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looking for inexpensive, tasty, and eclectic in Baltimore and Bethesda

shpeizmaven Sep 25, 2009 04:54 AM

I'm going to be in the area for a few days and I'm looking for interesting dining spots in the area. Good food trumps decor. Inexpensive would be good. Unique to the area would be a bonus. In Bal'more, close to JHU campus (walkable if possible) would be best. Bethesda area can be anywhere driveable.

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  1. j
    jac0077 RE: shpeizmaven Sep 25, 2009 06:00 AM

    Bethesda - Tastee Diner for true diner classics inside and out. Original dining car style building. There's a burritos place on the edge of town that makes the best authentic Mexican food and burritos anywhere. It used to be called Chelas but its name has changed. It is right off Wisc. Ave (355) heading north. There's an Amoco gas station on the corner. Turn on that street and it's on your right. If all else fails, Google Radio Shack Bethesda, go there, and ask them and they will tell you where to find. I would also hit a new place for true Philly cheesesteaks called South Street. Lastly, I would try and visit Mia's pizza. Chef Melissa Ballinger really knows what she's doing. Italian made brick-oven turns out some serious Napolitan pizza. They are certified by the Italian organization that rates authentic pizza parlors. Lastly, I would try Hard Times Cafe. A DC area chain of chili parlors. Pretty good chili in different styles, other pub type food and great beer on tap Have fun!

    2 Replies
    1. re: jac0077
      Pool Boy RE: jac0077 Sep 25, 2009 06:23 AM

      Bethesda recs for something unique-ish to the area --

      Chicken on the Run Peruvian Chicken. Very good, get the dark meat.
      Jaleo - micro chain of tapas in the Andreas empire. Plates start at $3 or so per. Very good.
      Vace Deli - hard to find. Very good pizza, nice meatball subs, great but small selection of Italian deli stuff, very good Italian Cold Cut sandwich. Not unique but just good.

      There are lots more Bethesda places to recommend, but they are more expensive. Maybe you could define 'cheap'.

      Also, I strongly disagree with jac0077's suggestion of South Street Steaks. I've been there a few times and they do a few things wrong that make me not want to return -- they sometimes forget to put the cheese on the cheesesteak (believe it or not!), and they overcook the meat. The latter might be a personal preference, but they opt for the oddly popular 'hacked to death' style of meat in the cheesesteak that, if you do not pay careful attention, it is easy to overcook, and they do overcook the meat with alarming regularity. Part of the problem, I think, is that they PRECOOK the meat sometimes and stick it in a metal container on the stove top and scoop out some of the partially cooked meat to finish it off right before making the cheesesteak. Very much NOT recommended.

      I *do* agree with the Tastee Diner recommendation, a true classic local joint of a diner.

      1. re: jac0077
        Doh RE: jac0077 Sep 25, 2009 07:29 AM

        I would caution on the burrito place. Admittedly I have not been there is a while (since it changed its name), but in my experience it is the kind of place that I would like to love, but the food isn't really that good (and I would hesitate to describe it as "authentic").

      2. r
        repete RE: shpeizmaven Sep 25, 2009 09:16 AM

        "Inexpensive, tasty, and eclectic" doesn't often fit in the same sentence as Bethesda. Since you have a car, drive to Wheaton.

        1 Reply
        1. re: repete
          repete RE: repete Sep 25, 2009 10:46 AM

          probably should have listed a few examples for Wheaton ... Bethesda is just a bit too pasteurized, often overpriced, and yuppified for me. These all fall in the cheap to dirt cheap range:

          --the Peruvian chicken places, starting with but not only El Pollo Rico
          --two of the best Thai places in the region: Ruan and Nava
          --nice Scottish fare and single malts at Royal Mile, though I haven't tried the haggis ap
          --Irene's multiple pupuserias. III is the largest and liveliest.
          --Max's excellent shawarma and solid falafel

        2. d
          dining with doc RE: shpeizmaven Sep 25, 2009 09:40 AM

          Panang: malaysian, cheap, huge menu
          Jaleo: tapas
          BGR: burgers
          South Street Steaks: for a person who lived in Philly for 6 years, this is as close as it gets including amorosa rolls

          2 Replies
          1. re: dining with doc
            Gigi007 RE: dining with doc Sep 25, 2009 01:04 PM

            As usual, dining with doc's recs are spot on. I second all of his recs, especially Jaleo and BGR. I also second Pool Boy's rec of Vace Italian deli (i love their pizza!).

            1. re: dining with doc
              Dennis S RE: dining with doc Oct 14, 2009 05:06 PM

              Oh I wished I woulda remembered either BGR or South Street. I was carpooling and we got out early (at 10:45), otherwise I would've done something. Saw Rice Paddies Grill.

              Any word on the falafel truck?

            2. s
              stephanieg RE: shpeizmaven Sep 25, 2009 10:25 AM

              There are a few places walkable from JHU that fit your bill. The Paper Moon diner is one-- cheap, funky decor, and generally good diner-style food (including breakfast all day). Tambers is a favorite among JHU students. It has Indian and American food, and is good quality for low prices. There are also 2 very good Indian restaurants, the Ambassador (which has an affordable lunch buffet, but is otherwise pretty pricy) and the Carlyle Club, which just re-opened as a "coastal Indian" restaurant. I have yet to go there, but it has gotten good reviews. There is also a Donna's on St. Paul St. I've never been to that location (it's a local establishment with a few locations in the area), but the Donnas I've been to have always served excellent food with high quality ingredients.

              4 Replies
              1. re: stephanieg
                lawhound RE: stephanieg Sep 25, 2009 10:52 AM

                The Indian food at Tambers, except for the naan is pretty bad. I had some sort of fish allegedly cooked in the tandoor a few weeks ago and it was close to inedible. The Donna's rec is right on, thought -- the food there is of unformly high quality.

                1. re: lawhound
                  stephanieg RE: lawhound Sep 25, 2009 12:19 PM

                  I've only had the vegetarian dishes there and they are pretty good for the price. Plenty of fresh vegetables, flavorful sauces, etc. Definitely far from the best Indian food in the area, but good for what you pay. And definitely a unique place, with the American and Indian combo, and with a young feel with all the students there.

                  1. re: stephanieg
                    chicken kabob RE: stephanieg Sep 26, 2009 08:34 AM


                    Rice Paddies Grill (Vietnamese)
                    Burger Joint
                    Moby Dick (Persian)
                    Raku (Asian fusion)
                    Organic To Go (salads, pizzas, calzones)
                    Tastee Diner

                2. re: stephanieg
                  John Talbott RE: stephanieg Dec 17, 2009 01:06 PM

                  Re: Donna's on St Paul: New chef, very disappointing
                  Donnas, 3101 St Paul has a new chef Andy Davis and Colette and I ate there Sunday night.
                  Back-story: I'm a big fan of Donna Crivello and have generally loved what she did/does but the Charles Village location will not see me again.
                  The pasta with sausage was overwhelming and Colette found the pear salad and bean soup only OK.
                  Bill (with a bottle of OK wine) = $57.93

                  John Talbott

                3. s
                  Steve RE: shpeizmaven Sep 26, 2009 08:46 AM

                  My top three choices in Bethesda:

                  Faryab for Afghan. Dinner only. This is a pretty nice place, so not dirt cheap. Go for the buranee appetizer and the pumpkin stew served with rice.

                  Daruma, a small Japanese Market that serves udon, ramen and small Japanese meals at a counter inside.

                  Passage to India, also a very nice place. Order the condiments (pickles and spices) on the last page and anything else that tickles your fancy. Again,this won't be dirt cheap, but it will be excellent.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Steve
                    Gigi007 RE: Steve Sep 26, 2009 09:25 AM

                    Re: Passage to India, the food is great, but dinner entrees average around $18-$25. The lunch menu is more reasonable ($10-$15).

                    1. re: Gigi007
                      chicken kabob RE: Gigi007 Sep 26, 2009 01:25 PM

                      I forgot to mention Olazzo (basic Italian- I love their meatballs)
                      Rita's crepes (literally a crepe stand) across the street from Barnes & Noble.
                      Mia's (gourmet, personal pizzas)
                      Corner Slice (New York style, by the slice or pie)

                      1. re: chicken kabob
                        Pool Boy RE: chicken kabob Sep 28, 2009 09:32 AM

                        I disagree with the suggestion of Corner Slice. I find their sauce rather underseasoned -- consistently. Who wants bland pizza?

                      2. re: Gigi007
                        Steve RE: Gigi007 Sep 26, 2009 03:17 PM

                        The online menu (maybe outdated?) has vegetarian entrees at $14 and others starting at $16 for dinner. Not cheap, but hardly a lavish night out, either.

                        However, I do think the pickles are MUST ORDER, so this would add to the expense..

                        1. re: Steve
                          Gigi007 RE: Steve Sep 26, 2009 03:56 PM

                          I suppose you could get away with a $15 vegetarian dinner at Passage to India, but that might not include accompaniments, naan, etc. The few times I've been there, I've ordered a meat dish or some sort of combination dish w/ meat for around $22-$25. Throw in a few delicious (and essential) sides and accompaniments, and you're talking around $30+/per person.

                    2. r
                      rarotonga RE: shpeizmaven Sep 27, 2009 06:47 AM

                      Doh - "Inexpensive, tasty, and eclectic" doesn't often fit in the same sentence as Bethesda." Ha - took the words right out of my mouth.

                      To add to other recommendations (Bethesda):
                      - there's a Turkish food stand at the Wednesday farmer's market that's eclectic and cheap
                      - Shangri-La has some Nepali dishes and is good; not my favorite Indian in town, but workable
                      - Tako Grill has good nabeyaki udon

                      And wow, I had no idea Chela's was still there; I never get that far up Wisconsin Ave. I remember going there once back in the early 80s but being disappointed because they used American cheese so I've never been back.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rarotonga
                        Teddybear RE: rarotonga Sep 27, 2009 08:06 AM

                        Not Chela's anymore -- Delicia's (I think). It's on Highland Avenue. Never been there myself, but looks busy at lunch.

                      2. h
                        hon RE: shpeizmaven Sep 27, 2009 08:21 AM

                        in Baltimore, Hampden is right next to the JHU campus where you will find
                        Rocket to Venus

                        Holy Frijoles

                        The Golden West Cafe

                        and in Remington right behind JHU
                        The Dizz

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hon
                          indcgirl RE: hon Oct 14, 2009 04:17 PM

                          imho, holy frijoles is just awful. ugh and after my last visit to golden west (couple of weeks ago), i now agree with my husband that it is "gloppy food." ugh. points for "eclectic atmosphere" but i will not be back.

                        2. l
                          lawhound RE: shpeizmaven Oct 15, 2009 07:57 AM

                          This may be too late for your Baltimore/Hopkins inquiry, but there is a small place on the west side of JHU, on San Martin Drive/Wyman Park Drive, called Cafe Azafran. Very simple, but good breakfast and lunch. Open only Monday-Friday.

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