Harford County's best restaurants of 2018

Harford Magazine

Wondering where to eat next? With new restaurants opening regularly and old favorites continuing to up their games, dining out in Harford County has never been better. Here, we take a look at what makes some of your favorite spots – from waterfront restaurants to brand new beer houses – so lovable.

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

Ambience: Pairings Bistro

Honorable mentions:

Liberatore’s Ristorante

The Vineyard Wine Bar

One Eleven Main

Asian : Chopstix Gourmet

Honorable mentions:

Fuji Sushi

Lemon N’ Ginger Asian Grille

The Orient

Bakery: Flavor Cupcakery

Honorable mentions:

Woodlea Bakery

Paradise Donuts

Goll’s Bakery

Bar food: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Magerk’s Pub & Grill

Route 24 Ale House

Barbecue: JD’s Smokehouse North

2235 E. Churchville Road, Bel Air. 410-734-7900. facebook.com/JDsnorth

Paul Friedenberg, who owns JD’s Smokehouse North with his wife, Ann Marie, keeps his barbecuing tricks close to the vest. He won’t share exactly what mix of wood is used to smoke JD’s beef, pork, chicken and turkey – though he admits that hickory plays a big role – or what’s special about the seasoning rubbed on the meat before it’s cooked. Whatever goes into those secret mixes, they work.

As for technique, Friedenberg is modest. “We keep it simple. Low and slow. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” he says. Slow, in this case, means 17 hours in the smoker, as fresh meat transforms into tender, smoke-ringed magic.

JD’s condiments have a fan club, too. Meats can be topped with one of the restaurant’s four sauce options: smoky, sweet, mustardy or spicy Vidalia onion.

While Paul does the smoking, Ann Marie handles the other important part of the barbecue equation: the beer. With the barbecue, they recommend something from their own “Brothers of the Beard” beer club – like the Brothers of the Beard marzen brewed specially for the restaurant by Heavy Seas Beer.

Honorable mentions:

Chaps Charcoal Restaurant

Bird’s Nest BBQ

Dickeys Barbecue Pit

Bartender: Megan Kikilis, Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Tiffany Maher, The Hickory Lodge Restaurant & Bar

Shelby Stange, Independent Brewing Co.

Bill Hensler, Looney’s Pub

Beer list: Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Birroteca

Independent Brewing Co.

Breakfast/brunch: Sunny Day Cafe

Honorable mentions:

Bagel Works

Mountain Branch Grille & Pub

Alchemy Elements

Burger: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Honorable mentions:

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Looney’s Pub

Jake’s Wayback Burgers

Chef: Jon Kohler, Pairings Bistro

Honorable mentions:

Bobby Sheckles, Route 24 Ale House

Yale Koplovitz, MacGregor's Restaurant

Bryan Boessel, One Eleven Main

Cocktail: Alchemy Elements

528 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air. 443-371-7513. alchemyelements.com

Alchemy Elements, a Bel Air hotspot since its opening in 2015, takes menu creativity and seasonality very seriously.

Because everything from the kitchen is made from scratch, the staff knows exactly what’s in each dish and can help vegetarians and vegans navigate the menu. Diners looking for meat-free dishes have several choices, including an eye-popping vegetable board and a seasonal entree of acorn squash stuffed with ancient grains and seasonal vegetables. The squash dish is “hearty and substantial,” says General Manager Lisa Patrick.

Choices abound on the cocktail menu, too. “We try to comprise our cocktail list seasonally, as well,” says Patrick. “Cocktails are staff-created and unique. They’re all about the freshest ingredients.”

One particular favorite, the Dorothy’s Revenge, is an explosion of citrus, mixing pink grapefruit vodka with crème de pamplemousse rosé, hopped grapefruit bitters and ruby red grapefruit juice.

Honorable mentions:

Liberatore’s Ristorante

The Hickory Lodge Restaurant and Bar

Looney’s Pub

Coffee: Coffee Coffee

Honorable mentions:

Starbucks

Java by the Bay

Dunkin’ Donuts

Crab cake: Box Hill Pizzeria

Honorable mentions:

The Olive Tree

The Bayou Restaurant

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Deli: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Honorable mentions:

Savona

Wegmans

Sam’s Deli

Dessert: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop

Flavor Cupcakery

Desserts by Rita

Fine dining: Pairings Bistro

Honorable mentions:

Liberatore’s Ristorante

One Eleven Main

Birroteca

Frozen treats: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Jarrettsville Creamery

Bomboy’s Candy

Sweet Frog

Happy hour: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Alchemy Elements

Mountain Branch Grille and Pub

MacGregor’s Restaurant

Healthful menu: Panera Bread

Honorable mentions:

Lagom

My Three Sons

Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz

Italian: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Basta Pasta

Giovanni’s Restaurant

The Olive Tree

Late-night dining: Double T Diner

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Waffle House

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Live entertainment: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

510 Johnnys

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

MacGregor’s Pub

Lunch menu: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

One Eleven Main (tie)

Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz (tie)

Mexican: La Tolteca

Honorable mentions:

Plaza Mexico

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Qdoba Mexican Eats

New restaurant: Miller’s Ale House

601 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air. 443-643-21014. millersalehouse.com

Since opening in late June, Miller’s Ale House has quickly developed a big local following.

Guests come for the food – there are over a dozen wing sauces to choose from, a variety of burgers and more elaborate entrees, including osso bucco that “falls off the bone,” says manager Tracy Sechrest.

But the cuisine is just one part of the draw; the Bel Air restaurant also boasts a wide and ever-changing selection of beers. Miller’s bar has 46 beers on tap daily, with a mix of international and domestic options that include some local brews. The selection changes regularly, to “keep people wanting to try new things,” says Sechrest.

That approach has struck a chord with Harford County residents; they flock to the restaurant. “After 4:30 or 5 p.m., we’re usually on about a half-hour wait,” says Sechrest. Fortunately, those 46 draft beer selections offer up plenty of ways to pass the time.

Honorable mentions:

Humagalas

Earth, Wood & Fire

Lagom

Outdoor seating: Tidewater Grille

300 Franklin St., Havre de Grace. 410-939-3313. tidewatergrille.com

Tidewater Grille owner Ralph Shapot celebrated his 11th year as owner of the Havre de Grace restaurant earlier this fall, but he’s been a fan of Havre de Grace restaurant for much longer.

Years ago, when traveling home to West Chester, Pa., from Washington, Shapot and friends stopped at Tidewater Grille.

“I’d never been here but loved the location and loved the view,” he said.

For the next seven or eight years, Shapot and his friends continued to make the drive from West Chester. He’d always liked the idea of owning a bar on the water, so when he retired from his consulting career and the Tidewater Grille was up for sale, he jumped at the chance to buy it.

Today, nearly a dozen years later, Shapot still hasn’t tired of enjoying that view from the restaurant’s large outdoor patio. “We’re located at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the upper Chesapeake Bay, right on the water,” he says. “The view is unbelievable. People just gravitate outside.”

Honorable mentions:

The Hickory Lodge Restaurant and Bar

MacGregor’s Restaurant

Black Eyed Suzie’s

Pizza: Buontempo Bros Pizza

Honorable mentions:

Fortunato Bros Pizza

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

La Cucina Italian Restaurant

Place to take the kids: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Honorable mentions:

Jarrettsville Creamery

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Place to take out-of-towners: MacGregor’s Restaurant

331 Saint John St., Havre de Grace. 410-939-3003. macgregorsrestaurant.com

Entertaining out-of-town guests can be tricky. It’s important to choose a restaurant that showcases all the best attributes of the area, from the people to the flavors. At MacGregor’s Restaurant, all those bases are covered, thanks to friendly staff, a prime location in historic Havre de Grace, and a constantly evolving menu.

“We cater to all of our customers’ needs, we have a great view of the water, and we have a menu that’s eclectic but stays true to the roots of the area,” says General Manager Stephanie Golumbek.

The restaurant keeps the menu fresh with frequently updated specials, but both locals and out-of-towners often gravitate towards one specialty: the Harbor of Mercy rockfish.

The dish is named for Havre de Grace, which means “Harbor of Grace” or “Harbor of Mercy” when translated from French. In it, Dijon-crusted rockfish, dressed with a mustardy lemon-butter sauce, is paired with local favorites like asparagus, sweet corn and tomatoes, plus chive-flecked mashed potatoes.

Honorable mentions:

Alchemy Elements

Liberatore’s Ristorante

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Overall: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Pairings Bistro

Alchemy Elements

One Eleven Main

Seafood: Richard’s Fish & Crabs

Honorable mentions:

Bonefish Grill

Tidewater Grille

Steelefish Grille

Service: Liberatore’s Ristorante

Honorable mentions:

Bonefish Grill

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Server: Cat Ye, Fuji Sushi

Honorable mentions:

Josh Mendes, Steelefish Grille

Sheree Freund, Liberatore’s Ristorante

Drew Hild, JD’s Smokehouse North

Sports bar: Looney’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Route 24 Ale House

The Greene Turtle

Buffalo Wild Wings

Steak: Texas Roadhouse

Honorable mentions:

Outback Steakhouse

Alchemy Elements

Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Steamed crabs: Richard’s Fish & Crabs

Honorable mentions:

The Seafood Stop

Fallston Seafood

Madonna Seafood

Takeout: Box Hill Pizzeria

Honorable mentions:

Italian Sensation

Fuji Sushi

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Value: La Tolteca

Honorable mentions:

Looney’s Pub

Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant

Fallston Seafood

Vegetarian options: Alchemy Elements

Honorable mentions:

Sizzling Bombay

India Garden

Lagom

View: Tidewater Grille

Honorable mentions:

Mountain Branch Grille and Pub

MacGregor’s Restaurant

The Promenade Grille

Wine list: Pairings Bistro

Honorable mentions:

The Vineyard Wine Bar

Liberatore’s Ristorante

Enotria

Results tallied by Brad Mutchnik.

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