14. City Cafe -- The most improved Baltimore restaurant, maybe ever. The hiring of the wily Chad Gauss has restored the City Cafe to the hearts of the Mount Vernon neighbors who had long ago stopped loving it. It's a pleasure to see.

13. The Helmand -- It struck me as odd that this is one of the oldest names on the list. Qayum Karzai opened his influential and loved Afghan restaurant in 1989. Little has changed. The Helmand is the top-ranking ethnic restaurant on the list.

12. Kali's Court -- It helps to know how to use this Fells Point luxury model. It's to be used for seduction, for sealing deals, for disinheriting a nephew. The mistake people make is squandering its power and beauty on randomness, like driving a Jaguar to the supermarket. Recent changes at Kali's bear watching.

11. The Wine Market -- At No. 11, this feels like the right spot for Christopher Spann's hardworking, forward-looking Locust Point restaurant. With the promotion of Christopher Becker to executive chef, the recently renovated Locust Point Industrial Area restaurant feels poised for a major breakthrough.

10. Salt Tavern -- When it opened back in 2006, Jason Ambrose's Upper Fells Point restaurant led the pack of chef-driven, neighborhood-based, menu-rotating, Philadelphia-style restaurants. A stint in Salt's kitchen has become a standard resume builder, and duck-fat fries march through our dreams.

9. Chameleon Café -- Approaching its 10th anniversary, the Smiths' Harford Road restaurant will always be the restaurant that people have only just discovered. The focus at Chameleon is on Maryland cuisine, which makes an appointment with Jeff Smith's summer menu something you should add to your 2011 calendar right now.

8. B -- When Jamie Forsythe took over the Bolton Hill bistro's fine Mediterranean kitchen, he gave it a mission -- local and seasonal. What's nice is that it's all guided by pleasure. On a summer night, b's patio is an urban dreamscape.

7. Jack's Bistro -- Is there a happier chef-patron relationship than the one between Ted Stelzenmuller and the gang who shows up at his Canton restaurant week after week, expecting something fearless and big-hearted to fly out of Jack's curious kitchen?

6. Aldo's -- Overlooked, except by those who have come to depend on Aldo Vitale's Little Italy restaurant as refuge for a brandy-and-cigars style of fine dining that's all but vanished. The masterpiece -- the double-cut Wisconsin veal chop. The lullaby -- homemade limoncello.

5. Petit Louis -- Tony Foreman's vision for this Roland Park French bistro was clear from the beginning. In 10 years, Petit Louis hasn't wavered. It's improved, and from soup to nuts, there isn't a more agile performer in the city. The French onion soup could run for mayor, and win.

4. Peter's Inn -- Every week a new Karin Tiffany menu appears on the blackboards. Every night, customers arrive early, before the kitchen opens, to stake out a table or a barstool in the Fells Point restaurant. Peter's Inn is the kind of place a Baltimorean points to and says, "Now do you see why I love this city?"

3. Woodberry Kitchen -- In late 2008, Spike Gjerde returned to the Baltimore dining scene with Woodberry Kitchen -- a restaurant that made farm-to-table interesting, inviting, and, no doubt about it, sexy. On some nights here, you can still feel Woodberry reeling from its instantaneous success.

2. Charleston -- If you arrive with your spirit willing and your taste buds ready, if you fully commit yourself to the experience, you'll be rewarded. Cindy Wolf's Charleston, the Foreman-Wolf flagship, delivers great pleasure for those who come looking for it.

1. The Prime Rib -- At 45, The Prime Rib, the Mount Vernon steakhouse remains constitutionally incapable of a misstep or a false move, and the relaxed dress code hasn't detracted a bit from the glamour of it all. When you leave, you feel like you've been someplace.