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Howard County Times
Howard Magazine

Here are the winners in Howard Magazine’s 2022 Best Restaurants Contest

This year, more than 26,500 people voted for their favorites in 47 categories, demonstrating that it’s a great 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 from March to April.

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Ambience: Cured | 18th & 21st (tie) and

The Iron Bridge Wine Co. (tie)

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Honorable mentions:

Xenia Greek Kouzina

Hudson Coastal

Bakery: Decadent, a Coffee and Dessert Bar

Honorable mentions:

Roggenart European Bakery, Bistro & Bakery

Kupcakes & Co.

Touche Touchet Bakery and Pastry Shoppe

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Bar food: Cured | 18th & 21st

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

When asked about what makes sister restaurants Cured and 18th & 21st special, managing partner Vince Culotta doesn’t point to a single item on the menu, though yes, everyone does love the Philly cheesesteak egg rolls and the smoked Old Fashioneds at Cured. But he thinks of moments, whether it’s from the live performances at 18th & 21st, a Prohibition-era supper club, or the time he brought a diner an extra order of special sauce — the man was so grateful he walked across the restaurant to shake Culotta’s hand. “It’s all about the details. Details are what get people to go, ‘Wow.’” That’s what makes Cured and 18th & 21st two of Howard County’s favorite places for a night out.

Of course, offering great service through the pandemic and ongoing labor shortage has been a challenge. “The last two years, without putting too fine a point on it, they’ve sucked,” Culotta said. But he sees reason to be hopeful. “We made it through the worst of the pandemic.” The past few months, customers have packed both restaurants, ready for a good time after more than two years of so much that hasn’t been fun. “At the end of the day, this is what I love doing.”

Honorable mentions:

Walker’s Tap & Table

Frisco Taphouse

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Ten Oaks Tavern

Barbecue: Mission BBQ

Honorable mentions:

Kloby’s Smokehouse

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que

Stanford Grill

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Bartender: Cat Reed, Hudson Coastal

Honorable mentions:

Meredith Wilson, The White Oak Tavern

Jose Gomez, The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Rachel Valentine, Frisco Taphouse

Beer list: The White Oak Tavern

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Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

Frisco Taphouse

Hudson Coastal

Best overall: The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

10435 MD-108, Columbia, 410-997-3456, ironbridgewines.com

Wine-driven, the place may be — the walls are stacked with bottles — but don’t discount the grub. Take the signature steak, a 16-ounce slab dubbed by readers as the best around. Or the seared duck breast with a blackberry glaze. Or the catch of the day, which is so popular that it’s listed on the menu as “fish of the moment.”

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“We defy classic dining rules,” said Rob Wecker who, with his brother, Steve, opened Iron Bridge 19 years ago. “It’s like dining in the middle of a wine store. It’s warm, cozy and casual. We want people to feel comfortable here, whether they are wearing a tuxedo or a track suit.”

Most produce hails from local farms, and pork comes from a farm across the road. The wines, 400 in all, are an international lot, some bearing whimsical names like “Hit The Rhone, Jack” and “How Merlot Can You Go?”

Routinely, Iron Bridge trots out unique medleys, such as a pork belly-and-watermelon salad, and a grilled Caesar salad made of grilled greens, Spanish anchovies and Parmesan crisps. All in a pastoral setting, if you deign to look past the walls of spirits to the rolling hills outside.

“The view is great,” said Wecker. “Of course, you’re surrounded by wine, which is serene in and of itself.”

Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

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Hudson Coastal

The White Oak Tavern

Black-owned restaurant: Althea’s Almost Famous - I love this Jerk

Honorable mention:

The Hideout

Breakfast/brunch: Eggspectation

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Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

The White Oak Tavern

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Burger: The White Oak Tavern

Honorable mentions:

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The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Cured | 18th & 21st

Walker’s Tap & Table

Chef: Corey Laub, The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

He was a political science major in college when he took a job in a restaurant kitchen. Two days later, having found his calling, Corey Laub quit school. Now, at 31, having sharpened his skills (and knives) at high-end eateries in Baltimore, Washington and Chicago, Laub has settled in at Iron Bridge, whose menu changes every 90 days.

“My passion is appraising different flavors to try something new,” said Laub, a Columbia native. “I want people to step out of their comfort zones [elk tenderloin, squid gazpacho] without scaring them away.”

Iron Bridge co-owner Rob Wecker marvels at Laub’s marriage of food and wine.

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“He has a deft hand with everything from scallops to soft crabs,” said Wecker, “and he’s one of the few chefs that I trust with a pork chop.”

Honorable mentions:

Vince Bellofatto, The White Oak Tavern

Sylvia Choi, Cured | 18th & 21st

Chad Wells, Walker’s Tap & Table

Chinese: Asean Bistro

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Honorable mentions:

Hunan Manor

Hunan Legend

Asian Court

Cocktail: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

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The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Hudson Coastal

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Coffee: Decadent, a Coffee and Dessert Bar

Honorable mentions:

Roggenart European Bakery, Bistro & Cafe

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Sidamo Coffee

Starbucks

Crab cake: Hudson Coastal

Honorable mentions:

The Corner Stable

EC Diner

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Bushel and a Peck

Deli: Mikey & Mel’s Deli

Honorable mentions:

Jason’s Deli

Charter Deli

Bon Fresco

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Delivery: Papa John’s Pizza

Dessert: Decadent, a Coffee and Dessert Bar

Honorable mentions:

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Hudson Coastal

Cured | 18th & 21st

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Fine dining: The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

Xenia Greek Kouzina

Ananda

Food truck: Taqueria Los Primos

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Honorable mentions:

Greek on the Street

Bull on the loose

Pupuseria Vanessa

Frozen treats: Soft Stuff Ice Cream

Honorable mentions:

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Cindy’s Soft Serve

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard

Park Ridge Creamery

Happy hour: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

Hudson Coastal

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Xenia Greek Kouzina

Red Bird Bar & Grille (tie)

Walker’s Tap & Table (tie)

Healthful menu: Hudson Coastal

Honorable mentions:

Iron Bridge Wine Co.

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Nalley Fresh

Xenia Greek Kouzina

Indian: Royal Taj Restaurant

8335 Benson Drive, Columbia, 410-381-1111, royaltajmd.com

With a gold and white dining room modeled after Versailles, Royal Taj provides an elegant backdrop to sample Punjab specialties like Tandoori chicken marinated overnight.

The restaurant, which opened in 2008, doesn’t have an Instagram page and don’t post specials on Facebook. “We stay very low-key,” said owner Binda Singh. Instead, more customers tend to find out about the restaurant through word-of-mouth. And once they come the first time, odds are good they’ll come again and again. “We treat our guests like family,” he said, working hard to ensure that people who might come in a bad mood leave with a new outlook on life.

The setting could get even more inviting with the upcoming completion of a patio with three fire pits that will allow guests to dine al fresco year round, something Singh said has become even more popular during the pandemic. Singh also is looking to open a wedding venue soon. Coming to Royal Taj may feel like the utmost in relaxation for diners, but don’t expect to see Singh taking time off. A self-described “workaholic,” he says he’s gone 24 years without a vacation.

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Honorable mentions:

Ananda

Mango Grove

House of India

Italian: Tino’s Italian Bistro

Honorable mentions:

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Facci Wood Fire Pizza Wine Bar of Maple Lawn

Galliano Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

Japanese: Sushi Sono

Honorable mentions:

Sushi King

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Sakura Japanese Steak, Seafood House & Sushi Bar

Korean: Shin Chon

Late-night dining: Honey Pig Restaurant

Honorable mentions:

The Iron Bridge Wine Co,

Cured | 18th & 21st

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Silver Diner

Latin: El Azteca

Honorable mentions:

La Palapa Grill & Cantina

Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa

Live entertainment: Cured | 18th & 21st

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Honorable mentions:

The White Oak Tavern

Looney’s Pub

Xenia Greek Kouzina

Lunch: Cured | 18th & 21st

Honorable mentions:

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The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Walker’s Tap & Table

Shannon’s Saloon

New restaurant: Red Bird Bar & Grille

3800 Ten Oaks Rd, Glenelg, 443-419-5188, redbirdbarandgrille.com

Exciting comfort food. That oxymoron describes the fare at this neighborhood rendezvous, which has rooted itself in the Glenelg community, and beyond, since it opened last August. Here, one finds juicy pork chops topped with candied bacon; beef-and-bean chili with deep-fried cornbread; and the signature Red Bird Burger, a plump favorite cloaked in Cheddar cheese, pickled onions and tomato-bacon jam. Plus a choice of 16 beer taps to wash down the spicier entrees like voodoo pasta (shrimp, blackened chicken and capicola with Asiago cheese in a Cajun cream sauce.)

A jazz duo plays during Sunday brunch, and a pooch-friendly patio awaits those with pets.

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Casual and colorful, the Red Bird Bar and Grille isn’t all that new, decorated with vestiges of beloved but long-gone local hangouts. The tables came from Cacao Lane Restaurant; the booths, from the Diamondback Tavern; the wall hangings, from the Crab Shanty. That nostalgic vibe permeates both the food and the familiarity of the place, as owners Tim and Sara Richards routinely greet patrons with a cordial, table-hopping how-de-do.

“Feedback is a gift,” Sara Richards said. While customer comments run the gamut, one seems to rule the roost at Red Bird, her husband said:

“The three words I love to hear are, ‘We’ll be back.’ "

Honorable mentions:

Dok Khao Thai Eatery

Dive Bar and Grille

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Clove & Cardamom Restaurant

Outdoor dining: Hudson Coastal

Honorable mentions:

The Turn House

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

The White Oak Tavern

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Pizza: Coal Fire

Honorable mentions:

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Walker’s Tap & Table

Ledo Pizza

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

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Honorable mentions:

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Hudson Coastal

The White Oak Tavern

Place to take the kids: EC Diner

Honorable mentions:

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Hudson Coastal

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews

Walker’s Tap & Table

Seafood: Hudson Coastal

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

It sits 150 miles from the beach, but patrons of this popular family restaurant say the fish tastes like it was just hooked off the pier at Ocean City. Three to six fresh, pan-seared offerings pepper the menu daily — from salmon and black bass to rainbow trout and flounder — and big-screen monitors overhead post timely changes to the lineup, so as not to disappoint.

Seafood dominates, even in items where you’d least expect it. There are crabby fries, seafood burgers and shellfish risotto; a smoked salmon BLT, shrimp tacos and a crab Cobb salad. The coastal lasagna is a tasty mesh of fish, shrimp, crab, calamari and homemade ricotta, drenched in a white wine sauce. Even the drinks get into the act, with a “Big Oyster Hammerhead” draft on tap — though bartender Cat Reed’s go-to is the spicy pineapple margarita.

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“It’s a fun atmosphere here,” Reed said. “When you love what you do, it makes coming to work so much easier.”

The décor fits the food: a blue-and-white nautical theme, adorned with oyster cans, turquoise bar stools and photos of Ocean City and the Outer Banks. Large seaside umbrellas top the 14 tables outside. All that’s missing here is sand.

“It’s like a beach house without bedrooms,” said Brad Hudson who, with his wife Tricia, opened the place in 2016. “It has been a good run, so far.”

Honorable mentions:

Xenia Greek Kouzina

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

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Cured | 18th & 21st

Server: Nicki Schaefer, The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Here’s what Nicki Schaefer brings to the table: an unerring ability to connect with patrons, anticipate their needs and hover without being intrusive.

“She creates memorable moments with her guests,” Iron Bridge co-owner Rob Wecker said. Plus, her grasp of wine pairings is first-rate.

“Never let people feel that you’re busy,” said Schaefer, 24, who attended Mount Hebron High. “Whether you have one table or 100, your guests shouldn’t feel any different.”

Honorable mentions:

Amy Hanna, Red Bird Bar & Grille

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Scott Anderson, The White Oak Tavern

Nina Martucci, Tino’s Bistro

Sports bar: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Kelsey’s Restaurant, Irish Pub & Banquet Room

The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille

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River Hill Grill

Steak: The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

Cured | 18th & 21st

Stanford Grill

GrillMarx Columbia Steakhouse & Raw Bar

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Sushi: Sushi King

Honorable mentions:

Sushi Sono

UMI Sushi

Katana Sushi

Takeout: Tino’s Italian Bistro

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Honorable mentions:

Cured |18th & 21st

Hudson Coastal

The White Oak Tavern

Thai: Dok Khao Thai Eatery

6000 Merriweather Drive, Suite B155, Columbia, 410-997-8899, dokkhao.com/columbia

When in distress, “many people go to exercise, go to yoga,” said Porntipa Pattanamekar, owner of Dok Khao Thai Eatery in Columbia. For her, eating is the cure. People have suffered immensely during the pandemic, she says, and “I want to heal them with food. I cook what my mom cooked for me.”

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Looking at photos of her homeland of Chumphon, near Phuket in Thailand, it’s hard to imagine leaving its bright turquoise waters, pristine white beaches and lush greenery. Growing up there, Pattanamekar’s life revolved around food. Her family ran a seafood operation and she woke up in the morning to the smell of coffee and pastries that her mother had prepared for fishermen as they set out for the day’s catches. In Columbia, she has recreated a slice of her homeland on Merriweather Drive, a sumptuously-decorated oasis that serves an array of Thai specialties as well as coffee and desserts. The décor offers a contrast to the spicy dishes, says the owner, pointing out that her homeland is the spiciest region of Thailand.

Opened in August 2021, this marks the second location for Dok Khao; the first is in Woodbridge, but Pattanamekar owns a total of seven different restaurants in the region. It wasn’t her initial plan: she graduated from George Washington University with a master’s degree in engineering, but says her family supported her when she decided to pivot to follow her passion. On one condition, her mother said: “You sell real food.” It’s an order Pattanamekar has gladly followed.

Honorable mention:

Thai Aroma Restaurant

Eattini Thai Kitchen

Value: Cured | 18th & 21st

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Honorable mentions:

EC Diner

Hudson Coastal

Xenia Greek Kouzina

Vegetarian options: Great Sage

Honorable mentions:

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CAVA

The Elkridge Furnace Inn

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

View: The Turn House

11130 Willow Bottom Drive, Columbia, 410-740-2096, theturnhouse.com

Thomas Zippelli’s cooking career started at age 5, when he began helping his Sicilian grandmother prepare spaghetti and meatballs. By 5th grade, he was hooked on Food Network shows like Emeril and sending his parents to the grocery store for ingredients he needed to prepare family dinners on his own.

Perhaps, then, it’s fitting that even after working in some of the world’s most famous kitchens, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, the Howard County native decided to return home, opening a restaurant in the Columbia location that was formerly the Coho Grill. In the six years that have passed since he opened the Turn House, which overlooks the Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club, he’s forged relationships with local farmers while crafting a fresh and seasonal menu for Columbia diners. “I think that we have a good approachable menu that changes all the time. We serve hot soup when it’s cold and cold soup when it’s hot.” Readers love the view, and a recently-expanded outdoor patio.

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Honorable mentions:

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

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Kings Contrivance Restaurant

Sushi Sono

Wine list: The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Honorable mentions:

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Xenia Greek Kouzina

Tino’s Italian Bistro

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar


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