Harford County's best restaurants of 2017

“What’s for dinner?”

It’s a question that strikes fear into the hearts of parents and spouses everywhere. When there’s nothing in the fridge and you’ve tried everything on the takeout menu, it’s time to find a new place to eat.

Fortunately, Harford County residents have dozens of recommendations for any occasion. More than 1,300 voted in our 2017 Best of Dining readers’ poll, delivering winners in 41 categories.

Consider this your go-to guide for dinner ideas.

Editors’ note: Winners and honorable mentions were determined by popular vote. Readers were invited to vote online in August and September.

Al fresco: The Hickory Lodge Restaurant and Bar

Honorable mentions:

Tidewater Grille

MacGregor’s Restaurant

Black Eyed Suzie’s

Ambience: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Pairings Bistro

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Asian: Chopstix Gourmet

Honorable mentions:

Fuji Sushi

Lemon ‘N Ginger Asian Grille

The Orient

Bakery: Flavor Cupcakery

Honorable mentions:

Woodlea Bakery

Paradise Donuts

Goll’s Bakery

Bar food: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

MaGerk’s Pub & Grill

Route 24 Ale House

Barbecue: JD’s Smokehouse

Honorable mentions:

Bird’s Nest Barbecue

Chaps Charcoal Restaurant

Famous Dave’s

Bartender: Megan Kikilis, Looney’s Pub

Megan Kikilis, a veteran bartender who has been at Looney’s Pub for eight years, is a people person, through and through. “We have the best owner and staff and more regulars than anyplace around,” she says. “The same people come in multiple times a week. We get to know their families, kids, grandchildren. Everyone here is like family.”

Looney’s Pub, 312 S. Main St., Bel Air. 410-803-7080. looneyspubmd.com.

Honorable mentions:

Tiffany Maher, The Hickory Lodge Restaurant & Bar

Shelby Stange, Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Kellee Cavey, formerly Liberatore’s Ristorante

Beer list: Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

“Since we’re an Irish pub, we carry four Irish drafts at all times, and we’re known for having the perfect pint of Guinness,” says Sean Bolan’s bartender Shelby Stange. But the pub’s beer choices aren’t limited to those from the Emerald Isle; the bar’s constantly rotating list includes craft brews made by small breweries located everywhere Michigan to France.

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub, 12 S. Main St., Bel Air. 410-420-9858. seanbolans.com.

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Birroteca

DuClaw Brewing Co. (closed)

Breakfast/brunch: Sunny Day Cafe

Honorable mentions:

Bagel Works

Alchemy Elements

Mountain Branch Grille & Pub

Burger: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Jake’s Wayback Burgers

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews

Chef: Jon Kohler, Pairings Bistro

For close to a decade, Jon Kohler has wowed locals as the chef-owner of Pairings Bistro, where he partners with chef de cuisine Sean Gomez to create inspired menus. “What fuels me is seeing people enjoy the food we put out and being able to provide food from our local farms,” Kohler says. “That’s a nice connection.”

Pairings Bistro, 2105 Laurel Bush Road #108, Bel Air. 410-569-5006. pairingsbistro.com.

Honorable mentions:

Yale Koplovitz, MacGregor's Restaurant

Brian "Chet" Chester, Silks Restaurant at Bulle Rock

Bobby Sheckles, Route 24 Ale House

Cocktails: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Liberatore’s drink selection is always growing, says manager Sheree Freund. “We change the cocktail list with the seasons, so we always have new stuff, but we keep the stuff that’s really popular.” Current favorites include the creamy, sweet espresso martini and the vibrant and tart pomegranate martini.

Liberatore’s, 562 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air. 410-838-21014. liberatores.com.

Honorable mentions:

The Hickory Lodge Restaurant & Bar (tie)

Looney’s Pub (tie)

Alchemy Elements

Coffee: Coffee Coffee

Honorable mentions:

Starbucks

Fox & Fern Cafe

Java by the Bay

Crab cake: Box Hill Pizzeria

Honorable mentions:

The Olive Tree

The Bayou Restaurant

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Deli: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Inspired by his grandmother, who made sandwiches for travelers in San Bernardino, Calif., in the 1950s, Harford County native Ben Meyer bought a local deli four years ago, transforming it into Vagabond Sandwich Company.

Vagabond’s lengthy menu, including everything from the crab-topped McHenry Burger to a gussied-up BLT, has made it a hit with locals, who also respect Meyer’s Bel Air roots and the way he gives back to the community.

“In Harford County, ‘shop local’ is a very popular vibe, and I am one of the few places that’s not a chain,” he says. “I was a little skater kid who grew up in this town.”

111 Thomas St., Bel Air. 410-838-1263. vagabondsandwichcompany.com.

Honorable mentions:

Savona

Wegmans

Sam’s Deli

Dessert: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Flavor Cupcakery

Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop

Desserts by Rita

Fine dining: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Pairings Bistro

Birroteca

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Frozen treats: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Jarrettsville Creamery

Bomboy’s Homemade Candy

Sweet Frog

Best happy hour: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Mountain Branch Grille and Pub

MacGregor’s Restaurant

Alchemy Elements

Best healthful menu: Panera Bread

Honorable mentions:

Fox & Fern Cafe

Laurrapin

My Three Sons

Italian: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Basta Pasta

The Olive Tree

Giovanni’s Restaurant

Late-night dining: Double T Diner

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Waffle House

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Live entertainment: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

MacGregor’s Restaurant

510 Johnnys

Lunch menu: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Fox & Fern Cafe

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Mexican: La Tolteca

Honorable mentions:

Plaza Mexico

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Qdoba Mexican Eats

New restaurant: Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz

Since it opened last November, Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz has become a must-visit spot.

“People thank us for the refreshing change in cuisine, for putting an adventurous concept in this small town,” says owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis.

Koukoulis, who is married to a Hawaiian woman, appreciates the enthusiastic response the restaurant has received. He loves hearing customers’ stories about their own experiences with Hawaii.

“It’s been cool how many of our clientele have a connection to Hawaii,” he says. “Not necessarily people of Hawaiian descent, or who have lived there, but people who went to Hawaii on their honeymoon 30 years ago. They walk in and are transported back to that time.”

2314 Belair Road, Fallston. 443-966-3999. eatatuncles.com.

Honorable mentions:

Black Eyed Suzie’s

Humagalas

Della Rose’s Local Tavern

Pizza: Buontempo Bros.

Downtown Bel Air is more than 100 miles from Brooklyn, N.Y., but Harford County pizza lovers don’t have to drive far to find an authentic slice of pie.

For several decades, Buontempo Bros. has been serving up pizza from its perch at the corner of Main Street and Kimmie Way.

“We get a lot of compliments about our pizza being as close to New York or New Jersey pizza as you can get — the crust and the sauce,” says Richard Lynch, who co-owns the restaurant with Renato Buontempo.

Part of their secret? “We make everything in-house. We make dough here all day long.”

1 S. Main St., Bel Air. 410-838-7640. buontempos.com.

Honorable mentions:

Fortunato Bros. Pizza

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

La Cucina Italian Restaurant

Place to take the kids: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Jarrettsville Creamery

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Place to take out-of-towners: MacGregor’s Restaurant

Honorable mentions:

Liberatore’s Ristorante

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Alchemy Elements

Overall: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Pairings Bistro

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Alchemy Elements

Seafood: Bonefish Grill

Honorable mentions:

Richard’s Fish & Crabs

Tidewater Grille

Price’s Seafood (closed)

Service: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Bonefish Grille

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Server: Cat Ye, Fuji Sushi

“I like to talk to people, and I really like to eat,” says Cat Ye. The popular server at Fuji Sushi says she loves her job because it gives her the opportunity to meet lots of different people, to snack on the restaurant’s fatty tuna and salmon and even to occasionally grab a seat at Fuji’s hibachi table.

Fuji Sushi and Asian Cuisine, 5 Bel Air S. Parkway, Bel Air. 410-569-4370. fujisushimd.com.

Honorable mentions:

Drew Hild, JD’s Smokehouse

Sheree Freund, Liberatore’s Ristorante

Josh Mendes, Steelefish Grille (tie)

Shelby Stange, Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub (tie)

Sports Bar: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

The Greene Turtle

Buffalo Wild Wings

Route 24 Ale House

Steak: Texas Roadhouse

Honorable mentions:

Outback Steakhouse

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Alchemy Elements

Steamed crabs: Richard’s Fish and Crabs

Honorable mentions:

The Seafood Stop

Fallston Seafood

Price’s Seafood (closed)

Takeout: Box Hill Pizzeria

Honorable mentions:

Fuji Sushi

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Italian Sensation

Value: La Tolteca

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Fallston Seafood

Vegetarian options: Alchemy Elements

Honorable mentions:

Fox & Fern Cafe

Sizzling Bombay

India Garden

View: Tidewater Grille

Honorable mentions:

Mountain Branch Grill and Pub

MacGregor’s Restaurant

The Promenade Grille

Wine list: The Vineyard Wine Bar

With over 80 wines available by the glass and half-glass, The Vineyard Wine Bar has one of the most extensive wine lists around. “We specialize in smaller, family and estate wineries,” says co-owner Jarrod Cronin. The list includes wines made from familiar grapes like pinot noir and lesser-known varietals like Croatina, the grape used in 606, an effervescent, sweet red made in Italy, exclusively for The Vineyard.

The Vineyard Wine Bar, 142 N. Washington St., Havre de Grace. 443-502-2551. vineyardwinebar.com.

Honorable mentions:

Pairings Bistro

Liberatore’s Ristorante

Enotria

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