KEY: Reviewer's initials are as follows: Phyllis C. Richman (P.C.R.), Mark and Gail Barnett (M.G.B.), Pat McNees (P.M.), Robert and Patty Webb (R.P.W.), and Carole Sugarman (C.S.) Prices are for the least and most expensive main dishes at breakfast (Br.), lunch (L) and dinner (D). Credit cards accepted are identified by initials: AE (American Express), CB (Carte Blanche), CC (Central Charge), D (Diners Club), MC (Mastercard), V (Visa). Free parking is noted; otherwise, expect to pay if you cannot find street parking. "Full bar service" indicates that the restaurant is licensed to sell spirits as well as beer and wine. Akropol 132 W. Broad St., Falls Church. 532-2772. L $3.25-$7.95, D $5.25-$14.95. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested, especially on weekends. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
Billing itself as "American and continental," Akropol is one of those restaurants that shies away from seeming too ethnic, but is just jammed with regulars who have obviously not come for the lobster tails and ground sirloin. At lunchtime, when there may be a line to get in, the menu runs to American-style sandwiches plus gyros and souvlaki ("We learned we could go broke pushing an ethnic menu at noon," explains the owner). At dinner the Greek menu listings are more extensive. Considering how good the appetizers are, we can imagine devoting one evening to these alone and to the kitchen's pricey but heavenly pita bread (75 cents a slice) -- a bready version of white pizza. The tarama is first-rate, the spinach pie tasty and perfectly textured. One of the best buys on the menu is the Greek appetizer plate for two, $6.95 which gives you spinach pie and tarama, feta cheese, olives, tomatoes, hot fried squid, and a simple but delicious version of cold rings of octopus, boiled in olive oil and lemon. Exohikon, which doesn't always "mesh" in other restaurants, is outstanding: Cubes of lamb and assorted vegetables create a counterpoint of tastes and textures for which the filo crust is simply a crowning glory. Equally good are the paidakia, three shoulder lamb chops that rise above their class through inspired seasoning -- though some diners pay less attention to the meat than to the delicious oven-roasted potatoes that come with it. (Neither pita nor paidakia were printed on the menu when we ate here, but the owner said they would appear on a new menu). Other entrees were good but not championship quality. The Greek salad was boring and skimpy with feta, the dryish baklava a disappointment. However, the light and fluffy French cheesecake was a treat, and the creme caramel slightly scorched but very edible. Akropol is not a bargain spot, but it's the kind of neighborhood restaurant you feel like claiming as your discovery even when you are lucky to get the last table. -- P.M. Ali Deli 785 Rockville Pike, Rockville. 762-0810. L, D $1.30-$7.50. L, D daily. Closed Sun. Cash or checks only. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. No alcholic beverages.
A light, bright, pretty little carryout-with-booths, the Ali Deli offers a few Middle Eastern specialties in addiiton to the usual subs and hamburgers. Felafel, although admirably ungreasy, tends to be a little dry and timidly flavored. The slices of gyros, served with lettuce, tomato and yogurt sauce, are crisp around the edges, as though they'd been cooked on the grill after slicing. The Greek salad is a notch above the ordinary -- bright green lettuce, three kinds of Greek olives, a good feta cheese, fresh cucumber and a green pepper. The two Middle Eastern desserts, made on the premises, are worth a visit in themselves. Those who think that most baklava is too sweet and oily should find the Ali Deli's version just right -- restrained on the honey and oil, with a delicate, buttery, light golden pastry. The rice pudding is excellent, too -- firm rice grains and a stand-up custard that's rich with egg. -- M.G.B. Ambrosia 1765 Rockville Pike, Rockville. 881-3636. L $1.15-$2.95, D $1.25-$6.95. L, D daily. Closed Sun. No credit cards. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Beer and wine only.
Half of the Ambrosia is a glaring bright, stainless steel and Formica carryout that looks as though it might have been the stage set for the old "Cheeseburger and Pepsi" sketch on "Saturday Night Live." By contrast, the other half is an inviting, candle-lit dining room popular among the budget-minded -- where, for example, $5.25 for the Ambrosia Special buys a mountain of souvlaki, gyros, stuffed grape leaves, soujoukakia and feta cheese. What Ambrosia does well, it does very well. The spinach, cheese or meat pies, with their flaky crusts, are first-rate. The souvlaki is beautifully trimmed, well marinated and moist; the gyros do not suffer from the greasiness that tends to give these dishes a bad name, and the pita bread, imported from New York, is among the best around. Moussaka, too, is very good, with an airy custard and plenty of lean ground meat. Beyond this, things get pretty uneven. On the positive side, beef styfado has plenty of tender beef chunks in a tomato-based sauce fragrant with cinnamon and cumin, and Athenian chicken is a moist half-bird nicely basted in a peppery sauce. (Hint: With the sauced dishes, order the pita bread on the side.) The lamb specials, on the other hand, are near-disasters -- a minuscule, fatty gouvetsi, for example, or thin slices of flavorless leg of lamb covered with an equally flavorless, flour-thick gravy. Baklava and cream custard, both made on the premises, are exceptionally good. -- M.C.B. Amphora 377 Maple Ave. W., Vienna. 938-7877. L $.65-$12.50, D $4.95-$17.50.Open 24 hours daily. AE, CB, D, MC, V. No reservations. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
This giant eating hall has five things going for it: 24-hour service, lots of parking, a ramp for wheelchairs, a menu that reads like a catalogue for the starving and a bakery that has probably expanded the average waistline in Vienna an inch and a half. Amphora's menu has something for everyone: blueberry pancakes, turkey sandwiches, escargots bourguignonne, deluxe cheeseburgers, seafood au gratin, Reuben sandwiches, Chinese roast pork on garlic buns, the Amphora specialty (sliced filet migon with shrimp), six kinds of cheesecake, a dozen cakes and pies, countless pastries, sundaes and fountain delights. The Howard Johnson part of us (which loved the electric fire in the fireplace, the fake Tiffany lamps casting shadows on the Greek mural, and the Edith Bunker waitress) gives Amphora high marks for a hot fudge sundae (remember those?), a fatty but respectable pastrami sandwich, an ample portion of a pot roast-like styfado and generous chunks of shish kebab. The Greek-restaurant critic part of us was somewhat startled by the concept of Greek salad served with a choice of creamy Italian or blue cheese dressing (both boring), traumatized by the Grecian caviar, horrified by the moussaka (like Hamburger Helper with tomato sauce on it) and annoyed by the watery coffee. Probably nothing we say will diminish Amphora's popularity and we don't promise never to return, but if we go back, it won't be for Greek food. -- P.M. Angie's Twinbrook Shopping Center, 9569 Braddock Rd., Fairfax. 978-5518 L, D $3-$8.95. Open daily. Cash or checks only. No reservations. Free parking lot. Beer and wine only.
Angie's is basically an overgrown pizza parlor that caters to Just Plain Folks. It will receive few prizes for cooking and none for decor, but the service is friendly, the prices comfortingly low and the food filling -- some times pleasantly so. Although Greek posters adorn the walls of two enormous dining rooms, the Greek specialties occupy only a small part of Angie's menu. Pizza takes pride of place, along with pasta, sandwiches, steaks and fish and chips. The souvlaki sandwich is quite good. With ample portions of flavorful lamb rolled (not stuffed) in a fresh piece of pita and topped with chopped lettuce and tomatoes and feta cheese. The gyrp (a generous mixture of beef and lamb) is bland, dry and not particularly rewarding, though if you order it as a platter you also get yogurt and a Greek salad. Greek-style steak has a distinctly Italian air, sort of like Swiss steak larded with cooked green peppers -- not great, but edible, and a huge portion for only $4.95 (though it includes heavy, dull french fried potatoes and onion rings). The iceberg lettuce salad that comes with the steak makes the Greek salad (for $3) seem far more interesting than it really is. Baklava is strangely reminiscent of American honey buns: a thick and sugary layer of cinnamon flavored nuts topped with a smidgen of filo dough -- definitely not worth breaking a diet for. -- P.M. Arabian Nights 2915 Connecticut Ave. NW. 232-6684. L $6-$8, D $8-$12. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Street parking. Beer and wine only .
It has long been a mystery how the lightly patronized Arabian Nights, off the path of the Connecticut-and-Calvert tourist traffic could continue to serve consistently fresh and delicious Middle Eastern food. Finally, the answer is that maybe it can't. On my latest visit, the food just wasn't up to its old standard. The baba ghanouj was still good -- fresh and subtle -- but lacked the smoothness and pungency it once showed. The tabulleh was as fine as ever, crunchy and tart and fragrant with olive oil. But what happened to the baked eggplant? Whatever happened tasted as if it happened yesterday. And the kufta came to the table nearly raw.The Arabian Nights is small and slightly bare, despite the fresh red and white Moorish-looking wallpaper and beaded curtains. Its menu is also spare, mostly charcoal-grilled kebabs and stuffed vegetables, plus inexplicable curries. It has a small and reasonable wine list, and for dessert an assortment of filo dough pastries from its own kitchen. But even they were dry and doughy, though the nut-stuffed rolled bourma are as flaky and nutty and crunchy as ever. Start with tabulleh, risk a shish kebab, end with bourma and Turkish coffee, and bide your time while the Arabian Nights -- hopefully -- gets back on its track as equal to the best of Washington's Arabic cooking. -- P.C.R. Astor 1813 M St. NW. 331-7994. L, $2.75-$6.95, D, $2.95-$12.95. Open daily. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Commercial parking across the street. Full bar service .
Twenty years ago -- 10, even -- the Astor has a well deserved reputation for good if unexceptional Greek food at amazingly low prices. The prices are still modest but no longer amazing, and much of the food is poor, especially so in comparison with what's now available around town. A good rule of thumb for dining here is that any dish requiring careful timing and attention to detail will fail; conversely, the one that can sit on the heat interminably are your best bets. It follows, then, that the moussaka is flat and tired, the spanakopita is soggy, the spinach and rice is mush, and the chicken livers have the texture of paste. It also follows that the lamb dishes (such as tash kebab or lamb kapama, in a good tomato sauce) and the beef styfado, a Greek stew, are very good, as are the soups. The lamb in the shish kebab is tender but dry and flavorless, and at four chunks for $6.95 at dinner, it's no bargain. An even bigger extravagrance is the Greek salad for four persons, which is mainly head lettuce at $7.80. Among the side-dishes, chickpea salad, in an oil-herb dressing, is excellent. The gyros, oozing grease, are for the iron-stomached only. Baklava is good, if a little over-sweet and short on the nuts. -- M.G.B. Athena Plaka Courthouse Plaza, 10308 Willard Way, Fairfax. 273-1616. L $3.50-$17. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking lot. Full bar service .
Athena Plaka has been open only a few weeks when we ate there, but we suspect this one is headed for the winner's circle. A Greek restaurant that calls itself continental and offers fettucine alfredo as well as kalamarakia, it features decor that reminds you less of Greece than of a Ramada Inn Colonial Room with a lot of plants -- leftovers, perhaps, from Higher Court's tenure on the premises. The mixed cuisine, however, includes a lamb chop any French restaurant would be proud of: three of them, in fact, double thick portions of wonderful meat served rare, with just a hint of a Greek accent. Successful Greek dishes include a feta cheese with enough character to remind you that you don't usually get the real thing, and a homemade yogurt that renders the tzatziki more like cucumbers in sour cream than we're used to. Orektika, the Greek appetizer plate for two, is a good dish to start with -- the taramasalata lovely, the spinach pie a little heavy on spinach and light on pastry but tasty nonetheless, the usual grape leaves and olives, an interesting eggplant salad, and two meatballs hearty enough to make this a filling platter. The fried squid, served whole and surprisingly tender, were pleasant but took a back seat to garides tiganites, a large portion of beautiful fresh jumbo shrimp sauteed to pink perfection and delicately spiced. Desserts include a krema karamele, which I would choose over the kadaifi (a dryish pastry reminiscent of shredded wheat) if by some misfortune it weren't possible simply to order the exceptional baklava: delicate, nutty and sweet, without dripping of honey. Greek coffee is ordered bitter, medium or sweet -- but medium is sweet, so start there. Athena Plaka hasn't ironed out all the kinks -- we over heard the bartender telling our waiter he didn't have most of the Greek wines listed -- but the care devoted to both customers and kitchen on our first visit were very reassuring. -- P. M. Attila's 2705 Columbia Pike, Arlington. 920-4900. L $2.95-$5.95, D $4.55-$9.95, carryout $2.65-$7.95. L, D daily. Dining room closed Sun, carryout open daily. Reservations suggested, especially on weekends. Free parking lot. Full bar service; beer and wine only at carryout.
Ignore the fact that Atilla's menu includes pizza, subs and "bac-let-tom." Behind that commuter-strip leatherette and carryout face beats a pure Turkish heart. Atilla's menus is small -- a few kebabs, gyros, spinich and cheese pies, and a few appetizers. But the filo dough is homemade, as are the pita bread and the yogurt -- all delicious, as well. The best of the menu are appetizers and desserts. Order a one-person mezze of excellent tangy and flaky borek with grape leaves and tomatoes turned into decorative swirls with olives and feta. But also try the kufta -- the only thing heavy about these meatballs is the dose of cumin and pepper -- for they are a wonderful, almost-a-meal appetizer with tomatoe sauce and homemade bread. Try the homemade yogurt, either as an appetizer with mint and cucumber, or as a dessert with honey. Second courses are more second-rate: The doner kebab is flabby and bland, the moussaka pasty and bland, the spinich filling for the pie just plain bland (substitute the cheese pie, since the flaky dough is flawlwss). You can go totally Turkish and drink licorice-flavored spirits -- it goes by the Greek name ouzo -- or ayran, liquified yogurt. Then order Turkish coffee -- a slightly pallid version -- with a truly fine baklava, supersweet but fresh and crisp. A few beautiful artifacts and the most solicitious service this side of Istanbul confirm that Atill's is a gem. -- P. R. C. Bacchus 1827 Jefferson Place NW. 785-0734. L $3.95-$7.95, D $7.50-$9.25. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Street Parking. Full bar service.
Bacchus is back on the track after a short lapse, so Washington's oldest Lebanese restaurant is again the best.Furthermore, it now serves Lebanese food (although not a full selection) at lunch as well as at dinner. Comprised of two small rooms, bright with tile tables and copper wall fountains, Bacchus is friendly and lively, not the place for privacy. And the best way to eat at Bacchus is sociably, with a tableful of people passing around little pottery bowls of mezze: fluffy baba ghanouj, very tender and tart stuffed grape leaves, yogart thickened and seasoned with olive oil and herbs, and two extraordinary homemade sausages , one tangy and studded with pine nuts, the other fiery and heavy with cumin. The tabulleh is crunchy fresh, the Turkish salad a contrast of crisp cucumbers and oil-soaked bread crumbs. This is the mezze to teach you about mezze. Main dishes are every bit as good, from the lemony marinated chicken kebab with a touch of tomato sauce to the spicy dark rice studded with currants, pine nuts and almonds. A well-chosen and modestly priced wine list rounds one of Washington's most intriguing and satisfying moderately priced restaurants -- P. R. C. Bamiyan 3320 M St. NW. 338-1896. D $6.95-$9.95. D daily. Closed Sun. MC, V. Reservations accepted. Street parking or commercial lots. Full bar service.
Bamiyan was the first Afhgan restaurant in town. If the red decor of the small upstairs dining room (the bar is on the ground floor) has become a bit shabby over the years, the kitchen has, if anything, improved. The cooking of Afghanistan, like the country, is poised between great traditions of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, drawing its fundamentals from the first and owing its subtlety at least in part to the second. Bamiyan's menu explains the dishes, and the staff are friendly and helpful too. Unhurried and modestly priced, the restaurant fully deserves its popularity. The unadventurous diner might like to stick with beef or lamb kebabs -- the lamb is nicely marinated in spices and garlic -- but the delicate chicken kebab (kababe-murgh) is a strongly recommended variation. Quabsli palow -- chunks of lamb embedded in saffron rice and given a characteristic sweetness by raisins and a garnish of thin strips of carrot -- is excellent, though possibly not to everyone's taste. The most obdurate spinich-haters will surley be converted by the sabsi chalow, beautifully cooked pieces of lamb in an onion-and-garlic spinich puree. There are three appetizers and a soup. Bulaunee are turnovers filled with scallions, herbs and ground beef, topped with yogurt; sambosay goshti are deep-fried pastries stuffed with ground beef, chickpeas and parsely; aushak, scallion-filled dumplings topped with meat sauce and yogurt and wonderfully mint-flavored, also doubles as an entree and, in slighly differnt form, becomes the outstanding soup, aush. Vegetarian entrees feature pumpkin, spinach or eggplant. The crisply fried pasty in the shape of an elephant's ear will do for several diners, who may or may not choose to try the Afghan pudding or the baklava. There is a simple, inexpensive wine list. -- R. P. W. Beirut 3340 M St. NW. 342-9090. L, D $6.95-$10.95. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested, required on weekends. Commercial parking lots. Full bar service.
Usually a restaurant has some consistency -- good cooking or bad cooking prevails, at least on one night. Or if it is inconsistent, the complicted dishes show the chef's weak points. But Beirut is an inexplicable exception. The dishes most vulnerable to failure are the best. And this obviously capable chef, who can produce inspired sausages and sweetbreads, does not seem capable of grilling a simple shish kebab. As in most Lebanese restaurants, the mezze -- here an assortments of 10 appetizers and salads -- should be your beginning middle and end. The torpedo-shaped kibbe are delicate shells of grain stuffed with meat; the tabulleh and tahini salads are pungent. And the sausages are tantalizing. Hummus and baba ghahouj have been dry and bland, so order the more complicated appetizers. Main dishes -- mostly kebabs are dull; the chef seems to apportional all the seasonings to the sausages, none to the couscous or kebabs. Skip right to the dessert -- a cheese-filled shredded wheat pastry with pistachios -- or just continue with another round of appetizers. You won't enjoy them in a prettier or more serene Middle Eastern setting or with more attentive service. -- P. R. C. Calvert Cafe 1967 Calvert St. NW. 232-5431. L, D $4.95-$7.95. Open daily. Cash and checks only. Reservations accepted. Street parking. Full bar service.
The Calvert is an old-timer that still deserves its reputation for good, authentic Arabian cooking at modest prices. Start with the baba ghanouj and hummus dips, heavy with ground sesame and olive oil, light on the garlic and thoroughly delicious. And notice the outstanding pita bread served with the dips, pita that has a real crust at the bottom. The peppery kufta kebab is skewered and broiled so that it's a touch charred outside and juicy within. Kibbe, a mixture of ground lamb and wheat, is flavored more mildly than the kufta, but with greater proportion of lamb in the mixture than in some versions, it's far from flat. This isn't the best place for shish kebab -- the lamb cubes tend to be fatty and poorly trimmed. Stuffed grape leaves are nicley lemony, and menzaleh, an eggplant stuffed with ground meat and pine nuts, is flavored beautifully, if a bit over-steamed. Cousous is availale two ways. The ordinary "wet" kind is made with steamed semolina, providing a pasta-like bed for a good, juicy lamb shank. More unusual is "dry" cousous, in which the semolina pellets are firm and pleasantly fibrous. Raisins and a touch of sugar provide a little sweetness, and pine nuts add a crunchy dimension. If you've a fondness for hot food, ask for the house-made hot sauce, an incendiary mixture that can ignite the meat dishes. For a party of four or more, call about the special cooked-to-order lamb dishes. (One day's notice is needed.) For dessert, baklava is beautifully balanced -- crisp, golden filo, not too much honey, yet not dry, and plenty of nuts. The bird's nest pastry is among the best around -- again a perfect filo, unspoiled by soaking in too much syrup, and crammed with pistachios. -- M. G. B. Casba 2100 P St. NW. 463-6361. L $4.95-$7.95, D $6.95-$8.95. Open daily. AE, D, MC. V. Reservations suggested. Street parking. Full bar service.
In any Middle Eastern restaurant, the highlight of the meal is expected to be the appetizers. Casba's appetizers fit the mode, for they are the best of the menu. Certainly include the felafel, those chickpea fritters light and airy, green inside from a strong dose of herbs and heavily perfumed with cumin; they are as good as any, maybe better. The salads -- the tabulleh, which is light on the cracked wheat and very crunchy-fresh, and the Egyptian bean, which is lemony, with some bite to the freshly cooked beans -- taste as pungent and lively as if the chef had access to a good open-air market. The hummus and baba ghanouj are well-balanced, moist versions of these two sesame paste dips. Cheese salad, yogurt-mint salad and tomato-cucumber salad are all spicy and vibrant.Among the main courses the couscous was most endearing, its grains of wheat soft and buttery, the bland steamed lamb enlivened with shredded hot peppers. Otherwise, the filo stuffed with lamb was tasteless and dry and the kibbe was reheated so that the meat was stiff and dry, yet resting in a pool of grease. The most interesting prospect was macloubey, rice cooked with tomatoes, eggplant, lamb and pine nuts, molded into an attractive round. Still, the seasoning -- lots of cumin -- did not penetrate the meat but merely the eggplant, making the mixture alternately spicy and bland. Thus, only if you leap from appetizers to dessert -- crisp and flaky but intensely honeyed baklava with pistachios or walnuts -- you will consider Casba a good find. -- P. C. R. Crystal Dinery 1664 Crystal Square, Arlington. 920-3930. L $2.50-$4, D $4-$9.95. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. No reservations. Free garage parking after 5 p.m. Full bar service.
Buried adjacent to the Metro station deep in the labyrinth of Crystal City, the Crystal Dinery, like the Eatery in White Flint, consists of a common dining area surrounded by separate food stands. One, the Grecian Corner, serves half a dozen or so passably good Greek dishes. Moussaka has a fairly light custard, a well-flavored sauce and plenty of meat, but no identifiable eggplant. The souvlaki sandwhich is generous with lean pork, but it was soggy beyond picking up. A gyro sandwich wasn't as wet, so one could appreciate the good, but singed, pita bread and the nicely peppered meat. Greek salads are a notch above the average, with creamy feta and cucumber slices. The baklava is of the runny-honey style. -- M. G. B. Diplomat 7345 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. 657-3058. L, $2.50-$6.95, D $4.95-$8.95. L daily except Sat., D daily. Closed Sun. Ae, cc, MC, V. Reservations suggested, required on weekends. Free parking for dinner. Full bar service. No-smoking section.
The Diplomat may be the best looking bargain restaurant in the Washington area -- certainly in Bethesda. With round-textured pale walls, dark wood trim, skylights and oil paintings, it looks the setting for a plush evening. But the Greek-oriented menu maintains reasonable prices despite the redcorating. Best-looking and best-eating, however, are entirely different matters; the food at the Diplomat remains lackluster, with kebabs too dry and baklava limp and wet. Spinach and cheese pies are at least deep and robust, and fish can be moist, even if smothering under dried herbs. Certain niceties -- rice with a (too-thick and starchy) lemony sauce -- reinforce the elegance of the Diplomat. But under the fancy dress is just another everyday eatery, this time with a Greek accent. -- P. C. R. DuBarry's 7161 Lee Hwy., Falls Church.532-8400. L $4-$6, D $6.50-$13.50. L daily except Sat., D daily. Closed Sun. Ae, d, mc, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking lot. Full bar service. No-smoking section.
Half of DuBarry's is a dim, noisy cocktail lounge complete with happy hour and a singer-pianist. The other half, in contrast, is a lovely, quiet dining room with widely spaced tables, candlelight and fresh flowers. Middle Eastern dishes on the regular dinner menu are limited to saganaki (fried kasseri cheese) and shish kebab, but moussaka and spanakopita are often available (at $7.95 each, somewhat above the norm). If you're interested, call in advance and check. The spanakopita filling is a bit over-salty, but otherwise this is a good rendition. Since so many moussakas tend to be overdosed with cumin and cinnamon, the subtlety of DuBarry's version may come as a shock. But once you're accustomed to its restraint, this moussaka is first-rate -- a high, fluffy custard, beef ground coarse enough to have real texture and, most unusual of all, big, firm slices of eggplant that retain some shape and bite. Broiled chicken is nicely crisp outside and moist within, but it lacks the character that would have come from basting with spices and herbs. "Today's fresh fish" was trout, which, although well broiled, didn't have the pearly flakiness one expects from a fresh fish. Rice pudding has a rich, lightly nutmegged custard, and baklava is the highly honeyed style. -- M. G. B. Greek Village 712 Connecticut Ave. NW. 232-4768. L $2.95-$5.25, D $3.25-$6.95. Open daily. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations accepted.Street parking. Full bar service.
The Greek Village may not be the ultimate in Middle Eastern dining, but it still has plenty of solid virtues. There's a warmth and ease and familiarity about the place that makes it easy to like, it's nearly as inexpensive as the lowest-priced Middle Eastern places (bigger portions at the Greek Village help to offset the price difference), and the food is generally very good.Tzatziki makes a fine starter, an appetizer of shredded cucumber and yogurt spiked with lots of fresh garlic. Moussaka is topnotch, with a very fluffy custard and firm eggplant, and without an excess of cumin flavoring. The baked and braised lamb gouvetsi, for example, a generous portion of lamb on the bone in a fruity, chunky tomato sauce, served over nicely firm orzo, a Greek pasta. On the other hand, avoid the beef styfado, which is as dry as the lamb is moist. Stuffed grape leaves, in a good lemon-egg avgolemono sauce, are fine, but pastitsio, a kind of Middle Eastern lasagna, tends to be limp and heavy. Don't expect much from the wilted little salads that accompany the entrees, but you'll find the rolls -- fresh, warm and thick-crusted -- out of the ordinary. Among the desserts, rice pudding is runny, but the baklava is an excellent redition, with flaky filo and plenty of nuts. -- M. G. B. Hobo's 7553 New Hampshire Ave., Langley Park. 445-1200. L, d $1.85-$4.95. Open daily. No credit cards. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. No alcoholic beverages.
New York-style pizza is what Hobo's seems to be about, if you don't venture inside the door. But inside this brightly striped and spotlessly clean luncheonette/carryout, you discover that Greek-style souvlaki and gyros, Afghan-style aushak and bulanee are important parts of the menu mix. The pizza actually is good -- yeasty and nicely seasoned. So is the spinach pie; tangy with feta cheese, buttery-crusty and fresh, it is a meal (with a tart Greek-style salad) at appetizer price. Aushak and bulanee, boiled and fried versions of scallion-stuffed homemade noodles, are appetizers at even lower prices; they are good, through the scallions should be sauteed to cut their sharpness before they are stuffed into the dough. Souvlaki is a big, gooey sandwich of juicy meat cubes, but misses seasoning and charcoal-grilling. The gyro is the usual factory-made loaf, though nicely cooked and generously portioned. The eclectic menu runs on through spaghetti, fried chicken, liver and even hamburgers (quarter-pounder for $1.05), all at bargain prices. Just the place for a quick family meal when everybody is in the mood for something different. -- P. C. R. Hollin Hall Hollin Hall Shopping Center, 1309 Shenandoah Rd., Mount Vernon. 660-6338. L, d $2.25-$6. L, d daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC. V. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
They have a way with cooking meats Greek-style here, with herbs and marinades, with crispy skin and fat. Pork chops are plump and moist, nicely done with thyme and rosemary. Although flavored a little less, Athenian chicken is well prepared, too. And the souvlaki is outstanding -- carefully trimmed, tender pork cubes, well-marinated, with a touch of charcoal flavor. These dishes are bargain-priced, too, at $4.95 to $5.95 with salad. But the good food and the good buys stop with the meats. Moussaka has a heavy custard and very little eggplant or meat. Soups and desserts don't deserve a try, and the Greek appetizer, exhorbitant at $3.75, is a small dish of feta cheese, anchovy, olives, ham and bologna (yes, bologna). -- M. G. B. Ikaros 3130 M St. NW. 333-5551. L, D $2.25-$7.45. Open daily. No reservations. Street parking or commercial lots. No alcoholic beverages.
Now that the owners have closed the upstairs dining room (there wasn't enough profit for the amount of work involved), this little stopping-off spot in the heart of Georgetown is not much more than a fast-food counter. But for someone in need of quick nourishment before the movies or between boutiques, it's a welcome alternative to the more full-blown, full-priced restaurants in the neighborhood.Slightly more than half the dishes served are Italian (spaghetti, pizza, lasagna and veal), the rest Greek: spanakopita, $1; a gyro or doner kebab sandwich, $2.25; a souvlaki sandwich, $2.20; salad with feta cheese dressing, $1.55, and baklava, 75 cents. The spinach pie (which apparently runs out quickly) is better than one would expect in this kind of operation. The souvlaki sandwich presents passable lamb (in a redesigned hot dog bun so that you don't have to chase the chunks of meat around), topped with crumbled feta on chopped lettuce -- a bright idea that works. However, the best bet if you're hungry is the gyro, an ample portion of well-spiced ground beef and lamb slices stuffed in a pocket of pita, the sort of sandwich that hits the spot on a cold afternoon.The salad is uninspired, but good value. The baklava is decent, the rice pudding not. A fairly young crowd gathers at Ikaros' 12 downstairs tables, and we were pleased to see that about half the quarters they plunked into the juke box brought forth Greek music, a lovely concept in fast-food dining. -- P.M. Iron Gate Inn 1734 N St. NW. 737-1370. L $2.95-$7.95, D $5.95-$8.95. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Street parking or nearby commercial lot. Full bar service.
There's a tranquil garden here for outdoor dining, but eating indoors is no hardship at the Iron Gate, either. The restaurant, a converted 19th-century stable, is handsome, the prices moderate and the Middle Eastern food generally very good -- in fact, it seems to have improved over the past few years. Stuffed vegetables (eggplant, squash or cabbage) are particularly well-prepared, commendably firm and with plenty of ground meat and pine nuts in the filling. Another winner is kibbe, ground lamb mixed with cracked wheat and baked. Unlike some, it has a high ratio of lamb to wheat, and it's neither greasy nor dry. The kibbe has a bonus: stuffed grape leaves on the side, excellent in their own right (and available separately). The robust kufta (lamb meatballs with rice) is excellent, too. For a sampler of several entrees, there's a combination platter. Or try the couscous, a bed of steamed cracked wheat in an aromatic sauce on which rests tender lamb chunks -- it may not be the best couscous in town, but it's a solid competitor. Avoid the shish kebab, which tends to be tough, flavorless and overcooked no matter how it's ordered. Desserts are fine: a buttery, not-too-sweet baklava, a honeyed walnut cake and a smooth, creamy cornstarch pudding. -- M.G.B. Kabul Caravan 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 522-8394. L $4.25-$7.95, D $5.95-$9.50. L daily except Sat, Sun, D daily. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
The newest Afghan restaurant in the area may well be the best -- certainly it is the most attractive. The small neo-Georgian shopping center in a reviving part of Arlington may suggest esthetic doom, but the restaurant's high ceilings, white walls with artifacts and handsome rugs, well-spaced tables and dramatic bar add up to a decor one diner described as Bauhaus ethnic. The attentive service is under the owner's watchful eye. Many patrons are regulars; casual diners are remembered and may well become regulars.
The menu is somewhat larger than at Bamiyan or the Khyber Pass. Three kinds of turnovers, one served with yogurt, two with a superb green hot sauce more noteworthy for its complexity than for its anesthetic qualities. There are two soups, the ubiquitous aush of ground beef, noodles and mint, and a thick vegetable soup with ground beef. Lamb appears as kebabs, of course, but the lamb chunks with spinach featured in the other restaurants are here extended to lamb with pumpkin or lamb with eggplant, served with green rice. At lunch one can sample all three vegetables, with ground beef, in sabizjot.Manto is a dish of pretty little dumplings filled with ground beef and onions and served with yogurt and coriander. The vegetarian dishes -- pumpkin, spinach, eggplant -- are admirable, the pumpkin especially for proving how far the potential of jack-o-lanterns runs beyond pie. The Afghan bread, made on the premises, is the best to be found.
For dessert, besides the elephant-ear pastry, there is a velvety milk pudding flavored with cardamon and sprinkled with slivered pistachios and almonds. The baklava is different in both its non-cloying quality and its transliteration on the menu (you'll find it!). -- R.P.W. Kazan
6813 Redmond Dr., McLean. 734-1960. L $3.25-$6.50, D $7.25-$11.95. L daily expect Sat, Sun, D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
If shish kebab is all you know about Turkish food, Kazan will be an education; and if you miss your favorite but lesser-known Turkish dishes, you may find them here. Having taken over the glittery blue dining rooms and tent ceilings of Rudy's restaurant, Kazan serves with black-tie formality a menu largely Turkish but also French and Italian. Here the cigar-shaped borek are deep fried, as they are in Turkey, and wonderfully crisp.The appetizers include cerkez tavuk, strips of cold chicken breast in a thick, creamy walnut sauce. On Fridays and Saturdays there is doner kebab, a lucious contrast of buttery sauteed lamb or beef on chunks of toasted pita, covered with yogurt and bits of tomato with sprigs of fresh dill. The crisp and creamy, cool and hot, tart and rich interplays make this one of Turkey's -- and Kazan's -- finest dishes. Much of the food is just average: The hummuis lacks lightness and tang, the shish kebab is dry and chewy, the grape leaves are undercooked, the shrimp and scallops are too firm and overwhelmed with green pepper and tomato. But a few highlights are all you need to compose a fine meal, and among the chicken with walnuts, borek, yogurtlu kebab and fragrant orange baklava, you can compose a special evening and chance the moussaka, kufta or lamb shanks. -- P. C. R. Khyber Pass 2309 Calvert St. NW. 234-4632. D $5.95-$8.50. D daily. MC, V. Reservations required. Street parking. Full bar service.
To reach the real Khyber Pass one climbs through barren mountains. To reach Washington's, one mounts a stairway from an entry that suggests a more dubious Northwest Frontier. Once there, however, one is in culinary heights. There in culinary heights. There are only a dozen tables in this tiny, dark room; it quickly fills up and can be discovered by conventioneers from the nearby hotels, so phone ahead. The Khyber Pass was an offshoot of Georgetown's Bamiyan; the two are now separate. The menu, though, is still virtually identical. It is a compliment that arguments are possible about which restaurant has the edge on a particular dish -- the Khyber Pass perhaps best for appetizers and the more assertive marinade for the admirable chicken kebab; the pureed spinach that envelopes the lamb in the sabsi chalow is surely a tossup. A hint to anyone on the quiet, friendly staff will bring spicier food for those who prefer it. And if the appeal of the menu outruns the size and sharing capacities of your party, the restaurant offers (as does Bamiyan) samplers for two at $21.50 and $25. The salad in all three Afghan restaurants in the area -- iceberg lettuce, mostly -- must be a concession to American culture that can be overlooked. The wine list is ordinary, the prices are extraordinary in their modesty. And don't miss the elephant-ear pastry for nibbling with coffee. -- R. P. W. King Alfred Deli 824 King St., Alexandria. 548-7971. L. D $1.75. L, D daily. Closed Sun. D. Reservations accepted. Street parking or commercial lots. Beer and wine only.
If the word "delly" still calls to mind oilcloth and pastrami on rye, you may find the spiffy King Alfred, with its gleaming brass, recessed lighting and hanging plants, something of a shock. The six-page menu has quiche lorraine, bagels and lox, meatball subs and Middle Eastern dishes mingling in unselfconscious ecumenical harmony. The gyro has more texture than most and it's not greasy, but the spicing tends to be overly mild, and the sandwich -- although generous with meat -- has a somewhat anemic yogurt dressing. Baba ghanouj and hummus are excellent -- deep in sesame flavor and firm rather than runny.Greek salads are better than most, generous with creamy feta and jumbo Greek olives. (In further ecumenical gesture, sprouts are sprinkled over the Greek salad -- odd, but good.) Kufta kebab, a Middle Eastern ground meat dish, is underflavored and served with a tomato sauce that tastes like the ones advertised on TV. The baklava and bird's nest pastries (both from the Watergate, we were told), are first-rate, light on the oil and syrup, so that you can appreciate the buttery crispness of the filo dough. -- M. G. B. King Tut 3500 Perry St., Mount Rainier. 779-9132. Br, L. D $.95-$3.95. Br, L daily, D daily except Sat. Closed Sun. No credit cards. No reservations. Free parking lot. No alcoholic beverages.
Formerly a Chinese carryout located at the Mount Rainier bus terminal, King Tut is now Egyptian-owned with another branch in Quito, Ecuador. Dishes range from not-so-good to good, but the inconsistency is tolerable and affordable. The Greek salad is a commendable collection of crips lettuce, anchovies and crumbly feta -- with top-notch black olives. The souvlaki, gyro and shish kebab are improved by tangy accents -- garlicky bread under the souvlaki, a vinegary sauce on the gyro, and a junior Greek salad with the shish kebab. Although all the meat borders on chewy, the total effect is much more than acceptable, especially for the price. Spanakopita here is a flaky triangle of spinach, eggs and feta, served with thick yogurt and seasoned rice, each tasty and filling. The tarama, however, is oddly starchy, and the basbua is a leaden, grainy, honey-soaked cake. All the dishes suffer from an oil overdose, so the best bet may be to eat in, rather than to carry out and give the food more time to soak up oil. If you happen to be at the bus terminal, King Tut is a convenient place to stop; if you happen to be in Quito, it's probably not worth a side trip. -- C. S. Lake Anne Inn 1617 Washington Plaza, Reston. 471-4212. L $2.50-$4.25, D $4.95-$12. Open daily. CB, D, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
If the food at the Lake Anne Inn matched the restaurant's surroundings, everything would be lovely. But the lakeside locale can't compensate for generally mediocre Middle Eastern dishes. Things started out well enough with a good taramasalata, but the accompanying rolls were stale. Hors d'oevres a la grecque, at $3.25, consisted of crumbly feta cheese, olives, anchovies and painfully salty stuffed baby eggplant that tasted like canned. The salad, all head lettuce, came with a house dressing that seemed to contain mayonnaise. Shish kebab had admirably lively vegetables on the skewer, but the lamb, ordered medium rare, was well-done, dry and textureless, as though it had been reheated. A better bet is beef styfado, with lean beef cubes, firm little onions and a good tomato-based sauce brightened with cinnamon and cumin. Moussaka, oddly sauceless, had a heavy, tired custard and little flavor. -- M. G. B. The Lamplighter 3501 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington. 524-0800. L. $2-$4.95-$9.25. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, CC, D, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
This is a big, dark-paneled beef house that serves a few Middle Eastern dishes. The one outstanding Middle Eastern offering is moussaka -- a big, puffy, stand-up proud custard, roughground meat, lively eggplant, and a good tomato sauce that's light on the cumin. Pork plaka consists of well-trimmed pork tenderloin cubes, served in a simple sauce of meat juices and lemon. For best results, slice the cubes as soon as the dish arrives, and let the pieces soak in the sauce. Beef styfado is only fair, the meat a bit dry and the little onions overcooked. For dessert, rice pudding is excellent, as well as apple cobbler, with its deep cinnamon flavor and good shortbread crust. -- M. G. B. Lebanses Taverna 5900 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington. 241-9301. L. D $.95-$5.95. Open daily. No credit cards. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Beer only.
It looks as if pizza is the mainstay of this small restaurant-carryout, but behind the parade of square white pizza boxes lies a Lebanses kitchen bent on excellence. In fact, this Lebanese food is the cheapest -- and equal to the best -- in town. An eight-dish mezze can be concocted with two zesty sausages, kibbe baked and raw, hummus, baba ghanouj, grape leaves and a very crunchy tabulleh. The hummus and baba ghanouj were smooth and well-balanced, the kibbe very lean and subtly seasoned. In fact, everything but the grape leaves was outstanding. The two kebabs, lamb and chicken, were cleverly seasoned and juicy, and the molded and spiced brown rice with lamb -- called ouzi -- was teasingly good. End a meal with crumbly, short-crusted cookies filled with nuts or dates, and Turkish coffee (only 50 cents). The plastic tablecloths and clattery carryout atmosphere fade behind memories of marvelous food at very low prices. -- P. C. R. Marianna's 1806 King St., Alexandria. 548-9181. L $2.50-$4.95, D $4.25-$8.95. Open daily. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Street parking. Full bar service.
Located at the unfashionable end of King Street, this is a modest, cozy, personal kind of neighborhood restaurant where the owner (Marianna) knows, or tries to know, each customer. The prices are reasonable, the service is excellent and, although some of the dishes leave plenty of room for improvement, the food on the whole is passable. Soups are fine, particularly the home-made white bean, with chunks of smoky ham; and the small salads that accompany the entrees are better than average. "Greek appetizer," is a combination platter, is one of the best choices, featuring beautifully broiled kebabs and delicate miniature spinach pies. The pie, also available as an entree, is wrapped in filo pastry that is a paragon of airy crispness, but the spinach filling tends to be overpowered by cheese and onion. Squid, although a bit rubbery, is nicely fried in a light batter and moist inside. Overcooked eggplant and heavy custard mark the moussaka as run-of-the-mill. Baklava is highly sweetened and damp, and galtato boureko, a Greek custard pastry, has limp filo, probably the result of too much time in the refrigerator. -- M. G. B. Middle East Supper Club 8240 Leesburg Pike, Tysons Corner. 893-9005. L $2.95-$5.95, D $.95-$8.95. Open daily. CC, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested on weekends. Free parking lot. Full bar service. No-smoking section.
One of those restaurants so haphazard and erratic in its service and hours that you are sure it will have expired by your next visit, the Middle East Supper Club has nevertheless lasted several years. But you never know what to expect: one night a private party to which you are invited when you inquire about dinner, another day a long wait while someone finds a cook, a third time the main dishes brought before the appetizers. The menu is long -- too long to be sure that every dish is fresh or that the dishes actually differ from each other. The large dining room, with its enormous counter of crafts for sale, looks more like a bazaar than a restaurant. But the Turkish curves cut in the parquet wall paneling and the assorted artifacts identify it as clearly Middle Eastern. As for the food, freshness is sometimes a problem, but there is a very good cook who has a bold hand with cumin, garlic and the like. The meats may be dry and the kibbe greasy, but the food tastes zingy, the salads crunchy, sesame-rich and tangy. And if you measure a Middle Eastern restaurant by its baklava, this one measures near the top. -- P. C. R. Nizam's 523 Maple Ave. W., Vienna. 938-8948. L $2.75-$5.95, D $6.50-$11. L daily except Sat, Sun, D daily. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking lot. Full bar service .
You can do a lot to ensure an enjoyable meal at this small Turkish restaurant: Reserve a table, for it is truly tiny. Order ahead if there are special Turkish dishes you like -- with enough notice, the chef will make anything from swordfish kebab to stuffed vegetables.And if you like doner kebab, go on Tuesday, Friday or Sunday nights, when it is made fresh in that kitchen for those times only. Any day, though, the restaurant serves -- pleasantly and efficiently -- sensational yogurtlu kebab, beef slices sauced with yogurt and fresh tomato sauce, seasoned with dill, on a base of diced pita bread. The menu lists several grilled kebabs, moussaka and even "surf and turf," and the cooking is at least good, sometimes excellent. A mezze platter for two, artistically arranged, is a nice sampling; the best of it is fried eggplant with yogurt, which can be ordered also as a side dish. A simple and very good salad accompanies main courses. And by all means, save room for dessert. The baklava is the lightest, most delicate version I have found, and the rice pudding is like liquid velvet. Go ahead and order both. -- P. C. R. Olive Tree 233 2nd St. NW. 638-5462. Br $.80-$3.25, L $1.15-$5.75. Br, L daily. Closed Sat, Sun. AE, D, MC, V. No reservations. Street parking. Full bar service. No-smoking section .
You won't find it easily, this dead-end street nearly at the foot of the Capitol. But in fine spring weather, it is worth a search for one of the few outdoor cafes with no through traffic. The Olive Tree is a hybird, open downstairs just for lunch with a semi-Greek menu, and upstairs for lunch and very early dinner of light food such as pizzas and sandwiches. You can lunch downstairs on something as light as a Hellenic salad -- crisp, pungent and vinegary -- or a tuna salad sandwich. Or you can sample very good, aromatic gyros as sandwiches, platters or mixed plates with moussaka (a good version ruined in the reheating), spanakopita (pasty and soggy spinach pie) and a crisply grilled marinated pork chop. The few Greek dishes are rather good -- the souvlaki tender and savory, the baklava very crisp and generous with walnuts. This is a pleasant pub with some Greek food rather than a fully Greek restaurant. -- P. C. R. Olympia 3011 Nutley St., Fairfax, 573-2497. L $3.95-$6.95, D $7.75-$14. L daily except Sat, Sun, D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. dFree parking lot. Full bar service .
We went to this supper club at the former site of Ayoub's) because we had heard that it was fun. The drawing card here is the five-piece band and belly dancers, who do shows at 9:30 and 11:30. The dancers are not bad (nor are they great), but our meal was completely forgettable. As we slogged our way through the restaurant's specials, we watched curiously as the early crowd left and the livelier group began to arrive for the late show. We noticed that the later crowd seemed to be ordering more selectively from the menu -- perhaps just enough to justify taking a table. As well one might, since the food is indifferent at best.
Greek appetizers include sagnaki (Greek cheese flamed in brandy) and a mixed appetizer plate that is probably one of the safer bets. We asked the waiter if he could bring something more appropriate for the bland tarama than the hard sesame roll that came with it (it lacked only chicken salad to be just right for a bridge lunch) -- perhaps some French bread or pita? "This is not really a Greek restaurant," he replied, explaining that rolls are fancier. Moussaka and shish kebab were standard fare. Mezedes plakas (mixed grill) was substandard. Garides tiganites arrived as jumbo shrimp baked unsuccessfully with mozzarella on top, convincing us that the food was indeed not Greek at all. Desserts are from the Amphora bakery (same owner), but whereas we have had decent baklava at Amphoro, the batch we tasted here appeared to have been delivered by a slow caravan. In other words, food lovers should probably stay home.Greek belly-dancer fans may not have such a bad time. -- P.M. Phoenix 2950 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington. 841-9494. L $3.60-$6.60, D $5.75-$11.25. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
Even from the outside, this Greek restaurant looks sprightly, with rustic wood shutters againt white stucco. Inside is a lively mixture of black and white checkered tablecloths. Greek pottery, rough wood and more stucco. Few restaurants this inexpensive have such a party look. The menu steps beyond the ordinary, including fried cod fillet with a knockout of a garlic-potato puree as a sauce. Start a meal with a mixed hot hors d'oeuvres platter for two: airy meatballs, tempura-light fried squid, meat and spinach pies, a bargain at $4. The cold hors d'oeuvres combination is more pedestrian, especially with the taramasalata underseasoned and too long stored. Also try anything with egg-lemon sauce: chicken soup, stuffed cabbage or stuffed vine leaves. Those are the hits of the menu. The shish kebab is well marinated and nicely charred, though left to dry on the grill. Souvlaki, ditto. As in most Middle Eastern restaurants around town, the talent is in the seasoning, and the pity is that the menu is too long and the patronage too skimpy to support fresh preparation of all the dishes. This menu ranges from steak and veal parmesan to squid in wine sauce -- choose from what has been just prepared. And count on very gracious service. -- P. C. R. Pike Sandwich Shop 12107 Rockville Pike, Rockville. 881-1191. L, D $1.25-$2.95. L, D daily. Closed Sun. No credit cards. No reservations. Free parking lot. Beer only.
This may be just a drab little restaurant in a drab little shopping center, but it turns out superaltive gyros and souvlaki sandwiches. Why so good? (1) The pita bread, flatter and thinner than many, is first-class. Warmed just slightly, it has a very delicate crust without being singed or toasted. (2) The gyros are Kronos, factory-made but a quality brand, and, although warmed briefly on the grill after slicing, they are neither dry nor greasy. (3) There's an excellent yogurt-cucumber sauce in the gyros, also available on the side for dipping if you ask for it. (4) The souvlaki, different from most, is only lightly marinated, so the meat cubes retain their natural texture and flavor. (5) Above all, no sogginess -- these are sandwiches, the kind you can pick up in your hands without getting a sleeve full of liquid. Greek salads are above average, too. The feta is creamy rather than crumbly, and, unlike many others, the salad isn't smothered under so much oregano it tastes like a pizza. -- M. G. B. Round Table 4859 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. 362-1250.L, D $4-$6.25. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
You can get a full dinner for as little as $5 at this Greek-American restaurant with a King-Arthur-in-plastic theme. But unfortunately the food tastes like rock-bottom fare, with dried out souvlaki in a roll rather than in pita, roast lamb and Greek-style fish that taste like leftovers, and dreary beef styfado. Even the imported olives taste peculiarly drab. Pastitsio is the most promising choice, a hearty wedge of marcaroni and meat casserole with a creamy bechamel topping. The two rooms are close and bustling, the service rapid and no-frills. The Round Table is known more for its springtime shad and Thanksgiving turkey than for its Greek specialties. And it thrives on the image of a soup-main-course-two veg-dessert-and-coffee family dinner with change from a $10 bill. -- P. C. R. Serbian Crown 4529 Wisconsin Ave. N.W. 966-6787. D $10.50-$14.95. D daily. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
The Serbian Crown as a Russian-French restaurant is one matter -- a luxurious complement of vodkas and caviars and kulebiaka and veal Orloff. As a Yugoslav restaurant, however, it is overpriced and underwhelming. The best of the Yugoslav dishes is gibanico, a cross between borek and cheese souffle that is all at once light, airy, creamy and crusty, an appetizer sufficient for a light meal. The fish soup could be good with less stretching of the basic broth and less starch. But the disappointments are the skewered meats -- cevapcici, logs of ground meat that are meant to be crusty and spicy, and raznici, cubes of meat that deserved better texture and more flavor for their $13. It's not bad food -- it is, indeed, rather good -- and the service is slow and slightly forgetful but basically suave. But the best of the food, and the food that is worth the prices, is among the Russian entries. Begin with gibanica and end with a proper crunch of a baklava (or flaky fresh studel if they learn to cut down on the sugar). Drink a Yugoslav wine if you are curious -- the Dingac at $15 is outrageously priced, although a better wine than the same label in Yugoslavia -- but don't waste your visit to Serbian Crown on simple peasant food. The warm, raspberry-colored room goes better with sole Vladimir or rack of lamb. -- P. C. R. Serbian Crown Inc. 1141 Walker Rd., Great Falls. 759-4150. L $4.50-$9.50, D $8.95-$14. L daily except Sat., D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
The Serbian Crown of Virginia, which was once related to the original Serbian Crown but has broken its tie, is noticeably Yugoslav by only a very faint accent, with just three or four of its dishes being more Serbian than Russian or French. And even those taste pretty assimilated. The staff of this suburban hunting lodge version of a Slavic restaurant will steer you towards the sole in puff pastry and kulebiaka, and they are right: These Franco-Russian dishes are among their best. But a couple of very good dishes are also in the Middle Eastern repertoire. Bubreznjake turns out to be excellent thick loin lamb chops grilled on a skewer with kidneys. Raznjici, the Yugoslav version of kebabs, are also elegant meats, tender and crusty, though tasting of no seasoning or marinade. Try the gibanich for appetizer, perhaps to share; a distant relative of cheese borek, it is a light, noodle-layered souffle, bland but meant to be. Serbian Crown of Virginia has some nice touches -- a varity of vodkas, fresh and well-prepared vegetables -- and is an asset to its far-suburban neighborhood. But its character is more suburban than ethnic, and it loses something in the translation. -- P. C. R. Silver Spoon Delly 939 Bonifant St., Silver Spring. 589-5341. L, D $2.50-$2.75. L daily, D daily except Sat. Closed Sun. No credit cards. No reservations. Street parking. No alcoholic beverages.
This is a bare little delly where the Middle Eastern offerings are limited to felafel, hummus and baba ghanouj. The felafel, a mix imported from Hoboken in plastic containers, is allowed to absorb too much grease in the cooking, and the hummus seems to have more salt than sesame. (Baba ghanouj was out of stock.) The pale and spongy pita bread, made in Virginia, is unusually poor. -- M. G. B. Taverna Cretekou 818 King St., Alexandria. 548-8688. L $3.50-$5.95, D $7.75-$11.80. L, D daily. Closed Mon.AE, D, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
Taverna Cretekou is the kind of restaurant you might visit even if the food were entirely mediocre, because it looks and feels so much like a never-on-Sunday fantasy of Greece. Whitewashed walls create a sunny effect even in the evening (and more so at Sunday brunch), fresh flowers adorn blue and white tablecloths, rounded arches frame handsome waiters in black shirts and pants who can pronounce spanakotiropitakia and serve it smilelessly but graciously, too -- it all makes you feel like swimming in the Aegean or falling in love. The food doesn't always live up to this background, but some dishes are excellent, most dishes are at least adequate and the selection is quite interesting -- though late-arriving guests may find that house specials have run out. Appetizers are generally first-rate and conceivably worth making a meal of.
One of the best buys on the menu is satyrikon ($5.95), a combination of cold appetizers that serves two generously, three well -- four might become aggressive. Arranged on the platter, are a creamy, well-flavored tarmasalata, both a spinach and a cheese pie, Greek olives, feta cheese, tomato wedges, stuffed grape leaves and a superb eggplant salad (not described on the menu) that should demonstrate to nonbelievers just what eggplant is capable of becoming. Be sure to order the restaurant's almost custardy avgolemono (egg, lemon and rice) soup, and if a tear comes to your eye as you scrape the bottom of the bowl, follow that with dolmades avgolemono, stuffed grape leaves topped with the yummy sauce. (The sauce is better than the grape leaves.)
Main courses, while often pleasant, can also fall short of memorable. However, while we find that Greeks often overlook lamb, Taverna's roast leg of lamb, lightly seasoned with lemon and garlic, is served medium rare and is superb.Unfortunately, the accompanying vegetables are overcooked, underseasoned and dry. The Taverna Cretekou Special, which offers an assortment of five dishes from the regular menu, is nowhere near as appealing as the combination appetizer platter. Main courses lean heavily toward lamb but include several seafood dishes as well as veal and chicken. Wines are reasonably priced, including a light red retsina (Kokkineli) that is pleasant at $7.75. Desserts are worth saving room for even if that means foregoing a main course. Particularly good are the honey-dipping baklava and a creamy, almost consciousness-raising rice pudding (how did we ever regard this dish as all-American?). Greek coffee is good and strong.This restaurant rates an A-plus for atmosphere and a B for food, plus special honors for demonstrating that the whole is sometimes greater than its parts. -- P.M. Taverna the Greek Islands 307 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 547-8360. L $2.95-$6.95. L daily except Sun, D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted for dinner only. Street parking. Full bar service.
Having moved from basement to second floor, from carryout-plus to well-appointed restaurant, Taverna the Greek Islands lost none of its value in the process. The food is as good as ever -- the baked lamb as moist, the grilled lamb as smoky and juicy, the filo as delicate, the salads as piquant. The long, narrow dining room is carpeted and dimly -- sometimes too dimly -- lit, a very comfortable environment, decorative enough for a romantic evening. Service is friendly, but the food stars. Pick a golden Greek wine to start, or milky ouzo. Share a mixed appetizer plate, either a cold array of garlic-drenched yogurt, taramasalata and potato puree with stuffed grape leaves, marinated squid and briny pointed olives; or a hot assortment of bits of grilled lamb, liver and sweetbreads in lemon and oregano. Continue to chicken, egg and peas wrapped in filo, faintly sweet with cinnamon and delicious, or a fine, mint-scented and juicy doner kebab on grilled pita, or crusty grilled lamb or a wonderful baked lamb with vegetables in tomato sauce. A few casseroles -- mousaka and pastitsio, for instance -- are heavy and dull, but the menu offers vast choice, from fish and seafood to lamb a dozen ways. Prices are reasonable and portions, particularly on combination plates, are imposing. Plan to share them. And plan to relax and linger over a mezze and resinated wine before you ever get to the main course in this, one of Capitol Hill's least pretentious but most satisfying restaurants. -- P. C. R. Vesuvios 1601 Connecticut Ave. NW. 667-1500. L, D $1.55-$3.35. Open daily No credit cards. No reservations. Street parking. Beer only.
A fast-food place primarily known for its pizza. Vesuvios also offers some Greek dishes. Service is cafeteria-style, with most items either warmed under infra-red lamps or served wrapped in foil or plastic, so you can forget about such niceties as crisp crusts. On a hectic weekend night, while you stand with your tray and wait for a table, you can almost feel the pita bread wilting from the trapped steam in your foil-wrapped sandwich. But the fast turnover keeps anything from standing too long, and most of the food is good. The gyros are packed with delicately flavored, ungreasy meat. Souvlaki tends to be dry, but it is chunky-cut and tender. Considering all the sitting under the heat lamps, the spinach pie is remarkably good, but the dry-in-the-middle Greek-style chicken seems to have taken too many turns on the spit. The hidden gems here are the Greek desserts -- a restrained baklava and a hearty, heavy karidopita (walnut cake) laced with honey and nuts. -- M. G. B. Yaldizlar 2605 24th St. NW. 265-7233. L, D $5.75-$11.95. L, D daily. Closed Sun. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Street parking. Full bar service.
A restaurant can't stand on the basis of one dish, particularly if that dish is an appetizer. If it could, Yaldizlar could pin its success on its kibbe rolls, that torpedo-shaped meat and cracked wheat specialty that here is a model of thin, even crust filled with spiced ground lamb and fried. The felafel are light and spicy, also rather good. And the heavily seasoned sausage are indeed appetizing. But otherwise, Yaldizlar's food tends to be dry or heavy or reheated. The 12-dish mezze ($18) shows the range from those excellent kibbe to strong, tough bits of liver in lemon and oil to bland and dry hummus. Main dishes are few, and rarely are the fish and shrimp listed on the menu actually available. A few kebabs and grills, a stuffed Cornish hen with interesting seasoning inside the dry, tired bird -- such is the fare. The environment is dim, faintly exotic, attractive. And the service is attentive -- hovering, in fact. Yaldizlar still suffers from the downward spiral of insufficient patronage to warrant the effort of a full menu of fresh Lebanese food. -- P. C. R. Zachary's 6238 Old Dominion Dr., McLean. 821-1976. L $3.75-$8.50, D $7.50-$14.95. Open daily. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested, required on weekends. Free parking lot. Full bar service.
Zachary's may be located in an ordinary shopping center, but it's no ordinary shopping center restaurant. The food -- and the prices -- are a cut above most of the competition. The waiters, who really know what they're serving, are pros, and, most important, the owner and his wife seem always to be there, welcoming, helping, supervising, checking. The care and attention yield dividends: The place is busy and the customers seem happy.
Happiness begins with the salad bar, a wonderful change from all those look-alike Greek salads that feature mainly head lettuce and oregano. And what a salad bar, with four bold, garlicky dips (eggplant, caviar, potato and cucumber), warm pita bread, big, rough, homemade croutons, Greek olives, feta cheese, and some fresh white beans. If the salad bar isn't enough for you, appetizers are generally excellent. In particular, try the marinated octopus or the squid, which is sauteed in a pungent tomato-wine sauce with anchovies and capers -- there's not a rubbery bite in either of them.
Among the entrees, The Greek Connection -- a lamb shank flavored with garlic, cheese and oregano and baked in parchment -- is a beauty, as is the broiled chicken oreganato, with its crisp, paperthin skin, moist flesh and lemony marinade. Another winner is beef styfado, tender, beautifully trimmed beef chunks in a fruity tomato sauce that's blessedly light on the cumin. Moussaka, served in an individual casserole, is disappointing, its eggplant overcooked and its custard flattened instead of fluffy. Desserts are pleasant but ordinary -- a rich, nutty baklava, and a galatoboureko with a nicely honeyed custard handicapped by soggy filo pastry. -- M. G. B.