Monday, February 13, 2012

Welcome To Howard County: Where Will You Eat?

Relax. Get a sandwich at Bon Fresco. You can eat well in Howard County.
Don't panic if you're new to Howard County.

You got a job.  You had a kid.  You're buying a house.  For whatever reason, you are leaving behind your old home -- probably in a city and definitely in a place where you knew where to eat and shop.  You fear you're headed to suburban chain restaurant hell.

Relax.  I came to Howard County for a woman, not the food.  I discovered the food on weekends when she would go to work and I would drive around to replace the joints that I had left at my old neighborhood.

You can get great food in Howard County.  You can eat fancy or casual.  You can shop organic or ethnic.  You can get almost everything that you want.  We don't have every urban choice, but you can eat perfectly well.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Let's say you just moved here.  Your first step: Get in your car.  The truth about Howard County is that you need to drive.  These four quick stops will make you believe good food in possible.  These aren't the best restaurants.  This is four places that I think would please almost everyone.  Casual enough that you could go right from unpacking your boses.  They'll be a tiny tour of the county.  Then read HowChow more and see what else you'd want:
Maiwand's kabob and apps
  • Maiwand Kabob in Harpers Choice village center in Columbia.  Welcome to Columbia's version of a shopping center.  They're almost impossible to find unless you seek them out.  But Maiwand Kabob's Afghan food is worth the drive.  For two people, order mantwo, pumpkin and a single order of kabob.  Everything is delicious, but start with appetizers, hot bread and grilled meat.    (There are plans in early 2012 of a new Maiwand opening near Target off Rte 175.)
  • Facci Ristorante on Johns Hopkins Road.  This is right off Rte 29.  Learn Rte 29.  This isn't Laurel, not matter what the post office says.  It's a shopping center with a bunch of food, including barbecue, Mexican, Indian and Japanese.  But start with a pasta or pizza at Facci, a classy casual place with nice outside seating in good weather.
  • Pure Wine Cafe in downtown Ellicott City.  Find parking.  Nose around Main Street to look at Tersiguel's, Bean Hollow, Diamondback Grill and others.  Then split small plates like meatball sliders and cheese samplers.  It's a tiny room, but worth a night to dress up and walk a bit.
  • Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery and Nazar Market in Columbia.  Get a great sandwich at Bon Fresco.  London broil, turkey, Italian meats.  They're all delicious on Bon Fresco's fresh-baked loaves.  Then walk across the parking lot to Nazar, where they concentrate on Turkish goods and where you should start with fresh-ground lamb.  Grab Planet Barbecue at the terrific Howard County library for recipes about how to grill that lamb. 
The rest of this series will be aimed to highlight places around Howard County.  All kinds of places and trying to repeat names as little as possible.  Once they're all up, I'm going to re-date them in reverse order so that they read in order if you click the "Welcome Home" label below.

What I don't know: I am not the final word on Howard County.  I have posted my "Best of Howard County," but HowChow is really just a blog arguing that you can find good food.  Mostly, it's the food we like.  We like Mexican.  But we haven't been to all the places to pick a "no miss" Mexican restaurant -- probably because we have been distracted by the gas station tacos at R&R Taqueria.  So new people should read the comments as much as they read my posts.

Readers: What do you recommend for a "no-miss" Mexican restaurant?  We like El Azteca in Clarksville and the tacos at El Nayar in Elkridge.  La Palapa Too has weekend ceviche.  People like El Hildago in Elkridge, Mi Casa in Ellicott City and Zapatas in Columbia.  Where would you send a new person who wants a hit?


Leeann said...

Definitely Pachanga in Ellicott City. It's on Route 40 between Enchanted Forest and Turf Valley. IMO it's the best Mexican in the area. I like Mi Casa for Americanized Mexican but Pachanga is the real deal.

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I'm prone to going to El Azteca in Clarksville because it is close to my office. Their Chicken Tortilla Soup and Burro Cortes (filet tips in a mushroom red sauce) are out of this world! People love the margaritas (Cadillac) but I don't drink those. I love El Hidalgo in Elkridge too. The staff is extremely nice, the food is authentic (you can even try alligator,they use authentic cheeses), the prices are reasonable, and the Sangria is amazing! I like the Cinco de Mayo so I can try a little bit of everything there.

nicole said...

Hnads down, Zapatas. They have homemade tortilla chips, and I like that they come out warm adn so does the salsa. Menu must try: Tacos Al Pastor and Chili Verde. They also have great ceviche (when it's on the menu) and the staff is great.

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I'm literally sitting at El Nayar in Elkridge right now. Surprisingly, my first time here. I'm having the tacos with carne asada - onions, cilantro, and limes (incredible - best I've had) and carnitas (cucumber, tomatoes, and cilantro).

Anonymous said...

The service wins us over for Zapatas.

Has anybody been to the Maiwand thats close to Arundel Mills? It's closer to us that the other one, but I don't know if the quality is the same.

I can't wait for the one to open by Pier1, that'll be super close to our house.

Leah said...

Hi HowChow, I've been a regular reader in the last few years when I lived in Columbia and then Ellicott City. My predicament is actually the opposite. In about two months, I will be moving to our new place in Crownsville. We bought a house by the water there. I'm excited but also sad to leave behind all the usual places to eat and shop (think Asian stores) in HC. I don't know much about the dining scene in Crownsville. I get this feeling that it's non-existent. The last few times we were there we drove down to Annapolis, so I assume that will be our new hang out place. No doubt, I will still read your blog, I still work in the Catonsville area. And the hubby works a stone's throw from the Facci strip mall. But it won't be the same. :-(

Brian said...

Re: Crownsville, there's Lures which is a cute little place, seafood theme and a nice selection of draft beer at a cool bar.

Also, just down the road a few more miles on General's Hwy. is Punk's Grill. Both locally run places. Punk's specializes in handmade, quality food and again, an impressive beer program.

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I went to the Maiwand at Arundel Mills when it first opened. Everything seemed the same to me.

Morty Abzug said...

Maiwand Columbia usually gives you bread straight out of the oven, still warm and soft. Maiwand Arundel has good bread, but it's never been freshly baked for me in the few times I've gone. So I prefer Maiwand Columbia.

nhab said...

Have you tried the Ethiopian restaurant in Burtonsville? It's called Soretti's. I went with my husband this week and was pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere isn't anything to write home about but the food was delicious. It was very fresh and flavorful.

Lisa said...

Azul 17 for Mexican. Red Pearl for Dim Sum fun.

kam said...

O noes, HowChow, you mentioned Facci. ;)

Anyhow, I'm rather fond of El Hidalgo. They had some service hiccups when they first opened, but that's been fixed over time, and I've always enjoyed the food. There's both a good variety of things to try and it's all consistently tasty.

I also enjoy the chicken mole at El Azteca as both a standalone entree and in enchilada form.


Leah said...

Hey Brian, thanks for the tips on Crownsville dining. --Leah

kam said...

On a related note, today's LivingSocial deal is for Tampico Grill in Laurel. Any recommendations for or against it?


P90 Noir said...

My vote is for Zapata's and El Hidalgo for Mexican. I've been meaning to do a post on both for a while. The tacos al pastor at Zapata's are especially good.

travelinsnorkel said...

I agree that Zapata's is some of the best Mexican food in the area. I love their Queso dip and their fajitas and are delicious! The service is always good and it usually isn't too busy. I recently went into Mi Casa, which is much closer to my house, and we were seated and three servers were standing chatting for our first 5 minutes that we were there. We finally gave up and decided to walk out as I'm diabetic and had taken my pre-dinner medication and it didn't seem that I would be served anytime soon. We passed 4 people on our way out and no one said a word. So, Q'Doba it was!

Lynn Mann said...

Azul 17 is always great and they make guacamole right at the table. Good service and luscious margeritas. Zapatas is sometimes great and sometimes mediocre but worth a try.

Suzanne said...

@Leah (soon to live in Crownsville)There is a place called Jalapenos in a small strip mall in Annapolis. I used to live in Anne Arundel County and I miss it!