Bethesda Magazine’s Favorite New Restaurants
More than 70 restaurants have opened in the Bethesda area in the last two years. Food critic David Hagedorn chooses his 10 favorites.
10. True Food Kitchen
Juice made with ginger, apples, celery, cucumber and lemon is on the menu at True Food Kitchen, along with Margherita pizza and kale guacamole. Photo by Deb Lindsey
True confession: When it opened in the Solaire Bethesda apartment building in June 2017, I expected not to like True Food Kitchen, the 22-location restaurant chain whose menus are based on health and wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet pyramid. That translates into a diet mostly reliant on vegetables (unlimited Asian mushrooms!), fruits, grains and legumes, with protein and healthy fats allowed here and there, along with a smidgen of chocolate and red wine.
The first thing I notice on a visit is the enormity of the 6,400-square-foot space, which seats about 200 people inside and 34 on a patio. The décor includes lime-green vinyl banquettes with rows of spiky snake plants behind them, hanging Edison bulbs and industrial pendant lamps, and an open kitchen and long bar.
All True Food Kitchens have the same menu of appetizers, starters, salads, bowls, pizzas, sandwiches, entrées and desserts, and many items are rotated seasonally. I thoroughly enjoy my 230-calorie Thai grapefruit martini, but the nonalcoholic drink options are also noteworthy, especially a lushly green juice of ginger, apples, celery, cucumber and lemon. Many offerings on the 30-bottle wine list come in 6- or 9-ounce pours.
Though I am suspicious about the notion of kale guacamole, I enjoy True Food’s version, where chopped roasted poblano pepper, bits of pink grapefruit and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds are added to the mix of avocado and kale. The Margherita pizza is a credible rendition of that classic. An entrée of grilled salmon with farro, quinoa and pumpkin-seed pesto, along with an arugula and golden beet salad, hits the spot, even if the dish could use an extra bit of zing. Dessert, in my case a small pudding of whipped coconut cream, puréed banana and chia seeds garnished with strips of toasted coconut, comes without a side dish you often get at other places: guilt.
7100 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda | 240-200-1257 | truefoodkitchen.com
9. Lina’s Diner and Bar
The croque-monsieur ham sandwich with nutmeg-laced cream sauce and Gruyère cheese is called a croque-madame when it’s topped with an egg. Photo by Mike Morgan
Chef Joancarlo Parkhurst, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Manhattan, started cooking in restaurants while in college to pay the bills. He caught the restaurant bug and, after a brief try at law school (he hated it), started a 20-year career going back and forth between line cooking and management. A gig as a corporate trainer with Ruth’s Chris brought him to Bethesda 15 years ago. After other managerial stints with Blue Ridge Restaurant Group and Lettuce Entertain You, Parkhurst decided to go out on his own. Named after Parkhurst’s daughter, Carolina, Lina’s opened in May 2017 in Silver Spring, where he resides.
This is Parkhurst’s baby, and you can feel the warmth in the bright pink entrance. You pass through a small front room and down a narrow corridor with booths and papier-mâché bulls’ heads on the wall to reach a small back dining room and bar, plus a secluded outdoor patio that seats 30. Eclectic furnishings—shabby chic distressed sideboards, steampunk wall sconces encasing Edison bulbs, his grandmother’s plates depicting John James Audubon illustrations, a Swiss baking cabinet from his mom—give the place a homey, welcoming feel. So do the classic cocktails, among them a great Hemingway daiquiri that’s heavy on the grapefruit.
The quirky menu features a baker’s dozen of items, plus four “samwiches,” and tends toward the French, such as: a hockey puck-size round of velvety chicken liver and foie gras mousse with grilled country bread; perfectly moist sautéed rainbow trout almandine; a thick croque-monsieur ham sandwich oozing with nutmeg-laced cream sauce and gooey Gruyère cheese; and a steak frites that melts in your mouth and is so nicely seasoned that it doesn’t need its béarnaise sauce accompaniment. Save room for tiny pots of crème brûlée or chocolate pudding crowned with whipped cream and grated orange zest. Lina’s is the kind of neighborhood joint you want just around the corner.
8402 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring | 240-641-8061 | linasdiner.com
8. Owen’s Ordinary
Roughly 50 beers are on draft at Owen’s Ordinary, and the beer menu is broken down into six flavor categories. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
If there is a finer beer program in Montgomery County than the one at Owen’s Ordinary, I haven’t found it. The person responsible for that is Greg Engert, the beer director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG). That company, owned by restaurateur Michael Babin, operates 19 food and beverage concepts in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia; Owen’s Ordinary, which opened in the Pike & Rose development in October 2016, is its first Maryland property.
There are roughly 50 brews on draft, half from Maryland, and 150 canned and bottled offerings, one-third of which are from Maryland breweries. (The list changes frequently.) A 2014 Maryland law allows small craft brewers to self-distribute up to 3,000 barrels of beer annually; NRG buys from 13 of them, including Denizens (Silver Spring), Waredaca (Laytonsville), Cushwa (Williamsport), Goonda (Baltimore) and Hysteria (Columbia).
The 114-seat dining room at Owen’s, where the décor is steampunk-meets-English-country-house, is lovely, but if you’re interested in sports, head to the 50-seat bar area or, better yet now that warm weather is upon us, the 60-seat beer garden and watch games being shown on several televisions.
Engert has set up the beer menu to enable people with even rudimentary knowledge of that libation to explore easily. He divides the menu into flavor categories (malt, fruit and spice, crisp, tart and funky, hop, and roast) and even informs you of the beer’s temperature and the kind of glass it’s served in. Drafts are offered in 4-ounce tasting pours ($2 to $6) or full portions that range from 10 to 16 ounces ($6 to $12).
Food-wise, you can’t go wrong choosing menu items whose provenance is NRG’s own Red Apron Butcher, such as the juicy 8-ounce Angus burger and double stack cheeseburger, or the steak tartare blended with hard-boiled egg, chopped cornichons (pickles), capers and whole-grain mustard. Best of all, though, are the Bavarian specialties offered in the bar and the beer garden: bratwurst or kielbasa with sauerkraut; chicken schnitzel; and senfbraten, roasted pork with mustard gravy and braised red cabbage. While you’re at it, get a house-made soft pretzel with zesty beer cheese.
11820 Trade St. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda | 301-245-1226 | owensordinarymd.com
The lobster meat is barely dressed and ultrafresh in the lobster roll at Millie’s. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
If ever there was proof that the formula for success is location, location, location, Millie’s is it. Spring Valley, a well-heeled neighborhood loaded with families, has a dearth of restaurants, so restaurateur Bo Blair (Due South, Jetties, Surfside, et al.) seized the opportunity. He teamed up with his longtime executive chef, David Scribner, and debuted his second Millie’s seafood restaurant (with Baja touches) in May 2017 on Massachusetts Avenue NW. (The flagship opened on Nantucket in 2010.)
The 90-seat restaurant and its 30-seat bar area are decorated with a navy blue and white color scheme and outfitted with nautical bric-a-brac, such as colorful oars on the walls and a ceiling light fixture fashioned from an inverted rowboat. A spacious patio seats 120. The menu is designed to appeal to everyone, and does. The appetizers induce impulse buying the moment you sit down: “May we have the trio of guacamole, queso with poblano pepper, and salsa with tortilla chips while we’re looking over the menu, please?”
Start with one of the generous and well-made traditional or modern cocktails, or choose from the beer and wine lists and let the bold graphics help you easily pinpoint the category you have in mind. After snacks, have a bowl (or cup) of dreamy clam chowder rife with potatoes, corn, chopped clams and bacon. Menu sections of quesadillas and tacos appeal to grown-ups and kids alike. My Rhode Island Avenue quesadilla is thick with medium-rare skirt steak, mushrooms, roasted poblano peppers, onions and jack cheese. When you take some of it home (which is likely), the very accommodating server supplies you with new containers of sour cream and salsa—a nice touch. (Tacos are just as abundant.) The fried butterflied shrimp platter I try is fine enough, but the lobster roll at Millie’s is a scene-stealer and just what it should be: a buttery griddled roll split and lined with a Bibb lettuce leaf and filled to overflowing with barely dressed, ultrafresh chunks of lobster meat. For dessert, hit the walk-up window outside and order from 12 flavors of Gifford’s ice cream and sundry toppings (such as Heath bars, Oreos and M&M’s).
4866 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. | 202-733-5789 | milliesdc.com
The vegetable combo platter includes several items that can be eaten with spongy injera bread. Photo by Mike Morgan
You sense elegance immediately when you walk into chef and owner Abe Bayu’s 48-seat Ethiopian restaurant, Meleket, which opened in July 2017 on Seminary Road just off Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. An ornate, bronze-colored pressed tin ceiling, an under-lit fieldstone bar and large framed panels of paisley tapestry catch the eye. (A meleket is a musical instrument made of a ram’s horn, like a shofar.)
Bayu, who lives in Silver Spring, explains that his cooking is actually more Eritrean, referring to the country that borders Ethiopia to the north and achieved independence from the nation in 1991. “My dad is Ethiopian; my mother is Eritrean,” Bayu says. “The flavors are different. Ethiopian is spicier. Eritrean cooking uses tomatoes because of the Italian influence there, so there is a sweetness to the sauce and wots [stews] rather than a lot of heat. [Eritrea was an Italian colony from the late 19th century until the 1940s.] We also don’t use as much butter as Ethiopian food; we use olive oil or vegetable oil instead. I also add a lot of ginger and garlic to our dishes to bump up flavor.”
Begin a meal at Meleket with flaky triangular pastry pies (sambussa) filled with ground chicken and served with a zesty red pepper mayo called boum boum sauce or with Bayu bites, which are fingers of buttered, toasted Italian bread topped with a spread of finely chopped cooked kale and ricottalike cheese.
Then order a vegetable combo platter, the components of which are eaten with large rounds of injera, a thin, tangy, spongy bread made with teff flour. (Teff, a fine, dark grain, is a staple of the Ethiopian and Eritrean diets.) The offerings include three wots made respectively with red lentils, yellow split peas and green split peas; buttery, basil-enhanced collard greens; and sautéed cabbage, onions and carrots. Don’t miss the kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartare made with clarified butter and red chili spice mix) and Zizi’s special tibs (braised lamb sautéed with tomatoes, onions, garlic and jalapeño and served dramatically on a sizzling hot platter).
1907 Seminary Road, Silver Spring | 301-755-5768 | meleketrestaurant.com
5. Duck Duck Goose
A starter of roasted Japanese eggplant topped with lemon-enhanced yogurt, mint leaves and Fresno chilies. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
When Duck Duck Goose opened in Bethesda in April 2016, it had all the makings of a small, charming neighborhood bistro, down to the bentwood chairs, wrought-iron tables and nicely curated French-inspired menu. Its chef and owner, Ashish Alfred, has real talent, as his rendition of steak tartare—perfectly dressed and seasoned hand-cut cubes of beef tenderloin—proved. I gave the restaurant a favorable review in Bethesda Magazine’s September/October 2016 issue, but lately wondered if the quality of the food there has remained consistent, given that Alfred had opened George’s Chophouse on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda in November and is working on a Baltimore location of Duck Duck Goose. After revisiting the Norfolk Avenue location in February, I can report that the food continues to delight, especially the beef tartare, and the staff is as gracious as ever. Credit goes to chef de cuisine Carson Schneider as much as it does to Alfred.
For a cunning starter generous enough for two, try the thin and curvy Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise, roasted until tender and topped with lemon-enhanced yogurt, finely julienned mint leaves and chopped Fresno chilies. Date purée rounds out this wink to Middle Eastern flavor by adding a touch of sweetness to balance the yogurt’s tartness. Lamb Bolognese with spaghettini (thinner than regular spaghetti) has a depth of flavor that comes from the long, slow, careful cooking of that classic sauce. It’s a satisfying dish, even if I would prefer thicker noodles that aren’t prone to overcooking. An entrée of duck breast, perfectly cooked to medium as requested, spotlights the slight gaminess of the meat, nicely balanced with roasted golden beets, red beet purée, roasted and buttered panko breadcrumbs (for a bit of crunch) and a Bing cherry reduction poured tableside from a little copper saucepan.
Desserts are an afterthought here, but the majestic napoleon of flaky puff pastry, rich pastry cream and raspberries is still mighty fine.
7929 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda | 301-312-8837 | ddgbethesda.com
Herbes de Provence-crusted seared tuna with cassoulet, radishes and rosemary red wine reduction. Photo by Mike Morgan
I was a fan of Addie’s on Rockville Pike, which had an 18-year run from 1995 to 2013. That restaurant was the first in chef and restaurateur Jeff Black’s empire, which now includes six restaurants, two bars and a fish market. He clearly learned a great deal there about how to create and run inviting, high-quality establishments. That’s why it’s no surprise that the new Addie’s, which opened last August, is even better than the old one. From its high design, paying homage to Black’s grandmother Addie and his family’s Texas roots, to the well-crafted dinner and brunch menus, Addie’s, which seats 130 inside, is the personification of a stylish, modern-day watering hole. But with spring upon us, my thoughts turn to Addie’s 70-seat covered patio, a perfect perch for playing hooky from work and lolling over a lazy lunch.
Iced tea comes with an ornate iced tea spoon and a little porcelain tray that holds a small pitcher of simple syrup and lemon wedges—little details that Black’s restaurants get so right. Caesar salad is done as it should be: Whole leaves are each coated with dressing that has the proper amount of tang from Worcestershire sauce and lemon. Grated hard-boiled egg, lightly toasted croutons and an anchovy complete the presentation. The standout that’s really worth the trip to Addie’s, though, is the French dip sandwich of roasted Allen Brothers prime rib cooked medium rare, sliced ultrathin and stuffed between two halves of French bread slathered with horseradish cream. Dipping into the dark, rich beef jus adds a burst of umami to an already flavor-packed sandwich. Pro tip: Take half of the sandwich home and get the chocolate bombe for dessert—it’s a ball of chocolate mousse and toffee enrobed with chocolate glaze, topped with a shard of feuilletine (a thin, crunchy, crepelike cookie) and served à la mode.
12435 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac | 301-340-0081 | addiesrestaurant.com
3. Akira Ramen & Izakaya
The broth in the signature Akira Ramen is simmered for 12 hours. Photo by Mike Morgan
Take my word for it and show up at this 42-seat Rockville Pike eatery in the Galvan at Twinbrook apartment building when it opens at 11 a.m. Otherwise, you’ll likely wait 10 to 20 minutes in line on weeknights and longer on weekends. Akira’s fine cooking team is headed by chefs Tony Lin and Jerry Li. Chef Li makes the restaurant’s curly and straight ramen noodles in a Silver Spring warehouse. “Kotani-san taught us how to make our wheat-based ramen noodles,” says owner and Silver Spring resident Edward Wong, referring to Japanese noodle master Shuichi Kotani, whom Wong hired as a consultant to ensure that the key ingredient in Akira’s ramen betters any competition. “And now he is showing us how to make our own soba [buckwheat] and [thick, chewy, wheat-based] udon noodles.”
The noodles are the star of the show at Akira Ramen, which opened last October. The curly variety, which have a bit of a chew, can withstand the heat of the broth longer than the thinner, straight noodles. Some of Akira’s seven ramen offerings are made with pork stock, others with chicken or vegetable stock. The signature Akira Ramen is my favorite; its broth, made with pork thigh and back bones, onions, carrots and ginger, offers a complexity and richness developed during a 12-hour simmering. Rolled pork belly is braised in a soy-based sauce, refrigerated, sliced and then seared to order with a blowtorch before being added to the bowl, along with a soft-boiled egg, chopped scallions, corn, sliced fish cake, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms and nori sheets. Bean sprouts and ground pork that have been quickly sautéed in a flaming wok impart a slight smokiness and extra dimension to the soup (this technique is also used in the vegetable ramen), and dashes of black (fermented) garlic oil provide a complex finishing note. In the tonkatsu miso broth, seasoned miso paste makes the broth milky white and lends the soup a creamy texture.
But Akira isn’t just about noodles; it’s also an izakaya, which is a pub that serves snacks—a Japanese version of a tapas bar. From the special offerings menu, the hamachi carpaccio—slices of yellowtail seared with a blowtorch, topped with flying fish roe (tobiko) and served in a light soy broth—is a winner. Thumbs-up also for the okonomiyaki, an egg and cabbage pancake perched on bacon slices and dressed with mayonnaise and a ketchup- and Worcestershire-based condiment called okonomi sauce. Delicate dried bonito flakes on top of the okonomiyaki “dance” in the wind. This place is so good I’d even brave the line.
1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville | 240-242-3669 | akiraramen.com
2. Q by Peter Chang
An assortment of dim sum dishes, available at brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Photo by Deb Lindsey
When chef Peter Chang opened Q by Peter Chang in a Bethesda office building in May 2017, expectations were high. His cooking was legendary, part of a mystique that started when he left his post as chef of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2003, essentially defecting. On the run and without papers, Chang embarked on a string of restaurant jobs he’d leave once word got out that he was there. Finally dealing with his legal status and acquiring a business partner, Chang, who lives in Bethesda, now owns six restaurants in Virginia and two in Maryland. Q, short for qi jian, meaning flagship, was to be his crowning achievement, a swanky place where he wouldn’t tone down the trademark heat of his regional Chinese dishes to suit American tastes, as he does at other restaurants.
Reviews have been mixed. Some diners object to the higher prices for the fancier digs and upgraded service, and are unable to discern the difference between Q and other Chang establishments. I agree it has been a bumpy road, but I am a Q fan. I appreciate the sweeping 5,000-square-foot dining room with its high ceilings, jade-colored walls and full bar service. But I return for Chang’s food—the braised red snapper with chili bean paste, minced beef, bamboo shoots and pickled cabbage; the kung pao chicken (a usually hackneyed dish that is heavenly at Q); and the Peking duck with rose-scented black garlic purée.
The sleeper at Q, though, is the superlative dim sum brunch served on Saturday and Sunday, with many of the offerings made under the direction of Chang’s wife, Lisa, also an accomplished chef. A dumpling extravaganza is de rigueur here; my standing order includes rich chicken broth soup dumplings, pan-fried shrimp dumplings, wagyu beef dumplings and spicy pork-filled wontons. Then I move on to shrimp balls, BBQ pork buns and stir-fried rice noodles with beef. Can’t make up your mind? Get the dim sum assortment, which comes with seven items and two sauces.
4500 East West Highway, Bethesda | 240-800-3722 | qbypeterchang.com
1. Kobo at Sushiko
Monkfish liver “foie gras” topped with osetra caviar, persimmon purée and purple nasturtiums. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
In Chevy Chase, you walk through an excellent restaurant, Sushiko, to get to an extraordinary one called
Kobo, a restaurant-within-a-restaurant that owner Daisuke Utagawa launched in late 2016. Kobo is a private counter where six diners experience a multicourse tasting menu crafted and served to them by Sushiko’s executive chef, Piter Tjan, who engagingly interacts with guests throughout the meal. The prix-fixe menu comes at a steep-but-worth-it price and seats are coveted, so book well in advance. Dinner costs $130 per person including tax and tip for an all-vegan menu offered on Tuesdays; $160 inclusive for the nonvegan menu offered Thursday through Saturday. The price goes up when you add quaffs from the beautifully curated wine list.
My tasting menu starts with tea (green tea and kelp) theatrically brewed before me in a tabletop siphon. The chef exchanges pleasantries with each of the guests and discovers in our conversation that I’m left-handed. “Ah, that’s important to know!” he says. “I will switch the angle of the nigiri I present to you so it will be more comfortable to pick up.” For the first course, a server proffers a covered dish, removing its lid to reveal a cloud of smoke hiding a medallion of monkfish liver “foie gras” topped with slate gray osetra caviar, persimmon purée and lush purple nasturtiums.
A sashimi course includes two generous slices each of decadent fatty tuna, lean tuna, house-cured and smoked Arctic char, and wild winter yellowtail, presented with a nest of bean thread, a pile of imported and freshly grated Japanese wasabi and a verdant shiso leaf.
For the nigiri courses, the chef uses akazu and red vinegar to make his sushi rice, imparting a brown hue. (Akazu is made from sake lees, the yeasty dregs left over after sake is made from rice.) He deftly molds small mounds of the rice, topping each with a pristine slice of fish. Among the dazzlers are cured snapper topped with julienned ginger blossom, and soy-marinated tuna with caviar and gold leaf. Next are two sushi courses: one a hand roll of fatty tuna; the other an oval nori cup filled with tartare made with the highest grade (A5) of Japan’s famed wagyu beef and gilded with a quail egg yolk.
The evening’s pièce de résistance isn’t fish; it’s a thick slice of deep-fried, medium-rare, panko-crusted A5 wagyu beef sirloin served on toasted housemade milk bread. If you have room for udon (thick Japanese noodles) and poached lobster in miso dashi broth, more power to you. Strawberry pannacotta is a light and refreshing coda to a revelatory dining experience.
5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase | 301-961-1644 | sushikorestaurants.com