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Hidden gems in Bethesda?

I'm looking for great food in Bethesda - not a fancy meal, just a yummy hole-in-the-wall would be fine - and not a chain. I'll try David Craig and Black's one of these days, but right now I am looking for something low-key. I was thinking of Louisiana Express but have seen recent posts that it is going downhill. How is Pizza Zero? Love ethnic food but have not found anything wonderful in Bethesda yet. Does anyone know of any hidden gems?

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  1. Not really holes-in-the-wall, but Cornucopia on Norfolk is an excellent Italian deli and Red Tomato on St. Elmo is reliable Italian - I've had pizza and sandwiches there and the pasta looks good. I like Mia's on (I believe) Cordell as well. It's a cute place, but I know there have been mixed reviews.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cookiegirl

      There is a new hole in the wallish rice paddies grill on Bethesda Ave off of Wisc -- but I haven't tried it yet. Penang (a couple blocks down on Bethesda Ave) is an always reliable ethnic place -- gotta have the roti. And Black's is really good -- go during happy hour and try the bar specials. Also love the seafood stew -- at lunch price, it's a steal.

    2. I only started going to Lousiana Express about a year ago (so I dont know if it was any better) but the food is excellent esp. for the price. Cornucopia is also very good esp. the prusciutto sandwich with roasted peppers. Everything else that I like are chains (Moby Dicks, Chesapeake Chicken and Penang).

      1. Daruma - Bowls of Ramen and light Japanese meals inside a small market. High quality.

        Faryab - definitely the best Afghan in the DC area. Buranee to start, aush is a great soup, and get the pumpkin.

        Passage to India - Start off by ordering the spices and pickles (back part of the menu?), and go for the black lentils, they are divine. Vegetable dishes really excel here.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          Steve's dead-on here. Not much by way of great hole-in-the-wall places in Bethesda. Also, try Guardado's and, at a bit steeper price point (but still well below David Craig if you're careful), Jaleo. Moby Dick and Chicken on the Run are very solid for everyday cheap eats.

          1. re: MartyL

            Of course, I found Daruma thanks to a rec from you.

            What is Guardado's and what do they do well?

            1. re: Steve

              Late to the thread, but anyway . . . Guardado's is a great tapas place - my wife and I go there all the time. We've never made it to the entree menu. The gambas al ajillo is well done, as is the goat-cheese stuffed piquillo pepper. Good calamari. The desserts are fantastic, especially the flan. And Reyna mixes a kicking house margarita. Reservations are a good idea on Friday and Saturday nights. This place is a real hidden gem.

            2. re: MartyL

              To be honest, I haven't been to the Bethesda Moby Dick, but I just had a falafel sandwich from the Dupont location and it was divine. I've also been thinking about their hummus and pita (warm! fresh!) for days, and finally gave in. Getting the falafel was just an excuse to go there and get the hummus and pita really. Delicious.

              1. re: MartyL

                Chicken on the Run closed. I haven't been too impressed with Moby Dick. Horrible lunch salad with two slices of cucumber, two olives, and two cubes of feta. Felafel sandwich was good but not great. I've been hesitant to go back.

                1. re: Ellen

                  Chicken on the Run is alive and well. Chesapeake Chicken has recently closed.

                  Gotta go for the kabobs at Moby Dick (unless you're vegetarian, of course).

                  1. re: AndrewF

                    You're right! It was CC that just closed. As we speak I'm eating Pho from Rice Paddies Grill around the corner. It's very good. Their rice noodle dishes look great too but I haven't tried them.

                    1. re: Ellen

                      I went to Paddies a week after it opened and I thought it was just passable. I had the grilled pork with rice. The pork was pretty good, but everything wasn't made the traditional or usual way that accompanies a pork dish. I left thinking they were trying to skate by on just 'authentic' enough. In other words, it works in Bethesda, but not at the Eden Center. It would never been seen in Los Angeles or Orange County. I haven't been back since and I live in the neighborhood. Granted this was a week after opening, I'll swing and see if things have improved. I wonder how business is? Walking home in the evening, it's always pretty empty. Do they do good business at lunch?

                      When I went, I did not remember the menu having Pho. That's my number one comfort food. I'll have to check it out...god how awesome would it be if there's good pho in my neighborhood. I used to live in Rosslyn and near by Pho 75. Awful.

                      1. re: tdonline

                        I had the lemongrass chicken and found it to be really good. The pricing is also very reasonable and there was plenty of food for lunch the next day.

                        My co-workers and I mourn Chesapeake Chicken. It was one of our favorite lunch places.

                        1. re: tdonline

                          I tried the rice noodle bow with grilled pork. Nothing to blow you away and not terribly authentic, but it was still satisfying with lots of veggies and herbs along with the noodles. I got a spring roll with it and that was pretty mediocre. I would go back for the Pho, however. Not as good as what you can get in Arlington or Eden Center or LA, but good enough and I can walk to it for lunch.

                      2. re: AndrewF

                        AndrewF, You are right Chicken on the Run is still open. We picked up the family meal for dinner last thurday. Maybe it was just an off night but the food seemed different... the chicken was less spicy and mayo dip was bland. My kid still loves their yucca . Did they change owners/ recipes?

                  2. We had a great low-key dinner at Mia's Pizzas. had a wonderful salad, a very solid pizza from the wood-burning oven, and a great reasonably priced wine. we will definitely go back.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: startsev

                      It's so sad. I used to LOVE Louisiana Express - it was a great cheap eat, but man has it gone downhill. I don't know what happened (if they were sold or what?!) but after 2 awful (seriously gross) meals - we'll never go back again.

                      The only real "deal" in Bethesda is Moby Dick - a sold quality meal for the same price as a McDonald's combo! Also Philly Mikes is great for a cheesesteak fix and their Old Bay fries!

                      1. re: beauxgoris

                        Have to agree about Philadelphia Mike's. One of the best cheesesteaks in the DC area, better than the over-rated South Street Steaks in College Park.

                        1. re: Mister Big

                          I grew up in Philly, and I strongly disagree. When Philly Mike's first opened, it was pretty good, but now there's little in common with an authentic Philly-style cheesesteak and the stuff they serve at Mike's. Basically, the rolls are the wrong style, the steak is the wrong cut (and poor quality), and the toppings rarely seem fresh.

                          South Street Steaks, while not perfect, is far closer to what I grew up eating, and much higher quality IMHO.

                          1. re: DanielK

                            Interesting. I heard the exact opposite from a friend from Philly. He thought that S.S.S. were trash.

                            1. re: beauxgoris

                              Being from Philly doesn't automatically make one a bellweather on cheesesteaks (myself included). Otherwise there wouldn't be arguments in Philly over Jim's vs. Pat's vs. Geno's vs. Tony Luke's, etc.

                              Philly Mike's puts mayo on steaks; SSS won't. I rest my case. :-)

                              1. re: DanielK

                                ^^WHA?! Maybe we're ordering different things? I've NEVER had mayo on a cheesesteak there. That sounds awful.

                                1. re: beauxgoris

                                  When PM's first opened, they had two menu boards - Philly Style, with just cheese and onions, and "Washington Style", which included lettuce, tomato, and mayo. They've changed the menu many times over the years, but the last time I was in one, they asked if you wanted "everything", which meant LTM.

                                  1. re: DanielK

                                    The one I order the most has sweet and hot peppers (I ask for the hots) sauteed onions mushrooms& steak and cheese.

                                  2. re: beauxgoris

                                    I'm from Philly. My sister gets cheesteak hoagies, which included mayo. I think they're an abomination. And we're in the same family! No one can agree but we'lll fight to the death over who's right. Give me Chinks, Johns or Tony Lukes anyday. wit, no wiz.

                          2. re: beauxgoris

                            I was just going to post asking if anyone knew if Louisiana Express had been sold. We were there for breakfast over the weekend for the first time in a while and none of the usual guys were working. I was hoping that maybe they'd just taken some vacation days... but if you've gone a few times lately and it's been different, I fear the worst.

                            1. re: wombat

                              That would be a shame, I've loved going there for years and would miss it greatly. Bethesda needs more places like that, but you might be right, maybe they lost the lease. Hope not.

                        2. Cornucopia: great crusty bread sandwiches with hand carved proscuitti and other high quality italian meats, cheeses and balsalmic.
                          Burrito house: very crummy but good, just off wisc ave on the right before you get to woodmont. no menu, paper plates thumb tacked to wall with all of the things you can get.
                          Penang: Malaysian place out of NY. huge menu
                          Louisianna Express: have been going for years and have not had a bad meal.
                          Bethesda Crab House: Hardshells and cold beer on picnic tables
                          Rio Grande Cafe: Love the plato guordo with shrimp wrapped with bacon dipped in garlic butter and very good costilla's (ribs with a dry rub). good quality tex mex

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: dining with doc

                            Glad to see that the Bethesda Crab House is still alive and kicking. I lived in DC in the late 70s and 80s, thought this was a great place. There used to be a natural foods co-op across the street, is that still there?

                            1. re: steinpilz

                              The Bethesda Co-op moved to MacArthur Blvd. in Cabin John over 20 years ago. It's still there, though their business plummeted when Fresh Fields (now Whole Foods) opened up.

                          2. Pizza Zero is "argentinian" pizza, basically flat bread with toppings. That said, not bad if you know what you're getting. Salads ok, and a few good beer/wine choices. I like the Pines of Rome, but it is the subject of mucho controversy. If you can go when they have scallops in shell, you will never have a better meal there. Bethesda is being overtaken by Irish bar chains these days, and the future is controlled by Federal Realty's product mix and high rents. A true hole in the wall, with good burgers and a throw-back atmosphere is the Barking Dog on Elm. Good beer, good barkeeps, no 'tude.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: nickdanger

                              I second the Barking Dog- they have $5 burgers on Tuesdays which are excellent. I would stay away from Pines of Rome unless you are looking for runny sauce and chewy noodles.

                              1. re: Goldielocks1225

                                Tried Pines of Rome, and I have to agree... the calamari was definitely from a box and still was not cooked right. They left a paper towel on the plate, and it could not handle the leftover oil. The homemade lasagna was fine but nothing I would go back for.

                              2. re: nickdanger

                                where is the barking dog on Elm? Been here a while and never seen it! sounds great would love to try.

                                1. re: katiesir

                                  It's about mid block just below Wisconsin.

                                2. re: nickdanger

                                  I tried Pizza Zero for lunch the other week and had the pizza and empanadas. The empanadas were excellent. The pizza (we tried two personal-size versions) was just ok. They came out slightly underdone and were underwhelming as a result. THey would have been much better if they'd been cooked enough. The place was almost completely empty so they don't seem to be doing that well, at lease for lunch. It's pretty cheap -- a 7.99 lunch special included a pizza, drink and empanada I believe, so it might be worth another try. If you do go, make sure to ask them to make the pizza crispy. I've been back to Lemon Grass Cafe for their pho ($7.95) a few times since this post started and it's been consistently good.

                                3. I love getting sushi at Hinata, the tiny Japanese market on St. Elmo. You can take out or eat there (there's a counter in front of the sushi bar, or a few tables scattered in the store). Not too expensive and always fresh, in my experiences there at least.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: gyozagirl

                                    I'm a fan of Hinata as well. I've eaten there a couple of times but more often come in for groceries. The lady who's always working there (owner?) is friendly and always willing to explain things to me - how to cook/prepare things and such.

                                    In the summer they sell fresh produce from some Japanese farm in Delaware - including my favorite item, Shishito peppers which are small green and mild, about 5% of which are randomly surprisingly spicy, less so in the beginning of the season, and more so at the end (very similar to pimientos de padrĂ³n if anyone has heard of those). They'll also sell potted shiso plants - an herb in the mint/basil family.

                                  2. next to louisiana express is a small chinese place called shanghai village
                                    its good for vegetarians
                                    and cheap
                                    and there used to be a very good salvadorean place called costa del sol off of cordell
                                    but i think it was bought out and became mexican

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chinesefooddude

                                      Costa del Sol still has excellent Salvandoran dishes. Great pupusas, but other good stuff, too, esp. among the appetizers. I'm generally leery of Mexican dishes at Salvadoran places (and I honestly don't know if the current owners/chefs are Salvadoran, Mexican, or something else), but I tried their chicken in mole poblano, and it was really good.

                                    2. IMO only Louisiana Express qualifies for hole-in-the-wall status (well, there is the diner, but I haven't been for years), but here's my list anyhow:

                                      Raku ... I haven't been able to move past the bento boxes, but the noodle soups look great.
                                      Louisiana Express ... good for a casual weekend breakfast/brunch, and they open early.
                                      Foong Lin ... good Chinese food, friendly service
                                      Mia's ... really really good pizza.
                                      Matuba ... good sushi, casual setting

                                      1. In addition to Hinata for sushi, my wife and I frequent Aji Nippon on Arlington Road near Bradley. Very straightforward, no frills, but consistently good and fresh. It won't be a mind-blowing sushi experience, but it's very good for what it is and reasonably priced.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: AndrewF

                                          Now I want to try "chicken on the run"!

                                        2. without picking thru all other 40 replies to see if others have already posted this, i would suggest Tavira. It's portuguese and although technically in chevy chase, it's very close to bethesda. old world service, good food & a loyal local crowd.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: DCDOLL

                                            I've never been, but a good friend of mine recently married someone from Portugal. He'd been to Tavira several times, and pronounced the food "mediocre and Americanized."

                                            Only one data point, and second hand, but I thought worth mentioning.

                                            1. re: DanielK

                                              hm. guess it's becaues i've never been to portugal but we like it!

                                          2. Louisiana Express is closed!

                                            1. David Craig is closed now. My personal favorite restaurants are Raku, Burger Joint and Moby Dick for their chicken kabob w/ rice or bread (hence the screenname.) Rice Paddies Grill and Penang and MIa's Pizza are pretty good, too. Vincent's has a good gyro-but I would mostly recommend for take-out. Norky's is new-great Peruvian rottissirie chicken