Bites Nearby: A Venue for Pasta and Patriotism at Vicino Restorante
Italian restaurant in downtown Silver Spring is a classic American story.
The name tells most visitors the kind of food they will see on the menu at Vicino Ristorante Italiano. The music playing and paintings and posters on the walls are big clues. But the host they see welcoming them into his modest space at 959 Sligo Avenue still stirs the curiosity of some diners.
"A lot of times people will come and ask, 'A black guy from Africa with an Italian restaurant?' I will answer, 'Only in America,'" said John Eshun, owner of Vicino.
The native of Ghana never dreamed of opening a restaurant when he was growing up in Africa. He arrived in the U.S. in 1974. The inspiration took root when he got a job at Pines of Rome in Bethesda. Eshun worked his way up from a dishwasher to a waiter and fell in love with the simplicity of Italian food and with America.
"This is the best country, honestly. With all its shortcomings, it is really the best," said Eshun, a husband and father of three. "It affords opportunities to so many people. You just have to try, work hard and embrace opportunity."
Vicino's owner saw his chance when he noticed a closed deli more than 20 years ago. When he opened back in 1989, there was no Jackie's across the street or shiny new restaurants in downtown Silver Spring. Loyal clientele have helped Eshun's restaurant survive the competition.
"The food is great. The service is great. John is just the friendliest guy I've ever met in the restaurant business, and I used to work in the restaurant business," said Gary Curran, a regular customer.
The Alexandria resident started coming to Vicino with his friend Rosalyce Leveridge when she moved to the area in 2003. She likes small restaurants, and the way Eshun handled a gathering for her late brother, who loved Italian food.
"It was hard for me to go through that transition, but we had the repass here. We were smiling because we know he was here," said Leveridge, a D.C. resident. "We had the entire restaurant and John just made it special."
Loyal fans mention John's generosity and warm personality as reasons why they keep coming back. But the food also is an attraction.
"Our experiences have been very pleasant, and he has a wonderfully consistent and delicious menu. We're happy to be here," said Diane Kern, a D.C. resident and loyal patron.
Kern and five other women chose Vicino for a lunchtime meeting of their investment club, the Saturday Morning Network Group. They wanted to support a local restaurant and enjoyed some of the popular dishes.
The Francese is one of the specialties. It is priced from at $14.50 for the chicken and $16.75 for the shrimp.
"Chicken Francese is pieces of chicken breast, egg and flour, sautéed in garlic, olive oil and lemon. It is a good light dish, yet very filling. It comes with pasta on the side," explained Eshun.
Eggplant Parmigiana, Spinach Ravioli and the whole baked fish are also big sellers. The large menu offers a wide variety of traditional Italian dishes, most of them priced under $15.00.
You can get a glass of wine or a beer at Vicino. Music lovers frequent the downstairs room where live jazz and food are available on Monday nights, usually once or twice a month.
However, the biggest draw might be Eshun and his appreciation for his adopted country. His son, Eric is in the U.S. Army and served three tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan, making them both proud of what they have accomplished in America.
Check out Vicino Ristorante Italiano online to find out more about the hours and carry out menu. The restaurant is located at 959 Sligo Ave. in downtown Silver Spring.