Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

HARD TIMES CAFE (1404 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-0050. Metro: King Street. Thirteen other area locations) -- This 25-year-old family-friendly local chain still serves up bargain bowls of chili -- Texas-style coarse ground, the family recipe; slightly sweet, cinnamony Cincinnati style; mushroomy veggie; and somewhat spicier, competition-style Terlingua Red -- and all the fixin's, from neutral spaghetti and cheese to potent jalapenos and chili vinegar, but nowadays it also delivers good grilled chicken, salmon and even some of those smaller, old-fashioned steaks you don't need to refinance for (not at all locations). Chili from $5.79, entrees $8.99-$10.99 (prices may vary slightly).

PASHA CAFE (3911 N. Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-528-1111) -- This cheery and increasingly sure-footed neighborhood restaurant follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the nearby original cafe (now Portabellos, which shares ownership with Pasha). Easy-tempered, and with food just as easy to get along with, Pasha offers Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare that ranges from the familiar dips and purees (notably a pungent-sweet blend of roasted peppers, walnuts and pomegranate called maramar, the all-in-one hummus shawarma with lamb and chopped tomatoes and the summer cooler zucchini puree called kosa bel zabadi) to parsley-peppery tabbouleh, lightly spiced shrimp with dry-sauteed okra, fine artichoke ravioli in sun-dried tomato sauce and citrus-marinated salmon. Don't look for spice here, indulge in texture. Entrees $7.50-$19.95.

DIVINO (7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0300. Metro: Bethesda) -- Be cool, at least in the beginning: The kitchen of this Argentine steakhouse and tapas lounge takes a little while to warm up, and there are plenty of cold tapas to choose from early in the cocktail hour (and often a little complimentary tasting); but once the grill gets going, the going gets hot. Don't miss the custard-soft grilled sweetbreads, the skirt steak, mushroom mousse with white asparagus sauce, stuffed eggplant, marinated semi-boneless quail, lamb or venison and fish of the day. Paellas come mostly for two, but there are some tapas-size versions, or try the lobster cazuela. Tapas $5-$8; entrees $14-$32.

SOBE SEAFOOD CO. (3100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-528-0033. Metro: Clarendon) -- This South Beach-style restaurant may be a little more style-conscious than substantive, and the staff can get a little wired; but the kitchen is getting its rhythm down, and already pays unusual attention to presentation details. But pace yourself; most dishes are generous, especially the appetizers. Try the jerk shrimp, spinach-artichoke dip, crab-crusted salmon, not-too- marinated tuna or fried calamari. The Caesar salad dressing may not be eggs-actly authentic, but it's pretty good. Entrees $10-$20.

MISS SAIGON (11 N. Washington St., Rockville; 301-838-9070. Metro: Rockville) -- This youngest member of the popular Washington restaurant family wouldn't win the local talent competition, but it could make a good case for the beauty title, and Miss Congeniality as well. The kitchen's main failing is a curious blandness that spoils the effect of its crunchy and grease-free batters, gentle stir-fries and not-tangy-enough salads; and it has an excess sweet tooth as well that makes the "caramel" dishes near-desserts. On the other hand, the vegetarian dishes (especially the mock duck), the grilled meats and chicken (fragrant roast quail), anise-scented beef noodle soup, clay pots and huge "lobster shrimp" can be real treats. Entrees $7.95-$17.95.

ESPUMA (28 Wilmington Ave, Rehoboth, Del.; 302-227-4199) -- Jay Caputo's modern Mediterranean style is still evolving, and occasionally his curiosity makes him just clever, but he understands restraint: His food is never boring, often intentionally comic or smart, and frequently elating. Don't miss the foie gras dish of the moment (most recently a raviolo with fig compote); crisped duck confit cut by cherries and manchego cheese; caramelized diver scallops with a black truffle-mushroom raviolo, or the coriander-crusted -- really dusted -- rockfish with baby artichokes, a smattering of prosciutto and fabulously sillken Robuchon potato gnocchi. Entrees $21-$35.