Where it cuts through Waldorf, Md., U.S. Route 301 isn’t exactly scenic. It’s a four-lane road dominated by car dealerships and punctuated with traffic lights, none of which are synced quite right. There’s no shortage of places to eat: You’ve got Outback and Red Robin and Panera and, of course, McDonald’s. Bob Evans is popular with the after-church crowd, and you’ll be waiting awhile at IHOP if it’s a holiday. But amid all of the corporate-created entities, some small, independent places are thriving. Here are three of our favorite Waldorf restaurants worth seeking out, whether you live in town or beyond.
Lefty’s Barbecue Unlimited
2064 Crain Hwy., Waldorf, Md.;
Walter Nash got started in the barbecue business young. Very young. “When I was a kid, my father would go around to different organizations and cook pig,” says Nash, the owner of Lefty’s, who grew up in Georgia. “I always knew where he was at, so during the day I would go there and watch what he was doing and help out with what I could do.”
In 1989, with his grandfather’s sauce recipe in hand, Nash opened Lefty’s Barbecue. The restaurant now sells all types of barbecue, along with fried catfish and soul-food sides like macaroni and cheese, fried okra and a sweet potato souffle that isn’t so much a vegetable as it is a dessert.
Lefty’s has little in common with the chain restaurants that surround it, but that could change soon. Nash’s son, Walter Nash Jr., plans to open 10 franchise locations in the area that will sell Lefty’s carryout meals. Nash isn’t worried that going corporate will diminish Lefty’s out-the-door lines, but he has thought a lot about the flavors of the new locations’ mass-produced sauce (which required months of development with various manufacturers). He’s confident the made-in-bulk sauces will beat any other recipe. The manufacturers are “probably not going to [replicate the in-house sauce] 100 percent,” Nash says. “But if they get 90 percent of it, and your 90 percent is 50 percent better than anyone else out there, you’re winning.”
Brasas Rotisserie And Grill
2716 Crain Hwy., Waldorf, Md.;
In a strip mall just south of Lefty’s huddles Brasas Rotisserie and Grill, a four-year-old South American spot that mixes a mean mojito. Brasas stands out for its happy-hour deals ($5 tapas, glasses of sangria and mojitos) and its food, which couldn’t be more different from the chicken fingers and burgers served at all the places around it. The restaurant’s specialities include ceviche and a wine-infused, chewy steak-and-potatoes dish called solomillo al jerez.
Owner Claudia Rivas — who once painted home interiors for a living — opened Brasas because she and her husband simply craved somewhere good to eat. “Every time we wanted to go out, it was corporate,” says Rivas. “We’d have to go to D.C., to Old Town [Alexandria] to find different flavors. And I thought, ‘That’s it, we’ve got to bring something different to the table.’”
Rivas also wanted to keep her restaurant close to home. “I felt that not only did I want to bring something different, I wanted to be a part of the community. My daughter went to school here. Why would I drive to D.C. or Alexandria to open a restaurant when I live here?”
Rivas doesn’t have much in the way of an advertising budget, and she knows what she’s up against. It stares her in the face every day at work. “We have TVs behind the bar and we put them on Food Network, and you see all these commercials for these big restaurants. We can’t do that,” she says. “But if people come in, they come back. They almost always come back.”
Kodori Japanese Restaurant
2792 Crain Hwy., Waldorf, Md.;
The man behind Kodori Japanese Restaurant is known simply as Mr. Kim. The sushi chef and owner, Terri Kim actually made a name for himself at the nearby Sakura Japanese Steak and Seafood House before opening his own place seven years ago. “Everybody just loved the way he made his sushi, because everything was perfect,” says Kelly Robinson, Kodori’s manager. “The customers [at Sakura] were always telling him to open his own place. So he saved a little money and then opened up Kodori.”
While chain and grocery-store sushi had been around Waldorf for years, Kim offered rolls that weren’t cookie-cutter.
At Kodori, diners can watch Kim make each order behind the small sushi bar (he’s usually on his own, so if it’s a busy night, be prepared to wait).
Kim and his wife, Sena, also broke new ground by opening the first Korean restaurant in the area. That’s right — even though “Japanese” is in the restaurant’s name, Kodori is also a destination for Korean food. The Kims are originally from Korea, and Sena handles the Korean side of the business. Kodori blends food from both ethnicities, offering the typical Japanese miso soup and ginger salad, as well as Korean
panch’an (small snacks) such as kimchi and an addictive shaved potato dish called gamja bokkeum.
Kodori has survived (and thrived) even though the restaurant has never advertised. “All of our business has been [through] word-of-mouth,” Robinson says. “And we are always busy.”