Just don’t call them Cheap
Where do The Foodies turn for delicious, wallet-friendly meals?
Anyone who’s been to Frederick knows the prime restaurant intersection Downtown. It’s that delightful, sweet-and-savory confluence of Market and Patrick streets, with blocks of well-known and top-notch restaurants stretching in every direction. We are now a destination that’s become well-known for great meals, in addition to shopping, arts and historic charm.
As a Frederick-area food blogger for the past five years, I’ve enjoyed gorging at my fair share of these popular eateries. I’ve also grown to appreciate lesser-known foodie haunts reaching beyond the familiar stretch of establishments that we’ve all grown to love. But while Frederick has become a foodie destination, is it possible to find tempting fare that won’t sink your budget? For this mission I was joined by a handful of local foodies to dish out their savory wisdom on the best restaurants to get a good meal for less than $15. Joining me on this satisfying journey are foodies Tara Butler, Melanie Falin, Audra Jacob, Chris Jacob, Michelle Kershner and Adrienne Lawrence.
Lucky Corner Vietnamese Restaurant
Lucky Corner is the epitome of pho perfection. People crave it, they drive miles for it. “My favorite Frederick hidden gem is definitely Lucky Corner. I’ve never, and I repeat never, had a bad dish here,” says Falin. “Most people come for the fantastic pho experience, which I admit had me swooning—fresh, yummy broth with those wonderful rice noodles served with your choice of meat and a side of bean sprouts, fresh basil, and don’t forget the lovely spices.”
“Lucky Corner is practically on speed dial at our house,” says Kershner. “Our family of four can split two large orders of pho [for under $25]. It’s two blocks away, and is our go-to meal a few times a month.” Make no mistake, however, Lucky Corner is more than just delicious bowls of savory, fragrant pho. It has a large menu, with a host of entrees for under $15 apiece. “I first went to Lucky Corner for their pho,” says Audra Jacob. “But I have since learned that everything on the menu is outstanding, from their appetizers and soups to their specialty dishes.” And, according to her husband, Chris Jacob, “Lucky Corner serves the best damn grape leaves I have ever had.”
Thinking about the menu beyond pho, Falin offers, “It’s only when I strayed off the beaten path that I found the darker, richer secret of Lucky Corner. I crave their ginger chicken dish at least two times a month. The sauce is, well, mildly gingery; but, it’s the addition of something I would never pair with ginger that makes it stick out: delicious sun-dried tomatoes. Who would have known?”
Don’t think for a minute that Lucky Corner only appeals to grown-ups. “Their Tamarind chicken is a new favorite in our family,” Falin says. “I chose this one night because I thought my 7- year-old would enjoy it. Beautifully breaded and fried chicken, basted in a lovely sweet sauce with whimsical hints of warm peppers strewn throughout. Yum!”
Audra’s middle-schoolers proclaim that the fried rice is, hands down, the best in town. Melanie leaves us with this: “Lucky Corner is the place I take new business acquaintances, new and old friends, and definitely family when they visit. I know they’ll experience quality and the menu has something for everyone. Get there early for lunch and dinner to avoid a crowd.”
Lucky Corner Restaurant
700 N. Market St.
The light, bright bistro atmosphere at Vini Culture feels like a breath of fresh air on Market Street, with its springy palate of whites, grays and shocks of lime green. Opening in early 2014, Vini Culture boasts a unique self-serve automatic wine bar with a casual dining atmosphere. The simple menu features bistro fare, including two of my favorites for under $15: Julia’s Home sandwich and Sweet Pear Salad.
Julia’s Home features roast turkey, brie, red onion, cranberry mustard, and greens. It’s kind of like a Thanksgiving dinner layered between two pieces of bread or a wrap, which I find surprisingly good, and not just because I’m a bit of a brie fanatic. (OK, maybe.) Their sweet pear salad combines greens with Danish blue cheese, pear, pecans and maple vinaigrette, and the flavors dance across your tongue.
The suggested wine pairing is Guy Saget Vouvray (Vini Culture suggests wine pairings with all of their meals), and I found an organic sauvignon blanc that was an equally deliciously tart companion. Not a wine drinker? Vini Culture also carries local draft beers and unique non-alcoholic beverages.
Vini Culture Wine Bar & Café
20 N. Market St.
a.k.a. Friscos, nestled among commercial buildings just south of Frederick, is definitely off the beaten path. Foodies flock there for outrageous baked potato concoctions and wild sandwiches with names like the Alcatraz, with sliced turkey breast, California avocado, sprouts and tomato, drizzled with honey mustard and served on sliced sourdough bread—all for only $8.
Kershner and her husband enjoy taking their kids to a.k.a. Friscos for dinner, where the four of them are easily fed for under $30. “Friscos is a favorite of ours for its casual atmosphere, fresh food and generous portions at great prices,” she says. And those Exploded potatoes, an Old World recipe for warm potato salad, loaded with bacon and all kinds of other mouthwatering goodies have a loyal and devoted following all of their own.
“Everyone loves the Exploded Potatoes,” she says. “It’s a family-friendly place, with kids’ meals, nachos, salads, and made-to-order sandwiches on the menu.” She continues, “I like the Napa Nachos and the Sausalito baked potato, topped with a quarter pound of California avocado. My husband loves the steak salad.” Friscos is a memorable eatery, with sandwiches we crave, and whose food lifts the spirits of hungry office workers when they’ve found out that Friscos is catering a meeting. Kershner adds, “We have friends who moved from Frederick a few years ago. When they visit, we always have to plan a trip to Friscos.”
4632 Wedgewood Boulevard
Café Bueno sits tucked out of the way in an unsuspecting strip of shops on East Street. If you didn’t know to look for it, you might even miss it—and that would be a huge mistake. “I always look at the specials board and particularly like the soups they’ve introduced, tamales and anything with their homemade verde sauce,” says Lawrence, a Frederick transplant who knows a thing or two about authentic Mexican food. “The best part is that I’m from Texas and was raised eating Mexican food and this is the best I’ve had away from home.”
Favorites among locals include fish tacos, Tacos de Lengua (yes, tongue), rice and creamy beans, and chicken enchiladas. Falin shares, “My favorite entrée is the chicken enchilada with cream sauce. It was spectacularly rich and there’s no skimping on the serving size. You get your money’s worth when you visit.”
Café Bueno is also happy to cater to those with food allergies, like Lawrence. “I’m allergic to gluten and dairy,” she explains, “and the staff is great about communicating with the kitchen and serving me food that is delicious and healthy. If I can’t make up my mind, I usually get their fish tacos on corn tortillas.”
Adds Falin, “The space is tight and sparsely decorated, but I liked it as it reminded me of the best Mexican restaurants in Houston, Dallas and Tyler, Texas. The wait staff is resilient and busy; you better get there early for lunch because there’s seldom room to sit.” Takeout is another option for those days where grab-and-go is preferred. Falin believes Café Bueno has the best Tex-Mex food in Frederick. “After living in Texas for six years, I’ve been searching for good authentic Tex-Mex in Frederick … and finally found it in Café Bueno.”
503 N. East Street
Roasthouse Pub has a casual ambience that goes well with its revolving 20-plus craft beers on tap and wide range of pub food. Butler, a local blogger, loves going to Roasthouse Pub with her husband, who’s also a fan. “Roasthouse Pub’s recent brunch collaborations with Flying Dog Brewery and The Perfect Truffle have been outstanding,” she says. “And with the recent menu updates, I was glad to see that the avocado and brie sandwich, an old favorite, managed to stay. I can’t wait to try the crab dip, and wild boar sausage and mash.”
Whether it’s to watch a game or enjoy happy hour, Roasthouse Pub’s relaxed atmosphere is a draw for locals. “The ambience has personality; it’s familiar and intimate, without feeling romantic,” says Falin. “It’s the perfect place to have happy hour with co-workers you genuinely like because you can actually hear what they have to say, versus the louder options in the same area.”
The mouth-watering Prime Rib French Dip paired with a stout or porter is the perfect end to a busy workday, or even a plate of chicken wings paired with an IPA. “The chicken wings are gorgeous. They’re large in size, cooked properly and perfectly seasoned,” says Falin. “They have the best Old Bay seasoned chicken wings ever, if not the best bar food, period.”
5700 Urbana Pike
Mealey’s Restaurant closed for the second time in 2012 and I believe I speak for everyone when I say this: We desperately want a restaurant to succeed in that quaint, historic strip in New Market. Vintage opened its doors in Mealey’s old space in 2014. So far, the reception has been very good, with sparkling reviews on Yelp and Chef Stephanie Wilson has been nominated for “Best Chef in Maryland” by the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
“Vintage Restaurant in New Market blew me away from the beginning to the end of my visit,” says Butler. “The atmosphere felt cozy and welcoming with lush sofas and a large fire in the fireplace, all in a beautiful historic building.” Vintage serves traditional comfort food favorites but with a sophisticated twist. One secret to enjoying their delicious menu on the cheap is to reserve space for brunch. “During a brunch visit I was impressed with the fresh bread, French press coffee and impeccable service,” says Tara.” I ordered the open faced BLT with bacon, spinach, tomato and hollandaise all on a buttery biscuit, and was thoroughly impressed.
I cannot wait to visit Vintage again and try out their S’mores French toast.” Also, don’t miss the Smoked Salmon Sandwich with flaked salmon, spinach, tomato, shallot vinaigrette and sweet mustard on multigrain bread on the Vintage brunch menu.
8 W. Main Street
Bryan Voltaggio has become synonymous with Frederick’s foodie scene, having opened several successful restaurants over the course of the past five years. While VOLT and its cousins Range (Washington, D.C.) and Aggio (Baltimore and Washington) are wonderful specimens showcasing fine dining cuisine, they most certainly are not going to afford you a main dish for $15 or less.
This is where Family Meal enters. Fifteen dollars will buy a whole host of good eats off the dinner menu, from soup and chicken wings to risotto and Brussels sprouts salad. Family Meal’s crispy and juicy fried chicken is served with house-made buttermilk biscuits in a quirky, yellow ceramic chicken-shaped bowl.
It’s a go-to for so many patrons, and at just under $15, it’s a steal of a dinner deal. If you’re not in the mood for fried chicken, Family Meal also makes a fine burger. “Bryan’s Burger” is topped with a fried egg, bacon and avocado, and served with a generous pile of fried potatoes. Do yourself a favor and make sure to add the over-easy egg to your burger. There’s nothing like taking a big bite and having the buttery egg yolk drip down your chin—it acts as the perfect burger dressing. “Last time I was there,” says Audra Jacob, “I ordered the burger and it was great as always.” I’ll leave you with this: Request two orders of Chicken Pot Pie Fritters (because one is not enough). You’re welcome.
880 N. East Street
Ayse Meze Lounge
Small plate restaurants have become quite popular in Frederick and beyond. It’s perfect for an evening out with your spouse, a quick lunch with friends, or a happy hour meet-up with co-workers, because you can order a slew of small plates and have fun sharing them. Ayse Meze Lounge plays host to a lot of these gatherings throughout the week, and fills lots of local bellies with succulent Greek, Turkish and Lebanese tapas.
I’ve tried a lot of meals on Ayse’s vast menu, but my favorite has to be the melt-in-your-mouth Brussels sprouts, savory Midye (steamed mussels) and tender souvlaki grilled skewer, a small plate trifecta that’s the perfect amount of food for a couple to split, for about $30 total. Another fun starter to try is the sanganaki—a tableside presentation of melted kasseri cheese that’s been doused with lemon and flamed with brandy. The best part of the experience is when the server shouts, “Opah!” as the flaming plate is being served up.
Ayse Meze Lounge
6 N. East Street