From Salvadoran to Sushi, Where to Call and Carry - Montgomery County

Cornucopia Specialty Food Market in Bethesda, owned by Ibrahim Selmy, above, specializes in Italian cuisine.
Cornucopia Specialty Food Market in Bethesda, owned by Ibrahim Selmy, above, specializes in Italian cuisine. (Photos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
Thursday, April 27, 2006

If you don't live in the neighborhood, you've probably never noticed El Mexicano (formerly Chela's Place), just steps from busy Wisconsin Avenue on a little side street in downtown Bethesda. This lively Mexican/Salvadoran carryout is literally a small shack, with a couple of picnic tables outside and barely room for a few customers to stand inside. There is no printed menu. Specials -- written on paper plates tacked to the wall -- consist mainly of tacos, burritos, pupusas and the like. It's hard to push an order total much over $5. A splendid relic that opens only for breakfast and lunch, it takes only cash. 4708 Highland Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-7887.

Vace Italian Delicatessen, which used to be in a Wisconsin Avenue storefront but now occupies space on tiny Miller Avenue in Bethesda, is known for its pizza, available by the slice or by the pie. The crust is yeasty-tasting and chewy, a favorite of transplanted New Yorkers. But there is so much more, especially in the freezer cases that line one wall.

Take your pick of prepared Italian classics including lasagna, manicotti and eggplant parmigiana, as well as veal and cheese ravioli and a variety of sauces. 4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6367 .

Ibrahim Selmy, who opened Cornucopia Specialty Food Market on a Bethesda back street more than two years ago, was trained as a geologist to work in the oil fields as part of his family's Amsterdam-based business. But his passion for food, specifically the Italian cuisine of his mother's homeland, won out over petroleum products. Stepping into his shop near the end of Norfolk Avenue is like entering an elegant alimentare establishment in Italy. There are stacks of biscotti (at least a half-dozen varieties), glorious European-style pastries and cakes, cases of imported cheeses, sausages and hams, jars of luxury jams and a wide assortment of artisanal Italian pastas.

The store doesn't have a kitchen, but Selmy has many items made to his recipes by friends in Philadelphia and other Italian centers in this country.

Choices run the gamut and include freshly cut flat pastas such as fettuccine and linguine and stuffed pastas such as lobster ravioli and cheese tortellini. There are sauces to complement them perfectly. Look for the bruschetta with toppings that include artichokes, olives, tomatoes and mozzarella. 8102 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-1625 .

The menu at Just Cakes , around the corner from Cornucopia on Rugby Avenue, is more than its name implies, though the emphasis is certainly on the best American-style cakes, the kind you wished your grandmother or talented aunt baked. They are perfect for birthday parties or special dinners. The chocolate layer cake with real butter cream icing is simply perfect. The apple Bundt cake is a wonderful Sunday morning treat. But there are also tiny cupcakes, lemon squares, fruit tarts and old-fashioned pound cakes (also in contemporary flavors such as "pucker-up lemon"). Everything is made from scratch, and special requests are welcome. 4849 Rugby Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-5111.

Hinata Sushi Carryout is just a sliver of a space next to the parking garage that stretches between St. Elmo and Cordell avenues in Bethesda, but past the Asian groceries in the front is a four-seat sushi bar across the rear that is designed mostly for takeout. I am not a fan of pre-made sushi, such as what is sold at many area grocery stores; I want to know that a classically trained sushi master is making my meal. You can depend on that here. There is always a daily combination special for about $7, but the chefs can also prepare virtually any kind of sushi or sashimi you desire. Hinata also sells sushi-grade fish for the brave souls who want to make their own at home. 4947 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda, 301-656- 1009.

Manny's Pizza & Subs is a tiny takeout beside a 7-Eleven in Kensington. Despite its name, the specialty of the house is the gyro. The meat is nicely browned, the yogurt-cucumber sauce dense and flavorful. There are many subs and pizza items on the menu and a very good chicken souvlaki, but most of the standing-room-only crowd at lunch is queued up for the gyro, which is less than $5. 10592 Metropolitan Ave., Kensington, 301-942-1577 .

Savory is a very Takoma Park kind of place. There are stacks of every local tabloid published for miles around, bulletin boards crammed with notices, young mothers with strollers and, in general, people just hanging out. But Savory is also a very good place to get something good -- and usually healthful -- to eat, from morning until late in the evening. There are the usual sandwiches and salads, but also vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrees, such as frittata, stuffed potato, spinach and feta pie, and turkey lasagna. 7071 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park, 301-270-2233.

A trio of small restaurants along a short stretch of Old Columbia Pike in Burtonsville offer a wide selection of ethnic favorites. Cuba de Ayer's classic Cuban sandwich, a combination of roasted pork, sliced ham, sliced pickles and Swiss cheese, is delicious warmed quickly in an oven at home. There are other classics, such as ropa vieja (shredded beef in a sauce with garlic, onions and peppers) and arroz con pollo (yellow rice and chicken), that also reheat well. No telephone orders accepted Friday through Sundays. 15446 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, 301-476-9622.

Chapala Restaurant has been serving Tex-Mex and Salvadoran favorites for more than a decade. Chimichangas, burritos, tacos and flautas are good choices if you don't have far to go; otherwise stick to dishes with sauces, such as enchiladas, for best results in reheating. 15530-B Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, 301-421-0924.

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