Moving to Columbia
I'm from Arlington but moving to Columbia, and I'm looking for good restaurant recommendations within a few miles of the Columbia Mall...ideally within a 5-10 minute drive, for those bad weather/tired nights after work. I've done a search, but it looks like a lot of reviews are a couple years old (or more), so I'm trying to put together an updated list beyond the chains that are easy to spot.
Any type of cuisine is fine with me...I'm usually partial to sushi and Thai, but I will eat anything tasty. While I'd hit inexpensive restaurants more often, I'll take suggestions in any price range.
Trapeze is one of the restaurants off of RTs 216 and 29 in "Maple Lawn". Its a little upscale and worth the cost. There also is what appears to be a steakhouse, though I've never been. Also off of RT 29 and Johns Hopkins is a Mexican restaurant that is quite good as well as a BBQ restaurant that is good as well.
I used to live in Columbia (30+ years) until I moved to Laurel in 2000. Here's some suggestions --
Cafe de Paris off of Route 108/100. Eric will treat you well and serve up great French bistro fare. Steak frites, escargot, and even some modern twists. They even do a very reasonably priced pix fixe 3 course for $43.
Tersiguel's on Main Street in Ellicott City. Pricier, but great French Country food. Very much recommended. Wine list is pretty good too.
Ironbridge Wine Co. on Route 108 between Centennial Lane/Beaverbrook Rd and Eliot's Oak Road. It's a wine shop. A wine bar. A restaurant. A local hangout. Lots of good wine picks and good food. More on the small plates side of things, but that makes it fun. I'd call it fresh American.
Trattoria e Pizzeria in Kings Contrivance shopping center. One of the better pizza places in Columbia in a sea of Pizza Hut, Dominos and Papa Johns. They make some good pasta dishes as well. Good for carry out or dine in. Plus most of the guys are Italian.
There's a Thai place near Cafe de Paris (same road right next to the Giant) that I am told is very good and it's been there for 20+ years so it can't be bad.
Hunan Manor is Americanized Chinese food, but for this type of food, it is really good. While I prefer Joe's Noodle House in Rockville for authentic Chinese food, this fits the bill when I have a craving for some Hot & Sour soup among other things. It's located off of Snowden River Parkway near Broken Land Parkway.
Aida Bistro. This is run by the folks that used to bring us Piccolo's before it closed maybe ten years ago. They are located in the Columbia Gateway office park in a hard to find location, but it is worth the Google Maps exercise to find it. I'd call it a blend of Italian and fresh American cuisines. Decent bar and nice dining room. Food is always good and winelist is fun and even a bit inventive. Service is not always stellar but I overlook that because of the food.
For Indian, there's Bombay Peacock Grill which I have been to several times over the years, but have not been in 7-8 years now. It used to be good and might still be so. Worth a visit to check it out certainly.
Columbia is a sea of mediocrity due to the prevalance of chain restaurants catering to Howard County's 'family friendly' environment and developer desire to maximize rents. Hell, I'd even suggest going to Clyde's or Tomato Palace (right on Lake Kittamaqundi in 'downtown Columbia) before heading to all of the other 'casual dining restaurants' in Columbia that are around every corner.
I grew up here and concur with Poolboy that Columbia is mainly a chow wasteland due to the chain predominance, but you can still find some decent ethnic eats here and there...
Thai: I second Bangkok Garden (in Oakland Mills) as the most authentic Thai in the area (and superior to the one off Rte 108).
Vietnamese: Pho Dat Thanh off Snowden River Pkwy is larger and better than An Loi.
Japanese: Sushi Sono and Sushi King have the same owners. they are actually Chinese owned but are still quite good. Fuji in Ellicott City is good home style authentic Japanese.
Indian: Bombay Peacock Grill off Shaker Dr is my favorite
Chinese: Hunan Legend at Dorsey Hall Village Center is my fave. Hunan Manor seems to have gone downhill of late but was once good. I also hear Oriental Manor (off Rte 40) and Jesse Wong's Hong Kong are OK too but have never been there.
Italian: I hear good things about Aida Bistro. I also like the Trattoria takeout place in Dorsey Hall Village Center which has real Italian staff and good pizza and pasta dishes. Tomato Palace is OK sort of California style Italian.
Stay away from the Macaroni Grill, yuk.
Korean: nothing great despite several restaurants in Ellicott City. I end up going to Woomi Garden in Wheaton. Han Sung in a St. Johns Lane shopping center is my favorite in the area (and they have ok sushi too.)
Hope this helps...