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More Options Are Now On the Menu In Montgomery

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page GZ36

It's getting easier to find great food close to home.

No longer is Montgomery County's restaurant row centered solely along the Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike/Frederick Road corridor. A bumper crop of new neighborhood restaurants -- the Black Market Bistro in tiny Garrett Park, the Red Dog Cafe and Jackie's in different parts of Silver Spring, and the Oakville Grill and Wine Bar in North Bethesda -- has opened in the past year. Though their menus are mostly New American, each has a distinct personality and its own brand of welcoming service.

There also has been an influx of chain restaurants, not just the likes of the Red Lobster and Romano's Macaroni Grill in downtown Silver Spring, but Morton's steakhouse in Bethesda, the Red Rock Canyon Grill in Gaithersburg and Silver Spring (coming in June) and the '50s-style soda jerk shop chain Cheeburger Cheeburger in Shady Grove.

At the same time, Wheaton's stalwart Anchor Inn was sold by its original owner, and the Colesville Road Crisfield closed, leaving the original Crisfield on Georgia Avenue and O'Donnell's at Kentlands as the only remnants of the crab cuisine that once dominated the county's upscale offerings. But there also is a phoenix: The longtime favorite Comus Inn at Sugarloaf Mountain reopened, renovated and lovely, after being closed for nearly three years.

These are some recommendations for dining in Montgomery and Frederick counties:

Diners

Modern versions of these old favorites have proliferated in recent years. But there are diners, and then there is the Tastee Diner (two locations, 7731 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-3970, and 8601 Cameron St., Silver Spring, 301-589-8171. www.tasteediner.com). Both are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas. Drop by after a baseball game, after the prom or just for the sausage gravy with biscuits. The Bethesda location is practically that area's city hall, and you are apt to find politicians -- or a neighbor -- there anytime you visit.

In Wheaton, Nick's Diner (11199 Veirs Mill Rd., 301-933-5459) offers much the same ambience and menu, but it's open only for breakfast and lunch.

Though the glammed-up newcomer, the Silver Diner at Mid-Pike Plaza (11806 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-770-2828. www.silverdiner.com ), isn't open all night, it, too, has become a haven for politicos, nearby office workers and families looking for a menu that has enough selections to please adults, toddlers and teens.

Asian

Asians and Hispanics now make up more than a quarter of Montgomery's population, so it should be no surprise that Rockville has begun to rival the District's Chinatown and that the county is a good match for the South and Central American specialties of Prince George's County.

Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe (930 Bonifant St., 301-585-0500), a Burmese cuisine transplant from College Park, is the new Asian star of Silver Spring. The bright, sparsely furnished restaurant offers a menu of more than 100 items that seems a little Chinese, a little Thai, a little Indian, but is really none of these yet draws influences from each.

For Chinese, it's hard to beat the daily dim sum menus at A&J Restaurant (1319-C Rockville Pike, 301-251-7878, cash or check only) or that of Good Fortune (2646 University Blvd. W., Wheaton, 301-929-8818). A&J is a sparse room in a basement location of a typical Rockville Pike shopping strip. I like to go in the middle of the afternoon, when there is no wait, and watch the servers prepare for the next onslaught, whether it be pulling the strings and labels from packets of green tea, or assembling the silken parcels for the spicy wonton soup. Good Fortune is even more spare, but the items on the generous menu are deftly executed.

A meal at Bob's Noodle 66 (305 N. Washington St., Rockville, 301-315-6668) is like a trip to a foreign country. Even for weekday lunch the large single room with rows of tables is apt to be filled with Chinese speakers, eating Taiwanese selections you might never have seen before. The $6 lunch special is a good way to get grounded in the intriguing offerings (sliced stomach with sour mustard, anyone?). Or settle for more mundane choices, such as shredded beef with scallions.

For the more Americanized Chinese standards, try the new locations of City Lights of China (4820 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-913-9501. www.citylightsofchina.com) and Meiwah (4457 Willard Ave., Chevy Chase. 301-652-9882). If it's vegetarian you prefer, there are the Vegetable Garden (11618 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-468-9301. www.thevegetablegarden.com) and Yuan Fu Vegetarian (798 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-762-5937), both of which have extensive menus featuring tofu products masquerading as chicken and meat.

Though Thai restaurants seem to have opened on every second street corner, I like traditional places such as Wheaton's Ruan Thai (11407 Amherst Ave., 301-942-0075) and Bangkok Garden in Bethesda (4906 St Elmo Ave., 301-951-0670). Ruan Thai is storefront plain, but the dishes are authentic and can be fiery. In contrast, decorations seem to fill every available inch of Bangkok Garden, from Buddha by the front door to elaborate silver jewelry, but it's the cooking that will bring you back here. Amina Thai Restaurant (5065 Nicholson Lane, Rockville, 301-770-9509. www.halalthaicuisine.com) is a surprisingly elegant Muslim Thai eatery (there are no pork dishes) in a small strip shopping center. The food is well prepared, appropriately spicy and exceptionally fresh.


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