Once a month, Mark and Gail Barnett recap the best restaurants they've reviewed over the previous few months.
2404 University Blvd. West
An excellent and very handsome Thai restaurant that serves some unusual items. Top appetizers: the zingy northern pork, the nicely grilled wok beef and the intriguingly flavored twice-cooked duck. Top soups: the lively lemon grass (especially if ordered with fish) and the wonderfully delicate tofu soup. Entree highlights included the generous, mild shrimp pot and the lively, many flavored tofu delight. The squid is particularly good, especially "Dusit style." Sidestep the whole fish (ordinary flounder) and the pasty duck roll, and note that the coconut soup and curries are unusually rich. But don't miss the fried banana dessert.
Costa del Sol
4906 Fairmont Ave.
A small and simple Salvadoran restaurant with a menu to match. A few outstanding items warrant a visit: the fresh, garlicky guacamole, the wonderful shrimp and clam soup, the better-than-average fajitas, the lovable beef and shrimp stews (carne guisada and camarones guisados). Best dessert? The fried ice cream.
213 N. Washington St.
Real New York pizza with a real crust plus classy subs made with quality French bread add up to soul-satisfying yet inexpensive eating. The sausage sandwich is wonderful, as is the steak and cheese. The "side salad" and antipasto are unusually good too. But steer clear of the oily calzone and white pizza.
4506 Baltimore National Pike (Route 144)
Go to this modest roadhouse casually dressed and hungry, and head for the impressive dinner buffet: $10.95 for all you can eat, $4 extra if you want spiced shrimp and crab legs. (Don't bother with the regular menu.) Once in the buffet line, focus on the homemade bread and Italian sausage, the seafood salad, the fried chicken, the carve-it-yourself roast beef, the seafood Creole and the apple cobbler.
12203 Viers Mill Rd.
Sidestep most of the dishes, with their flat-tasting, over-cornstarched sauces, and concentrate on the gems: Yuling chicken, juicy and pungent (and a bargain at $7.95); the similar but milder crispy chicken; the Peking duck; and the impeccably cooked, wonderfully sauced crispy whole fish. Good starters? "My own" soup, delicate yet brightly flavored, and fried dumplings, especially the vegetarian version.
2504 Enalls Ave.
Suburban Maryland's first Indonesian restaurant, with lovely decor, modest prices and a cuisine related to Thai and Vietnamese, but with enough differences to keep things interesting. Most of the food here isn't memorable, but the rijsttafel -- a 15-dish banquet at $25 for two people -- compensates in sheer variety.
4838 Rugby Ave.
Another first-class Mexican restaurant from the folks who brought you Tia Queta, right around the corner. Similar menu, same high quality, with well-sauced shrimp, pork, chicken and beef dishes plus Tex-Mex standards done exceptionally well. But the real sleeper here, and not available at Tia Queta, is the marvelous dinner buffet on Friday and Saturday, one of the nicest spreads in town and modestly priced.
Taste of Saigon
410 Hungerford Dr.
An unsually handsome restaurant with excellent Vietnamese food, reasonable prices and lovely service. Sure-fire appetizers: the spring rolls, the cold imperial and summer rolls, the fine shrimp toast and the spinach salad with grilled chicken. Also tops are the traditional beef soup (pho), plus the egg noodle and Saigon soups. Top entrees? Grilled shrimp or pork, shredded pork (like American pulled pork barbecue), crab cakes (different from the American version -- and better), sweet and sour pork. Sidestep the overly sweet basil chicken. Finish with the ethereal flan, perhaps the best version in the area.