Healthy fast food chains are beginning to catch on, and while it’s no surprise that Freshii sets up shop next to Shady Grove Hospital and The National Cancer Institute, it is a surprise that a fast food chain actually delivers on its promise to offer food that is both health-conscious and flavorful to the breakfast and lunch crowds.
Café Rio is trendy, affordable and accustomed to serving delicious Mexican food in large quantities. The colorful and creative atmosphere makes it more enjoyable to dine in than other restaurants of its kind. The staff, on the other hand, is not as welcoming as the ambiance.
It may be easy to miss while whizzing past a slew of other restaurants on Olney Sandy Spring Road at forty miles per hour, but Café Rio is worth stopping for. Upon entering, you’ll notice the prominent Mexican theme. While I’m sure the décor doesn’t perfectly capture the attitude of an authentic open-air Mexican taco shack, it does feel stylized, well decorated and fun. The decorative lamps, roofed-in food bar, and cleverly strung lights that encircle the interior make it more exciting than most other Cheap Eats restaurants that we’ve been to.
GAITHERSBURG – If you’re looking for an affordable breakfast or brunch that doesn’t make any compromises in flavor, Village Green is the spot for you. Don’t be put off by the shabby facade; it may look like a shack from the street but once you step inside you’ll feel more comfortable. The interior is a bit cramped, but not without clean tables, friendly staff and decorations reminiscent of a New York deli. The smells of fresh brewed coffee and sizzling bacon along with the relaxed ‘seat yourself and pay at the counter’ atmosphere make the establishment a great place to transition from early morning grumpiness to ready for the day acceptance.
The menu is well stocked with the typical breakfast must-have’s, but also offers delicious specialties such as the “Zorba,” seafood, and southwestern chicken three egg omeletts. If you’re in the mood for fluffy and delectable, they also serve Belgian waffles and pancakes. The prices are hard to beat, with dishes like eggs benedict and combinations such as the Village Green pancake platter (two pancakes, two eggs, and choice of meat) costing less than eight dollars. Although we visited Village Green for brunch, the restaurant does offer tempting lunch options as well, including mostly burgers, sandwiches and subs.
The Zorba omelette is unique and delicious. Filled with gyro meat, feta cheese and spinach, it is not your typical diner omelette, but rather a little taste of Greece wrapped in three eggs and cooked to perfection. This is not to say that Village Green doesn’t do the classics the right way; the spinach and provolone omelette is also very satisfying. The home fries that Village Green serves on the side are a tasty addition. It is safe to say that on top of each serving of home fries lays an entire onion, sliced and sautéed, and this generosity goes a long way in terms of flavor. While there is nothing terribly fancy about the other side dishes (most are from a can) they are prepared well and there are quite a few choices. The portion size of each dish is perfect. While the chefs do not overload your plate, they give you enough to make your stomach as satisfied as your wallet.
A few minor issues keep the Village Green from being fantastic. The back alley lot that you have to park in is less than inviting and smells like dumpsters. Also, the interior is cramped; if you sit in a booth, your knees will probably be touching those of the person sitting opposite from you. However, a couple small hiccups should not deter anyone from trying this restaurant because the food and the prices are great.
By Chris Hinkel
MoCoVox food critic
MONTGOMERY VILLAGE - Doña Azucena, the pupuseria located at 18216 Contour Rd. in Montgomery Village offers decent Spanish appetizers, but not much else. While the prices are fair, many aspects of this establishment bring to mind the saying, “you get what you pay for.”
The atmosphere is inviting: clean, family oriented and with great smells lingering in the air. While it is a sit down restaurant, Doña Azucena also does carry out orders. When we sat down and ordered our food, we asked our waitress what her favorite menu item was and she promptly pointed to the Carne Asada. Since everything is so cheap—the average appetizer being around two dollars and entrées about $10—we decided to order two entrees and a bunch of appetizers so that we could try a bit of everything.
The appetizers were all tasty. The tamales were unique, incorporating olives, chick peas, potatoes and chicken all bound by a moist and delicate masa. The pupusas were undoubtedly the best tasting dish of the night. We tried the cheese, pork and bean, and zucchini pupusas and could not pick a favorite because they were all so enjoyable. We also ordered pasteles de carne (deep fried beef and mixed vegetable patties) and nuegados con chilate (deep fried cassava bites with sugar cane drizzle), and while they were nothing to come running back for, they were not unpleasant.
Unfortunately this is where our experience took a turn for the worse. After having great appetizers and anxiously awaiting more of the same caliber, our hopes were diminished. The carne asada, which our waitress had recommended as being the best dish on the menu, was dangerously close to being inedible. Not only was the cut of meat atrocious, but it must have been cooking for half an hour too long in a puddle of bland teriyaki sauce. We could not finish it because it was so bad. The other entrée that we ordered, the onion grilled chicken with cream sauce, was piled so high with cream and onions that one couldn’t see or taste the chicken buried underneath.
Service as a whole was not great either. We waited for drink refills the entire time we were there and never got them, and our waitress was hard to flag down when we needed something.
Montgomery Village’s pupuseria, Doña Azucena, is cheap in price and in quality. While the pupusas are tasty, little else about the dining experience is praiseworthy. I would not recommend this restaurant, but if you happen to be in the area and stop in for a pupusa you won’t be totally wasting your money.
By Chris Hinkel
MoCoVox Food Critic
For years the corner barbeque joint in the Red Mill Shopping Center was dark, empty and uninviting, with food that couldn’t convince customers to come back after their first visit. Recently, all of Red Mill has been littered with yellow plastic signs advertising Blue Ribbon’s free beer, foot long hot dogs and BBQ and the restaurant itself is decorated with huge banners. This loud and obnoxious advertising warranted a visit and a critique from an honest barbeque lover.
Located at the top corner hill of the Red Mill Shopping Center in Derwood, Blue Ribbon BBQ calls out to passing drivers with its new blaring red lights. The interior is not fancy but there is at least a bar and a TV with the game playing. Blue Ribbon serves a handful of domestic draft beers and offers specials on them depending on what you order. For example, the pork BBQ sandwich combo offers a sandwich, side of fries and your pick of beer for $9.95. There are also weekday specials, such as the RG3 sandwich and the fully loaded foot long hot dog, however we got several of them on a Sunday for the weekday price. The orders came out quick, and the service was very good.
The food at Blue Ribbon is surprisingly delicious. It is hard to find places that serve authentic Carolina style pulled pork in the area, but Blue Ribbon’s is impressive. There are several menu options through which to explore this delicious meat: on a jumbo sandwich, on a sandwich topped with slaw and French fries, or on a platter. At the front of the restaurant there is a bar with a great selection of different types of barbeque sauces, each of which can be bought in bottles if you just can’t get enough of them. Try them all because everyone has a different preference when it comes to barbeque, and every one of these sauces is worthy of a tasting at the least. If you don’t know what kind of barbeque sauce suits your meal or are unsure about what one might taste like, fret not because there is a sauce diagram above the bar that explains it all.