Best: Passage to India
4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, (301) 656-3373
2nd Best: Heritage India
2400 Wisconsin Ave. NW, (202) 331-3106
The owner and executive chef of the best Indian used to man the stove at the second-best, and it shows. The dal mahkani and palak makai that show up as sides at both establishments are luscious and rich with flavor. Saag gosht retains the flavor of the lamb; the vegetarian options are plentiful and varied. Order the butter chicken at either place, and you’ll be happy. In fact, the murgh mahkani at Heritage India, served in a clay crock over a small flame, bubbling and studded with crumbles of butter, narrowly edges out Passage to India’s, and some of their other dishes have the upper hand for taste as well. So why the No. 1 ranking to the Bethesda eatery? The creativity of the menu, which allows you to eat by region, is one reason—but the heart of it is occasional service problems at Heritage. While the management is typically gracious, several of the wait staff have a tendency to glower at guests, even turn up their noses in what appears to be disdain regarding unknown offenses diners are left to try and figure out. (Did I forget deodorant? Is it my cheap shoes?) While the food at Heritage has the edge, you can count on Passage to leave a good taste in your mouth.