Swahili Village

Beltsville, MD has quite recently received the accolade by the Washington Post as the area within the DMV with the most diverse offering of good eats, and deservedly so.  For a few years, I passed by one of its establishments, Swahili Village, a Kenyan eatery, on my errand rounds, and I was always tempted to savor their offerings.  But such enthusiasm was always thwarted by the sight of their small parking lot and its congestion during busy hours.  However, for over a year, I had been eyeing a larger shop lot a few blocks away that the restaurant has decided to put down its new roots.  After much delay and anticipation, it opened its new doors, and that is where I paid it a few visits.

Swahili VillageSwahili Village

Walking into the space, you immediately notice that this is not your usual African dive – money has definitely been spent here, and in a tasteful manner.  The decor and lights are both modern yet inviting, with splashes of Afrikana to remind one of this place’s roots. Taking my seat, I noticed the glass window opening to the kitchen, which added more psychological space for the eater.  I was enjoying the details of the set-up and in the glassware as well as the cutlery.  But I had to refocus my attention to the rather simple menu and figure out how to maneuver my appetite around it. Chicken Wings
Bhajia - Lentil battered Potatoes Samosas

From the appetizers, I had Chicken Wings on an occasion.  Usually one to avoid this ubiquitous offering, I was urged by the waiter to give it a try.  One bite into it revealed lots to me.  The pieces of wing tasted fresh and well-seasoned, without any distinctive spice coming through.  I marveled at the crispness despite the absence of any batter and the use of fresh oil to produce a greaseless finished product.  Each bite cascaded into another due to the above quality and the poultry being seasoned thoroughly judging by the spice coloring in every morsel.  It came with a mild Marsala Sauce which was more a detractor from the already flavorful wings.  On another occasion, the order was Bhajia.  Thin slices of potato were covered in lentil flour and fried.  Its appearance was not exactly very tempting due all the brownness, but one bite into it changed my mind.  The potato was perfectly seasoned with the batter adding more flavor and a slightly mealy crisp texture.  Judging by the batter color, perhaps turmeric powder was added, hence its faint perfume in the mix.  A side of the house-made fiery Pili Pili sauce should be taken with extreme caution but they added some more flavor to these bites.  The handling of this lowly tuber was enobling and revelatory.  Another appetizer order was of Indian origin, Samosas, pointing to Indian migration to this former African British colony. The packets were phyllo dough wrapped around a filling of ground meat that was well-seasoned and made herbaceous from a handful of cilantro.  The dough was perfectly fried with a greaseless touch and a crispy texture.  The side sweet hot sauce tasted house-made, providing the right sweet heat for these tasty bites.  The appetizers here are some savory starters that are worth the diner’s attention.

Kenyan Goat Soup Nyama Mchuzi - Beef Stew

Mbuzi Mchuzi - Goat StewOn the menu, the entrees include some stew and soup offerings.  Goat Soup is the only offering in the soup category and I gave it a try.  I enjoyed the whole mix of goat meat that was extremely tender and faintly gamey, perfectly cooked bits of carrots and potato that lent some sweetness and body, alongside tomato that added the slight acid to the mix, and leaves of collard green, all brought together by a fairly clear full-flavored broth that is the sum of the long cooking.  I thoroughly enjoyed this sip and I wished it came in a bigger bowl.  For the stews, they were either made with goat or beef.  The pieces of boneless beef and the bone-in goat were completely tender and flavored by their lengthy time in the stew. The mix tasted slightly tomato-base, making it full-flavored yet rather light for it to be eaten in the midst of summer.  The sides also garnered some attention.  The cabbage were pieces of finely julienned pieces lightly cooked with some fenugreek, which added a unique scent.  The rice pilau was basmati rice scented by cardamon and Indian cinnamon, moistened by some stock just before service.  The spinach tasted and had the consistency of creamed spinach (made from coconut milk), enough to give a reputable steakhouse a run for its money.  The plantains were not too sweet, for a change, tasting clean having been fried in fresh oil.  I must say that my dining companion and I were truly satisfied by these offerings, both the mains and the sides.

Mbuzi Choma - Grilled Goat
Group Platter - Swahili Village

The grilled meats in the entree section menu looked very tempting and we had to try them out.  One of my first visit, my friend’s order was Grilled Goat.  I had a taste of it and it immediately raised my eyebrows.  The flavors reminded me of when my Dad had office dinners in the house compound with a goat roasting over a pit fire.  Well, the meat was well seared from some charcoal fire, its gaminess suppressed, well-seasoned from a good marination, and tender at the same time.  The side of bread, Chapati (of Indian origin), tasted house-made and fresh.  The other accompaniment was boiled ground hominy or Ugali, which I thought was too plain for my taste (I prefer the Ghanaian fermented version), but I appreciated its authentic nature.  But I kept going back to the goat as its flavors and textures beckoned me to return for more.  The side of tomato salad was the perfect counterpoint to the meat with its fruity ripeness and the spot-on seasoning, as well as a slight piquant kick.  After tasting the goat, I wanted to come back for some Grilled Beef.  But this time, it was served as part of the Group Platter.  The oval dish came with the aforementioned grilled meats, as well as grilled chicken breast.  The sides were the spinach, collard greens, cabbage, tomato salad, Chapati bread, and Rice Pilau in lieu of the usual order of hominy.  The beef came in cube form and they were quite dark from a good stay on the grill which give it a charred flavor that I appreciate with this meat.  The pieces were perfectly seasoned, and as it sat on the plate, they got a bit chewy since they were fully cooked – medium rare is a Western taste sensibility, but not here.  This house knows how to handle grilled meats and I wouldn’t miss these dishes when visiting. Samaki Wa Nazi - Fish in Coconut Curry

Dengu - Lentils in Coconut SauceOn a couple of occasions, we tried their lighter fare.  Samaki Wa Nazi is fish in a curry sauce.  One taste of it pointed to a certain level of care in its preparation.  The cubes of tilapia was devoid of the dark fishiness usually associated with it (removing the central nerve is the key), and it had a thin layer of batter from a light frying before it was coated by a savory, creamy and slightly tomato-tangy sauce.  I was thoroughly enjoying this concoction, as well as the sides of mashed peas and potato that reminded me of the English version but here studded with reconstituted hominy, and the finely julienned collard green that held its texture and color from a light sauté, akin to how the Brazilians prepare it as a topping for Feijoada.  The other light dish was for my vegan BFF – Ndengu or Lentils in Coconut Sauce.  The mix had a rather silky feel made creamy from the coconut milk and fragrant from the use of what I suspect Garam Masala, the ubiquitous Indian spice mix, since there was no distinctive single note in the aroma and flavor.  My friend was equally satisfied  by the sides of Chapati bread and mashed pea and potato.

Asante - Goodbye, Swahili Village

Swahili Village grabbed my attention from the moment I walked in, from its new space, to the decor, and to the array of gastronomic offerings.  What makes the experience at the new place special besides the arresting visuals, is the attention given to the dishes and the refinement in both presentation, seasoning, and flavor combinations, all elements necessary to elevate soulful dishes from the Motherland.  Rarely was there an item that I was not drawn to, even the plain hominy that was a direct tribute that I respected and I would’t try to mess with.  The owner, Kevin, was both warm and knowledgeable, and he has something good going here, judging by the large crowds of expats on the weekends and Friday nights. The service was faulted by online reviewers at the previous location, but I get a feeling that they heard the customers loud and clear as our servers were attentive and congenial.   Don’t worry about the parking – there is a lot of space.  Even less to worry about is their wonderful authentic cooking that would please just about anyone.

Swahili Village Bar and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Myong Dong

In the last blog posting on a Ghanaian restaurant serving a good rendition of the West African dish, Fufu, (read blog),  I mentioned its location round the corner from a favorite Korean haunt of mine. Myong Dong has been in the same strip mall since I visited it for the first time during my graduate school days 26 years ago (OMG!!). Ever since then, I paid it many visits during lunch time on days when school was out or during the holidays. I never considered writing about this place due to the infrequent stop-in’s, but recently, I realized that it was worth mentioning this eatery on my blog site.


Walking in the space, you are confronted by a neat looking space with simple yet appealing wooden tables and chairs. After placing the order and being served some water or hot barley tea, an array of different side dishes would appear in front of the diner. I must say that I am fond of this aspect of Korean cuisine, and I have had my fair share of these preludes to the meal. What Myong Dong serves up is not the same quantity as some other establishments, but the few, around 3 or 4, are best judged for their quality and flavors. The Kimchi tastes quite fresh and having been given the proper marination, the Napa cabbage is slightly wilted while tasting spicy from some chili and ginger, and slightly sour to balance the flavors. Another dish is pickled Daikon. Cubes of the white root vegetable is still crunchy without tasting raw, exuding some sweet and rice-vinegar sourness, good enough for one to ask for another serving and sip that sweet vinegary liquor. Pickled Cucumber is also another mainstay. Pieces of unwaxed baby cucumber tasting slightly crunchy from its skin and soft on the inside have been marinated with some chili paste and vinegar. Infrequently, Pickled Green Chilies make an appearance, exuding its natural capsaicin heat along with its pickling of soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. I must say that I would devour these sides before my main course, and I always ask for refills during my meal. If I could, I would make a meal out of them for they are just oh-so-good.


It would be amiss to eat at a Korean restaurant without trying their Mandu or Stuffed Dumplings. For many years, I would order their lunch specials, and the dishes would arrived with a couple of these fried small bites as part of the combination. Each time, I was taken aback by how good they were. So, on one visit, I placed an order from the appetizer section which comes in either 6 or 12 pieces. This separate order only reaffirmed my take on them: the perfectly crispy thin skin encapsulated a meat stuffing that was both fragrant, with a good hit of white pepper, and savory at the same time, making one to savor every morsel of these tasty delights. As if these dumplings were not good enough, there is a side sauce that takes them beyond the stratosphere with the flavors of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and perhaps Mirin, making it a completely sippable elixir. These small fellows do make big strides indeed on the tongue with their awesomeness.


Lunch time is usually the time for my visits to this place in order for me to take advantage of the reasonably priced lunch specials. Most of the offerings are marinated meats served in Bento-styled boxes. One of my favorites is Spicy Pork. What arrives is grilled meat tasting spicy from a good marination with some chili paste and slightly sweet to balance the heat, mixed with some sweet peppers and onions. What I appreciate about the meats here is that they are properly marinated for a length of time before sweating it out on the grill; the same goes for the beef and chicken orders. Accompanying the meat are usually some rice, a simply crispy salad, those irresistible fried dumplings, some pieces of fried tofu in sauce, and a slice of fruit – a true balance of Ying and Yang. With those delectable side dishes to go along with the main dish, what more could I ask for during my lunch time?


Another order from the lunch special menu is Rice Bowl. The bowl arrives with pretty much the elements of the previous dish: grilled marinated meat, salad, and fried dumplings, strands of egg and toasted seaweed sheets, all sitting on a mound of rice. But here, there is an addition of chili paste to be mixed in with all the aforementioned, allowing the diner to control the amount of chili heat to one’s liking. So depending on my mood, I would order this bowl when I want all the parts coming together, or the box if I am in the mood for something deconstructed. Either way, both are winners in my stomach.


Beyond the lunch specials, I found a couple of dishes that are also in my repertoire of favorites, Be Beam Naeng Myun being the first. The bowl arrives with a mound of cold buckwheat noodle topped with some spicy bean sauce, slices of pickled daikon, raw cucumber, slices of cooked brisket, a boiled egg, all sitting on a pool of chilled sauce.   A couple of scissor snips of the noodle and a good mix of the elements brought the dish together to its gestalt height.  Every element contributed to that effect with the rather firm noodles, the sweet spicy paste, the vinegary daikon, the cool crunchy cucumber, the beefy brisket, the rich egg, all enveloped by the savory chilled sauce laced with fragrant sesame oil.  This dish is a definite hit for me, especially while we are still enveloped by the summer heat.


The other dish is like the above, a noodle dish, but in a spicy soup form – Jam Pong. The bowl arrived with some thick noodles swimming in a fiery red soup, with bits of mussels, pork, squid and baby corn accompanying the main starch.  The seafood was perfectly cooked, tasting sea sweet and fresh, the vegetables cooked and adding their vegetal sweetness, and the noodles tasting home-made and al dente.  But it was the soup that brought the tasty bits together, with its depth in flavor and spiciness that was both searing and alluring.  In the last couple of orders, the mussels were overcooked, and I will make it a point to request the kitchen not to overcook them since I truly enjoy this spicy noodle bowl.


On a number of visits, I noticed that some diners were feasting on some Fried Chicken. With that in mind, I decided to try their rendition which comes in half or whole chicken.  My order was the half bird chopped up into large pieces, dipped in batter and deep-fried.  One bite into a piece revealed its true nature.  The batter was not the seasoned flour type, but a barely seasoned rice flour coating. The meat was cooked through, including the pieces of breast meat that were still moist, but again, not as seasoned as I thought.  A dip into the side salt mixture was the secret in its eating that provided the necessary seasoning and flavors that “woke” these pieces up.  In other words, the pieces of poultry was the canvas to the salt seasoning that was a secret (according to Mrs. Chef) mixture of salt, chili powder, and other ingredients that made it de rigueur for these crunchy bites.  Once I could wrap my brain around this distinctive approach of fried chicken, I began to enjoy and appreciate this unique version. However, I would have preferred the poultry cooked a couple of minutes more, and I will request such an order for that extra crispiness.

It has been hard thinking of a Korean eating establishment to write on, but ultimately, I resorted to a place that I have been patronizing all these years since I have been living in Maryland.  Yes, it is not a big space nor do they offer a wide variety of dishes usually found in bigger eateries.  But I have always enjoyed their marinated meat lunch specials, fried chicken and the noodle dishes, as well as those side dishes that keep calling my name every time I take a seat there.  Now with  lunch specials offered the whole day on Sundays, I have another reason to indulge in these Korean treats.


Cape Coast Cuisine

_6009819A year ago, I bumped into a Ghanaian restaurant located round the corner from a favorite haunt of mine. I was curious to what Ghanaian cuisine was about especially given the fact that my college best friend hailed from that West African country, and he had cooked me a couple of scrumptious dishes from his homeland on a few occasions. With that in mind, I invited a Ghanaian/Togolese friend to join me on the first of a couple of visits to Cape Coast Cuisine in Beltsville, MD.




_6009818_6009811On the first trip, I arrived with my said friend during lunch time. Right away, I noticed the buffet table near the entrance that struck my curiosity. Being a total novice, I was not sure what to order and I went for the default buffet line after having perused it with a quick glance. It was not the regular buffet line in which you help yourself, but one in which the customer is given only one serving from the line.  The offerings were Stewed Black Eyed Peas, Fried Plantains, Jollof Rice, Stewed Goat, Fried Turkey Tail, and Fried Fish.  There were some highlights on the plate that got my attention.  The Jollof rice was slightly moist, tasting savory and a bit spicy, with a slight depth of flavor from some caramelization.  The Black Eyed Peas really got my attention.  Not only was it cooked to the perfect soft consistency, but it exuded a certain sweetness from vegetable aromatics and a hint of tomato.  The goat was well seasoned but I would have preferred the flesh to be falling off the bone, which have made them more appealing.  The plantains were decent – you can’t go wrong with this ingredient here.  However, I found the turkey tail and fish to be bit ho-hum with its simple seasoning and dry from being overcooked.  The Shito Sauce was the saving grace to the aforementioned bites with its spicy, slightly smokey and sweet, and dried shrimp notes that added flavor and heat to the whole plate.  The side of fried Garri was interesting, pointing to the same use of the granular form of the Cassava root in the Brazilian national dish, Feijoada.


But I was still not satisfied from the first trip and I knew that I had only scratched the surface. During that meal, I noticed some expatriates eating other dishes that were from the menu and not served on the buffet line. On the second trip, I came with the same friend and another from Liberia. After perusing the menu and getting their recommendations, we ordered a couple of dishes. The first was Okra Stew and Banku since we wanted to add some vegetable to the whole mix. A large bowl arrived with the Banku on the side wrapped in plastic wrap. The stew was chokeful of the vegetable which lent some body and its slimy quality (in a good way) to the dish, tasting savory from its cooking with some goat meat and seafood-like from some boiled down pieces of fried fish. The lone piece of softened Scotch Bonnet Pepper exuded quite a bit of heat to the bowl that made it masochistically tempting.  The ball of boiled ground hominy was the perfect vehicle to scoop up the vegetables and meat mixture, while exuding a sour note from fermentation which made me reach for it to be eaten by itself.  A tasty vegetable stew for me indeed.


What I saw many customers order during my first trip was the widely eaten West African dish, Fufu.  The name refers to the cassava and plantain roots pounded to produce a starchy and stretchy mound.  Hence, any stew can accompany this beloved carbohydrate, and our order was made with goat meat, goat stomach, and Tilapia fish.   I had warned my dining companions of a possible long wait judging by what I saw on my first visit.  Meanwhile, we were provided a bowl of water with some hand detergent in preparation for the eating.  And quite a wait it was.  But the cooking time was spent more on stewing the soup made from scratch and not the making of the fufu as I had thought.  My friends concluded that the fufu was the powdered form, not the pounded tubers, albeit a decent rendition judging by its smooth texture.  The goat meat and stomach were not fall-off-the bone tender which was quite a pity since they tasted very fresh with a slight gamey quality.  The fish steaks were equally fresh and cooked perfectly, qualities that I appreciated even though it is not my favorite type due to its inherent muddy quality.  But it was the wonderful soup that brought the elements together with its savory, fragrant, spicy, and slightly sour qualities that made it completely sippable by itself. Now, I know why West Africans love this dish, and my friends overstuffed themselves on this occasion.

20150818_131759Although this was my foray into this West African cuisine in a restaurant setting, I must admit that I have found a veritable locale judging by the clientele patronizing this hidden spot and some of the dishes that impressed me with their flavors and textures. Yes, the buffet line had its highlights and some mediocre dishes, but I couldn’t get enough of that amazing black-eyed peas, tasty Jollof rice, savory goat stew (despite being a bit tough) and the irresistible Shito sauce. From the menu, the okra stew exuded a depth of flavor one wouldn’t expect from that simple vegetable, aided by that sour Banku that I couldn’t stop breaking pieces off. Despite the not so fall-off-the bone quality with the goat meat and stomach in the Fufu dish (a longer wait was definitely out of the question), I appreciated their fresh qualities as well as the fish in that full-flavored soup that made the pounded tubers, albeit a good powdered form, interesting beyond the level of pure starch. Watching my Africa-born friends enjoy themselves fed me on many levels as if this food were my soul food. Never mind the complaints online about the wait and meager service, but all reviewers agree that they were satisfied with the authentic offerings here –  I am on the same page as them.

Yia Yia’s Kitchen

My foray into Greek cuisine has not been one of a traditional route.  In addition to frequenting a popular take-out diner in the Dupont Circle area for many years as a young adult, I would scout out Greek Festivals to find cookouts hosted yearly by the myriad of Greek Orthodox churches in the Washington DC area.  It was there that I could get a true sense of what traditional Greek cuisine was about.  However, I have not come across many Greek restaurants in the area beyond the gyro counter, thus the absence of a blog on this culinary tradition uptil today.

Yia Yia's Kitchen

However, recently as I was driving up Route 1 heading to Beltsville, I noticed this new establishment tucked in a strip mall, just north of IKEA and the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.  After a couple of weeks, I decided to pay Yia Yia’s Kitchen a visit, and admittedly, with a bit of lowered expectation stemming from my experiences with similar style places.  But walking in, I was impressed by the place that looks very neat and well-kept, bright from being a corner shop lot bathed in natural light coming through the large windows facing the traffic-laden highway.  Within my first bite, I knew that this was not the usual joint serving this Mediterranean cuisine.  After a handful of visits, I decided to write this blog.

Tyropita/Ricotta Feta Pie

Spanakopita/Spinach Feta PieSome of the highlights of tasting food at Greek Festivals were new dishes that I could explore and enjoy, and savory pastries were some of my favorites.   My first order here was Tyropita.  The pies were airy and crispy from the well-baked Phylo sheets, enclosing an equally light yet rich stuffing of ricotta and feta cheeses.  The tanginess of the feta was not too pronounced, tampered by the smooth ricotta, and it was the perfect foil to the mild tasting crispy exterior that literally flaked apart between my fingers – a light and flavorful starter indeed.   Another visit’s order was Spanakopita.  The dough of these pies were quite different from the above, being equally light but softer akin to a crispy croissant, encasing a stuffing of spinach, leeks and feta cheese.  I really enjoyed these savory bites with the feta tanginess tasting creamy, perfectly matched by the sweet onion notes of the leeks which seemed to be more prominent than the spinach.  Both types of pies were made to order judging by the flaky warm dough and their fresh quality, and they were the perfect meal opener due to their savoriness and lightness.

Fried Calamari

Looking at the menu, I knew I had to sample a couple of types of appetizers.  The Fried Calamari definitely called my name on each occasion.  The plate arrived with thick rings of squid, along with a few tentacle blooms, lightly battered and served with lemon and Tastziki yoghurt sauce.  One bite into the seafood was revealing.  The batter was lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, crispy but lightly coating the squid rings that were quite tender to the bite.  Being made from whole squid, this was as good as it gets, and at one visit, they literally disintegrated with a couple of chews.  The frying was nearly greaseless and the seasoning right as to not overwhelm the mild mollusks.  A squirt of the lemon wedges took me to the Mediterranean seaside with these bites.  Even though the yoghurt sauce was well-made and flavored with fresh dill, I didn’t feel that it added much to the seafood.  The portion was quite huge as an appetizer, but it is worth ordering and sharing with others.

Avgolemono/Lemon Egg SoupA visit on a cold day called for the classic Greek soup – Avgolemono.  The first mouthful brought a smile to my face.  It is basically a well-made chicken soup, full of flavor of vegetable aromatics of onions and carrots, and without artificial flavor enhancers, laced with pieces of carrot and strands of chicken, and thickened with cooked rice and egg.  But what takes this basic soup to another level is a tinge of lemon juice mixed in with the richness of the egg.  I must say that I enjoyed these sips very much with the lemon tang beckoning my tongue for more each time.  It may not be a cup of tea, or bowl of soup, for the uninitiated, but I really enjoyed this classic soup, me being one with an affinity for the sour and tangy flavors.  Even without the lemon, this is a damn good soup.




Pork GyroGreek Salad with Feta

Walking into the eatery, you immediately notice three gyro spit roasters behind the counter heating away different types of meat judging by the colors of each meat cylinder.  An order one day was made with pork, which is a popular choice on the Greek islands.  The meat pocket was a combination of pita bread wrapping together a filling of shaved roasted pork (not processed pressed meat), fries, bits of tomato, onions and lettuce, moistened by some yoghurt sauce.  The bits of meat were slightly crispy on the outside with more moist bits seasoned by a mild concoction hinting of oregano and thyme.  The pita was amazingly soft and pillowy tasting freshly made.   I found the fries stuffed into the gyro unnecessary and I removed them quickly.  A friend’s order made with beef and lamb was equally satisfying for him, and I could taste some of the unique and mild gaminess associated with these cuts.  Another day’s order of the Souvlaki was equally tasty with cubes of pork being well-marinated and well-seasoned but perhaps a bit dry due to that lean cut of meat.  A side of Greek Salad was the perfect accompaniment for its fresh quality ingredients and flavors found in the vegetables and leaves, the block of quality feta perfectly brined and sprinkled with some dry oregano, all moistened by a lemony vinaigrette made with good olive oil.  As a side salad, the quantity is a good healthy portion for most.

Moussaka Platter

Greek main dishes have always had much appeal to me due to their refineness in preparation and flavors as I have savored in those Greek festivals.  A friend’s order of Moussaka was a revelation on a visit.  The pie is made with layers of Bechamel sauce, eggplant, meat sauce and slices of potato, all cooked to form a single lasagna-like entity.  This version blew me away on many levels: the bechamel sauce was the right amount of creamy richness hinting of some nutmeg in it, the eggplant moist and thin, the meat sauce perfumed with some cinnamon and clove, and the potato still a bit firm but cooked.  The seasoning was perfect and the use of spices subtle yet present.  The pie could be cut with a fork and there was a lightness to it pointing towards to a delicate and knowledgeable hand.  The green beans side was also well-executed with the whole vegetable fully cooked (Mediterraneans prefer their veggies this way) without turning to mush, slightly acidic from the whole tomatoes, sweet from the onions, and seasoned with fresh mint (not dry mint like some do) that added a fresh bright quality to this side.  The side of potato wedges was mildly seasoned and still a bit firm from the roasting.  Another friend’s order of Pastichio was very much like the Moussaka but made with cooked macaroni added to the meat sauce and topped with the Bechamel sauce, which he found equally savory and satisfying.  I have to admit that that is the best Moussaka that I have bitten into, enough to give any Yia Yia a run for the money.

Kokkinisto/Beef Red Wine StewAfter the urging of the owner on a couple of occasions, I decided to try the Kokkinisto dish.  The plate arrived with pieces of short ribs sitting on a mound of mashed potato.  Admittedly, I was not too impressed by this rather gray looking dish, but the first forkful spoke another language.  The pieces of meat tasted full-flavored from some pan-searing and simmered in red wine and probably some rich stock.  There was a subtle back note seasoning that I could not discern, but the gestalt in flavor was tongue-tickling.  The background player was not insignificant; the mashed potato was made from scratch tasting freshly made and a bit rough in texture, enriched by some stock and a hint of garlic, and it provided the perfect companion to the beefy bits.  The portion was very generous and I could not finish but half of the serving, to which I savored it delightfully encore the next day.


I knew I couldn’t write this blog without including at least one of their desserts, and I decided to order the most recognizable sweet bite, Baklava.  This healthy serving was full of roasted nuts separated by layers of Phylo and soaked with syrup to provide the sweet and moisture to each bite.  What raised my eyebrows and brought a smile to my face was the use of cinnamon which tasted extremely fresh and zingy.  The Phylo on top was flaky but the middle layer of pastry was a bit too thick and was not thoroughly cooked.  However, the flavors were spot on and I appreciated the right amount of sweetness without being cloyingly sweet like other versions I have tasted.

Yia Yia's KitchenYia Yia’s Kitchen is a great find in the DMV area where Greek food is not common and it’s quality cooking hard to find.  The freshness in the ingredients and the cooking are consistent in this place, from the simple Greek Salad with the tasty and briny Feta, to the amazingly light and flavor-packed Spinach and Feta pies, to the well-seasoned roasted meat in the Gyros, to that oh-so-good Moussaka that can be eaten any day, to the oh-so-beefy meat-red wine stew matched with an equally tasty mashed potato.  And that corner dedicated to all the Yia Yia’s and their cooking is so endearing.  I think the superb cooking here would bring a smile to the photo of each of the grandmothers, making them proud that the name of the restaurant is in honor of these great cooks.

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