Friday Free-For-All: Top 10 Restaurants

Occasionally I check the stats and the search engine terms that bring people here to FrederickMarylandOnline and one caught my eye the other day that got me thinking. The search was “top 10 restaurants in Frederick, MD” and I thought, hmmm, I’ve never really thought to try and put together a top 10 list. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! If you could see my scratch paper with restaurants crossed off and moved up or down the list, you’d see how difficult this was for me. I have my own personal favorites (some of which are chains that I purposely omitted from my list, mostly because I think I prefer the people who work at those places rather than the actual food), but I decided to put together a list of my family’s favorites rather than my own. Here’s mine:

10: Barley and Hops

9: La Paz (one of older daughter’s favorite)

8: Toppings (great bread for the subs, great wings, good pizza)

7: Pane e Vino (Mt. Airy)

6: El Paso (younger daughter’s favorite)

5: Cacique

4: Mangia e Bevi (best pizza, in my opinion)

3: Acacia (good for special occasions)

2: Isabella’s

1: Monocacy Crossing (yummy everything I’ve ever had there, especially the scallops appetizer)

I’ve left off certain places that are known for their seafood because I’m allergic to crabs, shrimp and lobster.

What’s on your list?

Lizfrog

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0 thoughts on “Friday Free-For-All: Top 10 Restaurants

  1. Agreed on La Paz, but–sh!!!!–don’t burst Darrell’s balloon. (Wink!) We tried Santa Rosa on the Golden Mile again recently. I thought the authentic Salvadoran owners would really wow us with their cooking, but it was just okay. Same goes for Potrillos. Mediocre at best.

    Cacique is certainly good for certain Spanish dishes, and for the Tex-Mex staples. But so, I think, is Mexicali Cantina and Fiesta Grande. You just have to know what’s in their wheelhouse, and what to avoid. The irony is that what most Norte Americanos enjoy–fajita, enchilada, tamale, quesidilla–aren’t at all challenging dishes.

    But somehow, La Paz can’t even master the simple things. And their salsa is an abomination. It looks like Cole slaw mixed with ketchup, and if you can’t get me to look at your salsa, I sho ain’t gonna eat it. They once served me an enchilada dish with American cheese on it. Anyway, they have a killer great location.

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  2. In that case, I agree with the above comments. Its basically over-priced, too noisy, over-crowded, trendy, and just plain not good in the food quality department.

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  3. I know this is old, well-traveled territory here–and No Hate Intended, Lizfrog!–but I do agree with most of the comments on La Paz. Especially your remarks, Matthew, on the salsa. (I once was there with a party of 14, and not a single person touched the salsa–except for me. But one chip/taste was enough!)

    BUT it’s still hard to beat La Paz on a summer’s evening for the chance to sit outside, people-watch, and enjoy a drink. Coffee/liqueur and dessert out there on a fall evening is also a good way to enjoy the “killer location.”

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  4. If a Tex-Mex joint can’t make a decent salsa, it’s time to pull the plug. Unfortunately, La Paz is bulletproof because of that killer party location. It really rocks–the canal, the drinks, the people, the intimate lighting. Wonder if Cacique delivers?

    My apologies to LizFrog. Didn’t see her/their comments above. No need to start WW IX over La Paz. It isn’t worth it.

    The one issue that so many of the better restaurants have locally is consistency. One night they are spot on, the next so-so. When you’re shelling out $100-$175 for two, you deserve a fine meal every time.

    A good friend visited MEALEY’S last week. She was very very disappointed. Cold food, slow service, and her favorite dishes weren’t being offered. She complained to the GM, who showed no concern whatsoever and did nothing to comp her. This report just reinforces what many other people here have said: Mealey’s is inconsistent and uninspired.

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  5. Matthew, right on about the inconsistency issue with some of the better restaurants. Maybe that helps account for the WIDE divergence of opinions you often see expressed about the same place. It’s a very different experience for someone who happens to go on a “good” night and orders one of the best dishes—vs. the unlucky person who catches a “bad” night and/or orders something they don’t do well or that just plain isn’t prepared properly.

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  6. It’s a real shame about Mealeys. It’s a place that I’ve truly wanted to like for a LONG time, with the kind of setting and ambiance I enjoy. I have fond memories of a dinner I had there more years ago than I care to acknowledge. But the poor reports on food and service continue and I’ve yet to hear anything that makes me want to go there again.

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  7. Part of the problem is that the menus of so many restaurants are converging toward a few “been there, done that” entrees and appetizers. It’s hard to find surprises anymore, as everything seems so standardized and predictable that it’s almost boring. That makes it hard to wow diners, and the result–especially when you’re shelling out $75, $100, $150 or more for dinner–is disgruntled customers.

    These days, I choose restaurants with extra care. The economy is terrible. Blowing $125 on a predictable (and almost predictably mediocre) meal is frustrating. Maybe I’m too picky, though. There’s very little most restaurants can do that I can’t do at home–for less money and often better results. Volt notwithstanding, of course. ;>)

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  8. Sadly, I too have reverted back to cooking at home. While I do so love dining out, rarely do I have a meal in a restaurant that is superior to what I can make at home. This IRKS me!!!!

    Why isn’t the cooking better? How is it possible that a nice Jewish girl can make Chinese food at home that is better than most of the slop served in the restaurants. (Of course, Asian food is a pet peeve of mine in Frederick. Seems that most dishes are more like a stir-fried dessert)

    More telling – my teens now prefer eating at home to going out. Why bother going out if we’re served bland, boring, fat and sugar laden slop on a plate.

    Even some of my old favorites are starting a downward flavor trend. The last 2 visits to both Fajita Grande & Marsalas (2 of my long-time faves) were disappointing.

    Why oh why is there such a dearth of consistent cooking up here?

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  9. If “wow” dining surprises are that difficult to find these days (at least in the Frederick area)–especially for a meal in the three-figure range–I can well understand how there are folks who’d rather stay home and prepare their own exceptional food.

    But, given my spurts of having to work overtime, periodic desires to leave the dishes to others–and yes, plain old laziness–I still find myself eating out fairly often. Sometimes even a standardized, predictable meal can be welcome and enjoyable! (But, yes, when I’m really hankering for [and paying quite well for] a memorable, out-of-the-ordinary dining experience–and the food and service turn out to be pedestrian–it’s disappointing and frustrating.)

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  10. We’ve found a set of local, non-chain restaurants where we can get a consistently good meal: LJs & the Kat Lounge, Tasting Room, Monocacy Crossing, Il Porto, Mangia e Bevi, Mediterranean Cafe, Mexicali Cantina, Barley & Hops, Market Street Bagels, the Main Cup, and Antrim 1844. The times we’ve been to Pawtowmack Farm were very good, but we don’t go there often enough for me to form an opinion on consistency. The same goes for Cafe Nola (dinner), Mick’s, That Cuban Place, Gabriel’s, Morgan’s, Nidos, and Old South Mountain (dinner).

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  11. I second StorageLady’s observations. Most Chinese food in Frederick County ranges from forgettable to contemptible. There are one or two standouts eateries, but even their performance is sadly uneven. The primary drivers seem to be: (a) Chinese restaurants have become volume (i.e. buffet) discounters, meaning that quality suffers, and (b) Few Frederick County residents (or few non-Asians) know good from mediocre Asian cuisine–or even good from bad Americanized Chinese food.

    Perhaps the most henious menu item is Gen. Tso’s chicken, a “Chinerican” dessert masquerading an an authentic entree that’s so egregiously sugary that it is guaranteed to promote tooth decay. But everything else is pretty much the same. Too much sugar. Too much fat. Zero nuance. It’s like every restaurant uses the same dumbed-down recipes. (Try getting dim sum locally.) The odd thing is, you can get pretty good Vietnamese and Thai food in Frederick County. Really good Chinese? I know of none.

    I also agree re: consistency at Fajita Grande. One night they’re pretty good, the next utterly forgettable. But I agree with FrederickFan. It’s much easier when you’re working long hours to let someone else do the cooking and dishes. I don’t have time for a big production every night. No way.

    JJP. Great list, though I thought the food at That Cuban Place was bland. Mediterranean Cafe on a good night is fabulous. Barley & Hops has never impressed me. I wish they would reinvent their menu. Lightfoot in Leesburg is another winner.

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  12. The above comments on Chinese food are absolutely on the mark. To Matthew’s succinct and descriptive summary–“Too much sugar. Too much fat. Zero nuance.”–I’d add “Too much salt.” The brown sauces and reddish sauces all taste the same from dish to dish–and even from restaurant to restaurant. I suspect that most Chinese chefs believe they are dishing out exactly what their customers expect. Moreover, sticking closely to the standard sauces, etc., and the same old dishes prepared the usual way probably helps them keep costs down. (I think most people expect and associate “lower cost” with ordering Chinese.)

    JJP, I like your list of dependable, local eateries. Seeing your mention of Monocacy Crossing reminds me that it’s also one of Lizfrog’s favorites. And also brings to mind how I chastise myself for forgetting it’s there, each time I drive by its modest building along 355 when taking a break from the 270 rough & tumble. Seems like the sort of place that deserves a try.

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  13. Definitely too much salt. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (http://www.cspinet.org/nah/chinese.html) has studied the shockingly high levels of salt (and calories) in Chinese dishes. Some of the entrees have the equivalent of TWO times the recommended daily limit:

    General Tso’s Chicken
    Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
    The name may sound exotic, but it’s essentially fried chicken with a smattering of vegetables.

    Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
    Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 5 grams Sodium: 3,800 mg
    Expect ½ to ¾ pound of sliced stir-fried chicken with chunks of green pepper and onion. If only it weren’t so high in sodium.

    Stir-Fried Greens
    Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
    Chinese GreensYikes! Spinach and other greens are packed with vitamins, but (thanks to the added oil and salt) your waist and blood pressure pay a price for them.

    Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
    Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,000 mg
    Eggplant isn’t a vitamin-rich superstar, but it is a vegetable. It also really soaks up the oil, which boosts the calories and saturated fat.

    Szechuan String Beans
    Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
    String beans in chili-pepper-garlic sauce don’t sop up as much oil as spinach or eggplant, but the sodium is still ridiculous.

    Hot & Sour Soup
    Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 1,100 mg

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  14. I wonder if Guy and LizFrog might consider hosting a First Annual Frederick Maryland Online Dinner at an area restaurant.

    Maybe just barbeque, or red-sauce Italian food, or Tex-Mexican. Whatever. It would be nice to meet and greet the regulars here, among them Darrell, Bill, FrederickFan, JJP, StorageLady, FredRocks, Sarah in Maryland, etc.

    If we get enough interest, the Frederick News-Post might be interested in doing a story on FMO.

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    • I wouldn’t mind doing a meet-up of all, but be warned they have been cursed in the past. For some reason we just can’t seem to get together all at once 🙂

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  15. The contributors on the Don Rockwell site do dinners out on a fairly regular basis. I’ve yet to make one – normally they’re pretty far down the road (DC, Alexandria)… I would like to do a dim sum trip though if anyone’s up for it!

    Dim Sum is just not much fun to do with 2 people – 6 makes it perfect and worth the drive…

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  16. Having a shellfish allergy makes dim sum not so appealing to me.

    By the way, all this talk about Chinese food… Try Chop Stix in Urbana. Each order is made to order. Not a lot of sauce and the chicken is all white meat. Their wonton soup is really good (chicken broth vs. beef) and they have a few dumpling-type items on their menu that are dim sum-ish. No liquor license yet that I know of.

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  17. Mealey’s, New Market icon, closed by economy
    Originally published March 03, 2009 – Updated 5:16 PM, March 03, 2009

    By Ike Wilson
    News-Post Staff

    American Red Cross

    NEW MARKET — Mealey’s Restaurant, a landmark restaurant that has been in the area since the early 1900s, closed Sunday.

    Fifteen employees are out of work.

    Owner Chim Butt said he made the “very painful decision” to close the business Sunday night, primarily because of the economy.

    “No. 2 are the greedy banks who are not bending, who refuse to help a customer stay afloat in this economy,” Butt said.

    He also blames Frederick County government.

    “Certainly, I take some responsibility, but I must say that doing business with Frederick County is counter-productive and I would absolutely discourage people about doing business in Frederick County,” Butt said.

    Butt said he and his wife invested all their life savings in the restaurant.

    For more on this story see tomorrow’s edition of The Frederick News-Post.

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  18. Sad news. Chim Butt caught lots of flak for dropping the ball after Jose left Mealey’s. Let’s hope this Frederick County landmark isn’t turned into a business suite, but to really make it in this economy, Mealey’s will have to be totally reinvented, not just tweaked. Jose did his best for years, but said he was just getting clobbered by the chains and franchises.

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  19. Pingback: Mealey’s Restaurant has closed « Frederick Maryland Online

  20. Fine dining: nothing beats Old South Mountain Inn
    Good dining: Monocacy Crossing
    Diner dining: None are good and cheap, any NJ/NY will beat ours
    Cheap Mexican: Fajita Grande by a mile
    Pizza: still looking, but Kings so far
    Crab cake: May’s (and stuffed flounder, too)
    Fish & Chips: None found
    Crab feast: Liberty Seafood (in good company only)
    Chinese sit down: Lotus
    Chinese (well, sort of Chinese) buffet: City Buffet

    p.s. We tend to eat out at the “chef” places during the week, when the food and service is at its best and the ambiance is so much better.

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  21. To “Knows good food”

    For “Pizza,” try Laurienzo’s Brick Oven in Mt. Airy if you like wood-fired crust. A bit farther afield in (gasp!) Montgomery County (Gaithersburg), I have to say that Zio’s is far and away the best pizza I’ve ever had.

    For “Crab Cake” (and Crab Imperial, etc.), I feel Dutch’s Daughter handles the basic crab dishes as well as any place in the Fred-Mont. Co. area. When I’ve been there, crab meat was good quality and free of cartilage. Agree that Mays crab cake is quite decent.

    You didn’t mention “Italian.” Any recommendation?

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  22. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned Volt yet but I went Sunday night and I’m telling you, you will never put anything more delicious in your face.

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  23. For fish and chips I love Cafe Anglais! I also cannot stand La Paz (Lived in Tucson for years) or the Green Turtle. I like Liberty Seafood and Red Horse. I wish we would get a good Korean Restaurant. I miss eating bibimbap. 😦 A cut above catering has good food for lunch. I also love Gabriel’s Inn. Amazing food and you can have a French style six course meal.

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    • Have to agree about La Paz and pretty much every “mexican” restaurant in Frederick. We lived in California, AZ, and traveled thru Mexico, TX and New Mexico. Once you’ve eaten Mex in those places….well, everything else is like tv dinner food. For seafood we usually go to Liberty Road. Haven’t had fish and chips at Cafe Anglais but my daughter and I did go for high tea once. It was just sort of ok (traveled a lot in the UK, too) but not worth the price.

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    • Meems, glad to finally see a complimentary mention of good ol’ Red Horse. It’s a place that’s been a big hit each time we’ve taken out-of-town company there.

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  24. Mick’s American Bistro is excellent – if you don’t know, it’s in the spot where Jennifer’s used to be. Upscale American food with a creative slant. For good old American cooking – we like Alexander’s (the Old Catoctin Inn)..

    Haven’t tried Cafe Anglais for fish and chips, which I love. I’m wondering though how they will stack up to my favorite fish & chips dive – Hurricane Alley in Boynton Beach, FL….surfboards on the walls, lots of ice cold beef choices, and outdoor seating. Nice.

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  25. One more thing….we used to have a Korean Restaurant in town – Hana’s. I loved going there – their food was excellent. Sadly, it’s now the new parking deck on Patrick…

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  26. Gypsy – I agree ( I too lived in Cali). However, I have a found a place, but it’s not close. Papa Joe’s in Westminster —

    http://www.papajoeswestminster.com/

    It is the best mexican food I have had in Maryland (besides Samantha’s in Silver Spring). Real tacos, not americanized! Their Chili Verde is suburb! Cannot wait to go back! The waiter told us that they were looking to expand; I told him to come to Frederick. And that I guarantee that my husband and I would eat there at least once a week. Good stuff!

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  27. Two often-overlooked Italian restaurants are Pizza Blitz I and II. Yes, it’s a pizza parlor, but the Italian food is excellent. You will be very pleasantly surprised by both the taste and quality of the food. The dishes are Americanized, especially the pizza, however the owners are Italian and know what they are doing. (I’m not Italian, but I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in NYC and have lived in Italy.) The original place is in a shopping center at Old Farm Road by the intersection with Yellow Springs Road (becomes Rosemont Ave. in town) on the far west side of Frederick. The second is next to the Regal Westview movie theater on Crestwood Blvd near route 355. http://pages.frederick.com/dining/pizzablitz.htm [Wow, this sounds like an advertisement. I guess I have to say that I am only a satisfied customer, not an employee or otherwise connected to the place.]
    For a quick lunch, I like Mexican food at Casa Rico and Fajita Grande. When I have more time, I like eating at Cacique or Mexicali Cantina. The Cantina has better lunch specials than Cacique and is a little faster, btw. None of these are great, but they’re better than most. – I will never again eat in La Paz. I doubt the cook has ever knowingly met a Mexican, never mind opened a Mexican cookbook or used any authentic spices. (Yes, I eat at Chipotle and California Tortilla, but those places have never tried to pass themselves off as authentic or “the best in Frederick”.)
    I have not seen one very good Chinese place mentioned: Peking Gourmet at Evergreen Square shopping center on route 355 (north of Grove Road, about a block south of Walmart, yuck). I think it’s family owned. The food is consistently very good, service is excellent, polite, and fast, but not intrusive. I have liked every single dish I have ever ordered there. I can’t say that I have a clue if it’s “authentic”, but some Chinese coworkers like it and I’ve seen many Chinese families there.
    My favorite Indian place is Clay Oven on Route 40 on the west side of Frederick. I really enjoy their spicing and well cooked foods. If you’re not sure about trying spicy dishes, the Clay Oven has a good, reasonably priced lunch buffet where you can sample a little bit of everything. The dinner menu has many more individual choices, at a higher price, but you can’t try a little of everything like you can at lunchtime. The combination dinner plate gives you foods that go well together, or you can ask the staff for recommendations. (While Bombay Grill is a lot more expensive, they’re not nearly as good. On my second visit, BG *burned* my food and the waiter insisted that was the right way to cook it! There was no third visit. My Indian coworkers recommend Clay Oven over BG and Nilgiris.) http://www.theclayovenrestaurant.com
    For good Greek food, go to the Mountain View Diner, believe it or not. Their “chicken rice” soup is really avgolemono soup, Greek for “egg-lemon” soup. Other Greek dishes include pastitsio (don’t call it “Greek lasagna” around me!), spanakopita, marinated chicken, and of course souvlaki. The diner has a very wide menu, and most of the choices are at least good. Just don’t order too much… You won’t be able to finish. http://www.mountainviewdiner.com/
    For Japanese, I like Roppongi in the Hillcrest shopping center on Route 40. The owners are a sweet Japanese couple. The sushi is fresh and the cooked food flavors are also quite good, with side dishes like the seaweed salad and miso soup. I like it better than Cafe Kyoto. On the down side, because it’s a small mom-and-pop place, the service can be a little slow and I’ve had to ask for the check sometimes. Lots better than going to a chain where the teenage waiter doesn’t know the menu and rushes you out the door.
    I guess these are my picks for restaurants in Frederick. I’m hoping for Dim Sum someday, but that may be too much to expect.

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  28. I was considering having my wedding at The Comus Inn this June but when I try to do some research, I keep seeing articles about The Comus Inn Perverts! Anybody know anything about this? I surely do not want to get married at a place that hires perverts.

    Stacy

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  29. Hi LizFrog

    I looked at your list and others comments, here’s my problem I don’t know how you like your Pizza or any other food. One of the very best restaurants is:
    1. Dutch’s Daughter, all there meats are prime and very tender there seafood is great.
    2. Pizza how do you like yours, I like Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, cheese and a good helping of sauce. No Onions or other veggies. 1. TOPPING is good but probably will clog your arteries.
    2. Rocky’s in Hagerstown is also good
    Tell me why you like Mangia e Bevi your said it was the best?

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    • Well Chuck, when I like something I know it, and I like their pizza and that is my opinion. Pizza, I have found, is one of those foods that people just like to have opinions about. I think it’s nice that there is so much diversity and people can usually find something they like out there. Personally, I like sausage, mushrooms and onions but will eat most toppings.

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