Best of Baltimore 2018: Dining & nightlife

Here are Baltimore Sun staffers’ picks in dining and nightlife categories for 2018:

Ambience

Bygone

Talk about an uplifting experience. There is nothing like Bygone’s mesmerizing views of the harbor and the city, views that would make this a prime destination if it only served fast food. But this restaurant turns out superb meats, seafood, desserts and more, all of which seem even tastier in such surroundings. The bar, with its suave whiskey mezzanine, is richly atmospheric, too. And every vantage point makes Baltimore look incredibly inviting, even trouble-free. Four Seasons, 400 International Drive, Harbor East, 443-343-8200, thebygonerestaurant.com

Birthday party

Zadie’s 98th at Union Craft

A party at Union Craft is typically worth checking out, but this January celebration of Henry “Zadie” Benesch was a must-see event. It felt true to Baltimore: Honoring an unpretentious worker who continues to help the family beer business, even as he turns 98. Visitors enjoyed lemon meringue pie and toasted Blackwing beers, priced at 98 cents, in the name of Zadie. The next day, he was back to work. 1700 Union Ave., Hampden, 410-467-0290, unioncraftbrewing.com

Bread plate

Gordon Ramsay Steak

You go to Gordon Ramsay Steak for the steak, obviously, or any number of other beautifully prepared entrees. But the first treat here is a bread plate far above the norm. Recent choices include slices of focaccia richly infused with lemon and thyme; subtly walnut-flavored baguettes; and pinwheels delectably filled with bacon, fig and blue cheese. The accompanying English butter, perfectly spiked with black Hawaiian sea salt, is a rare treat, too. Horseshoe Casino, 1525 Russell St., 443-931-4254, caesars.com/horseshoe-baltimore

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Catfe

Charm Kitty Cafe

If you’re looking for a cozy place to spend an hour sipping on something hot, nibbling on something sweet and befriending somebody cute, this is it. Join the cafe’s rotating group of adoptable cats from the Baltimore Humane Society. Each kitty lives in the living room-like space where playhouses, toys and mellow tunes abound — making it the ideal place to get to know your new companion. Make reservations at charmkittycafe.com. 3300 Clipper Mill Road, Hampden, 410-343-982

Coffee

Vent Coffee Roasters

A single cappuccino changed Sarah Walker’s outlook on coffee, and now the Vent Coffee Roasters founder is working to spread her java knowledge and build the coffee community in Baltimore. Vent got its start roasting within Argosy Cafe downtown, and it’s poised to grow. The operation will expand as Vent becomes part of the Union Collective, a retail and manufacturing hub coming to Medfield. 7 N. Calvert St., downtown, 916-521-2222, ventcoffeeroasters.com

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Comfort food

The Food Market

Six years in, the Food Market’s comfort food game is as strong as ever. With options like Amish soft pretzels and beer cheese fondue, pickle-brined fried chicken and “spicy, cheesy, herby, creamy, winey, garlicky shrimp,” diners would be hard pressed to leave the Hampden mainstay without full bellies and food comas. 1017 W. 36th St., Hampden, 410-366-0606, thefoodmarketbaltimore.com

Dessert

Cookie Dough & Co.

A new addition to Cross Street Market, the Cookie Dough & Co. pop-up serves some of Baltimore’s most distinctive sweets. The stall offers half a dozen flavors of safe-to-eat cookie dough, made with pasteurized eggs and heat-treated flour. Classic chocolate chip dough is available alongside rotating flavors such as cookies and cream, peanut butter and mint chocolate chip. The dough is served by the scoop with optional toppings and tiny cups of milk to balance the indulgence. 1065 S. Charles St., Federal Hill, cookiedoughandco.com

Distillery

Baltimore Whiskey Co.

The Baltimore Whiskey Co. has built one of the most complete portfolios of well-crafted and interesting spirits in the state, with products like the smokey Charles Street Apple Brandy, Shot Tower Gin and a bold trio of amaris. Best of all: They just released their years-in-the-making Epoch Rye Whiskey, which turned out to be more than worth the wait. 2800 Sisson St., Remington, 443-687-9099, thebaltimorewhiskeycompany.com

Best of Baltimore: Arts and activities »

Doughnuts

Diablo Doughnuts

After two years in Fells Point, the popular doughnut destination known for its funky creations (try the “Unicorn Farts” and Caramel Old Bay) is slated to move to a bigger location in Federal Hill. It will be open seven days a week, with 150 dozen freshly made doughnuts a day on weekends. A new partnership with the Patterson Park ice cream shop Bmore Licks means even more opportunities to get your hands on the creations of owner and doughnut creator Michael Roslan. 1035 Light St., Federal Hill, 410-892-3251; 717 S Broadway, Fells Point, 410-892-3251

Event you can drink at

Halloween Party at Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center’s sold-out Halloween Party, which benefited the Center and the local nonprofit Believe in Music, had something for everyone: Seven areas of live music, an eye-popping costume contest, a local food truck and a massive supply of Union Craft beer. We had a hard time leaving the constant dance party on the rooftop deck, but that just gave us (another) reason to come back in 2018. 601 Light St., Inner Harbor, 410-685-2370, mdsci.org

Family-style meal

Sammy’s Enoteca

Groups of four or more will not leave Sammy’s Enoteca hungry after sitting down for family-style dinners at the Fells Point restaurant. For $35 a person, the Italian restaurant and wine bar offers shareable plates for the table that include bread, salad, two appetizers, two pasta dishes, two entrees and dessert. 623 S. Broadway, 443-552-1002, sammysenoteca.com

Fries

Salt Tavern

French fries are so ubiquitous that they can start to taste pretty much the same. But even among stellar versions, the duck-fat fries at Salt Tavern seem to excel just a little more. The kitchen knows how to fry them perfectly to get a wonderful crunch on the outside, an abundance of fresh flavor inside, and no trace of grease. For a finishing touch, they’re served in a nifty paper cone alongside two tangy sauces. 2127 E. Pratt St., Upper Fells Point. 410-276-5480, salttavern.com

Keeper

Guinness filet from Jack’s Bistro to Blair’s on Hudson

Mention Jack’s Bistro in Canton, and it won’t take long for someone to respond, “Guinness steak!” It was the Sunday special at Jack’s, and a neighborhood favorite, so it made plenty sense for Ted Stelzenmuller to bring the filet to his new eatery, Blair’s on Hudson. They’re so proud of it that a mural reading “Home of the Guinness filet” was painted on the restaurant’s exterior. It looks right there. 2822 Hudson St., Canton, 443-939-2440, blairsonhudson.com

Funky aesthetics

Paper Moon Diner

The large portions of scrumptious food are a draw, but it’s the quirky décor that steals the show at the popular Hopkins-area diner. Whether it be the hundreds of figures, dolls and other toy nostalgia that adorns the walls and fixtures or the eclectic group of customers that flock there, there is plenty to enjoy at Paper Moon Diner 227 W 29th St., Remington, 410-889-4444, papermoondiner24.com

Liquid brunch

Sundays at Little Havana

There’s no shortage of options for all-you-can-drink brunches in Baltimore — good ones, too — but this waterfront standby always knows how to get a “Funday” going with attentive service (a huge factor for liquid brunch), solid Cuban-inspired meals and unlimited Bloody Marys and mimosas for $22.99. It’s a worthy price to forget about the Sunday Scaries, at least temporarily. 1325 Key Highway, Federal Hill, 410-837-9903, littlehavanas.com

Long-awaited arrival

Crossbar

It took nearly seven years (!) to open because of liquor license minutiae and drawn-out battles between owners and local neighborhood associations, but in March 2017, the Federal Hill beer garden finally opened. So far, so good: Crossbar has established itself as a fun and engaging spot with big German pretzels, even larger beers and a party setting elevated by long community tables and a ping-pong area that can get competitive. 18 E. Cross St., Federal Hill, 443-438-4013, crossbarbaltimore.com

Neighborhood place to take out-of-towners

The Dizz

To give out-of-towners a literal taste of Baltimore’s diverse neighborhoods, we’re spoiled for choice; lots of places serve up local color in vivid form. But The Dizz, on the corner of a rowhouse-filled street in Remington, has a way of standing out. First-timers are apt to be struck by the down-home ambience, friendliness of service (owner Elaine Stevens makes you feel like you’re family), and the simple pleasures of a menu loaded with comfort food. 300 W. 30th St., Remington, 443-869-5864, thedizzbaltimore.com

New bar

The Bluebird Cocktail Room

The evolution of Baltimore’s cocktail scene took another step forward in May with the arrival of Hampden’s Bluebird Cocktail Room from Paul Benkert, a former Woodberry Kitchen bar manager. Bluebird takes getting used to — there’s usually a waitlist for walk-ups on weekends, and no traditional food/drink servers — but the attention to detail for food and drink is taken with seriousness and care. The results are delicious. 3600 Hickory Ave., third floor, Hampden, 667-303-3263, thebluebirdbaltimore.com

Obscene but delicious

Chuck’s Trading Post

The name “Daddy’s S--- on a Shingle” may not speak to the height of culinary sophistication. But that’s probably the point. Chuck’s Trading Post serves the brunch classic of creamed beef on toast with egg on top (made to order) for breakfast, lunch or (an albeit early) dinner. It’s just like the old days, when Dad only knew one dish to scrape together for dinner — except better. Clean-plate-level better. 1506 W. 36th St., Hampden, 410-366-0178, chuckstradingpost.com

Packaged goods

Sir Duke Bar & Liquor Store

In July, the former Bad Decisions (and the Get Down before that) became Sir Duke, a casual Fells Point bar with fun pub fare and spiked milkshakes. With Sir Duke came convenience we didn’t realize we needed — in the back is a larger-than-expected selection of to-go beer, wine and more importantly, spirits. Grabbing a six-pack of beer from a bar is old hat here, but being able to buy a bottle of tequila until 2 a.m., seven days per week, takes packaged goods to an entirely new level. 701 S. Bond St., Fells Point, 703-230-4407, sirdukebar.com

Reasonably priced cocktail

La Cuchara’s False Idol

Baltimore’s cocktails are on the rise, but so are the prices. These days, it’s not a surprise to see $15 cocktails on a menu. This new reality has given us a deeper appreciation of drinks like La Cuchara’s $11 False Idol, a sublime-yet-simple combination of Buffalo Trace bourbon, agave and charred lemon. It’s their best seller for a reason. 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Jones Falls Area, 443-708-3838, lacucharabaltimore.com

Reason to eat out on a Monday

SoBo Cafe’s Pasta Night

Not ready to get into the week’s dinner routine just yet? This quaint Federal Hill bistro offers a new pasta dish each week, and it comes with a salad (calling it a “side” wouldn’t do it justice) and housemade bread for $20. They even include a draft beer or glass of wine, for which we’re extra grateful. 6 W. Cross St., Federal Hill, 410-752-1518, sobocafe.net

Redo

Bar Vasquez

Look, we liked Pazo. But Bar Vasquez has helped broaden Baltimore’s dining offerings to include Argentine cuisine. For meat lovers, that means drawing on that nation’s tradition of excellent beef. But it also encompasses empanadas, pastas, ceviches and other fish preparations. With a restrained ambience and impressive whiskeys and wine list, the sophistication quotient is high. 1425 Aliceanna St., Fells Point, 410-534-7296, barvasquez.com

Restaurant-shop hybrid

Handlebar Cafe

Cyclists, coffee aficionados and foodies collide inside Handlebar Cafe, the bike shop-restaurant-bar in Fells Point. Created by world champion mountain biker Marla Streb, Handlebar has the gear every cyclist needs alongside food, drinks and welcoming vibe. With plenty of bike parking — and delivery by couriers on two wheels — the cafe specializes in Southwest flavors, and burritos and pizzas play prominently on the menu. 511 S. Caroline St., Fells Point, 443-438-7065, handlebarcafe.com

Sandwich

Edmart Delicatessen

When you have Duff Goldman professing his love for your famous brisket sandwich on a Food Network show, you must be doing something right. And sure, the brisket sandwich is worth the trip to the Pikesville institution. But so is the hot turkey pastrami. Heck, you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from the family-owned deli, which has been open since 1958. 1427 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-486-5558, edmartdeli.com

Save

Annabel Lee Tavern

When owner Kurt Bragunier closed his Edgar Allan Poe-inspired corner restaurant/bar in Canton last May, two fans from the neighborhood stepped up, anonymously, to invest and reopen the spot. A few months later, the tavern was back open, and the neighborhood let out a collective sigh of relief. 601 S. Clinton St., Canton, 410-522-2929, annabelleetavern.com

Soul food

Ida B’s Table

Chef David Thomas’ eyes brighten when he talks about the black culinary experience. That passion comes through with each thoughtful, flavorful bite at Ida B’s Table. The new downtown restaurant has tapped into the city’s African-American population by serving classic dishes with modern twists. Case in point: The Herb and Soul Roll, which combines pulled jerk chicken, Liberian greens and candied yams inside an egg roll. 235 Holliday St., downtown, 410-844-0444, idabstable.com

Spot to run into Drake

Azumi

In late June, unsuspecting diners at the Harbor East Japanese restaurant began to hear Jay-Z’s brand-new album over the speakers — an unexpected choice. The man who made the request had the clout to pull it off: Drake, the international rap superstar, was in town for the night to eat grilled octopus on the Azumi patio, take in Jay’s record and, of course, snap some pictures for Instagram with wide-eyed fans. 725 Aliceanna St., Harbor East, 443-220-0477, azumirestaurant.com

Sushi

Shoyou Sushi

It didn’t take long for Shoyou Sushi to outgrow its hole-in-the-wall digs on Light Street, and it’s no wonder. The restaurant doubled in size this year with a new location a block away from the original, where Bruce “Sushi Bruce” Li continues to serve some of the most eye-popping rolls in town. 1450 Light St., Federal Hill, 410-685-2989, sushibruce.com

Tapas

Tapas Teatro

Hello, old friend. The Spanish-themed small plates restaurant is more than a convenient option after taking in a movie at The Charles. With scrumptious bites (the lamb chops, steak and papas bravas are musts) and close to 10 desserts (torte chocolate and flan are spectacular), it’s no wonder Tapas Teatro has been around since 2001. Don’t forget the sangria. 1711 N Charles St., Station North, 410-332-0110, tapasteatro.com

Taproom

Waverly Brewing Co.

One of the biggest challenges for taprooms is creating a familial and cozy atmosphere— the type of place you’re happy to spend a few hours with friends or just chatting with the bartender. At Waverly Brewing Co. in Hampden, that ambience is a clear asset, with regulars and visitors mingling over tasty pints of beer, cornhole and the occasional live music set. It’s a taproom built for leisurely hanging out, and one we’re never in a rush to leave. 1625 Union Ave., Hampden, 443-438-5765, waverlybrewingcompany.com

Trend

Crowlers

If you ask us, growlers — the half-gallon, amber-colored glass jugs breweries sell to-go beer in — always seem more practical in theory than practice. We prefer the 32-ounce (read: smaller) aluminum crowlers that have become must-have items for some breweries and liquor stores around the state. Their popularity speaks to their convenience, and we’d bet this trend won’t slow down soon.

Upgrade

Rec Pier Chop House

Rec Pier was an inspired choice for the police station in the NBC series “Homicide.” But the impressive building, at a prime, waterfront site, had languished for nearly two decades since production ended. So, we’re happy to see it revived as the Sagamore Pendry hotel and, more to the point, a fine-dining destination. Developed by James Beard Award-winner Andrew Carmellini, the restaurant excels at meat but is much more than that. 1715 Thames St., Fells Point, 443-552-1300, recpierchophouse.com

Wine bar

Vineyard Wine Bar

In a stylish, casual setting, customers of Vineyard Wine Bar can sample dozens of wines by the glass or the bottle, served by staffers deeply familiar with the nuances of each. That’s attraction enough. But in addition to exploring vintages from various corners of the world, you can also order first-rate food to go with the pours. The kitchen offers a tempting assortment of small plates that, like wines, range from light to full-bodied. 142 N. Washington St., Havre de Grace, 443-502-2551, www.hdg.vineyardwinebar.com

Yelp got it right

Joe Benny’s

When we reviewed Joe Benny’s in 2014, we wrote, “The quiet meal was relaxing but the place deserves more buzz.” In February of this year, Yelp deemed Joe Benny’s one of the top 100 places to eat in the country. People of Baltimore: Thank you for listening. And for appreciating the joy of a cozy restaurant that elevates focaccia bread and meatballs. 313 S. High St., Little Italy, 443-835-4866, joebennys.com

— Brittany Britto, Wesley Case, Sarah Meehan, Tim Smith, Anne Tallent, John-John Williams IV

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