Our 25 Favorite Ethnic Restaurants

Get a taste of the world, no passport required



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La Brasa Latin Cuisine | Latin American

From the outside, La Brasa looks like a quintessential hole-in-the-wall, but the interior is cheerier and bustling with regulars at lunchtime. The food, a selection of popular dishes from Mexico, Cuba, Peru and other Latin American countries, is the real deal, courtesy of Salvadoran-born owners Emilio and Lucy Campos and a competent kitchen staff. With freshly prepared dishes at prices that belie their quality, this is one of those family-owned eateries that’s a real find. And its location—on an odd stretch of Parklawn Drive, in the shadow of the Food and Drug Administration and industrial shops—makes it even more so.  

Favorites: There are dishes for the adventurous (beef tongue with red wine sauce comes to mind). But we like to stick with the standards, like gambas al ajillo. The big, perfectly cooked shrimp rest in an olive-oil-and-garlic sauce that’s so flavorful the toasted dipping bread won’t last long. Carne asada, thinly sliced skirt steak, is nicely seasoned before its turn on the grill. And the house-made tres leche cake, a generous rectangle of spongy cake soaked in three types of milk, oozes sweet comfort.

12401 Parklawn Drive, Rockville, 301-468-8850, www.labrasarockville.com

La Casita Pupuseria & Market |  Latin American

Doscientos treinta y ocho! If you’re holding number 238, that means your order is ready for pickup at the counter. But not to worry: If you’re a gringo, the kitchen staff likely will repeat the number in English. It all bodes well for a meal at La Casita Pupuseria, a family-run operation that has been turning out freshly prepared Salvadoran dishes for a decade. Owners Mariano and Leonor Arbaiza hail from El Salvador; son Jaime, who was born in Washington, D.C., is the general manager. In addition to stocking grocery items such as plantains, mangoes and dried corvina around the perimeter of the bare-bones seating area, the restaurant also serves breakfast (think egg dishes with fried red beans and handmade tortillas).

Favorites: The homemade pupusas—thick, grainy corn tortillas with a variety of fillings—are bigger and bulkier than in El Salvador, Jaime Arbaiza says, but that just means there’s more to love here. Check out the ground fried pork and cheese (revueltas) or the cheese and loroco (green flower buds that taste like a cross between squash and green pepper). The abundant fillings sometimes seep out the sides while they’re cooking, creating delectable little lattices of crisped cheese. The pan de pollo—the Salvadoran sandwich made with shredded, braised chicken, curtido (cabbage salad), tomatoes, beets, radishes, cucumbers and sliced hard-boiled egg on French bread—is a wonderful whopper that almost needs to be eaten with a fork.      

8214 Piney Branch Road, Silver Spring, 301-588-6656, www.lacasitapapusas.com

Bistro LaZeez | Middle Eastern

For years, local Arabic language tutor Reda Asaad got rave reviews from students for his legendary end-of-the-school-year grilled chicken parties. In 2010, the Chevy Chase resident turned his culinary hobby into a commercial venture. “Lazeez” means “delicious” in Arabic, and the name is apt. While the menu is pretty simple—various combinations of chicken, beef and lamb kabobs comprise the bulk of the under-$20 offerings—it’s an amazing deal, considering the atmosphere (cozy, yet elegant) and the quantity and quality of the food. Even the side dishes are thoughtfully prepared.

Favorites: For appetizers, we like the smooth, creamy hummus, the cilantro-spiked falafel or the brightly seasoned fava bean sauté. Asaad’s signature grilled chicken, marinated in his secret sauce, earns top grades here. And the pita bread (sprinkled with that sauce before a quick flip on the grill) is likewise A-plus. To finish: warm, flaky phyllo pastry rolls stuffed with crushed cashews, or the refreshing vanilla ice cream mixed with chopped pistachios and a touch of orange blossom water.

8009 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-8222, www.bistrolazeez.com

La Limeña | Peruvian

La Limeña, wedged into the far corner of the Ritchie Center, has been a popular destination since 2007, when owner Emma Perez started serving Peruvian specialties from her homeland. The place has since been spiffed up a bit with granite tabletops and china plates, but it’s still a no-frills setting for eating sophisticated food. The menu also features a few Cuban dishes.

Favorites: If you haven’t already sampled anticuchos (traditionally made with beef heart), this is the place to do it. Thinly sliced, marinated for 24 hours, skewered and seared on the grill, the organ meat has a smooth, even texture similar to calf’s liver, a nice contrast to its slightly charred exterior. The tender meat falls off the bone in the generous beef shank entrée, making it all the easier to sop up the rich sauce. For endings, you can’t go wrong with any of the homemade pastries. We’d also suggest you try the chicha morada, a fragrant, not-too-sweet Peruvian drink made with purple corn, pineapple, apple, cinnamon, sugar and lime.

765 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-424-8066  

Yekta | Middle Eastern

In Farsi, “yekta” means “one of a kind”—which perfectly describes this Persian eatery in a Rockville Pike strip shopping mall. It features stained-glass windows, intricate wall murals and a huge, blue Iranian chandelier hanging from a painted dome ceiling. Hands down, it’s the area’s most beautiful place to cut into a kabob. Sisters Sahel Dadras and Sougol Mollaan took over the reins from their father, Yadi Dadras, who originally opened Yekta in 1979 as a small grocery store. He died in 2011, not long after overseeing the second renovation and expansion of the restaurant and market.

Favorites: Ghormeh sabzi, chunks of tender beef and kidney beans in a parsley-and-herb sauce with a hint of tangy dried lime, tops our list. So does the Cornish hen kabob, juicy, marinated chunks of poultry. And after you eat, don’t miss the well-stocked market next door, with its bins of pistachios and aisles of dried fruit, Persian pastries, fresh produce and more.

1488 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-984-0005, yekta.com

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