The Baltimore Sun’s readers and staff have weighed in on what’s the best in the region from art galleries to urgent care.
First, you’ll find critics’ picks from The Sun’s editorial team.
Then, you’ll see what readers think; the readers’ choice winners received the most votes during an online poll in March.
(Winners of the Readers’ Choice ballot were selected by readers.)
Find more categories at baltimoresun.com/best.
Miss Shirley’s Cafe
There are pancakes, and there are pancakes. Miss Shirley’s serves the latter. From its fluffy buttermilk flapjacks to the decadent cinnamon danish ones [with drizzly cream cheese icing,] the 15-year-old restaurant has made breakfast its the go-to meal. At one of three locations (Roland Park, Inner Harbor and Annapolis), one can savor a tall stack (four 8-inch pancakes) filled with fresh fruit and drenched with same. Or raspberries and white chocolate. Or bananas and chocolate chips.
Gluten-free options draw raves, and weekly specials meet the same high standards despite names like hog-wild pancakes, which are filled with cheddar cheese and topped with barbecued pork, savory sauce and a fried pickle. At Miss Shirley’s, it seems, nothing is off the table.
513 W. Cold Spring Lane. 410-889-5272. missshirleys.com
Old Stein Inn
Hoist a mug to the Old Stein Inn, which feeds the souls of foodies craving the Teutonic fare of long-gone local restaurants like Winterling’s and Haussner’s. Who’d expect to dine on rib-sticking spätzle and sausages, sauerbraten and strudel in a seaside setting like Edgewater?
Yet the Inn has been here for 37 years, the dreamscape of owner Mike Selinger’s parents, an Old World couple who brought their recipes for jägerschnitzel [smoked pork loin with mushroom and bacon sauce] and other hearty cuisine to the lucky residents at the foot of Anne Arundel County. Not to mention the biergarten, strolling accordionist and oom-pah polka bands that provide ambiance.
1143 Central Ave. E, Edgewater. 410-798-6807. oldstein-inn.com
The Snowball Stand
A summery rendezvous for 46 years, this Howard County shack cranks out more than 100 flavors of snowballs for eager patrons fiercely loyal to both the homemade sweets and the staff. Egg custard is the favorite, along with sky blue, watermelon and a carousel of ever-changing crushed ice treats like s’mores, Swedish Fish and the latest, Old Bay. The wait can be up to one hour at times, but in a bucolic setting, that can be part of the fun.
“We’ve had guys get down on one knee and propose here,” owner Miki Hill says. “There have been a lot of first kisses at The Snowball Stand, for sure. It’s a place to come that makes you happy.”
1970 Woodstock Road, Woodstock. 443-405-2557.
Dish using invasive species
Blue catfish tacklebox
Most people go to Ekiben for the Neighborhood Bird, arguably the biggest thing to happen to Baltimore sandwiches since the invention of the crab cake. But don’t let your commitment to fried chicken get in the way of trying the tacklebox, which features a generous slab of crispy blue catfish atop a bed of rice and garnished with pickled daikon. And, unlike traditional catfish, which tends toward the muddy side, locally caught blue cats aren’t bottom feeders. Their meat is light and fresh tasting. The best part? The fish, like snakehead, is an invasive species in area waters, so eating it is good for the Bay.
1622 Eastern Ave., Fells Point and 911 W. 36th St., Hampden. 410-558-1914. ekibenbaltimore.com
Vegan breakfast sandwich
Golden West Cafe
The animal heads on the wall at Hampden’s Golden West Cafe won’t be every vegan’s cup of tea, but the restaurant on the Avenue aims to appeal to a broad swath of customers — carnivore and plant-based dieter alike. Their vegan breakfast sandwich, made with Impossible meat (you know, the fake meat that ‘bleeds’) would satisfy anyone. The restaurant was one of the first in the area to carry the sought-after meat substitute, says owner Sam Claassen.
1105 West 36th St., Hampden. 410-889-8891. goldenwestcafe.com
Den Da Coffee
The phrase shaved ice doesn’t quite do justice to what’s happening with the bingsoo at Den Da Coffee, a Vietnamese coffee house in downtown Towson. In contrast to the harder ice crystals of a Baltimore snowball, which can call to mind the slush on a road mid-December, this shaved ice more closely resembles powdery flakes of snow that an angel might ski on. The mango version is adorned with jelly and fruit, topped by a medallion of flan and sits atop a bowl of ice cream resting on a lava of jello, with a boat of condensed milk to be drizzled all over. In case, you know, it wasn’t sweet enough already.
1 West Pennsylvania Ave., Towson. 410-616-9082. facebook.com/Den-Da-Coffee-Baltimore-182210362595162
True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
The farm-raised Skinny Dipper oysters from True Chesapeake Oyster Co. are shipped to vendors in Chicago, Boston and elsewhere. But the best place to eat them is at the farm’s own restaurant along the Jones Falls Valley. Behind the bar, a sloppy shuck — with shards in the liquor and a wound on the bivalve — isn’t tolerated. Instead, find your locally farmed oyster perfectly intact, on ice, and ready to slurp. The restaurant’s expert shuckers use knives called Chesapeake stabbers from local knife maker Dale German; they’re available for purchase at the restaurant.
Whitehall Mill, 3300 Clipper Mill Road. 410-913-6374. truechesapeake.com
To eat with kids
North Ave. Market
In the summer months, the best place to eat with kids in Baltimore is the Sandlot in Harbor East, an outdoor bar and grill that’s like a private beach on the Patapsco. But when it’s raining, or when it’s cold out, my go-to is the North Ave. Market, where the video games are vintage and free, the milkshakes are thick, the tater tots are loaded and the beer is craft. And there’s enough space so that Aidan and Kennedy won’t cause a scene when they throw Cheerios on the floor.
30 W. North Ave., Station North. 443-574-5638. northavemarket.com
Bar for reading
There’s a surprisingly large contingent of Baltimoreans who desire nothing more in a bar than a place to order a natural wine and break out a paperback in peace. Such oenophile bibliophile combos can find their bliss at Remington’s W.C. Harlan, a candlelit speakeasy decorated like Gertrude Stein’s attic. The winter cocktail menu is titled Folkloric Monsters featuring drinks like the Veiled Mosekonen, made with aquavit that’s been fat-washed with ghee. Did you know that was even a thing?
400 W 23rd St., Remington. 410-925-7900. facebook.com/wcharlan
Restaurant waiting area
The Papermoon Diner
Chances are that the first things most people notice at the Papermoon Diner are the walls filled top to bottom with shelves of colorful Pez candy dispensers, ramrod straight bodies topped with maniacally grinning heads. Or perhaps you’ll fixate on the spinning globe dangling from the ceiling, or the wallpaper made from the iridescent silver backs of CDs. Regardless, the tiny waiting room for the popular Remington restaurant is a cornucopia of kitsch — and a visual feast. The little lobby is often full of diners queuing up for a table, but we can almost guarantee that you won’t mind the wait. Who said that eye candy will spoil your appetite?
227 W. 29th St., Remington. 410-889-4444. papermoondiner24.com
The Prime Rib
After more than 50 years in business, this Mount Vernon steakhouse operates like a well-oiled machine. “We’ve been around so long, we stick with the program,” says Prime Rib maître d’ Sean Naughton. The restaurant eschews food runners and table bussers for the most part — the intimate dining room doesn’t have much space for extra people. Waiters, who wear suits, are in charge of everything from bringing dishes, clearing up and scraping crumbs from the table. It creates a personal touch that keeps regulars coming back, often requesting the same table, with the same server, year after year.
1101 N Calvert St., Mount Vernon. 410-539-1804. theprimerib.com
Date night place
Le Comptoir du Vin
There’s a reason Esquire magazine dubbed Le Comptoir du Vin America’s “sexiest third date spot.” The vibe is intimate yet casual with dishes such as persimmon and mascarpone that are understated, yet out of this world. Owners Rosemary Liss and Will Mester— a real-life couple — give the illusion that they’re friends of yours who just happened to invite you over for dinner. Whether you want to impress a new love interest or rekindle the spark with your sweetie, this is the place to do it.
1729 Maryland Ave., Station North, 443-297-7384, comptoirbaltimore.com
Cold brew coffee
Gracefully Coffee Roasters
A few years ago, when cold brew entered the world market and our consciousness, we thought it was just a really strong iced coffee, except more expensive. These days, we know better. A good cold brew — like the nitrogen-infused version available at this Windsor Mill coffee roaster — is worlds apart from your iced coffee. It has a velvety texture and creamy surface, like a well-poured Guinness Stout. (Not to mention enough caffeine to power you through the rest of the day.) Tea lovers take note, there’s cold brew tea, too.
2601 N. Rolling Road, Unit 104, Windsor Mill. 786-261-7477. gracefullycoffee.com
Motzi Bread (tie)
To hell with your low-carb diet. Bread is hot right now, with area bakers offering bread subscriptions and specialty loaves appearing in stores.The community bakery from Woodberry Kitchen alum Russell Trimmer and Maya Muñoz sells bread from locally grown grains that are milled on-site. A full service storefront is set to open soon; for now, order ahead for weekly pickups of offerings like the classic loaf made from modern wheats and ancient einkorn. The online order form allows customers to also order a loaf for someone in need.
2801 Guilford Avenue, Charles Village. 443-272-1515. motzibread.com
Cunningham’s Cafe & Bakery (tie)
In a crowded field, it was difficult to pick just one so we picked two. Worth checking out is the rosemary lemon sourdough from Cunningham’s Cafe & Bakery, the sister establishment to the Towson restaurant currently closed for renovations. The bakery remains open. With a gorgeous exterior design, it’s perfectly soft and chewy on the inside, with sprigs of fragrant rosemary accented by just the right amount of lemon.
1 Olympic Place, Towson. 410-339-7750. cunninghamscafe.com
Retirement home food
Oak Crest’s 1812
Small plates, seasonal menus and senior living centers aren’t three phrases that typically go together. Unless we’re talking about 1812, a new dining concept at Parkville’s Oak Crest community that’s open only to residents and their guests. Here, diners choose from a multi-course menu that can include deconstructed cannoli and fruits de la mer. On any given evening, a mixologist prepares specialty cocktails and chef Frank Miller, previously of Linwoods, walks into the dining room to greet diners who have become like family.
8820 Walther Blvd., Parkville. 410-665-2222. ericksonliving.com/oak-crest
La Cuchara just might have Baltimore’s most cost-effective happy hour. And it’s not just lame throwaway items. The menu regularly rotates between various small plates (pintxos) and starter (primeros) dishes from the Basque region. And all are half off the regular prices. The drinks also are a bargain. Gin and tonic du jour costs $5, as do the house red, white and cava. You can spend around $25 to eat an Instagram-worthy feast, which includes alcohol, and you will leave stuffed. In addition to the standard 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. happy hour, they also have a reverse happy hour, which starts at 9 p.m. On Sunday, happy hour is all day.
3600 Clipper Mill Road, Clipper Mill. 443-708-3838. lacucharabaltimore.com
The city’s best Buffalo wings can be found in a small neighborhood bar just north of North Avenue. The wings are authentic and based on the recipe from the originator of Buffalo wings, Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. iBar takes it one step further by also offering their own Chef Style Buffalo Wings, which are spicier. They’re both worth the visit. Stop in on Wednesday “Wingsday” for half-price wings and discounted Long Island iced tea from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
2118 Maryland Ave., Charles Village/ Station North. 443-759-6147. ibarbaltimore.com
La Scala Ristorante Italiano
Somehow La Scala Ristorante Italiano is able to strike a balance between embracing Baltimore’s quirkiness while remaining a fine-dining Italian restaurant. There’s a bocce ball court complete with a sparkly disco ball and oversized squid hanging from the ceiling. And in the white tablecloth dining room area, exquisite dishes are offered such as Lobster Regina, a spectacle of a dish that includes two lobster tails and lump crab meat over a red pepper homemade penne pasta. The decadent creamy, frothy Espresso martini also awaits guests. All of these factors set the Little Italy restaurant apart from the rich offerings of Italian restaurants in the Charm City region.
1012 Eastern Ave., Little Italy. 410-783-9209. lascaladining.com
Every great breakfast sandwich revolves around a few key ingredients: eggs, cheese and/or meat (depending on dietary preferences) on some kind of bread product. The best breakfast sandwiches take this premise and elevate it to an art form. Such is the case at Charmed Kitchen, one of the best eateries in Butchers Hill. Pick from American or cheddar cheese, as well as delectable bacon, sausage or ham. Frame the package in either a multi-grain bread or, for a dollar extra, ciabatta or one of their specialty bagels. However you build it, this sandwich is perfect for mornings both lazy and busy.
123 S. Chester St., Butchers Hill. 443-627-8369. charmedkitchen.com
Duck Duck Goose
Not enough cocktail bars and restaurants feature dynamic options for those seeking nonalcoholic beverages. Chef Ashish Alfred of Duck Duck Goose in Fells Point recognized this better than most, given his own life in recovery. “I’m not demonizing alcohol, and I’m not demonizing people that serve alcohol,” he said. “To be clear, I am in the business of serving food and alcohol. I’m also in the business of being hospitable and being able to have options for all my guests.” Whether you’re abstaining for the night or beyond, Duck Duck Goose’s mocktails will treat you right. They’re all exemplary, but the Piment de la Vie [Spice of Life] cocktail, with its use of nonalcoholic Seedlip Spice 94 and Fresno peppers, is especially flavorful.
814 S. Broadway, Fells Point. 443-869-2129. ddgbaltimore.com
Whether you call it a “biergarten” or “beer garden,” the open space at Fadensonnen is a lovely place to drink. The acclaimed wine bar’s outdoor patio space, with its bulbous lights and heat lamps, has all the perks of communal seating without compromising on intimacy. Come enjoy a drink or a couple. Maybe you’ll get to make some new friends, or create new memories with old ones. Either way, you’ll feel cozy and comfortable.
3 W. 23rd St., Old Goucher. fadensonnen.com
Hudson Street Stackhouse
One of Canton’s best beer bars is also one of its best for watching big games. Located near the American Can Company’s old smokestack, Hudson Street Stackhouse is decked out with TVs, Washington Capitals paraphernalia and enough beer options to satisfy drinkers of all tastes. Come for some hockey, stay for menu options including delicious half-pound burgers (made with 100% Creekstone Farms black angus), crab cakes and an extensive menu of bar favorites.
2626 Hudson St., Canton. 410-342-0592. hudsonstreetstackhouse.com
The elevated low country cuisine by multi-James Beard Award-nominated chef Cindy Wolf is on full display on this splurge-worthy menu. A meal is $124 for six courses and $222 with a pairing from their award-winning wine selection. And there are plenty of choices with more than 30 entrees to choose from such as the perfectly fried oysters, which feature a heavenly crispy cornmeal batter, grilled bronzino with marinated baby artichoke, red and yellow tomato confit, and veal sweetbread empanada that comes with a lemon brown butter. The off-menu items are equally exciting. With rose-shaped lobster ravioli, and a foie gras ravioli, it’s no wonder that the restaurant is on many bucket lists.
1000 Lancaster St, Harbor East, 410-332-7373, charlestonrestaurant.com
— Mike Klingaman, Mary McCauley, Sameer Rao, Christina Tkacik and John-John Williams IV
Readers’ choice winners
Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop, Little Italy
Bartender (name and bar)
Jenn Airey, Cat’s Eye Pub
Miss Shirley’s Cafe
Union Craft Brewing
Mountain Branch Grill & Pub*
Abbey Burger Bistro
Cafe with Wi-Fi
The Classic Catering People
THB Bagelry + Deli
The Wine Source
Chef (name and restaurant)
Jason Daniloski, Silver Queen Cafe
Baltimore Chef Shop
The Bluebird Cocktail Room & Pub
Di Pasquale’s Italian Market
Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop
The PaperMoon Diner
Sagamore Spirit Distillery
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant
Farmers market stand
Love. Crust. Pizza.
Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz
Ambassador Dining Room
Pure Raw Juice
DiPasquales Italian Market
Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen
New restaurant (opened after Jan. 1, 2019)
Nepenthe Brewing Co.
Ocean City restaurant
Pizza di Joey
Mi & Yu Noodle Bar
Dylan’s Oyster Cellar
Server (name and restaurant)
Mindy Jones, Zeke’s Coffee
Dylan’s Oyster Cellar
Sommelier (name and restaurant)
Mollie McConnell, Milton Inn
Ida B’s Table
Golden West Cafe
Cake By Jason Hisley
13.5% Wine Bar
This article has been updated. An earlier version listed a winner in the readers’ choice buffet category that chose to forfeit.