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Cured | 18th & 21st's Brian Thornton, Alex Gehringer and Cat Combs were voted best chef, bartender and server, respectively.
Cured | 18th & 21st's Brian Thornton, Alex Gehringer and Cat Combs were voted best chef, bartender and server, respectively. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

This year’s crop of Best Restaurant winners includes everything from tried-and-true takeout spots to glamorous new dining destinations. More than 2,200 people voted for their favorites in 45 categories, demonstrating that there’s never been a better time to be a food lover in Howard County.

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

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Profiles by Kit Waskom Pollard.

Ambience: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Grille 620

Bakery: Kupcakes & Co.

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Touche Touchet Bakery and Pastry Shoppe

Little Market Cafe

Bar food: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

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Phoenix Emporium

Frisco Taphouse and Brewery

Barbecue: Mission BBQ

Honorable mentions:

Kloby’s Smokehouse

Cured | 18th & 21st

The Canopy

Alex Gehringer of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best bartender.
Alex Gehringer of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best bartender. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Bartender: Alex Gehringer, Cured | 18th & 21st

Since starting in the restaurant industry as a 16-year-old, Alex Gehringer has been a busboy, waited tables and shucked oysters. Now a bartender, he loves that his role allows him “to see someone’s immediate reaction to a dish pairing with wine or a new cocktail or bourbon.” Fun fact: his favorite drink at Cured | 18th & 21st is the Bearcats Pajamas, a Scotch and Amaro concoction named for his fiancée (and best server) Cat Combs.

Honorable mentions:

Harrison Zemel, La Palapa Grill & Cantina

Chuck Kindred, The Phoenix Emporium

Brian Walsh, Frisco Taphouse & Brewery (tie)

Christina Held, Iron Bridge Wine Co. (tie)

Breakfast/brunch: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Georgia Grace Cafe

Eggspectation

Grille 620

Burger: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Phoenix Emporium

The White Oak Tavern

Brian Thornton of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best chef.
Brian Thornton of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best chef. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Chef: Brian Thornton, Cured | 18th & 21st

During his career, Chef Brian Thornton has cooked for everyone from U.S. presidents to Beyonce. But no matter who’s eating, his philosophy is the same: “I’m just trying to make good food,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. I live on the concept that simple food made great, tastes great.”

Honorable mentions:

Adam Harper, Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Michel Tersiguel, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant

Brendin McCuen, Pure Wine Cafe

Chinese: Hunan Manor

Honorable mentions:

Hunan Legend

Jesse Wong's

East Moon Asian Bistro (tie)

Sushi King (tie)

Cocktail: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Pure Wine Cafe

The White Oak Tavern

Coffee: Little Market Cafe

Honorable mentions:

Mad City Coffee

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Starbucks

Crab cake: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Hudson Coastal

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Leelynn’s Dining Room and Lounge

Deli: Bon Fresco

Honorable mentions:

Little Market Cafe

Beef Brothers Deli & Catering

Charter Deli

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar, voted best dessert, serves this cranberry white chocolate bread pudding with creme anglaise, cranberry coulis and caramel sauce.
Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar, voted best dessert, serves this cranberry white chocolate bread pudding with creme anglaise, cranberry coulis and caramel sauce. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Dessert: Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Turf Valley Towne Square, 11085 Resort Road #404, Ellicott City. 410-203-0327. madchefkitchen.com

Mad Chef’s executive chef, Chris Angel, is a whiz with savory dishes, but his real passion is pastry and it shows. “What he does is truly special,” said general manager Christian Smith.

The restaurant’s menu includes treats like s’mores cheesecake with homemade marshmallow cream and an enormous chocolate bread pudding with fresh cranberries and crème anglaise.

Angel’s most popular dessert is zeppole – cinnamon-and-sugar-covered fried doughnut holes served with Nutella dipping sauce. “They’re made fresh every time,” said Smith. “They take eight to 10 minutes, but they’re worth it.”

Honorable mentions:

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Cured | 18th & 21st

The Cheesecake Factory

Fine dining: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Grille 620

Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant

Bullhead Pit Beef owner Larry Jackson poses with a big beef sandwich from his truck, which was voted best food truck.
Bullhead Pit Beef owner Larry Jackson poses with a big beef sandwich from his truck, which was voted best food truck. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Food truck: Bullhead Pit Beef

443-864-2987. bullheadpitbeef.com

Larry Jackson, owner of the Bullhead Pit Beef truck, has been on the road cooking and selling his meat for a decade. “We started with a grill and a pickup truck about 10 years ago,” he said. Five years ago, he started cooking out of the truck he uses today.

Bullhead is best known for pit beef, but Jackson’s pit turkey, pulled brisket and Mexican-style tacos are also big draws. “We try to keep things simple,” says Jackson. “We stick to the basics and make sure everything we do, we do well.”

Bullhead fans can find the truck at local events or breweries, but soon, they won’t have to hunt for the truck at all: Bullhead plans open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Columbia this fall.

Honorable mentions:

T & J Waffles

River House Pizza Co

Taqueria Los Primos

The ice cream sandwiches, featuring handmade ice cream and cookies, are a specialty at Scoop and Paddle Ice Cream Co., which was voted "best frozen treats."
The ice cream sandwiches, featuring handmade ice cream and cookies, are a specialty at Scoop and Paddle Ice Cream Co., which was voted "best frozen treats." (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Frozen treats: Scoop & Paddle Ice Cream Co.

The Common Kitchen, 12250 Clarksville Pike, Suite A, Clarksville. 443-607-2667. scoopandpaddle.com

Nadine and Renee Crisitello are friends, sisters-in-law and the powerhouse duo behind Scoop & Paddle, the ice cream truck-turned-shop known for handcrafted treats. The pair started out behind the wheel of a 1973 VW bus, selling treats at events and farmers markets. They opened their Clarksville shop inside the Common Kitchen food hall last year.

Most days they have about 10 flavors of ice cream and three or four ice cream sandwiches, plus milkshakes, floats and cakes. “We keep it fresh and rotate flavors, so there’s always something new,” said Renee Crisitello.

And they take “handcrafted” seriously. “We make not just the ice cream, but nearly everything that goes in the ice cream, from salted caramel to jam,” said Nadine Crisitello.

Honorable mentions:

The Snowball Stand

Rita's Italian Ice & Frozen Custard

Park Ridge Creamery

Happy hour: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Bar & Kitchen

Phoenix Emporium

Pure Wine Cafe

Healthful menu: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Georgia Grace Cafe

Hudson Coastal

House-brewed beer: Jailbreak Brewing Co.

Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

Manor Hill Tavern

Ellicott Mills Brewing Co.

Indian: Royal Taj Restaurant

Honorable mentions:

Ananda

The Mint Room

House Of India

Japanese: Sushi Sono

Honorable mentions:

Sushi King

Sakura Japanese Steak, Seafood House & Sushi Bar

East Moon Asian Bistro

Korean: Honey Pig Restaurant

Honorable mentions:

Shin Chon Restaurant

Bondoori Wings

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Rainpia

Late-night dining: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Double T Diner

River Hill Grill

Honey Pig Restaurant

Live entertainment: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

River Hill Grill

The Soundry

Little Market Cafe

Lunch menu: Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

El Azteca

Mexican: El Azteca

Honorable mentions:

La Palapa Grill & Cantina

Ernesto’s

Uncle Julio's

A charcuterie platter at Cured | 18th & 21st, which won 17 of the 45 categories in Howard Magazine's Best Restaurants readers’ poll.
A charcuterie platter at Cured | 18th & 21st, which won 17 of the 45 categories in Howard Magazine's Best Restaurants readers’ poll. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

New restaurant: Cured | 18th & 21st

10980 Grantchester Way #110, Columbia. 667-786-7111. cured1821.com

When Cured | 18th & 21st opened in May 2018, it was an immediate sensation – for good reason. There’s no place quite like it in the area.

Howard Magazine readers named it the best restaurant in a whopping 17 categories.

With its many elements, the name might seem like a puzzle, but it’s a clue as to what’s inside the 10,000-square-foot space: the restaurant is two distinct concepts housed in one building.

Through the main doors, guests enter Cured, a comfort food spot with dishes like meatloaf and burgers. They might settle in there to sip a craft beer or cocktail while watching a game on TV and never even realize there’s another restaurant to be found.

Keeping 18th & 21st hidden is “sort of on purpose,” said Vince Culotta, a managing partner of the restaurants. 18th & 21st is an elegant speakeasy-style spot, he explained; its name refers to the 18th and 21st amendments, which enacted and repealed Prohibition. Live jazz music sets the scene for a swanky and upscale dining experience.

The restaurants are locally owned by Wecker Hospitality Group, which also operates Columbia’s Iron Bridge Wine Co..

Though the two restaurants offer unique vibes, they share a kitchen, an executive chef and a few menu items, like an impressive charcuterie platter and oysters on the half shell. At Cured, the burger and sandwiches are huge hits, while at 18th & 21st, dry-aged New York strip steaks are a popular item.

The bar menus are different, too, except for one cocktail that captures both the high-end feel of 18th & 21st and the American bar vibe at Cured: a smoked old fashioned made with house-blended and smoked bitters, housemade brown sugar simple syrup and Willett Distillery’s Old Bardstown 90-proof bourbon.

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Syriana Cafe & Gallery

Lib's Grill

Outdoor dining: Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Honorable mentions:

Clyde’s of Columbia

Pure Wine Cafe

Rams Head Tavern Savage Mill

Overall: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Hudson Coastal

Pizza: Coal Fire

Honorable mentions:

River House Pizza Co.

Ledo Pizza

Tony's Pizzeria

Place to take out-of-towners: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Clyde's of Columbia

Place to take the kids: Chick-fil-A

Honorable mentions:

River Hill Grill

La Palapa Grill & Cantina

Ledo Pizza

Seafood: Hudson Coastal

Honorable mentions:

Grille 620

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Cure | 18th & 21st

Cat Combs of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best server.
Cat Combs of Cured | 18th & 21st was voted best server. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Server: Cat Combs, Cured | 18th & 21st

“My favorite part of the job has to be sharing a moment in the lives of my guests, finding a connection,” said Cat Combs. Combs, who has been part of the Cured | 18th & 21st team since it opened, loves watching people “fall in love” with the restaurant’s space, music and food.

Honorable mentions:

Zack Smith, Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Olivia Isner, Frisco Taphouse & Brewery

Charlie Risselada, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant

Sports bar: River Hill Grill

Honorable mentions:

Frisco Taphouse and Brewery

Looney's Pub

The Ale House Columbia

Steak: Stanford Grill

Honorable mentions:

Grille 620

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Cured | 18th & 21st

Sushi: Sushi Sono

Honorable mentions:

Sushi King

East Moon Asian Bistro

Katana Sushi (tie)

Yama Sushi (tie)

Maiwand Kabob, which serves this lamb and chicken kabob combo, was voted best takeout.
Maiwand Kabob, which serves this lamb and chicken kabob combo, was voted best takeout. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Takeout: Maiwand Kabob

Harper’s Choice Village Center, 5467 Harpers Farm Road, Columbia; 410-992-7754. Columbia Crossing, 6131 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia; 410-872-21045. maiwandkabob.com

Maiwand Kabob captured the hearts — and stomachs — of Howard County restaurants in 1999, when its first location opened in Harper’s Choice.

The restaurant is named for a village in Kandahar, Afghanistan, that also provides the inspiration for a menu filled with well-seasoned kabobs and vegetables. The lamb and chicken kabobs are the most popular items on the menu, but Maiwand fans aren’t afraid to branch out. Every dish, from salmon kabobs to a fried and baked eggplant appetizer has a following.

Honorable mentions:

BonChon Chicken

Beef Brothers Deli & Catering

Chick-fil-A

Value: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Grille 620

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Maggiano’s Little Italy

Vegetarian options: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Seasons 52

Mango Grove

View: Clyde’s of Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Pure Wine Cafe

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Georgia Grace Cafe

Wine list: Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

Pure Wine Cafe

Grille 620

Cured | 18th & 21st

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