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Hidden gems in Bethesda?

laurentobias Nov 30, 2007 08:17 AM

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?

  1. c
    chicken kabob Jan 2, 2009 05:47 PM

    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

    1. d
      dining with doc May 1, 2008 06:48 AM

      Louisiana Express is closed!

      1. d
        DCDOLL Apr 30, 2008 01:21 PM

        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
          DanielK Apr 30, 2008 01:23 PM

          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
            DCDOLL May 7, 2008 03:16 PM

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

        2. a
          AndrewF Jan 17, 2008 06:10 AM

          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
            beauxgoris Apr 29, 2008 10:05 PM

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

          2. Chocolatechipkt Dec 17, 2007 08:41 AM

            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. c
              chinesefooddude Dec 15, 2007 04:56 AM

              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
                potrzebie Dec 17, 2007 09:32 AM

                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. g
                gyozagirl Dec 5, 2007 08:15 AM

                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
                  skayam Jan 2, 2009 02:33 PM

                  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 padrón if anyone has heard of those). They'll also sell potted shiso plants - an herb in the mint/basil family.

                2. n
                  nickdanger Dec 4, 2007 12:54 PM

                  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
                    Goldielocks1225 Dec 20, 2007 12:37 PM

                    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
                      laurentobias Dec 22, 2007 07:29 AM

                      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
                      katiesir May 1, 2008 08:26 AM

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

                      1. re: katiesir
                        Ellen May 1, 2008 12:02 PM

                        It's about mid block just below Wisconsin.

                      2. re: nickdanger
                        Ellen May 1, 2008 12:08 PM

                        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. d
                        dining with doc Dec 2, 2007 01:26 PM

                        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
                          steinpilz Dec 4, 2007 01:01 PM

                          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
                            potrzebie Dec 17, 2007 09:33 AM

                            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. s
                          startsev Dec 1, 2007 08:23 PM

                          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
                            beauxgoris Dec 2, 2007 08:15 AM

                            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
                              Mister Big Dec 2, 2007 10:41 AM

                              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
                                DanielK Dec 2, 2007 11:45 AM

                                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
                                  beauxgoris Jan 13, 2008 03:43 PM

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

                                  1. re: beauxgoris
                                    DanielK Jan 13, 2008 05:02 PM

                                    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
                                      beauxgoris Jan 13, 2008 06:10 PM

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

                                      1. re: beauxgoris
                                        DanielK Jan 13, 2008 06:53 PM

                                        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
                                          beauxgoris Jan 13, 2008 07:46 PM

                                          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
                                          Ellen Jan 18, 2008 02:56 PM

                                          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
                                  wombat Dec 23, 2007 08:41 AM

                                  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
                                    rumple Dec 23, 2007 08:26 PM

                                    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. s
                                Steve Nov 30, 2007 09:16 AM

                                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
                                  MartyL Nov 30, 2007 06:26 PM

                                  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
                                    Steve Dec 2, 2007 07:11 AM

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

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

                                    1. re: Steve
                                      BEM001 Jan 16, 2008 07:12 PM

                                      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
                                      kallisti Dec 5, 2007 08:56 AM

                                      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
                                        Ellen Jan 17, 2008 06:36 AM

                                        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
                                          AndrewF Jan 17, 2008 09:10 AM

                                          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
                                            Ellen Jan 17, 2008 09:16 AM

                                            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
                                              tdonline Jan 19, 2008 09:28 AM

                                              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
                                                Goldielocks1225 Jan 19, 2008 03:10 PM

                                                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
                                                  Ellen Jan 23, 2008 04:57 AM

                                                  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
                                                keithdcil Jan 24, 2008 07:24 AM

                                                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. re: Steve
                                            cleveland park Jan 14, 2008 11:02 AM

                                            This is right on

                                          3. g
                                            Goldielocks1225 Nov 30, 2007 09:14 AM

                                            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. c
                                              cookiegirl Nov 30, 2007 09:01 AM

                                              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
                                                Marissa Nov 30, 2007 09:13 AM

                                                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.

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