Compiled with input from readers and the newsroom, The Baltimore Sun’s list of 100 essential food experiences encompasses places people talk about, think about and come back to again and again and again. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore diners are loyal. They reward endurance, the institutions: the Faidleys, the Hoehns, the DiPasquales, with three centuries of business among them.
This isn’t to say the only restaurants to succeed are old or nostalgic, but they offer something more than the food-of-the-moment: They become ritual.
A sip of coffee from a demitasse cup at an Ellicott City cafe can transport its drinker to Damascus. A fried coddie, served with a saltine cracker and mustard, reminds its eater of visits to Lexington Market. A cannoli shop in Little Italy manages to feel like home for first-time customers.
Compiled with input from readers and the newsroom, The Baltimore Sun’s list of 100 essential food experiences encompasses places people talk about, think about and come back to again and again and again.
One of downtown’s last remaining Jewish delis, Attman’s still draws lines of patrons hungry for the melt-in-your-mouth corned beef served since 1915. Most customers come in for a sandwich to take away or to eat in the dining area, called the Kibitz Room.
Chef Gerard Billebault grew up in Paris — in the same neighborhood singer Edith Piaf hails from — and worked in his father’s bakery before going to cooking school. He and his wife opened their Baltimore cafe in 1998; it’s become a destination for area Francophiles and sweet teeth. But not too sweet: Customers note that Billebault’s pastries aren’t as sickly sweet as those available in supermarkets.
“We don’t sell people sugar,” Billebault said. “We sell them a cake.”
Today, Billebault’s purple bakery is a Falls Road landmark. Inside, it’s a cheerful cafe with some of the best Parisian pastries you’ll find in Baltimore. Try the flaky almond croissant, topped with a generous heap of almonds and powdered sugar. Paired with a perfect cup of coffee, it’s best enjoyed during a quiet petit déjeuner at one of the cafe's tables.
The 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Cockeysville features mostly Amish vendors and draws thousands of customers Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to the only such operation in Baltimore County. Regulars mention two features that keep them coming back: a broad selection of quality goods that can be hard to find anywhere else, let alone under one roof, and a reliably family friendly atmosphere. Try the whoopie pie, which is like a big, homemade version of an Oreo — white fluffy filling between two chocolate cookies — from Aunt Erma’s Bakery stand.
Inside this corner restaurant are burgundy walls and reminders of Edgar Allan Poe, who died mysteriously in Baltimore in 1849. It’s a romantic setting to reflect on the famed poet’s legacy, or just to indulge in the signature crab cake and duck fat fries.
Modern yet homey, this family-owned coffee shop opened in Canton last year and has become popular with area espresso connoisseurs for drinks made from beans sourced by locally owned distributor Keffa Coffee.
Known for its breads, soups and salads, local fast-casual chain Atwater’s began in Catonsville and now has five locations. It’s is no slouch in the dessert department, either. The Pimlico cake — fluffy chiffon cake layered with Bavarian cream and topped with chocolate ganache and walnuts — is pretty much perfect.
Some history: It’s inspired by a dish served at Baltimore’s former Pimlico Hotel on Park Heights Avenue, a place that still gets certain old-time Baltimoreans waxing poetic. From 1951 through 1991, the Pimlico Hotel made a name for itself with a voluminous menu, egg rolls, famous patrons such as Angela Lansbury — and custard-layered cakes.
Fans swear that the Atwater’s version is as close to the original as it comes.
Eat some brisket with a whiskey chaser at Blue Pit BBQ
A homey neighborhood barbecue spot that welcomes babies, parents and pets to its outdoor picnic benches and indoor bar, Blue Pit features a menu that’s brief and focused, including a few meat choices, one vegetarian option (pulled jackfruit) and a handful of sides. Go for the Zeke’s coffee-rubbed brisket, and don’t skimp on the sauce.
Witness the reinvention of soul food at Ida B's Table
Chef David Thomas’ eyes brighten when he talks about the black culinary experience. “We’re ushering in a new era of Southern cuisine and going back to our roots,” he told The Sun in 2017. That passion comes through with each thoughtful, flavorful bite at Ida B’s Table. Opened in 2017, the downtown restaurant serves classic soul dishes with modern twists. Case in point: the dirty south frittata, served at brunch and spiced up with blackened chicken breast, kale and smoked gouda. Liberian greens are a mouthwatering accompaniment to entrees like fried chicken and shrimp and grits.
The restaurant is named after Ida B. Wells, a 19th-century African-American journalist and civil rights activist whose portrait, by Baltimore artist Ernest Shaw Jr., hangs prominently in the dining room. In a nod to Wells’ career, the menu is divided into sections by journalistic terms, like leads (appetizers), features (entrees) and final edits (desserts).
Bean pies have an important history and symbolism for black Muslims, who traditionally ate them as a healthier alternative to sweet potato pie. Today, the dish remains one of the most popular offerings at Park Heights’ KT’s Kitchen, owned by Baltimore resident Kevin Thomas.
One of the glorious aspects of eating at a restaurant in Paris is the feeling that one can sit by oneself without being judged. The same is true at Petit Louis, a restaurant that has set the bar for French cuisine in Baltimore since it opened in Roland Park nearly 20 years ago. Bask in the warmth of the fire, the attentive service and the always-on-point French food. Don’t miss the French onion soup, made from the house veal stock, stuffed with caramelized onions and topped with Gruyere cheese.
Nosh on the Cap'n Crunch french toast at Blue Moon Cafe
Cap’n Crunch french toast is the signature dish at this all-day breakfast spot in Fells Point (a Federal Hill location, Blue Moon Too, was added in 2015). Topped with fruit, whipped cream and a dusting of sugar, it’s also one of the most photogenic foods around.
James Bowen migrated to Baltimore in the 1950s, along with thousands of Lumbee Indians who left North Carolina in search of work. He purchased a bakery in Northeast Market, today run by Bowen’s daughter, Rosie. She uses sweet potatoes from Lumbee lands in every sweet potato pie.
2101 E. Monument St., CARE. 410-675-8411.
Eat rich at The Alexander Brown Restaurant
Opened in February, the Alexander Brown Restaurant has a way of making diners feel as though they have arrived.
The building’s Florida-based owners worked with a Baltimore developer to restore this 1901-era bank building, including a grand Tiffany-style dome skylight, to its original Edwardian splendor. Modern decor brings a twist to the bank theme: A painting of George Washington in drag hangs in the women’s bathroom, pink and elegantly tiled.
Despite its opulence, “AB” (as it’s nicknamed) feels hip and welcoming. On a visit during its opening week, Swedish pop music played, and hostesses wearing fashionably frumpy green dresses were friendly and accommodating.
The food is at turns high and low: At the bar, you can order both Ossetra caviar and a $5 version of Baltimore’s famous chicken box. For dinner, those with big bank accounts can order Wagyu beef for two. The rest of us will enjoy the homey simplicity of roasted chicken served with milk bread, potatoes au gratin and kale, all in cast iron skillets. It’s not necessarily food you expect to be eating in a former bank — but it’s certainly rich.
The prix-fixe tasting menu at Charleston provides a thoughtful and delicious dining experience — the unhurried type you don't soon forget. Critics and patrons alike argue the full six courses prepared by Chef Cindy Wolf and wine pairings are well worth the $222 price tag.
Some of the area’s best beef is found right next to a strip club, which to many Baltimoreans is a joke that never gets old. At Chaps Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway, meat comes thinly sliced, smoky, charcoal-cooked, served with spicy tiger sauce. There are other, strip club-free locations in Aberdeen and Frederick, and another coming to Rehoboth, Del.
Get the 'lake trout' at Choi's Chicken & Lake Trout
It’s not from a lake, nor is it trout, but deep fried “lake trout” (really, it’s a fish called whiting) has long been a staple of Baltimore’s carryout cuisine. For some of the city’s finest, head to South Baltimore. Wash it down with a “half and half” — half lemonade, half iced tea, that is.
3436 Annapolis Road, Cherry Hill. 410-355-4000.
Soak in the views from The Bygone
Gorgeously plated food competes for attention with the view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at this sought-after destination on the 29th floor of the Four Seasons. Classics like lobster Newburg, Dover sole meuniere and baked Alaska pay tribute to yesteryear, but with a take that’s strictly 2019.
La Scala is old fashioned, but it’s not static. Chef-owner Nino Germano started the restaurant in 1995 on High Street and moved the business around the corner to Eastern Avenue when he outgrew the original space. Over the years, he has added an indoor bocce court. Work up an appetite with a round of the old Italian pastime before chowing on garlic-imbued shrimp scampi or cannoli prepared by the chef’s mother.
Though crabs get all the attention nowadays, for much of Maryland’s history, oysters played a central role in the local economy. In the 1800s, Crisfield was the self-styled Seafood Capital of the World — when the Pennsylvania Railroad carried oysters by the trainload from Maryland to the rest of the United States. At the Local Oyster stand in the Mount Vernon Marketplace, you can contemplate the oyster’s evolution while slurping down a skinny dipper, farmed in Southern Maryland. New locations are planned for South Baltimore and Northern Virginia.
From the outside, Royal Taj looks like another nondescript suburban restaurant in Columbia. But when you step in the door, it’s hard not to gawk. The place is gorgeous. And when you find out the space used to be an Applebee’s, you shake your head in wonder. The service is impeccable, and delectable food matches the sophisticated space. Go for the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet to ensure you don’t miss anything.
A few years ago, everyone thought ramen was for dorm rooms. Now we know better. At Ejji Ramen in Belvedere Square, go for the tonkatsu ramen, a hearty and flavorful bowl of pulled pork, scallions and noodles, served with a miso-marinated soft-boiled egg, in rich pork broth.
Belvedere Square, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., Govans. 410-435-8688. ejjiramen.com
Bite into a fig-flavored macaron at Sacre Sucre
A single food has been known to change the course of a person’s life. For Dane Thibodeaux, co-owner of Sacre Sucre in Fells Point, it was a fig macaron he ate in Paris while on vacation. He still remembers biting into the seed of the fig jam in the middle. “I was puzzled by how there was actually fig in it, when I thought that macarons were made with buttercreams and flavoring,” Thibodeaux said. A former catering manager, he and partner Manuel Sanchez taught themselves to bake before opening their own shop in Fells Point.
Sacre Sucre — French for “sacred sugar” — carries core flavors like chocolate, vanilla and salted caramel. Other seasonal flavors rotate.
“We try to use as little flavoring as possible. Most places that do macarons, they do buttercreams and flavoring, but we use creams and butters and chocolates and ganache with nuts and berries,” Thibodeaux said. “If it’s pistachio, it’s going to have pistachio in it so you don’t get that fake pistachio flavor.”
The fig macaron, Thibodeaux jokes, is a “glorified fig newton.”
For some bars, the whiskey selection is the draw. At Hampden’s Bluebird, it’s the ice. Look for the enormous cube in its signature old fashioned, made with Old Grand-Dad 100-proof bonded bourbon, simple syrup and house-made bitters.
Take a stroll through the Baltimore Farmers Market & Bazaar
The market beneath the JFX has been a Sunday tradition from April through December for more than 40 years. Where else can you find everything from artisanal sauerkraut to paw-paws to Portuguese octopus?
The grub at Fells Point’s Ekiben has attracted local and national attention — Travel & Leisure named it the best place for sandwiches in Maryland. Try the neighborhood bird, a sandwich of Taiwanese curry-fried chicken thigh atop a slightly sweet steamed bun.
Charm City isn’t strictly for carnivores. Vegan soul restaurant Land of Kush sells a variety of animal-free takes on classic foods, like eggplant parmesan made with vegan cheese, curried “chickun” and their weekend special: crab cakes. That's right, a vegan crab cake, made from pan-fried seitan and seasoned with Old Bay. Even PETA approves. They awarded the dish a spot on their list of top 10 vegan seafoods last year.
Slug ye olde fashioned mead at Charm City Meadworks
If it was good enough for the Vikings, it’s good enough for East Baltimore. Located in the city’s Johnston Square neighborhood, Charm City Meadworks draws Baltimoreans looking to purchase mead, an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey, water and yeast. Comes in flavors including basil lemongrass, elderberry and more.
Learn to make cakes like Duff Goldman at Charm City Cakes
Baltimoreans understandably take pride in our homegrown celebrities: among them, Duff Goldman, the rock ‘n’ roll chef behind Charm City Cakes. Goldman, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his staff of confectioners became famous overnight after starring in The Food Network TV show “Ace of Cakes.” Their sculptural creations have recreated everything from airplanes to Ozzy Osbourne in cake form, and were present at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
For those curious to learn how the cakes are made, the bakery’s Remington studio offers weekly classes to teach beginners and experienced bakers alike how to decorate cakes and cupcakes with things like unicorns and succulents made of fondant. Classes run from $75 to $125 and come with pre-made cakes, which participants decorate during the two-hour session. Or you can arrange for a private class of your own, perfect for birthday parties.
A former distillery in Baltimore County last year became the Guinness Blonde American Lager brewery, the company’s first U.S. brewery since 1954. The $90 million facility features a 270-seat restaurant and a 250-person taproom with ample seating and guided tours.
Clark Burger, which has branches near Belvedere Square and in Little Italy, specializes in burgers (no surprise) and poutine, the Canadian dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds so fresh they squeak when you bite into them. Likely to be the greatest food from up north.
5906 York Road, Wilson Park. 410-323-2356; 415 S Central Ave., Little Italy. 667-309-3516. clark-burger.com
Savor the pho from Mekong Delta
From behind an inconspicuous, cash-only lunch counter in the Charles Plaza food court comes possibly the city’s finest pho, prepared by Tuyen Vo and served by her husband, Luan Nguyen — though most customers call him Leo. Formerly located on W. Saratoga St., the place is named for the area of Vietnam where Vo’s family owned a catering business and restaurant in the city of Ben Tre. Served with fresh sprouts, peppers and basil, the chicken pho is guilt-free comfort food — warm, nourishing and delicious.
222 N. Charles St., downtown. 443-955-1100.
Travel with a crab cake from G&M
People come from all over the world to have the G & M crab cake. And they take them all over the world, too. Because the restaurant is just five minutes from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, G&M is a frequent pre-boarding stop for travelers who want to take home a Maryland crab cake or eat one on the plane.
To say Max's has a wide selection of beers is like saying that Baltimore has a pothole or two. The man responsible for the head-spinning collection, longtime general manager Casey Hard, said Max's currently has around 109 different beers on draft and nearly 2,000 types of bottles. Of the 2,000 bottles, Hard said, roughly 25 percent are Belgians.
737 S. Broadway, Fells Point. 410-675-6297. maxs.com
Order chocolate crabs from Rheb's Homemade Candies
Baltimoreans don’t swoon over $50-a-pound designer sweets. But they will stand in line for hours to get chocolates from this humble Southwest Baltimore family-owned candy shop, the same location where Louis and Esther Rheb began making candy as newlyweds in 1916.
3352 Wilkens Ave., Saint Agnes. 410-644-4321. rhebs.com
Pretend you're on vacation at the Sandlot
Opened in 2017, the family-friendly spot from Foodshed partners Spike Gjerde and Corey Polyoka is only intended to remain open for three to five more years — making it an essential but also impermanent dining experience. This seasonal gathering space on the water was designed to have the feel of “a 1960s funky national park.” Drinks are ordered from a silver Airstream trailer, and diners can play bocce or fight for space at a picnic table in warmer months.
The two-story space in Old Goucher is part biergarten, part tasting room, and designed with Japanese and Scandinavian influences in mind. Like Clavel and WC Harlan, other establishments opened by Baltimore's preeminent hipster restaurateur Lane Harlan, the spot doesn’t announce itself. The words “wine bar” are written on door in chalk. Walking in the first time, diners wonder if they're in the right place.
Among the wine bar’s specialties is “pét-nat,” or “pétillant naturel,” a type of natural wine that’s making a comeback in foodie scenes.
“It’s just an old-fashioned way of making sparkling wine,” Harlan told The Sun this year, one that eschews sulfites and preservatives. The result is lower in alcohol than more typical wines and tastes more “alive.” Fans can purchase a bottle upstairs in Fadensonnen’s romantic tasting room. Light bites like chocolate served with olive oil and salt are well worth your time, too.
Depending on your perspective, Fadensonnen could seem head-spinningly pretentious, amazingly avant-garde, or a little bit of both. Either way, you must give it a try.
Since it opened in the Can Company building in 2015, the Venezuelan restaurant has attracted a steady following for its arepas, round breads that are grilled, baked and stuffed with chicken, pork, steak, shrimp and other delicious things.
The queso fundido at Clavel is the kind of dish you think of days before, and after, you eat it. Bubbling hot and served in a skillet, it’s best topped with spicy chorizo and scooped with Clavel’s sturdy tortilla chips until you’ve scraped the bottom of the pan.
"As are many Baltimoreans, I am deeply partial to the Matthew's Pizza crab pie," David Simon told The Baltimore Sun in 2014. About the Highlandtown pizzeria's deep-crust, crab-topped pizza, Simon, the former Sun reporter and creator of “The Wire,” said, "[It's] unlike anything that calls itself pizza anywhere in the world.”
The secret of Matthew's success lies with ovens that are cranked up to 650 degrees. The blast of heat not only hardens the crust, it gives the cheese on top a wonderful dark-brown finish. Try it for yourself at the beloved oldtime spot that Simon said, “could not exist outside Baltimore."
Inside the first floor of a factory that once produced London Fog raincoats is La Cuchara, one of the city’s most glamorous and inventive restaurants. Inspired by the cuisine of Spain’s Basque region, La Cuchara combines elements of that area’s pintxo bars, where customers can buy small, one- or two-bite appetizers, as well as asadors, or restaurants specializing in simple meats and seafood prepared on a grill. Sit at the bar, where you can eavesdrop on fellow diners and watch the chef tend to the wood-burning fire in the kitchen. Especially tasty are the jamon croquettes, half price during happy hour, and the fried churros with chocolate dip for dessert.
With over 100 years in Baltimore, DiPasquale's has made a name for itself among residents who flock to the Highlandtown store and restaurant for pasta, cheese and meat. Their sandwiches, loaded up with fresh salami, speck and all manner of cured meats, are the holy grail of Italian subs.
The frozen confection sold for a penny during the Depression, earning the nickname the “hard-times sundae.” Back then, you could get a snowball in cherry, vanilla and sarsaparilla. Open spring through fall, Woodstock’s popular Snowball Stand has just about every flavor you could want to put on shaved ice.
Eat dumplings and wash them down with viryta at The Lithuanian Hall
The Lithuanian Hall formally opened near the end of February 1921, with a monthlong celebration of banqueting, plays, music and sports marking the occasion. Though its basement bar is better known among hipsters for its soul music dance parties, it remains a gathering place for the Baltimore area's Lithuanians.
Every Friday night from October through May, the Hall hosts “Savas” dinners, when chef Erika Ezerskn prepares traditional dishes like cepelinai, a potato dumpling stuffed with meat and Samogitian pancakes, made with potatoes and stuffed with chicken, served with sour cream and gravy. Homesick Lithuanians come from as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania for her food, but the hearty and economical dishes will appeal to any Baltimorean. Wash it down with a Lithuanian beer — the bar keeps five or six in stock — or a homemade honey liquor called viryta.
Sami and Hala Tabet left their home country of Lebanon during the nation’s long civil war, which ran from 1975 to 1989. Today, members of the Lebanese diaspora — and others hungry for tasty Levantine food — flock to their Federal Hill cafe for a cup of cardamom-infused coffee and foul, a breakfast dish made from fava beans and onions and flavored with lemon. Their freshly-made hummus reveals the store-bought version to be a sad and pasty imitator.
With its wooden tables and murals of the Mediterranean, Byblos calls to mind the city north of Beirut for which its named. On the loudspeaker, the plaintive songs of Fairuz, a sainted figure in Lebanese culture, play on. No wonder that all who enter tell Sami Tabet it feels like home.
The chicken box has been staple of Baltimore’s black food scene since the era of Jim Crow. Sunny's Subs hews closely to tradition, offering up combos with three to six wings and more Western fries than one could comfortably eat in a sitting.
Stall 11's owners want customers to eat their greens without being force-fed vegetarian ideology. The R. House food hall counter serves “global street food,” and creative takes on foods that typically aren't vegetarian. Especially popular is the Korean barbecue cauliflower bowl, which gets a satisfying crunch from onion chips and black sesame seeds.
Indulge in the cast iron chicken and biscuit at Woodberry Kitchen
James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde has gotten attention from all over the country for his commitment to seasonal foods and bounty from the Chesapeake Bay. Lucky for Baltimore, he's right in our neighborhood. We’re fond of the chicken, seared and juicy, served with veggies, apple and a biscuit.
A somewhat eerie quiet hangs over Ellicott City’s Main Street, still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating flood — its second in two years. Businesses that once filled its centuries-old buildings have been slow to return; some still have plywood on the windows. But Syriana Cafe remains, a testament to the perseverance of its founders, the Al-Ghatrif family, who left their home country of Syria more than a dozen years ago.
From the second floor of the cafe in historic Ellicott City, you might think you were in Damascus. Mother of pearl inlays adorn the walls, and beaded tapestries of old Syria hang with wooden picture frames and brass coffee pots. The otherworldly feeling is completed with food: on the menu are Arabic specialties like fattoush, a salad with crispy pita, and manakeesh seasoned with zaatar.
You can see the whole city from the Topside bar, which sits on the top floor of the newly renovated Hotel Revival. The George Washington statue atop the Washington monument is practically eye level.
For an intimate drink and nosh, the tucked-away Garden Room, a mid-century modern, tropical-themed alcove, provides a bit of privacy. Tropical planters were designed by local florist B. Willow, which also hosts a regular botanical lecture series in the space.
The cocktail menu offers cheekily-named beer-and-a-shot combinations like “cure for the common writers block,” which pairs an IPA with a tiny cocktail called the “Hemingway snaquiri,” made with “Naval strength rum.” Let us know how it works.
With the world even more on edge than usual, there’s something almost therapeutic about indulging in the past — watching classic films and TV shows, for example, or seeking out retro-minded restaurants that recall the olden days. 18th & 21st, a terrific arrival in Columbia, is such a place. Try their house Manhattan or a drink called the Diamondback, a concoction of rye, yellow chartreuse and apple brandy.
10980 Grantchester Way, Suite 110, Columbia. 667-786-7111. cured1821.com
Eschew veganism at Jimmy's Famous Seafood
Here's a story that tells you a little bit about Baltimore’s relationship with crabs. Last summer, PETA posted a billboard near Baltimore’s Shot Tower featuring a still-living crab and the message: “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the individual. Go vegan.” In response, Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, a proudly family-run operation that opened in 1974, took out a billboard of their own, near I-295. Printed alongside the photo of a ready-for-eating crustacean: “SteaMEd crabs. Here to stay.” At Jimmy’s, get them soft-shell, in crab imperial, steamed or in cake form.
It’s BYOB and cash-only, but it’s hard to beat the charm and old-world ambience at Samos, which opened in 1977 and remains one of the last fixtures of Greektown. Regulars rave about the gyro and pita bread.
Try the ‘sexy comfort food’ from Water for Chocolate
Chef Sean Guy serves his sophisticated, Southern-influenced cuisine for brunch and dinner at this Upper Fells Point spot, named after the Laura Esquivel novel. The changing menu can include items like barbecue pulled pork, bacon shrimp risotto and the divine Italian sausage meatloaf. The restaurant will be closing for renovations Feb. 28 and is set to reopen in April.
Resurrection is one of the brews local beer lovers introduce to out-of-towners first. It’s flavorful and full-bodied, but the abbey brown ale works regardless of the weather or setting. Best sipped in the handsome upstairs bar of the Midtown-Belvedere establishment that shares its name.
There’s a reason that the city’s fancier establishments boast about carrying Taharka Brothers ice cream. Buttery and subtly flavored, their offerings, from pistachio to key lime pie, are likely to be some of the best you’ll try. If you want to feel better about indulging, the socially conscious company with a factory in Clipper Mill not only produces delicious small-batch ice cream and sorbets, but it also strives to promote leadership skills among urban men.
Intimate and slightly below street level, this neighborhood bar is regarded for having excellent cocktails and for being a great first date spot. It’s owned by Phil Han, who also runs Dooby’s around the corner. Sip the “10am Spaghetti,” which blends unfiltered sake, plum brandy, lemon, five-spice and cuttlefish ink. If the date doesn’t work out, at least you’ll have tried something new.
This decades-old haunt near the Maryland Institute College of Art features a replica Sistine Chapel painting on the ceiling, Patsy Cline on the jukebox, and a love-it-or-leave it attitude essential for heavy drinkers and great dive bars. Come see why Esquire named it one of the best bars in America in 2016.
1204 W. Mount Royal Ave., Midtown-Belvedere. 410-669-6686.
Make mornings worth your while at Diablo Doughnuts
The hardest part is deciding which doughnut to go with at this Federal Hill spot. Pop over to neighboring Outpost American Tavern where Diablo’s maple bacon doughnut becomes the “bread” for a decadent breakfast sandwich. Bring Tums.
Fall in love with sweet and savory at Connie's Chicken & Waffles
Brothers Khari and Shawn Parker named their shop for their mom, who works with them at the eatery’s two branches: one in Lexington Market and another in downtown Baltimore. Pair fried chicken with several varieties of Belgian waffles, such as buttermilk, red velvet and chocolate chip, and a decadent roster of toppings.
Munch on a Coney Island hot dog from G&A Restaurant
Coney Island is regarded as the spiritual homeland of the American hot dog, and it was a stop there after immigrating to the U.S. from Greece that inspired Andy Farantos’s grandfather, Gregory Diacumakos, and his cousin, to open a Coney Island hot dog shop of his own.
“A family member came up with the opportunity for them to come here to Baltimore,” Farantos said. Generations later, Farantos is still serving the famous frankfurter his ancestors brought to Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, topped with chili and raw onions.
Blurry marks on the counter at G&A restaurant show where people’s arms have rubbed against the laminate over the decades. A lot has changed outside the doors of G&A since Diacumakos opened the store on Eastern Avenue in 1927. But for diners, the inside still feels like home.
Brunch is serious business at this Southern-inspired restaurant, which began in Roland Park and also has branches on the Inner Harbor and in Annapolis. Signature dishes include such goodies as benne seed chicken 'n waffles, and crab cake and fried green tomato eggs Benedict.
Tucked away in an unsuspecting industrial warehouse in Rosedale, Chopstix fills a culinary void. On weekends inside the Cantonese-style banquet hall, diners can select a variety of dim sum, a Hong Kong brunch whose name means "a little bit of heart.” It’s only fitting to eat to your heart’s content.
It’s a food-lover’s fantasy as servers pass by pushing carts of steaming delicacies. Let your eyes make the decisions for you as you load your table with seemingly endless trays of shumai dumplings, rice shrimp noodles, bowls of congee soup and flaky egg tarts. Slurp down Shanghai soup dumplings stuffed with crabmeat — a reminder that Marylanders have hardly cornered the market on crab appreciation. Servers mark down your selections and tally the cost at the end of your meal. Or order from the menu, which features photos of yet more items you can order.
“Ahhhh, Glamour, glamour, glamour,” read the headline of The Sun’s 1993 review of The Prime Rib, one of the city’s fanciest restaurants, which opened in the 1960s. In the early days, the steakhouse’s black walls with touches of gold, seductive oil paintings and posters, and plush carpeting seemed impossibly elegant. Tastes may have changed, but the Prime Rib hasn’t. That’s, of course, why its fans love it so much.
The signature square pizza at Joe Squared was featured on a 2012 episode of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” The coal-fired, square pizza at Joe Squared still brings in hungry students from the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art and other pizza lovers to its North Avenue shop.
Try the food from a ‘Kitchen Nightmare’ at Gordon Ramsay Steak
Try the restaurant inside Horseshoe Casino bearing the name of the multiple-Michelin star-earning celebrity chef, one of the most celebrated on the planet. For those on bottomless expense accounts, enticing options include coveted Ossetra caviar and Japanese Wagyu beef. For the rest of us, it is possible to sup in style without taking out a second mortgage. Meat items are presented on a fancy trolley wheeled by your server, who will point out the grade and marbling of each cut.
Snag a spot for rooftop crab picking at LP Steamers
Featured on shows like Man V. Food, the classic crab house has become a South Baltimore treasure. Hot steamed crabs are served year-round, but the best time to go is on a summer afternoon, sitting on the third-story rooftop deck overlooking the harbor. Come early to get a coveted spot — the restaurant doesn’t take reservations — or wait at a neighboring bar until a seat opens up.
The hot wings challenge held Tuesday nights at Hampden’s retro-fabulous sci-fi eatery Rocket to Venus requires diners to eat chicken wings seasoned with some of the spiciest peppers in the world. Those who succeed in scarfing down the lot in five minutes without sipping a beverage afterward get a T-shirt, bragging rights and the mild hallucinations that come from eating something so freakishly spicy.
Housed inside a beautifully redecorated former pharmacy in Reservoir Hill, Dovecote Cafe invites residents and office workers to heal themselves from everyday woes with delicious coffee, baked goods and sandwiches. The name comes from a birdhouse, and, according to the shop’s website, the name “is meant to evoke a sense of communal nesting.”
Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry shop opened in Little Italy in 1956 and has been selling some of the city’s best cannoli ever since. The deep-fried, Sicilian-style pastry shells retain their crispiness against the ricotta filling. Order one or three in the cafe — there are now several locations in the area — or a few to take home and fill yourself.
Many of the former mills and factories of the Jones Falls area have been re-purposed into restaurants and apartments. But a new type of factory has returned. Last year, Baltimore ice cream company The Charmery opened its largest facility, known as “The Ice Cream Factory,” at Union Collective in Medfield.
The 5,000-square-foot space includes 2,000 square feet for retail and seating, while the rest houses a production facility, where flavors like Tell Tale Chocolate, Old Bay Caramel, and Otterbein Sugar Cookie get made.
Other tenants at Union Collective, a massive manufacturing/retail project, include anchor Union Craft Brewing, Earth Treks climbing gym, Baltimore Spirits Co. and Vent Coffee Roasters.
Aspiring chefs or anyone looking to expand their repertoire of at-home cooking can check out the series of classes offered by chefs Amy von Lange and Jerry Pellegrino at Schola in Mount Vernon. Tops include the “art of making pasta” and traditional Sunday suppers. After preparing the dishes, students eat them together, family-style.
The huge portions are a draw, but it’s the quirky decor that steals the show at Paper Moon. Where but Baltimore would one find a diner whose front vestibule is lined with seemingly infinite PEZ dispensers? Whether it be the hundreds of dolls and other toy nostalgia that adorns the walls or the eclectic customers, there is plenty to enjoy at this Remington spot, reminiscent of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Eat an old-school New York bagel at Goldberg's Bagels
Stanley Drebin says he gets his dough from a New Jersey bagel maker who uses a recipe dating back to Polish immigrants from the early 1900s. “That’s what they told me,” Drebin said. True or not, he said: “It’s a very good bagel.” The kosher bakery in Baltimore County sells over one million bagels a year retail. Plain is the biggest seller, followed by everything bagels.
When Andrew Zimmern, the host of the long-running Travel Channel show "Bizarre Foods," came to Shin Chon Garden in 2012, he declared on Twitter that it "is one of top ten Korean BBQ experiences in America. A must for anyone who loves food. Major discovery." Years later, the Ellicott City spot still draws huge crowds and long waits for tabletop barbecue.
8801 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 410-461-3280.
Sneak in a round at WC Harlan
Antiques and knick-knacks found at local thrift stores line the walls of WC Harlan, a speakeasy-style corner bar in Remington that quickly became a hit, despite (or perhaps because of) its secrecy. Try the cocktail du jour or the Kalimotxo, which mixes red wine, Coca-Cola and ice. It’s like an adult Cherry Coke.
The best advertisement for this Little Italy restaurant is its screen door. Through it, watch the kitchen hard at work, rolling and kneading the homemade pasta that goes into every dish at La Tavola. Venetian-born chef Carlo Vignotto says on La Tavola's website that he believes "the only way to prepare any creation is to be a perfectionist and select only the freshest ingredients from beginning to end — homegrown herbs, fresh fish and meats from the market, homemade pasta." More often than not, this philosophy comes through on the plate.
The food is carefully prepared and simply presented, without flamboyance or artiness. La Tavola's strongest suit is its lineup of pasta dishes, a few of which can compete for top ranking in or out of the neighborhood. Go for the linguine with taleggio cheese and freshly ground truffles. Uncompromisingly rich, the noodles themselves offer up that toothsome al dente pleasure that lovers of fresh pasta seek out.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessentially Baltimore date than pizza and duckpin bowling. Grab a “big mac” pizza from Johnny Rad’s, the skateboarding-themed pizza pub on Eastern Avenue, conveniently located just across from the Patterson Park Bowling Center, which opened in 1927 and calls itself “the oldest operating duckpin bowling alley in the nation.”
Just outside Lexington Market, purportedly the oldest market in America, you can buy freshly roasted peanuts from Konstant’s, a stand that’s been in business since the 1800s. They’re unsalted because — according to the company’s website — “We believe that is the only way to have them. The peanut flavor speaks for itself.”
Take home a Baltimore Bomb from Dangerously Delicious Pies
Show up with a Dangerously Delicious black box at any house in Baltimore, and you're automatically a hero. The shop has two locations, one in Canton and another in Hampden. Both sell their signature pie, crammed with melted Berger Cookies.
In Hawaii, spam musubi is as ubiquitous as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In Fallston, it comes teriyaki-marinated and seared. Despite people’s initial misgivings about eating meat from a tin, most customers love it once they bite in.
Business at Rosalyn Vera’s Fells Point taqueria, already brisk, has boomed since word spread that she had received threats for an anti-Trump sign hanging outside her shop. Naturally, Vera refuses to take the sign down. They don’t call it Cocina Luchadoras (“the fighters’ kitchen”) for nothing.
Inside, pro-immigrant and feminist artwork hangs above a hot pink lunch counter. A needlepoint proclaims the death of “machismo.” The restaurant’s name pays tribute to hard-working women – like Vera and others who run the restaurant. On the menu are delectable sopes and tacos, served on handmade, indigenous-style tortillas. Staff grind the corn for them every morning. Try the tongue, cactus and tacos al pastor.
Baltimoreans tend toward consistency, and seem to have a preference, even reverence, for simple, classic foods. At few spots is this more abundantly clear than at Hoehn’s Bakery, which has been bringing in customers since 1927. Doughnuts and crullers rise to the level of sacred tradition at this family-owned Highlandtown bakery, as beloved by old-time Baltimoreans as it is by millennials looking for their next great food to Instagram.
“Our recipes are our own and have been in the family for decades,” their website states, and everything is made in-house, from Bavarian cream to breads. Seasonal specialties include hot cross buns during Lent, peach cake in the summer and German stollen in the winter. Orders are placed in boxes and tied with classic red-and-white twine, a simple gesture that is somehow achingly lovely.
Downtown’s newish Chez Hugo transports diners to Paris with its pristine dining room, marble-topped tables with traditional bistro chairs. Hearty entrees like beef bourguignon offer a modern take on countryside cooking.
Order the crosstown burger with bacon at Hamilton Tavern
Warm and dimly lit, the neighborhood pub on the corner of Harford Road and Wisteria Avenue features personal touches like photos of writer Charles Bukowski in the men’s room, and poems by Sylvia Plath in the ladies’. People come from all over to try its crosstown burger, made with beef from Roseda Farm in Monkton. Order it with sticky bacon.
At the Helmand, the Mount Vernon Afghan institution owned by Qayum Karzai, the kaddo borwani, or sauteed baby pumpkin, is seasoned with sugar and served with yogurt garlic sauce. Former Baltimore Sun restaurant critic Richard Gorelick once called it “arguably, the most beloved appetizer to appear in a Baltimore restaurant in the past quarter-century.”
806 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon. 410-752-0311. helmand.com
Drink 24-karat gold flakes at Duck Duck Goose
Near a fading Fells Point billboard urging Baltimoreans to vote against Prohibition, modern-day foodies can head to the bar and drink some gold. On its cocktail menu, Duck Duck Goose offers the Golden Goose, made with Grey Goose Citron and 24K gold flakes. And it’s just $6 during happy hour.
Don’t be put off by the gold: the vibe at this European brasserie is both laid-back and up-market. Staff go out of their way to make diners feel at ease, and can offer recommendations on drinks and dishes, like the charred broccolini, accompanied by lemon curd and almond puree.
It’s the second location of the brasserie from Chef Ashish Alfred, who opened the first in Bethesda, where he grew up.
Have a jumbo-lump crab cake on saltine crackers at Faidley's
The crab cakes at Faidley’s are exactly the size of Nancy Faidley Devine’s hands. “I never measure anything, I just put it in my hands,” said Devine, 83, whose grandfather started the business in 1886 when Lexington Market was an open-air shopping center and the shop still sold terrapin. In the past few decades, their Maryland crab cakes have received local and national recognition for their deliciousness. “It’s just invigorating to me,” Devine said. “That’s why, at 83, I am still doing this.”
The newly opened Italian restaurant has hit the ground running with thoughtful, flavorful dishes. This tart is no exception, with a flaky crust, sweet-and-sour citrusy filling and meringue torched (before it arrives at the table) to reveal its circular swirled piping on top.
The cave-like dining rooms below Franklin Street still glow on Saturday nights with merry diners, drowsy on a pitcher of Tio Pepe’s famous sangria, made with brandy, triple sec, red wine, sugar and fruit. It has been so for 50 years and could still be so for 50 more.
10 E. Franklin St., Mount Vernon. 410-539-4675. tiopepe.us
Eat the chicken cheesesteak sandwich at Terra Cafe
In the words of owner Terence Dickson, Terra Cafe is designed to show "what an awesome black family business" looks like in practice. With the help of his three sons, Dickson serves up hearty and simple foods like a chicken cheese steak. A Philly-raised editor at The Sun calls it “Not quite as good as those made in Philadelphia, but close enough to call it even.”
The original taqueria opened in an Eastern Avenue storefront in 2002 and quickly drew praise for its fresh tortillas and Mexican fare. While the old place remains entrenched in Fells Point, a new, bigger version opened in the Harbor East area.
The traditional coddie is a poor man’s crabcake: potato and salt cod mixed together with spices and fried to golden brown. Try one at this popular romantic corner spot in Hampden, where they’re served old-school-style with a saltine cracker and mustard.
In true speakeasy tradition, the gothic-style door of the Elk Room is unmarked, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Harbor East. Ring the buzzer and request to enter the dimly lit, 1920s-themed lounge, where bartenders skillfully construct some of the city’s most elaborate cocktails. Be prepared for top-shelf prices.
Order a New York egg cream at Charlesmead Pharmacy
Sitting quietly just a few blocks south of the Baltimore County line, this little pharmacy — with its vintage lunch counter, round spinning seats and jars of candy — takes its customers back in time. Order up a New York egg cream, made with milk, seltzer and chocolate syrup, and ask for a free cookie with it.
Nostalgia is hot right now, whether it’s yearning for the twenties, seventies, or childhood. This Maryland all-day breakfast joint with locations in Canton, Locust Point, Hunt Valley and Annapolis, caters to kids at heart with its house-made version of the classic pop tart. This one is plate-sized and comes in creative flavors like maple bourbon bacon and coconut pineapple.
Relish the post-fire improvements at Charles Village Pub
In its several decades of operation, the neighborhood watering hole Charles Village Pub has managed to retain its local identity even as the neighborhood surrounding it became dominated by chains. But CVP’s future seemed in question after a grease fire shut the place down last year. It’s since reopened, proving yet again its enduring appeal.
Newcomers like Ceremony Coffee Roasters and a Vietnamese sub shop will join old-timers like Fenwick’s Choice Meats at Cross Street Market when the Federal Hill fixture reopens this spring, following its long-awaited overhaul. Though it’s getting an update, the design should appeal to some nostalgic Baltimoreans: entrances on Charles and Light streets are being restored to resemble what they looked like in the 1950s.
Mark your calendar for Choptank's opening at Broadway Market
The Atlas Restaurant Group, behind such upscale eateries as the Bygone, Ouzo Bay, Azumi and Loch Bar, will open a fish and crab house called Choptank in the south shed of Fells Point’s renovated Broadway Market. It’s set to open Memorial Day 2019.