Archive Page 3

Helmand

806 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-5308
410-752-0311
http://www.helmand.com/

Pros: You can’t beat the food quality; wonderful meat-filled and vegetarian options

Cons: A bit pricey, but it’s well worth it; can be very crowded for dinner

After being introduced to Afghani food by Maiwand Kabob, we were looking forward to Helmand, especially after being invited to dinner by my supervisor. Helmand has apparently become quite a fixture in the Mt. Washington area of Baltimore; it has a reputation for fine dining and superb food. The food certainly lived up to my supervisor’s raves.

We started off with pumpkin Borawni, which is so good, you might not want to share your appetizer. The entrees encompassed a great range, and it was definitely hard to choose from the menu. Many of the entrees are served atop a bed of rice, which goes perfectly alongside the various vegetable and/or meat lawand dishes. The beef tenderloins were indeed marvelous, as were the sauteed mushrooms. They were so good, that it was difficult to put my fork down. In addition to the amazing entrees, the desserts were also wonderful. The prices were a little high, as compared to Maiwand Kabob, but you definitely will not be complaining about quality.

Helmand is clearly not a secret to the community, as the restaurant was definitely packed. If you come, be sure to make a reservation.

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Pho Dat Thanh

9400 Snowden River Pkwy
Columbia, MD 21045
410-381-3839

Pros: Impressive menu encompassing multiple Asian cuisines

Cons: Summer rolls are tiny, inconsistent service

After a few visits, we have determined that this restaurant deserves a firm place on our list. After a few visits to An Loi, we finally realized that we were missing an incredible Vietnamese restaurant just up the street a bit. At first glance, we were a listtle hesitant because the menu actually derives quite a bit from several Asian cuisines, and in the past, we’ve have unfavorable experiences with some pan-Asian restaurants, but this restaurant does it right!

Given that the primary portion of the menu is devoted to Vietnamese cuisine, we of course had to indulge in our favorite Vietnamese dishes: pho and vermicelli. The pho was excellent with a great tasting broth that leaves you yearning for more, especially on a cold winter day. The vermicelli topped with grilled pork and crispy egg rolls was actually approaching the standard set by our all-time favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Atlanta’s Pho 96). Our only complaint was that the summer rolls that we ordered seemed tiny…not at all worth the $3.50 they charge for them.

We also ventured over towards other areas of the menu, which shows a bit of a Chinese and Thai influence. The fried tofu and vegetables over crispy noodles was one of the best versions of this dish we had tasted (outside the version coming out of a home kitchen). And the clay-pot fish (actually a bit of a misnomer, as ours came in a metal pot) was simply amazing…better than our home-made attempt at this dish.

If you come in the middle of the week, business tends not to be very busy, but towards the end of the week, business booms. This just goes to show that Columbians know how to eat well after a long week of work.

Grace Garden

1690 Annapolis Rd
Odenton, MD 21113
410-672-3581

http://www.gracegardenchinese.com/

Pros: Unique selection of Chinese dishes, warm atmosphere

Cons: A little pricey

We can’t thank the people over at the Chow Hound boards enough for leading us to this place. Grace Garden is a small mom and pop restaurant that seems to have become a cult favorite, and it has a well-deserved reputation.

Although the decor is relatively sparse, the atmosphere created by the staff is a very family-like atmosphere. Like Cheers, this is the place “you wanna go because everybody knows your name. ” Well, kind of. When we visited, we seemed to be surrounded by regulars whom the staff greeted as if they were family. We were told that the chef will often take a break to come out to speak with customers to get a better idea of what they like and how he might improve upon dishes. This did not happen to us on our visit, but we also came in the front entrance (coming in through the back entrance allows more interaction with the chef).

And let’s not forget the food. Although you can find a good selection of more familiar Westernized Chinese dishes, the real gems are the dishes that might intimidate the typical Westerner. According to Chow Hound, the two must-try dishes are the Fish Noodles and the Braised Pork Belly. So far, we’ve only gotten around to trying the Fish Noodles, and so far, we’ve been more than pleased. We also tried some fried squid which was prepared perfectly. Very often, we might find squid that has been over-cooked and becomes rubbery. This squid instead just melted in our mouths. If you order any vegetables, be sure to get whatever is their seasonal vegetable, as these are cooked perfectly with just the right amount of spice to get your pallet rolling.

The prices for some of the more obscure (and sometimes more popular) dishes were a little pricey, but we view this as encouragement to budget well to prepare for your meal. If you ever feel like you need a little reward, this is the perfect place to come to. Come to think about it, I think I had a pretty good week at work, so I think I’m due for my reward.

Lucky’s China Inn

5865 Robert Oliver Pl #D
Columbia, MD 21045
410-997-5454

Pros: Great prices, excellent Americanized-Chinese food

Cons: Not exactly the most authentic cuisine, could use more variety in vegetable dishes

Please give us a moment to let us stand up on our high horses. Given that we are foodies, we have a preference for the more authentic cuisines. And given that we are both Chinese, we sometimes scoff at what most Americans think of as Chinese food. These are dishes that have grown in popularity due to presence at many smaller take-out restaurants as well as the likes of places like P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express – dishes such as Orange Chicken, Moo Shoo Pork, Chinese Beef and Broccoli, and General Tso’s Chicken.

Having said that, we will acknowledge, however, that we sometimes have cravings for “fake” Chinese food. If you are ever in such a mood and want to avoid the big chains, Lucky’s China Inn hits the spot ever so perfectly. This looks to be a family-owned restaurant that works both on the dine-in and take-out end, and we’ve tried both. You can walk into this restaurant, and you won’t be intimidated by Chinese characters on the walls detailing off-menu items, because there honestly aren’t any real off-menu items to choose from. However, the menu items are quite good. We’ve been able to try a variety of different dishes, including Szechuan String Beans, Orange Chicken, Chow Fun, and Moo Shoo Chicken, and each were prepared excellently. Many dishes, particularly the ones labeled as Szechuan have a relatively subtle spicy kick, which adds to the flavor. The only mild disappointment was that their vegetable menu left a little to be desired. The Szechuan String Beans were excellent, but we were hoping to find a little more variety and not so many that use tofu as their focal ingredient (personally, we think tofu deserves its own section on the menu, much like how they divide the menu between poultry, beef, chicken, and seafood dishes.

So yes, we are Chinese, and we are prideful of our culture to say that Lucky’s China Inn has excellent (fake) Chinese food!

A and J Restaurant

1319-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
301-251-7878

Pros: Northern dim-sum taste, amazingly attentive staff

Cons: Does not accept credit card, might be intimidating for newcomers, extremely crowded

Northern Dim-Sum is an odd delicacy. If you are used to the more traditional southern Cantonese dim-sum variety, this is a very different taste. Dishes here are very meat-heavy, and vegetarian dishes are scarce.

For this amateur food critic, however, this restaurant brought back memories of weekend late-morning visits into San Francisco. The busy pace, ordering by checking off items on a list, and of course, the food. The fried dumplings were just like the ones my friend’s mom used to make. The zua bing, though a little crunchy for my taste, reminded me of the fun I had pulling endless threads of warm bing onto my plate. Then, there was the Za Jiang Mein, which has been a favorite from my youth. Memories flooded back as I ate here, taking me back to my youth. It was indeed a happy meal.

For those who are completely unfamiliar with this cuisine, I would definitely recommend coming here with someone who is well-versed in the cuisine, as the atmosphere can be a little intimidating. Nevertheless, the serving staff was amazingly attentive, especially given how busy the restaurant was. This is indeed a local favorite, so be prepared to almost literally rub elbows with your neighbors.

Samos Restaurant

600 Oldham St
Baltimore, MD 21224
410-675-5292

http://www.samosrestaurant.com

Pros: Lean meats, grape leaves, spanakopita

Cons: No credit card, extremely crowded

We originally found this restaurant through a website that advertised the best cheap eats of Baltimore. If you go for the small items on the menu (e.g., pita wraps, gyro sandwiches, etc.), these are indeed pretty cheap, and a good bang for your buck. Other items, such as dishes off their Samos Platters sections are priced a little higher, but still offer a lot for your money. We tried one of their combination platters (Pekilia platter), so we got to taste a little of everything. We ended up eating one of the best meals of our lives.

The meal started off with a light salad, that had just enough feta cheese, that it was not over powering, and the greek salad dressing added quite a bit of zing to the flavor. The platter, itself, was amazing. The gyro meat was incredibly lean, and the chicken kabobs were grilled excellently. Each of the grilled vegetables in the platter (onions, red and green peppers) were amazing. Then there was perhaps the best spanakopita we had ever had. The grape leaves were amazingly juicy. The potatoes added an excellent texture to the dish.

This restaurant also offers pasta and pizza dishes, but we neglected these to fulfill our Greek desires. Based on the descriptions of these items, some might also offer a Greek twist. If you come to this restaurant, be sure to bring cash, as they do not accept credit card. Also be sure to come early, as the restaurant fills up quickly and could leave you waiting a while.

Eggspectations

6010 University Blvd.
Ellicott City, MD 21043
410-750-3115

923 Ellsworth Dr.
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-585-1700

http://www.eggspectations.com

Pros: Amazing brunch menu

Cons: Extremely crowded

We found this place when we were desperate for a breakfast place. We couldn’t have asked for a place with a better breakfast selection. This place has a vast array of crepes and eggs benedicts varieties. If you can’t decide between the two, try a Breton Benedict, where you get a combination of the two!

Aside from your benedict and crepe dishes, the rest of menus is full of options. From pancakes to french toast to omelettes to…whatever your breakfast heart desires. The place has a traditional dinner menu as well, which we have yet to try. If the breakfast dishes are any indication, the dinner items will be just as delectable.

The restaurant is fairly popular, so be sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait. Even when we arrived there at just after 9:00 AM, we were given one of those fancy pagers to wait for our table. Like we said, however, the wait is well worth it, and this is definitely a place to bring guests for a healthy and delicious meal.