The key to a good restaurant, as in everything else, is a calibrated mix of predictability and innovation. Rice Paddies Grill, a small Vietnamese place in downtown Bethesda, has mastered both.
It’s been open for five years, under the ownership of husband-and-wife team PT and Lannie Tran. Lannie is the chef. Her mother owned two large restaurants, and her husband wanted to start their own in Bethesda. She prefers a small restaurant because it’s easier to stay in touch with both the menu and the customers. “We order ingredients every other day,” she says. “Because it’s small, we can serve everything fresh.” Also healthy: the most ubiquitous ingredients are onions and bean sprouts.
Instead of standard-fare white rice, your starter is brown rice with spices and white and green onions. It’s good enough to be an entrée. The secret, Lannie says, is that it’s stir-fried in fish sauce. “A lot of Chinese places don’t do that; they just put the sauce in after the rice has been in the cooker. We cook the rice, then fry it with the sauce in the wok for that garlicky smell.”
My go-to dish is the vegetable spring rolls. They have a crispy, paper-thin fried egg roll containing a medley of thinly sliced carrots, tofu, mushrooms, noodles, cabbage, onions, and malanga, a potato-like root that is grown in the tropics, Asia, and Latin America. They are served with my favorite Asian condiment: duck sauce.
Bethesda Magazine has already recommended the Pho Soup. Pho soup is made of rice flour noodles, bean sprouts, basil, and sliced green onions. Rice Paddies’ version is infused with the perfect amount of chives and spices without being perceptibly filled with them. They also give you liberal chunks of tofu and pieces of lettuce.
Rice Paddies is consistently good, so you can go there any day. Expect to spend a whopping $10-$20 on your meal. Thanks to public demand, it’s now open on Sundays.
My Rating: 10
Chef: Lannie Tran
Recommended Dish: Vegetable Spring Rolls
Atmosphere: Very Casual
Price Range: $10-$20
4706 Bethesda Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814