Driving out of D.C. on Rhode Island Avenue along U.S. Route 1 delivers one into a burgeoning northwestern stretch of Prince George’s County. From Mount Rainier to Brentwood, Hyattsville, and out to Riverdale Park, there’s an abundance of globe-spanning eateries, from a traditional Senegalese spot and Texan barbecue with a Latin twist to a birria-obsessed taqueria and restaurant specializing in comfort food. Here’s a look at the newest spots, a couple of standbys, and what’s on the horizon for the budding dining destination.
Little Miner Taco
3809 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, littleminertaco.com
Chef Mackenzie Kitburi opened his Brentwood taqueria in October 2019 in a newly founded food hall that has changed ownership once since it launched. Parts of the neighborhood have been deemed a food desert by the government. He’s helping change that, one birria taco at a time.
Kitburi crisscrosses each tortilla with melted Jack cheese like a Mexican Pollock painting before topping them with a mound of braised beef. As is custom, the quesabirria tacos come with a rich consommé for dunking. Indulgent and instantly addictive, they’ve earned his upstart taqueria a passionate following in the region. Birria fans have driven from as far away as Boston and Philadelphia to get a taste, according to Kitburi. “It’s a straightforward recipe,” he says. “We just put a lot of love in it.”
The chef spent the past eight years cooking at Fiola, Marcel’s, and Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab. Though he didn’t know Brentwood well before signing his lease, he fell hard for the neighborhood. “Even though it’s literally on the borderline with D.C., it has a real small town vibe to it,” he says. “It still has its own character. It’s a very artsy community.”
He plans on continuing to expand his presence there. This spring, keep an eye on the space next to the taqueria for a new, yet-to-be-named restaurant focusing on New Orleans-style seafood and burgers.
2Fifty Texas BBQ
4700 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, (240) 764-8763, 2fiftybbq.com
“Once we start talking about barbecue,” 2Fifty Texas BBQ’s pitmaster and co-owner Fernando Gonzalez starts. “We can talk for hours,” finishes Debby Portillo, his wife and business partner.
The Salvadoran couple has been talking about smoked meats for years now. Before they moved to Maryland in 2018, Gonzalez would make pilgrimages from El Salvador to central Texas to learn the art and the science of barbecue. “I got hooked on the whole culture, understanding both the simplicity and the complexity of serving a good barbecue platter,” he says.
What started as a stall at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market at the end of 2018 is now a permanent brick-and-mortar restaurant that opened in April 2020. Cooking in a 500-gallon offset smoker powered by white oak and post oak, Gonzalez turns out wagyu brisket from Snake River Farms, spare ribs, Texas hot links sourced from Logan Sausage Co., juicy smoked turkey, and whatever else strikes his fancy.
Though the mains defer to tradition, the sides reflect the couple’s Central American heritage. Try well-seasoned red kidney beans stewed with brisket trimmings or caramelized pineapple. The barbeque joint has a diehard fan club, often selling out of its meats on pre-orders alone. Order in advance.
3310 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Ranier, (240) 770-8579, pennyroyalstation.com
Chef Jesse Miller and his business partners Erin Edwards and Garrick Lumsden were drawn to Mount Rainier “because we thought it had a lot of room to grow,” he says. “I love D.C., but it got really oversaturated.”
It took three years for Miller and his team to welcome diners thanks to permitting issues, the pandemic, and overhauling the space that once played host to the historic Singer sewing machine factory. That meant Miller had a lot of down time after he left his post at Bar Pilar in 2019. He’s making up for it with 95-hour work weeks in the kitchen of his new American restaurant outfitted with murals by Denver-based artist Yulia Avgustinovich.
Miller’s menu focuses on comfort food staples. Think smoked brisket mac and cheese enriched with bone marrow and splashed with chili oil, a burger forged from Roseda Farm beef (choose a 6-, 12-, or 18-ounce patty) crowned with applewood smoked bacon, bread and butter pickles, chili mayo, and cheddar, and a pulled pork shoulder taco kit served with house-made habanero hot sauce.
The neighborhood has welcomed Pennyroyal Station. One customer has been in every day since they opened to buy at least a single small item, telling the chef, “I want to make sure you guys stay with us.” “I’ve never seen that kind of love from a neighborhood,” Miller says. “It’s next level.”
5124 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, (240) 696-5907, https://www.facebook.com/Restaurant-Chez-Dior-131560397043921/
This Senegalese restaurant opened in 2014 after owner Mamadou Fall spent some time selling the food of his motherland out of his home kitchen. “You used to have to go all the way to Baltimore if you wanted a taste of Senegal,” he says.
The menu focuses on time-honored classics. Thieboudienne is the national dish, and Fall doesn’t mess with the formula much. The restaurant fries fish in oil before adding in tomato paste and vegetables. The ruddy juice is used to make the jollof rice that cradles the fish.
Another long-standing favorite, yassa chicken, is grilled before it’s slowly cooked in a lemony caramelized onion sauce. Although vegetarian cuisine is not commonplace in Senegal, where Fall says people love their meat and fish, he’s adapted some recipes to accommodate a meat-free regimen, including cassava leaf stew and okra soup.
Though the restaurant currently offers only limited indoor dining and carryout, Fall is confident there are better days ahead. “We are down 20 percent from last year, but we are making it work,” he says.
Franklins Restaurant, Brewery, and General Store
5123 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, (301) 927-2740, franklinsbrewery.com
In its original incarnation, Franklins was a general store fronting a small deli. However, owner Michael Franklin saw an opportunity for a more ambitious operation. “There was no place for people to hang out in Hyattsville, no real good neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “I knew people were buying microbrews from us, not the Buds and the Millers of the world. I felt that if we opened it, they would come.”
He opened the brewpub nearly two decades ago, which began pumping out an impressive array of small batch beers served alongside family-friendly, no fuss gastropub grub like half-pound burgers and personal pizzas. The quirky and quixotic general store still sells an eclectic hodgepodge of scented candles, hot sauces, kitchen gadgetry, and board games.
While the pandemic forced Franklins to cut its menu by a third and limit its brew runs by half, the establishment endured thanks to two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program loans. They’ve even expanded, opening an outdoor “Franklins Quarantiki Room” by the train tracks. It’s closed until April, but whenever the temperature inches past 50 degrees, Franklins hangs a flag with a pineapple on it to signal to that Painkillers and Hurricanes are flowing.
Era Wine Bar
3300 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier, erawinebar.com
Originally, Michelle Grant and her husband, Ka-Ton Grant, sought to open their wine bar in D.C. proper. But after moving to Mount Rainier in 2018, they were bewitched. The area reminded Michelle of Takoma Park’s friendly, community-minded vibe. They switched up their game plan and set up shop in the 3,200-square-foot, two-floor space next door to Pennyroyal Station. With up to 45 seats, including a patio, the couple hopes to open in late spring. “Not only will we be close to home, but we would be bringing something to the neighborhood that hadn’t been here,” Michelle says.
Expect to peruse wines by the glass and a smaller collection of bottles from around the world. The list will include more established Old World options to lesser known varietals from places like Uruguay, Brazil, and Lebanon. Michelle, a certified sommelier, will personally oversee the selections.
Era Wine Bar will complement its wine list with everything from tzatziki-topped lamb burgers to tandoori seasoned chicken wings. “My mom is Indian and my dad is African, but we kids are American, so we’ve always had a smorgasbord of food on the table,” Michelle says.
Unnamed Food Hall at The Station at Riverdale Park
4501 Woodbury St., Riverdale Park, thestationrp.com
Food halls like The Block and The Roost have been popping up all over the D.C. area in the past few years. Prince George’s County is poised to gain another right off Route 1 on the ground level of a new residential building. The roughly 8,500-square-foot space with indoor and outdoor seating for 175 (post pandemic) will be home to nine or 10 food stalls and ghost kitchens.
Ghost kitchens aren’t a fleeting trend, insists Hospitality HQ CEO Akhtar Nawab. His company, which operates food halls in Omaha, Nebraska and Chicago, is overseeing the project.
“What we’re finding is there are a lot of vendors who don’t want to get caught up in the hospitality component of interacting with guests,” he says. “They have great ideas, but they want to express their hospitality just through their food and their cooking.” Going with the ghost model makes more sense economically for some business owners, Nawab adds.
He won’t fill the hall with any chain franchises. He says he’s looking for more “artisanal” operations. Though Nawab is in conversations with a number of newer entrepreneurs, as well as more established chefs from D.C. and Baltimore, he isn’t ready to announce any tenants. He urges anyone interested to reach out to learn more. To bring stability to the food hall, but allow for long-term flexibility, vendors will sign 18-month leases. If all goes according to plan, the food hall should open late this summer.
Also check out Federalist Pig’s mobile barbecue kitchen in Hyattsville, Denizens Brewing Co.‘s newest location in Riverdale Park, Vigilante Coffee’s roastery and cafe in Hyattsville, and Relish Market in Brentwood.