Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just passing through? A guide to Baltimore eats.

by EP & X

Just passing through Baltimore and looking for something good to eat?  Or a local looking for some new places to try? We've put together this list of great Baltimore eats, some of which you may have heard of or seen on Food Network/Cooking Channel, and some of which you may have no clue about.  That's where we come in: let us be your guide to Charm City noms!

Below is a hodge-podge list of places to check out, ranging from low-brow street food to high-end local and sustainable cuisine.  The list is by no means exclusive and we should probably plan to do a Part II for all the great places we're forgetting.  But until then, check out this list, grab a fork, and get ready to dive into Baltimore's finest eats:

Pit beef sandwiches - a local staple.  It's thinly cut grilled top round (beef), traditionally served with "tiger sauce" (horseradish sauce) and thinly sliced raw onions on a kaiser roll.  Most famous is probably Chap's BBQ (it's been on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" and "Man v. Food"), but we think Pioneer is slightly better (although it's outside the city in Woodlawn).  They give you a slice of warm beef to snack on as you wait in line, which definitely contributed to their ranking as "favorite."  Read about our pit beef experiences here and here.

Crab cakes - Faidley's in the Lexington Market supposedly has the best in the city.  Also get some raw oysters if they are in season.  Or, if you are willing to leave the city, hit up G&M Restaurant (near BWI airport) for their crab cakes - widely believed to be the best in the area.  They are quite large and tasty, but be prepared to wait for a table.

Steamed Crabs - If you're visiting in the summer months, you must make time to have a steamed crab dinner.  We recommend Nick's Fish House, mostly for their outdoor seating right on the water (service is hit or miss, admittedly).  They will be expensive but they are worth it.  Go with a native and they'll show you the best way to dissect the crabs (or call one of us - we'll meet you there and give you a tutorial!).  Don't forget to get a few beers and some fries/onion rings to go with the crabs.  And be careful not to touch your eyes after you've been handling all that Old Bay!  Read about one of our nights on the deck at Nick's here.

Lexington Market - The Lexington Market (affectionately known as The Lex) is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) indoor markets in the country, established in 1782, and it's definitely worth a visit.  Our parents took us there when we were little, and we've continued to visit as adults both because it's a cool market and a staple of Baltimore, but also because it is conveniently located 2 blocks away from where we went to law school and it's a great place to grab lunch.  We admit that it's a little smelly and some shady characters hang out there, but it has its own charms and everyone who works there is extremely friendly and helpful.  Basically what we're saying is: go there, enjoy, but be smart, keep your wits about you, and don't give anyone any money.  The Lex has many great stalls for prepared foods or meat, fish, fruits and veggies, and baked goods.  For take-away goodies, we recommend any of the fried chicken places (including fried chicken livers - yes they are awesome, don't knock 'em till you've tried 'em), or Barron's deli for a hot corned beef sandwich.  And speaking of baked goods, if you are at the Lex, you must go to the Berger Bakery.  Berger Cookies (the chocolate-topped ones) are a Baltimore staple and have sort of a cult following.  They are sold in a package at grocery stores, but nothing beats the ones straight from the bakery at the Lex.  Also, Berger's donuts will blow your mind.

Cross Street Market - Located in the historic Federal Hill neighborhood, this little market has a handful of stalls and a fun atmosphere on the Charles Street end, with huge cheap beers and raw oysters served to a fun crowd every day from lunchtime through happy hour.

Andy Nelson's BBQ - great BBQ joint, outside the city but it's the best we've found outside of the real deal in the South.  Read about how much we loved it here.

Grace Garden - a local darling Chinese food restaurant with authentic Chinese food, a non-English menu, the whole deal.  Also outside the city in Odenton.  Not necessarily a typical Baltimore/east coast kind of place but this restaurant is wonderful if you are in the mood for some great Chinese (good Chinese is a rare thing in/near Bmore- we're still not sure why).  You will find hundreds of Chowhound posts about how great this place is and we concur!  Get the fish noodles, the tea smoked duck (which you have to order 2 days in advance - so worth it!) and the at least one of the pork belly dishes.  Read about our Christmas Eve meal at Grace Garden here.

Bertha's Mussels - a classic mussels joint in historic Fells Point. This place has been there forever and for good reason!  If you see a bunch of bumper stickers that say "Eat Bertha's Mussels," this is what they're talking about.

Ryleigh's Oyster House - if you are looking for reasonably priced seafood, Ryleigh's sometimes has oyster happy hours where they are $1/oyster, and they usually have 3-4 varieties at a time.  Ryleigh's is in the historic Federal Hill neighbhorhood, near the Harbor/downtown.  On nice afternoons, you can sit by the open windows and watch people go by as you slurp your oysters.

Burgers - if you are looking for a good burger, Mother's in Federal Hill has pretty consistently good burgers and great fries/sweet potato fries.  (Note that that link is to their insane "Heart Attack on a Plate" burger (pictured below), which was good but their regular burgers - for normal folk - are excellent too.)  We also love their buffalo chicken sandwich, which is served with bacon and cheese, in case you needed more calories.  This place is Ravens central during football season so it's a fun place to visit if you are into football.  It's also fun to visit in the off-season if you have no interest in football, like us :) 

Breakfast/brunch Blue Moon Cafe in Fells Point - featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" has very good stuff, an amazing cinnamon roll as big as your head and potato pancakes with bacon in them (why didn't we think of that??).  Get there early as there is usually a ridiculously long wait on weekend mornings.  Read about one of our fun breakfasts there here.  Also Don't Know Tavern in Federal Hill has a pretty good brunch menu, which includes tater tots.  

Pierogies - Ze Mean Bean Cafe in Fells Point has a Pierogi Happy Hour every night from 5-7 where pierogies are $.25 a piece, and they are made by little old Polish ladies from a nearby church.  They're really great and the other eastern european fare is quite good too.  Read about those pierogies (and other cabbage-laden goodies) here.

Pizza - a Baltimore landmark is Matthew's Pizza near Patterson Park - it's the only thick-crust pizza place in the city and they claim to be the city's first pizzeria (circa 1943).  Very good pizza if you like thick crust.  Also, Ledo's Pizza is a local chain and we personally love it - it's a square pizza with a thin, buttery flaky crust.  We also recommend Joe Squared pizza, which now has two locations (Power Plant Live and North Ave).  Joe Squared has interesting toppings, great crust, and on many nights they have live music at their North Ave. location.  We also recommend Iggy's Pizza in Mt. Vernon - a BYOB establishment with a lot of charm.  Not necessarily cheap but they serve wonderful pizzas and their caesar salad comes with the highly prized topping of white anchovies (if you're into that kind of thing).  Read about our pizza experiences here and here.  Hmmm four pizza recommendations...I guess we really love the pizza in Baltimore!

Farmers Markets - If you are going to be here on a weekend in the spring/summer/fall, we recommend going to the Sunday morning farmer's market under the JFX.  Of course the amount/kind of produce will vary with the season, but one thing that's constant are the great snacks there: pit beef sandwiches, mini donuts fried right before your eyes, Zeke's coffee (a local brand), yummy pickles in lots of flavors, and the best part: mushroom fritters.  The mushroom stand has a few mushroom dishes in addition to selling a large variety of mushrooms for you to cook at home, but the best one is the fritters: lightly breaded and fried mushrooms, served with lots of crumbled feta cheese, hot sauce, and some fresh greens on top.  They are very popular but they are worth the wait and the $8.  Find a spot in the sun and dig in -- it'll give you energy to haul all your lovely produce around.  There are also markets on Saturdays at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in Federal Hill, in Waverly, and in Fells Point.

Beer - Heavy Seas is a local beer company, and you can tour their brewery which is fun, but we think the best local beer spot is the Brewer's Art in Mt. Vernon.  They brew all their own Belgian ales in-house and they are quite good (and strong!).  Most popular are Resurrection and Ozzy, but the majority change with the season, which is lots of fun.  Great frites there too, to go with your beer.  Also, you can't visit Baltimore without enjoying the other favorite local beer, National Bohemian (lovingly referred to as "Natty Boh").

Dessert - Pitango Gelato in Fells Point has amazing gelati/sorbetti in great and unique flavors.  They use all local and/or natural ingredients and they put out a truly outstanding product.  If you are visiting in the winter, get a (teeny) cup of their hot chocolate - it's wonderfully intense.  Also, the Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill has alcoholic milkshakes which are quite good - the chocolate-peanut butter flavor is great, and there is one that features crushed up Berger cookies, which are mentioned in the Lex section above.

Italian - While Baltimore has a famous and historic Little Italy, we usually head down the road to Chazz: A Bronx Original in Harbor East for Italian goodies.  Chazz Palminteri, the actor, is one of the owners.  We didn't meet him the first time we went, but the second time, we were caught sitting in "his" booth and he yelled at us.  All in good fun, of course!  Very memorable, indeed.  Our favorites include the lamb meatball (on its own as an appetizer or on a pizza), the arugula/parmesan/red onion salad, linguine & shrimp fra diavolo, and the funghi (mushroom and goat cheese) pizza.  A related recommendation is to check out Trinacria, a teeny Italian market not far from the Lex, on Paca St.  Trinacria has been there for 100 years and in addition to having an extensive selection of imported goods, fresh breads, frozen prepared Italian goodies, and very cheap wine, they have amazing sandwiches and sweets!  A fun place to get goodies for a picnic on top of Federal Hill or down by the water at the Harbor or in Fells Point.

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Fine Dining - We are lucky girls who get to eat at great restaurants, so we have a few places to recommend if you are looking for a higher-end, fancier experience.  First and foremost: Woodberry Kitchen.  We think it's the best restaurant in the city - the food is amazing, it's all local and sustainable, and yet the place is anything but pretentious.  It's a wonderful establishment and we highly recommend it.  You can have a reasonably priced meal there, too - get the burger or a flatbread and a few snacks and you'll be good to go.  I also think they have the best dessert in the city, called CMP (chocolate - marshmallow - peanuts).  Their other desserts (fruit crumbles, etc.) are excellent too, and change with the season.  Their hand-crafted cocktail menu is extensive and delicious, and they serve wonderful coffee in teeny French presses.  How could you not love that?  Also, Woodberry has a great brunch if you are looking for a fancy-ish brunch experience.  Note that they book up early for dinner and brunch, so get crackin' and give them a call!   Read about one of our very first visits to WK here.

We also recommend B&O American Brasserie, in the downtown area, which has a seasonal menu that is always creative and fun, and most importantly: delicious.  Great cocktails (including homemade cola in some of their drinks), great desserts, and nice-sized portions.  Also, B&O is located in the Hotel Monaco, and upstairs from the restaurant is the sickest (that's a good thing) lounge you've ever seen - it's decorated so elaborately, you must check it out before or after dinner.  Take the marble staircase or the elevator to the second floor and it's just to the left of the concierge desk.  We've enjoyed many meals at B&O, but read about our maiden voyage to B&O here.

Finally, we recommend one of the newest members of the Baltimore family, Wit & Wisdom Tavern, located in the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East.  The menu changes seasonally, everything is exquisitely executed, and the service is impeccable.  If you don't feel like staying (or paying) for a whole meal, the cocktails are incredible and the bar/seating area around the bar is fun just to lounge around and chat with your friends or the bartender.  Get a cocktail and a snack (we love the charcuterie plate) and enjoy the cozy vibe.  Or if you are around Harbor East in the morning, check out their gourmet coffee bar, LaMill Coffee, and have some expertly prepared coffee and beignets.  Read about our recent wonderful experience at W&W here.

We hope this has been a helpful guide to you as you figure out your dining itinerary (doesn't everyone do that before they travel?).  As always, if you have specific questions about where to eat please feel free to email us - we're happy to help and we really love doing it.  We'll probably ask you a few questions about your budget, location within the city, if you have transportation, and what kind of cuisine you are looking for, so including that in your email isn't a bad idea.

And to all you Baltimore folks - have anything to add?  Are we crazy for forgetting (or including) something on this list?  Let us know!  Hopefully this list will be a guide to visitors to Charm City for a long time to come.

Welcome to Charm City/Mobtown/The Greatest City in America/The City that Reads,

Erin & Xani


  1. lord I wish I was just passing through Baltimore! What an excellent, colorful recap. Will be sure to revisit this if/when we ever get to the east coast.


  3. The steamed crabs at Cantler's in Annapolis are by far my favorite, although it's a bit of a hike from Baltimore City. Well worth it, however!

  4. Polock Johnnys in the market has been closed for a few months.

  5. That's one great compendium of places. I really need to find an excuse to just come out for a few days and eat :) Too bad BWI isn't the major hub instead of Dulles for United. It would make it sooo much easier.

  6. On your recommendation, I'm going to made the hike into B'more from HoCo for a Berger donut. I'm salivating!

  7. My husband and I were in Baltimore last weekend for the War of 1812 festivities. Mo's Wharfside restaurant was disappointing. There were long lines at Vaccaro's. Any alternatives to these two places you could recommend? Granted, it was a crowded weekend. I enjoy reading your blog!

  8. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  9. what a great recap... have you thought about updating?

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