Howard County's best restaurants in 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, Howard County residents have dozens of recommendations for any occasion. Nearly 1,900 voted in our 2017 Best Restaurants readers’ poll, delivering winners in 46 categories.

Consider this your go-to guide for dinner ideas.

Editor’s note: Winners and honorable mentions were determined by popular vote. Readers were invited to vote online in June.

Ambience: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

Tersiguel’s

Victoria Gastro Pub

Hudson Coastal

Bakery: Wegmans

Honorable mentions:

Kupcakes & Co.

Great Harvest Bread Co.

Touche Touchet

Bar food: The Ale House Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Kelsey’s Restaurant and Irish Pub

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

River Hill Grill

Bartender: Sam Waller, The White Oak Tavern

Sam Waller started bartending the day he turned 21. Now 25, he is all about learning about his craft and experimenting with beverages and ingredients at the White Oak Tavern.

“I go out of my way to educate my staff and customers about the wonderful styles of beer out there and encourage people to try new things,” he says.

The White Oak Tavern, 10030 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 410-680-8974. thewhiteoaktavern.com

Honorable mentions:

Stephen Wecker, Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Luke Shagogue, Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Jeremy Reed, Ranazul

Barbecue: Mission BBQ

Honorable mentions:

Kloby’s Smokehouse

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

Urban Bar-B-Que

Breakfast: Eggspectation

Honorable mentions:

Double T Diner

Bob Evans

The White Oak Tavern

Brunch: Eggspectation

Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Victoria Gastro Pub

Petit Louis Bistro

Buffet: Royal Taj

Honorable mentions:

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

House of India

Hudson Coastal (buffet discontinued)

Burger: The White Oak Tavern

Honorable mentions:

Victoria Gastro Pub

BGR The Burger Joint

The Ale House Columbia

Chef: Greg Mason, The White Oak Tavern

Greg Mason started his career with a part-time cooking job while going to college, then honed his skills locally and in San Francisco, where his passion for food grew along with his knowledge of seasonality and local, sustainable food sourcing.

“The more I cooked, the more I started to fall in love with the fast pace, the creative aspect and the reward — the praise and satisfaction of knowing you served quality food,” the White Oak Tavern chef says.

Honorable mentions:

Christopher Lewis, Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Thomas Zippelli, The Turn House

Tyler Skinner, formerly Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Chinese: Hunan Manor

Honorable mentions:

Jesse Wong’s Asean Bistro

P.F. Chang’s

Hunan Legend

Cocktail: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

“People don’t just want a good drink, they want a good story,” says Iron Bridge Wine Co. co-owner Steve Wecker. “They want fun and want you to laugh about it.”

This concoction of small-batch bourbon, house-made tonic syrup, egg whites and lemon juice is called The Littlest Lady, named for his soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

Iron Bridge Wine Co., 10435 MD-108, Columbia. 410-997-3546. ironbridgewines.com

Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Ananda

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Coffee: Bean Hollow

Terrific coffee, roasted in-house, is only the beginning of Bean Hollow’s appeal.

“We are more than a coffee shop — we are a place where community happens over great coffee,” says Gretchen Shuey, the owner of the Ellicott City cafe.

The artistic lattes, like this one by shift manager Miranda Jackson, are among the hot, iced and frozen offerings.

Bean Hollow, 8059 Main St., Ellicott City. 410-465-0233. facebook.com/beanhollow

Honorable mentions:

Mad City Coffee

Starbucks

Little French Market

Crab cake: Clyde’s of Columbia

Honorable mentions:

The Corner Stable

Victoria Gastro Pub

Hudson Coastal

Deli: Boarman’s Old Fashioned Meat Market

Honorable mentions:

Jason’s Deli

Bon Fresco

Charter Deli

Dessert: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Hudson Coastal

Fine dining: Stanford Grill

Honorable mentions:

Tersiguel’s

The Kings Contrivance

Petit Louis Bistro

Food truck: T&J Waffles

Thierry Reboullet, a native of Annonay, France, has four decades of experience as a pastry chef. Since 2011, he’s put his expertise to work not in a kitchen, but in a truck – and Howard County waffle lovers thank him for it.

When Reboullet started the T&J Waffles truck with his children, Thomas and Julie, it was a side job designed to fund the kids’ college educations. But thanks to the popularity of the family’s Liege waffles, the truck quickly became Reboullet’s full-time gig.

“We are passionate about what we do — when we do something, we do it right,” he says.

Made with pearl sugar for added sweetness, T&J’s waffles can be topped with fruits for breakfast or dessert, or stacked with meats and vegetables for a sandwich-like lunch.

240-280-2050. tandjwaffles.com

Honorable mentions:

Greek on the Street

The Jolly Pig

Mindgrub Cafe

Gluten-free options: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

White Oak Tavern

Tino’s Italian Bistro

One Dish Cuisine

Happy hour: The Ale House Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Phoenix Emporium

Victoria Gastro Pub

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

Healthful menu: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

David’s Natural Market

Bon Fresco

Nora’s Kabob

House-brewed beer: Jailbreak Brewing Co.

The biggest sellers in Jailbreak Brewing’s lineup of more than 45 beers include its hefeweizen, amber, pilsner, IPA and double IPA, but the list also includes some less traditional brews.

Co-owner Justin Bonner admits his favorite might be the White Russian cream ale inspired by the movie “The Big Lebowski.”

Jailbreak Brewing Co., 9445 Washington Boulevard North, Suite F, Laurel. 443-345-9699. jailbreakbrewing.com

Honorable mentions:

Ellicott Mills Brewing Co.

The Ale House Columbia

Frisco Tap House

Ice cream/frozen yogurt: Soft Stuff

Honorable mentions:

Rita’s

Meadows Frozen Custard

Cindy’s Soft Serve

Indian: Royal Taj

Honorable mentions:

Ananda

House of India

Mango Grove

Italian: Facci

There’s one way that Gino Palma knows the guests at Facci, his restaurant with locations in Laurel and Turf Valley, are happy. “People are always smiling,” he said.

And with good reason. Palma has created restaurants with fun, engaging spaces and appealing menus ranging from wood-fired pizzas and creative pastas to expertly seasoned cioppino — plus a 375-bottle wine selection.

A native of Italy who has been in the U.S. for two decades, Palma is serious about his roots. “We use the best ingredients and it’s authentic Italian,” he said, noting that even the pizza oven comes straight from Italy.

11095 Resort Road, Ellicott City; 410-750-0001. 7530 Montpelier Road, Laurel; 301-604-5555. faccirestaurant.com

Honorable mentions:

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Maggiano’s Little Italy

Japanese: Sushi Sono

Honorable mentions:

Sakura

Sushi King

Yama Sushi

Korean: Honey Pig

Honorable mentions:

Bon Chon

Shin Chon

Tosokchon

Late-night dining: Double T Diner

Honorable mentions:

Honey Pig

Victoria Gastro Pub

Clyde’s of Columbia

Live entertainment: Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Honorable mentions:

Union Jack’s

The Judge’s Bench

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

Mexican: La Palapa Grill & Cantina

Honorable mentions:

El Azteca

Ernesto’s

Xitomate

New restaurant: Hudson Coastal

From season to season – and even day to day – Hudson Coastal’s menu options change. Guests love it that way.

“They like the fact that we are keeping up with the seasons,” says Tricia Hudson, who opened the restaurant last fall with her husband, Brad. “We purchase whole fish or whole sides and butcher in-house. We’re going to run out by the end of the night. That’s our goal: to purchase enough for the night and to bring in new the next day.”

The Hudsons source their fish from up and down the East Coast, focusing on what’s in season and taking chances on less common species, like tilefish. “It’s more than mahi-mahi and salmon,” says Hudson.

11811 West Market Place, Fulton. 240-280-8640. hudsoncoastal.com

Honorable mentions:

Bolder Food/Drink

Manor Hill Tavern

The Turn House

Outdoor dining: Clyde’s of Columbia

Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Tino’s Italian Bistro

The Turn House

Best overall: Iron Bridge Wine Co

Honorable mentions:

White Oak Tavern

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Hudson Coastal

Pizza: Coal Fire Pizza

Honorable mentions:

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Ledo Pizza

River House Pizza Co.

Place to take the kids: Double T Diner

Honorable mentions:

Eggspectation

Tomato Palace (closed)

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Place to take out-of-towners: White Oak Tavern

Honorable mentions:

Victoria Gastro Pub

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Seafood: Grille 620

Honorable mentions:

Sushi Sono

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Hudson Coastal

Server: Boris Bobrov, Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Boris Bobrov, who has been working at Aida Bistro & Wine Bar for nearly four years, thinks of himself as a party host; the diners at his tables are his guests.

“My parents in Russia always hosted parties,” he says. “I grew up helping and use that hospitality to make sure all my guests have an amazing time.”

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar, 6741 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia. 410-953-0500. aidabistro.com

Honorable mentions:

Marrisa Jenks, The White Oak Tavern

Roy Cheeks, Victoria’s Gastro Pub

Charlie Risselada, Tersiguel’s

Service: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

Tersiguel’s

The Ale House Columbia

Hudson Coastal

Sports bar: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

River Hill Grill

The Greene Turtle

The Ale House Columbia

Steak: Stanford Grill

Honorable mentions:

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

The White Oak Tavern

Victoria Gastro Pub

Sushi: Sushi Sono

Honorable mentions:

Sushi King

Katana Sushi

East Moon Asian Bistro

Value: Double T Diner

Honorable mentions:

Kelsey’s Restaurant and Irish Pub

Maiwand Kabob

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

Vegetarian options: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

Royal Taj

Mango Grove

Bon Fresco

View: Clyde’s of Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Elkridge Furnace Inn

Sushi Sono

The Turn House

Wine list: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Iron Bridge Wine Co.’s wine list is thoughtful and varied, but it’s never pretentious.

“We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,” says Wecker. Instead of categorizing wines by region or varietal, Iron Bridge groups its wines into categories like “Crisp, Fresh, ‘I’m Thirsty’ Whites” and “Big, Knock Your Socks Off Red Wines.”

Honorable mentions:

Pure Wine Cafe

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

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