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Baltimore Sun’s Best: Readers’ Choice 2021 food & drink

The Baltimore Sun’s readers have voted on what’s the best in the region from antiques to urgent care. This year’s winners include people and businesses recognized for outstanding service and customer satisfaction over the last year. Several businesses stood out from the crowd despite the downturn in commerce due to the pandemic.

Winners of the Readers’ Choice ballot were selected by readers in May.

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For more categories, go to baltimoresun.com/best.

Steve Chu, shown holding samples of his Tempura Broccoli, Neighborhood Bird and Tofu nuggets, is voted Best Chef and his Hampden restaurant Ekiben is voted best Asian restaurant for Best of 2021.
Steve Chu, shown holding samples of his Tempura Broccoli, Neighborhood Bird and Tofu nuggets, is voted Best Chef and his Hampden restaurant Ekiben is voted best Asian restaurant for Best of 2021. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Best chef, Best Asian restaurant

Steve Chu, Ekiben

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It’s not hard to see what people like about Ekiben, the Asian fusion chain with branches in Fells Point and Hampden.

They serve affordable Cantonese and Thai-inspired dishes that pop with flavors equal parts surprising and satisfying. Portions tend toward the ginormous: a typical serving of crispy chicken or catfish is almost enough to feed two people (but it’s so tasty you won’t want to split it).

For another thing, Steve Chu, its co-founder who started the chain in the Fells Point farmer’s market, is one of the nicest guys in the hospitality industry.

Customers got a taste of that a few months ago, when Chu and his business partner Ephrem Abebe drove six hours to Vermont. In a story that received international attention, they prepared their tempura broccoli for a terminally ill customer who had specifically requested the dish on her deathbed.

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To everyone else, it was an act of incredible generosity, one that warmed hearts and drew tears. The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board called the story “nourishment for our souls.”

To Chu: “It was a no-brainer.” Where other businesses would have sent publicists scrambling to advertise their good works, Chu kept it low-key. He seems to recoil from direct praise, preferring instead to boost his team.

For Ekiben events manager Joe Añonuevo, who came with Chu on the trip to Vermont, stories like that show just how much Ekiben means to its customers, and how important every job in the kitchen is, whether it’s as small as chopping onions for a garnish. “You could turn someone’s day around just by giving them that nice meal.”

Ekiben's Neighborhood Bird in Steamed bun.
Ekiben's Neighborhood Bird in Steamed bun. (Kenneth K. Lam)

The former Marine says a concern for other people just doesn’t apply to customers, but to the way Chu treats his employees. “I’d rather be here than anywhere else.”

But love isn’t the only ingredient that goes into the food at Ekiben. It’s also a smartly run operation.

The restaurant prides itself on consistency, says Leonardo Iranzo, the director of research and development. “We sell 2,000 chicken sandwiches a week. They all have to be the same.”

And the team has learned to thrive “in the weeds,” restaurant speak for when the kitchen is slammed with orders. They just turn up the hip-hop and get cooking, said Mary Anne Delano, general manager of the Hampden location. “It’s a lot of fun. We can be pretty loud and obnoxious.” — Christina Tkacik

911 W. 36th St., Hampden.

1622 Eastern Ave., Fells Point. ekibenbaltimore.com


Best 2021

Asian: Ekiben

Honorable mentions:

Spice and Dice Thai Restaurant

Shoyou Sushi

Joey Chiu’s Greenspring Inn

Bakery: Cake by Jason Hisley

Honorable mentions:

Crust by Mack

THB Bagelry & Deli

Café Dear Leon

Barbecue: Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey Bar

Honorable mentions:

Chaps Pit Beef

Andy Nelson’s Barbecue Restaurant & Catering

Mission BBQ

Breakfast: THB Bagelry and Deli

Honorable mentions:

Blue Moon Cafe

Miss Shirley’s Café

Double T Diner

Brewery: Union Craft Brewing

Honorable mentions:

Checkerspot Brewing Co.

The Brewer’s Art

Waverly Brewing Co.

Burger: The Abbey Burger Bistro

Honorable mentions:

Frazier’s on the Avenue

Urban Burger Bar

Clark Burger

Caribbean: Sobeachy Haitian Cuisine

Honorable mentions:

Old Major

Mutiny Pirate Bar & Island Grille

Caterer: Lib’s Grill Perry Hall

Honorable mentions:

Copper Kitchen

Manor Tavern Catering

Zeffert & Gold Catering & Event Planning

Chef: Steve Chu, Ekiben

Honorable mentions:

John Creger, Fuisine

Cindy Wolf

Jason Daniloski, Silver Queen Cafe

Chinese: Joey Chiu’s Greenspring Inn

Honorable mentions:

Paul Chen Hong Kong Restaurant

Asian Court

Central Asia

Cocktails: Taco Love Grill

Honorable mentions:

Fuisine

The Bluebird Cocktail Room

Dutch Courage

Coffee: Cuples Tea House

Honorable mentions:

Zeke’s Coffee

Ceremony Coffee

Baltimore Coffee

Crabcake: Koco’s Pub

Honorable mentions:

Pappas Restaurant & Sports Bar

Jimmy’s Famous Seafood

Faidley’s Seafood

Deli: Di Pasquale’s Harborview Inc.

Honorable mentions:

Trinacria Baltimore

Attman’s Delicatessen

THB Bagelry and Deli

Dessert: Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop

Honorable mentions:

The Charmery

Balti’Marons

Codetta Bake Shop

Diner: Blue Moon Cafe

Honorable mentions:

Double T Diner

Southside Diner

Sip & Bite

Distillery: Baltimore Spirits Co.

Honorable mention:

Old Line Cocktail & Wine Bar

Farmers market: Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar

Honorable mentions:

Waverly | 32nd Street Farmers Market

Fells Point Farmers Market

Pennsylvania Dutch Market

Farmers market stand: Oak Spring Farm

Honorable mentions:

Diehl’s Produce

Balti’marons

Food hall: R. House

Honorable mentions:

Mount Vernon Marketplace

Whitehall Mill

Cross Street Market

Food truck: La Migueleña Food Truck

Honorable mentions:

Gypsy’s Truckstaurant

Greek on the Street

Pizza di Joey

Gluten-free: Harmony Bakery

Happy hour: Max’s Taphouse

Honorable mentions:

Frazier’s on the Avenue

The Muddy Beaver

Forno Restaurant & Wine Bar

Ice cream: Taharka Brothers Ice Cream

Honorable mentions:

The Charmery

Bmore Licks

Prigel Family Creamery

Indian: Akbar Restaurant

Honorable mentions:

Ambassador Dining Room

Namaste Baltimore

Royal Taj Restaurant

Italian: Amicci’s of Little Italy

Honorable mentions:

Di Pasquale’s Marketplace

Hersh’s

Pizza di Joey

Japanese: Yama Sushi Bar

Honorable mentions:

Chiyo Sushi

Minato Sushi Bar

Sushi King

Juice: Pure Raw Juice

Honorable mention:

Sunset Raw Juice Bar

Korean: Jong Kak

Honorable mentions:

Kong (Pocha)

Koba Korean BBQ

Red Tigers Asian BBQ

Latin: Taco Love Grill

Honorable mentions:

Little Havana

Mi Comalito Restaurant & Bar

Cinco de Mayo

Lunch: Chaps Pit Beef

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Honorable mentions:

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THB Bagelry and Deli

Common Ground Cafe

Frazier’s on the Avenue

Mediterranean: Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen

Honorable mentions:

Samos Restaurant

Cypriana

Terri’s Café

Middle Eastern: The Helmand

Honorable mentions:

Maiwand Grill

Lebanese Taverna

Damaskino Mediterranean Market

Outdoor dining: Nick’s Fish House

Honorable mentions:

Cosima

Gertrude’s

Manor Tavern

Pandemic delivery: True Meal Prep

Honorable mentions:

Taharka Brothers Ice Cream Factory

Pizza di Joey

Yes Chef!

Pizza: Pizza di Joey

Honorable mentions:

Pizza John’s

Paulie Gee’s

Homeslyce

Poke: Ono Poke

Honorable mention:

Poke Bowl

Ramen: Kippo Ramen

Honorable mentions:

Mi & Yu Noodle Bar

Ejji Ramen

Ramen Utsuke

Raw bar: Dylan’s Oyster Cellar

Honorable mentions:

Thames Street Oyster House

Lib’s Grill Perry Hall

Server: Marvin Javier, Taco Love Grill

Honorable mentions:

Shelly Hammer, Frazier’s on the Avenue

Bernadette Kubik, Double T Diner

Kate Bennett, Bondhouse Kitchen

Snowball: Quality Snowballs

Honorable mentions:

Elizabeth’s & Zyggie’s Snowballs

Original Hawaiian Island Snoballs

J & T Snowballs

Soul Food: Papi Cuisine

Honorable mentions:

Terra Cafe

Dodah’s Kitchen

Soup: Atwater’s Belvedere Square Market

Honorable mentions:

The Urban Oyster

Jimmy’s Famous Seafood

Double T Diner

Steamed crab: Conrad’s Crabs & Seafood Market

Honorable mentions:

Nick’s Fish House

Captain James Seafood Palace

Salty Dog’s Crab House Inc.

Taco: Taco Love Grill

Honorable mentions:

Tortilleria Sinaloa

Vida Taco Bar Harbor Point

Mezcal Mexican Restaurant & Bar

Thai: Mayuree Thai Tavern

Honorable mentions:

Bodhi Federal Hill

Spice & Dice Thai Restaurant

Thai Rainbow

Vegan: My Mama’s Vegan

Honorable mention:

True Meal Prep

View: The Bygone

Honorable mentions:

McFaul’s Ironhorse Tavern

Cindy Lou’s Fish House

L.P. Steamers

Wedding cake: Cake by Jason Hisley

Honorable mentions:

Sugar Bakers

Yia Yia’s Bakery

Fenwick Bakery

Wine list: 13.5% Wine Bar

Honorable mentions:

The Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Charleston

Manor Tavern

Winery: Harford Vineyard & Winery

Wings: iBar

Honorable mentions:

Kislings Tavern

Frazier’s on the Avenue

The Local Fry

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