Aguachile at Clavel
Aguachile at Clavel (J.M. Giordano/City Paper)

1. Aguachile at Clavel (225 W. 23rd St., [443] 900-8983, barclavel.com) Cool, refreshing ceviche seems like it should be a summer thing, but it's December and we're still ordering the aguachile ceviche from Clavel on the regular. If we could, we would live, breathe, sleep, and obviously eat aguachile, a simple plate of butterflied, lime-cured shrimp on a bed of cucumber and red onion slices, topped with divine cilantro pesto. Hot yet still soothing, it's the perfect pairing for mezcal, the bar's specialty liquor, and easily (if reluctantly) shared. Every time, we have to look over our shoulders to avoid judgment as we dip our fingers into the finished plate and lick up the salty, peppery juices. (Maura Callahan)

2. Pumpkin bisque amuse-bouche at Magdalena (205 E Biddle St., [410] 514-0303, theivybaltimore.com/dining/magdalena) Not to get all fancy about it, but in restaurant speak, an amuse-bouche is a little treat from the kitchen. It's tiny, just a bite or two. It's not an appetizer; you can't order it. It is free. Around town, it's the tonier places that usually offer an amuse-bouche, and Magdalena certainly qualifies. Its offering changes frequently, but one night in October the restaurant served moon-pale pumpkin bisque in a demitasse with a quail egg enrobed in chorizo—its version of a Scotch egg. Sweet and velvety met crispy, salt, and smooth. Damn gorgeous. (Mary Zajac)


3. Vuelve a la vida ceviche at Alma Latina Cocina (2400 Boston St., [667] 212-4273, almacocinalatina.com) There are three ceviches on offer at Irena Stein's lovely Alma Latina Cocina, and if you're going to try one, you could do no better than the vuelve a la vida. Translated from the Spanish as "return to life," this racy combination of uber-fresh scallops, calamari, lobster, shrimp, and mussels with a sneaky dose of spice in its light tomato broth has to be good for the soul. (MZ)

4. Sashimi at Azumi (725 Aliceanna St., [443] 220-0477, azumirestaurant.com) On the surface sashimi may seem like the simplest food to serve. After all, it's just slices of raw fish. But the absolute necessity to have the freshest fish possible, cut in such a way to present it in an elegant, almost art-like nature, is rarely executed well. Azumi has changed that. With fish flown in regularly from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market, you're getting some of the freshest fish we've seen in Baltimore. Combine that with chef Eiji Takase's attention to detail and deft use of a knife (he even breaks down the tuna after delivery) and you have one of the most decadent, pure seafood experiences in the city. It ain't cheap, but damn, is it worth it. (Ryan Detter)

5. Frère Jacques poutine at Clark Burger (5906 York Road, [410] 323-2356, clark-burger.com) Clark Burger, a counter-service burger joint attached to the Senator Theatre, is run by a native Canadian and it shows in the quality of the poutine, an eastern-Canada dish consisting of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. All of the poutine variations offered here are delicious, but the Frère Jacques is an utter marvel: Double-fried hand-cut french fries are doused in rich, herbaceous gravy and topped with smoked bacon, a fried egg, drizzles of roasted-garlic chipotle aioli, and genuine cheese curds that will gently squeak between your teeth. Sure, this poutine might make your cholesterol rise just thinking about it, but the glorious combinations of fatty and savory flavors make it so, so worth it. (Anna Walsh)

6. Pork belly eggs benedict at Dooby's (802 N. Charles St., [410] 609-3162, doobys.com) This ingenious combo stopped us in our tracks. Thick, salty slices of tender pork belly nestled into two pillowy steamed buns, topped with runny poached eggs, and dressed with a thick dose of scallion hollandaise sauce, this dish is the freshest breakfast creation we've seen come out of our fair city in a while (and we're pretty damn sick of benedicts). Set your alarm before you get to Dooby's because you may be enveloped in a blissed-out nap before you can even pay your tab. (RD)

7. Pulled duck poutine at Brew House No. 16 (831 N. Calvert St., [410] 659-4084, brewhouseno16.com) Poutine has until 2015 been fairly rare in Baltimore but here it is on our list, twice. The newly opened Brew House No. 16 in Mount Vernon offers a pulled duck poutine, featuring hand-cut fries with a roasted garlic gravy speckled with plenty of juicy duck confit and smoked bacon cheddar curds. It's the perfect stomach liner while swilling the brewery's suds. (Jennifer Waldera)

8. Snakehead cakes at Alewife (21 N. Eutaw St., [410] 545-5112, alewifebaltimore.com) Chef Chad Wells' delicious savory dish has the added environmental bonus of decreasing invasive snakehead in Maryland waterways. Mixing the flaky snakehead with mashed potatoes, then shallow pan-frying, Wells creates a unique twist on traditional codfish cakes that he serves over a creamy dill avocado purée and a Southwestern-style warm bacon and corn salad that acts as the perfect textural pairing for the smooth fish cakes. (JW)

9. Crispy buffalo sweetbreads at 1157 Bar + Kitchen (1157 Haubert St., [443] 449-5525, facebook.com/1157barandkitchen) Buffalo wings are the ubiquitous bar food, found on nearly every menu in Baltimore. While we certainly indulge in our fair share of saucy wings, we were impressed by Jason Ambrose's elevated take on the omnipresent appetizer earlier this year at his new small spot in Locust Point, 1157. Trading chicken for offal, Ambrose fries the lightly breaded pieces, then tosses them in a tangy hot sauce and serves the crispy bites alongside blue cheese, creating a classy take on the traditional wing. They're off the menu now, but we hope 1157 brings them back soon. (JW)

10. Vegan crab cakes at The Land of Kush (840 N. Eutaw St., [410] 225-5874, landofkush.com) Even devoted carnivores might be fooled by the taste of these vegan crab cakes. Big chunks of "crabmeat" are packed together with creamy filling that you'll only realize is dairy free if you're paying close attention. The cakes always have the right amount of kick to them, with a crispy cooked exterior nicely complementing the creamy interior. The crab cakes are only available on the weekends—though that's maybe a good thing, because otherwise we would be tempted to order these every day. (AW)