The year in dining

A look back at the restaurants reviewed in 2005

Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006


Click here to enlarge this photo
Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette-Star
Jean Chiang and Rock Fu are the wife and husband owners of Blu Bambu, which opened in 2005 at Capital Centre.




Click here to enlarge this photo
Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette-Star
The strawberry shortcake at the Stonefish Grill at Capital Centre towers over the plate.

Asahi Japanese

13010 Baltimore Avenue, Laurel; Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; 301-776-0002

It’s hard not to find something to like about the Asahi lunch buffet. About 25 maki, or sushi rolls, are displayed beside pieces of sashimi on elegant dishes along the wood and sushi bar at the back of the restaurant. Served Monday through Saturday, the buffet ($9.95) includes all the traditional sushi trimmings.

Beyond sushi, the buffet includes a warm and cold salad bar featuring fried rice and a variety of tempura vegetables. Beef and chicken stir-fry and hot pepper-marinated tofu that can be spooned over plain rice. Along with Japanese appetizers, noodles, tempura and grilled dishes, Asahi features Korean dishes at lunch and dinner.

Bar-B-Que House

9990 N. Washington Blvd., Laurel; Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, closed.; 301-317-9529

It’s easy to drive past Bar-B-Que House, which sits inconspicuously off the side of N. Washington Boulevard in Laurel. But county residents who stop to take a closer look will discover a cozy down-home restaurant where they can get such barbecued favorites as ribs and chicken, as well as three hot meals a day.

The ambience is like that of a cozy kitchen. Potted plants and kitchen knickknacks adorn the walls. The tablecloths and chairs are red and green. A radio plays popular music in the background. The most popular item on the menu is the BBQ pork, says owner Judy Linton. Other favorites are ribs and the fish dinner.

Berwyn Café

5010 Berwyn Road, College Park; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; 301-345-9898

Berwyn Cafe is a real neighborhood place, tucked within a community of bungalows down the street from a school and across from the College Park Trolley Trail. The menu of this vegetarian restaurant includes stuffed pita and multigrain sandwiches, felafel, quesadillas, tempeh, loafs with gravy, vegetable lasagna and Greek and taco salads.

Offered along with the attention to health and flavor is Berwyn Cafe’s commitment to organic produce. The Broshes, who run the café, are geniuses with tofu, marinating it in a Mediterranean inspired sauce and cooking it on a vertical gyro spit.

Blu Bambu

800-E Shoppers Way, Largo; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. –9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday, closed.; 301-499-7899

Adjacent to the Magic Johnson Theatre at Boulevard at Capital Centre, Blu Bambu brings diners its own style of entertainment. The entire kitchen is open to the dining room, and as customers move from the ordering counter to the self-serve drink area and on to find a seat, they can watch the cooks sizzling, tossing, saucing and plating orders.

While the restaurant offers sushi, wokked-to-order traditional Asian favorites, soups and salads, the centerpiece of this kitchen is the Mongolian stir-fry bar. Customers fill a bowl with their choice of meats and vegetables, pick one of several sauces — such as Thai curry coconut, Japanese teriyaki or Charlie Chiang’s Mongolian barbecue — then watch the whole creation hit the huge, round Mongolian grill in a rush of steam and fragrance.

Calvert House Inn

6211 Baltimore Ave., Riverdale; Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; 301-864-5220

A commitment to freshness is evident in everything on the Calvert House menu. Before brothers Fereydoun and Fariborz Salimi started the lunch buffet, they were concerned that it wouldn’t do their cooking justice. But by frequently replenishing the offerings, the vegetables are bright with color and flavor, the fish is ocean fresh and the pork loin and chicken are savory simmers.

On one visit, the salmon was tender and served with a gentle crust of paprika or a spike of Cajun seasoning. The vegetables were extraordinary. Salimi said the sweet potatoes are so sweet they could be a dessert — and they are sweet, but not cloying, baked with just a bit of cinnamon.

Carolina Kitchen

800-C Shopper’s Way (next to the Magic Johnson Theater), Largo; Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. –10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 –midnight; 301-350-2929;

If contemporary living met country living, the result would be the Carolina Kitchen. A mix of modern furnishings and country details, this eclectic eatery has been charming hundreds of customers daily since it opened at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in June.

The ‘‘Side Fixins” alone are worth a trip. One taste of the macaroni and cheese, collard greens, or black-eyed peas will transport you to the rural South. The candied yams are sensational but easy to fill up on. The grilled baby back ribs, smothered chicken in gravy, and Mom’s meatloaf are popular.

CJ Ferrari’s House of Pasta and Pizza

14311 Baltimore Ave., Laurel; Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.–midnight; Saturday, 5 p.m.–midnight; Sunday, 5 p.m.–11 p.m.; closed Mondays; 301-725-1771

The dining room is surprisingly contemporary, but comfortable and unpretentious. The menu is focused and thoughtful. The service is informed, helpful and patient. The prices seem almost unreasonably low.

And the food? The food is delicious, reflecting the care of personal recipes and the craftsmanship of skilled chefs who make just about everything from scratch.

Costa Alegre Restaurante

5815 A Greenbelt Road, College Park; Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; 301-474-2278

Open since November, Costa Alegre is still a work in progress with a menu that is small but thoughtful, representative of what might be called a diner style of Mexican cooking. The food is not fancy, but it is well prepared to order and attractively presented in a partial self-serve format. Most importantly, the fact that the food is made from scratch, with either owner Guillermina Garcia or her nephew Jose Ramirez at the helm of the kitchen, is evident in each bite.

On our first visit to Costa Alegre, we noted right off the bat the slightly doughy texture, fresh corn and fire taste, and irregularly browned surface of the tortillas served with our meal. Ramirez confirmed that fresh tortillas are made in-house several times a day with a tortilla machine, which has pride of place directly behind the check-out counter, right next to an open grill.

Da Rae Won

5301 Garrett Avenue, Beltsville; Monday through Saturday (closed Tuesdays), 11 a.m-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-10 p.m.; 301-931-7878

The lightly translated menu at this Korean-style Chinese restaurant feels authentic. Choices include noodle soups, fried rice dishes, and a selection of sauced and stir-fried dishes of pork, chicken and seafood flavored with garlic or sweet and sour, and served with black bean ($13.95-$18.95).

The meal starts with Korean pickles — crunchy rounds of bright yellow-pickled radish, white chunks of radish wiped with hot sauce that is just hot enough, and cabbage and scallions, cool on first bite, but increasingly hot. Meals are also accompanied by glasses of barley tea and a small bowl of egg drop soup. The golden and savory broth is swirled with soft shreds of scrambled egg and peppered with bits of scallion. You eat with a long-handled soupspoon that comes to the table in a little paper covering.

English Tea House

4513 College Ave., College Park; Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; 301-887-1777

The English Tea House is equally convenient for tea and a muffin on the way to work or for a lingering afternoon of studying with an array of sandwiches, cookies and cakes, not to mention 40 types of tea, to fuel the brainwork. Among the choices are classics such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey, along with bubble-gum flavored tea; Tropic Fire, which is lit with the flavors of pineapple and guava; and Pinhead Gunpowder, with leaves that unfurl and explode with flavor as they brew.

Owner Kalpesh Patel also serves milky-and-spiced Indian masala tea perfumed with fennel and swirling with the almost chocolate aromas of black Assam tea. The menu includes a daily soup special, salads and cold cuts, veggie and hot sandwiches, including panini, along with a few Indian specialties like the mildly spicy samosas, served with a sweet-tart sauce of apple butter, lemon and Indian spices.

Everlasting Life Soul Vegetarian Gourmet

9185 Central Ave., Capitol Heights; Daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. –7 p.m.; 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 301-324-6900

While the restaurant is Everlasting Life’s primary business, owner Baruch Ben-Yehudah has his own primary objective — ‘‘to educate the population about the benefits of healthy eating,” he said.

‘‘The African-American population here is one of the most affluent in the country, but its health ranks among the worst,” he said of county residents.

By providing healthy food choices at reasonable prices and educating the community about food’s relationship to health, Ben-Yehudah is determined to improve the quality of life for local residents.

Gah Rham

5027 Garrett Avenue, Beltsville, Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; 301-595-4122

At Gah Rham, the specialty is Korean barbecue. As manager Justin Lee said, ‘‘everybody loves barbecue.” This is a do-it-yourself meal, great for a table of friends or family. Along one wall are four tables fitted with built-in gas grills and exhaust hoods overhead. The sizzling sounds and smells are irresistible. Choices are mainly beef — sirloin, tenderloin, and ribs — with pork and chicken also, or you can order a mixed platter. The barbecue comes with kimchi, a spicy Korean dish consisting of pickled vegetables, and other vegetables for grilling as well.

Even if you don’t order barbecue, Gah-Rham’s menu has plenty of sizzle and snap. Small bowls and dishes of various kimchi accompany all the meals. Choices include briny chunks of radish, smoky and crunchy bean sprouts, and soy-marinated tofu with strips of red and green peppers. Most spectacular is a small bubbling pot of scrambled eggs poached in hot broth. It comes to the table puffed and spitting, and then settles down into a light and savory custard.

The Garden Restaurant

3501 University Blvd. East, Adelphi (UMUC Inn and Conference Center by Marriott); Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; 301-985-7326

The Garden Restaurant’s unique relationship with the University of Maryland, University College, has resulted in a deliberately low profile for this fine example of an upscale hotel restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Fettuccini Ernesto was bathed in a delicious sauce of white wine, cream and Parmesan tossed with wild mushrooms and ham. The Maryland Chop Salad can be topped with either grilled chicken breast or a broiled crabcake. I tried the crabcake with the salad of tomato, lettuce and roasted corn, and I was glad I did. Lunch was served fairly quickly, but the pace of service after that would not have helped us make it to our next conference session on time. The lump crabcake was lightly seasoned and bound, generous but not overwhelmingly large, and crisply broiled on each side.

Gladys Knight & Ron Winans Chicken & Waffles

800-E Capital Center Blvd., Largo; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; 301-808-6402

For those looking for a mixture of down-home Southern cuisine and a lively and sometimes entertaining atmosphere, Gladys Knight and Ron Winans Chicken & Waffles may be the place to go.

The Capital Center restaurant is the third in a chain founded by rhythm & blues singer Gladys Knight and the late gospel artist Ron Winans. The other two restaurants are both in the Atlanta area. The restaurant’s signature dish, chicken and waffles, takes common breakfast fare and serves it with common dinner fare.

Gringada

12300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; 301-210-3010

Renovations at this restaurant included brightening the dining room and updating the menu. Along with old favorites, are authentic dishes like asado de puerco, carne asada, and a steak dish called El Toro, served with a homemade steak sauce. They’ve also added taquitos and enchilada suiza, corn tortillas with sour cream, jack cheese and seasoned chicken. All the dinners are served with Mexican rice and refried beans.

Owner Cathy Batson said they’ve inherited a lot of their recipes, but they’re also inspired by their cooks. The Santa Ana burrito, a mix of steak with fried peppers, developed in the kitchen and ended up on the menu. Seafood nachos appetizer is heaped with crab and shrimp and the spinach quesadillas are stuffed with bright green leaves. And the appetizers come in very generous servings. The generosity continues with their kid’s menu special on Tuesday nights.

Hanami Japanese Restaurant

8145-M Baltimore Avenue, College Park; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; 301-982-9899

When Irene Song decided in early 2005 to move to Maryland, the College Park area had everything she was looking for — except for a Japanese restaurant. So in October, Song opened Hanami Japanese Restaurant, giving county residents a place to go for fresh sushi and the best that Japanese cuisine has to offer.

Once you walk in, you can sit at the Sushi bar and watch the chefs prepare your meal, or you can dine at one of the tables in the interior of the restaurant. If you’ve never tried sushi, don’t worry. Song and the other restaurant staff will walk you through the menu and help you find something that appeals to your palate.

‘‘At lunchtime, people are looking for a quick meal,” Song said. ‘‘Dinner is our time for fine dining.”

Hunt Lounge at Marlborough Golf Club

4750 John Rodgers Blvd., Upper Marlboro; Daily, 8 a.m.–6 p.m.; 301-952-1300

Luckily, swinging a club is not a prerequisite for lunching at Hunt Lounge. There is no clubby pretentiousness to contend with, either. Friendly, chummy service is the norm whether you’re wearing a golf visor or not.

There was a nice combination of flavors in the black and blue burger. The spice of Cajun seasoning and the tang of melted Swiss cheese and blue cheese dressing were layered on the char-grilled burger for an unexpected take on an American classic.

Other dishes include specialty sandwiches such as the Maryland crabcake, the popular Hunt Club sandwich, the Marlborough Cobb salad and a variety of starters.

Ikea

10100 Baltimore Ave., College Park; Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; 301-345-6552

Swedish meatballs are Ikea’s signature dish and a customer favorite. As an entrée, the meatballs plate includes roasted potatoes, soup or salad and a tart lingonberry sauce. A child’s meatball plate comes with five meaty morsels, French fries and lingonberry sauce costs. The Swedish chicken breast gets multicultural with a lingonberry-chipotle salsa and tender sesame-crusted potato pancakes called rösti.

An added bonus is that many of the items on the menu at the Ikea restaurant are available frozen to take home in the Swedish Food Market near the store’s checkout area. So, as they say in Swedish, ‘‘smaklig maltid” — or bon appétit!

Jarochas Carryout

4901 Decatur Street, Edmonston; Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m-9 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; 301-699-0785

Ever since Marisol Servin entered the hospitality industry 14 years ago, she has wanted to own her own restaurant. In October, her dream came true when Servin brought a taste of her home country Mexico to the streets of Edmonston.

Jarochas Carryout serves up a variety of authentic Mexican dishes. Most of the restaurant’s business is takeout, but there are a few tables inside for diners. It is important to Servin that food be prepared just as it is prepared in Mexico, rather than be ‘‘Americanized.” She instructs everyone who cooks to pretend they are in their home country cooking up a meal for family.

Tacos, Enchilades De Mole, and the spicy Bistec al Mexicana are among the customer favorites.

Jerk Hill Café

6543 Ager Road, Hyattsville; Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sunday, noon – 9 p.m.; 301-422-6351

Barry and Millicent Bucknor have a reputation for their food. Millicent, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, loves cooking for big gatherings of family and friends. Barry, who hails from Montego Bay, Jamaica, makes a jerk chicken recipe that everybody enjoys.

Now his dream is a reality with the opening of Jerk Hill Café. And the passion that he and Millicent bring to their food, as well as the thought and planning they have put into starting the business, seem to bode well for this humble outpost of Jamaican home cooking.

Fish is another of Jerk Hill’s specialties. In addition to the Jamaican national dish that blends salted codfish and a savory fruit called ‘‘ackee”, Millicent prepares a variety of fish each day. Butterfish — Barry’s favorite because it’s a very meaty fish with only one bone — as well as codfish, kingfish, red snapper and other varieties are available fried and escoveitched with vinegar, onions and peppers.

Jerk Pit

8145-C Baltimore Ave., College Park; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sunday noon –5 p.m.; 301-982-5375

County residents looking for a taste of the Caribbean will be heading over to College Park if Lisa Waddell Rose, the owner of Jamaican food restaurant Jerk Pit, has her way. The slogan of the restaurant, open since January, is ‘‘College Park’s Island Paradise,” and the atmosphere and food fit in with the theme nicely.

The most popular dish by far is the jerk chicken, said Waddell Rose. Other favorites include the jerk fish and the oxtail. Entrées come with a choice of rice and peas, steamed rice, hard dough bread or steamed vegetables and salad.

Jerry’s Seafood

9364 Lanham-Severn Road, Seabrook; Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.–5 p.m.; 301-577-0333

Most people would agree that it’s prudent to maintain a healthy skepticism toward a smallish restaurant on the corner of a strip mall that charges $20 to $30 per entrée. Most people would also think twice about waiting outside such a place for 30 minutes, an hour or more for the privilege of paying said prices.

But almost everyone who has endured the wait, paid the price and feasted on the expertly prepared dishes at Jerry’s Seafood in Seabrook will tell you it’s worth it.

The Crab Bomb is the restaurant’s signature dish, so special that it’s trademarked. At $33.95 for 10 ounces of jumbo lump crabmeat, it was a bit much for me to try, so I opted for the also trademarked Baby Bomb, still rather hefty at 6 ounces. This entrée costs $25.95 with two sides, and the warm, sweet stewed tomatoes were a perfect complement.

J’s Soul Food

3824 Bladensburg Road, Brentwood; Monday – Saturday 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (7 a.m. –7 p.m. during the spring and summer); 301-699-7779

After opening her restaurant, J’s Soul Food, in Capital Plaza Mall in October of 2004, Janie Wiggins received a letter from the owners of the mall saying the mall would soon close. Luckily for the residents of Brentwood and surrounding areas, Wiggins has been able to finish what she started by re-opening J’s Soul Food in July of this year.

Wiggins refers to her restaurant as ‘‘the home of grandma’s kitchen because it reminds you of all the things your grandma used to prepare,” she said. Among the most popular meals Wiggins serves are the fried fish dinner and the smothered pork chops dinner. All dinner platters come with bread and a choice of two side dishes, such as fresh greens, candied yams, string beans, macaroni and cheese, rice, and potato salad.

J’s Sports Café

12617 Laurel-Bowie Road, Laurel; Monday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.–2 a.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.–3 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.-1 a.m. (opens earlier during football season); 301-483-6993

J’s Sports Café ‘‘is a social spot,” said Candy Sinclair, manager of the café. Pool halls pack one side of the café, and there is a pool league on Tuesdays. Televisions, including a big-screen, play a myriad of sporting events all day and evening.

The café is famous for its chicken wings and other appetizers, Sinclair said, which is not unusual since people tend to frequent the café as much for the entertainment as for the food. Among the other appetizers served are chicken tenders, nachos and mozzarella sticks.

Kay’s Diner IV

10973 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville; Monday through Friday, 6 a.m-5 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; 301-595-3002

Kay’s Diner does not try to be all things to all people. Despite owner Kum O. Kay’s Korean heritage, the restaurant specializes in American cuisine. It does not serve dinner, but customers line up for breakfast and lunch. A number of local businesses even have their breakfasts catered by the diner.

Breakfast favorites include hotcakes and omelets. Have a sandwich for lunch, or one of the hot dishes such as salisbury steak, teriyaki chicken and the baked fish, which can be found each day on the luncheon bar.

Lambert’s Restaurant and Carryout

10825 Lanham-Severn Road, Glenn Dale; Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; 301-262-2206

When you enter Lambert’s Restaurant, you’ll see all the signs of a good seafood restaurant. The no-nonsense room decorated with giant cans of oysters and old bay, with buckets and mallets on the table, along with wet naps and extra napkins. Lambert’s isn’t fancy, but that doesn’t mean no one’s paying attention.

The cream of crab soup ($4.29 cup⁄$4.99 bowl is just thick enough, delicately pink, barely sweet, and spiked with salty old bay. The crab cake dinner ($15.99) delivers two meaty cakes, just held together and mildly spicy under a crispy crust. Their crab flavor and texture is front and center. The crab cake also appears on the combo platter ($18.99) along with scallops, shrimp, and fish fried in a light, crispy batter coating that flakes off to reveal remarkably moist fish.

Los Cabos

8424 Baltimore Avenue, College Park; Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; 301-446-1720

Every meal at Los Cabos starts with a bowl of shatteringly crisp corn tortilla chips served with a lime-tart salsa. While you’re crunching, peruse the menu’s choices of authentic dishes and the restaurant’s specialties. One authentic dish is street tacos, the two corn tortillas are filled with grilled chicken, cheese, grilled onions, a drizzle of honey and pico de gallo.

This is not Mexican food buried under melted cheese and gloppy beans. Dishes at Los Cabos are full of bright and clean flavors like the nopal salad served with every dish. Pencil-width shreds of tangy cactus are mixed with black beans, the only sharpness comes from the mild bite of red onion.

Marathon Deli

4429 Lehigh Road, College Park; Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; closed Sundays (starting in Jan. 3. 10 a.m.–8 p.m.); 301-927-6717

While many sandwich shops and pizza joints are conglomerations of targeted promotions and homogeneous menus, what can you say about a place that sports a hand-drawn logo, is about as big as some people’s walk-in closets, only takes cash and offers dishes it’s been serving for the past 30 years?

In the case of Marathon Deli, you say, ‘‘Thank goodness.”

The open food preparation area at the front of the restaurant contributes to the family feel, almost like being in the kitchen with relatives who are fixing a casual lunch.

Marlboro Grille

14606 Main St., Upper Marlboro; Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.–3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m.–2 p.m.; 301-627-0480

The restaurant does a brisk business at both breakfast and lunch seven days a week. While the modest and homey dining room is generally full during peak hours, owner Tina Stone said 70 percent of her business is delivery.

When asked about the most popular menu items, Stone’s first response was to explain that most of her regulars have specials that are made just for them.

‘‘We have customers who make their own menu,” she said with a smile. ‘‘They ask for this or that. Here, it’s just like home.”

Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern Piano and Martini Lounge

531 Main Street, Laurel; Monday and Tuesday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; 301-490-9200

For six years, Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern has been serving outstanding food in a non-descript setting. Now, the décor and ambiance are giving the kitchen a run for its money. Each weekend, the baby grand piano in the corner of this intimate dining room gets a work out. For several hours Broadway favorites and hits from artists such as Neil Sedaka, the Beatles, and Neil Diamond provide the perfect background to a marvelous meal. Oliver’s new piano and martini lounge is in a class of its own. The lounge’s menu includes something for everyone — beef, veal, pork, shrimp, scallops, tuna, trout and salmon. The jumbo stuffed shrimp are overflowing with lemon citrus crab imperial. That same crab imperial also is found in the veal Oliver. The pan seared baby veal, moist and flavorful, is topped with the crabmeat and hollandaise sauce.

Pho 88

10478 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville; Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; 301-931-8128

Pho, the traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup comes to the table, steaming and accompanied by a heaping plate of crunchy bean sprouts, stalks of purple stemmed basil, wedges of lime, and slices of jalapeño pepper. On the table are squeeze bottles of chili sauce and molasses-sweet hoisin sauce. It’s time to customize.

But underneath all those flavors, a good pho needs a good broth, and both the beef and chicken versions here would make any grandmother proud. The beef is dark, with a spicy perfume, an almost wine-like flavor and the amber colored chicken broth is deep with fowl flavor. Soups are served in two sizes, a large and a regular size. Also on the menu are crispy Vietnamese egg rolls and fruit flavored bubble teas.

Prince Café

8145-A Baltimore Ave., College Park; Daily, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.; 301-513-0800

Shisha, the water pipe for flavored tobacco, is an occasional pleasure, when you have time to sit with friends and talk. But the food at Prince Café can be an everyday pleasure. A long menu of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes includes kebabs, fresh salads and Indian stews and curries. It’s a mix that suits the pipe and the palate. The chicken makhani, or butter chicken, is tender bites of chicken in a gently spiced sauce with the tang and sweetness of fresh tomato. Be sure to order it with rice to soak up the sauce.

Lamb and beef kebabs have a homemade savor with a clear, spicy marinade flavoring the just-charred skewers of meat. They are served with fresh-baked flatbread and tangy yogurt and mint sauces. Vegetarians will also be well served, with options such as falafel, stuffed grape leaves, or fattoush bread salad. There are several Indian vegetable dishes such as spinach saag paneer and mixed vegetable curry. The variety of beverages includes Vimto, a bright red herb-sweet soft drink, sweet or salty yogurt lassis, and freshly squeezed juices.

Pupuseria Irene’s

2408 University Blvd., East, Hyattsville; Daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. 301-431-1550

Irene’s specialty is pupusas, and they are chewy and crispy at the same time, oozing with savory filling. They can be ordered with sides of caramelized plantains con crema (a thick, tangy sour cream) and pureed black beans, and their solid flavors are lifted and tweaked by the musky, tomato red sauce and fiery green pepper sauces that come with them. But the real genius of the dish is curtido, a cole slaw with a light vinegar and sugar pickling that renders the cabbage tender and tangy.

The menu also includes pollo guisado, a chicken stew, tacos, a grilled carne asada, and fish, beef or tripe soups. Irene’s also serves a traditional Salvadoran breakfast of eggs, beans, cream, plantains, and tortillas with hot milk, coffee, or chocolate. You can add steak to your morning for two dollars more.

Reggiano’s Gourmet Market

801G Shoppers Way, Largo; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; 301-324-2100

Reggiano’s Gourmet Market in Largo’s Boulevard at Capital Centre lives up to its promise of restaurant-quality meals to go, with the added bonus of shelves lined with beautiful and tempting retail products that can add a gourmet touch to everyday eating.

At Reggiano’s, the chefs prepare inspired meals that can either be cooked on the premises for eat-in or takeout, or they can be purchased in a form that is ready to cook at home.

Entrees have evocative names such as Tuscany Sun, described as marinated beef strips and asiago tortellone topped with spinach pesto sauce and sun-dried tomatoes, and Sophisticated Lady, lobster ravioli in a velvety pink champagne sauce. For diners not in the mood for Italian, there are choices such as Southern Comfort, which combines the classic comfort foods fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and green beans.

Ratsie’s

7400 Baltimore Ave., College Park; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-midnight; 301-864-8220

Honestly, this is food you’ve seen before — pizza and calzones. But when you want it, Ratsie’s has just what you want and done fresh.

Along with gyros and some vegetarian dishes, the list of subs offers 29 choices and includes the cold cut and cheese steak classics along with a few Ratsie’s specialties such as the crab cake, Cajun chicken, and half-pound burger subs. A Route One Calzone is a 12-inch half moon of blistered dough — crusty, chewy and tender all at the same time. Other calzone choices include the Terp, which is stuffed with mozzarella, smoked gouda, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and green onions. Even though this is simple food, it’s not easy to do right. Luckily, Ratsie’s hits the style on target.

Royal Jade

7701 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 –10 p.m.; 301-441-8880

The restaurant features a full bar and a short but decent wine list. The dining room is beautiful and relaxing, with windows that wrap around the entire room, bathing it in light and offering, unusually for the county, something akin to a view.

This is a restaurant where people care about the food and seem to have fun creating new specialties. The menu is quite extensive and includes 18 vegetarian items and nearly a dozen low-fat, no-salt choices. But the printed menu still doesn’t manage to keep up with everything Tu and her chefs want to do. There is a chalkboard with daily specials, as well as a rotating schedule of dinner specials that don’t appear on the menu

Santa Lucia Italian Kitchen

6041 Marlboro Pike, District Heights; Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; 301-420-2884

It is the secret homemade sauce that makes every dish a treat at Santa Lucia. Dough for the pizza and Italian bread also is made fresh daily. Arrive when the restaurant’s doors open, and the aroma of baking bread may greet you. Pizza aficionados will enjoy the restaurant’s signature pie, ‘‘Frank’s Special (named for owner Frank Cacciavillani).

Smothered with pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, green pepper, onion, black olives, and cheese, the toppings rise several inches above the crust. The most popular dishes on the menu are two Italian standards. The lasagna is a large helping of wide pasta layered with ricotta cheese and sauce. The spaghetti is an enormous serving of pasta available with Santa Lucia’s secret red sauce or a flavorful clam sauce. For those interested in trying something a little different, consider the white clam sauce.

Silver Diner

6040 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt; Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m.–3 a.m.; 301-220-0028

As you wait for a table amid the gleaming chrome and frosted glass vestibule at Greenbelt’s Silver Diner, you’ll see vintage musical performances by groups such as the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and the Supremes — on a flat-panel HDTV monitor. And as you slide into the red booth, you realize the amazing technical advances in vinyl over the past 50 years.

My breakfast was good, but at that moment I wished I had ordered the creamed chipped beef. And there is always the potential for plate envy at Silver Diner because of the vastness of the menu.

Sir Walter Raleigh Grill

6323 Greenbelt Rd., Berwyn Heights; Daily, 11:30 a.m. -9 p.m.; 301-474-6501

If you’ve never been to colonial Williamsburg and you’d like to experience a taste of it — literally and figuratively — you can take a peek inside the historic era at Sir Walter Raleigh Restaurant & Grill in Berwyn Heights. From wood-burning fireplaces to pictures of famous buildings such as the Raleigh Tavern in colonial Williamsburg, the décor gives off a historic feel. While the restaurant’s history is impressive, that pales next to the food.

‘‘The thing to die for is the salad bar. It’s identical on both sides and filled with everything you can possibly imagine — even anchovies,” owner Jerry Cosker said.

Other popular items include prime rib, grilled salmon, and BBQ chicken.

Soul Fixins’ Restaurant

881A Capital Centre Blvd., Largo; Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; 301-333-1141

To some, old-fashioned food in an ultra-modern setting might seem a contradiction. But Soul Fixins’ Restaurant’s casual nature serves to unite food and décor, and provides a pleasurable dining experience — unusual for a fast-food style eatery. While many Southern recipes call for fatback or lard, Soul Fixins’ takes a healthier approach to food preparation, replacing shortening with soy oil.

The restaurant sells a lot of chicken — ‘‘BBQ,” baked, fried, with dumplings, and as Buffalo wings — but it is the hot, fried fish that has given Soul Fixins’ a reputation. Cooked to order, the fried whiting and catfish are popular choices. Battered in a seasoned cornmeal, the fish is fried to a light crisp. Fried fish sandwiches are delicious and filling. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the menu is the baked salmon covered in a Southern-style mustard sauce.

Stonefish Grill

880-E Capital Centre Blvd., Largo; Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.–midnight, bar opened until 1 a.m.; 301-333-1600

Stonefish Grill’s kitchen is out to make a name for itself. A product of RDG Chicago, Stonefish Grill is the first restaurant of this name. The company also owns Red Star Tavern, which sits adjacent to Stonefish Grill in the Boulevard at the Capital Centre. While the bulk of Stonefish Grill’s 30 or so entrees are served daily, lobster is not.

Available after 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday, the shellfish comes steamed or as Lobster Thermador, stuffed with mushrooms, baked to a golden brown, and topped with a brandy-cream gravy. All entrees come with a choice of house salad or a cup of soup. Go for the soup — either Maryland crab and vegetable or southwestern corn chowder.

Tabeer

1401 University Blvd., Langley Park; Monday through Thursday, noon-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m.; 301-434-2121

Tabeer features a huge buffet served at lunch and dinner that includes a salad bar and dessert. The waiters take drink orders, leaving you to pick and choose among chewy flat breads or crispy papadums, stews of spinach, chick peas and dal, each with their own distinct flavor and spice, their juices soaked up by tender white or yellow rice. One side of the buffet is devoted to meat dishes, with savory bits of roasted goat and chicken tandoor among the choices.

The menu also features dishes of Pakistan’s four provinces. From Rawalpindi comes Tandoori Chicken, from Peshawar, Chapli Kabob, from Lahore Goat Chop Masala or Chicken Tikka, and from Karachi, Biryani or Pasanday, a spiced stew of sliced beef. All the regional specials are served with a choice of dessert, chatni, salad, and bread or rice.

Tastee Diner

118 Washington Blvd., Laurel; Open 24 hours; 301-725-1503

Breakfast is the diner’s strong suit as the omelets are cooked to order, stuffed with ingredients such as chili, spinach, mushrooms and sausage. Hot cakes are available plain or with blueberries or chocolate chips. The diner also serves French toast and a ‘‘giant malted waffle.” For those with heartier appetites, there are several steak and egg dishes, and a pork chop and egg platter.

At nearly 55, Tastee Diner is showing its age. And while that may mean the interior needs a little sprucing up, the end result is a comfortable restaurant with a welcoming wait staff and some simple but tasty home-cooked food.

Tiffin The Indian Kitchen

1341 University Boulevard East, Takoma Park; Daily, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–10 p.m.; 301-434-9200

Tiffin The Indian Kitchen offers authentic ethnic food and a great ambience sure to satisfy county residents who are looking for fine dining with an Indian flair. The restaurant seats 90 people, and, according to manager Ganesh Ghimire, the restaurant will gladly work to accommodate large parties of 20 to 25 people, making it ideal for business meetings.

Toucan Taco

315 Gorman Avenue, Laurel; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Closed Sundays and Mondays; 301-498-9833

Owners Laszlo and Lita Payerle have been serving Laurel and the surrounding communities with a taste of Mexican flair since 1972. The restaurant is small yet cozy with the capability of seating 50 people.

Uncle Sonny’s House of BBQ

3575 Landover Road, Landover; Monday through Saturday, noon-9 p.m.; 301-322-6520

Anybody who has a favorite uncle that they look up to for words of wisdom will feel right at home at Uncle Sonny’s House of BBQ in Landover. The restaurant, which features home-style recipes, serves up not only a dose of healthy cooking, but also a listening ear and some words of advice from owner ‘‘Uncle Sonny” Cranke if you’re open to it.

If you’re looking for a fast, greasy meal, you won’t find it here. Health-conscious Uncle Sonny doesn’t cook anything he can’t eat, which means you won’t find fried foods here and none of the vegetables are cooked with meat.

Woodlands

8046 New Hampshire Ave., Langley Park; Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; 301-434-4202

Woodlands specializes in vegetarian foods cooked in the south Indian style that layers spices and tropical flavors such as coconut, tamarind and chili. A meal at Woodlands modulates through gentle and intense flavors, keeping the tongue tingling. Soft, steamed iddly are sponges of rice flour, ideal for soaking up the spicy sambhar and gentle green coconut and cilantro chutney that come with most dishes.

That counterpoint of gentle and intense continues through the meal, whether it’s a crisp-edged utthapam pancake studded with coconut or the bhel puri, an irresistible blend of puffed rice, cilantro, chick peas, chopped tomato and tamarind. The most popular dish at Woodlands is the masala dosai, a paper-thin and crispy rice-flour pancake rolled into a sleeve and served in 14 versions here, from plain sada dosai to a jaipur paneer dosai filled with homemade cheese, peas, onions, tomatoes and fresh cilantro.