The Washington Post

Rockville Neighborhood Guide

When I decided to move to Rockville last year, traffic was something I knew I would find. A neighborhood, though? A place to walk around, with hidden gems to discover and places to become a regular? I wasn't optimistic.

But it's out there. It's hidden among granite countertop and mattress dealers; hidden across the street from car washes and behind BP stations; hidden above dance studios and in the shadows of tall government buildings. It's hidden a short walk from the Twinbrook Metro.

It's also hidden among the chain stores of Rockville Town Center, which opened in 2007 across from the Rockville Metro. "It's really cool to have a place to run into people," said Kate Bentley, 25, a construction office manager who grew up in Twinbrook. "We didn't really have that before, just a place to walk around and hang out. You always see the same people there all the time. It's a little bit more of a community feeling."

Just like a good scavenger hunt, the gems are hidden among the ordinary.

-- Alex Baldinger


Gilly's Craft Beer & Fine Wine

2009 Chapman Ave., Rockville, MD 20852  | 301-770-5515  |  Web site »

Show up at Gilly's looking for a bottle of wine to pair with dinner and there's a decent chance you'll walk out with a much heavier bag than you intended. That's because the selection at this unpretentious beer-and-wine drinker's haven is always changing in ways that will make you think, "I didn't know they made that."

One day, it's the bottles of Theobroma, a spicy small-batch brew from Dogfish Head that packs subtle flavors of cocoa powder and ancho chile; the next it's the arrival of Gubna, a new 10 percent ABV Imperial Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewing Co.

But Gilly's is more than just an above-average beer and wine store; it's the type of place that makes a haphazard assortment of stores feel like an honest-to-goodness neighborhood.

Owners Tim and Johnna Gilchrist set the two-year-old store's social calendar to help with that: The Twinbrook Block Party, with kegs of Sierra Nevada and live music, was held outside the store on a recent Saturday, and an Oktoberfest party is scheduled for Oct. 9. Weekends feature regular tasting events, while on weekdays, the place buzzes with after-work crowds sipping pints.

Some patrons stay for only one, and others while the night away until closing. In a part of town that doesn't always feel like a true neighborhood, Gilly's feels like home.

Urban Bar-B-Que Company

2007 Chapman Ave., Rockville, MD 20852  | 240-290-4827  |  Web site »

Get within 10 feet of the front door and it's too late for you: By then, the aroma emanating from Urban Bar-B-Que has infiltrated your nostrils, and the only remedy is an order of Urban's Wings ($6.59 for eight) and a platter of pulled pork ($7.99).

The wings are coated in a peppery rub. Nearly blackened on the outside, they won't set your tongue on fire, but biting into one of the meaty wings reveals a zesty tang with a subtle heat. The pork, meanwhile, is so tender that the peppercorn-flecked ribbons of fat nearly fall off the strips of vinegary white meat. A platter comes with a side and a hunk of Urban's tasty cornbread.

Each of the restaurant's tables includes an entire roll of paper towels; you'll need them.

El Patio

5240 Randolph Rd., Rockville, MD 20852  | 301-231-9225  |  Web site »

Sure, Argentine cuisine holds beef in high esteem, but what just came out of the kitchen at El Patio still borders on the absurd: The waiter appears to be carrying a skateboard -- one piled high with glistening, grilled meats.

In reality, it's the Parrillada para Dos, a platter of Argentine barbecue for two: grilled beef short ribs, flank steak, chicken, sausage, morcilla (black pudding), sweetbread, chinchulin (offal), two sides and, presumably, an immediate food coma. At $35.75, it's easily enough for two (or three . . . or four) and should probably come with an insurance policy and Tums. Wash it down with bottles of Quilmes ($5) for the true gaucho experience.

For the meat lover with a more tempered appetite, the bife a caballo -- flank steak served with two sunny-side-up eggs ($12.75) -- is still a tall order, as is the pique-a-lo-macho, a jumble of sauteed flank steak, sausage, jalapeƱos, french fries, hard-boiled eggs, olives and onions ($9.95).

Lighter fare, including choripan sandwiches -- tangy Argentine sausage on a homemade baguette ($3.25) -- are ideal for the lunchtime crowds.

South American ex-pats frequent El Patio's in-store market to pick up goods from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay; check out the impressive selection of Argentine wines before you faint from overconsumption.

VisArts at Rockville

155 Gibbs Street, Rockville, MD 20850  | 301-315-8200  |  Web site »

By day, the Arts and Innovation Center in downtown Rockville is a mild-mannered art gallery; by night, it's a lively rooftop destination that attracts neighbors and office workers to mingle at a series of alfresco happy hours. That duality makes the Rockville Town Center building one of the most visually and socially stimulating locations in the city.

VisArts at Rockville occupies the building's bottom three levels, housing nearly 2,000-square-feet of gallery space, a retail store and studios for artists working in ceramics, glass, wood, photography and other media.

Three levels up, the Rockville Rooftop hosts recurring weekly parties to create Rockville's most elevated outdoor bar. Dance to salsa, bachata and reggaeton at Beso El Cielo, a Latin-themed dance party on Tuesdays, while both SkyAtFive (Thursdays) and Breeze (Fridays) strive for a lounge vibe, with white couches and velvet ropes.

Cloud 9 Clothing

130-B Gibbs St, Rockville, MD 20850  | 301-340-1061

Since the Anthropologie on Rockville Pike closed, the story of fashion in Rockville has centered on Marshalls, (T.J.) Maxx, Ross and Syms, a cluster of mid-Pike discount stores that, together, sound more like a law firm than a stylish destination.

Head farther up the Pike, however, and you'll find Cloud 9 Clothing, the Rockville Town Center outpost of a Baltimore-based chain of boutiques that happily keeps a low-profile -- it doesn't even have a Web site.

What it does have is a selection of casual, hip dresses, designer denim and accessories that have the type of mass-market-bohemian appeal that draws in the fashion- and budget-conscious alike. Indeed, the selection recalls that of Anthropologie (minus the housewares) or Urban Outfitters (minus the forced irony).

The store's selection in Rockville is almost exclusively geared toward women's clothing, but, gentlemen, take note: Based on the number of 20- and 30-something men in the store dutifully waiting as their female companions try on multiple outfits, it's a great place to pick up something for your significant other.

Spice Xing

100-B Gibbs St., Rockville, MD 20850  | 301-610-0303  |  Web site »

It's easy to think in extremes when considering Indian dining options in the Washington area. Affordable Indian food too often means butter chicken in plastic foam containers or chafing dishes of curry under heat lamps; quality Indian food results in white tablecloths and long waits for a reservation. Spice Xing, the newest restaurant by Passage to India's Sudhir Seth, offers a fine solution for diners seeking quality, affordable Indian food.

With a casual, kid-friendly atmosphere, it's the type of place you can dine in shorts and sandals after a Rockville Town Center shopping spree; Friday's Curry-Oke happy hour, where patrons sing to Top 40, hip-hop and Bollywood, should give you an idea of what to expect.

There's plenty to like about Chef Sudhir's food, too. The Malbari chicken ($12.95) boasts succulent, golf-ball sized chunks of chicken in a sauce that zings with coconut and coriander, while the chicken tikka masala ($13.95) is as good a representation of the Indian staple as you'll find. Paired with an appetizer of papadums and mango chutney ($4.50) or samosas ($5.50) and naan ($2.50), either entree can be comfortably shared.

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