Kong/Cantonese eatery: in noodle soups bobbing with wontons and bits of pork and duck; in Cantonese-style chow mein; and in family-size plates of wide chow foon with seafood or other goodies.

Other regions of the menu are worth exploring, namely the roast meats (duck, pork, and soy-sauce chicken) and casseroles--brisket with turnip is an earthy combo. For a restorative late-night repast, try the congee, a pablumlike rice gruel with a handful of ginger or some other tidbit for flavor.

Paul Kee, 11305-B Georgia Ave.; 301-933-6886. Atmosphere: Cozy with a Chinatown vibe, right down to the sometimes brusque waitstaff. Entrées: $7.95 to $15.95. Bottom line: Another good spot for Hong Kong/Cantonese cooking. Open until 1 AM Sunday through Thursday and 2 AM Friday and Saturday.

Pho Hiep Hoa (Vietnamese; inexpensive). Soft tendon, eye of round, bible tripe--lovers of pho (pronounced "phuh") will find the usual combination of the familiar and exotic at Hiep Hoa, plus fatty and well-done brisket, skirt flank, and Vietnamese meatballs. You can have this steaming beef noodle soup with several meats or none (plain noodle is available, too). The plate of sprouts and fresh herbs to personalize your pho is a given, but be sure to order hanh dam--pickled onion--so you can add another jolt of flavor to the bowl.

Fizzy fresh lemon soda or coffee with sweetened condensed milk are the traditional drinks. Not in the mood for soup? Go for the savory plate of pork chops with fried eggs and broken rice.

Pho Hiep Hoa, 2211-A University Blvd. W.; 301-933-7660. Atmosphere: Typical pho parlor with high ceilings, chopsticks on the tables, some communal tables, minimal decor. Entrées: $4.50 to $7.45. Bottom line: Comfort food Vietnamese-style. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ruan Thai (Thai; inexpensive). There's no dumbing down of dishes for the Western palate at this family-run restaurant. Two not-often-seen starters are yum pla korb, crisp bits of dried fish scented with lemongrass, and yum ma keau, which marries eggplant, pork, and shrimp with a drizzle of lime juice.

Curries are authentically spiced--that is, both complex and hot--from the comforting Yellow Chicken, a frequent special, to the searing sweet-sour curry made with catfish, vegetables, or shrimp. Red and green curries, fragrant with coconut milk and made with either chicken or beef, also please if you can stand the heat. Duck with hot chili and fresh basil is another scorcher. Don't miss a special of delicately brittle deep-fried watercress with crisp nuggets of shrimp and squid and a drizzle of lime dressing.

Ruan Thai, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton; 301-942-0075. Atmosphere: Simple and homey. Entrées: $6.95 to $12.95 except for whole-fish dishes. Bottom line: Fiery Thai classics and rarities at bargain prices. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Sabang (Indonesian; inexpensive to moderate). Decisions, decisions. You can avoid having to settle on just one fabulous plate from the roster of choices by ordering one of the rijsttafels, set meals in which lots of little dishes dabbed with curries, sautés, and vegetables, some spicy, some mild, come your way. The grandest of these is $58.99 for two and includes dessert and coffee or tea.

Look to the regular menu for starters like spicy-sweet lamb, beef, or chicken satays with steamed rice cakes and crisp fried shallots, or deep-fried corn cakes studded with shrimp to dip in peanut sauce. Among the livelier main courses: ayam bekakak, slices of chicken in a dragon-worthy red-chili coconut "gravy"; shrimp and vegetables in the milder, lighter kalio sauce; gado gado, a tofu-centric vegetarian take crunchy with green beans, and shrimp chips; and a stir-fry of egg noodles with chicken, shrimp, and beef. The look is Kon-Tiki meets Shogun (though the restaurant no longer serves sushi) with offbeat folk art such as animals carved from gnarly banyan roots.

Sabang, 2504 Ennalls Ave.; 301-942-7859. Atmosphere: Roomy and a bit more done up than other ethnic spots. Entrées: $5.50 to $12.95; risjsttafels (including a vegetarian version) start at $42 for two and include starters, main courses, and dessert and coffee. Bottom line: A fine alternative to the usual ethnic fare. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Woomi Garden (Korean and Japanese; inexpensive to moderate). This is one of the area's more user-friendly Korean dining rooms. It's got the aesthetics down with acres of glossy pale wood and a koi pond. And the menu deconstructs dishes and has photos.

A couple of Korean standards are winners: half-moon dumplings stuffed with beef and pork or shrimp and vegetables and the scallion-and-seafood-studded pancake known as haemul pajun. Meats to grill at the table include sweet-salty marinated pork, prime beef brisket, and boneless short ribs along with the more familiar bulgogi--slices of rib eye. And though panchan, the little dishes of condiments that accompany most entrées, are not as varied as at Woo Lae Oak in Northern Virginia, you can order a round of addictive spicy pickled radish cubes to make up for it. A seafood version of bibim bap, a casserole served in a heated stone bowl, makes for a fine counterpoint to the grilled items. There's also a menu of sushi and Japanese standards like tempura and teriyaki and an impressive boutique sake list. For an authentic Korean finish, try the sweet cool ginger drink with dried persimmons and floating pine nuts.

Woomi Garden, 2423 Hickerson Dr.; 301-933-0100. Atmosphere: A bit more upscale than the typical Wheaton restaurant but still family-friendly. Entrées: $6.95 to $34.95. Bottom line: One of the highlights of Wheaton's dining scene. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Latin Delights

Chicken Place (Peruvian, Latin American; inexpensive). The name is something of a misnomer--there's a lot more than chicken here. Wood beams, Peruvian art and artifacts, and terracotta floors give the dining room a rustic south-of-the-equator feel. Among the more unusual dishes are a tamale made from cornmeal and chopped coriander and filled with chicken, and the famed Peruvian potato dish papa a la huancaina, steamed potatoes with a velvety sauce of cheese, bread, and milk, sided with wedges of hard-boiled egg. The sauce has a distinctive taste diners tend to love or hate--Chicken Place has one of the easiest to love.

Other memorable plates are the house bistec, a big platter with plantains, fried eggs, fries, and rice; lomo saltado, the Peruvian answer to stir-fry, with beef, peppers, onions, and fried potatoes; a fragrant and creamy cilantro-laced beef stew; and the unusual-but-delicious scrambled eggs with shrimp. If you crave fishy flavors, the pungent parihuela, a concentrated soup with a flotilla of shell and fin fish, is a briny bowl.

Chicken Place, 2418 University Blvd. W.; 301-946-1212. Atmosphere: The attractive, stuccoed dining room is popular with Latin families; there's a small patio for outdoor dining in warm weather. Entrées: $3.75 to $15.95. Bottom line: Homey cooking with some plates that go beyond the usual. Open Wednesday through Monday for lunch and dinner.

Irene's Pupusas (Salvadoran, Honduran; inexpensive). Pupusas rule at Irene's. The dough is more delicate, the filling-to-pupusa ratio better, and the exterior crisper than you'll find anywhere else. Fillers like pork, cheese, beans, and loroco buds, which taste like a cross between squash and broccoli, are a cut above, too. Pupusas made with floured rice dough are also available--they're lighter and crisper still--but don't have the satisfying heft of the original.

There's also a world beyond pupusas: open-faced soft cornmeal tacos Honduran-style with mini-chunks of beef and pico de gallo; homey stewed chicken with a heap of rice and beans; and a motley beef soup with corn on the cob, peppers, cassava, and zucchini thrown into the brew. On weekends, the Honduran-style seafood soup makes a robust meal. Baliadas, the Honduran national dish, are large flour tortillas served open face and slathered with silky refried beans, ripe avocado slices, hard-cooked egg, and savory bits of spice-rubbed beef buried under it all. Flavors and textures make for a smashing whole, so no surprise that it's what everyone seems to be eating at dinnertime--from the workmen who stop by for a beer and heaping plates at the bar to the Honduran families after a bite of home.

Irene's Pupusas, 11300-B Georgia Ave.; 301-933-2118. Atmosphere: Bright, wood-paneled dining room with booths and tables, a bar in back, and Latin and American tunes on the jukebox. Entrées: $6.50 to $14, with a few fish dishes priced according to the market. Bottom line: The pupusas are still the best around, and there are other pleasures, too. Open for lunch and dinner daily and until 2 AM Friday and Saturday nights.

Los Chorros (Salvadoran, Tex-Mex; inexpensive to moderate). Margaritas are strong and salsa fiery. Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Salvadoran plates share space on the menu. The beer list, with picks from El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, ventures just as far.

Among the Tex-Mex offerings: Taquitos, guacamole served with house-made flour tortilla chips, and pork-rib fajitas are the way to go. On the Salvadoran side are several interesting soups. Best is the bowl with shrimp, peppers, and eggs, though chicken with wings and vegetables, and beef short ribs with cassava and plantains are not far behind. Fans of tripe soup will want to try the version here. Also worth a look are corn-flecked tamales, pupusas (a thick tortilla pocket filled with cheese, pork, or both), and fried whole red snapper.

Los Chorros, 2420 Blueridge Ave.; 301-933-1066. Atmosphere: Two dining rooms and a small bar done in fiesta colors with original paintings throughout. Entrées: $6.95 to $13.95, with a few seafood dishes priced according to the market. Bottom line: Familiar digs and dishes make it a crowd pleaser. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Sergio's Place (Salvadoran, Latin; inexpensive). Sergio's goes beyond the clichés. There are pastelitos guanacos, fried half moons of dough filled with minced pork and vegetables, the Guatemalan cousin of empanadas. And Guatemalan-style enchiladas, crisp tortillas piled with chicken or beef, pickled slaw, and hard-cooked eggs. Pupusas--both regular and rice-dough versions--deserve attention too, especially an offbeat combination of zucchini and cheese. Salpicon is a mouth-pleasing heap of vinegary shredded beef punctuated with bits of crunchy onion and radish. The grandmotherly chicken with spicy red-chili mole sauce delivers comfort Latin-style. And the unconventional pan Cubano, with its thick, hand-carved slices of house-baked ham and pork, is a terrific mouthful.

The kitchen of this color-splashed cafe rarely turns out a clunker. For dessert try mashed plantains filled with milky custard or the cashew-apple drink known as maranon. Though not billed as a dessert, it makes for a sweet, nutty finish.

Sergio's Place, 11324 Fern St.; 301-962-7066. Atmosphere: Appealing cafe with an eager-to-please staff and a jukebox of Latin hits. Entrées: $4.95 to $13.95. Bottom line: A chef with a real feel for Central American cuisine--and an address to seek out. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Original Ethnics

Cristina's (Italian; inexpensive to moderate). All the greatest hits of home-style Italian-American cooking are here: ringlets of calamari, spaghetti Bolognese, garlicky shrimp scampi, fettuccine Alfredo. Veal Marsala is nicely done, as are a couple of forays into regional cuisine: mussels with pesto and white wine; a meaty Angus steak grilled Florentine-style; and veal osso buco, an occasional special. Not everything works. Pasta is occasionally overcooked, and dishes, like white beans with shrimp, need a dollop of something. But the pale-pink dining room with Mediterranean paintings is welcoming, and the mostly older crowd doesn't seem to mind the occasional glitch.

Cristina's, 2666 University Blvd. W.; 301-942-4137. Atmosphere: Friendly and intimate. Entrées: $9.95 to $24.95. Bottom line: A casual white-tablecloth eatery in a neighborhood that doesn't have many. Open Sunday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Ferdinand's (Continental; inexpensive to moderate). One of the area's last holdouts of Continental cuisine, Ferdinand's offers hits spanning several decades, from prime rib ($16.95 and up) to a bar-and-grill-style plate of fried calf's liver with sautéed onions. In-between are a juicy half chicken Greek-style with lemon, garlic, and oregano; veal piccata; and chicken Françese, also a welcome throwback.

Another happy surprise: fresh beets in a tangy vinaigrette at the otherwise ho-hum salad bar and an early-bird special for $10.95. Simpler is usually better here--avoid concoctions like Norfolk crab, one of the pricier dishes and a waste of crab.

Ferdinand's, 11300 Fern St.; 301-949-1617. Atmosphere: More upscale than most Wheaton restaurants with a roomy dining room, cloth napkins, and an energetic owner/maître d'. Entrées: $10.95 to $32.95 (for surf and turf). Bottom line: Retro pleasure for diners after a good old prime rib with a baked potato and sour cream. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Nick's Diner (inexpensive). Nick's is the real thing--an old-school diner, from the tin façade to the chrome swivel stools. Food is classic diner fare, with a few Greek dishes thrown in (the owner is Greek). Nick's gets a lot of things right: Eggs--fried, scrambled, or folded into a feta omelet--are perfectly turned out. Corned-beef hash and hash browns are crisp and well seasoned. Lunch brings handmade burgers, homey soups like chicken and rice, and delicious ham sandwiches--the ham is baked in-house and hand-carved. And if you want tomato on that sandwich, it'll taste like a tomato, at least in season. The sensational Athenian souvlaki sports chunks of juicy lamb, tomatoes, and a tart-but-wonderful feta-cucumber-yogurt sauce on warm pita.

Nick's has its quirks: No French fries on the weekends (home fries are substituted). No soda fountain. And it's open only for breakfast and lunch. But it's got a cast of regulars, a friendly diner vibe, and a guy stringing green beans by hand in the kitchen.

Nick's Diner, 11199 Veirs Mill Rd.; 301-933-5459. Atmosphere: Well-worn diner. Entrées: $3.25 to $7.95. Bottom line: Every neighborhood should have one. Open daily for breakfast and lunch.

Royal Mile Pub (Scottish; inexpensive to moderate). Ian Morrison--son of owners Ray and Joie Morrison, and a trained chef--is carrying on the family tradition of haggis and Scotch eggs at this convivial eatery. The place has charm, from the tiny sidewalk cafe with potted petunias to the dark-wood interior with a fireplace. Another draw is the list of microbrews and imports. Even more awe-inspiring is the single-malt Scotch roster--it runs several dozen strong with entries from the Lowlands, the north, and Speyside.

Those draughts and drams demand rib-sticking fare, and the Royal Mile delivers with solid pub classics--beef-and-Guinness pie, beer-batter fried cod and chips, and Welsh rarebit. The kitchen has winning modern moments, too: crisply fried chicken breast with cream gravy, rich three-cheese penne with pancetta and Parmesan bread crumbs, and strip steak grilled on a cedar plank with mustard aïoli.

Royal Mile Pub, 2407 Price Ave.; 301-946-4511. Atmosphere: Quirkily romantic. Entrées: $7.15 to $17.95. Bottom line: One of the most inviting addresses in town for drinks and dinner. Open Friday through Sunday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Best Chicken to Go

The smoky aroma of spit-grilled chicken fills the air in downtown Wheaton, where there's a Peruvian rotisserie joint on nearly every block. When done right, these birds are burnished, crisp, and succulent. You don't really need the neon-green hot vinegar-parsley sauce--the chicken can stand on its own--but it does add a hit of spice.

The restaurants--most of them takeout/eat-in spots with plastic plates catering to Latin families--are cagey about the marinade that gives the chicken its singular rich flavor. Traditionally, the drill calls for flushing the birds with lemon water inside and out, then marinating them in more of the same seasoned with cumin, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, oil, and occasionally white wine. Once in the rotisserie, juices drip and baste the birds as they cook. Sometimes rotisserie cooks will do some basting, too. This is the kind of meltingly delicious hen you'd crave on a winter's night. Even with a mound of sides, beans, and fried fingers of cassava or French fries, Peruvian rotisserie chicken is the most economical of meals--two can eat for under $15 without drinks at any of these places. Here are the best.

El Pollo Rico (2541 Ennalls Ave.; 301-942-4419), a perennial on The Washingtonian's Best Bargain Restaurants list, still serves the ultimate Andean bird, which is why a line often spills out the door on weekends and even some weeknights. This is a chicken worth traveling for--succulent and tender. Besides the hot vinegar-parsley sauce, there's also a zippy yellow mustard-mayo concoction. Believers in "more is more" layer on both, one spicy, the other sharp. Fries, though the commercial frozen variety, are crisp and salty. There's usually a sweet or two, like the boozy rum cake, to finish things off.

Three other addresses with worthy birds are Super Chicken (2531 Ennalls Ave.; 301-933-5200), where the fries are steakhouse thick (and also frozen) and the digs a bit funkier; the more restaurantlike Chicken Place (2418 University Blvd. W.; 301-946-1212), a rustic, pine-paneled dining room with a patio where you can have chicken (though not as fast) and other Peruvian specialties (see "Latin Delights," above); and Country Chicken (11216 Grandview Ave.; 301-933-6000), a snug restaurant/bar with risque Latin soaps on TV, Olga Tanon on the jukebox, and a menu of Salvadoran hits like pupusas and steak with fried eggs as well as Peruvian-style rotisserie.

At the Guatemalan fried-chicken chain Pollo Campero (11420 Georgia Ave.; 301-942-6868), the drumsticks, wings, thighs, and breasts are deep-fried a gorgeous saffron color. This, according to Pollo Campero brass, is achieved by dusting them with a seasoned flour flown in from Guatemala every few weeks (Campero employees sign a confidentiality agreement requiring them to keep the more than a dozen ingredients and methods secret) and flash-frying them at high temperatures. Thin-cut frozen fries and Spanish-style rice are fine accompaniments, but the lightly spicy beans, thick with pintos, sausage, and peppers, are the sleeper on the menu--good enough to make you forget about chicken altogether.

Eating on the Fly

Some of the most authentic--and inexpensive--edibles around can be found in the ethnic markets and cafes of Wheaton. A lunch, dinner, or weekend stroll downtown will yield the best pickings. And as in most things, the early birds get the carimanolas.

These cigar-shaped yucca fritters filled with spicy ground beef are a specialty at the Brazilian Market (11425 Grandview Ave.; 301-942-8412; snacks and drinks for two, around $10), a cafe/grocery/hangout with a handful of tables and orderly shelves of South American goods, from yerba maté, the "cure-all" herbal elixir, to bicolor hair dye. Carimanolas are the nibble everyone will want at least two of, but I also can't resist the tartlets of chicken and green olives or the classic Brazilian cheese buns. The house banana passion-fruit frappé or cafe con leche, espresso-strength coffee with steamed hot milk, are the drinks of choice. And if you show up in the late afternoon or early evening, flaky empanadas will be your reward.

Empanadas Filipino-style are the reason to duck into the Filipino Home Baking & Grocery (11222 Triangle La.; 301-942-2800), where the sweetish dough envelops a savory stuffing of carrots, raisins, onions, and ground beef ($1). Another must: hopia, a flaky Chinese bun popular in the Philippines. Here they're filled with red-bean paste, purple yams, or scallions ($2 to $4).

Treasures like mudfish and rib bellies will be unrecognizable to some, but the owners of Asian Food (2301 University Blvd. W.; 301-933-6071) have helpfully labeled most items ($8 and under) in the expansive deli case of this Thai takeout: glossy-skinned roast quail; red-curry pork; tiny fried whole anchovies; and best of all, wood skewers of marinated pork and chicken and sticky filaments of crunchy fried sweet-spicy beef. Mostly a to-go operation with a grocery next door, this is the place to find Thai snacks and delicacies rarely found in area restaurants.

Wheaton also has a couple of outposts for those delicious French-Asian hybrids, Vietnamese sandwiches. Hung Phat Asian Grocery (11315 Fern St.; 301-929-0725) sells them wrapped in white butcher paper at lunchtime for $2 each. Crusty French sub rolls are layered with thin slices of pork, two kinds of Vietnamese pâté, carrots, cucumbers, onion, and cilantro for a satisfying crunch. Asian sodas--I like the fizzy aloe drinks--are the perfect foil. For dessert, smooth white buns with intricate red designs "stamped" on top are a child's sweet that grownups can enjoy. The texture is marshmallowy, the fillings fruity. An-Binh Oriental Grocery & Deli (11216-18 Georgia Ave.; 301-942-6642) offers a menu of Vietnamese sandwiches and summer rolls in its deli/cafe. The classic sub--jambon, pickled carrot, and three kinds of pork with house-made mayo--is $2.25. My favorite summer roll is the bò bìa, a lively mix of dried shrimp, jìcama, roasted peanuts, basil, sausage, and egg ($3 for two rolls).

You don't go to Max's Kosher Café (2319 University Blvd. W.; 301-949-6297; closed Saturday) for atmosphere. The airplane hangar of a dining room, with its wall of video games, can be noisy and charmless. But, oh, the falafel ($5.50). Homesick New Yorkers will find one of the area's best renditions of this Middle Eastern sandwich here. The chickpea patties are house-made and perfectly fried. Condiments--point to the ones you want--include pickled red cabbage, olives, green peppers, tomato, cucumber, and parsley salad. Also worth trying: the matzo-ball soup ($3.95), sporting an elegant broth and the airiest of matzo balls.

At Marchone's Italian Deli (11224 Triangle La.; 301-949-4150), crusty Italian loaves, anise cookies, and mini cannoli are brought in from Brooklyn several times a week. Though a black-and-white photo of Jessie and Thomas Marchone circa 1955 hangs over the cash register, nephew Frank is most likely to be behind it today. A sub made with Marchone's Italian mortadella and provolone on a crusty sub roll--ask for it; the standard issue is cottony and soft--is everything a sub should be. The Italian cold-cut version is pretty good, too (subs $4.25 to $8.05). And those mini cannoli are just the thing for dessert.

There are no prepared dishes among the Middle Eastern and Greek foodstuffs at Thomas Market (2650 University Blvd. W.; 301-942-0839), but that's never stopped me from raiding the deli case for an on-the-go snack. Buttery pale-yellow kasseri cheese--I like the mellow Bulgarian best--pita bread, and kalamata olives make for a simple but satisfying picnic. Sometimes I shake things up with Dodoni feta, the sharpest yet most refined of several varieties in the case, and zaatar, the thyme-sumac-and-sesame-crusted Lebanese flatbread. And I rarely leave without a jar of sour-cherry jam.

A stop by Rock Creek Catering (11210 Triangle La.; 301-949-8838, closed Sunday and sometimes Saturday) is almost always worthwhile. Some of the best scones and biscuits in the area--the bacon-cheddar version is sublime when warm--house-made cream waffles, muffins, and raisin-pecan crisps are just the thing for breakfast or a snack.

Lunchtime sandwiches lean toward creative combinations--cilantro-and-lime chicken with chipotle sauce, turkey with apples and bleu cheese on raisin pecan bread, and steak with caramelized shallots and rosemary horseradish sauce. Salads are lively affairs: spice-crusted salmon with mixed grains; chicken, mango, and avocado with grilled Maui onions. House-made soups, such as tomato and corn chowder, are hearty, and the roster of sides goes beyond the usual: Moroccan carrots, horseradish coleslaw, and stuffed grape leaves with yogurt dipping sauce. And because party catering is the main event here, you're apt to find surprises among the specials from day to day.