Suburbia can be a black hole of good eating sometimes, but honestly I prefer it to city dining, because the good places sometimes never get so big for their britches that their food goes on the downswing. But being able to find these good places to eat can sometimes be difficult, one only masters suburban eating after years of dining through all the deluge of crappy restaurants.
So I’ve made you a must-eat guide for Howard County. The restaurants/dishes span the range of hole in the wall fried chicken joints to fine French cuisine, I don’t discriminate, all I want is good food. I’ve highlighted the specific dishes you HAVE to get when you go to these places, because not everything else on the menu is always superb but these are. If you agree or think otherwise I’d love to hear your comments.
So without further ado.
1- Harvest Fried Chicken in Woodbine– Fried Chicken & Corn Fritters – This is an oasis in the food desert that is Woodbine, MD. My god there is almost nothing good to eat out there, I’ve tried almost all the restaurants in that vicinity and I don’t trust anyone who says there is good places to eat out there outside of Harvest Fried Chicken and Big Belly Deli over in Sykesville. Harvest Fried Chicken is a simple counter restaurant where you go and order fried chicken by the piece, my god it is heavenly. It’s better than any chain fried chicken that’s sold around Maryland, I’d venture to say it’s probably one of the best, especially for the price. Their sides are not spectacular aside from one thing, which is magical, that’s the corn fritters. These little bites of sweet sugary corn goodness are the perfect complement to go with a juicy piece of fried chicken that Harvest sells. The other items they sell are mediocre, but you can’t go wrong with some fried chicken and corn fritters here.
2– Petit Louis Bistro at the Columbia Lakefront– Roasted Chicken for Two, Duck Confit, Croque Monsieur, and Pot Du Creme – This restaurant aside from the service usually hits it out of the park when it comes to its kitchen. But in particular there are a few menu items that are some of the best dishes you can get in all of Howard County/Maryland in my opinion. First, their roasted chicken for two, this is literally one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s like making roast chicken at home, but if it were made by a French chef, it’s juicy and seasoned to perfection. Next is the duck confit, this classic French dish is executed perfectly, the duck meat melts in your mouth and it’s usually paired with mashed potatoes that are out of this world. Seriously it was so good that I served it at a wedding ceremony I held there this past Fall. If you’re not feeling something that heavy, the croque monsieur is ridiculously good, it’s a gigantic ham and cheese sandwich served with their house fries. Finally, this dish can be hit or miss but when it’s on it’s maybe the best dessert in Howard County, that’s the Pot du Creme. It’s a little bowl of delicious rich chocolate that can’t be beat. Unfortunately sometimes they’re not on their game so it’s not always the best. But definitely worth trying.
3 –Sushi Sono at Columbia Lakefront– Sashimi Boat & the Sashimi – Sushi Moriawese– Finding good sushi these days is not as hard as it used to be, in Howard County there are tons of sushi places but there is only one sushi king that lays claim to the raw fish throne. That’s Sushi Sono. The best thing on their menu in my opinion is their sashimi platter of raw fish that highlights their fresh ingredients and deft preparation. It’s called the sashimi-sushi moriawese and it’s GOOD. It’s just a literal boatload of delicious raw fish with a bowl of rice for your dining pleasure (for a literal boat, order the sashimi boat!). If sushi is your thing, this has to be on your eating list.
4-Leelynn’s – Cream of Crab, Crab Cakes, and Seasonal Salad- The food at Leelynn’s is always fairly solid and they try to add some variety to their menu through their small plates section, sometimes it’s a winner sometimes not so much. But a few things on their menu are so good that I literally crave them. First, their cream of crab soup is unreal, it’s rice but not so overpowering that you feel like you’re just eating cream. It’s probably the best cream of crab I’ve ever had, you have to get it when you go, if at least just a cup. Next, their crab cakes are unreal probably some of the best in the state in my opinion, definitely the best in Howard County you have to get these. Finally, the best way to do Leelynns is to get the “seasonal” salad (which is a delicious mixed green salad with candied pecans, cranberries, goat cheese and fried onions) with the crab cakes and a side of mac & cheese if they still have it. You literally cannot be let down with this good of a meal choice.
5 –Tratorria Amore – Chicken Sofia & Italian Cold Cut Sandwich– Sitting just a block away from Leelynn’s is a sleepy Italian counter restaurant that serves up a few dishes that are out of this world. Look there’s nothing that special about this place when you walk in, it’s a very Spartan counter place, but it’s local to me and without fail if you order the right thing you’ll always leave happy. What is that right thing? It’s the Chicken Sofia and Italian cold cut sandwich. Their Chicken Sofia dish is so delicious, it’s unreal, you get pasta with a delicious rose cream sauce topped with Parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and chunks of juicy chicken breast. It sounds simple and it is, but it’s so good. The other must get thing here is the Italian cold cut sandwich, which sounds very basic and it is, but it’s filled with authentic Italian cold cuts which make it to die for. When you order it, get it without the lettuce because that just interferes with the delicious synergy of cold cut, onion, tomato, and mayo.
6- Big Belly Deli– Turkey Club and Italian Cold Cut– I’ve gone on record on this website to say that the best sandwiches in Maryland come out of Big Belly Deli in Sykesville, right on the border of HoCo and Carroll County. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s actually in HoCo or not. But I’m claiming it, I don’t care. I described my discovery of this place thusly, “The year was 2004 and a young high school boy was working as a construction laborer on a project located at one of Maryland’s mental hospitals. It was a surreal experience with patients screaming at us, laughing at us, or just being confused by our presence in their hospital. Amidst all of that, we still had to eat lunch. A located just down the road, was Big Belly Deli. It was love at first bite, the sandwiches were all pretty much the best things we had ever had. Anybody who would come on down to our job site would have to receive their sandwich baptism. The lunch always ended with the same couple of words, “oh my god, that was unreal.”
You really can’t go wrong when you order at Big Belly Deli, but the turkey club and/or italian cold cut sandwiches at this place really take the proverbial cake. The bread is perfectly fresh and pressed just right and then the ratio of meat to everything else on these sandwiches is perfect. I cannot say enough good things about this place, only that I wish I lived closer so I could get there in time to eat here more often. It’s primarily a lunch spot so I think they close a little early, but don’t quote me on that. If you ever find yourself on I-70 near Sykesville pull over and grab a sandwich here if you can.
7-Tersiguel’s– Crepe Suzette– This place used to be one of my favorite restaurants in all of Howard County but they changed some classic menu items that made me no longer crave much on their menu. Tesiguel’s is still a solid restaurant but it’s cost I can usually find a place that gives me more of what I want (i.e. Petit Louis). BUT there is one thing on Tersiguel’s menu that thankfully has never changed and that is the Crepe Suzette, just go for this if you can. It’s out of this world, when prepared by one of the folks at the restaurant who know what their doing, basically only ask for the Owner or one of the Host’s who know what their doing to make it for you. When one of the waitresses made it for us, it was not the same. When it’s prepared right, there’s nothing that beats this dessert it combines orange juice and zest with butter, grand marnier, sugar, and a delicious crepe to form some sort of unholy alliance of dessert.
8- Hunan Legend– Cashew Chicken – Finding great Americanized Chinese food can be difficult, since Americanized Chinese food is ubiquitous in Howard County everyone has their place. For me it’s Hunan Legend, specifically for one dish. Their cashew chicken. Not everything on their menu is the best, but if you stay within the classics you can’t go really make a bad choice. But their cashew chicken in my opinion is the best thing on their menu. Most of the time when you order cashew chicken at restaurants they mix way too much veggies in it and celery while the sauce can be bland and flavorless. The cashew chicken here is out of this world, it’s just delicious chunks of chicken with roasted cashews and a sweet brown sauce. Simple yet perfect. Definitely order this dish, and don’t order it like my brother-in-law does which is without the cashews! Other excellent menu options here are the vegan General Tso’s, the regular General Tso’s, and Morengo Delight.**Update*** Get the Peking Duck, it’s delicious and super satisfying.
9- Coal Fire Pizza– Onion Rings – Coal Fire Pizza is a local change that has a few locations in Maryland and Virginia. I don’t typically post about chain restaurants if I can, but this one is damn good for a few things. Their pizza is actually pretty damn good and well prepared which is hard to say for some folks in the brick oven pizza game. But my favorite thing on their menu is not a pizza, instead it’s their onion rings which are actually onion strings. They’re spiralized onion strings that are coated in this thin batter that’s seasoned perfectly, then you have a delicious remoulade to dip the onions in. Most of the time I just order these and go to town. This is a must have.
10 – Asean Bistro– Pad Thai and Chicken Fried Rice– Going back down the Asian food route, Asean Bistro near Howard High School is one of my other favorite places to get Americanized Chinese food in Howard County. I would say this place is probably a notch above Hunan Legend for most things (except what I listed above), but their two best menu items in my opinion are the Pad Thai and chicken fried rice. Most of the time if you order Pad Thai it can be an afterthought, but not at Asean Bistro it’s filled with fresh ingredients and hearty chunks of shrimp and chicken. It’s seasoned and sauced perfectly, it’s also a huge serving so you can have it for a few days. I love their Pad Thai. Another great dish here is the chicken fried rice which has fresh large chunks of chicken breast in it, you can’t go wrong with either of these dishes. This place overall is a gem, you can’t go wrong for the most part. It’s been around for almost 20 years for a reason.
11- Honey Pig– Spicy Pork Belly– If you haven’t already noticed, Howard County has a plethora of amazing places to eat that’s geared towards Asian cuisine, and this next one is no different. Honey Pig on Route 40 is a casual dining spot that has great Korean BBQ especially their spicy pork belly dish is a Korean BBQ classic and it’s done really well here, probably not as good as Iron Age in Rockville, but pretty close. If you go to Honey Pig for just one thing, make it the spicy pork belly.
12- Bon Chon – Fried Chicken Drumsticks – Is a Korean Fried Chicken chain that serves probably these tastiest fried chicken in the state of Maryland (outside of Harvest Fried of course) the drumsticks and wings are double fried and coated with a sweet and spicy sauce that is to die for. This place was an absolute zoo for Super Bowl Sunday and for good reason everyone knew that delicious Korean style fried chicken was the way to go.
13- Pho Dat Thanh- Pho Ga– Any lover of Vietnamese food always has their go-to Pho place, and for me that place is Pho Dat Thanh off of Snowden River Parkway. There are other Pho places in Howard County but for my money there isn’t a place that I’d rather go to. My favorite there is the pho ga which is basically their chicken pho. It only comes in a large size but I don’t really care it’s amazing, it has large chunks of chicken in it to go with the delicious rice noodles and fresh basil. You don’t get the MSG headaches afterwards so it doesn’t make you feel like crap afterwards, instead it’s the best remedy if you have a head cold or if you’re just jonesing for some perfect chicken soup without any BS in it.
14 –Stanford grill– Carrot Cake – Since Stanford Grill has come to Howard County, it’s quietly positioned itself as one of the top places to eat in Howard County. Apart of the Copper Canyon Grill family it’s one of those smaller chains that despite it’s commercial roots provides a meal that is anything but boring. Their menu features a long list of delicious things you can get and honestly I’ve never had a bad meal there, but for me it’s their one dessert that makes this must-eat list. It’s their carrot cake. If you’re a carrot cake lover, and I am, you need to have this carrot cake in your life. It’s perfection personified in cake form.
15- Portallis – Braised Lamb Shank– This restaurant replace Jordan’s Steak House a few years back and it’s been a welcome addition to the food scene in Old Ellicott City. The food and service here is really strong and they usually put out very delicious food. The one thing here that is beyond comparison though is their braised lamb shank, imagine a lamb shank the size of your face that is braised to a point that the meat effortlessly falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. Everytime I go here I can’t resist but to order this dish, it’s SO good. You gotta get it.
16- Ernesto’s Fine Mexican Food– The El Jimador – Mexican food in Howard County can be hit or miss, Ernesto’s Fine Mexican Food is a restaurant with Texas roots and it’s quickly become a fixture in Howard County. It doesn’t quite replace El Azteca in my opinion, but there is one menu item that they have that competes with anything El Azteca has on its menu. It’s the El Jimador. It’s a ENORMOUS burrito stuffed with delicious carnita meat, rice, and chili con queso! That’s then topped with a delicious remoulade-esque sour cream chili sauce and for good measure some fresh avocado. You couldn’t draw it up any better folks. You can finish it in one sitting if you’re really hungry but I’d advise you just take half of it home for a sweet next day treat.
17-El Azteca– Queso Fundido and Carnitas Verdes– Speaking of Tex-Mex all of the food at El Azteca is masterful. But two things truly pop out to me. One is the queso fundido, which is a magical queso dip with chunks of ground chorizo in it. This dip is a smooth smokey cheesy golden elixir that compliments their house chips magically. Meanwhile their carnitas verdes is so much good food that you can’t quite comprehend that you’re being given this much smokey delicious carnitas for such a reasonable price. The carnitas verdes are served warm tortillas too for good measure so you can really pound the calories into your gullet. I can’t say enough good things about this dish, it reminds me of down home Persian food honestly, delicate soft meat and rice with flat bread just takes me back.
18- Curry & Kabob – EVERYTHING!!- I love this place. I discovered a few months ago and I’ve been back and ordered take out from here constantly. This is a Nepalese Indian restaurant that serves up all of your favorites. A few must gets: The Momo’s (Nepalese dumplings), Mutter Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, Coconut Lamb, Jungle Kabob, and Paneer Pakora. Everything here is amazing, the staff is incredibly sweet, and the prices are very affordable.
So that’s it folks, a long list but a list that I use as my guiding light for dining in Howard County whenever I go out and I don’t want to break the bank, but I do want to break my diet.. #calories.