May-June 2021 | Food & Drink

New beginnings

Ten Bethesda-area restaurants that opened during the pandemic signal hope for better days—and nights—to come

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Rosemary Bistro Cafe’s bouillabaisse is packed with mussels, squid, shrimp, scallops, red snapper, monkfish and vegetables, and served with baguette slices with garlic saffron aioli. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Rosemary Bistro Cafe

Upper Northwest D.C.

“Have you eaten with us before?” Fred Darricarrere asks when I call in an order to Rosemary Bistro Cafe, the restaurant he opened in Upper Northwest D.C. in July. “No,” I reply, not letting on that I’m a restaurant critic. “Ah! It’s a cold winter night, so I’ll add a warm baguette as a thank you. It will soak up all those good juices of your boeuf bourguignon and bouillabaisse.” In my follow-up reporting, he sends a video of the 2,000-square-foot interior, with its gold tin ceiling, skylights, vintage French travel posters, mustard-colored floor and stunning Medusa-like red and gold glass chandeliers and pendant lights. I picture myself there on a summer evening, sopping up escargot garlic butter and winy mussel broth with crusty bread.

The Floating Island features poached egg whites with caramel drizzle and toasted almonds served over a custard sauce. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Darricarrere, 55, ended a 20-year run as the owner of Petits Plats in D.C.’s Woodley Park in May 2020, when his lease expired. In 2000, the Washington City Paper’s then-restaurant critic Brett Anderson mused, “If it stands the test of time, Petits Plats will surely become many things to many people—a neighborhood bistro, a take-out savior, a killer patio equipped with wait staff and food. But everyone will know it as a social place.” Substitute Rosemary Bistro Cafe for Petits Plats and the same holds true. Says Darricarrere, “I’ve lived in the area for 30 years and was passing by this closed place [Terasol] for a year. I had a good feeling about that block. There are three restaurants, Comet [Ping Pong], Buck’s [Fishing & Camping] and I’m Eddie Cano. I’m a good complement for the neighborhood. I like this part of town.”

The tartare at Rosemary Bistro Cafe is a mixture of hand-chopped salmon, shallots, pickles and capers atop a seaweed salad. Photo by Deb Lindsey

The bistro seats 50 inside and 25 outside at full capacity. Darricarrere, who hails from Bayonne in France’s Basque region, is a chef. He works in the dining room but oversees the same team of three cooks that worked with him for 15 years at Petits Plats.

Exquisite tartare made with hand-chopped salmon, shallots, pickles, capers and a dash of sesame oil is molded into a neat cylinder
atop seaweed salad. The bouillabaisse is rife with mussels, squid, shrimp, scallops, red snapper, monkfish and vegetables bathing in a rich, orange-hued fish stock. Toasted baguette slices slathered with garlic saffron aioli are perfect dunkers. Floating Island—a caramel-drizzled cloud of poached egg whites on a pool of custard sauce sprinkled with toasted almonds—sends me to bed dreaming of the day I get to go to Rosemary Bistro Cafe for real.

Rosemary Bistro Cafe, 5010 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-506-5961, rosemarydc.com


Chennai Hoppers

Gaithersburg

As a Southerner, I’ve eaten plenty of fried okra, but there is none better than that at Chennai Hoppers, a south Indian restaurant that chef John Rajoo opened in Gaithersburg’s Spectrum Town Center in November. The pods’ diagonal slices are encased in a coating seasoned with curry leaves, red chile powder, coriander, cumin and black pepper, each a mini missile of crunchy sublimity.

Rajoo, 44, hails from Madurai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He named his restaurant after that state’s capital, the coastal city of Chennai, and hoppers, a slang term for appam, pancakes made with fermented rice batter.

Rajoo earned a bachelor’s degree in business in India and worked his way up through the cooking ranks of various international hotel groups and Costa Cruises. He immigrated to Baltimore in 2008, acquiring a master’s degree in hospitality management from Baltimore International College (now Stratford University) in 2010. After working for six years as executive chef at a New Jersey hotel, he struck out on his own, opening Chennai Chimney in Princeton. He sold the successful business in December 2019 and moved to
Gaithersburg with his wife and two children. “My in-laws and sister told me about the [Chennai Hoppers] space and that there is a big South Asian community in Clarksburg, Gaithersburg and Bethesda,” he says.

The 2,200-square-foot restaurant seats 65 inside and 20 outside at full capacity. Rajoo designed the interior as an homage to Chennai. Reproductions of photos of early 20th century life hang above cheery lime-green banquettes lined against exposed brick walls. Decorative tiles and ornate ceiling work reflect elements found in some Chennai homes.

All of my Chennai Hoppers takeout dishes sing with flavor. Before frying, chicken drumette lollipops have been marinated in lemon juice, yogurt, ginger, garlic, red chile powder and chopped curry leaves. Uthiri pakoda—julienned onions seasoned with garlic, red chile powder, turmeric, and carom seeds, and fried in chickpea batter—put drab American onion rings to shame.

Rajoo offers six kinds of uthappam, a thick, griddled rice batter pancake the size of a Neapolitan pizza (it comes in a pizza box): plain, onion, tomato, chile, carrots, and podi, a fiery hot seasoning made with ground chiles, sesame seeds and lentils. All come with tomato and coconut chutney and sambar, a spiced lentil and vegetable stew.

Chennai Hoppers, 136 Paramount Park Drive, Gaithersburg, 240-813-0061, chennaihoppers.com


Hawkers Asian Street Food, which opened at Bethesda Row in November, has a fun atmosphere. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Hawkers Asian Street Food

Bethesda

When the Orlando, Florida-based chain Hawkers Asian Street Food was scouting new locations, Bethesda had obvious appeal. “The D.C.-area market is great for Asian street food,” says Jamie Tokes, area director of operations for the company, which was created in 2011. “We pick lively neighborhoods with walkability rather than stand-alone locations. Bethesda Lane is a hot spot and fits the vibe of where we want to be.”

This location is the company’s 11th. They announced the deal in April 2019, but COVID pushed back the opening from early 2020 to mid-November. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t opening a restaurant that sits empty,” Tokes says. “We were prepared to open in whatever capacity Montgomery County would let us—whether outside only, only takeout, or limited capacity.”

Viet bun, a vermicelli noodle salad with pork and a spring roll. Photo by Deb Lindsey

At full capacity, the 4,000-square-foot restaurant seats 107 inside and 40 outside. Hawkers refers to street vendors in Asia; three of the company’s four founders have roots in Vietnam, Malaysia or Hong Kong. On the pan-Asian menu, Malaysian roti (flatbread) keeps company with Chinese char siu (roast pork), pad thai, bulgogi beef skewers and edamame, and cocktails such as the “Margari-Thai,” made with tequila, Cointreau, chiles, coconut water and mangosteen, an Asian tropical fruit.

Dave Sellers, assistant general manager at Hawkers Asian Street Food, in the kitchen of the Bethesda Row restaurant. Photo by Deb Lindsey

When I retrieve my order on a frigid January evening, the covered terrace, strung with bistro lights, is full. Aqua chairs, a neon-yellow bordered roof and tiki torchlike heaters create a festive atmosphere. Inside, the decor emulates the sensory overload of a bustling Asian capital at night, with loud music (from K-pop to Top 40), paint-splattered concrete floors, open ductwork, lots of neon and metal, woven basket pendants, newspaper collage tabletops, and accents of multiple colors, such as pastel greens and pinks, and school bus yellow.

Prince George’s County native Mychal Robinson, 34, is the executive chef. He cut his chops working for Darden Restaurants and at Marriott, Gaylord and Hyatt hotels. My five-spice tempura green beans, of course soggy after a 20-minute drive, are nevertheless delicious, with extra punch from wok-fried peppers and onions. Curry laksa (Malaysian coconut and curry noodle soup), its kicky broth enhanced with lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk, is loaded with wheat noodles, shrimp, chicken, fried tofu, greens and slices of hard-boiled eggs. Viet bun—vermicelli noodle salad with lemongrass-seasoned pork, basil leaves, fried shallots, carrots, peanuts, shredded lettuce and a spring roll—is a lovely panoply made all the better with fish sauce vinaigrette.

Hawkers Asian Street Food, 7117 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, 240-203-8135, eathawkers.com

Curry laksa, a Malaysian coconut and curry noodle soup with shrimp, chicken, tofu and slices of hard-boiled egg. Photo by Deb Lindsey

La Brasita

Derwood

As the chef and owner of the successful Rockville restaurant La Brasa, specializing in dishes from all over Latin America since 2006, Lucy Campos decided it was time to expand with a fast-casual version. She and her children, David Campos and Tatiana Morales, opened La Brasita in the former Greatest American Hot Dogs space in Derwood’s Red Mill shopping center last June. The trio signed the deal in February 2019. “We liked the neighborhood, the traffic from Muncaster [Mill Road], that it was an updated shopping center with a McDonald’s, a CVS and a corner space with lots of light,” says Lucy Campos, 58. David, 27, runs the front of the house. Tatiana, 35, designed it. The 1,250-square-foot space seats 30 inside and 20 outside at full capacity.

La Brasita’s clean, modern look utilizes the natural light from its windows and showcases the family’s Salvadoran roots. Morales hand-painted part of El Salvador’s Tazumal ruins in bold blue, pink and orange hues on one wall, and a turquoise-plumed torogoz, El Salvador’s national bird, on another. Reproductions of Mayan statues are on display, acquired on Lucy Campos’ spice-buying trips to El Salvador.

Funding issues delayed La Brasita’s planned November 2019 opening for several months. Once they were ready, COVID arrived. When they opened on June 30 and Montgomery County was at 50% capacity, they were good to go, literally. “Our business plan always had a takeout component, a grab-and-go tacos, pupusas and a drink-and-be-on-your-way place,” David Campos says.

La Brasita’s menu includes ceviche, guacamole with tortilla chips, pupusas (stuffed and griddled Salvadoran corn cakes), quesadillas, chimichangas, burritos, tacos, fajitas, and specialties such as masitas de puerco (fried braised pork cubes) and chicken tamales.

My three tacos, one with shrimp and pickled red onions, one with carne asada (beef) and one with salmon, are each rife with their protein, plus a surfeit of chopped cilantro, radishes and onions. They come on yellow corn tortillas made in-house and with lime wedges and two homemade sauces, one with tomatillos and avocadoes, and one chile pepper-based.

Not surprisingly, given the family’s Salvadoran heritage, La Brasita’s pupusas, served with cabbage slaw, are superlative. David Campos is partial to the Maryland pupusa, stuffed with crab, mozzarella and Old Bay seasoning, which he created as a nod to his dual Maryland and Salvadoran roots.

La Brasita, 7206 Muncaster Mill Road, Derwood, 301-569-6333, labrasita.com


Koité Grill

Silver Spring

It’s not often you come across a sister and brother chef team, but that’s what you’ll find at Koité Grill, a Senegalese restaurant that opened on Colesville Road in September. “It’s a family-owned-and-run business,” says Adja Koité, 31, who helms the kitchen with her brother Omar Koité, 35. “My mom’s dad owned markets in Senegal, and our parents owned a restaurant there before we came here, so it runs in the family. We learned everything about cooking from Mom, and our work ethic from Dad.” Two of the chefs’ five other siblings also work at the restaurant. Their mom, Ndiagna, and dad, Daning, sometimes help, too. Daning Koité works for the Senegal Embassy.

The Koité family ran a halal butcher shop in Takoma Park from 2012 to 2016 and still runs one called Diplomats that they opened in College Park in 2014. “We always had our eye on Silver Spring, though,” Adja says. “We grew up here. Four of us went to [Montgomery] Blair High School. Colesville Road is personal for us. We started the grilling at festivals in downtown Silver Spring—the Ivorian Festival, Senegal Day, the Pan-African Festival. It’s like a big dream that came to reality.” They signed the lease in June.

The 1,700-square-foot space, formerly Abol Ethiopian restaurant, seats 24 inside and six outside at full capacity. The decor features drums, baskets of peppers and basket lamps, common in Senegal, Adja says. She describes the various orange wall colors as those of sunset in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and Mbour, the family’s hometown.

Her food recommendations are spot-on. “Our niche is charcoal grilled lamb dibi. We are mainly known for that for the last 10 years. We chop the whole lamb into small pieces—you get the shoulder, legs and chops, so you get all the flavors.” The succulent meat comes with sauteed onions piled on top and a Dijon mustard and hot pepper sauce.

Another bestseller is chicken yassa, a whole baked chicken that has been marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, black pepper and ginger. Carved pieces are served in a caramelized lemon sauce kicked up a notch with habanero peppers.

You can’t pass up Senegal’s national dish, thieboudienne, which means “rice with fish.” It is broken pieces of long-grain rice cooked in tomato tamarind sauce with red snapper or kingfish, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. Sometimes it’s served white—made with crushed tomatoes—and sometimes red, with tomato paste added. “On Fridays we do red; on Saturday we do the white one, just to change it up,” Adja says.

Koité Grill, 8626 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, 240-847-7016, ordering.app/koitegrill


Sous chef Osmar Romero plating linguine with littleneck clams at Gregorio’s Trattoria. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Gregorio’s Trattoria

Bethesda

A trattoria is meant to be an informal, unfussy place, one that is reliable and where you’d go on a regular basis. In Italy, you really don’t have to look at the menu—you pretty much know what’s going to be on it, and that’s not only fine, but a relief. Gregorio’s Trattoria, which opened in Bethesda’s Shops at Sumner Place in November, is that kind of a place. I know before looking at their menu online that I’ll soon be happily slurping linguine that’s keeping company with littleneck clams and bathed in white wine, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil, and devouring a veal dish, either piccata (with lemon, white wine and capers) or saltimbocca (topped with prosciutto and mozzarella).

Gregory Kahn and his father, Donald, own Gregorio’s. Their flagship trattoria opened in Reston in 2008, followed by their first Montgomery County location, in Potomac’s Cabin John Village, five years later. The company, according to Director of Operations Chris Fargiano, had also been interested in opening in Bethesda’s Brookmont area. “The Italian restaurant closest to what we do is 3 miles away [from Sumner Place],” he says. “Our concept fits into neighborhoods rather than industrial areas. We got great feedback from the neighbors here in our research.”

Veal saltimbocca and a side of meatballs. Photo by Deb Lindsey

They signed the deal on the space, just under 3,000 square feet, before COVID and planned to open in April 2020. When they began serving customers in November, the county was allowing 50% occupancy inside; two weeks later, it was zero. “The pandemic showed us our resilience. We pivoted to meet the challenge and launched Personal Chefs by Gregorio’s Catering, where a chef comes to your house and cooks a four-course meal.”

Gregorio’s seats 90 inside, including 10 at the bar, and 16 outside at full capacity. Peering around when I pick up my order, prepared by chef José Lemus, 29, I see rustic wood floors and tables, a wall of wine closets, cream-colored banquettes and walls, and a series of modern earth-toned paintings.

Gregory Kahn (pictured) and his father, Donald, opened their newest outpost of Gregorio’s Trattoria in Bethesda’s Brookmont neighborhood in November. Photo by Deb Lindsey

In my takeout order, linguine with tender clams elicits the comfort I seek, as does veal saltimbocca in its rich Marsala sauce. I suggest getting a side order of beef and veal meatballs in pomodoro sauce—many main dishes, such as eggplant Parmigiana, come with sides of spaghetti, meaning that you can easily fashion an extra entree or next-day meal of spaghetti and meatballs.

Gregorio’s Trattoria, 4611-A Sangamore Road, Bethesda, 301-347-6830, gregoriostrattoria.com


At recently opened Piccoli Piatti Pizzeria in Bethesda, the pizzas include fiarelli, a white pie with sauteed broccoli raab, sausage, mozzarella and fontina. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Piccoli Piatti Pizzeria

Bethesda

Potomac resident Francis Namin is a prolific restaurateur. His first restaurant—Red Tomato Café in Bethesda—enjoyed a 20-year run, specializing in brick oven pizza from 1994 to 2014. He has opened and closed a few eateries in Montgomery County along the way (such as Food, Wine & Co.), and remains an impressive presence in the county with two locations of Don Pollo Charbroiled Chicken, one Pollo Central and three Fish Tacos. A few doors down from the Fish Taco in Bethesda’s Wildwood Shopping Center, he opened Piccoli Piatti Pizzeria in October. “I’ve been doing business with Federal Realty since 1999, and this was a good opportunity to have a pizzeria [in Wildwood] because there isn’t one near this location,” he says.

The pizzeria’s patio is next to the sidewalk at Wildwood Shopping Center. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Namin, 57, signed a lease in September 2019, and then began his project by gutting the space, which had previously been occupied by Oakville Grille & Wine Bar. The pandemic hit in the middle of construction. Says Namin, “I had two options: shut the project down or believe in myself and go forward. I believed in the concept. It was the right choice for us.”

A gleaming white brick Marra Forni oven is the eye-catcher at Namin’s 3,500-square-foot restaurant, which seats 78 inside and 16 outside at full capacity. The restaurant has a rustic feel, with a honeycomb-patterned ceramic tile floor in various shades of beige and brown, and industrial-chic picnic-style tables and benches. (Nab one of the four tables outside if you can.)

Werner Menendez, a pizza maker at the restaurant, prepares Neapolitan-style pizzas. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Namin is the executive chef, and his menu includes Neapolitan-style pizzas, small plates (that’s what piccoli piatti means), pasta, salads, desserts and, at lunch only, sandwiches.

Fried artichoke hearts. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Definitely start your meal with a skillet of fried artichoke hearts served with gribiche sauce (a melange of mayo and chopped pickles and capers). A dollop of ricotta on top of the polpettine (beef and pork meatballs) provides a nice counterpoint of sweetness for the appetizer’s marinara sauce. A hint of truffle oil provides a nice finish for perfectly al dente fettuccine tossed with oyster, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, shallots and chile flakes.

The Neapolitan pizzas have their trademark thin crust with a puffy border that includes charred spots. My favorite is the fiarelli, a white pizza with sauteed broccoli raab, sausage, mozzarella and fontina. If you’re too full for dessert, get some tiramisu from the restaurant’s grab-and-go case for later.

Piccoli Piatti Pizzeria, 10257 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, 240-858-6099, piccolipiattipizzeria.com


Jamaica Mi Crazy chef and owner Monica Falden tends to jerk chicken on a griddle plate atop a grill. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Jamaica Mi Crazy Restaurant

Germantown

When I interview Monica Falden, the chef and owner of Jamaica Mi Crazy Restaurant, a small carryout she opened in Germantown’s Seneca Park Plaza in November, I have a feeling it will be difficult to get her to divulge the ingredients of the spectacular jerk chicken in my takeout order the week before. I’m right, but the day after we talk she sends me a video of herself tending rows of jerk chicken leg quarters sizzling on a griddle plate atop a grill, spooning a thin brown sauce over and around them so bursts of steam erupt in enticing explosions. Maybe it’s those puffs that make this some of the best jerk chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Braised oxtails in a brown gravy. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Falden came to the United States from Jamaica in the ’70s and to Montgomery County in 1982. (Her former husband was in the U.S. Army.) She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Maryland Global Campus and worked for Montgomery County’s housing department and public school system, retiring five years ago. (She chooses not to reveal her age. Her son, Warren Falden, who mans the counter, is 49.) Sitting at home wasn’t for her, so she opened Jamaica Mi Crazy. Cooking has always been a passion of hers and was a side gig to make money when her kids were young. She chose Jamaica Mi Crazy’s location because it’s close to her Germantown home.

Thirty-five seafood, meat and vegetable dishes comprise the carryout’s menu. Oxtails, braised to tenderness in a pressure cooker, come in a savory brown gravy with lima beans, carrots and long, thin wheat flour dumplings called spinners. Collard greens, de-ribbed, chopped and cooked with onions, garlic and diced peppers, accompany them nicely.

Monica Falden with her son, Warren, who mans the counter at the Germantown restaurant. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Jerk is a purely Jamaican meat preparation. Despite my prodding, Falden remains tight-lipped about her methods. “Jerk? I do my own little thing,” she says with a laugh. She admits to marinating the chicken with a spice paste for a day or two and then grilling it for about an hour, at first over low heat to cook it through and set its deep color, then over higher heat to caramelize it. About the basting, she says, “I make my own little sauce that I put on it. Scotch bonnet, pimento [allspice], garlic. Other things.” “Like what?” I ask, as if I hadn’t already. “Maybe when I bottle it and start selling it, I’ll tell you,” she says.

Jamaica Mi Crazy Restaurant, 13525 Clopper Road, Germantown, 301-515-2662, orderjamaicamicrazyrestaurant.com


Virraaj Fine Indian Cuisine

Bethesda

The first thing I notice when I enter Virraaj Fine Indian Cuisine one winter evening is how beautiful it is, not surprising considering that Virraaj, per the restaurant’s website, is a primeval being that represents excellence or splendor. Tufted black leather banquettes line one side of the long, narrow Bethesda restaurant, which previously was the site of Delina Eritrean Urban Kitchen. Subdued neon lighting changes color in the tray ceiling—one moment it’s hazy purple, another it’s teal. Crystal chandeliers and metal pendant spheres hang from the ceiling. Black and gold accents abound. The hardwood floors display the kind of weathered look that costs a lot of money to achieve.

Virraaj’s co-owner, 44-year-old Vikas Kakkar, sits at the chic semicircular bar in the back of the empty restaurant, which seats 80 inside and 20 outside at full capacity. He explains that he and business partner Raj Manroy, 45, signed the lease on the 2,300-square-foot space in August 2019, anticipating an April 2020 opening. “This is my first restaurant. They are my passion. It was always my dream to open in Bethesda,” Kakkar says. When COVID arrived, delaying everything, he panicked at first, but the extra time allowed him to get every design detail right. “Sixty percent of the decorations—wallpaper, artwork, serving dishes—are from India.”

Kakkar hails from Delhi, where he worked in restaurants. He immigrated to the United States in 1999, settling in College Park, where family members live. He worked in his brother-in-law’s restaurants (among them Cafe X-press on Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda) and, as a side hustle, prepared Indian food in his apartment and sold it to University of Maryland students in tiffin (metal to-go) boxes.

Fifty-eight-year-old chef Surinder Kumar, whose resume includes D.C.’s Heritage India and Masala Art, created Virraaj’s menu of mostly northern Indian dishes. The samosa chaat (chaats are savory, highly flavored street-food snacks) is an open-faced version of Virraaj’s vegetable samosa, a triangular, dough-encased fried pie filled with spiced potatoes, peas and raisins. The chaat, topped with chickpeas, red onions, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, mango and tamarind sauce, is a delectable sensory surge. Kumar’s rendition of butter chicken, the well-known rich curry enhanced with tomatoes, butter and cream, gets a nice jolt from Kashmiri chile powder. Meen moilee—tender mahi-mahi in a curry of coconut milk, ginger, garlic, curry leaves and chiles—is a delightful representation of southern Indian cooking.

Virraaj Fine Indian Cuisine, 4914 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 301-906-8425, virraaj.com


ChiKo

Bethesda

When chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee and business partner Drew Kim founded The Fried Rice Collective and opened the first ChiKo on Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill in 2017, the idea was to scale that fast-casual, takeout-driven Chinese Korean concept in small-footprint spaces. And they did—in Encinitas, California, in November 2018, in Dupont Circle in February 2019 and in the former Prima space at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Elm Street this January. “Two ChiKos in the city was enough, and we always wanted to be in Bethesda,” Drewno says. Lee concurs. “We look for residential density, and there are a lot of new properties here, the Marriott headquarters, new Carr buildings. The immediate suburbs were the next logical step for us.”

Drewno, 46, and Lee, 39, come from sit-down restaurant backgrounds in D.C. Drewno worked for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group for 19 years, 10 of them as chef of The Source, now closed. Lee owns Mandu with his mother, chef Yesoon Lee. The Fried Rice Collective also owns Anju, a Korean restaurant in Dupont Circle.

ChiKo is 1,450 square feet and seats 30 inside and 16 outside at full capacity, and has glass garage doors on its corner walls that make the restaurant open-air when raised. Lee’s wife, Natalie Park, designed the space with boldly striped walls in the brand’s trademark colors: yellow, white and black. There are separate doors for dining in and takeout, a nod to pandemic design.

Two dishes are specific to the chainlet’s Bethesda menu. One is lobster Rangoon with sweet chile orange sauce, triangular-shaped riffs on fried wontons typically filled with crab and cream cheese. Each ChiKo location has a custom-fried rice dish; ChiKo Bethesda’s, called “Save the Bay” fried rice, is made with smoked blue catfish, squid ink, cured egg yolks and bonito flakes. (Blue catfish prey on the Chesapeake Bay’s precious blue crabs.)

Kimchi stew—chunks of braised pork belly, dukbokki (chewy Korean rice cakes), tofu and kimchi in a ginger and chile oil-laced broth—offers sensations of texture and flavor in each bite. My perfect ChiKo meal consists of this stew and the “full monty” (ChiKo’s term, not mine) of the menu’s six banchan (snacks): bright yellow pickled daikon radish slices; spicy Sichuan jicama, celery and carrot salad; napa cabbage kimchi; steamed rice with furikake (a Japanese spice mix) butter; Korean potato and egg salad; and chilled littleneck clams marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and black vinegar.

ChiKo, 7280 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-968-0053, chikodc.com


Now open

In addition to the 10 new dining options in this story, many other food or drink spots opened in the Bethesda area since the coronavirus pandemic began.

  • &pizza (Silver Spring)
  • Bark Social (North Bethesda)
  • Bun’d Up (inside The Block Foodhall & Bar— North Bethesda)
  • Call Your Mother (Bethesda)
  • Chef Tony’s (Bethesda—Promenade location)
  • Cinnaholic (Gaithersburg)
  • CM Chicken (Rockville)
  • Colada Shop (Potomac)
  • Crumbl (Rockville)
  • Dalia’s Falafel (Kensington)
  • Deli Club (Kensington)
  • Ema Rossi Pizzeria Napoletana (Rockville)
  • Fantasticks (Gaithersburg)
  • Gyuzo Japanese BBQ (Rockville)
  • Ingera Rock (Rockville)
  • King Street Oyster Bar (Potomac)
  • Klay (Rockville)
  • Little Miner Taco (inside The Block Foodhall & Bar— North Bethesda)
  • Lucky Cat Pizza Co. (inside The Block Foodhall & Bar—North Bethesda)
  • Muchas Gracias (Upper NW D.C.)
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes (Bethesda)
  • Pâte à Cake (Gaithersburg)
  • Pho Viet USA (Bethesda)
  • Pitango Gelato (Bethesda)
  • Playa Bowls (Kensington)
  • Plaza Oaxaca (Rockville)
  • Pop-up Poutine and Pop-up Patisserie (Rockville)
  • Potomac Sweets (Kensington)
  • Quincy’s (Potomac)
  • Real Nutritious Food (Upper NW D.C.)
  • Rodman’s Café (Upper NW D.C.)
  • Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream (Bethesda—Wildwood location)
  • Sonia Vee’s Cupcakes (Gaithersburg)
  • Spanish Diner (Bethesda)
  • Spice Street (Silver Spring)
  • Sweet Sweet Kitchen (Silver Spring)
  • Sweeteria (Silver Spring)
  • Tatte Bakery & Café (Bethesda)
  • Tikka Masala (Bethesda)
  • Zao Stamina Ramen (Bethesda)

Recently closed

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve said goodbye to dozens of food and drink spots in the Bethesda area.

  • Addie’s (Potomac)
  • Addis Ababa (Silver Spring)
  • Aroma Espresso Bar (Bethesda)
  • Bagel City (Rockville)
  • Balagger Restaurant & Bar (Silver Spring)
  • Beefsteak (Bethesda)
  • Breadsmith (Potomac)
  • Buena Vida (Silver Spring)
  • Bump ‘n Grind (East West Highway location in Silver Spring)
  • Cafe Deluxe (Bethesda)
  • Chef Tony’s (downtown Bethesda location)
  • Chuy’s (Rockville)
  • Cici’s Pizza (Rockville)
  • The Daily Grill (Bethesda)
  • Dokiya Ramen (Rockville)
  • Eggspectation (Silver Spring)
  • Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle (Bethesda)
  • Flower Child (Rockville)
  • Fu Lin Restaurant (Silver Spring)
  • George’s Chophouse (Bethesda)
  • The Grille at Flower Hill (Gaithersburg)
  • The Grilled Oyster Co. (Potomac)
  • Gumbo Ya Ya (Rockville)
  • Gusto Farm to Street (Bethesda, Silver Spring)
  • Honeyfish Poke (Rockville)
  • Jaleo (Bethesda)
  • JennyCakes Bakery (Kensington)
  • Khyber Kitchen (Silver Spring)
  • Krazy Steve’s Comfort Cuisine (Silver Spring)
  • La Madeleine (Bethesda)
  • La Tasca (Rockville)
  • Le Pain Quotidien (Potomac)
  • Le Vieux Logis (Bethesda)
  • Lighthouse Tofu & BBQ (Rockville)
  • Lotus Grill & Bar (Bethesda)
  • Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant (Bethesda)
  • Mahshad Modern Persian Kitchen (Rockville)*
  • Mirch Masala (Bethesda)
  • Mrs. K’s Toll House (Silver Spring)
  • Mythos Mediterranean Grill (Gaithersburg)
  • Nick’s Chophouse (Rockville)
  • Not Your Average Joe’s (Silver Spring)
  • Olazzo (Silver Spring)
  • PassionFish (Bethesda)
  • Patisserie Manuel (Bethesda)
  • P. F. Chang’s (Chevy Chase)
  • Peet’s Coffee (Bethesda)
  • Poke Papa (Bethesda)
  • Prima (Bethesda)
  • Roti (North Bethesda)
  • Sergio Ristorante Italiano (Silver Spring)
  • Spice 6 (Bethesda)
  • Sweetly Anchored Patisserie (Potomac)
  • Tandoori Nights (Bethesda)
  • Thai Pavilion (Rockville)
  • Tortacos (Gaithersburg)
  • Union Jack’s (Gaithersburg)
  • Urban Bar-B-Que (Rockville—Chapman Avenue location)
  • VÜK (Bethesda)
  • Wine Harvest (Potomac)
  • Ziki Japanese Steak House (Gaithersburg)

*opened June 2020, closed March 2021

David Hagedorn is a cookbook author and the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine and Arlington Magazine.