100 Best Restaurants 2010: Cava

No. 45: Cava

Cuisine: If all you know about Greek food comes by way of family-style diners trading on heaping portions of moussaka, these cozy mezzeterias—the creation of three Rockville natives and longtime friends—will be revelatory. They straddle the lines between authenticity and modernity, between lightness and heartiness.

Mood: The slinky hostess in her cocktail dress could have come straight from a hot club; the waitstaff wears jeans and black T-shirts. Those polarities define these brick-walled, bare-tabled restaurants, which have a good deal more heart and soul than a first glance suggests.

Best for: Big groups of friends; a night of dining where you can feel free to roll up your sleeves and get your napkin messy.

Best dishes: Spicy lamb sliders with tzatziki; olive-oil-drenched squares of watermelon with mint and feta; zesty, grandmother-style meatballs in tomato sauce; a tangy, full-bodied avgolemono soup; Disco Fries, a sort of Greek sloppy joe, with cinnamon-spiced braised lamb spilling over crispy French fries; superbly thick Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts; loukoumades, or Greek doughnuts.

Insider tips: Portions are bigger and often heartier than at most small-plates spots, usually falling somewhere between a standard appetizer and an entrée—nearly twice the size of a tapa.

Service: ••

DC location open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Rockville location open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.