Harford County’s restaurant and bar scene has blossomed over the past several years and it shows no signs of slowing down. No matter what your craving, these days, you can find a local spot that will satisfy it.
In this year’s readers’ poll, locals share their insight on the places, dishes, drinks and people that make the county a dining destination. The winners include both old favorites and new faces — and offer lots of inspiration for your next night out.
Editor’s note: Winners and honorable mentions were determined by popular vote. Readers were invited to nominate and vote online in August and September.
For Shelby Stange, every day she spends bartending at the rapidly growing Independent Brewing Company is “an adventure.” Stange has been in the restaurant industry for nearly a decade and has worked at several spots around Harford County. At Independent, which won 10 categories in this year’s readers’ poll and received honorable mentions in another four, she’s found a place where she can combine her hospitality skills with her love of learning and educating.
At Independent, bartenders take courses to complete their Cicerone certification, which is similar to sommelier certifications in the wine industry. Stange has completed her first-level certification and is studying for the next tier. Every day, she puts her knowledge to work, helping people find the beers they will enjoy most and sharing what she’s learned.
“I’m in an awesome position where I can teach people in addition to getting to know them,” she said. “That’s what makes it special for me personally — that little extra I can share and finding what people like and what fits them best.”
Box Hill Pizzeria owner Tommy Kanaras’ family has been making the restaurant’s famous crab cake recipe — and sharing it with Harford County residents — for at least half a century. Kanaras’ father was the original owner of the Red Fox Restaurant in Bel Air, where he served the crab cakes, just as they’re made today.
“This crab cake has been in our family for years and we just try to keep it consistent,” said Kanaras, whose restaurant also won best takeout. The key to the crab cake’s popularity, he said, is in the quality of the crab.
Kanaras admits that finding “the best” crab meat isn’t always easy, especially since crab is an expensive, seasonal product. “When we were kids, we didn’t eat crabs until Memorial Day but now people want them 24/7,” he said. But Box Hill is up to the challenge. “It’s a Maryland tradition,” he said. “We take pride in it.”
When Savona Deli owner Maria Boeri opened the Bel Air deli nearly 15 years ago, she committed to showcasing the best ingredients she could find. Popular sandwiches like the Toscana — a classic Italian cold cut — and the Main Street Muffelato are made with the highest quality meats, cheese and produce available. The quality extends beyond food, too: During free wine tastings, held each Saturday, shoppers have the opportunity to learn while they sip great wines.
Today, the deli’s commitment to using top ingredients remains but it is only part of what’s made Savona such a popular stop. The rest? It’s the people.
“We have an old-fashioned feel to our store,” said Boeri. “It’s customer service all the way. We try to be friendly and want it to be a warm, cozy environment. I love every person who walks in the store. Good food and a good vibe — we try to keep it positive and have fun!”
Since its opening in 2015, One Eleven Main has been a regular fixture in this magazine’s Best Restaurants issue. But the restaurant does not rest on its laurels; the owner remains grateful that the community keeps showing up to dine.
“It’s a privilege to be serving them,” said owner Richard Anderson. “I feel privileged they choose to come to us, so we have to do everything we can to make it a wonderful experience.”
Creating that experience requires a high level of attention to detail, both in the kitchen and in the dining room, where there are fresh flowers and linens on the tables and where many of the servers have been in the restaurant industry for years.
“We have some veteran, seasoned servers who are outstanding, they just know how to talk to people and treat them,” said Anderson. “That goes with the kitchen staff, too. Our executive chef Bryan Boessel is super-talented and dedicated.” In fact, Boessel was named best chef in this year’s poll and staff member Chrissy Glass won for best server.
With eight locations around the state, including four in Harford County (Aberdeen, Joppa and two in Bel Air), La Tolteca is the go-to Mexican food spot for locals from all over the region — and with good reason. The menu boasts over 100 options, from traditional combo platters to creative burritos, rib-sticking steak dinners and appealing salads. Across the dishes, the restaurant puts a premium on fresh produce and meats.
Out of the many options available, diners often gravitate toward the tacos de la calle — street tacos served with salsa verde, chopped onion, cilantro and lime — or the fajitas, which are available in a few varieties, including an adventurous Hawaiian option that arrives in half a pineapple.
The food isn’t the only attraction at La Tolteca: Regulars keep coming back for the margaritas. La Tolteca offers seven margarita flavors and four sizes, from 14 ounces all the way up to a pitcher, guaranteeing that any trip to the restaurant has party potential.
Bacco, which opened in Abingdon in November 2018, has quickly developed a following: It won best new restaurant and best Italian.
“A lot of return guests come back every week,” said general manager Joshua Lewis. They’re drawn, he said, by the promise of authentic Italian food. The owners, Gennaro DiBenedetto and Ivano Scotto, have roots in Naples, Italy; their history is on display on the thoughtful menu.
Favorite dishes at the restaurant run the gamut from modern and luxe — like the fettucine Zafforana, an elegant dish of pasta tossed with shrimp, scallops and lump crab meat in a saffron cream sauce, to classic Italian standbys like chicken parmigiana.
The restaurant’s focus on wine — and its extensive and constantly changing wine menu that includes a variety of wines on tap — also has fans; it won a readers’ poll honorable mention for its wine list.
Barrett’s On The Pike
Miller’s Ale House - Bel Air
Conrad’s Seafood Restaurant - Abingdon
Outdoor dining:Independent Brewing Co.
Black Eyed Suzie’s
Overall: Independent Brewing Co.
One Eleven Main
The Vineyard Wine Bar
Pizza:Buontempo Brothers Pizza
Box Hill Pizzeria
Birroteca Bel Air
Italian Sensation (tie)
Margherita Pizza (tie)
Place to take out-of-towners: Independent Brewing Co.