2012 Best of Bethesda Dining & Drink

Bethesda, Maryland is loaded with restaurants and bars, and new places continue to pop up on a regular basis. That means it’s an excellent place to head for some great food and drink, no matter what kind of scene, price range or palate you have in mind.

If you don’t know where to start, you can check out this quickfire guide to the best of Bethesda dining and drink, broken down into over a dozen useful categories you’ll want to know if you live close by or plan on moving into the area.

You won’t find big national chains or shops you can find at every suburban corner on this list.

Alternative Fast Food – Pana’s Empanadas, Cava Grill & Bold Bites

Pana’s (4731 Elm St) sells about a dozen different varieties of homemade empanadas, running the gamut from veggie to seafood to meat. Cava Grill (4832 Bethesda Ave) is the quick-service counterpart to the local Cava Mezze dine-in tapas chain. Think a Mediterranean-style Chipotle quick service place, but tastier. Bold Bites (4901 Fairmont Ave) features a surprisingly large number of gourmet hot dogs and sausages and is perfect late night fodder.

Belgian Beer – Mussel Bar (7262 Woodmont Ave)

Nowhere in Bethesda does Belgian beer better than Mussel Bar – say that three times fast. They have dozens of bottles on the menu, from approachable selections for a newcomer to the thickest and heartiest of Belgian ales. Also a great happy hour spot and choice to grab some upscale bar food, including the house specialty, eponymous mussels, to “tarts” – flatbread, Belgian pizzas.

Bottomless Brunch – Redwood (7121 Bethesda Lane)

Keep your pants on, the only thing bottomless at Redwood’s brunch is their mimosas. Choose either the buffet or an a la carte meal, and add on the bottomless mimosas for an extra $15 per person. Enjoy some live jazz while you’re at it, too.

Burgers – BGR (4827 Fairmont Av)

If anything comes close to rivaling the number of craft-cupcake joints in D.C., it’s the number of craft-burger joints. BGR certainly belongs near the top of the list, with a lineup of 10 or so different burgers, and can’t miss Parmesan-covered fries.

Healthy Takeout – Sweet Green (4831 Bethesda Ave)

Locally sourced ingredients thrive at this high-end (read: pricey but tasty), build-you-own salad shop. Keep in mind, the alternative takeout places above, like Pana’s and Cava, have a number of healthy options as well.

Outdoor Drinks – The Nest (4921 Bethesda Ave)

The front deck and patio of this neighborhood favorite gets crowded in the summertime, and space is limited. Expect that to be even more the case now with their new outdoor bar. Dog-friendly. Live music on weekend nights. Good, cheap bites.

Pan-Asian – Penang (4933 Bethesda Ave)

Penang is a Malaysian restaurant with enough choices to satisfy anyone, healthy to fried, commonplace to exotic, mild to spicy. Don’t pass on the Roti Canai, the first item on the menu, a traditional, crispy pancake with a thick curry-chicken dipping sauce.

Pizza – Mia’s Pizza (4926 Cordell Ave)

Awesome Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas, featuring fresh, fun ingredient combinations are what you’ll find at Mia’s. Call ahead to dine-in on the weekends, otherwise you’ll wait longer than you’d like to grab a spot and chow down on pizza that will rock your world.

Pubs – Harp & Fiddle; Ri-Ra

Lots of places try to be pubs. Most simply end up as bars with Guinness on tap. For a better experience, head to Flannagan’s Harp & Fiddle (4844 Cordell Ave) or Ri-Ra (4931 Elm St), each of which offer various amusements from live music to pub quizzes to all the football (read: soccer) and rugby you can stomach, along with Irish fare, and yes, plenty o’ Guinness on tap.

Steak – Mon Ami Gabi (7239 Woodmont Ave)

Everyone knows about Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris. For a change, and hopefully a lighter hit to the wallet, check out Mon Ami Gabi. The French Bistro has a wide range of offerings and a large wine selection, but it’s all about the steak fries. Trust me. If you want to check out some live jazz at the bar, grab an order of hand-cut potato chips with blue cheese dip.

Sandwiches – Taylor’s Gourmet (7280 Woodmont Ave)

The best place in Bethesda for a quick sandwich to go is Taylor’s Gourmet. Dozens of different Italian-style sandwiches, including a large number with either grilled or breaded chicken cutlets, as well as cold cuts, turkey and more. Available in six or 12 inches. Yummy sides like fried raviolis and Arancini – cheesy, fried risotto balls. They’re all delicious, and you’ll want to dive in and see for yourself with each and every one.

Sweets – Dolcezza Gelato (7111 Bethesda Lane)

Skip the 20 or so cupcake places in town, with absurd lines weaving down the block. Instead, try delicious and surprisingly healthy gelato at Dolcezza. An always-changing assortment of unbeatable, unique flavors – recent selections included Thai coconut milk, Madagascar bourbon vanilla and pineapple honey lime – featuring local ingredients will keep you coming back whether or not it’s hot outside.

Tapas – Jaleo (7271 Woodmont Ave)

If you’re thinking tapas and you live in Washington D.C., then there’s a good chance you’re going to check out someplace owned by Jose Andres and his Think Food Group. Jaleo focuses on traditional Spanish tapas, and you’ll also love the paella and sangria.

Wings – Wing Hub (4914 Cordell Ave)

Whether it’s for a big game or it’s just because, everyone needs chicken wings. Some of us need them more frequently than others. At Wing Hub, you’ll find about a dozen different sauces and flavors, and most of them are winners. Unless you’re insane, do not try the off the menu “Kiss of the Devil” wings. They will mess you up. Seriously.

This article was first published on February 13, 2012 on Yahoo! Voices

Author: Jake Emen

I’m Jake, and I’m your host on this journey. I'm the man doing the eating and the talking around here. I’m a writer based outside of Washington, D.C., and I'm also talking whiskey, local events, travel, and other assorted misadventures. Follow me on the Tweet Machine - @ManTalkFood, or send an email to jake [at] mantalkfood.com.

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