Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Restaurants: Best Of Howard County 2013

Hiramasa with ponzu at Sushi Sono
When I wasn't looking, my "Best of Howard County" posts have become a tradition.

This is the sixth year that I have tried to collect recommendations about local food into a week of posts.  I don't know what you love, but I know that you can find wonderful food out here in the suburbs.  And more is coming.  Cindy Wolf, Whole Foods, and the folks behind the Ambassador all want a piece of Howard County, and that must be good.  

This is my "Best Of" list.  These are places where I'd tell you to start if you want something delicious.  In 2012, I literally wrote "where to go" advice for someone just moving to Howard County.  This week of posts is more of an annual writing exercise where I think about stuff I have found and try to spark a little conversation with other eaters.

I don't know if your best restaurants are on my list.  That's why you can write comments!  Tell me the three places that you would recommend to someone who just started eating in Howard County.

This is an update from my annual posts than have run since 2008.  You check out all the "best restaurant" posts.  Later this week, I'll follow up with the a list of great food experiences and some thoughts on Howard County food in 2013.  In the next few weeks, I'll also run a shopping guide aimed at the holidays.

A Few Of My (Current) Favorite Things:
I love great food, and great items appear at some places that I haven't checked out repeatedly. For example, the corn tamales at Huajicori are one of only a few dishes that I have eaten there.  I arbitrarily forced myself not to repeat anything from my 2009 listmy 2010 listmy 2011 list, or my 2012 list.
Lamb shank and delicious beans

Seriously, check out the four old lists.  Those are 40 more cool dishes to try -- many of them favorites that we eat again and again.  I could go any night for pit beef at Pioneer Pit Beef, fried chicken at Bon Chon or housemade noodles and black bean sauce at Tian Chinese Cuisine.

My Top Restaurants in Howard County:
Not claiming to be "The Ten Best." This is an alphabetical array of recommendations to anyone moving to Howard County.  My list tilts to flavorful and affordable, and it changes over time -- although I don't eat out enough to make many changes.  Plus, it omits places like Aida Bistro that I haven't tried recently enough to post about.
  • Bon Fresco in Columbia for sandwiches -- and for takeout bread.  Start with the London Broil.  Work the menu, feeling free to mix and match the breads, meats and toppings that they make in-house.
    Pumpkin at Maiwand Kabob
  • Grace Garden in Odenton for authentic Chinese (almost in the county).  A family-run place with a kitchen run by a real artist.  Fish noodles are spectacular.  Anything off the "Chinese" menu has been terrific.
  • Maiwand Kabob in Columbia for Afghan.  Anyone should love this place.  Grilled meats, vegetable appetizers, great gyros.  Any of the locations have accessible delicious food, and the new one off Rte 175 has flashy decor as well. 
  • Mango Grove in Columbia for southern Indian like dosas.  Northern Indian curries plus the Southern Indian dosas and the Chinese-Indian dishes that make this menu unique.  Great for anyone, but perfect if you want to mix meat eaters with vegetarians.
  • Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City for small plates and a patio overlooking Main Street.  It's a kitchen that wants to be big.  A seasonal menu that offers a window into the food and wine that they think work best.
  • R&R Taqueria in Elkridge for delicious Mexican inside a gas station
  • Royal Taj in Columbia for nothern Indian and a terrific buffet.  In a county with a half dozen good Indian kitchens, Royal Taj has become a favorite because the Northern Indian dishes are perfect -- and the service and white-tablecloth ambiance make it a special night out.
  • Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City for Korean.  Our place for Korean barbecue and the rice dish called bi bim bap.  Absolutely where I would send someone to try Korean food.
  • Sushi Sono in Columbia for sushi.  Probably my pick if I could only eat at one restaurant.  The rolls are imaginative and thoughtful, and the specials -- like small whole snapper -- can be magical.  But don't overlook the simple pieces, which remind me why I love the flavor and fresh feel of sushi. 
Okay.  That isn't even ten.  But there are a bunch of places where we haven't eaten recently so I don't know how to place good spots like Facci in Laurel and Turf Valley for pizza and house-made pasta, Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia for small places, and Victoria Gastropub in Columbia especially for burgers.  And if you just want a professional list, remember that we reverse-engineered Richard Gorelick's 2011 Howard County favorites as well.

Five Places On My List To Try:
My favorite part of HowChow is that it is my excuse to try new places. These are joints on my list to try for the first time or to try again so that I could post:
  • Mount Airy Inn in Mt. Airy
  • Rumor Mill in Ellicott City for small plate
  • Sonoma's in Columbia for smoked meats
  • Trattoria E Pizzeria de Enrico in Columbia for gnocchi with aurora sauce
  • The "New Foreman-Wolf" Restaurant coming to Columbia for whatever they want to serve us.
This week, I'm posting a series of "best of" posts starting with best restaurants and best food experiences. Then some posts about finds at stores. You can click for all the "best of posts" going back.

If you're looking for more, there are several long series. First, check out the two weeks of 2012 posts with recommendations for people new to Howard County. Then, look at two prior series of posts -- a "tour of Howard County" describing restaurants and markets in specific areas or my 2009 guide to what I've learned about Howard County from "best Chinese" and "best takeout" to "best BBQ" and "best burgers."


K8teebug said...

No Victoria for poutine? Sushi Sono is my #1 too.

Kare said...

I have been to the Mount Airy Inn a few times and never been blown away by the service or food. It is ok, I have never had a bad meal there, but nothing ever super impressed me either.

There is the Mount Airy Tavern, which I have had some good meals and great service. Prices are a little higher but seem worth it to me. It is hidden away next to a CVS in a shopping mall.

I have noticed people switch the name and location

Anonymous said...

Personally, I prefer Sushi King (Columbia off Dobbin Road) over Sushi Sono. Generally, I've found their food to be fresher and tastier.

cdarl said...

My favorites are T & J Waffle Truck (pumpkin butter waffles are excellent), Aida Bistro, Iron Bridge Wine Company, Sushi King, and Mandarin House (best Fried Rice ever).

Marcia said...

The Town Grill in Lisbon for their beef brisket & smoked salmon BLT.

Anonymous said...

Can't have a howard county best restaurant list without Aida

AliceBlue said...

I'd love to be able to agree with you about Royal Taj - the food is indeed delicious. But, the place is *filthy*! I've been three times, once there was hair in my food, the second time my water glass was crusty, and the third, my utensils were dirty. If they're paying so little attention to the cleanliness in presentation I'm afraid to think what the kitchen must look like. Won't go back.

Ashley said...

I work on Columbia Gateway and the three favorites to go to around here for work lunches are Aida Bistro, Victoria's Gastro Pub, and Stanford Grill.

Flavors of India on Columbia Gateway is also pretty great. Best Indian buffet I've had in Columbia, even better than Royal Taj (especially since their line is always insane).

maryanne said...

Pure Wine is our absolute favorite local restaurant to visit. The food is always fabulous and the art work is beautiful.

Rebecca said...

Still mourning the closure of Red Pearl! Glad to see Bon Fresco on here. And I love the calzones at Trattoria E Pizzeria de Enrico!

Rebecca said...

Oh, and Cuba de Ayer is my favorite place!

Dan said...

Having lived in Japan for 3 years, I will say that I'm very disappointed that Sushi Sono keeps making people's lists and the 'Food Lover's Guide to Baltimore'; Sushi King is way more authentic and fresh. You need to hurry up and go to the Rumor Mill, that is the best restaurant in Howard County. Matt has some great fall seasonal menu items on now!

HowChow said...

@Dan -- What are your favorites at Sushi King? We want to go back. We used to order the big rolls, and I think we just started to prefer the Sushi Sono rolls. I would love recommendations about what to order.

James Binckley said...

I love your " best of " observations .......a really good mix of places I've been ......and places I hope to go to. Good Job .... Recently , Howard Magazine had their own "Best Of" restaurant contest . I call into question their results ( just my opinion ....that's all) .The rules of the "contest " were quite straight forward .........all restaurants must be in Howard County......only ballots from howardmagazine.com will be accepted .......one ballot per person ........no write-ins, faxes, or e-mails will be counted .....decision of the judges are final. The results just don't pass the smell test ......Luna Bella .....in Hickory Ridge Village Center ......crushed the opposition......they "won" first place for ......Best Ambiance .....Best Chef ......Best Desert ......Best Italian......Best Lunch Menu .....Best Pizza .....Best Take Out .....Best Value....Best Service .....Honorable Mention for Best Seafood .....and Best Wine List ......and oops .....I almost forgot .....Best Restaurant Overall. WOW .....hey .....I like the place .....have patronized it many times ......but somebody with close ties or strong affection for Luna Bella has found a way to stack the deck . The people at Howard Magazine should be embarrassed.

SC said...

I appreciate that you incorporate affordable ethnic restaurants into your list. After living abroad for nearly a decade, I find most American-style cuisine too bland for my taste or way out of my price range.

I wish I could love Victoria's - they serve an excellent brunch. But I can't, because they fry their famous duck fat fries in PEANUT oil. I'm allergic to peanuts. :(

Dan said...

@HowChow-- I love anything with eel, you usually see unagi at sushi restaurants, which is freshwater eel; if you ever get the chance to try anago, which is salt water eel, take it!

I usually order off the chef’s board. There are always exquisite things to try! Anago has been on there in the past.

kam said...

James: Whoa there, buddy. Easy on the ellipses. ;)

Dan: I have seen the chef's board at Sushi King and wondered about the saltwater eel. I love unagi, so I will definitely try anago the next time I'm there if it's available. Thanks for the recommendation!


Anonymous said...

Sushi King used to be our 'go to' restaurant for sushi (far better than Sushi Sono), but we've been to Sushi Tendou in Maple Lawn three times now and it is excellent (try Pinky Control). We also have consistently good food at both Aida's Bistro and Bistro Blanc. Just dined at Pure Wine Cafe this past weekend...the food was decent but the service was absolutely terrible. After 15 minutes of waiting for our server, we were about to get up and leave when he finally approached us for our drink order. The time in-between courses was ridiculously long as well. I'd rather spend the $85 for two at Aida's or Bistro Blanc.

bmorecupcake said...

Dan, do you know if Sushi King cooks the eel in house? Some places use pre-cooked eel.

I would go Bon Fresco over Sushi Sono only because of price (and, sadly, "regular people" appeal.)

Bonnie said...

A friend and I tried Rumor Mill this past Friday and we were thoroughly impressed by the food and service. Our enthusiastic waitress, who admitted she is younger than 21, knew the menu inside and out and touted the owner's farm to table approach. The chef/owner apparently provides dinner to his staff every evening and makes sure they try the small dishes on the menu. It's easy to rack up a bill, though, with small dishes up to $16 a pop and drinks around $9 a piece. We had the crab dumplings, salmon cream cheese stacks, beef tagliata, and a crab ball special. All were excellent, my favorite though was the salmon, I'd get that as an entree if I could. If you're looking for a festive drink, try the b.g.o.v which is bourbon that's infused with ginger and aged x90 days and served mixed with ginger ale and an orange peel. They also have a huge variety of interesting infused vodka flavors including some untraditional flavors like smoke and horehound.

Anonymous said...

Rumor Mill? Seriously? I ate there several months ago & was thoroughly unimpressed. Just a weird vibe & disjointed menu. Maybe things have changed for the better...that would be great. Old EC desperately needs some better-than-good places to eat.

David said...

If Grace Garden is close enough to be considered HoCo for How Chow, then try Baldwin's Station in Sykesville.
Stanford Grill and Bistro Blanc are two of our favorites. Ranazul in Maple Lawn is excellent. Don't forget Tersiguel's, always a great meal. Sushi King is the best sushi and would still be stunningly good if it were in D.C. or NYC. Facci is very good, but they don't take reservations so we rarely go.

DeenaF said...

Highly recommend Sushi King too! Eastern Shore roll and Vegetarian delete are the bomb! !

DeenaF said...

Vegetarian Delite