Astor Mediterranean

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Here's one way to improve a long commute home from the District to Northern Virginia: Make a quick stop at this comfortable outpost to pick up freshly made salads, sandwiches and grilled meats.

Astor Mediterranean has been a favorite neighborhood spot in Adams Morgan for two decades. A little more than a year ago, the Hashish family opened a second casual eatery close to the intersection of Route 50 and North Pershing Drive.

"We were hoping people would find us here," says co-owner Wesam Hashish, "and more and more of them are." His parents, Salwa and Abdalla, have developed recipes based on Egyptian cuisine and favorites from Greece and the Middle East. The restaurant seats about 60 indoors and on the patio, and it accommodates a steady carryout business.

The aroma of kebabs rotating on a churrascaria and pizza baking in a high-tech combi oven could draw a crowd. One of the most popular plates is the mixed kebab ($11.95), which includes beef, chicken, lamb and kufta (ground sirloin and lamb seasoned with onion, parsley, cumin, coriander and cilantro). It comes with salad or an especially flavorful and generous portion of rice pilaf.

The pizza is a sleeper on the menu. The crust is crisp and light, with a touch of fennel seed. A regular rectangular pie with chunks of sweet tomato and lots of whole-milk mozzarella cheese is only $8.75 and can serve three.

Diners can create their own vegetable sampler ($8.95) from a case filled with baked eggplant, baba ghanouj, spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, beet salad, lentil salad, tabouli and more; most single orders cost between $3 and $3.75. Of the ones we tried, only the chunky fava bean dip seemed bland and slightly dry, as was the falafel in a pita sandwich ($5.95).

While we were in the checkout line, we watched hungry customers tuck into big lamb shanks, which are cooked overnight to falling-off-the-bone tenderness ($11.95). A 25-minute ride did not diminish the pleasures of the Astor burger, a tasty bargain ($4.50). Its five to six ounces of ground sirloin is seasoned like the kufta, grilled to order and topped with tzatziki, feta cheese, lettuce and tomato, and served on a kaiser roll.

Dessert choices are a praiseworthy baklava ($2.75) and a creamy rice pudding with coconut and raisins ($2.50).

You can call ahead to order; the menu is available on Astor's Web site, which will be updated within a few weeks to reflect a few price changes. Delivery within a two-mile radius is also available, and soon, maybe a few ready-made meals to take home for reheating.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick (Good to Go, April 22, 2008)