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PG County/WaPo Guide

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Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post food critic, recently released a local dining guide without a single place in Prince George's County. With the exception of the cafe at Ikea, I can't think of much myself.
I live in Arlington but my wife's sister lives on the Motgomery-PG border so I'm often there and struck by the dearth of good places. Two questions for the group:

1) Can anyone think of any good places in PG County? Places that would be worth--at least--a 20 minutes drive.
2) Although it's considered "poor" by metro Washington standards, PG County's household income is well above the national average. Thus, poverty alone can't plausibly explain why it has so few decent places to eat. Any other ideas?

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  1. Jerry's Seafood in Lanham and Pasta Plus in Laurel are usually named as "worth driving to from elsewhere" restaurants.

    Other than those, it is pretty much wasteland. I don't know why. I think it's largely perception. A Montgomery or DC address just has more "prestige".

    1. Fratelli's at Rt. 202 and the BW Parkway is pretty good Italian, especially seafood. Lambert's Seafood just a few blocks from Jerry's is pretty serviceable, and much cheaper.

      1. Well, Tom's guide also didn't have a single African restaurant (of any cuisine) in it. Do you think there are no good African restaurants in the area?

        If you're in the PG/MoCo area, start your journey at Pho 75, which is literally a few yards over the border, if my ADC map is correct. This place is an old standy and is quite good, but it's been surpassed by two excellent Pho place on Route 1 in Beltsville, Pho Vn One and Pho 88. I drive 20 minutes from my place of work to go to Pho Vn One at least once a week in the cold weather (bearing in mind that 20 minutes won't get you very far in metro area traffic).

        In addition to the pho places, there is a trio of very good Korean places: Gah-Rahm (a sprawling barbeque place), Myong Dong (a mom 'n' pop noodle place), and Da Rae Won (a decent Korean-Chinese place). All three of these are highly rated on koreandc.com.

        There are a bunch of very good, authentic Mexican restaurants in Bladensburg: El Tapatio, Taqueria Tres Reyes, and La Sirenita are probably the most well-known. Costa Alegre restaurant in Greenbelt is (imho) the equal of any of these. They have excellent soups, tacos, and tortas.

        The Food Factory II, an Afghan restaurant in College Park, serves excellent bone-in chicken kabobs and naan straight from a tandoor. Also in College Park is South Street Steaks, a Philly-style cheesesteak place that generally gets favorable marks from cheesesteak experts (I am not an expert in this, personally).

        1. A recent thread discusses the quality of BBQ in Indian Head, MD.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          Unfortunately, the soul food discussion seems centered on downtown DC. I'd wager you would find better examples in PG County. There was a place in Seat Pleasant/Landover run by a fellow who worked in New Orleans that was supposed to be very good. Unfortunately, the name escapes me.

          1. I have lived here for 20 years. PG County is weird. It is a "rich" county compared to much of the rest of the USA, but the inhabitants often don't demand the finer things in life for themselves.

            These are the places my wife and I go to for a good meal:

            Langley Park: several excellent Indian restaurants including Udupi Palace, Woodlands and Tiffin. They are all reasonably priced. All three are near the intersection of New Hampshire and University.

            Greenbelt: Siri's Chef Secret (Thai/American). Just west of Beltway Plaza. We really like the food here and always take visitors from out of town.

            Also Greenbelt: some locals like the New Deal Cafe in the Old Greenbelt Center. It's a "health food" style place which I will check out in the new few weeks.

            Hyattsville/Riverdale (Rt. 1): Calvert House Inn (this is where UMD professors go for a good meal). I have not eaten there for a couple of years and I hear they have changed owners yet again. Hope it is still excellent.

            College Park: I have about given up on Chinese food in PG County (I think all the good Chinese chefs moved to Montgomery or Howard Counties long ago). However, the lunch buffet at Seven Seas a couple of months ago was very good, but if you are used to Montgomery County eating it will be average.

            Kabobs: as someone said, Food Factory in College Park is pretty authentic (love their channa). I have had excellent kabob at the Kabob House on Rt. 198 just east of Laurel but have not had a chance to eat there for a couple of years.

            Diners: there are lots of diners in PG County. Laurel has an old Tastee Diner on Rt. 1 which serves large portions. The quality is not gourmet but it's one place I can still find sausage biscuits and gravy. For breakfast two little places in downtown Upper Marlboro are worth visiting: the Main Street Cafe and the Al's Deli. Both have great breakfast food, try the pancakes, french toast, chipped beef on toast.

            Fried chicken: Bonjangles (chain) in New Carrollton. This is the best chain fried chicken I have ever had. The only Bojangles locations in Maryland are in PG County.

            Check other threads for information on Mexican food, especially in Riverdale.

            1. Most of the food at the New Deal Cafe is average at best. Their baked goods are probably better (I recently noticed that they are carrying French loaves from Bonaparte Bakery in Savage), and they have good sodas. Mainly it's a scruffy coffee house.

              Frankly, I think the Calvert House and Seven Seas are both terrible. ymmv.

              1. Grace's Fortune is the absolute best Chinese food. It is a beautiful restaurant inside with excellent service. It is very deceiving. You would not go in unless someone told you to - nothing wrong, just very plain looking. But take a step inside . . .

                Located in the strip mall at Superior Lane and 450 in Bowie (15500 Annapolis Rd).

                6 Replies
                1. re: Turtlejay

                  I second Grace's Fortune! We have taken many visitors there for very good Chinese food. It is our Christmas Eve tradition. The management and staff are so accomodating, the interior is beautiful, and the food is delicious. A pianist plays regularly on weekends. My daughter loves the aquariums and the koi pond and my husband loves the gorgeous outfits the hostesses and Grace, the owner, wear. There is even an authentic 13th century ox cart inside the restaurant.

                  1. re: Turtlejay

                    Grace's is a lovely restaurant with really terrific food, but it's become ridiculously expensive. Somehow it seems crazy to pay $18 for Kung Pao Chicken! The Pineapple Chicken runs $24, even on the lunch menu! Their specials (which are admittedly terrific) can top $30. We've been eating there since it opened (must be 10+ years now), but nowadays we stick to Saturday lunches.

                    Hey, try Allison's in Crofton (just seconds from the Bowie/PG border -- AA County, but ALMOST PG) -- nice place, comfortable atmosphere, interesting food. It's relatively new (hasn't been open a year yet), and the menu is limited, but there's lots of potential there.

                    1. re: Kacunnin

                      What kind of Chinese food do they serve at Grace's?

                      1. re: alopez

                        Their regular menu includes all the standard Chinese offerings. They have several "specials" menus, with some Korean selections, some curries, some unusual seafood dishes, and some Thai noodle dishes. The buffet on Sundays is a good way to sample a lot of what the restaurant can do. I've never been disappointed in the food, although they aren't as careful with take-out orders (which HAVE disappointed).

                        1. re: Kacunnin

                          By "standard Chinese" I gather you mean "American Chinese"? Or am I misunderstanding? What's on the specials menu?

                          1. re: alopez

                            You're right, the printed take-out menu includes the usual "American Chinese" selections you find everywhere. When you actually eat at the restaurant, you also receive several "specials" menus, with dishes changing regularly. While I do think the restaurant is "Americanized," I will add that it is the only Chinese restaurant (outside of Chinatown in NYC) that has been willing to really prepare food "hot and spicy," the way I like it. Try as I might, most restaurants assume Americans don't want spicy food. Grace's makes a few wonderful spicy seafood dishes (a curry dish with shellfish, another with orange roughy).

                  2. I haven't lived in PG County for about 20 years, but Chef's Secret and Calvert House were "go to" places then and have stood the test of time. Pasta Plus in Laurel is still a place that we occasionally drive to for a meal.

                    Unfortunately, there is a real dirth of good places in PG that fit the definition of "fine dining". I don't know if it is a matter of racial profiling by lenders who would have to put up the money for a business to open, or if it is more a matter of perception that "fine restaurants" will do better in DC or Montgomery County. One also wonders if there is a perception by the more upscale chains that PG is undesirable as a location. It is suprising that there is not more in the way of fine dining, especially in the Greenbelt/Bowie corridor where the income is fairly high.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: dinwiddie

                      Er, I'm not sure why a "dearth of fine dining" implies that there's nothing good to eat.

                      I don't go to Rockville for fine dining, but there's plenty of good eats, like Vit Goel, Temari Cafe, and (depending on whether the new chef keeps things going) Joe's Noodle House. There are good eats in PG County, too -- Food Factory, Pho Vn One, Costa Alegre -- so I don't think the perception problem is with the business owners.

                      If you want upscale chains, there are several now in the Bowie Town Center and Capital Center -- and in my limited experience they are just as boring as upscale chains anywhere else.

                      1. re: alopez

                        I think the problem isn't that there is "nothing to eat" in PG, but that there are very few nice, relaxing places to linger over dinner and a bottle of wine. If you don't want to drive into Baltimore, DC, or Annapolis, you're pretty much stuck with those so-called "upscale chains" at Bowie Town Center and Capital Center (none of which are worth waiting in line for, if you ask me). I've lived here for over 15 years, and crowds are flocking to Carraba's and Rip's and Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. I guess when you have standing-room-only at scores of chains (including at least 10 various Tex/Mex establishments) there's little incentive to open independent restaurants that stand a good chance of failure.

                        I miss Mare e Monte, which used to offer interesting Italian fare at Freestate Mall in Bowie (it closed three years ago).

                        Costa Alegre and Food Factory are fun places in College Park, but not quite what I have in mind for a relaxing dinner. I do think it's a demographic issue -- the assumption has been made (rightly or wrongly) that the residents of PG County want plentiful and inexpensive food and they'll wait hours in line for it. Since that's exactly what's happening, it's hard to argue against it.

                    2. Jerry's Seafood (in Lanham) is an overpriced and overrated place without any ambiance and mediocre food. If you want to pay $38 for their famous "Crab Bomb," go for it -- it's a huge ball of lump crabmeat. Along with it you'll get an iceburg lettuce salad with bottled dressing and a foil-wrapped baked potato. Yummy!

                      Pasta Plus (in Laurel) is delicious, but incredibly small, crowded, and uncomfortable. The tables are literally so close together you'll be bumping chairs with the guy who sits behind you. The food can be terrific, but I wish Mare e Monte (in Bowie) was still open -- same owners, more comfortable location.

                      Calvert House (in Riverdale) is a good, basic seafood place with all the standard stuff -- nothing particularly memorable, but reliable enough.

                      Mama Stella's (in Clinton) is a friendly, comfortable Italian restaurant with fairly good food. They do a beautiful scampi dish with gorgeous shrimp, and their veal Mama Stella is tasty (in a light marsala sauce with scallions, mushrooms, and peas). Avoid the blackened offerings -- the chef has a VERY heavy hand with the blackening spices (which are more salty than spicy).

                      Bay 'n Surf (in Laurel) is a decent seafood restaurant (with a really outstanding cream of crab soup), but it's a bit pricy and pretentous. It doesn't look at all like an expensive restaurant, but the menu will surprise you.

                      Grace's Fortune (in Bowie) is an excellent restaurant that has built up quite a reputation for being the top Chinese restaurant in the area. As I mentioned earlier, I think it's gotten a bit pricy, but it's a beautiful place and you won't be disappointed in the food. Their Sunday buffet is spectacular, with an amazing array of dim sum and other interesting specialities not usually on the menu. It can get REALLY crowded, but it's worth trying.

                      If anyone knows of any other good area restaurants, I'd love to hear about them. I'm always looking for new places to try.

                      1. One of the reasons why people think there's *nothing* good in PG County is because they keep getting recs for tired, worn-out, sorry places like the Calvert House and Siri's. Maybe these places were interesting years ago, but they serve boring, bland food now.

                        Seriously, has anyone complaining about this actually been to Costa Alegre, Gah Rahm or Pho Vn One? These are not necessarily I-would-drive-from-Fairfax-county good, but they are definitely I-would-drive-20-minutes good, and worth knowing about the next time you're PG County and complaining "oh, woe is me, there's nothing to eat."

                        1. FYI: I'm not sure why the Wegman's rumour keeps coming and going...but as far as I know it is actually happening. It is the planned anchor of the Woodmore Towne Center development just across the Beltway from the (closed) Lanover Mall. Building is scheduled to start sometime in 2007. This is according to a PG County Council press release...so it had all neccessary approvals. Although I suppose it's possible that Wegman's has since pulled out of the deal.

                          Point being...I finally get to eat at Wegmans that I've been hearing people talk about forever. Although, none of my foodie friends come ffrom within the 'wegman's zone' so I really have no confimation on whether it's worth the hype. And opinions?

                          1. That's juicy. Where did you read that Wegman's is pulling out of the Woodmore store in PG?

                            1. I know the feeling. I work in Ashburn Va. But live in DC. Meaning I can drive there, wegmans, on the way home for goodies. But it has to be a planed voyage. Prior to that I lived in Fredneck MD. Still a journey there and back 85 to 70 to 340 and down 15 to 7 to 28. Adventure and food.

                              But here is the problem with the Wegman's PG site as listed on the PG Gov recorder of deeds site; It is on record as being placed right next to the Cap Blvd development. Not across 202 where all the open land exist. Besides that nifty news, PG was replaced by the announcement of a Fredneck store. 15 and 26 area.

                              I think Wegmans is re thinking the apparent sacrificing of a store to that area of PG and wants a better deal. Maybe if they move it out from the Landover area towards 450 50 or towards 301? No body wants to go to Landover. Even Redskin fans.

                              Crofton/Fredneck/Mont County all make the PG deal seem like a big grandstand, not a smart customer or business move.

                              If you go to the PG country web site the official proposed plans are listed, alone with aerial photos. The planners are out of Annapolis.

                              1. rechecked the planners web site, and did more research into this matter: Ground breaking is May 07.
                                News: A Costco is included in the offerings.
                                I find that a bonus but strange because a Sam's club just closed in the same area.

                                And after re checking, the Wegmans site is on 202 but across from the McCormich business park and Cap bulivard develpent in the last open area across from Landover mall. Meaning on the other side of the beltway.

                                1. I've pondered possible answers to dr3rdeye's second question for quite some time before responding. It's not the first time this question, or a variation, has been raised.

                                  Geography probably has more to do with it than "poverty," "racism" or, Heaven-forbid, an aversion to "the finer things in life."

                                  This thread lists a huge amount of decent restaurants in PG County. One should also consider that within a 20-30 minute radius, a PG resident can choose from all the dining (and shopping) options available in DC, Balto, Annapolis, or MoCo, for that matter.

                                  That said, a Wegmann's (or two) would be nice. Can't have the chevre spoil in traffic!