75 hidden gems of Baltimore’s restaurant and bar scene

Three hidden gems from The Baltimore Sun 2020 Dining Guide

Baltimore’s cup runneth over when it comes to places to dine or enjoy a drink. Foodies, discerning diners and almost everyone who has lived here a minute can quickly list a dozen or so of their favorite places with suggestions on which dishes to try and why.

Then there are the other restaurants, bars and brew pubs that many of you may not know about. They may be off the beaten path, in a corner of the city you don’t frequent or serving a dish or a drink you never thought to order.

There are a lot of hidden gems in Charm City. We’ve pulled this list together. See if you discover any culinary surprises.

Atelier Culinaire: Experience aspiring chefs

Located at the edge of Little Italy, this restaurant is managed by Stratford University, which has a Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management degree. The goal is to showcase the students who are getting ready to graduate by giving them experience working in a real restaurant. The small core menu — the steak frites and Brussels sprouts are popular — is also accompanied by seasonal and local products.

806 Stiles St., Little Italy, 410-528-2710. facebook.com/Atelier806/.

Arthouse: Second floor surprise

The Greek Freak pizza made by pizza chef Eddie West, left, at The arthouse in Hampden.
The Greek Freak pizza made by pizza chef Eddie West, left, at The arthouse in Hampden. (Kenneth K. Lam)

If you have been to Hampden, you have undoubtedly spotted the brightly lit restaurant, which is located on bustling 36th Street. You may have even stopped in for their delicious pizza and cocktails. But did you know that there is a second floor that contains a pool table, darts, and assorted board games —all free. The room, which looks straight out of the ’80s, is adorned with all types of cool, colorful contemporary art. The room is also Bluetooth speaker-ready so you can play your favorite tunes for an evening of free entertainment to go along all the pizza and drinks.

1115 W 36th St., Hampden, 443- 438-7700. thearthousebaltimore.com.

Bar: Yes, it’s a bar called Bar

This spot is almost impossible to find. With no website or major social media presence, it embraces its dive bar label. They don’t make fancy mixed drinks or flashy cocktails. And it looks like a Midwest grandparents’ basement in the ’70s. But it’s a nostalgic watering hole where it’s easy to strike up a hearty conversation with the bartender or the motley crew of patrons that roll through.

1718 Lancaster St., Fells Point. 410-327-4508.

Char’d City: Sleeper hit

Arugula and Prosciutto Pizza at Char'd City restaurant in Hamilton.
Arugula and Prosciutto Pizza at Char'd City restaurant in Hamilton.(Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Inside Harford Road’s Char’d City, you’ll see the Tunisian chef, a former breakdancer named Yassine Rmadhnia, working his moves on the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, which rises to 900 degrees and can cook that leopard-spotted pizza crust in just 90 seconds. Don’t sleep on Rmadhnia’s offerings like tajine el bey, a Tunisian style casserole with ground meat, spinach and ricotta. The restaurant validates Hamiltonians who say their neighborhood is fast becoming one of the city’s hottest foodie destinations.

5402 Harford Road, Hamilton. 443-760-1501. facebook.com/Chardcity.

Chuck’s Trading Post: Hampden’s fringe

Owner Tracey Sangria has transformed this restaurant into a mix of a rustic, remote country store and diner. Originally built in the ’70s, the business received a Western-themed makeover in 2017. And it’s working. So is the food.

Their cake — sweet cornbread served hot in an individual black skillet — is worth ordering. While you can build your own breakfast skillets, we prefer Val’s Rancheros (black bean salsa, avocado, sour cream and tortilla) and Spaniard (housemade chorizo, corn, tomato and potato hash). Their Wednesday night special is also a deal and includes a burger, fries and beer or cider for $12.

1506 W. 36th St., Hampden, 410-366-0178. chuckstradingpost.com.

Cocina Luchadoras: Tacos and tamales worth fighting for

Tacos left to right: steak, al Pastor, and chicken at Cocina Luchadoras in Fells Point. This rebel stronghold for taco lovers offers outside seating in the warmer months and a delectable assortment of handmade sopes, pozole and Mexican beverages.
Tacos left to right: steak, al Pastor, and chicken at Cocina Luchadoras in Fells Point. This rebel stronghold for taco lovers offers outside seating in the warmer months and a delectable assortment of handmade sopes, pozole and Mexican beverages.(Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Owner Rosalyn Vera’s taqueria has a vibrance and energy that far exceeds its tiny footprint in Fells Point. Inside, you’ll find exuberant feminist and pro-immigrant artwork, and Vera and her staff serving some of the city’s top tacos along with regional specialties such as an Oaxacan-style tamale that’s wrapped in a banana leaf and stuffed with chicken and is expletive-inducing delicious.

253 S Broadway, Fells Point. 410-732-4000. facebook.com/cocinaluchadoras.

Fadensonnen: Natural wine and books by candlelight

The Old Goucher haunt from Lane Harlan, the forward-thinking restaurateur behind Clavel, serves a selection of natural wine and sake as well as a tasty assortment of exotic, tasty snacks like ’nduja, a spreadable salami from Italy paired with labneh and marmalade. On a recent visit, the zen-like spot upstairs smelled of Palo Santo wood; the bartender and both patrons sitting at the bar were reading actual books — real books! — by candlelight. In warmer months, check out the downstairs biergarten.

3 W. 23rd St., Old Goucher. fadensonnen.com.

Joe Benny’s boasts Little Italy’s best balls

The tiny Little Italy restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, one might look inside and see a narrow rectangle of a restaurant and bar with a hole-in-the wall feel and might leave. But don’t let the size or lack of contemporary décor fool you. Joe Benny’s fights above its weight. With the bold and brash claim of having the “best balls on the block” they definitely have that. And they have a good case for having the best meatballs in Baltimore — if not the region. The huge bowl of tender, seasoned baked beef-pork meatballs swimming in a rich, zesty red sauce and topped with shaved Parmigiano, is an unworldly experience. Also, their Focaccia (Sicilian Style Pizza)‎ is right up there as a Baltimore must.

313 South High St., Little Italy, 443-835-4866. joebennys.com.

John Brown General & Butchery: The best Big Mac money can buy

The butcher shop and eatery on Falls Road in a rural section of Cockeysville feels like a modern vision of the 19th century: an old stone building with locally sourced meats behind glass, staff in beards and skinny jeans. The kitchen also serves a rotating selection of lunches that can include the tastiest hot chicken we’ve had outside Nashville and a freshly ground burger that’s like a gourmet Big Mac. We’re so glad owner Robert Voss, a Monkton native who worked in New York for several years, decided to bring his talents back home.

13501 Falls Road, Cockeysville. 410-891-8549. facebook.com/JBGButchery.

Gypsy’s Truckstaurant: A quintessentially Baltimore spot along the Jones Falls

If the American Visionary Art Museum is Baltimore’s trademark museum, the truckstaurant may be the spot that best exemplifies its unabashedly quirky yet working-class ethos. Located in a former auto shop along the Jones Falls and decked out in astroturf and Christmas lights Gypsy’s Truckstaurant — where all the food is made in a food truck —combines a restaurant with funky bar ⁠where you can sip an ice queen, something like an alcoholic Slurpee. “You come in and it’s a very mysterious vibe,” co-owner Annmarie Langton said. “No one knows what they’re getting themselves into.”

3515 Clipper Mill Road, Jones Falls Area. 443-869-5602​. gypsytruckstaurant.com.

Indigma: Indian cuisine on Cathedral Street

After two fires at its old Charles Street location, this scrumptious Indian bistro has found a home a few blocks over at the less bustling Cathedral Street in the former Tavern on the Hill space. Check out their Thali Night on Tuesdays where they offer six or more different flavors on one plate. The sampling of foods is a treat, as is their Instagram picture-worthy Cardamom Crème Brûlée. Their all-you-can-eat Indian buffet on Sundays is also a must.

900 Cathedral St., Mount Vernon, 443-449-6483. indigmabistro.com.

iBar: Baltimore’s best Buffalo wings

Add this small neighborhood bar to your list if you’re looking for heavily poured drinks to go with the city’s best Buffalo wings. Located in the heart of the developing Charles Street/ Station North neighborhood, there are plenty of reasons to stop in. On Wednesday “Wingsday” wings are half-off and Long Island Iced Teas are discounted from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Their array of sandwiches (the iBar shrimp Po’ boy is a good choice) are also worth ordering. But back to those wings. They’re based on the recipe from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, and iBar takes it one step further by also offering their own Chef Style Buffalo Wings, which are spicier.

2118 Maryland Ave. Charles Village. 443-759-6147. ibarbaltimore.com.

Keystone Korner: Evoking Charm City’s storied jazz scene

Many Baltimoreans have grown up on stories of Pennsylvania Avenue’s glory days, when voices like Ethel Ennis reigned supreme in jazz clubs such as the Red Fox. Keystone Korner, a hidden gem in Harbor East, comes close to recapturing that lost glory, with a lineup of modern-day jazz performers programmed by Todd Barkan, who opened the original Keystone Korner in San Francisco in the 1970s, and a menu that includes nostalgic favorites like deviled eggs and soul chicken.

350 Lancaster St., Harbor East. 410-946-6726. keystonekornerbaltimore.com.

La Barrita: Indulge in Argentine classics

A platter of Fettuccine del Bosque, at La Barrita in Butchers Hill.
A platter of Fettuccine del Bosque, at La Barrita in Butchers Hill.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Straightforward Argentine classics form the core of the menu at this elegant steakhouse, which brings sophistication [and deliciousness] to its corner of Butchers Hill. Think: steak, steak, and more steak, thick, homemade pasta, the best flan ever, and loads of dulce de leche, an addictive caramel-like spread made from condensed milk that’s hugely popular in Argentina, owner Sebastian Cardona’s home country, where it may have originated.

32 North Chester St., Butchers Hill. 443-453-9716. facebook.com/labarritabaltimore.

Maisy’s: Margherita magic

Between their brick oven pizza — the Margherita is one of the best in the city — and the sweet soy chili wings, this spot fills with locals and tourists who happen upon it while trying to make their way to Mount Vernon. And pro tip: during Orioles or Ravens games, pizza and wings are half off. Fun menu items: House of Cards [shrimp, crab, and sausage gumbo] and the Britney Spears [filet mignon tossed in olive oil, garlic, pineapple, fresh rosemary and cherry tomatoes, baked with goat cheese, and served over rice] are also worth considering. Don’t forget to give their heaping salads a whirl. And arrive early for dinner and weekend service as the restaurant no longer takes reservations at these times.

313 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon, 443-220-0150. maisysbaltimore.com.

Lobo Fell’s Point: Serving up comfort away from the action

Known for their robust, thoughtful meat and cheese boards, and stunning cocktails, the comfy spot is close enough to the action of Broadway Market but far enough to avoid the long lines of Thames Street Oyster House. Speaking of seafood, the littleneck clams here are taken into another stratosphere with the addition of Spanish chorizo, onions, garlic, white wine and butter. Also heavenly smelling are the PEI mussels, which are bathed in yellow curry, coconut milk, and cilantro. Wash them down with the Vinegar Old Fashion, an exciting take on the classic with George Dickel rye, and a splash of their house infused vinegar, which makes the classic slightly spicy. The Lobo Sour is also an unexpected mix of bourbon, Farretti biscotti liqueur, fresh lemon, egg white, and a Garnacha float.

1900 Aliceanna St., Fells Point, 410-327-0303. lobofellspoint.com.

Old Major: Pigtown’s Caribbean canteen

Located across the street from a school in between Pigtown and Washington Village, Old Major is an unexpected surprise. Between its Caribbean food and array of artisanal cocktails, this haunt has quietly been attracting residents with its new menu, specialty drink offerings and slew of entertainment from comedians to open mic singing nights and anime screenings. Check out the enclosed back patio. And stop in during most major holidays when they typically have a special drink menu the entire week.

900 S. Carey St, Pigtown/Washington Village, 410-873-7363.

Orchard Market & Cafe: Persian home cooking

Shirin Polo is a dish with poached chicken, carrots, raisins, berries and nuts in an orange saffron sauce at the Orchard Market and Cafe.
Shirin Polo is a dish with poached chicken, carrots, raisins, berries and nuts in an orange saffron sauce at the Orchard Market and Cafe.(Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

It’s next to impossible for U.S. citizens to travel to Iran these days, but this cafe in a nondescript strip mall off Joppa Road offers us a sampling of classic Persian dishes like chicken fesenjan, a sweet and hearty stew made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The decor could use some freshening up — it feels like little has changed since it opened in the 1980s — but we appreciate the consistency. The recipes all come from the 80-year-old mother of owner Sharareh Bulkeley, who raised 13 children and still comes to the restaurant daily to prepare stocks.

8815 Orchard Tree Lane, Towson. 410 339-7700, orchardmarketandcafe.com.

Pho Bac: Great Vietnamese food

In the name of good Vietnamese food, we were willing to schlep to Pho Bac back when it was a truly hidden gem, sharing a dining area with a hot pot spot in the corner of a grocery store in Rosedale. Imagine our delight when owner Trang Nguyen relocated her restaurant to a lovely corner row home in Patterson Park, offering comfortable seating, full service and drinks [not to mention they now accept credit cards.] We’ve yet to try a bad dish from Nguyen’s kitchen, but we especially love anything off the grill: think grape leaves stuffed with beef and lemongrass pork chops.

700 S Potomac Street, Patterson Park. 667-205-1589. facebook.com/PhoBacMD.

Ramen Utsuke: Top ramen in a tall building

Oriole Park Ramen (Silky style chicken broth ramen finished with a drizzle of black garlic oil and spicy oil wavy noodles), at Ramen Utsuke on Light Street.
Oriole Park Ramen (Silky style chicken broth ramen finished with a drizzle of black garlic oil and spicy oil wavy noodles), at Ramen Utsuke on Light Street.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

This relative newcomer to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is hardly hidden — it’s on the ground floor of the city’s tallest apartment building — but that’s just what makes it such a surprise. The restaurant is co-owned by chef Shigehiko “Jacky” Okiebisu, who moved to the U.S. from his native Japan when working as a chef for the Benihana chain decades ago. After a long hiatus from the restaurant industry, he’s since studied ramen making in his home country. His dedication to the craft is apparent in every swirling bowl of steaming broth. The cool decor, friendliness of the staff and a brag-worthy sake list add to the already warm atmosphere.

414 Light St., Inner Harbor. 443-563-2977. ramenutsuke.com.

Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro: Numbing in a good way

Chinese food fans in the Baltimore area have for years decried the shortage of solid Chinese options around these parts. But since Towson’s Red Pepper opened, they’ve had a lot less to complain about. The full-service Sichuan restaurant from the owners of the Orient Express, a smaller and more casual option near Johns Hopkins University, features delicacies like a crave-worthy beef with rice crust that incorporates the signature tongue numbing peppers of Sichuan along with a multitude of other seasonings and cooking styles that have become synonymous with the cuisine.

11 Allegheny Ave., Towson. 410-832-7333. redpeppermd.com.

Siroo & Juk Story: Korean shaved ice

The strawberry shaved ice, at Siroo and Juk Story.
The strawberry shaved ice, at Siroo and Juk Story.(Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

The entrance to this Route 40 coffee shop and cafe is so tucked away, you’ll likely need to do a couple laps around the place before you can enter. It’s worth the adventure to step inside the Korean cafe and coffee house, which has branches in Northern Virginia and specializes in items like juk, a type of porridge, and handmade fried rice cakes prepared fresh daily. There’s also a long menu to satisfy your sweet tooth, including cupcakes and mountainous shaved ice concoctions so loaded with toppings they make the traditional Baltimore snowball look downright dull.

10176 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 443-325-5330. siroousa.com.

Tilted Row: A weeknight restaurant that feels special

Since the first month it opened on the first floor of a McMechen Street apartment building, the Tilted Row has managed to feel like very much the locals’ restaurant. Here, sip craft cocktails on a Tuesday that suddenly feels very much like a Saturday. Or sit in the French brasserie-style dining room or at a counter overlooking the kitchen, where you can watch the chef prepare the night’s blue plate special, which comes with dessert. Available only on weeknights, it’s a steal.

305 McMechen St., Bolton Hill. 443-552-1594. thetiltedrow.com.

True Chesapeake Oyster Co.: Where to eat gourmet snakeheads

Just south of Woodberry lies Whitehall Mill, a former sailcloth factory that’s in the midst of becoming another Baltimore dining Mecca, with the True Chesapeake Oyster Co. as its flagship. The restaurant from the eponymous Maryland oyster farm serves their excellent bivalves as well as innovative takes on classic Maryland cuisine courtesy of chef Zack Mills, who manages to turn invasive snakeheads from the stuff of nightmares to an entree that’s as delicate and satisfying as it is surprising. Don’t miss cocktails by Chelsea Gregoire, recently named beverage director of the year by Esquire magazine.

Whitehall Mill, 3300 Clipper Mill Road, Jones Falls Area, 410-913-6374. truechesapeake.com.

The Admiral Fell Inn Tavern: Little-known basement bar

The tavern of the Admiral Fell Inn.
The tavern of the Admiral Fell Inn.(Courtesy of MJ Hotels)

While most of the attention in the area goes to other bars, an unassuming The Admiral Fell Inn Tavern beats them all. Head bartender Steve Mavronis has created something special at Fells Point’s only basement bar. It’s the little touches that make this place special. Between him bringing in fresh herbs or making a homemade baklava garnish for his elaborate, award-winning egg nog cocktails, this place might be one of the city’s best kept secrets.

888-898 S Broadway, Fells Point, admiralfell.com

The Outpost American Tavern: Tucked to the side

The 10 Can Nachos are social media magic. Equally impressive is the fact that the neighborhood bar/restaurant wraps itself in popular culture. Themed trivia nights have included Game of Thrones, Home Alone, Mean Girls, The Office and Degrassi to name a few. Their Biggie Brunch! featured music from the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. It’s not what one might expect from a haunt tucked within the edge of Federal Hill’s residential area.

1032 Riverside Ave., Federal Hill, 410-388-9113. theoutpostbaltimore.com.

Ruhlman Brewing Co.: Hops grown right on the farm

Creeping Creek Farms in Hampstead is where you can find Ruhlman Brewing Co. The brewery makes its “Our Ales” series, with styles ranging from pre-Prohibition-type rye ale to a powerful imperial stout — all with their own homegrown hops. With intimate on-site drinking space and a disc golf course snaking through the farm, Ruhlman offers a unique and family-friendly farm experience for all — even the kids.

2300 Harvey Gummel Road, Hampstead. 410-259-4166. ourales.com.

Key Brewing Co.: Long and winding road

Patrons sit at the bar in the tap room at Key Brewing Company in Dundalk.
Patrons sit at the bar in the tap room at Key Brewing Company in Dundalk. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Follow a snaking service road to find the cozy taproom, which serves beers from this widely distributed Dundalk brewery. Here you can try several of the flagship beers like the Chesapeake Common lager or Speed Wobbles session IPA [most of which are below 6% ABV and designed for crushability.] The taproom also offers a rotating set of limited-run brews. Take note, soccer fans: Key has soccer games on the television and features supporter scarves on their walls.

2500 Grays Road, Dundalk. 410-477-2337. keybrewing.com.

Inverness Brewing: Crop-to-glass fun

Not everybody knows about Inverness Brewing, but once you visit, you won’t forget. Give credit to the well water that makes their immense suite of beers, including a refreshing light lager and delicately hopped There’s Always One IPA, so delicious. Or credit the sprawling views across the 100 acres of farmland, where Clark Gable once kept a summer home, on which the brewery sits. Whatever the cause, you’ll be coming back.

16200 Markoe Road, Monkton, 443-829-2142. invernessbrewing.com.

Chasers: Baltimore dive, with a Philly twist

Interior of Chasers bar in Canton.
Interior of Chasers bar in Canton.(Ulysses Muoz / Baltimore Sun)

Don’t let the Eagles flag outside Chasers chase you away. This bring-your-own-food Canton bar, owned by a Philly native, opens its arms to all patrons no matter the season. Watch your team of choice on one of several TVs while you enjoy great drink specials like the $2 domestic beers and $3 rails during happy hour. Don’t forget to chat with any the bar’s effusive regulars [a.k.a. your new friends.]

2501 Fleet St., Canton. 667-216-2142. facebook.com/chaserscanton.

Michael’s Steak & Lobster House: Scrumptious steak and seafood, minus the pretension

Theo Athanasiou holds platters of the 32 ounce crab cake, lobster tail and filet mignon, and 40 ounce porterhouse at Michael's Steak and Lobster restaurant on Eastern Avenue.
Theo Athanasiou holds platters of the 32 ounce crab cake, lobster tail and filet mignon, and 40 ounce porterhouse at Michael's Steak and Lobster restaurant on Eastern Avenue. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

On Eastern Avenue, east of Highlandtown, lies some of the best surf and turf Baltimore offers. Michael’s Steak & Lobster House is a

veritable institution, with excellent crab cakes, soup and even a crab-stuffed steak. Your taste buds will thank you.

6209 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, 410-633-6485.

Diamondback Brewing Co.: Exemplary small-batch brewery

You might miss this exemplary small-batch brewery if you didn’t know what corner of the otherwise monotonous McHenry Row to look in. Look for the skinny chimney boasting this precious gem of a beer house’s three-point logo and enjoy a few top-notch brews, like the refreshing Green Machine IPA or robust Pretzel Logic marzen. Pair with one of the region’s best artisanal pizzas.

1215 E. Fort Ave. 443-388-9626. diamondbackbeer.com.

Checkerspot Brewing Co.: Gluten-reduced beers for all tastes

Checkerspot Brewing Co., located on Sharp Street near M&T Bank Stadium, serves its own brews through their giant vats in the brewery.
Checkerspot Brewing Co., located on Sharp Street near M&T Bank Stadium, serves its own brews through their giant vats in the brewery. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Under the I-395 overpass is an unexpected place to find a stylistically diverse and roomy brewery. Yet this is where you’ll find Checkerspot Brewing Co., which treats its beers so those with gluten issues can drink them. To truly understand its variety, try the Butterfly Kisses IPA, Here Beer Watermelon wheat, namesake dry cider and Got Wood? Doppelbock back-to-back. If you’re still standing, complement with some charcuterie.

1399 S. Sharp St., stadium area. 443-388-8912. Checkerspotbrewing.com.

Muir’s Tavern: Family-owned tavern with a family of regulars

Muir's Tavern is named after the family that opened it 75 years ago.
Muir's Tavern is named after the family that opened it 75 years ago. (Kenneth K. Lam)

This is one of Fort Avenue’s oldest family-owned bars. Expect no frills or fuss, just cheap drinks and regulars so gregarious that they’ll step outside to invite passers-by to stop in for a brew or two [trust us, we’ve seen it happen.] Baltimore’s a city of neighborhoods, and every community has its favorite dive.This is most definitely South Baltimore’s.

36 E. Fort Ave., Federal Hill (410) 385-0344. facebook.com/muirstavern.

1919: Christmas in Charm City

1919, a dive bar at 1919 Fleet Street in Fells Point, is a family owned business established in 1984. The eclectic decorations are accentuated with strings of colored lights.
1919, a dive bar at 1919 Fleet Street in Fells Point, is a family owned business established in 1984. The eclectic decorations are accentuated with strings of colored lights.(Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

1919 hides itself well, with only a neon sign announcing its name [and building number] to those driving by. Step inside for an exhilarating saturation of Christmas lights, cheap drinks, great music. Its location makes it an ideal stopover for those trying to paint Fells and Canton red in the same night.

1919 Fleet St., Fells Point. facebook.com/1919Fleet.

Bartenders: Where your favorite bartenders go

This is the place the service industry goes. And for good reason. The bartenders there won’t think twice about hand-making a sour mix right on the spot using freshly squeezed lemons. Customers aren’t met with blank stares when ordering classic cocktails like an Old Fashion or fraternity row drinks like an Amaretto Sour. They’re got a good selection of sandwiches, salads and appetizers. With more than a dozen types, they’re also known for the extensive pizza offerings.

2218 Boston St, Canton, 410-534-2337. facebook.com/bartenders.pub.

Black Eyed Suzie’s: Elevated sports bar

The Bel Air Main Street restaurant and bar is more than a sports bar. Sure, games are typically playing on what seems like an endless amount of mounted televisions. But the food is not an afterthought. The rockfish tenders are a mashup of fish and chips and chicken tenders. The Old Line 16 oz. T-bone steak is seasoned and cooked for the gods. The Tin Can nachos are taken to the next level with the lump crab meat pieces throughout. The chicken Bel Air takes an unexpected Cajun turn with its andouille sausage and blackened chicken tossed with spicy Alfredo and penne pasta.

119 S. Main St., Bel Air, 443-371-7993. black-eyed-suzies.com.

By The Docks Seafood Restaurant: Crabs galore

This Middle River spot is a solid option for their weekend brunch buffets or their seafood dinners, which include their iconic eight-ounce colossal jumbo lump crab cakes, and what seems like an endless amount of crab dishes: cream of crab soup, crab dip, crab imperial, crab balls and crab cake sandwich.

3321 Eastern Blvd, Middle River, 410-686-1188. bythedocks.com.

Cafe Fili: Perfectly plated Mediterranean

Cafe Fili serves Mediterranean-inspired fare, like this hummus trio.
Cafe Fili serves Mediterranean-inspired fare, like this hummus trio.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The brightly lit interior is befitting this jewel of a Mediterranean restaurant in Mount Vernon. In addition to all of the beautiful pastries and desserts, the restaurant serves up perfectly-plated small plates like grilled octopus, kafta meatballs and burrata. Their sandwiches continue the Mediterranean theme with options like falafel, lamb and chicken shawarma.

816 Cathedral St,, Mount Vernon. 410-244-1600., cafefili.com.

Capital Lounge: Scrumptious food, imaginative drinks

With drinks like Jess Hilarious — Hennessey, peach schnapps, white peach puree, sweet and sour and grape juice concoction named for the comedian — and Sandtown, a mainly vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec nod to the Baltimore neighborhood, Capital Lounge is brimming with personality. The Upton lounge is also known for its mouthwatering food from its array of humongous loaded baked potatoes [try the Lena Horne with garlic butter, shrimp and cheese sauce] to wings [lemon pepper, Old Bay and buffalo,] and fish dinner with two sides. The baked mac and cheese is a crowd favorite.

1531 Pennsylvania Ave., Upton, 410-523-9300.

Chez Hugo: Tucked away French cuisine

The exterior of Chez Hugo, which is located in the handsome Merchants Club building from 1905.
The exterior of Chez Hugo, which is located in the handsome Merchants Club building from 1905.(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Chez Hugo is easy to miss with its side street location but Chef Steve Monnier’s classic French cooking should be enough to lure you downtown. All the classics are there: Steak frites, escargot, soupe à l’oignon [onion soup.] Make sure you check out the Poulet Pour Deux, the whole hay-roasted chicken, which comes with grilled vegetables, latke potatoes, parsnip yogurt and hay cream sauce. The 10-course tasting menu is also special.

206 E Redwood St., downtown, 443-438-3002. chezhugobistro.com.

Colin’s Seafood: Sit down soul food in a strip mall

You wouldn’t expect such good home-cooking from a space that looks like a sports bar in a strip mall. But one taste of Colin’s Seafood, you will think that a Southern grandmother was in the kitchen creating magical dishes. Take the catfish filet, which comes grilled, broiled, or fried. Or the sugary sweet potatoes, extra cheesy baked mac and cheese or peppery collards. These aren’t run-of-the-mill dishes. It’s quintessential soul food served the way it was intended — with plenty of flavor and love.

3653 Offutt Rd, Randallstown, 443-272-7818, colinsseafoodandgrill.com.

Culinary Architecture: Chef-driven experience in Pigtown

Chef and owner Sylvia Lin opened up Culinary Architecture in Pigtown in 2016 as a marketplace and restaurant. The business has evolved into a catering company and space for chef-driven meals. Now her private dinners for 10 to 14 people range around $500 to $700. Lin, who grew up in Washington, D.C., draws from her Asian background and international ties to create fusion menus with nods from everywhere from Thailand to Puerto Rico.

767 Washington Blvd, Pigtown, 443-708-8482, catering@culinaryarchitecture.com.

CuVino: Wine bar excelling in Italian cuisine

Bucatini pasta with Bolgnese sauce, grana padano cheese and a touch of cream is a popular entree at CuVino Trattoria Pizza Enoteca in the Padonia Village shopping center.
Bucatini pasta with Bolgnese sauce, grana padano cheese and a touch of cream is a popular entree at CuVino Trattoria Pizza Enoteca in the Padonia Village shopping center. (Amy Davis)

You might not associate a strip mall and excellent Italian wine and food. But that’s the case for Timonium wine bar CuVino. Sure there are dozens of wines to choose from, but this is more than a wine bar. Brothers Angelo and Ralph DiBiasi have turned this former doctor’s office into a destination where hearty portions of familiar dishes reminiscent of a Sunday Italian dinner are the standard.

31 A E Padonia Road, Timonium, 410-853-7484. tastecuvino.com.

Duck Duck Goose: Hidden courtyard

It’s no secret that owner/chef Ashish Alfred’s Fells Point restaurant has drool-worthy French food. But even loyal fans of the classic brasserie probably don’t know about its private courtyard dining room. You have to essentially pass through the restaurant’s kitchen to reach it. But once you’re there, it’s like a tranquil oasis that’s ripe for a scrumptious, intimate meal. And the food? It’s magnifique.

814 S Broadway, Fells Point, 443-869-2129. ddgbaltimore.com.

Home Maid: Key Highway’s soulful sensation

In a city with a dearth of black-owned, seated soul food restaurants, Home Maid is a rarity. The brunch-centric concept, which is only open on weekends, is simply delicious. You can taste the love and legacy in the cooking. With buttery, flaky biscuits, shrimp and grits, and some of the best fried chicken in the city, this small restaurant, which is fashioned to look like a Southern-style kitchen and dining room, lives up to its name. Also, make sure you order the house-made jam, which should be bottled and sold on a national level.

1400 Key Hwy, Locust Point, 443-759-8033. homemaidbrunch.com.

Flamant Restaurant: Fine European dining in West Annapolis

A classically trained chef who has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe right in West Annapolis? Dreams do come true at Flamant, where executive chef Frederik De Pue brings European comfort food to a restaurant housed in a contemporary-looking home in a residential neighborhood. At Flamant, where the technique matches the taste, guests can choose from favorites such as the mussel salad with brioche, garlic, parsnips and lemon dressing; the roasted organic farm chicken; the Maryland Blue crab rolls, and Grand Marnier tiramisu.

17 Annapolis St., West Annapolis. 410-267-0274. flamantmd.com.

Fox’s Den: Basement bar with gourmet pizza

The Original Pizza at the Fox's Den American Craft Gastropub in Annapolis.
The Original Pizza at the Fox's Den American Craft Gastropub in Annapolis.(Joshua McKerrow, staff / Capital Gazette)

A basement gastropub that also serves gourmet pizza? Sign us up. With pizza like: Thai Pie, featuring Thai peanut sauce, carrot, peanuts, pickled beans and cilantro; and a marinated clam pizza called Wu Tang Clam, there are plenty of imaginative options. The 17 beers on draft are a plus. The additional 18 cans of beer seal the deal. The brick-and-wood bar paired with the wood and brick walls creates a warm, inviting and lively atmosphere perfect for date night or hanging out with friends.

179B Main St, Annapolis, 443-808-8991. foxsden.com.

Johnny’s: More than a great burger

Restaurateur Tony Foreman says he dreamed up Johnny’s because he wanted to go to a place that makes a really good burger. In Johnny’s you have that and more. Breakfast is its strength. But lunch and dinner are also worth exploring. Aside from the scrumptious burger, the restaurant also offers an array of dishes, including: Kiko’s Loco Fried Rice, consisting of bacon, garlic, scallion, scrambled egg and soy; a heavenly battered crispy cauliflower wings; an amazing grilled 8 oz. ribeye steak; and the expected strong bar and coffee program.

4800 Roland Ave., Roland Park, 410-773-0777. johnnysdownstairs.com.

Kong Pocha: Baltimore’s new king of Korean BBQ

For more than a decade, Jong Kak has had a stranglehold on Korean BBQ in the Station North area. Those days are over with the arrival of Kong Pocha. First, it’s always packed on weekend nights. The lively, hall-like eatery offers group-style dining with hot pots, scrumptious platters of Korean fried chicken and noodle dishes. There’s also what seems like an endless supply of soju.

12 W 20th St., Station North, 410-801-8963. facebook.com/kong.pocha.

Kora Lee’s Cafe: Comfy cuisine

Cupcakes made by Kora Polydore, owner of Kora Lee's Café.
Cupcakes made by Kora Polydore, owner of Kora Lee's Café.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

After stints in Mt. Washington, Mt. Vernon and BWI Airport, Kora Lee’s Cafe might have found its permanent location, along Frederick Road in Catonsville. Dedicated fans of the restaurant have followed her to each location, for good reason. The food is amazing. Primarily known for their cupcakes and brunch items such as the savory cheese grits, and fried Cornish hens and waffles, the restaurant has expanded to dinner service on Friday nights.

6421 Frederick Rd., Catonsville, 443-620-0167. koralees.com.

La Scala Ristorante Italiano: Top secret Espresso Martini

The Espresso Martini at La Scala Ristorante Italiano is decorated with the Trinacria, the symbol of Sicily.
The Espresso Martini at La Scala Ristorante Italiano is decorated with the Trinacria, the symbol of Sicily. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Head chef and owner Nino Germano won’t tell you the ingredients that result in the rich, frothy goodness that is his top secret Espresso Martini. “If I tell you, I’d have to kill you,” he laughs. He’s not as tight-lipped with the Lobster Regina, a spectacle of a dish that includes two lobster tails and lump crab meat over a red pepper homemade penne pasta.

1012 Eastern Ave, Little Italy, 410-783-9209. lascaladining.com.

Loch Bar: Top of the line frozen drinks

There’s nothing more satisfying on a warm day than a cold, refreshing beverage. When it’s kicked up a notch with a spirit or wine, it’s a bonus. Even though Loch Bar prides itself on its seafood offerings, their frozen, boozy drinks, such as the strawberry froze and bourbon slush, reign supreme. And because they have a high-tech machine [slushie maker,] their drinks stay super cold and won’t turn into a liquid mess once they are poured into glasses.

240 International Drive, Harbor East, 443- 961-8949, lochbar.com

Mad Chef: Elevated New American cuisine in Ellicott City

Zeppole with Nutella dipping sauce, one of the desserts at Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar.
Zeppole with Nutella dipping sauce, one of the desserts at Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

From the corn & crab gnocchi and drunken mussels to the sesame crusted tuna and seafood pot, Mad Chef has a variety of dishes that befit a boutique restaurant in a big city. But Mad Chef is actually in the Turf Valley Resort development in Ellicott City, proving you don’t have to leave the confines of the suburbs to appreciate fine new American dining.

11085 Resort Road #404, Ellicott City, 410-203-0327. madchefkitchen.com.

Mayuree Thai Tavern: Authentic Thai cuisine in Canton

Mayuree Thai Tavern is a labor of love with three generations at the restaurant. The past traditions of Thai cuisine are evident from the offerings of eye-popping, flavor-bursting dishes. Goong Makarm, for example, is a fry batter shrimp, sweet chili and tamarind sauce, shallot, broccoli and dry chili creates a well-balanced dish. Or the Bah Mee Poo, egg noodles, chicken wonton, lump crab meat, and crispy wonton skin.

2318 Fleet St., Canton. 667-212-5509, mayureethai.com.

Michael’s Café: Scrumptious meals in a business complex

The popular Timonium restaurant opened a second location last summer in Middle River, and it’s better than the original. Corporate executive chef Josh Vecchiolla spends a large portion of his time at the new location and it shows. His shrimp and grits are arguably the best in the region with the grits on a different level of creamy. Their meat platter, with ribs, brisket, sausage and street corn and imaginative cocktails are equal parts scrumptious and Instagram-worthy.

720 Concourse Circle, Middle River, 410-335-5370. michaelscafe.com.

Namaste: Traditional Indian cuisine in Roland Park

Namaste has settled in nicely since moving into the space that previously housed the Roland Park mainstay, Loco Hombre, in 2015. The food is solid and affordable. Traditional Indian dishes from samosas to seafood vindaloo are all there and priced less than $20. They also offer a lunch buffet for $12.99 on weekdays and $14.99 on weekends that includes more than a dozen items. Their daily happy hour is also a deal, offering any drink or appetizer for 25 % off.

413 W Cold Spring Lane, Roland Park, 410-889-2233. namastebaltimore.com.

Noir Restaurant & Lounge: Next hot spot

Marinated Grilled Lamb Chops served with rice at Noir Restaurant and Lounge on York Road in Upper Govans. Jan. 16, 2020
Marinated Grilled Lamb Chops served with rice at Noir Restaurant and Lounge on York Road in Upper Govans. Jan. 16, 2020(Amy Davis)

Owner Corey Brown wanted to create a space where Baltimoreans could enjoy great food in a lively space similar to ones found in Washington, D.C. Mission accomplished. The food— especially the lamb chops, mac and cheese and shrimp and grits — is well-executed and reasonably priced. The ambience is a mix of a club and lounge. With upcoming additions to the space that will include an upscale lounge with bottle service and a swanky private dining room, Noir is a one-stop culinary meets nightlife experience.

5716 York Rd., Mid-Govans, 443-708-7081. noirbaltimore.com.

Puerto 511: Tiny Peruvian treat

The tiny Peruvian restaurant in downtown Baltimore is a treat. Owner/Chef Jose Victorio Alarcon emulates the sights, sounds and food experiences of his native hometown of Puerto Callao. From the ceviche clasico, to the their six-course $59 prix fixe menu dinner on Friday and Saturday, this place is a must. Speaking of musts, make a reservation. This “micro” restaurant fills up fast.

102 W Clay St., downtown, 410-244-8837. puerto511.com.

Richardson Farms: Year-round farmers market in White Marsh

Cake-sweet cornbread, baked mac and cheese, smoky collard greens, juicy rotisserie chicken and an array of scrumptious sandwiches await you at this year-round farmers market and restaurant. The rustic-feeling backdrop is in sync with the country locale. The restaurant was also one of the first in the region to serve Old Bay hot sauce chicken wings. If that isn’t enough of a motivator, you might want to return your Maryland card.

5900 Ebenezer Rd, White Marsh, 410-335-5900. richardsonfarms.net.

SoBo Market: Lesser known sibling

The restaurant/bar is even more off the unbeaten path than its bigger sibling Sobo Café. But it’s equally worth your patronage. Take the SoBo Ol’ Fashioned that is priced at $5 every day until 7 p.m. The mac and cheese, which includes chopped tomatoes, cheddar cheese and a breadcrumb topping, is one of many items on the menu. Also, check out the marinated and roasted chicken, their assorted spreads and dips and breads made from scratch.

13 E Randall St, Federal Hill, 410-685-6605 sobomarket.com.

Sacre Sucre: Easy-to-miss opulent baker

Sacre Sucre owner Dane Thibodeaux fills macarons in the kitchen of his pastry studio, located at 2001 Fleet Street.
Sacre Sucre owner Dane Thibodeaux fills macarons in the kitchen of his pastry studio, located at 2001 Fleet Street.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

This sleek, bakery and sweets shop is in the middle of residential Fells Point. It’s not exactly where you would expect to find such colorful pastries with unusual flavor pairings, such as miso-caramel flan or almond cake with almond crunchy praline and Earl Grey and Bergamot mousse.You can also learn their trade secrets during their French macaron classes.

2001 Fleet St., Fells Point, 443-873-0020. sacresucre.com.

Spice and Dice: Towson’s top Thai destination

With so many curry and authentic noodle dishes and rice dishes [try the Spice and Dice fried rice, which is loaded with plump, juicy shrimp] and plenty of specialty meat dishes — the Pla Chu Chee, a crispy fish fillet coated in a creamy red curry coconut, and the fish steak with tango salso — are musts.

1220A E Joppa Rd #106, Towson, 410-494-8777. thaispiceanddice.com.

State Fare: Where food and the famous meet

The former Friendly’s is now adorned with paintings of pop culture icons ranging from Gwen Stefani to Madonna and Snoop Dogg. In addition to the playlist matching the art, the food is solid. The chicken fried lamb chops alone justify a visit. Even the sandwiches — there are close to 20 — are anything but basic. The Bulgolgi cheesesteak is an exciting twist on the Philadelphia classic. And the Wagyu chili dog is an elevated approach to standard bar food. The restaurant’s happy hour takes place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and includes half off all appetizers and drinks.

748 Frederick Rd, Catonsville, 410-788-3273. statefaremd.com.

Tijuana Tacos 3: Don’t let the corner store decor fool you

The food at Tijuana Tacos 3, which could be confused with a corner store, is brimming with flavor. From the perfectly seasoned meats used in their heavenly tacos and nachos, to the reggaeton playing on the sound system, the restaurant and deli is a treat. From the carne asada plate to overstuffed burritos and tostadas, you can’t make a wrong choice.

3001 E Baltimore St, Highlandtown, 410-545-0667.

The Bluebird Pub: New pub version of popular cocktail room

Interior of the Bluebird Pub in Hampden.
Interior of the Bluebird Pub in Hampden.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

With classic cocktails such as the Rob Roy, Rusty Nail, Penicillin and Bluebird Old Fashioned, the drinks at this basement bar have a more spirit-forward approach compared to the better-known and lauded upstairs cocktail room. The lower level location stays true to its pub origins with an array of pilsners, IPAs and stouts. Dishes such as a short rib sandwich and the beer battered fish, the authentic British dish with mushy peas, tartar sauce and malt vinegar and the foie gras burger with its bacon-shallot jam are all musts.

3600 Hickory Ave., Hampden, thebluebirdbaltimore.com/pub

The Corner Bistro & Wine Bar: Wings and other things in Ridgely’s Delight

Face it. Ridgely’s Delight has a dearth of restaurants. Thank goodness for The Corner Bistro & Wine Bar, the restaurant you never knew about yet you need it. Let’s start with their sweet chili wings, which are pretty darn close to being perfect. The grits can be ordered two ways: as the Charleston shrimp and grits and the blackened salmon and grits. The gourmet shrimp filled cheeseburger is an unexpected treat— as are the dinner specials ([there are close to 20.]

213 Penn St., Ridgely’s Delight, 410-727-1155. cbwinebar.com.

The Essen Room: Bigger is better

The Essen Room is a deli on Hooks Lane in the Hooks Village shopping center.
The Essen Room is a deli on Hooks Lane in the Hooks Village shopping center. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

This Hooks Village hot spot believes that size matters. The portions at the New York-style deli are so big, that most can be shared. And those larger than-life sandwiches are incredible. You can’t go wrong with the hot corned beef, hot pastrami or hot brisket.

25 Hooks Lane, Pikesville, 410-653-7666. theessenroom.com.

Twist: American meets Mediterranean in Fells Point

This Fells Point restaurant might get overshadowed by the endless bars in the neighborhood but the American restaurant with a Mediterranean twist holds its own and then some. The menu is extensive with familiar dishes such as chicken and waffles, huevos rancheros and steak and eggs, right alongside international dishes such as the Moroccan breakfast casserole and Mediterranean frittata. The cavernous back dining room with candlelit white tablecloth seating is also worthwhile.

723 S Broadway, Fells Point, 410-522-4000. twistfellspoint.com.

Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz: A piece of Hawaii in Harford County

Want great Hawaiian cuisine? Head to Fallston! Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz has it all. There’s poke, spam and Hawaiian nachos, a pairing of crispy wonton chips, corn, tomato, cucumber mango salsa, toasted coconut, Sriracha with choice of meats including Kalua pig, Teri-spam and poke.

2315 Belair Road Suite 2B, Fallston, 443-966-3999. eatatuncles.com.

Urban Oyster: Chesapeake cuisine meets contemporary comfort

Chargrilled oysters (Cheese Louise, Teriyaki and BBC) served at Urban Oyster in McHenry Row.
Chargrilled oysters (Cheese Louise, Teriyaki and BBC) served at Urban Oyster in McHenry Row.(Jerry Jackson, Baltimore Sun)

On the weekends, don’t be surprised to see drag queens performing or hear the pulsating beat of ’90s hip hop classics blasting out of the sleek-looking eatery known for its delectable charred oysters topped with everything from spinach and cheese to assorted meats and sauces. There are also seafood steam pots, assorted burgers and tacos. Nestled within the McHenry Row business and residential development, this place is a flavorful and eye-popping experience.

1704 Whetstone Way, Locust Point, 443-948-5898. theurbanoyster.com.

Water For Chocolate: A rare chef’s table

If chef Sean Guy’s BBQ shrimp and Parmesan grits aren’t enough to get your mouth watering, his multi-course meal and wine pairing chef’s table [one of the few in the region] should get you over to Upper Fells Point. It was good enough for actress and rapper Queen Latifah, who popped into the restaurant for lunch in 2017 and ordered the barbecue shrimp and grits, eggs with cheese and an Arnold Palmer.

1841 E Lombard St., Fells Point, 410-675-7778. waterforchocolate.com.

With Love Company: Vegan Sip & Eat Joint

Since opening in July, this plant-based eatery has become a go-to for vegans, vegetarians and people with dietary restrictions. Specializing in juice, smoothies, tonics, raw, gluten-free and cooked foods, this spot has it all. With hearty staples such as zucchini Alfredo and broccoli and cheese soup to indulgent desserts such as raw cheesecake, the business is a meat-free dream come true.

8705 Harford Road., Parkville, 410-870-9858. Instagram: @withloveplantbased

Xenia Greek Kouzina: Upscale Greek cuisine in Columbia

Thesauros Tou Aigaiou at Xenia Greek Kouzina, a Greek Mediterranean restaurant, in Columbia. Homemade squid ink pasta with three tomato sauce, littleneck clams, buchot mussles, shrimp.
Thesauros Tou Aigaiou at Xenia Greek Kouzina, a Greek Mediterranean restaurant, in Columbia. Homemade squid ink pasta with three tomato sauce, littleneck clams, buchot mussles, shrimp.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Xenia Greek Kouzina is easy to miss. But the food stands out regardless of its location. It brings big-city culinary talent and plenty of restaurant experience together in its unexpected suburban business location. But the real magic happens because of head chef and partner Konstantinos “Kostas” Kontogiannis. The Greek native whips up scrumptious Greek-inspired dishes with plenty of fine dining flare rarely seen outside of larger cities.

8850 Columbia 100 Parkway, Columbia, 410-740-2500. xeniagreekcouzina.com.

Dear Globe Coffee Roasters: Nestled in antique district

Since opening it in 2017, owner LieAnne Navarro has been creating a coffee haven in the heart of Antique Row in Mount Vernon. Navarro, who began her career as a barista and visual artist in California, now runs Dear Globe Coffee Roasters, known for its artfully crafted coffees from around the world and sense of community. That shop teams with local baked goods companies such as Bramble Baking Company, Little Fig Bake Shop and Bottoms Up Bagels. Located a block away from a light rail stop, the café includes a reading room, gallery and garden.

827 N. Howard St., Mount Vernon. 443-438-370. dearglobecoffee.com