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County Savors New Flavors and Variety in Dining

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page PG39

The biggest dining news in Prince George's County is happening at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo: It is becoming a dining destination.

The first restaurants at the 1 1/2-year-old center were mostly chains with little culinary pedigree. But in recent months, several high-end restaurants have opened.

Chef Illkyu Moon, right, prepares dinner tableside as server Ji Won watches at Kobe Japanese Steak House in Largo. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

Kobe Japanese Steak House, a small, Virginia-based chain, and Blu Bambu, which has a sister Asian restaurant in Baltimore, are upscale eateries that have joined the likes of the Red Star Tavern and Stonefish Grill as part of the shopping center's Restaurant Row. The first of two soul food restaurants, Soul Fixin's, a Harlem landmark, has opened, and Gladys [Knight] and Ron's [Winan] Chicken and Waffles, based in Georgia, is scheduled to open about July 1. The expanding restaurant scene at the Boulevard already has eclipsed the similar trend at Bowie Town Center. Prince George's might still lack the high-end independent restaurants that county officials want to attract, but the dining choices are certainly expanding.

These are some suggestions for places to eat throughout the county.

DINER: It might not be as well-known as its sisters in Bethesda and Silver Spring, but Laurel's Tastee Diner (circa 1951) is still a gleaming beauty that offers breakfast 24 hours a day, every day, hot turkey sandwiches and blue plate specials (118 Washington Blvd., 301-953- 7567, www.tasteediner.com).

Plato's Diner is located just south of the University of Maryland campus in College Park (7150 Baltimore Ave., 301- 779- 7070). The diner is open all night only on weekends, carries many untraditional items (such as falafel) and started life as a Howard Johnson's. But the neon and pie cakes up front are authentic.

Newer, glammed-up diners are also attracting crowds. There are two Silver Diners in the county (14550 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, 301-604-6995; 6040 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt, 301-220-0028, www.silverdiner.com), part of the Montgomery County-based chain. Both are open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

PIZZA: Ledo's is one of Prince George's County's most famous exports, with locations from Florida to Pennsylvania. But for some, there is still nothing like the original (2420 University Blvd. E., in Adelphi, 301-422-8622, ledorestaurant.com), where the Marcos family has been serving the now-famous rectangular pizza since 1955. Oh, there are other things on the menu -- typical red-sauce Southern Italian favorites -- but the pizza is the standout (though the garlic bread is pretty awesome, too).

Another local favorite is Alario's in College Park, (9204 Baltimore Ave., 301-474-3003). But pizza isn't limited to the university crowd. Three Brothers Pizza, a local chain based in Bladensburg (4521 Kenilworth Ave., 301-864-1570, www.threebrothersdpizza.com), also has locations in Beltsville (10961 Baltimore Blvd., 301-595-8888), Bowie (15485 Excelsior Dr., 301-860-1800), Clinton (6444 Coventry Way, 301-877-6055), Greenbelt (6160 Greenbelt Rd., 301-474-5330) and Hyattsville (7434-C Riggs Rd., 301-445-6200). Locations in Capitol Heights and Laurel are to open soon.

ITALIAN: Not all the Italian restaurants in the county are red-sauce Southern Italian. Pasta Plus in Laurel and Mama Stella's Pasta House in Clinton specialize in more Northern Italian dishes. Both are longtime county institutions. At Pasta Plus (209 Gorman Ave., 301-498-5100, www.pastaplusrestaurant.com), a Laurel mainstay for more than two decades, the crowds sometimes start lining up an hour before the doors open for dinner at 5 p.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The menu runs several pages, seemingly far too long for everything to be good. But everything is. The gnocchi are feather light, the pasta is silken, the veal is fork-tender and the zabaglione dessert rivals the best of Italy. Tucked in a strip mall between the one-way portions of Route 1, this is a hidden treasure.

The same might be said of Mama Stella's, named after the owner's grandmother (7918 Old Branch Ave., 301-868-3057) which has been serving veal, seafood and homemade pasta specialties, along with Greek dishes, since 1981. Don't be surprised to see local political heavyweights at the next table.

ASIAN: Kobe Japanese Steak House (860-G Capital Centre Blvd., 301-333-5555) and BluBambu (800-E Shoppers Way, 301-499-7899) in Largo have brought dinner as theater to the county, along with reputable sushi bars. At Kobe, diners sit around a table surrounding a grill and a chef cooks dinner and performs. Blu Bambu diners choose the ingredients for their meal, then watch as a chef stir-fries them to perfection.

Other longtime Asian favorites include Grace's Fortune (15500 Annapolis Rd., No. 115, Bowie, 301-805-1108), which offers an extensive menu that includes dim sum on the weekends, and Seven Seas (8503 Baltimore Ave., College Park, 301-345-5807).

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