U.S. 1 is a great street for food in Howard County because you can see the food from the street.
This is the fourth in a series of posts that are a tour of Howard County, designed with the idea that people new to the county can learn best by actually driving the roads. Click here for the explanation and other tours. Check out the links below to see my prior posts about restaurants and markets on the route, then take a weekend drive. This post is adapted and updated from an earlier "Food Frontier" post that was part of my "What I Learned" series.
One of the great barriers to finding great food in Howard County is finding the great food. Most shopping centers -- especially in Columbia -- hide from main roads. Big landlords like the mall want safe, chain tenants, and downtown Ellicott City is the only place with dense, small-building development where someone could risk renting to a start-up restaurant and where you could stumble from a place you know to a gem you don't.
U.S. 1 from Rte 100 down to Rte 32 offers an interesting frontier for people who
want to try new food. Rents must be cheaper. Ethnic and casual spots have congregated. Go for a single meal, or meander away an afternoon snacking and shopping through Elkridge and Jessup.
- Start on Rte 100 heading east. You could just drive from your home to Caezar's below, but the conceit of these "tours" is that new residents need to learn the roads. Rte 100 should be easy to find, and even a newby may know Rte 100 from its intersections with Rte 29, Snowden River Parkway, I-95 or U.S. 1.
- Exit onto U.S. 1 SOUTH.
- Turn LEFT / EAST at the light for Rte 103 / Meadowbridge Road and follow the curves for a few blocks to Caezar International Market and Restaurant. Columbia's best Middle Eastern market (formerly known as Sizar's) moved to a shopping center that you'll see on the LEFT and brought its spectacular array of breads, teas, spices, yogurts, frozen food, and more. I'll drive just for the pistachio nougat. They're offering a butcher, and they opened a Persian restaurant next door. (Update: Caezar closed. If you want Turkish or Middle Eastern groceries, consider Sizar's Market or Pars Market in Columbia.)
- Return to U.S. 1 South.
- Turn WEST / RIGHT on Roosevelt Boulevard for barbeque at Smokeys & Uncle Grube's. I go for the pit beef, which tastes extra delicious on a nice day when I can eat in the tent outside.
- Return to U.S. 1 South. Turn WEST / RIGHT at the light for Business Parkway and pull into El Nayar. This barebones Mexican place offers breakfasts with eggs, tortillas, and beans and then lunches and dinners heavy on tacos, sopes and burritos.
- Return to U.S. 1.
- Look RIGHT and turn RIGHT into the shopping center for Sysco Discount Food Center and the weekend U.S. 1 flea market. Sysco sells large-sized products like Costco, party supplies (disposable plates, table clothes, catering trays, etc.), and kitchen supplies, including knives, huge bowls, stock pots, and other commercial items. The flea market has an array of Hispanic food vendors.
- Return to U.S. 1 and watch both side of the street for my favorite stops on U.S. 1. You need to decide which tacos to sample.
- Normally, you'll find Pupuseria Lorenita's taco truck parked on the LEFT / EAST side a few blocks north of Rte 175. Its former host (Paco's Paint) closed in early 2009, and I have heard that it has parked a few blocks away at times. Great tacos. Stop for a snack. I love the grilled beef and the sausage. You get two tortillas with each, and I split the fillings to extend the meal in my car.
- [Update: But keep going south on U.S. 1 for the find of 2009 -- R&R Deli inside the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175. If anything, they're better tacos. Fresh ingredients. Sparkling cleanliness. A selection of different meats, along with fresh milkshakes and a full menu of sandwiches and breakfast.]
- Return to U.S. 1 South and turn LEFT on Rte 175. If you turned right, you would cross I-95 and reach Rte 108 where you could start the first tour up Rte 108. or just stop at Fatburger, the Perfect Pour or Trader Joe's.
- Turn RIGHT into the Columbia East shopping center. There is a Starbucks and a Rita's, but the real stars are MOM's Organic Market (formerly "My Organic Market") for vegetables, some cheeses, and packaged organic products, Fortune Star Buffet for endless Chinese food (with mixed reviews), and Pollo Fuego for Peruvian chicken.
- While you're there, press your nose against the window at Coco Butter's across from Pollo Fuego. It advertises chocolates and jazz. It's only open at night. There is a story there, but I can't figure it out.
- Also take a look at Accra Foods, a West African market on the side facing U.S. 1 near the Goodwill. Personally, I have never loved the vibe of this market, but I also don't know enough about West African food to take advantage of the offerings.
- Exit out the back of Columbia East past Pollo Fuego and turn LEFT on Assateague Drive.
- In a few blocks, Assateague deadends into the wholesale fish market where you can shop at Frank's Seafood Market. Whole fish, fillets and crabs, crabs, crabs. (You show your driver's license to the security guard, but there is no charge for retail customers.)
- Return to Assateague Drive and take it back to U.S. 1. Cross over U.S. 1 and pull into the parking lot for El Patio Market. The store is tiny, but it offers delicious takeout empanadas that they'll heat in the store or let you carry home. You can also pick up make-at-home products like empanada wrappers or sweets like spicy Super Mango lollipop or the peanut brittle.
- Return to U.S. 1 South.
- For one final stop, turn LEFT / EAST on Patuxent Range Road for the Ann's House of Nuts outlet. They have limited hours so make sure they're open, and I haven't been. Some people swear that it's a great place to buy nuts and dried fruit. Some people caution that the prices aren't always lower than retail. (UPDATE: Ann's appears to have moved to Columbia in November 2009.)
- At this point, you can call it a day.
- Or you can keep going south where you'll hit Rte 32 and then Savage and Laurel. They're part of the earlier "south county" tour that includes stops at Bonaparte Bread in Savage, and Apna Bazar, Aladdin Food Mart, and the Laurel Meat Market.
Please comment below if I missed anything. I have already revised several times to add places or correct errors. You can use a number (like "12 1/2") to put your suggestion in the right part of the tour.