If there’s a truism about Best of Washington lists, it’s this: No matter how well you customize the list — or how well you explain the customization — someone somewhere will complain that you ignored Virginia, Maryland or some lonely outpost that happens to hawk the absolute greatest bowl of pho on the planet. How could you have possibly missed it? Duh!
Case in point: Last week, the Going Out Guide team put together a fine list of my five favorite D.C. restaurants from recent months. Let’s review the criteria: Five restaurants. From the District. In recent months. Yet the comments section practically snarled about the injustice perpetrated on the outlying ‘burbs, whose restaurants just happen to occupy seven of the 10 slots on my best cheap eats list from 2017.
Regardless, the $20 Diner is nothing if not accommodating. This week, in a gesture of goodwill to hungry diners throughout the DMV, I offer my five favorite restaurants in the D.C. suburbs, this one devoted to those in Maryland. (You can find my Virginia picks here.) As a bonus: I will feature my five faves since February 2013, when I started this column.
Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana
Once devoted to the tweezer food of fine dining, chef and owner Tony Conte hasn’t exactly retreated to the comforts of pizzamaking with Inferno. His small storefront exhibits that same freethinking, free-form associations that defined his food at the Oval Room in downtown Washington. His pies nod in the direction of Naples but borrow inspiration — and ingredients — from wherever Conte wants. He makes the best margherita in the region, hands-down, and his appetizers often have more complexity than meets the eye. 12207 Darnestown Rd., Darnestown. 301-963-0115. inferno-pizzeria.com.
Northwest Chinese Food
Owner Hua Lang hails from Shenyang in Liaoning Province, a region known for flavors as loud as a Mötorhead concert. Her dishes, heavy on noodles, are a frontal assault of garlic, chili oil and aged Shaanxi vinegar, a smoky and inky liquid made from sorghum, barley and peas. You’ll be wiping your hands and your nose when dining here. Most of the noodles are not made in-house, save for the liang pi variety, these translucent wheat-flour ribbons paired with peanuts, mung beans, tofu and cucumbers, then coated in chili oil and vinegar. Your mouth won’t know what hit it. 7313 Baltimore Ave., College Park. 240-714-4473.
Unlike many of its competitors, which rely on ovens, Just Jerk uses charcoal grills to prepare the nearly blackened slices of jerk chicken available at this colorful outpost of Jamaican cooking. The smoke. The allspice. The herbs. They all come together on a bird whose pleasures are not limited to the flesh. Drippings also lacquer the white rice beneath the meat, coating the grains with jerk seasonings and meat juices. It’s a toss-up on which I like more: the bird or the rice. The housemade jerk sauce — a fragrant gravy that balances a midgrade Scotch-bonnet burn with sweet herbs and spices — proves versatile. It comes slathered on the salmon and portobello mushrooms, too. 9005 Lanham Severn Rd., Lanham. 301-459-5375.
In a D.C. region overflowing with the East Africa flavors of Ethiopia and Eritrea, Chez Dior offers something different: a taste of Senegal from the western coast of the continent. To a newcomer, the food here can be simultaneously foreign and familiar, a mix of grill smoke and funky West African flavors — sour and fermented, sweet and hot. Onion sauce, in multiple forms, makes repeated appearances, most notably as part of the yassa chicken, a dish that allows you to smother the chargrilled meat in as much lemon-brightened onion gravy as you desire. You can even detonate the bite with the accompanying condiment built with Jamaican hot peppers. Use with caution. 5124 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville. 240-696-5907. chezdior.com.
Before there was Baan Thai, Soi 38, Essan or even Little Serow, there was Thai Cuisine, a nervy Rockville outpost specializing in the incandescent flavors of Northeastern Thailand (though not limited to them). Some of the finest dishes here are found on the specialties section of the menu, whether the Crying Tiger with its fiery strips of rib-eye paired with sticky rice or the floating market noodle soup, a fearsome Bangkok specialty that practically roils, dark and opaque, in the bowl. 757 Hungerford Dr., Rockville. 301-838-4480. thethaicuisinerockville.com.
Honorable mentions: El Catrachito in Silver Spring, Peru’s Chicken in Mitchellville, Chettinadu Indian Cuisine in Rockville, Frankly . . .Pizza! in Kensington and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Greenbelt.