The small Fells Point restaurant, which grew from a hot dog truck that served steamed bun sandwiches, has evolved into one of the state’s most popular dining options. Known for its scrumptious twists on classic Asian dishes, Ekiben has been included on most top dining lists in Baltimore. It was honored for Maryland’s best sandwich in 2017 by Travel & Leisure and to Yelp’s annual top 100 eateries nationwide in 2019.
But the restaurant is more than steamed buns and a strong Instagram presence. Its owners are all children of immigrants, and that feel comes through in its dishes. Papa Chu’s char siu Ribs are a nod to owner Steve Chu’s father. The red beans and rice — served with spicy lentils and tomato salad — and the spicy neighborhood bird sandwich both feature a blend that reflects co-owner Ephrem Abebe’s Ethiopian heritage.
“They [customers] have been super supportive in what we do,” said Chu, who cut his teeth working for "Top Chef" winner Harold Dieterle.
Chu credits Ben Lefenfeld, the owner of La Cuchara and Minnow, who encouraged him to open Ekiben.
“Ben doesn’t mince words. When he tells you he likes your product, you better listen,” Chu said.
With bright colors, darling shapes and sleek finishes, the pastries at the Fells Point bakery are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
After a bite, you’ll be entranced by an explosion of flavor. Take the Robin’s egg blue dome-shaped Sofia petit gateau, which is filled with layers of almond cake, crunchy almond praline and an Earl Grey-and-bergamot mousse. Or try the toasty éclair, which features a torched marshmallow topping.
Owners Manuel Sanchez and Dane Thibodeau want to teach you some of their tricks with their macaron-making classes. The sessions feature a wine-and-cheese hour and allow you to take home all the macarons you make in class. And if your creations fall flat, they’ll send you home with macarons they have made themselves.
Sanchez attributes the shop’s success to having “passion and dedication in everything we do.”
He added: “We are bringing a more modern approach to our pastries, combining unusual flavors, modern glazing techniques and textures.”
That means using ingredients and spices like wasabi, Mexican mole, jasmine, bergamot and eucalyptus. Currently the bakery offers a saffron cake.
“When we think about creating a dessert, we think in terms of an experience or a symphony of flavors and textures in your mouth,” Sanchez said.
You’ll see him most days behind the counter, a grey-haired oldster slinging ’cue for the customers who swear by the food here. At 85, Andy Nelson still works at the Cockeysville restaurant that he opened in 1981 after a pro football career in which he helped Baltimore’s Colts win two world championships.
“I have a thing for this place; it gets in your blood,” says Nelson, a former NFL All-Pro safety who grew up helping his dad, Guy, run a barbecue — the Hoggly Woggly — outside Huntsville, Ala.
Nelson learned well. Here, pork shoulders are smoked 17 hours, then doused with “Guy’s Pig Dip” (cider vinegar, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce et al) and served up with sweet cornbread and spicy collard greens to hungry patrons — everyone from Jeff Sessions, former U.S. Attorney General, to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
They dine on the barbecue, ribs and beef brisket as if in a time warp, amid 1950s rock music and keepsakes of Colts’ lore from Nelson’s playing days. Though his sons and daughters now run the place, it’s seeing the old pro at work that draws the crowds as much as it is the heavenly smells.
With two locations — the original Blue Moon Cafe in Fells Point and Blue Moon Too in Federal Hill — and what seems like endless varieties of sweet and savory French toast, the Blue Moon brand has become synonymous with breakfast in Baltimore.
And after 23 years, owner Sarah Megan Simington continues to push the boundaries, promising new savory and sweet twists on breakfast staples.
Considered one of the pioneers of the breakfast and brunch movement in Baltimore, Simington recently renovated her Fells Point location to prepare for expanded hours — a 9 p.m. weekday close time and 24-hour openings on the weekends. She’s also amped up her catering — her cinnamon roll cakes are popular for weddings — and there’s talk of eventually expanding to new locations.
“It’s so flattering to stay relevant. There are so many new places doing breakfast and lunch. When we were doing breakfast for dinner, we were the first [in Baltimore],” she said.
She’s still known for creating Cap'n Crunch French toast.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I feel refreshed every year. It’s really cool to watch my own progression.”
1621 Aliceanna St., Fells Point, 410-522-3940; 1024 Light St., Federal Hill, 443-759-4907; bluemoonbaltimore.com
Fogo De Chao
Talk about meat sweats! With as much perfectly cooked meat as your stomach can handle, Fogo De Chao is an easy winner for the area’s best buffet. The Brazilian restaurant, which starts at $30.95 per person for dinner, offers every salad and side imaginable, too.
This might be a chain, but Capital Grille has all the luxuries one might expect from a fine-dining restaurant. With an extensive wine list and an impressive assortment of scrumptious American steakhouse-style dishes, it’s no wonder that the region’s business and political communities flock to the dimly-lit Inner Harbor location.
Located smack-dab in the middle of Mount Vernon Marketplace, one might not expect to get such elaborate, tasty meat and cheese boards in a food hall concept. But owner Andrew Cole works magic there every day sending out well-thought-out, balanced plates suitable for the most discerning foodie.
Never mind the setting, a drab industrial park off Pulaski Highway in Rosedale. Inside a onetime warehouse is a shrine to Cantonese cooking — one that has struck home with the area’s Asian populace. Enter — past the paper lanterns, decorative statues and trickling waterfalls — and you are handed two menus: one featuring Americanized Chinese dishes, the other, stuff you’d really find on the road to Hong Kong. The first touts comfort foods, like General Tso’s chicken, fried rice and lo mein; the second, rarer Cantonese delicacies such as sauteed duck tongue, curried oxtail and chicken feet. Pork chop Peking-style is a hit here; likewise, the Cantonese beef chow fun.
“We are dedicated to serving authentic Asian cuisine,” says Danny Cheung who, with his brother-in-law Ze Sui Chen, owns the place and two other Chopstix Gourmet locations in Perry Hall and Forest Hill. Only the Rosedale site offers the bona fide Chinese menu and a celebrated dim sum that routinely draws large crowds.
Cheung, who emigrated from Hong Kong as a child and attended Woodlawn High, estimates that 75 percent of his customers are of Asian descent. Word of mouth keeps folks coming, past the lines of semi trucks sprawled outside the nondescript building, which Cheung and his partner own.
“It is what it is,” he says of the locale. “We can only control what people perceive on the inside.” To foodies, that’s all that matters.
The restaurant sold 79,780 crab cakes last year, but who’s counting? The six ounce orbs (don’t call them patties) of jumbo lump crab bring patrons streaming, by land and sea, to Boatyard Bar & Grill. An Eastport landmark, it ships its crab cakes nationwide and has enticed everyone from singer Jimmy Buffett to former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters to its door to scarf them down.
“She [Obama] called them the best crab cakes she’d ever eaten,” owner Dick Franyo said. A plaque on the restaurant’s wall claims as much. A sign just inside the front door reminds customers that the crab cakes are “All Killer, No Filler.”
Boatyard’s signature dish is the creation of chef George Betz, a Baltimore native who spent years honing his recipe, which remains secret.
“He [Betz] has made the crab cakes on two national cable TV shows,” Franyo said. The only tip the chef will share is: in the making, handle each cake with care.
“You’ve got to hold it like a baby bird,” Betz said. Until you bite down, anyway.
Wedged between a hardware store and another restaurant, this unpretentious eatery in downtown Annapolis, once the site of the city jail, earns kudos for its crab soups — one, the tomato-based Maryland kind, and the other, a crab-and-corn chowder that is also flavored with clams. Can’t decide? Try mixing both; you won’t be the first.
One of the few surviving vestiges of Baltimore’s famed Corned Beef Row (ask your grandparents what this stretch of Lombard Street was like back in its glory days) is still serving the best corned beef in town — plus such classic Charm City fare as hot dogs wrapped in bologna (now that Esskay’s gone, the availability of this delicacy is even more vital) and a host of mouth-watering combination sandwiches (like the black Russian — salami and chopped liver with onion and Russian dressing on black bread).
For the full experience, eat-in at the Kibbitz Room, where the essence of Old Baltimore still lives.
“We’re the oldest family-owned delicatessen in the United States,” says proud owner-operator Marc Attman, the third generation of the family to run the deli.
Keeping the customers happy is key, he says — Attman’s has been known to tweak their prodigious menu at customers’ suggestions. So is maintaining a steady course that builds on past successes: “We learned to do things a certain way, and we continue to do it that way.”
The Attmans have been feeding Baltimoreans for more than a century, which makes them a civic treasure in our book.
Jacqueline Mearman, the executive pastry chef for the Atlas Restaurant Group, whips up over-the-top sweets worth noticing. From the beautifully torched baked Alaska to perfectly plated chestnut Napoleon, the desserts alone make The Bygone worth a visit.
Chef Kaimana Chee has brought his winning ways to Fallston with this casual dining experience. The native Hawaiian was the winner of a 2016 episode of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a runner-up on “Guy’s Grocery Games” in 2015 and a contestant on Fox’s “MasterChef” in 2012. Try everything from poke to Kalua pig.
Seriously, this is why God invented hot dogs. Traditionalists should stick with the Motor City (chili, cheddar cheese and onion) or the Chi Town (pickles, pepperoncini, relish, onion, mustard), but for something different, try the Bruce Lee (wrapped like an egg roll, with ginger slaw, green onion, cilantro and hot mustard). Hard to go wrong.
Barbara Maloni knows ice cream. It’s essentially in her blood.
Her parents have owned an ice cream shop in her native Massachusetts for the past 25 years, and so do three of her brothers. She was born and raised in the same town that launched the national ice cream-rich restaurant chain Friendly's.
It should come as no surprise that Maloni would be the driving force behind Bmore Licks, the Canton ice cream shop that she opened in 2017 with more than 100 flavors of soft-serve ice cream. Try the cherry cheesecake, caramel Old Bay or praline. Or take note of Maloni’s favorites: Cookies and cream, Peanut butter Reese’s pieces; or birthday cake. (You can also create your own blend.) The shop also serves 30 rotating flavors of homemade hard ice cream and more than 100 flavors of milkshakes. Talk about choices!
Maloni is able to create all of these options through a special machine that her parents had an engineer rig. Add an extremely high butter fat ratio and a semi-secret process of mixing the ice cream, and you get the mass offerings at the near-Patterson Park hot spot.
A Mount Vernon staple for three decades, the Akbar lures diners into its basement location with a classic menu — its chicken curry is delish, as are the crab malabar and the vegetarian thali (the latter is so good it might make meat lovers reconsider). Add some mulligatawny soup and naan, and you’ll understand this place’s staying power.
Here, patrons dive into a bevy of all-you-can-eat side dishes as their entree is grilled at the table before them, center stage. That’s Korean barbecue — dinner and a show, to boot.
“It doesn’t matter their ages, people like to see food prepared at their table,” manager Miha Lee says. Whether it’s bulgogi (marinated beef), jaeyook gui (spicy pork slices) or one of a dozen other barbecue dishes, the meal comes with a dizzying array of sideswhich may include kimchi, pickled radish, lotus roots and Korean-style broccoli, steamed and seasoned with garlic and sesame oil.
Regular fare features everything from seafood casseroles and stir-fried octopus to boiled dumplings filled with beef, pork and vegetables. Or try the hae jang gook, a spicy soup which, according to the menu, is “reputed to cure all hangovers.”
Chopsticks are the tools of choice; if you want a fork, ask. Shin Chon provides “training chopsticks” for children.
Despite its location in an Ellicott City shopping plaza, sandwiched amid four other Asian restaurants, Shin Chon does a brisk business. On weekends, the wait for a table can be an hour. (Leave your cell number with the hostess and go check out the Korean market several doors down.)
8801 Baltimore National Pike, #25 B, Ellicott City. 410-461-3280. shinchonmd.com
DiPasquale’s Italian Marketplace
Here, you get great food with a side order of adventure. “Organized chaos” is how owner Joe DiPasquale describes the bustle inside his vintage Highlandtown deli. Come noon, the cramped place is packed with people of all ages choosing from among the 40-plus sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas and a colorful display of sides and salads, here and at a second locale in Harborview. Somehow, it works. No one has left hungry for more than 30 years.
It’s impossible to have too much hummus, but Lebanese Taverna tries, offering four different kinds; picking a best is folly. Then move on to the baba ghanoush and some grape leaves. Or, to really immerse yourself in the wonders of Lebanon, try the Chef’s or Taverna platters, which offer a bit of everything. And then there are the kabobs…
This quintessential Baltimore steakhouse has been among the best restaurants in the city since it opened in 1965. The staff knows how to prepare any cut of meat. And their dishes — like the creamed spinach and oysters Rockefeller — hearken to opulent years of old. (The restaurant is based on the supper clubs of 1940s Manhattan.) The knowledgeable and engaging staff offer impeccable service, too.
Framed accolades on the walls of this Highlandtown rowhouse attest to the fame of Matthew’s, which began making pizzas during World War II. Thirteen types of pies now grace the menu, from the traditional to the “great white” to a deep-dish crab pizza that gives new meaning to the word crust-acean.
Organizers Jason Bass of Treason Toting Co. and DJ Impulse have curated a series of hotly anticipated parties in The Night Brunch (they usually sell out). The city’s who’s who flock to the concept, which revolves around brunch-themed parties at different venues each month. Spots have included Sir Duke, Wet City, The Charmery Ice Cream Factory, GDL by Giada and Pen & Quill.
Blocks away from bustling Fells Point is the quiet, cozy Kippo Ramen where the slurping of broth overpowers everything else. The portions are hefty. The flavors are powerful. And the bowl presentations are Instagram-worthy.
Remember the Seinfeld episode that asked the question: When is a soup a meal? At Atwater’s, that’s a given. Soups and stews are hearty fare at this family-owned lunch spot that has expanded from its original site in Belvedere Square to five other locales. Each day, owner Ned Atwater and his staff serve up 160 gallons total of four distinct soups (meat, vegan, vegetarian and seafood) dubbed “Ploughboys.” They range from standbys like chicken noodle to seasonal bowls of tangy gazpacho or a silky cream of asparagus. Seafood gumbo was a hit from the start in 2003; likewise, the parade of bean soups and butternut squash that greet customers.
All told, there are 100 soups in Atwater’s rotation, said the owner, who is constantly trying new recipes. Some come from patrons, who share family hand-me-downs; other suggestions come from the staff.
“We have some folks in the kitchen who are from the Middle East, and we’re trying to learn from them, using lamb and chickpeas,” Atwater said. Here, soup-making is an art, though not every creation has met with success.
“A cold garlic soup was not received very well,” he said.
The owner’s favorites? Vegetarian offerings like white bean and basil, or wheat berry and mushroom. There’s a stick-to-the-ribs chicken and dumplings soup in the offing as well.
529 E. Belvedere Ave., Govans, and five more area locations. 410-323-2396. atwatersfood.com
Sure, there are far fancier raw bars in town, and a couple quahog clams from Fells Point’s Thames Street Oyster House (a steal at only $1.75 each) constitute a meal all by themselves. But Faidley, a Lexington Market institution since 1886, is a raw bar at its rawest — no frills, just plates of delicious bivalves on the half-shell, served with saltines and Tabasco or cocktail sauce (or both).
Shucker Lou Fleming has been at it here for 40 years, and to watch him is to watch a maestro at work — be grateful he’s prying those things open and you’re not (last time we tried, we ended up in the emergency room with a deep gash in our hand).
Faidley’s owner Bill Devine, 87, is the third generation of the family to serve Baltimore’s tastiest seafood from the market (his daughter Damye Hahn, who’s working to make the business computer-friendly and bring it into the 21st century, is the fourth), and while he says business isn’t what it once was — too many fancier places are just a light-rail stop away — there’s still plenty here for both regulars and the frequent tourists to slurp down.
Orioles’ Opening Day is their busiest, he says; Fleming estimates they serve about 2,000 oysters that day, and about half as many clams. You won’t find bigger, or tastier, or cheaper oysters anywhere. And each one is delicious.
Mallets raised? Pound away. At times, it sounds like customers are playing Whac-A-Mole instead of cracking open the fresh, seasoned steamed crabs for which L.P. Steamers is known. A South Baltimore landmark for 23 years, it’s a blue-collar locale whose staff will even teach you how to pick the crabs. Just ask.
At the one-room BYOB with the bright yellow awning, customers can’t go wrong with any of the coconut curries or noodle dishes. But it is the crabmeat fried rice, which features huge chunks of jumbo lump, that is dream-worthy.
Many wedding cakes look good, but sometimes beauty is only icing deep. Not so at this French bakery where Joseph Poupon has been creating luscious gateaux since 1986. He fashions about 200 cakes a year for newlyweds and has also made confections for everyone from former Vice President Dick Cheney to Lady Gaga.
Touting more than 1,300 wines, the selection at Charleston is among the largest in the region. And it’s in step with the Foreman Wolf restaurant group’s approach to fine dining — bringing fine French cooking techniques to low country cuisine.
The restaurant has repeatedly earned accolades for its wine selection, which is thoughtfully chosen by co-owner Tony Foreman and sommeliers Lindsay Willey and Linah Maya Mathabane-Pool.
Foreman, who travels the globe researching new wines for the restaurant’s offerings.
“I know just about every single grower in that cellar,” he said.
In 2018, Charleston was named to OpenTable’s 100 Best Restaurants for Wine Lovers in America and has twice been named a semi-finalist for Outstanding Wine Program by the James Beard Awards in 2011 and 2016.
Wine at Charleston is an integral part of its success, Foreman said.
“It’s certainly a giant part of its ethos,” Foreman said. “It’s music and dancing. One doesn’t work well without the other.”