Dupont's Raku pleases with Asian diner cuisine

Raku - An Asian Diner 1900 Q Street N.W. Metro: Dupont Circle (red line) (202) 265-7258 Price: $7-$17 Grade: B+

Finding a unique dining experience in D.C. for the cost-conscious student is not always easy. But in the quest for the perfect Asian fusion dining experience, look no further than Raku. Situated right in the heart of the bustling Dupont Circle area, Raku boasts a colorful menu with influences from all over Asia. The atmosphere is sophisticated and trendy and the prices are reasonable for a big city restaurant.

Its prime location in the center of much of D.C.'s nightlife (really just a stone's throw from Adams Morgan and U Street) is perhaps the best thing it has going. Looking for the perfect place for a night on the town before clubbing or a concert at the Black Cat? Raku is perfect for groups such as these. And those spending nights out further north on the red line can check out Raku's second location in Bethesda, right down the street from the Landmark Bethesda Row movie theaters.

Groups that come to Raku can expect a wait, though. It does not take reservations and seating can be hard to come by and cramped when there is no outdoor seating during cold and rainy seasons. Much like the traditional diner, Raku is loud, and the music that blares through the sound system can sometimes be grating. Perhaps this is the only drawback of the place, and it is a minor one at that.

The menu is chock full of delicious items that cover a range of cuisines from countries throughout much of Asia.

The Asian Diner tag really seems to work, as it reflects a range of meal options. The restaurant also takes cues from the hot "tapas bars" trend. At Raku, sharing is the name of the game. And choosing from the sprawling menu selection can prove to be an extremely difficult task.

Starting off with a few choice selections from the small plates section is a good bet. The Vietnamese spring rolls and the vegetable dumplings are carefully concocted delicacies. Other highlights include the chicken yakitori and the shrimp and crab ravioli.

The small plates may satiate the small appetite, but there is much more awaiting the taste buds with one more glance at the rest of the menu. The seaweed salad has gained a reputation as one of the best offerings.

The various offerings of noodle bowls means that someone with little taste for raw fish can look to this part of the menu. The chiang mai noodles are delicious, and incorporate the flavors of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. Other selections offer an array of choices for meat lovers.

There are also big plate options, which cover a wide array of dishes, including ginger-glazed salmon and Pad Thai. The sushi menu is basic, but all the ingredients taste fresh and delicious and are made with the quality you might expect of a place a little more expensive.

All of this is wrapped into a nice package by the helpful and friendly wait staff, who are always ready to help and serve. Service can slow up at times, but it is only because the restaurant is too small to afford extra help on hand at peak hours.

Overall, the dining experience at Raku is a wonderful excursion for those looking to entertain the senses. Birthday parties, dates or a night out on the town make Raku desirable for people of a multitude of ages. It's a great place for friends to gather and even better for the wide-range of menu options.

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