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

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. 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

      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

        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. "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

          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. Bethesda:
          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

            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

              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. 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

                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

                  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

                    Bethesda-

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

                2. re: stephanieg

                  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
                  http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

                3. 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

                    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

                      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

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

                      2. re: Gigi007

                        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

                          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. 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

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

                      2. in Baltimore, Hampden is right next to the JHU campus where you will find
                        Rocket to Venus
                        www.rockettovenus.com

                        Holy Frijoles
                        www.holyfrijoles.net

                        The Golden West Cafe
                        www.goldenwestcafe.com

                        and in Remington right behind JHU
                        The Dizz
                        www.thedizzbaltimore.com

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hon

                          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. 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.