Washington Post – Spice Xing

These 3 Restaurants Make You Feel Like A Neighbor, and We All Need A Dose of That!

By Tom Sietsema

Spice Xing Wapo

Hey, Jackie Greenbaum, tell us what you think when you hear “neighborhood restaurant.”

One marker is a casual feel, the sense you “can go anytime and be welcomed and known,” says the longtime entrepreneur, whose eateries over the years have always embraced the definition. Neighborhood restaurants, says the co-owner of Bar Charley, El Chucho, Little Coco’s and Quarry Tavern, tend to be “less of a destination” but are “beloved by their communities.”

The following spots offer different cuisines but share two other neighborly attributes: good value and vibes. I know of no one who couldn’t use helpings of both these days.

Returning to Spice Xing after too long between meals at the Rockville retreat is a study in consistency. My attendant, manager Sayan Bhattacharyya, is no mere food carrier, but an emissary for both the restaurant and his homeland of India. It doesn’t hurt that the Kolkata native also makes a tamarind margarita spiked with roasted cloves, cumin and peppercorns that’s too easy to polish off.

The cooking is as I remember it, too. A diner can pretty much point anywhere on the menu, abbreviated thanks to the coronavirus, and hit the jackpot. Lamb kebab is soft bites of ground meat that detonate with jalapeño. Chicken Nilgiri is cloaked in coconut milk that acquires its shade and zest from a paste made with curry leaves, cilantro and more. The list retains lots of vegetarian dishes, including my favorite toss of cauliflower and bell peppers freckled with wild onion seeds, and miniature uttapam whose charred vegetable toppings turn the lentil-rice cakes into edible mosaics. Same as before, the breads are too hot to immediately tear into and luscious once we do. And I love that entrees come with plates dressed with steamed rice and a crisp salad of julienne vegetables, glistening with oil and tangy with lemon.

While the dining room is (partially) open, we opt to sup outside, on the sidewalk patio, where the street has been blocked off to let Spice Xing and its competitors accommodate customers who don’t feel comfortable eating inside restaurants. It’s one of those 90-degree days, but a canopy of trees and a light breeze reveal Mother Nature to be an adept air conditioner.

Spice Xing excels at accommodation. “If we can do it, we will do it,” says owner Sudhir Seth. “We rarely say no to anything.” When the manager finds out I’m a fire eater, he suggests I order the lamb vindaloo. The dish isn’t on the menu, he tells me, but the kitchen, under the day-to-day watch of chef Hari Ram, has the ingredients and is happy to prepare it. Red chiles soaked in vinegar, and absorbed by cubes of meat and potato, sting just like they did … gosh, has it been a decade? Shame on me.

Spice Xing Wapo 2

(Left photo: Chef-owner Sudhir Seth. Right photo: Tamarind margarita and uttapam.

Photos by: Deb Lindsey/for The Washington Post)

100-B Gibbs St., Rockville, Md. 301-610-0303. spicecrossing.com. Open for lunch takeout and dining 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday and for dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Delivery via DoorDash, Foodie Cab, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Curbside pickup available at Gibbs Street and East Middle Lane. Accessibility: Front entrance has two sets of doors; call the restaurant at arrival time to enter through one of two side doors. Entrees $14 to $19.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post. Read the article here.