Himalayan Heritage | Indian/Nepalese
This little gem opened in November, the sister of an Adams Morgan restaurant with the same name. Three Nepalese partners own both places (with a fourth partner at the D.C. location), and there’s a lot to like about the new outpost, not the least of which are its native décor, culinary authenticity and long, intriguing menu. The place features Nepalese specialties, Indian takes on Chinese chow mein, and dishes of the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley, who have their own distinct cuisine. The food here is fairly fiery, but with layers of flavor.
Favorites: Fried cauliflower with sweet-and-spicy sauce is a simple, no-fail starter. Those who like more involved appetizers can opt for the samay baji; a Newari dish, it contains fried catfish, roast chicken, soybeans, ginger strips, boiled-then-fried egg and soaked, uncooked rice, with each item having a different meaning (i.e., health, longevity, etc.). Also be sure to try one of the varieties of momos (Nepalese dumplings); the vegetable-filled ones are particularly good. Since the entrée sauces are so sensational, the puffy naan will get a workout as a scooper. We’d recommend the Nepali-style shrimp curry or the aloo tama bodi, a vegetarian dish with potatoes, pickled bamboo shoots, black-eyed peas and spices. And save room for gajar ko haluwa, the dessert made with grated carrot, sugar, ghee and milk. It’s sweet, creamy and made with a vegetable, all at the same time.
4925 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-1858, www.himalayanheritagedc.com
Passage to India | Indian
New Delhi-born owner Sudhir Seth is not only a great chef (he has cooked for such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth and former president Bill Clinton), but a bit of a culinary historian. As such, he has turned the menu into a teaching moment, dividing it into the four regions of India to distinguish the different dishes and flavors of each area. As the website of this elegant, longtime eatery notes, India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people, more than a dozen languages and 800 recognized dialects, and its cuisine reflects its diverse history, religion, climate and geography. This is the place to experience the subtleties and complexities of it all.
Favorites: Start with giant, smoky tandoori sea scallops, or the warm crab masala, with its chunks of lump meat sautéed with onions and herbs. So many interesting choices follow, but two top contenders include the East Indian doi macch, consisting of fish (grouper, the night we had it) cooked in onion-yogurt sauce flavored with cloves; and the West Indian saliboti jardaloo, a Parsi-style lamb stew with apricots and very thin, crispy potatoes that look like straw. Order a side of onion-stuffed kulcha (leavened flatbread), and finish with jam-e-gul (milk dumplings in rose-flavored syrup).
4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 301-656-3373, www.passagetoindia.info
Raku | Japanese
Raku, meaning “happy” in Japanese, has long been a Bethesda Magazine reader favorite, and a meal here makes us smile, too. The bento box-size place, which consistently turns out high-caliber food, is perennially packed, thanks to chef and co-owner Masaru Homma’s long and interesting menu of sushi, noodle soups, Asian fusion dishes and sake.
Favorites: The sushi here is better than average, but we prefer the red coconut curry and the noodle soups, with multilayered broths swimming with goodies (the dashi broth with udon noodles, vegetables and shrimp tempura is one standout). Also worth repeating: wok-charred sea bass with ginger-tomato sauce, king oyster mushrooms and broccolini; and the pan-roasted chicken breast with lemon basil sauce, grilled asparagus and sautéed egg noodles pad Thai-style.
7240 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-8680, www.rakuasiandining.com
Sushiko | Japanese
Sushi is as ubiquitous these days as rotisserie chicken, with plenty of mediocre options. Sushiko’s sushi, however, rises to a whole other level: It’s like the difference between a Big Mac and a kobe beef burger. Long a darling of serious sushi eaters, the restaurant slices its super-fresh, top-quality fish to order. This serene Friendship Heights location opened in 2008 and is the offspring of Washington’s oldest sushi bar, the Sushiko in Glover Park, which opened 36 years ago. Tokyo-born Daisuke Utagawa is the owner and creative director behind both.
Favorites: All sushi lovers have their favorites, but neophytes might go for the combination platters or opt for the restaurant’s signature flounder carpaccio, salmon ceviche, tuna tartare or the sweet and spicy roll. And, there are plenty of excellent cooked options, too, including delicate lobster-asparagus soup, spicy broiled mussels and rock shrimp tempura.
5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-961-1644, www.sushikorestaurants.com
Moa | Korean
Blink and you might miss this storefront eatery tucked among auto parts and flooring shops on Wilkins Avenue in Rockville—and you definitely wouldn’t want to do that. With gracious owner Elisa Choi as your guide, this is a great place to “get together” (the meaning of “moa”) and explore Korean cuisine. The minimalist decor includes a colorful array of Post-It notes with handwritten messages from happy diners.
Favorites: The seafood pancake appetizer—a plate-size crispy frittata chock full of squid, clams, shrimp and scallions—could be a satisfying meal by itself. But save room for galbi dolsot bibimbap, a black hot pot filled with rice, strips of short rib, grated carrots, soybean sprouts and cucumber. In keeping with tradition, the meal comes with banchan, or side dishes, which here include lettuce, kimchi, radishes, pickles and bellflower root.
12300 Wilkins Ave., Rockville, 301-881-8880, moakoreanrestaurant.weebly.com