The Best of Local Fast-Casual Dining
We pick our favorite dishes from local eateries. Plus: Tips for healthier ordering.
Best Peruvian Comfort Food
Tallarin saltado con pollo. Courtesy photo
We’ve always coveted the Peruvian chicken at Don Pollo and its sister restaurant, Chicken on the Run, finding it far more crisp and juicy than Crisp & Juicy, another locally founded chain. Under a new ownership arrangement since 2016, Don Pollo’s president, Carlos Ramirez, hired passionate Peruvian chef Nelida Rosales, who added specialty dishes to the dependable rotisserie chicken lineup. Aguadito, the traditional Peruvian chicken soup, is a heartwarming rendition chock-full of rice, peas, corn, carrots and chunks of tender chicken, the broth turned mossy green with cilantro. And there are heaping portions of homey entrées such as chaufa con pollo, carne or mariscos (fried rice with chicken, steak or seafood) or tallarin saltado con pollo or carne (a noodle dish with chicken or steak, red onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs), showcasing the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine that’s rooted in an influx of immigrants to the country in the 19th century. Just save room for Rosales’ divine bread pudding, drizzled with custard sauce.
Backstory: The Don Pollo restaurants have a convoluted ownership history. In 2016, partners Carlos Ramirez and Francis Namin divvied up their holdings, with Ramirez getting the Rockville Don Pollo, and Namin retaining the Wisconsin Avenue branch. With a new partner, Ramirez has since opened three new Don Pollo restaurants (two in Silver Spring and one in the Westlake Shopping Center in Bethesda). Meanwhile, Ramirez operates Bethesda’s Chicken on the Run with Fred Namin, Francis’ brother. donpollogroup.com
Aside from the terrific food at Fish Taco, we get a real kick out of the restaurant’s frozen citrus margaritas. Made with fresh grapefruit, lime, lemon and orange juices, a touch of triple sec and sugar, and, of course, tequila, the drink is smooth, refreshing and not too sweet. It doesn’t skimp on the booze. On Mondays, the drinks sell for $5 ($7 otherwise), and the deal is particularly popular among hikers at the Cabin John location after their walks in nearby Great Falls Park.
Backstory: Longtime local restaurateur Francis Namin, owner of the shuttered Food Wine & Co., opened the first Fish Taco in Cabin John in 2013, following it with two Bethesda locations in 2016—one on Wisconsin Avenue, the site of Namin’s former City Burger eatery, and the other in the Wildwood Shopping Center. At press time, Namin was finalizing a deal to open another Fish Taco on Woodmont Avenue in the spaces formerly occupied by Cosi and Secolari. fishtacoonline.com
Best Signature Sandwich
Anyone who frequents Jetties knows the Nobadeer, the restaurant’s signature sandwich named after the Nantucket beach. A towering riff on Thanksgiving leftovers, it’s layered with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayonnaise on sourdough bread, and hits a nostalgic nerve. Over the years, kudos for the combo have often turned up on Yelp. Some of the best: “The first time I had the Nobadeer was akin to the first time I heard The Beatles” (Connor S.), and “I always get the Nobadeer sandwich, because who doesn’t want Thanksgiving ALL THE TIME?!” (Caroline G.).
Backstory: Founded in 2003 by Washingtonians Bo Blair, David Scribner and David Simone, Jetties now has six locations, including Bethesda and Chevy Chase, D.C. Under the Georgetown Events management company, the partners also run two Surfsides in Northwest D.C. and two Millie’s, one on Nantucket, the other in Spring Valley, in Northwest D.C. jettiesdc.com
Best Shakes and Soft Serve Ice Cream
The strawberry shortcake shake and the Pretzler
Like the Bethesda downtown sector plan, Bold Bite has gone through several iterations. When it first opened on Fairmont Avenue in 2011, it was a hot dog haven. Hamburgers were added in 2013, and then, in 2014, along came coffee and homemade doughnuts. The latest incarnation is a new location in Bethesda in the former Smashburger space, and the dogs were let go in favor of panko-crusted fried chicken, falafel or burgers, offered between a potato bun with various add-ons. (We vote for the Argentino, a fried chicken sandwich topped with lettuce, tomato, chimichurri, Monterey Jack cheese and hot ’n bold sauce.) Salads and all-day breakfast sandwiches are also available. But the highlight is the sweet stuff—particularly the uber-creamy, thick and luscious “roll n’ dip” soft serve ice cream, a rarity in this area. (With no regrets, we indulged in The Pretzler, a vanilla-chocolate swirl rolled in pretzels, dipped in a chocolate shell and drizzled with chocolate syrup.) Milk shakes demand a taste, too; check out the Dulce de Leche, a decadent blend of malted milk, chocolate ganache, vanilla ice cream and Heath bar pieces topped with whipped cream, more Heath bar bits and a dulce de leche drizzle. The strawberry shortcake shake is next on our to-try list.
Backstory: Bold Bite is one of versatile chef and co-owner Alonso Roche’s culinary projects; he and wife, Maria, and his brother Alvaro also run the popular TapaBar in Bethesda, as well as 202 Donuts & Coffee in the original Bold Bite location. They plan to open TacoArepa, a Caribbean-Latin American restaurant, next door in October. There’s a Bold Bite in Union Station, and plans for another branch downtown on 19th Street NW. boldbite.net
Chicken and rice platter. Courtesy photo
Over the years, we’ve appreciated the consistency of Moby Dick House of Kabob, with its well-seasoned and char-edged grilled meats, and a carryout menu that’s conducive for family gatherings. But we’re particularly addicted to the basmati rice and pita bread, thankfully offered in ginormous portions. High-quality aged rice from India, washed and soaked before cooking, turns fragrant and fluffy, and the plated mounds are garnished with a smattering of grains colored sunny yellow by saffron. You can also watch the staff at each location make homemade pita; knobs of dough are flattened, pierced with holes and spread inside the hot clay oven to quickly bake. The blistered, finished rounds are then hung on an Instagram-worthy wall. Up to 400 rounds are made every day at each location, so it’s a continuous photo op.
Backstory: Mike Daryoush opened Moby’s Luncheonette on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda in 1989. The restaurant served an American breakfast and lunch until Daryoush built a clay oven and started baking fresh pita. Its popularity took off, and soon other Persian specialties were added. Renamed Moby Dick House of Kabob, the growing chain now employs close to 400 people in 22 restaurants in the metropolitan area, including six in Montgomery County. The original Bethesda location is one of the chain’s busiest. mobyskabob.com