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.
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.
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
Georgia Grace Cafe
Burger: Cured | 18th & 21st
Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar
The White Oak Tavern
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.”
Adam Harper, Iron Bridge Wine Co.
Michel Tersiguel, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant
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.”
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.
T & J Waffles
River House Pizza Co
Taqueria Los Primos
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.
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.
“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.
Zack Smith, Iron Bridge Wine Co.
Olivia Isner, Frisco Taphouse & Brewery
Charlie Risselada, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant
Sports bar: River Hill Grill
Frisco Taphouse and Brewery
The Ale House Columbia
Steak: Stanford Grill
Iron Bridge Wine Co.
Cured | 18th & 21st
Sushi: Sushi Sono
East Moon Asian Bistro
Katana Sushi (tie)
Yama Sushi (tie)
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.