LacoMelza Ethiopian Café | Ethiopian
With nearly a dozen Ethiopian restaurants in Silver Spring, we’d be up to our elbows in injera (the cuisine’s signature spongy flatbread) to find the best. But this relative newcomer, named for the northern Ethiopian town where owners Alem Kidane and Etsegenet Lemma grew up, is an endearing spot with personable service. In addition to lunch and dinner, it serves an interesting brunch, with items not commonly found on other Ethiopian restaurant menus. The setting is nice, too—bold and modern, with bright red walls, colorful posters and tapestry-like scarves under the glass tabletops.
Favorites: For brunch, try the tabor, an intriguing dish with spicy strips of beef, cracked wheat and eggs. It rivals coffee for a morning jolt (not to worry, you can tame the heat with a cup of fragrant Ethiopian spiced tea). Also good: rolled doro tibs, chargrilled chicken chunks with tomatoes, onions and house dressing served in pita; the vegetable sampler; and the traditional doro wot, a chicken leg cooked in a zesty sauce with onions and spiced butter, served with a hard-boiled egg.
7912 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-326-2435, www.lacomelza.com
Sheba | Ethiopian
Walking through Silver Spring, you might think you were in Addis Ababa at times. By contrast, there hasn’t been a sambusa in sight in Rockville. At least not until last October, when Tsiona Bellete, who grew up in Italian-influenced Addis Ababa, decided to transform her short-lived Pasta Pronto restaurant into Sheba. For our part, we’re glad she did. Named after Bellete’s heroine, the Queen of Sheba, the restaurant serves traditional dishes with some twists, and the menu changes every few months. With pleasant décor and dependable cooking, Sheba is a welcome and much-needed addition to the neighborhood.
Favorites: As at other Ethiopian restaurants, vegans and vegetarians will have lots of options here, with plenty of greens (collards and cabbage), chickpeas, lentils and yellow split peas. But carnivores might start with a beef sambusa, a crackly pastry triangle stuffed with ground beef spiked with just the right amount of cayenne heat. Then there’s Sheba’s version of minchet abesh alicha. Usually made with ground beef, it’s also available with ground chicken simmered in a flavorful onion sauce and seasoned with turmeric, garlic, ginger, black pepper and other spices.
5071 Nicholson Lane, Rockville, 301-881-8882, www.shebarockville.com
Cava Mezze | Greek
When it opened in 2006, Cava Mezze introduced the area to a talented young trio of locally raised Greek-Americans. Now, their mini-empire includes two other Cava Mezze restaurants, five Cava Mezze Grills and Sugo Cicchetti in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. The first location, with its narrow, brick-walled dining room still buzzes with crowds, even mid-week—and no wonder. Dimitri Moshovitis, the culinary brains of the bunch, has devised a modern, creative collection of Greek-inspired small plates that consistently hit a home run.
Favorites: Tough to choose; they’re all good. Among the highlights from our last visit, though: grilled haloumi sliders, a combination of smoky, charred cheese and chopped fresh tomatoes on soft brioche rolls; opa opa shrimp in a creamy Ouzo-charged sauce; and lamb kampama, tender, no-knife-needed morsels of braised lamb shoulder mixed with orzo.
9713 Traville Gateway Drive, Rockville, 301-309-9090, www.cavamezze.com
Mykonos Grill |Greek
Mykonos Grill may be traditional with its blue-and-white décor, but it’s prettier than its Greek brethren, offering a respite from Rockville Pike if only for an hour or two. Longtime restaurateur and Sparta-born Peter Pagonis opened the place in 1998, naming it after his wife, Despina’s, favorite Greek island. We like that it’s a gathering spot for the local Greek community, which uses the private room for luncheons, christenings and other special occasions. They trust the quality, hominess and authenticity of the food, as do we.
Favorites: Opt for the cold appetizer plate, with its seven samples, the best of which are imam baildi (fresh eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, raisins and pine nuts) and fasolia (northern beans with olive oil, lemon and chopped onions). The avgolemono soup tastes like it came straight from a Greek grandma’s kitchen, as do the dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and mint and topped with an egg lemon sauce). Phyllo fans should make a beeline for the spanakopita and the triangular-shaped cheese pies known as tyropitakia, as these are especially well-done versions.
121 Congressional Lane, Rockville, 301-770-5999, www.mykonosgrill.com
The Big Greek Café | Greek
With fresh, top-notch food at bargain prices, The Big Greek Café demonstrates how modest ethnic eateries can sometimes outdo the cooking at pricier, more pretentious alternatives. The owners, twins Nick and Simos Marmaras, come from a restaurant family—their father, Bill, has been running the Golden Flame in Silver Spring since 1972. The brothers opened the café in 2009, a tribute to their late mother’s cooking, and they’ve done her proud.
Favorites: The “feisty feta,” a pretty orange whip of feta cheese, red chilies and herbs, is a good bet. So is the tzaziki, the yogurt dip enlivened with bits of cucumber, garlic and dill, served with fabulous, butter-brushed and grilled pita triangles. Pork and chicken souvlaki, the grilled marinated meat nestled in pita or served on a skewer, define moist and flavorful. And the “Big Greek” french fries—topped with crumbled feta, oregano and herbs and a drizzle of tzaziki—sound like they might be a bit much, but the combination of crispy potatoes, tangy feta, creamy yogurt and assertive spices really works.
8223 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-587-4733; 4007 Norbeck Road, Rockville, 301-929-9760; www.biggreekcafe.com