When asked for restaurant options, it’s easy to rely on the usual suspects in Baltimore.
There are the lauded Foreman Wolf restaurants, which have led the way in fine dining in Baltimore; the bold, brash new kids on the block, Atlas group restaurants; and the national press darlings such as Ekiben, Clavel, The Bluebird Cocktail Room and The Charmery.
But Charm City is actually chock full of hidden gems—many positioned in plain sight or just off the beaten path of tourist hot spots.
These places are frequented by local residents or visitors in the know—until now.
Here’s a robust offering of 14 special spots that will earn you Charm City cool points when your out of town guests ask for recommendations of non-touristy spots.
With a bevy of bustling seafood restaurants in Charm City it’s hard to recommend a hidden one. But this one is it. Despite the weird odor, the likelihood that an order will get mixed up, and you’ll have a better chance avoiding traffic than you’ll get their famous lemon garlic sauce, Angie’s Seafood is worth the visit. Located in the former Obrycki’s location deep in northern Fells Point, the restaurant is popular among locals. And even though it lacks polish at times, it is worth the trip—especially when the better known usual suspects attract the lion’s share of attention. Order the crab cakes or anything that has that sought after lemon garlic butter. (You could guzzle that by itself.) And keep an eye out for the buffalo shrimp. It’s fried and breaded perfectly before being coated in a sweet, spicy, tangy red sauce. And the watermelon martini is picture worthy when they remember to add the watermelon wedge as a garnish.
1718 Lancaster St., Fells Point, 410-327-4508
If you’ve never been to this spot, you’ll have a hard time finding it. Yes, its name is Bar. No, they don’t have a web site or social media. And yes, you’ll likely get laughed out of the bar if you ask for any fancy mixed drinks.
At the heart of this rectangle of an establishment—that looks like the basement of a Midwest grandparent’s basement in the 70s—is a warm, nostalgic watering hole where it’s easy to strike up a hearty conversation with the given bartender or the motley crew of patrons that roll through.
Bentley’s Restaurant, Bar & Lounge
885 North Howard St., Mount Vernon, 443-853-8200 bentleysrestaurantlounge.com
The recently opened Bentley’s has been home to a slew of restaurant and bar concepts throughout the years— Night of the Cookers, Southern Blues, Britton’s, Leilani’s and Phaze 10 just to name a few.
The restaurant’s executive chef and managing partner, Patrick Robinson thinks that this concept will stick. Robinson is a fighter-beating both lung and skin cancer.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make it successful,” said the 30-year-old Baltimore native, who is a third generation chef. “My motto is to never stop. You must keep going.”
Serving up soulful dishes bursting with flavor is how Robinson expects to grow his four-floor, 250-seat business, which is an unexpected addition to “Antique Row” in Mount Vernon.
Try the fisherman’s grits, which features queso blanco stone ground grits, locally sourced blackened fish, shrimp, and micro greens; deep side, a pairing of crispy skin salmon, five golf shrimp, mashed sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables; and the bang pow shrimp, which features a vegan peach paradise glaze atop a battered and fried shrimp. That dish, which is served in a martini glass, is the restaurant’s most popular. Bentley’s also serves up a variety of vegan and gluten-free dishes from its from scratch kitchen. Robinson recommends the vegan burgers and vegan gumbo.
Most important, Robinson dedicated the restaurant to Mark Bynum, Bentley’s original CEO, who passed away in August after his own fight with cancer.
“I made it my mission to honor him,” he said, adding that the name Bentley’s is inspired by the luxury car, which all of the owners—including Bynum—loved. “They knew my reputation—my fine dining style and approachable. They understood quality.”
The Bluebird Pub
3600 Hickory Ave., Hampden, thebluebirdbaltimore.com/pub
It’s easy to miss this newer pub with its older, more-established sibling occupying the upstairs level of their Hampden location.
But the basement location is definitely worth a visit.
With classic cocktails such as Rob Roy, Rusty Nail, Penicillin and Bluebird Old Fashioned, the drinks have a more spirit-forward approach compared to the cocktail room, which has a more balanced fruit and floral-forward approach. And there is the expected array of pilsners, IPAs and stouts. Dishes such as the short rib sandwich, which features a horseradish fondue, caramelized onions on a ciabatta roll, 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 hearty musts.
“It’s intended to be a more laid back and familiar environment as opposed to the fancier Cocktail Room, yet the hospitality in both places is equally as pleasant. People like that juxtaposition,” said owner Paul Benkert. “Do people skip the Pub and head straight for the Cocktail Room? Sure, and that’s OK. But the Pub has already won some regulars of its own. It’s all a win for me.”
By The Docks Seafood Restaurant
3321 Eastern Blvd, Middle River, 410-686-1188 bythedocks.com
While a slew of seafood restaurants in the county attract a ton of attention—especially when Oprah gives Pappa’s a shout out—By The Docks consistently hits it out of the park. Located near the famed Bengies Drive-In Theatre, what sets them apart from the other seafood spots is their spectacular brunch.
They have the expected breakfast staples of assorted salads, made to order omelets, carving stations, pancakes, French toast and meats. But their all-you-can-eat chilled peel and eat shrimp, oysters on the half shell and marinated mussels on the half shell sets them apart. It’s a steal at $20.99. And on Sundays, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s are $10.
And their dinner service is equally impressive—especially if you love crab. By The Docks has won awards for it’s eight-ounce colossal jumbo lump crab cake, cream of crab soup, crab dip, crab imperial, crab balls and crab cake sandwich. It’s worth the trip out to Middle River.
Chuck’s Trading Post
From the combination of polished wooden chairs and counter to the hearty dishes that are served to neighborhood patrons, this woman owned and run restaurant has the feel of a rustic, remote country store meets diner.
Although originally built in the 70s, the business received a Western-themed makeover in 2017.
“Many locals have always known Chuck’s to have an assortment of groceries, home goods, coffee, and beer,” said owner Tracey Sangria. "We paid homage to our roots and offer a small bodega of local groceries and goodies as well. Pull up a stool, order a drink, chat with our people and enjoy the Hampden vibes.”
Their cake-sweet cornbread served hot in an individual black skillet is worth ordering. So are any of the breakfast skillets—you can also build your own-but I prefer Val’s rancheros (black bean salsa, avocado, sour cream and tortilla) and Spaniard (housemade chorizo, corn, tomato and potato hash).
2118 Maryland Ave, Charles North, 443-759-6147, ibarbaltimore.com
The city’s best Buffalo wings are actually located in a small neighborhood bar in the heart of the developing Charles Street/ Station North neighborhood-just north of North Avenue.
Sure, it’s surrounded by some moments of blight. But if you’re looking for heavily poured drinks to go with those delectable wings, this place is a must.
Stop in on Wednesday “Wingsday” for half price wings and discounted Long Island Iced Tea from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Also, consider their array of sandwiches (the iBar shrimp Po’ boy is a good choice) or build your own sandwich.
Back to the wings. They’re based on the recipe from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. iBar takes it one step further by also offering their own Chef Style Buffalo Wings, which are spicier. They’re both worth the visit.
418 E 31st St, Abell, 410-961-0490, kheperaskitchen.com
The minute you enter the lively restaurant in Waverly, you know it’s going to be a special experience. The smell of sweet pancakes fill the air with the chatter of eager customers—many of which spark up conversations at the large communal wooden table that anchors the room.
Owner Taueret Khepera Thomas, and her business partner April DuBose, have been cooking up delectable-from-scratch-meals since opening three years ago.
“We love what we do,” said Thomas, who explained that they are open on weekends for brunch service. During the week, they use the space for catering and cooking classes. “We love cooking.”
The two admit that they don’t do any marketing.
“It’s mostly through word of mouth,” said Thomas, who previously taught at Lincoln Culinary institute in Columbia.
Musts include the shrimp and grits with large, plump shrimp and a savory, rich sauce. Specialty French toast that rotates between bread pudding, cornbread, chocolate, berry and Challah French toast—all made in-house by their pastry chef.
The brisket skillet is slow-cooked and served with roasted rosemary potatoes, spinach and topped with over medium egg.
Thomas describes the food presentation as “more upscale.”
She adds: “I cook food that I would love to eat for brunch and breakfast.”
Expect an expanded menu to dinner service in the near future, according to Thomas.
313 North Charles St., Downtown, 443-220-0150, maisysbaltimore.com
Between their brick oven pizza—the Margarita is one of the best in the city—and the sweet soy chili wings, this spot fills with locals and the lucky tourist who happens upon it while trying to make their way to Mount Vernon. When Orioles or Ravens games are playing pizza and wings are half off. Score!
And the tongue and cheek of the menu items: House of Cards (shrimp, crab, and sausage gumbo) to the Britney Spears (filet mignon tossed in olive oil, garlic, pineapple, fresh rosemary and cherry tomatoes, baked with goat cheese, and served over rice), Kati’s Hangover Cure (Two tacos topped with steak, peppers, onions, cheese, and sunny side up eggs with crumbled feta) are fun touches. 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.
720 Concourse Cir., Middle River, michaelscafe.com
Sure you’ve heard of Michael’s Cafe, the popular American fare restaurant in Timonium. But the restaurant opened a second location this summer in Middle River. And quite frankly, it’s better than the original.
It’s probably because their talented 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. The grits are on a different level of creamy.
The charred cauliflower steak is a great option for vegetarians. And those mashed potatoes are to die for. And their meat platter, which features ribs, brisket, sausage and street corn, is equal parts scrumptious and Instagram-worthy. And the imaginative cocktails from the gorgeous, mammoth bar are also worth a look.
Lobo Fells Point
1900 Aliceanna St., Fells Point, 410-327-0303, lobofellspoint.com
The comfy, contemporary spot, which opened in Fells Point in 2014, is close enough to the action of Broadway Market but far enough to avoid the long lines of Thames Street Oyster House.
Known for their robust and thoughtful meat and cheese boards, the cocktails are also stunning.
The Vinegar Old Fashion, takes an exciting twist with George Dickel rye, a splash of their house infused vinegar, which makes the classic slightly spicy and a house brandied cherry to complete the classic.
The Lobo Sour is also an unexpected mix of bourbon, Farretti biscotti liqueur, fresh lemon, egg white, and a Garnacha float.
The smell of the heavenly little neck clams, which are taken into another stratosphere with the addition of Spanish chorizo, onions, garlic, white wine and butter fill the space when they’re prepared. The PEI mussels, which are bathed in yellow curry, coconut milk, and cilantro are also special.
900 S Carey St, Pigtown/Washington Village, 410-873-7363
Who knew you could get Caribbean food and an array of artisanal cocktails in a bar nestled between the Pigtown and Washington Village neighborhoods? For the past year, this haunt has quietly been attracting residents with its new menu, specialty drink offerings and what seems to be endless entertainment from comedians to open mic singing nights and anime screenings. Check out the enclosed back patio. Order their skittle shots. And stop in during holidays when they typically have a special drink menu the entire week.
Owner Candice Bruno originally came to Baltimore two years ago looking to open a consignment shop. She stumbled upon the space, which was a bar named Cockeyed Cow Saloon, and decided to buy it. She tapped into her Caribbean heritage and relaunched it as Old Major on March 29, 2018. The changes have been met favorably.
“I have been very pleased with how our diverse array of guests has responded so positively to us stepping in a more authentic direction and seeing us grow from the old, seemingly insular corner bar they used to know,” she said.
The Admiral Fell Inn Tavern
888-898 S Broadway, Fells Point, admiralfell.com/en-us/about-us/tavern-at-the-admiral
Head bartender Steve Mavronis has created something special at the basement bar in the bustling—sometimes fratty—Thames Street section of Fells Point. And while most of the attention in the area go to the artisanal cocktail bar, Rye, the testosterone-filled The Horse You Came In On Saloon, or the shiny, newish Sagamore Pendry Hotel, the unassuming The Admiral Fell Inn Tavern beats them all.
It’s the little touches that makes this place special. Mavronis has no problem allowing customers to take over control of his phone’s Spotify so that they can curate the music for the evening. And between him bringing in fresh chocolate mint for cocktails or making homemade baklava for his elaborate, award-winning egg nog cocktails, this place might be one of the city’s best kept secrets. Just remember to visit when its open— Wednesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The Outpost American Tavern
The 10 can nachos are an attraction in and of itself. But that’s not the only bell or whistle in this neighborhood bar tucked within Federal Hill.
The Outpost American Tavern wraps itself in popular culture. The 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. And their Buckets & Bubbles night-every Tuesday night-features four pieces of house-breaded fried chicken, two sides, two biscuits and a bottle of sparkling wine for $38.