This is the first in a series of posts that are a tour of Howard County, designed with the idea that people new to the county can learn best by actually driving the roads. Click here for the explanation and other tours. Check out the links below to see my prior posts about restaurants and markets on the route, then take a weekend drive.
Rte 108 is the slow route. Not the quick shots of Rte 100 or Rte 32. I had actually been on several stretches of Rte 108 because I realized that it was a single road, meandering near several of my favorite joints. Driving the full arc of Rte 108 is my first advice for someone who wants to discover good food in Howard County -- Elkridge to Clarksville with a few detours along the way. You'll see some great restaurants, some excellent shopping, and a few treats to enjoy.
Start at the Fatburger. I'm more of a Five Guys fan myself, but the California chain caused quite a sensation when it opened in 2008. This is the shopping center with Best Buy and Lowe's at the intersection of Rte 175 and Rte 108. This was trees when I drove past on my way to a first date in Ellicott City. A week later, my life had changed, and big trucks were clearing the entire parcel to dirt. That's progress for you. You just keep heading the same way on Rte 108, although it snakes around so you'll go north, west and south during the ride.
- Start at the Fatburger. It faces Costco. (Nuttyturnip recommends below Mimi's Cafe in that shopping center. Fatburger definitely created more anticipation than comments about how people love the food.)
- Walk down the shopping center to Perfect Pour, Trader Joe's and Mama Lucia's. Perfect Pour has a tiny front, but sells an enormous wine. beer and alcohol selection that spreads back and to the right from the door. The beer wall alone is worth a visit. Trader Joe's sells everything else. Mama Lucia breaks the "food blog" rule because it is a little chain, but several comments below talk up the pizza and garlic knots.
- Get back in your car and exit the parking lot by going downhill away from the Trader Joe's. You'll drop down to the main exit from the shopping center. Turn RIGHT on Rte 108.
- Turn RIGHT at the traffic light at Lark Brown Road and follow the road until just before it deadends at Old Waterloo Road. There is a shopping center on your LEFT with Parsa Kabob.
- U-Turn on Lark Brown and return to Rte 108. Go another block or so.
- Turn RIGHT into the Food Lion and then curve around the left of the supermarket. The shopping center next to Food Lion has Gateway Pizza, a restaurant that sells both pizza and Indian food. Columbia Halal Meat has opened with a small Indian grocery store and a meat counter that is a great resource for goal or lamb even if you don't keep halal. Across the parking lot is a Chinese place with a sign for banh mi sandwiches. Don't get excited. They don't actually sell them. That is from a former owner.
- Return to Rte 108.
- You're heading towards the intersection with Snowden River Parkway. Remember Snowden. You'll see again in a later route. Look RIGHT for Eggspectations at University Drive. Look LEFT for Victoria Gastropub (and its beer sampler) just before the Snowden intersection.
- Pass through the Snowden intersection and look RIGHT for the Coal Fire Pizza in the shopping center with a Starbucks and a Cold Stone Creamery.
- Turn LEFT where Rte 108 turns left at a traffic light. You'll see Howard High School on the right. If you pass over Rte 100, then you have gone too far. U Turn at the traffic circle on the far side of Rte 100 and then turn RIGHT at the light to get back on Rte 108.
- Turn RIGHT at Centre Park Drive. Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro is in the shopping center pressed against Rte 108. Cafe de Paris is in the base of the commercial building on the right. (Well known for crepes and French food, as noted by Marci in the comments. I have actually never been!) Go past the Giant (whoops, fixed that), and Bangkok Delight is on the LEFT. (Mrs. HowChow loves the mango sticky rice at Bangkok Delight.) If you turn left on Columbia 100 Parkway, you'll eventually see Greystone Grill sitting in the shadow on Rte 100.
- Return to Rte 108 and keep going.
- Turn RIGHT at Red Branch Road. There are two Indian groceries on this road, which is actually a "U" starting and ending on Rte 108. The original Food Cravings is first on the right in a building above the road. Then Desi Market is more visible on the left.
- Keep driving on Red Branch, and it will deadend back into Rte 108. Turn RIGHT on Rte 108. Cross over Rte 29.
- Turn RIGHT on Columbia Road, then first RIGHT on Old Annapolis Road, then go to the end. You'll see LeeLyn's, not one of my favorites but a very popular place with American food and a patio.
- Reverse direction on Old Annapolis Road and turn RIGHT into the Dorsey Search village center that backs onto Old Annapolis. In here, you'll find Hunan Legend -- a local institution that serves Chinese and has a "secret" menu of authentic Chinese dishes. You'll also find Trattoria -- another local favorite for pizza, eggplant parm, and more as noted below.
- Return to Rte 108 and keep going.
- You'll pass Centennial Lake on the right. Possible detour: If you haven't seen the lake, drive in to see the hiking/biking trails, the boat rental, and the picnic areas.
- Look LEFT for Iron Bridge Wine Company on Rte 108. Great small plates. Interesting wine.
- Keep driving. Columbia is on your left. Clarksville mansions are on your right. Watch for the intersection with Harpers Farm Road. That leads into Columbia, and you'll see it on another tour.
- Look LEFT for the River Hill Garden Center. A tad expensive and tending towards exotics that may not always survive winter. But a nice place to stop. (Update: But stop soon. The owners asked in the summer of 2009 for a re-zoning that would allow them to redevelop.)
- Look RIGHT for El Azteca in a strip center against Rte 108. (In a comment below, a former San Diegan says El Azteca is decent, which is high praise based on my Californian or Texan friends who bemoan the lack of Mexican food here.)
- Look for the sign for Roots Market (all Roots posts) and turn RIGHT into the shopping center. Roots is a nice organic market. In the same shopping center, you'll see Great Sage, which is a classy vegetarian restaurant. This is the anti-Fatburger where even the bulgogi has no meat.
- Return to Rte 108.
- Turn LEFT at the light for Great Star Drive. There is a Bagel Bin in the River Hill village center that serves challah on Fridays. There is also the River Hill Sports Grille around back.
- Go back to Great Star Drive and cross Rte 108 into the parking lot of Kendall Hardware. That is a good, local hardware store. They repair and service lawnmowers in the back. In summer, there is a Snowball stand in the parking lot and often someone selling produce.
- THE END. On the next tour, I'll start at Roots and head south to Highland.
To go home, you just go another block south on Rte 108 to Rte 32. If you want to go back to Fatburger, just head EAST on Rte 32 and then NORTH on I-95 until you see Rte 175 again.
Please comment below if I missed anything. I have already revised several times to add places or correct errors. You can use a number (like "15 1/2") to put your suggestion in the right part of the tour.