Lemon meringue tarts and opera cakes from Tout de Sweet
Photo credit: Emma Patti

Despite the cold and pouring rain, a surprising number of people showed up for Taste of Bethesda on Saturday, munching their way with umbrellas and raincoats through food samples from nearly 60 restaurants.

But with somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 attendees (compared to the usual 35,000 to 40,000), it certainly wasn’t jammed packed, meaning no waiting in long lines and no bodily contact with complete strangers on the usually-teeming Woodmont Triangle streets.

Last year, after determining that I needed an eating strategy for the annual pig-out, I stuck with only restaurants that were new to the event. I did the same this year, and have given each of them an award:

Spiciest: The first bite of the chorizo with chimichurri sauce from Bold Bites was so spicy that it made me cough, jostling a clump of the bright green topping onto my rain-soaked shoes, where it got stuck for the duration of the festival. Luckily, there was plenty left to spare for the mini-sausage.

Most Generous: Granted, Kabob Bazaar’s offering cost four tickets—the equivalent of $5—more than most of the other vendors. But it included two kinds of rice, wedges of grilled tomato and onion, two big chunks of grilled chicken kabob, and a decent-sized kubideh (skewer of ground beef). Loved the addas polo—rice mixed with lentils, raisins and dates. And the chicken was moist and homey—even better than the kabob I had tasted previously at the restaurant.

Best Rugelach: As far as I know, Uptown Deli was offering the only rugelach. The cinnamon raisin was pretty good.

Homiest Sandwich: The cheese steak from Jiffy Shoppes. It didn’t have great quality beef, and the roll was soft and squishy, but it was the kind of sandwich that’s comforting to eat, especially on a nasty day.

Most Serious Sandwich: The 9th Street Italian from Taylor Gourmet. Lots of great quality meat—Genoa salami, capicola and prosciutto, plus sharp provolone, and the roll was firm and studded with sesame seeds.

Most Lopsided Sandwich: The slider from American Tap Room. The burger was nearly twice as big as the tiny bun, and both were blah.

Catchiest Name: Naked Pizza, a New Orleans-based chain, opened a location in Bethesda the day before the event. They get a lot of mileage off the name alright, but how’s the pizza? I had a slice of the tomato-basil, and it was pretty good—the crust, made with a combination of healthful grains, does have depth, but the sauce and cheese weren’t anything special.

Most Beautiful: Hands down, Tout de Sweet bakery’s little lemon tarts, opera cakes and colorful macarons made for the most stunning display. And to make matters even better, they tasted as good as they looked.

Best Deal: Bethesda Crab House has been around for 50 years, but this was the first time the restaurant pitched a tent at Taste of Bethesda. The mini crab cakes were all gone by the time I got there, but the steamed shrimp were terrific. Two tickets (the equivalent of $2.50), got you five humongous shrimp, served warm with a side of cocktail sauce. Note to BCH: Come back next year.


See our video recap below: