11007 York Road, Cockeysville, (410) 527-1226, andynelsonsbbq.com
Andy Nelson’s is the obvious choice, sure, but when it comes to barbecue, novelty is not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for well-cooked meat, perfectly seasoned in a subtle way. The pulled pork makes those of us from Southern climes pine for home (especially for South Carolinians, with Nelson’s gamecock memorabilia), and the pit beef makes us damn happy to be in Maryland. There is no better way to enjoy the food at Andy Nelson’s than sitting outside the restaurant, listening to live bands such as Caleb Stine and the Brakemen, so we hope they keep offering live music. It gives us a good excuse to go.
Nothing satisfies one’s food lust quite like an Italian deli. With its glass case—so tall it rises to some people’s necks—stocked with fat-flecked, cured Italian meats (prosciutto, salami, capocolla, soppressatta), good ripe cheese (mozzarella both smoked and fresh, provolone, romano, gorgonzola), and assorted oily accouterments (olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, artichokes, pesto), Trinacria is nearly incomparable. We’re not close to scratching the surface on the variety of goods, and we have not yet mentioned the vast selection of wine priced so low one would think college kids composed the clientele. Shop here if you’re hosting a swanky party and want to impress on the cheap.
4341 Harford Road, (410) 254-2376, maggiesfarmmd.com
Farm-to-table has become a buzzword used to attract more socially and environmentally conscious diners, and while some restaurants use it as a ploy to fill seats, Maggie’s Farm likes to walk the walk. A valiant ethos and commitment to local farms does not a good restaurant make, though, and the dishes Maggie’s Farm serves are top-notch. From cola-braised short ribs to the daily vegetarian dish, they have something for everyone. Their approach to ingredients, sourced from local farms, co-ops, and bakeries, may seem laid-back and a bit hippy-dippy, but it’s a sincere love of community and tradition that they’re trying to share with their patrons. It’s always exciting when you get the menu and take a look at what they’ve come up with to reflect the season’s bounty.
806 N. Charles St., (410) 752-0311, helmand.com
It’s hard to keep track of all the Helmand’s Best of Baltimore awards: Over the years the Afghani dining room on Charles Street has won “Best First Date Restaurant,” “Best Restaurant for Special Occasions,” “Best Middle Eastern Restaurant” (multiple times), “Best Restaurant for Vegetarians” (multiple times), and, simply, “Best Restaurant” (multiple times). That it has remained among our favorites for so long is a testament to its unmatched combination of exquisite food (the kaddo bowrani, or pan-fried pumpkin, alone deserves a James Beard Award, an Oscar, a Nobel, and an Olympic gold), elegant dining room, and deeply charming service, all for truly shockingly reasonable prices. Baltimore is lucky to have such a dining institution.
10045 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, (410) 696-2426
It’s a trek to get here, true, but the theater of Honey Pig makes it worthwhile: No matter if only two people are ordering, they’ll still barbecue the spicy porky belly and the beef bulgogi before your eyes, on the circular table’s center console. Also, they’re open 24 hours a day every day, save for Monday, when they take a break from midnight till 11 a.m. Service is lightning-fast, if impersonal, but who can be bothered when it’s 3 a.m. and you have in front of you steaming hangover soup, ladled into a cavernous cast-iron soup bowl, served with the fluffiest steamed egg you can envision.
3019 E. Baltimore St., (410) 327-7679
When you’re headed east on Baltimore Street or Eastern Avenue, Mexican joints don’t come out of the woodwork—they form the woodwork. It’s hard to make a bad call, but Tex-Mex is THE BEST call. They’ve got every type of taco filling you could want, including beef tongue, goat, cactus, al pastor, chorizo, et al., all served atop two corn tortillas every bit as tasty and fresh as Tortilleria Sinaloa; it’s cheaper and less crowded here, though. But, really, what you have to try is a quesadilla, folded in an extra-thick tortilla that holds up to the generous filling of whatever you choose (go with the carnitas), topped off with crisp shreds of iceberg lettuce, drizzled with near-white queso fresco, then sprinkled with grated cheese. It’s a lot of salt, admittedly, but our world changed when we ate the quesadilla here. And we are better for it.
5132 Belair Road, (410) 483-4847
Baltimore’s getting to be a pretty respectable town for pizza variety, from plain to fancy, and the competition is fierce when it’s time to order. This time around, we’re phoning in for pickup at Gil’s for one of their solid, soul-satisfying, one-size-fits-all (12-inch) old school pies, cheesy masterpieces on well-turned dough, offered with all the usual fixin’s, except you might not be able to tell, since Gil’s puts their toppings under the piles of cheese. Gil’s also offers a freshly half-baked pie you can finish in your own oven, but that’s not our style, since the aroma of a just-baked Gil’s pie usually has us opening the box on the drive home.
So why separate out sushi from Japanese food as a whole? Well, sometimes you just gotta get your sushi fix with minimal pomp and circumstance, and this spot in Fells always does the trick. A quick glance at the menu might be a bit of a letdown, since it’s pretty much boilerplate. That’s not to knock Nanami’s ability to crank out the usual suspects of tuna, salmon, and, of course, makizushi (rolls) with, like, 5 million different things jammed in ’em. What distinguishes Nanami are their weekly special offerings, which often include live scallop, live uni, and hard-to-find fish like kampachi and fatty yellowtail. Extra care is taken with these ingredients—the scallop’s various body sections are often served in separate, complimentary preparations, while the uni is often served in its spectacularly spiky exoskeleton. Moreover, prices on these delicacies are surprisingly reasonable. One caveat: Cooked food is not really their forte. Just sayin’.
7104 Minstrel Way, Columbia, (410) 381-3188, anloirestaurant.com
For an unassuming restaurant in an ugly shopping strip (seriously, how many fast-food chains can you pack into one little strip?), An Loi is a gem. The important question to ask when going to a Vietnamese place is: “Is the broth any good?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” It’s light and flavorful, with hints of cardamom and lemongrass, perfect for the freshly sliced accoutrements provided. An Loi is very accommodating for families and vegetarians alike. It’s a packed house on the weekends, though, so be prepared to wait—on the upside, the service is swift and friendly, so the wait will most likely be pleasant.
1500 Reisterstown Road #211, (410) 415-7001, goldbergsbagels.net
If you’ve lived in New York for any period of time and earned your Bagel Credentials, you know they come in two types: The denser, doughy variety is classic, the kind made by NYC standard-bearer H&H Bagels, who distribute their goods to every decent deli and bodega in the city. The other is the lighter, more cake-y variety, and while there are a few New York places that do this well (Absolute Bagels on 107th Street, for one), it is generally the domain of your standard Safeway, Giant, Dunkin’ Donuts crap. In Baltimore, the closest you’ll get to the real deal is Goldberg’s in Pikesville, where they bake awesomely dense, fresh bagels every day. It’s kosher, so don’t go ordering bacon, egg, and cheese on your bagel. You don’t need all that anyway. Try the everything bagel—crucially, they put the seasonings on both sides (come on Baltimore, how hard is that?)—with plain cream cheese and maybe a slice of tomato. If you go plain, get it toasted with lox spread. Damn, that’s good. And remember, Goldberg’s doesn’t roll (dough) on shabbos (Saturday).
OK, this is basically a root beer float minus, uh, the root. The Shake a Leg gets its name from Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout, to which is added vanilla ice cream and—this is an Italian joint after all—some amaretto. Seriously, stop scowling. Unwrinkle your nose. It works, thanks to the stout’s coffee and cocoa undertones, which pair well with the creamy vanilla. The amaretto shot provides that extra kick of sweetness. And speaking of kicks, Peg Leg packs an 8 percent-ABV punch. Think of the dessert as a “beer” best shared with two spoons.
218 N. Charles St., (410) 576-8400
If they don’t have it, you don’t need it. The buffet at King’s Garden Café covers over half the room in its Hopkins Plaza space. It changes from breakfast to lunch and has ample vegetarian selections, several cuisine types, as well as fantastic fresh fruit choices that go beyond the standard melon-ball fare. Kings has pretty much every food choice you can think of in one form or another. Where else are you going to find a cut-it-yourself roast beef shoulder, super-spicy jerk chicken, tofu sushi, or a full-on dessert bar? The food is charged by the pound, which shames a few of us into smaller portions.
Bacon. Sticky. Spicy. Bacon. We cannot emphasize this enough. Still, this award is not merely for best bacon—it’s for best burger. And we realize that our Burger Bracket back in June determined that Abbey Burger Bistro was the best burger in town by 15 votes, but we have to quibble, dear readers: we’ll pass on Abbey’s expansive checklist of toppings and opt for Hamilton Tavern’s singular Crosstown burger instead. Truly, we will cross town for the ultra-rich combination of Roseda beef, horseradish cheddar, that optional perfectly fried egg, and the must-order brown sugar-glazed spicy bacon, all sandwiched between the most wonderful sesame seed-covered challah bread-like bun.
Zhongshan, located in the heart of what was once Baltimore’s Chinatown, has a lot going for it. There are the lunch specials ($6.95 for a huge plate), the bowls of cold-killing soup, the superior ingredients, and the fact that it’s a family-owned restaurant in which, outside of lunch hours, you are unlikely to see another gringo. We could write about any one of those and Zhongshan would still be the winner. But it is the dim sum that makes us wake up drooling in the middle of the night. Chinese small plates are a rarity in this town, but there is nothing better than the steamed fun gor (a pork-and-shrimp dumpling), or the lotus- or bean-paste buns, or the vegetarian rice crepes. If you’re a little more adventurous, the chicken feet with black-bean sauce and the beef tripe with ginger and scallion just might change your life. Best of all, each dish item is somewhere between $2.95 and $3.75, so you really don’t have to choose. And we swear, this is the year we’re going to get the $350 Chinese New Year special.
737 S. Broadway, (410) 675-6297, maxs.com
Fried pickles and beer bars seem to go hand in hand: Alonso’s makes them crinkle-cut chip-style, fried in tempura; Mahaffey’s does chips too, but the breading is thicker and spicier, the pickles thinner. It’s fitting that Max’s—the undisputable king of beer bars in Baltimore—serves the best fried pickles we’ve encountered, not just in beer bars, but in any establishment with a kitchen in the city. The four thick spears that come with a (at $8.29, slightly too dear) order are covered in perfectly seasoned breadcrumbs, with a side of spicy aioli made with cayenne pepper, presented on top of a bed of freshly fried sea-salt (you can see the flecks of salt) chips generously sprinkled with fresh dill—the piece de resistance of the dish. We like ’em so much, we order two at a time.
102 W. 36th St., (410) 235-4994
When we discovered these home fries in the Avenue’s lone greasy spoon, we abandoned all other breakfast haunts: We had found the one. We’ve spent many mornings trying to figure out the secret to these almost-caramelized spuds with perfectly crisped exteriors. Finally we got the scoop—they’re cooked three times: boiled, sauteed with onion and margarine, then griddled just before serving. Even knowing the process, one couldn’t replicate these heavenly potatoes. Plus: fluffy scrambled eggs, addictive corned beef hash, efficient service.
Taharka Bros. Ice Cream
It’s always nice to support local companies. Even better when the company has a mission to improve the community. And better still when said company puts out a damn good product. Check, check, and check. Taharka Bros. use not only local ingredients (e.g. Baugher’s peaches), but also work with a fair-trade initiative in Haiti (that supplies them with cacao and vanilla) to come up with sometimes-crazy flavors like star anise and candied fennel, orange clove sorbet, and the always-popular honey graham. The ice cream always has distinct, punctuated flavors, of course no artificial anything, and an exceedingly smooth, soft texture thanks to just the right amount of overrun (or the amount of air whipped into the final product). Look out for the fruit of their recently successful Kickstarter campaign—an ice cream truck/mobile library/hangout spot hitting the street this month.
When the Yabba Pot closed in late 2011, it was a blow to the veggie/health-food community in the city, so when we heard about this cozy little spot opening up just a few doors down, there was some justifiable excitement. We weren’t disappointed. Grind House owner Ayo Hogans, a veteran of Yabba Pot, has stocked her spot with a variety of vegan and vegetarian items (our favorite, the Charles Villager wrap, combines hummus, avocado, and mixed veggies with your choice of dressing—we go for Goddess for extra hippie points). But the main attraction is the variety of freshly squeezed juice drinks and smoothies. We especially recommend the hot shot, which is packed with spicy ginger, carrot, apple, and lime. They have a relaxing environment, and the staff is friendly and attentive, so it’s a rewarding place to check in and recharge.