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Reservations Recommended

Choppy Waters: Surfside

Judging by the twentysomething adulation and crowds, a visitor might guess that Surfside, a beachy kind of restaurant in Glover Park, has the lock on trendy, casual dining. After all, its topside alfresco seating gives the feel of sitting at a dock overlooking shoreline scenes — though what you actually see are nearby rooftops and Wisconsin Avenue traffic below. In keeping with the hang-loose theme, table service as such as absent: you place your order at the kitchen’s counter, pick up your meal, and find a table down- or upstairs. The waitstaff appears only when it’s time to clean up the tableware after patrons depart.

The menu, actually menus, are crafted to add the aura of an improbably hot-tropics and seaside energy that fizzles after the first bite. Themed and named to star seafood, the menus actually span the beef-chicken-shrimp-fish spectrum with a little of this, a little of that, with grilled veggies and create-your-own salads thrown in.

True, some of the specialty burritos, quesadillas, and tacos sound tempting, named as they are with such monikers as Maui, Cabo San Lucas, Martha’s Vineyard (rather north of the border), San Juan, Andros, and Fiji. Even special entrées and salads get their own nicknames — from Baja to Tahiti, and Nantucket in between. All of these create the illusion that you actually are sitting surfside, though you are only sitting Surfside.

After puzzling over the many options, customers fill out one of several sheets, labeled “burrito”, “tacos”, “entrée”, “salad”, and “specialty items.” But the line cooks deserve a big cheer: with so many filling and entrée options, to say nothing of salsas and sides, sorting out each order must be a onumental task.

My friend composed her own taco with grilled steak (a little tough, she said) and assorted grilled veggies, which do taste pleasantly smoky. On the other hand, I tried to create my own burrito, and it ended up being so filled with rice wrapped in an un-softened flour tortilla (hey guys, you’ve got to warm these up first before filling and folding them) that all the other components lost any chance of being dominant.

On a return visit, I’d try creating a burrito again, with grilled chicken, Jack and Cheddar cheeses, grilled poblano peppers and red onions and a second grilled veggie for an extra 95 cents, and a black bean and corn salsa. And I’d say, “Hold the rice, guys!” By adding a little extra to the tab, I’d also tack on to the order a side of guacamole and a side of pineapple jalapeño salsa. It pays to think about all this ahead of time.

On the other hand, the truly, truly hungry can get their fill with a slightly pricier create-your-own entrée. In that case, for me it would be the standby Jack and Cheddar cheeses, grilled poblano peppers and red onions, grilled zucchini for an extra 95 cents, and a mole negro sauce to top an order of blackened fish base for an extra $4 for the fish.

If there were desserts on sale, we didn’t spot any. On the other hand, their weekday evenings happy hour, between 5:30 and 6:30, features half-price drinks, and if you want to sit around drinking ‘till the cows come home, the bar stays open until 11 p.m. on many nights; ask before you order.

Casual and airy, with the emphasis on whatever goes, Surfside has made a big hit with the young and hungry, but if you are looking for sophisticated fare, you might want to head elsewhere for chic eats.

Surfside / 2444 Wisc. Ave., NW; (202) 337-0004. Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Sat., 11am-3pm.; Dinner, Mon.-Wed., 5:30-9:30pm, & to 10:30pm Thu.-Sat.; Saturday; Sun. brunch, 10:30am-2pm; dinner, 2-9:30pm. Entrée prices: upwards $15-$20. More info, www.surfsidedc.com/www.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.