Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pupuceria Y Taqueria Los Pinos in Laurel

You can't buy a better snack than a $2 taco, and any errands that take you along Rte 1 should give you a chance for Mexican.

I already loved the Pupuseria Lorenita's truck in Elkridge, which is so established that it has phone numbers, regular hours and multiple employees just north of Rte 175.  Last week, I stumbled on Pupuceria Y Taqueria Los Pinos in Laurel north of Main Street.  The beef tacos were just as delicious as Lorenita's.  The tortillas were unusually thick with the real corn flavor that I can't make for myself at home.

The Los Pinos truck sits in the parking lot of the Rollrite Tires in Laurel.  The woman working there said she is there Monday to Saturday, 8 am to about 5 to 7 pm depending on customers.  She has a small menu, including pupusas, carne asada and fried chicken.  She also has a picnic table under a tree -- a shady spot to sit that Lorenita's would do well to copy!
Pupuseria Y Taqueria Los Pinos
in the parking lot of Roll Rite Tires
9792 Washington Boulevard North (U.S. 1)
Laurel, MD  

NEAR:  The truck is on the west side of U.S. 1 north of Main Street.  It is right at the intersection with Whiskey Bottom Road.

Link: Wegmans store still planned for Columbia, work not scheduled to start until 2009

The Tales of Two Cities blog notes that the Sun is reporting that the foes of Wegmans in Columbia lost another round of their fight. They still threaten to sue, but Wegmans is hoping to start construction in 2009.

(Update: Wegmans applied for its first building permit in June 2009.)

New Seating at Kloby's Smokehouse in Laurel

Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road has added seating to the take-out BBQ joint that it inherited from a previous restaurant.  It's a simple area with tables and chairs.  No waiters.  Just order up some meat and carry it over.  

Click here for an earlier review.  Go international and click here for Korean BBQ at Mirocjo in Ellicott City.

Kloby's Smokehouse
7500 Montpelier Road
Laurel, MD 20723

NEAR: On Johns Hopkin Road just west of Rte 29. This is really the border of Columbia and Fulton. Kloby's is in a shopping center with a Subway, a liquor store and La Palapa Too just east of the JHU Applied Physics Lab.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

oz Chop House in Fulton

(Update: Oz appears to have closed in August 2009. At the time, the talk was that it will be replaced by a steakhouse by the owners of Ranazul and Jordan's.)

oZ Chophouse is a steakhouse where I haven't eaten a steak, but it's still a place that I enjoy going back.

oZ is one of the three upscale restaurants that anchor the Maple Lawn developement in Fulton. They're all classy places. More like city restaurants than almost anything around. We go to oZ's bar because it's a great place to walk in on a whim. We make our own dinners from the appetizers and salads.

It's an up-and-down experience. The calamari and the crab dip are delicious, but my favorite dish -- the tuna tartare -- was actually off the menu last weekend. The house salad and the shrimp/scallop skewer didn't replace the tuna, which I remember as an imaginative twist on sushi. We also go because the bartenders and the waiters are really nice, letting Mrs. HowChow sample a wine before we order or letting us sit in peace when we're just enjoying ourselves. But then we realized after our last dinner that no one had brought us a bread basket, one of the highlights of an oZ meal.

People do talk up the steaks. With a few detractors, oZ gets good reviews, and you can customize your meal with the cut, the sauce and the side dishes that you prefer. I'm just inclined to eat different food when I'm ready to spend $30 per person. I enjoy oZ as an imaginitive joint. Good beers and wine. Good food. Friendly people. On a quiet night, it's a nice, upscale dinner -- even better if you can enjoy a cool evening at an outdoor table . On a Sunday afternoon, the bar is a great place to watch sports.

If you're in Maple Lawn, also check out Trapeze and Ranazul. We created a progressive dinner one evening -- grazing at all three in a single night. Also check out the i.m. Wine liquor store, which is in the same building as Trapeze. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

oZ Chophouse
8191 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: The Maple Lawn development is on Rte 216 just west of Rte 29. From Rte 29, you pass through one traffic circle. Then you'll see the development on the right and enter from the second traffic circle. There is parking behind any of the restaurants.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Delicious: Popped Rice Bowls at H Mart

Try the popped rice bowls at the H Mart for an interesting snack that you can pair with almost anything.

Across from the fish counter is a green industrial machine that clunks every few second and knocks out crunchy rice cakes. They're infinitely lighter than the diet-fad rice cakes. These crunch in your mouth, but then almost melt there.

I love them with peanut butter. But they're a neutral flavor that could go with almost anything -- sweet like jam or savory like salsa or kimchi. Based on the H Mart, kids seem to love them. Parents hand the rice bowls to kids sitting in shopping carts, and they chomp, chomp, chomp. For $1.99 for a bag of about a dozen, it's a fun snack to try.

You don't even have to cook! Check here to see that the H Mart offers prepared foods and delicious items that you can just eat off the shelf.

H Mart
800 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Rte 40 just west of I-695. If you are driving from HoCo, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx at the end of the shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the next intersection.

Link: No HoCo Starbucks Closing

The Tale of Two Cities blog has a posting here that celebrates that Starbucks will close none of the Howard County locations when it retrenches by 600 stores nationwide.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shin Chon Garden Reopens in Ellicott CIty

Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City has reopened after a few months' of renovations. The Korean restaurant now has a modern look with light wood. Definitely classier than the old layout. There are several grill tables. Before the renovations, it was a delicious place, and we need to go to see whether the food has changed. My earlier posting.
If you like Korean, you can also try Mirocjo as well. And check out the Super H market in Catonsville and the Besoto restaurant next door.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sushi Sono in Columbia

Eating at Sushi Sono is like solving a Scooby Doo mystery. There are hidden gems everywhere, but if you pay even minimal attention, you will stumble across all the secrets.

This isn't Scooby snacks. Sushi Sono serves precise, tasty sushi -- along with other Japanese food -- in a casual, light-filled dining room near the Columbia mall. It often makes "Ten Best" lists for HoCo and for sushi in Baltimore. It's as good as I have ever eaten except for an expense-account restaurant in Manhattan, and those days are long gone.

Sushi Sono is a fun night out. I hear this is owned by the people who started but sold Sushi King, which has been a HowChow favorite for years. They're subtly different. Sushi King shines in unique rolls, often large and often covered with delicious sauces. Sushi Sono seemed to have more people order nigiri sushi (fish on rice), and its rolls were lighter, smaller -- although equally as delicious.

We sat at the sushi bar last night, and we were struck that everyone was friendly. We talked to people on either side. We talked to the sushi chefs. The hostess seemed to know half the crowd by name, and a little girl even sent an origami crane up to the sushi chefs. We ate rolls, and we loved them all: spicy tuna, tempura shrimp, a "crispy" roll with crab stick, egg custard and tuna, and the "hurricane eye" -- a crab-meat roll with an outer coating of crispy brown rice with each piece laid flat and dabbed with a serious spicy sauce. The rolls focus mostly on the fish with just an accent like the crispy rice.

The mystery is that most of the good stuff isn't on the menu or even on the specials board. Even rolls that are in the menu don't have any explanation of what is inside. You have to ask. Or watch the chefs or your neighbors. The hostess trumpetted the "bridal veil" roll, but I couldn't catch what was inside. The sushi chef talked up a roll with crabmeat, seaweed and Japanese mayonaise, but I didn't catch the name. ("Royo?") Missing out on hidden specials might be frustrating at a snooty joint, but Sushi Sono was so friendly that it's obvious that everyone wants to share the secrets. Seeing the "dragon" roll assembled in front of me -- tempura shrimp, white seaweed wrapped, topped with lobster -- just felt like a reason to go back!

But I couldn't help trying the "sono maki." The couple to our right had one, and it looked so different that Mrs. HowChow and I ordered a final nibble. Crab stick and avocado wrapped in thin slices of cucumber, then sitting in a shallow pool of vinegar. Light and delicious. Our neighbor thought it would be the perfect start to a dinner. It worked well as the end.

(Update 8/5/2008: The mystery is over! We returned to Sushi Sono, and the waitress gave us a full-sheet page that lists all the specials and describes them. I was shocked! It just makes the place better. We tried several specials and liked them all, although I have to say that the plain tempura roll was my favorite. The warm tempura shrimp was crisp and flavorful.)

If you like sushi, you definitely should also try Sushi King in Columbia. For Asian groceries, check out the H Mart in Catonsville, which sells salmon and other fish for slicing into sushi and all the supplies you would need for a home party. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

If you're interested in cooking Japanese food, check out my review of Kimiko Barber's cookbooks The Japanese Kitchen and The Chopstick Diet. They're great guides to the Japanese aisle of our local Asian grocery stores.

Sushi Sono
10215 Wincopin Circle
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: Sushi Sono is right on the lake in Columbia Town Center. The view is actually quite nice. It is across from the mall near Jesse Wong's Hong Kong and Clyde's.

Sushi Sono on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Link: Farm Stands in Howard County

The Sun has a story today about a HoCo program to help farm stands, profiling the Harbin family farm stand on Rte 99 and mentioning the three county farmers' markets discussed in this June post and this August post. Check out the Sun story here. It mentions an "Iron Chef" cooking competition at the Howard County Fair on August 7 and a Farm/City Week from September 23 to October 4.

If you like farm stands, check out Jenny's Market on Rte 32 and those three county farmers' markets. The ultimate farm stands are the trees and bushes at Larriland Farm -- pick-your-own produce in Woodbine.

Link: Cheese Courses in Howard County

The Sun's terrific dining blog posted Tuesday a list of restaurants that serve great cheese plates. Two of the 10 are Howard County -- Iron Bridge Wine Company and Tersiguel's. Mrs. HowChow weighed in with the comments and showed her Baltimore roots. Click here for the link.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jenny's Market: A Farm Stand on Rte 32

If you're on Rte 32 in the western county, watch for the signs trying to lure you to Jenny's Market.

Just off the 32, a family has established a weekend farm stand in their front yard. I didn't really ask questions. I stopped because the series of roadside signs ("Your spouse called . . . and said to stop at Jenny's . . . for delicious peaches . . . ") were amusing and offered a variety of produce. We bought peaches and tomatoes, and the tomatoes have been heavy with flavor, served once with basil and cheese and sliced once to top burgers.

The array of produce looks too large -- and too perfect -- for any single family to grow. Plus, there are bananas. That suggests that Jenny and her family fill their covered stand from a wholesale market. But everything looked delicious, and there is an extra spice to buying food outside and talking to the family as you do. Mrs. HowChow talked to Jenny and Jenny's mother. You can't even get that at Whole Foods.

(Update: Jenny's is open Tuesday-Sunday for 2009.  BillZ reports that Jenny's market moved a few hundred yards onto Andrea Drive for the summer of 2009.)

(Update:  In early 2012, the market was still operating.  The loops around the new interchange can be confusing the first time, but it's pretty easy if pay attention.)

Jenny's Market is a perfect stop after you have picked-your-own fruit at Larriland Farm in Woodbine. Take the Rte 32 exit south from I-70 and fill out your order on the ride home to supplement the just-picked items.

If you like farm-fresh produce but can't get out to Rte 32, then check out the
Columbia farmers markets where the farmers will come to you.

Jenny's Market
through the summer, but watch for the signs on Rte 32
3485 East Ivory Road
West Friendship, MD 21794

NEAR: This is on Rte 32 about five miles north of the intersection with Rte 108. It is south of I-70.  Follow the signs on Rte 32.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Larriland Farm: Pick-your-own in Woodbine

Shop right from the bush at Larriland Farm in Woodbine. Fruit and vegetables don't get any more fresh. Blueberries don't get any more delicious than the bagfuls that we picked on Saturday morning.

Larriland Farm is perfect. The "pick-your-own" farm west of Columbia is an adventure, but it's run so smoothly that you're guaranteed to have a good time. It feels personal and family-run, yet professional as well. Fruits and vegetables abound. Prices are reasonable. The fields are clean, well-marked and outfitted with stands so that you can pay in the fields -- crucial if you're traveling with kids and don't want to get in and out of the car an extra time. But, if you can stop, definitely shop in the Red Barn where you can buy any of the active produce, along with cheeses, jams, candies and honeys.

On Saturday, we picked eight pounds of blueberries with family and harvested two giant flower arrangements for $7.50 each. You could have also picked plums, raspberries or beets. Mrs. HowChow and I will return in August when we'll fill the car with peaches and blackberries. The thornless blackberries are a pleasure. Seven-foot-tall plants in long rows, each laden with sweet berries and none of the prickers from my childhood picking. This is a flavor of summer that doesn't survive when you try to ship it. We fill trays, and we eat them by hand or pureed
into a cinnamon-blackberry ice cream.

Then, we'll go back again in October. This is the perfect Halloween adventure, especially if you can bring a kid along. Pick apples. Pick your own pumpkin. Shop in the barn store (especially for the dried fruit candy). Take a hayride and send toddlers through a maze made from hay bales. On a crisp day, there isn't a more beautiful place in the world.

Pick-your-own runs from late May or early June when the strawberries ripen until the first weekend in November. There are multiple varieties of many fruits -- plums, peaches, strawberries, etc. -- so the seasons stretch over weeks or even months. Check out the Web site, which lists the products and predicts when they'll be available. Then call Larriland's (410-442-2605) to find out what they have today. It's a recorded line, updated daily.

(Update: In August, Larriland offers peaches and blackberries that can't be beat.)

If you like farm-fresh produce but can't get out to Woodbine, then check out the Columbia farmers markets where the farmers will come to you. Or if you're going to Larriland on the weekend, check out the Saturday farmers market on Rte 97 or watch for signs on Rte 32 for Jenny's Market -- a family-run produce stand just off Rte 32.

Larriland Farm
2415 Woodbine Road
Woodbine, MD 21797

NEAR: This is off I-70 west of Rte 32. Take I-70 West to Exit 73. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp. Then follow that road through a circle and then along a road of farms and new developments. Larriland is on the left, although there are some fields across the road.

Friday, July 18, 2008

El Azteca in Clarksville

I don't know a single Californian who thinks decent Mexican food exists east of Denver. But there are several locally-owned restaurants with a good mix of Tex-Mex and more-refined Mexican dishes.

El Azteca in Clarksville is a great choice. Inside, the dining room and bar are each outfitted with tile, art and solid, casual tables. This is a real restaurant, not a chain where they're just melting bags of shredded cheese over chips or tortillas.

On the Tex-Mex side, I had a combination taco lunch at El Azteca's bar -- generous helpings of grilled beef in one and al pastor pork in the other for just $9. El Azteca excels because of what it offers on the plate around the meats. Chopped cilantro and large dollops of guacamole on the tacos. Yellow rice and refried beans on the side. A plastic cup of tomatillo salsa. I still love the weekend ceviche special at La Palapa Too, but the rice and beans at El Azteca have just that much more flavor, that much more to separate them from a Chili's or a shopping center chain.

I still haven't tried the Mexican specialities like Chicken Mole and Rainbow Trout A La Mantequilla. I also haven't exhausted the array of HoCo Mexican restaurants. But El Azteca wins my loyalty because everything was delicious -- from the warmed chips to the marinated pork. At dinner, the Tex-Mex runs $12 a person, and the classier Mexican specials run $15-16. That's a fair price for good food served in a nice place.

For Mexican groceries -- including a butcher and corn tortillas made on site -- you have to visit Lily's Mexican Market. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

El Azteca
12210 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR: This is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32. From northern Columbia, take Rte 108 south until you pass the River Hill Garden Center on the left. Then watch for El Azteca on the right. From southern Columbia or Rte 29, take Rte 32 West and exit on Rte 108 north. El Azteca is on the left after the Jiffy Lube.

El Azteca on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Salted Plum and Salted Lemon Sodas at An Loi Pho

An Loi Pho is a small restaurant with a basic menu, which makes it even more impressive that the array inspires me to return again and again.

Salted sodas sound like some travel writer's example of a "local" taste that disagrees with an American palette. But the salted plum and salted lemon sodas at An Loi are sweet with a perfectly-honed flavor of preserved fruit. They're light. They're unusual. And they're wonderful with the grilled meats and noodles dishs that make An Loi a great stop for a summer dinner.

If you are converted, you can buy preserved plums in the refrigerated section of the H Mart in Catonsville. I have played with recreating the sodas, but I still haven't gotten the right sweetness. I'll go back for more research.

Click here for a longer review of An Loi or here for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County. In the winter (or anytime if you love coffee), check out An Loi's Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk.

An Loi Pho -- a longer review
7104 Minstrel Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Off Snowden River Pwky north of Broken Land and south of the Home Depot. Look for the traffic light with a gas station and a KFC. An Loi is behind the gas station in a shopping center with a Pizza Hut Express and a nail salon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

HardChow: Adventures With No Plate

Leave the beaten path for delicious adventures. Paper plates. No waiters. Horchata from a cart. These aren't date spots, and most aren't even restaurants. But they have delicious food and put the lie to naysayers who think HoCo is an endless row of chain joints.

Many people -- including Mrs. HowChow -- do not crave tacos on the roadside, but if you want to join the foraging, start with this always-changing list of adventures ---

Maiwand Kabob in Columbia
Start at the high end. Maiwand Kabob offers high quality paper plates and air conditioning. It's also some of the best food in HoCo. Kabobs. Samosas. Pumpkin appetizers.

The "Taco Truck" in Elkridge
Move on to a great taco that you can eat off the hood of your car. Pupuseria Lorenita's offers tacos, pupusas and other treats seven days a week from the parking lot of Paco's Paints on U.S. 1 just north of Rte 175.

Horchata and a Fruit Salad at the U.S. 1 Flea Market in Elkridge
Just north of the Pupuseria Lorenita is the U.S. 1 Flea Market. On weekends, the place fills with vendors and food stalls. Try the horchata from the metal trailer outside that also serves tacos and burgers. Try the fruit salad inside at Frutas de Mexico -- seasoned yourself with lime juice, salt and ground peppers.

The "Taco Truck" in Laurel
If you're farther south, you can grab your tacos at Pupuseria Y Taqueria Los Pinos in the Roll Rite Tires parking lot in Laurel. They're just as delicious. The tortillas are unusually thick with real corn flavor. They're open Monday to Saturday.

Iranian Fruit Roll-ups and a Yogurt Soda at Caezar's International Market in Elkridge
Caezar's is the place for Middle Eastern groceries.  While you are there, check out the "fruit roll-ups" from Iran. They're delicious and adult. "Sour curd" flavor is sour. Also try the yogurt soda if you want. The fermented taste was one step beyond for me (like "gag-inducing"), but Caezar's (formerly Sizar's in Columbia) sells two-liter bottles so some people must love it.

Samosas at Desi Bazaar in Columbia
At the counter, Desi Bazaar often sells samosas. They're room temperature, and you just pop them in a bag and then warm them at home. Nothing is better than fried pastry wrapped around a spicy filling.

Empanadas at the El Patio market in Elkridge
In the same vein of fried goodies, the El Patio market sells a variety of empanadas at the cashier's counter. Each variety is pinched in a different pattern so you can know what you're eating. For $10, you can fill a bag for dinner or for a cool party food if you can them into pieces.

Beef Soup At The H Mart lunch counter in Catonsville
Walk through the produce department to the lunch counter at the H Mart. Again, this is high-end like Maiwand Kabob because you get a plastic bowl and a real spoon. You also get a deliciously spicy soup with beef, noodles and vegetables.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bangkok Garden in Columbia

Because I already have a Thai restaurant on my favorites list, Bangkok Garden had to pass a test with me. It did. This casual Columbia place captures the flavor of Thailand, and I'll go back to taste some more.

(Update: Bangkok Garden was sold in 2011.  It appears to be a totally new management, and the name will change during the spring or summer.)

Next time, I'll pass on the larb, which didn't have the flavor of the appetizer at my favorite Bangkok Delight. But I'll drive for the massaman shrimp curry -- an orange-tinged curry made with coconut, peanut and the delicious spices that make Thai food so delicious. We ate shrimp and chunks of avocado, then asked for extra rice to just cover with curry and spoon up.

Both the massaman and the green curries tasted like authentic Bangkok. The vegetables in the green curry were spectacular. The chicken didn't add much, so try a vegetable curry to enjoy the perfectly-tender eggplant and bamboo shoots.

Bangkok Garden is a casual little place. Large glass windows. The decor is an 80s flashback that looks like the set for The Wedding Singer -- luminous black tables, jewel tones, and then strangely out-of-season tinsels and Christmas decorations. They offer karaoke with huge spotlights. A perfect place to go shine.

If you like Thai, definitely check out
Bangkok Delight or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

Bangkok Garden
5810 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: This is in the Oakland Mills village center. This is off Stevens Forest Road north of Broken Land and east of Rte 29.

Bangkok Garden on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 14, 2008

Restaurant Weeks in Howard County: July 21-Aug. 3, 2008

Try some of HoCo's high-end restaurants at the end of July with fixed-price specials at some of the best places around.

From July 21 to August 3, 2008, you can enjoy three-course meals for $20.08 at lunch or $30.08 for dinner.  That is an excuse to splurge on some of the best restaurants around, including Iron Bridge Wine Company, Trapeze, Jordan's Steakhouse, Greystone Grill, Aida Bistro Wine Bar, oZ Chophouse, Ranazul, Victoria Gastro Pub and Tersiguel's.

Coffee Oromia: Ethiopian in Burtonsville

Ethiopian food is one of Washington's great treasures, and injera, tibs and other African delicacies have reached as far north as the southern edge of Howard County.

Coffee Oromia in Burtonsville offers an authentic -- if short -- menu of Ethiopian dishes in the casual dining area that also serves coffee and a breakfast that includes bagels, beignets and Ethiopian grits ("kinche").

(Update: Coffee Oromia changed its name to Cafe Oromia at some point in 2009. They increased the Ethiopian menu.)

The injera alone is worth stopping if you have a taste for the flat, spongy bread that is the hallmark of Ethiopian eating. Coffee Oromia serves dishes like beef or lamb tibs -- cubed meat cooked with onion, peppers and spices into what might look like chunky pasta sauce -- on a platter-sized piece of injera with another piece on the side. You rip pieces of injera and use them to scoops up the meat and the sides of lentil stew, chopped greens, etc. The bottom injera that soaks up the sauces is often the most-delicious part.

Also try the sambusa -- pastries filled with meat or lentils. They're cousins of the samosas at the Maiwand Kabob next door to Coffee Oromia.

This isn't Adams Morgan, and it isn't a full-service restaurant. The injera and lentils were delicious. The beef tibbs were good, but more tough than tender. Think of Coffee Oromia as a great place to work into errands that you already have to run in Burtonsville or Rockville. It is right on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29, easy to reach and worth a stop. I enjoyed a late lunch, reading a newspaper and listening to the owners talk to customers as they filtered through.

Coffee Oromia is next-door to a branch of Maiwand Kabob and a building east from Cuba de Ayer -- a casual Cuban restaurant that is absolutely worth a drive from Columbia.

Coffee Oromia
15510 Old Columbia Pike (Rte 198)
Burtonsville, MD 20866

NEAR: This is on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29. From Howard County, you take the first exit on Rte 29 south of the river. That exit puts you on an old piece of Rte 29 that passes an Indian temple and a garden center. Turn right on Rte 198 at the traffic light. Coffee Oromia is a block up on the right next to a Maiwand Kabob outlet. There is a sign.

Coffee Oromia on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 11, 2008

Delicious: Sopapias at Ranazul

My perfect dessert is so special that you look forward through the evening, but light or delicate enough that it doesn't wipe out memory of the meal that came before.

Sopapias at Ranazul are a treasure worth the visit on their own. Fried triangles of dough, topped with honey and maybe cinnamon. (Ask for extra honey. Once, it came light, and I missed sopping up sweetness with each sopapia.) They're delicious -- an adult flavor to match the Fulton restaurant's tapas, but a light treat so that you aren't waddling out to the car.

Ranazul has a great bar. It would be a fun place to just show up for dessert, and it's on Rte 216 just just west of I-95 and Rte 29. It's an inexpensive, easy treat. Have coffee or a drink with the sopapias. Perfect.

A full profile of Ranazul. A suggestion for progressive dinner: three restaurants, one night in Fulton.  And if you're in Maple Lawn, check out the i.m. Wine liquor store.

8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Ste 170
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: This is in the Maple Lawn development on Rte 216 just west of Rte 29. From Rte 29, you go through the first traffic circle, then turn right into Maple Lawn at the second circle. Ranazul is on the right, and there is parking behind the building if you take the first right.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New: HowChow Maps of Restaurants and Markets In Howard County

These Google maps show most of the Howard County restaurants and markets mentioned in HowChow. Check out my recommended restaurants in the post below this one, then use the maps to see what's nearby for an afternoon shopping and grazing.  Or click for my "What I've Learned" guide to the county.

(Update:  These maps are now seriously out of date.  I need to update them.)


View Larger Map


View Larger Map

Restaurants: Best of Howard County 2008

(CLICK here for 2009 Best Restaurants of Howard County.)

Best restaurants in Columbia or Ellicott City? The answers depend on your taste and budget, but Howard County has great restaurants -- from high-end date nights to shopping-center ethnic food. OK, we have a lot of shopping center restaurants, but some of them are great as well.

Explore below for restaurants -- two lists of recommendations, which change over time. Click to learn more about the restaurants. In early 2009, I'm posting a series of "best of" posts as a makeshift guide to Howard County. Click here for a working list of Howard County restaurants by type. Click here for a similar list of grocery stores and markets. Or check out Google maps showing the restaurants and markets.

If you have your opinions, leave a comment!

A Few of My (Current) Favorite Things
Specific things that I loved at both restaurants and take-out places.

New) Dolset Bi Bim Bop at Bethany Seafood Restaurant in Ellicott City

1) Pit beef sandwiches at Pioneer Pit Beef in Woodlawn
2) Empanadas at El Patio Market in Jessup

3) Crab cakes at Timbuktu in Elkridge
4) Masala Dosas at Mango Grove in Columbia

5) Tacos at Pupuseria Lorentia ("The Taco Truck") in Elkridge
6) Sopapias at Ranazul in Fulton
7) Pumpkin and a kabob at Maiwand Kabob in Columbia
8) Cupcakes at Touche Touchet bakery in Columbia
9) Ceviche at La Palapa Too in Laurel
10) The naan and rice pudding ("kheer") at Akbar in Columbia

Ten Restaurants To Try On A Night Out
Not truly "The Ten Best." Today, my favorite restaurant is Bangkok Delight, but this is an alphabetical array of places that I'd recommend to anyone moving to Howard County. It's weighted to the affordable places and scattered around the county (or one exit beyond). It changes over time.

Others that make the list: Bethany Seafood Restaurant in Ellicott City for Korean and Sushi King or Sushi Sono in Columbia for sushi, especially in the private rooms. Plus, I need to try the Chinese menu at Hunan Legend.

Worth The Drive From DC or Baltimore

Places to lure a friend to drive to HoCo. Or places that are worth a drive if you're from out of town.
1) The unique rolls at Sushi King in Columbia, especially if you call ahead for a private room.

2) The seasonal menu at Great Sage, which is delicious for anyone who loves vegetables and a special place for a vegetarian or vegan.

In June 2008, the Baltimore Sun's terrific restaurant blog ran a list of "Best in Howard County" that sparked several days of comments -- many of which overlap the places above. The Live in Howard County blog has both a "Best Restaurants" list -- and links from there to its "Nearly Best" List.

Chowhound regularly has someone start a "Where Can We Eat in Howard County" string. This is a thoughtful one about dinners for under $50 for two.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Parsa Kabob: Persian in Elkridge

Parsa Kabob is the place for a weeknight break. Casual. Inexpensive. A simple menu with some flair. And they'll even deliver near the Columbia-Elkridge-Ellicott City border along Rte 108.

The restaurant is true to it's name -- kabobs of ground sirloin, chicken, lamb, salmon, swordfish or filet mignon. They're the key, offered on their own or in combinations at nice wooden tables. It's a cheery place with yellow walls, blue trim and tile floor.

There is even jerk chicken, but Parsa is trying for an more authentic Persian feel. They brought in an Iranian chef recently, and there are some Middle Eastern standards of grape leaves, hummus or feta with olives, a few salads, a falafel sandwich and desserts. I got the falaffel. It was good. Thin strong bread was the highlight, keeping together the sandwich even with the sauce spread throughout. The falaffel had a different spice than what I expect. It's a nice change -- and the right break on a night when you don't want to cook.

If you want more about Parsa, check out the Bayside Ramblings blog review.  If you like Middle Eastern food, you have to visit Sizar's -- one of the best groceries in the county.

If you like kabobs, you should also try Maiwand Kabob in Columbia -- especially the pumpkin appetizer. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

Parsa Kabob
6590 Old Waterloo Road
Elridge, MD 21075

NEAR: Parsa Kabob is in the Lark Brown shopping center off Lark Brown Road. It's just over a hill from the new Costco on Rte 108 near Rte 175. If you're on Rte 108, turn on Lark Brown at the traffic light towards the Costco. Then go a few blocks and look for the shopping center on the left just before Lark Brown ends at Old Waterloo Road.

Parsa Kabob on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fard Pistachio Nougat at Sizar's Food Mart

(Update: Sizar's moved to Elkridge in February 2009 and changed its name to Ceazar International Market.  But it closed in 2011.  You can buy Fard nougats at Caspian Market on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  I don't recommend the Imperial Nougat Co. brand at Pars Market because it lacks the rose flavor, coming off more bitter.)

(Update II: By 2014, Pars sells terrific nougat.  I don't know the brand, but it's among the best that I have ever had -- very soft, great flavor.)

A real candy. The Fard brand pistachio nougat at Sizar's Food Mart is a light, slightly chewy rectangle. Sweet with the flavor of rose water and the real crunch of pistachio.

Real candy because it has nothing artificial. Just corn syrup, sugar, nuts, egg white and rose water. A few dozen individually-wrapped candies in an 8 oz clamshell. The rose and sweetness make these as delicious as any candy that I can remember -- a strong but light flavor that makes them unique.

The package isn't cheap -- like $7.49. But it would be a beautiful gift if you repackaged the nougat with some tissue paper and a nice box. It's also just a treat worth stopping any time that you are near Sizar's on Snowden River Parkway.

More about Caezar's at these posts.  Or more about ethic groceries in Howard County.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Apna Bazar: Indian Groceries in Laurel

The Pillsbury Dough Boy hawks gobi paratha, and you can buy him in Laurel.

Apna Bazar imports the largest selection of Indian breads that I have ever seen in a freezer. Onion naan. Garlic naan. Gobi paratha. Peas paratha. Pillsbury-brand whole-wheat Roti -- with the plumped-up bread looking so natural next to the plumped up Dough Boy.

Apna is actually smaller than many other groceries, but it has a selection that makes it especially valuable if you want convenience foods. The shelves have all the Indian cooking
supplies -- rice, spices, lentils, gram flour and nuts. It even has yogurts and a cooler of produce. But Apna offers shelves and freezers of items that can be exotic stables. Those breads, which warm up easily convert a simple salad or some grilled chicken into an exotic weeknight meal. The bags of bhelpuri snacks that would a Frito replacement. The cooler of mango lassi shakes. The freezer of Indian curries so authentic that some are too spicy for my heat-loving bride.

This place must sell serious volume because they stock an impressive array. Apna had five varieties of papad where some Indian markets have just one. Mrs. HowChow preferred the cumin papad to the fiery pepper variety.

Come with questions. "Apna" means "My Bazaar," and the proprietor chatted me up. He recommended a frozen chickpea dish. He explained how to microwave a papad. Actually, several of us discussed that. Another shopper weighed in with his technique. That is the kind of delicious education that you won't get at a Safeway.

If you like Apna, check out the Desi Market in Columbia and Mango Grove restaurant in Columbia.

Apna Bazar
10119-C Washington Blvd (U.S. 1)
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Apna Bazar is actually in the middle of U.S. 1. If you drive south on U.S. 1 from Rte 32, Apna is on the left in a shopping center between the southbound and northbound roads. It is between Rte 32 and Main Street in Laurel

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Snowballs: Shaved Ice in Clarksville

I'm not telling you that you should mix marshmallow into your snowball. I'm just tell you that the option is out there.

Outside the Kendall Hardware on Rte 108 is Snowballs, a stand with refreshment in dozens of flavors. Crushed ice with flavor pumped onto them. They also do mix-ins. I wouldn't ruin a snowball with Nerds, marshmallow or caramel. My blood orange ice was perfect -- good flavor and enough to last through the entire bowl. But kids these days! They're mixing in peanut butter!

My ices have really been delicious -- both blood orange and lemon. I know it's just a bottled flavor, but the folks were friendly and it felt nice to sit on a hot day scooping soft ice with a spoon.

Now that school is out, the Snowball is open noon to about 8 or 9 pm. If you're not out west in Clarksville, consider some options for cool dessert on a hot night -- Soft Stuff in Ellicott City for ice cream, Rita's in Columbia for gelati, or KyKy's Hawaiian Ice in Elkridge for snowballs.

Snowball stand
at the Kendall Hardware
12260 Clarsville Pike (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

Near: It's on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vendors At The U.S. 1 Flea Market in Elkridge

On weekends, the U.S. 1 Flea Market packs in crowds to buy clothes, art, CDs, purses, mortgages, soccer jerseys, and on and on and on and on.

It's a Hispanic crowd, and you can eat your way across Central America at the food vendors who work from 8 to 4. This is foraging for the adventurous. I ate tacos at the metal cart outside. Not as stupendous as the "Taco Truck" (Pupuseria Lorentia) down U.S. 1, but I also got a horchata that matched any that I had ever had. That Mexican soft drink made with almonds and cinnamon was worth my entire afternoon.

Around the corner was a Salvadoran truck selling pupusas. Inside is a food court with individual stalls for tacos, seafood cocktails, pupusas and "platos tipicos." The special offering was Frutas de Mexico, a stand in a side shopping area that sold an array of cut fruits and even cucumbers in plastic bags or plastic "clamshell" bowls. For $3.50, they sold a fruit salad mixed with coconut, mango, melon and cucumber. People were squeezing lime juice -- four, five,
six wedges on a salad -- and dusting the top with salt and ground pepper. It looked delicious, but the salads were large enough to share -- and I was already stuffed with grilled meat, tortillas and horchata.

I couldn't even order a snow cone at the stand at the far end of the outdoor stalls near the rug vendor. The truck advertised frozen treats from eight countries -- "Snow Cones - USA, Nieves - Honduras, Frio-Frio -- Rep. Dominicana" -- and people lined up as long as I shopped.

If you are going to be near the flea market, consider checking out the Pupuseria Lorentia just a little farther south on U.S. 1.

U.S. 1 Flea Market
7540 Washington Blvd (U.S. 1)
Elkridge, MD 21075
Open 8 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday

NEAR: On the west side of U.S. 1 north of Rte 175. The flea market is several interconnected buildings with large signs. You can't miss it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Luna Bella Ristorante: Pizza and More in Columbia

Pizza was one of my first staples when I was learning to cook. Make or buy a dough, then extemporize. But pizza is still a go-to dinner when I just can't be in the kitchen.

Luna Bella Ristorante has become my friendly place. It's a real restaurant with tablecloths and a full menu, but I go for the pies, either one of their special pizzas or a "build your own." The crusts are thin, maybe a tad too thin for heavy toppings. But the toppings are a step better than other joints. Cheese with more flavor than oil. Vegetables more unusual than onions, peppers, etc. We went wth Pizza Finito last weekend. We have our eye on Pizza Bianca next. They're all worth a drive -- more like good food than just stuff that someone tossed together.

Any other suggestions? New York J&P Pizza is a nice break as well. Just off Rte 216 in Scaggsville, the local chain offers that step higher than a sandwich shop but without the tablecloths or the excellent toppings. But they have large screens for sports, and it's always nice to dig into a pizza that I didn't have to make.

If you like pizza, check out my post about the Best Pizza in Howard County.  Definitely try Pazani's in Elkridge, which I learned about from a comment on another post about Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico in Columbia.

Luna Bella Ristorante
6420 Freetown Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: In the Hickory Ridge Village Center off Cedar Road. This is north of Rte 32 and south of Owen Brown Road. Luna Bella is at the rear of the center on the side opposite from the Giant.

New York J & P Pizza
8305 Ice Crystal Drive
Scaggville, MD 20723

NEAR: This is just off Rte 216 at Rte 29. It is in the shopping center across Ice Crystal Drive from the Bloom grocery store.

Luna Bella Ristorante on Urbanspoon