“Bethesda has for a long time been known as a restaurant community,” says Stephanie Coppula. “We’ve always had nearly 200 restaurants in a very finite area.”
Coppula, the marketing and communications director for the Bethesda Urban Partnership, adds, “What’s exciting now is some of the new folks who have moved in, the diversity of food styles, and the offerings — that’s changed a lot in the last 20 years. We have plant-based-only restaurants here. There are new bakeries and exciting places that have come in from New York City, like Maman and Levain, and then there are also locally owned mom-and-pop places. So it’s nice in such a small area to have so many offerings for people.”
In many ways, the Maryland suburb feels like a small city on its own, one that happens to be conveniently well-connected to other parts of the metropolitan area in all directions, with D.C. only one Metro stop away.
“There are so many new folks who have moved into downtown Bethesda,” says Coppula. “Development has really taken place over the last ten years with new apartment buildings, new condominiums, even commercial development.”
In fact, Bethesda’s urban core has grown by leaps and bounds in just the past two years alone on account of the new headquarters of Marriott International, Inc., located just a few blocks north of downtown Bethesda and adjacent to the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood.
Next weekend, that neighborhood will finally host the post-pandemic return of Taste of Bethesda, a full year after Hurricane Ian blew up plans at the last minute for a 2022 edition of the popular annual food and music festival.
“We always promote the event as rain or shine, which it is — we’ve done it many years in the rain,” continues Coppula. “But predictions of hurricane winds: when things start to get dangerous, we have to kind of rethink the rain or shine idea.”
This year’s 31st event is set to take place next Saturday, Oct. 7.
“We are very excited to be back,” Coppula says. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to come together. And so many of these restaurants haven’t participated before, because they’re new to Bethesda, so it’s super exciting to have that many restaurants who are new joining us.”
Approximately 25 percent of this year’s restaurant lineup is new, including Marriott International’s MI Café; José Andrés’s Spanish Diner; the Bethesda outpost of CHIKO, a small fast-casual chain of Chinese-Korean fusion fare from chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee; Good Ducking Burger, a fast-casual replacement of Ashish Alfred’s original Duck Duck Goose; David Lee’s plant-based eatery Planta; and The Organic Butcher of Bethesda, a purveyor that only sells humanely raised meat, sustainable seafood, and naturally grown produce.
The roster of returning food and drink participants includes Guapo’s, Luke’s Lobster, Mamma Lucia, Medium Rare, Moby Dick/House of Kabob, The Original Pancake House, Rock Bottom Brewery Bethesda, Smoke BBQ, and World of Beer.
All told, nearly 40 culinary venues will be featured at the festival, which also presents music acts from around the region performing live across four stages, including original folk/Americana tunes by Jay Byrd, Afrofunk big band sounds of Chopteeth, Latin pop/rock from Patrick Alban & Noche Latina, and the roots/folk music of the Juliet Lloyd Trio.
Coppula suggests that the value of the festival for restaurants might be even greater now than it was when Taste of Bethesda was first conceived over three decades ago.
“In [today’s] world of digital marketing and social media, there’s still value in getting samples to people and, especially with food, trying that taste. So it’s this beloved community event, but it’s also really good marketing for the restaurants. And we want to have a healthy restaurant community. We want them to be economically viable and do well.”
The 31st Taste of Bethesda is Saturday, Oct. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle vicinity. The event is free to attend, but tickets are required for all tastes and cost $5 for four “taste” tickets (each serving is between one and four tickets) or $8 each for beer and wine. Visit www.bethesda.org/bethesda/taste-bethesda.
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