* — I’m just summarizing, don’t shoot the messenger.
In Sietsema’s weekly WaPo chat today someone asked for Bethesda dining recommendations and he was typically negative about the B-da options, but did suggest Passage to India or Tavira (coincidentally the subject of today’s Wheaton Gazette restaurant review — Brian Patterson likes it too). Then someone else wondered why Bethesda has “such mediocre restaurants” especially compared to Wheaton and Silver Spring.
First, I think Bethesda is getting bashed a little too much here; there are good eateries there, like (apparently) those mentioned above, where I have never eaten, and also Nest Cafe, or Rio Grande, which has the area’s best Tex-Mex (admittedly that is a low bar). Redwood was a mess when it opened but reports have been better lately (I haven’t been lately). Ren’s Ramen (at Bradley/Arlington in business park) is a more Wheatonesque spot that gets good reviews all over the interwebs. I know there are other examples. But it is true that there are plenty of restaurants in Bethesda that aren’t worth the price of admission.
That’s true of Wheaton and Silver Spring too — we have our share of ratholes and overrated spots alike. But in terms of overall food value per dollar, the eatin’ is better on our side of the county. I don’t think that’s strange, as the poster suggested; I think it’s normal, a function of cheaper rents and small restaurants owned and enthusiastically, expertly operated by local families who know their audience. Don’t most urban areas have some great restaurants in the downtown core, but when you get out to the exurbs/suburbs, the best food tends to thrive more amongst the feral urbanism rather than the domesticated gentrification? Fancy ≠ best, necessarily, and even often.
Then again, with Fire Station 1 and Red Lobster, Silver Spring may be the next Bethesda! Heh heh. Wheaton of course has IHOP, but it has been there forever, it’s a classic! You can eat at IHOP and feel at least some ironic detachment; Red Lobster fosters only shame and regret.