Published: October 10, 2011
Eating out in Baltimore is more interesting (and less fraught) than it was just a decade ago. The national trends may break here a little later, and more slowly, but the best local chefs rarely fail to do something interesting with them. There are more restaurants here that we’re excited about now than we can ever remember. Of course, not every meal needs to be a gastronomic miracle, and Baltimore offers plenty of great options for pubby staples, good carryout/delivery, rib-sticking breakfasts, and, of course, crab cakes and (an even more Baltimore-to-the-core delicacy) steamed crabs. Destination restaurants tend to cluster in destination neighborhoods, and so that’s how we’ve broken down this small, selective listing of various favorites. Each week’s issue of City Paper, not to mention citypaper.com, can offer more insight.
Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano (306 S. High St.,  727-0700, aldositaly.com, $$$$) Pricey Italian.
Attman’s Delicatessen (1019 E. Lombard St.,  563-2666, attmansdeli.com, $) A corned-beefy Baltimore institution.
Café Gia (410 S. High St.,  685-6727, cafegias.com, $$$) Homestyle Italian.
Isabella’s Brick Oven Pizza and Panini (221 S. High St.,  962-8888, isabellasbrickoven.net, $) Brick-oven pizza and paninis.
Piedigrotta Bakery (1300 Bank St., suite 140,  522-6900, piedigrottabakery.com, $) Wonderful sandwiches, pastries, and now prix fixe dinners (more in the $$$$ range).
Sabatino’s (901 Fawn St.,  727-9414, sabatinos.com, $$$) Sab’s is the classic Little Italy temple to red sauce, and home of the bookmaker’s salad.
Vaccaro’s (222 Albemarle St.,  685-4905, vaccarospastry.com, $) Bomb Italian desserts (e.g., éclairs as big as your head).
Bagby Pizza Co. (1006 Fleet St.,  605-0444,bagbypizza.com, $$) Top-flight thin-crust pizza.
Charleston (1000 Lancaster St.,  332-7373, charlestonrestaurant.com, $$$$) Baltimore’s fanciest dining room, with Low Country cuisine and Southern hospitality.
Cinghiale (822 Lancaster St.,  547-8282, cgeno.com, $$$$) Not the usual red-sauce ho-hum; cosmo Northern Italian.
James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant (616 S. President St.,  727-5107, thejamesjoycepub.com, $$$) Uh, an Irish pub, with good grub.
Lebanese Taverna (719 S. President St.,  244-5533, lebanesetaverna.com, $$$) An elegant setting for delicious falafel and shawarma.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room (801 Aliceanna St.,  872-0000, the oceanaire.com, $$$$) At the other end of the spectrum from the typical Baltimore crab house, there’s this luxe seafood restaurant.
Pazo (1425 Aliceanna St.,  534-7296, pazorestaurant.com, $$$) Clubby space, great small plates.
Talara (615 S. President St.,  528-9883, talarabaltimore.com, $$$) Everybody seems to love this spot, which specializes in seafood with a Latin/Caribbean twist.
Bertha’s Mussels (734 S. Broadway,  327-5795, berthas.com, $$) This humble bar and restaurant has been serving mussels and live music to tourist and locals alike for eons.
Black Olive (814 S. Bond St.,  276-7141, theblackolive.com, $$$$) Upscale Greek specializing in fresh seafood.
Blue Moon Café (1621 Aliceanna St.,  522-3940, $$) One of the best breakfasts in town; long waits on weekends.
Duda’s Tavern (1600 Thames St.,  276-9719, $$$) A classic Baltimore corner bar with cut-above Baltimore grub.
Henninger’s (1812 Bank St.,  342-2172, henningerstavern.com, $$$) A perennial fave. Try the Pernod-spiked oysters.
Jimmy’s Restaurant (801 S. Broadway,  327-3273, $) The Baltimore greasy spoon.
Kali’s Court (1606 Thames St.,  276-4700, kaliscourt.com, $$$$) Mediterranean seafood.
Kali’s Mezze (1606 Thames St.,  563-7600, kalismezze.com, $$) Mediterranean small plates.
Kooper’s Tavern (1702 Thames St.,  563-5423, koopers.com,
$$) The burgers are the thing at this pubby spot—not that the rest of the menu will let you down.
Meli Patisserie and Bistro (1636 Thames St.,  534-6354, kalismeli.com, $$$). The theme here is honey. And also, yum.
Peter’s Inn (504 S. Ann St.,  675-7313, petersinn.com, $$$) Everything on the chalkboard menu in this teeny bar is going to be good.
Pitango (802 S. Broadway,  236-0741, pitangogelato.com, $) Boutique gelato.
Salt (2127 E. Pratt St.,  276-5480, salttavern.com, $$$$) A neighborhood bistro with some of the most inventive food in the city.
Sam’s Kid (811 S. Broadway,  522-3663, $$) Great, fun pan-Asian.
Tortilleria Sinaloa (1716 Eastern Ave.,  276-3741, tortilleria- sinaloa.com, $) Fresh tortillas and awesome tacos. Minimal seating, cash only.
Ze Mean Bean (1739 Fleet St.,  675-5999, zemeanbean.com, $$$) Eastern European fare in a lovely spot.
Annabel Lee Tavern (601 S. Clinton St., 522-2929, annabelleetavern.com, $$) Gourmet pub grub.
Blue Hill Tavern (938 S. Conkling St.,  388-9363, bluehilltavern.com, $$$$) Fine dining with an adventurous kitchen in Highlandtown.
Jack’s Bistro (3123 Elliott St.,  878-6542, jacksbistro.net, $$$) Fun, innovative pubby staples (poutine, ground-bacon burger).
Johnny Rad’s (2108 Eastern Ave.  759-6464, johnnyrads.com, $$) Everybody’s favorite new skateboard-themed gourmet-pizza restaurant/bar.
Mama’s on the Half Shell (2901 O’Donnell St.,  276-3160, mamamasmd.com, $$$) A reliable spot for homey seafood.
Nacho Mama’s (2907 O’Donnell St.,  675-0898, nachomamascanton.com, $$) Obnoxious, but agreeably so, this Canton Square storefront serves up Tex-Mex food and a fun drinking atmosphere.
Samos (600 Oldham St.,  675-5292, samosrestaurant.com, $$) Best trad Greek in town.
Sip and Bite (2200 Boston St.,  675-7077, $) Diner fare offered 24 hours a day.
Big Bad Wolf’s House of Barbeque (5713 Harford Road,  444-6422, big badwolfbarbeque.com, $$) A shack-y spot with seriously good ’cue.
Chameleon Café (4341 Harford Road,  254-2376, thechameleoncafe.com, $$$$) Farm-to-table fine-dining excellence.
Clementine (5402 Harford Road,  444-1497, bmoreclementine.com, $$$) Homey spot with upscale comfort food, plus house-made charcuterie and layer cakes.
Hamilton Tavern (5517 Harford Road,  426-1930, hamiltontavern.com, $$) A bar with a small but choice menu (fried pickle chips, a burger with a fried egg).
Koco’s Pub (4301 Harford Road,  426-3519, kocospub.com, $$) The crab cakes at this cozy fave are legendary.
Atwater’s (529 E. Belvedere Ave.,  323-2396, atwaters.biz, $) Excellent soups and sandwiches, plus a bustling scene.
Crush/Demi (510 E. Belvedere Ave.,  278-9001, crush-restaurant.com/demirestaurant.com, $$$$/$$)Crush serves finessed versions of classics; restaurant-within-a-restaurant Demi offers an ambitious tasting menu.
Greg’s Bagels (519 E. Belvedere Ave.,  323-9463, $) Gourmet bagels with one-of-a-kind smoked fish.
Ikan Seafood and Sushi (529 E. Belvedere Ave.,  435-0216, $) A great sushi counter that does tons of takeout.
Neopol Savory Smokery (529 E. Belvedere Ave.,  433-7700, neopolsmokery.com, $$) If it doesn’t move, Neopol will smoke it: salmon, cheese, you name it.
Hampden/Roland Park/Mount Washington
Café Hon (1002 W. 36th St.,  243-1230, cafehon.com, $$) Self-conscious comfort food before self-conscious comfort food was cool.
Corner BYOB (850 W. 36th St.,  869-5075, cornerbyob.com, $$$$) A somewhat eccentric but welcome newcomer featuring Belgian-influenced cuisine and exotic meats (e.g., kangaroo). BYOB, of course.
Dogwood Restaurant (911 W. 36th St.,  889-0952, dogwoodbaltimore.com, $$$$) Farm-to-table, socially conscious, quite good.
Golden West Café (1105 W. 36th St., 889-8891, goldenwestcafe.com, $$) New Mexican green chiles meet vegetarian fare meets cool bar and rock shows.
Grano Pasta Bar (1031 W. 36th St.,  869-3429, granopastabar.com, $) Tiny, friendly pasta bar.
Emporio Grano Pasta at Chestnut (3547 Chestnut Ave.,  438-7521, granopastabar.com, $$$) Little Grano’s fancy fine-dining sister.
Haute Dog Carte (6070 Falls Road,  608-3500, hautedogcarte.com, $) More a stand than a cart proper, HDC serves up serious gourmet dogs.
Miss Shirley’s Café (513 W. Cold Spring Lane,  889-5272, missshirleyscafe.com, $$$) Indulgent breakfasts and brunches. (There’s another location near Pratt and President streets.)
Mt. Washington Tavern (5700 Newbury St.,  367-6903, mtwashingtontavern.com, $$$) A sprawling space with several bars and dining areas and reliable lunch/dinner/brunch fare.
Petit Louis Bistro (4800 Roland Ave.,  366-9393, petitlouis.com, $$$$) Old-fashioned French bistro for your steak frites needs.
Rocket to Venus (3360 Chestnut Ave., 235-7887, rockettovenus.com, $$) Hipster bar with intriguing food (e.g., kimchi pierogies).
Sushi Hana (6080 Falls Road,  377-4228, sushihanabaltimore.com $$) Serious sushi.
Woodberry Kitchen (2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126,  464-8000, woodberrykitchen.com, $$$$) Local hard-core farm-to-table exemplar/mecca. Worth what you’ve got to do to get a table.
Ambassador Dining Room (3811 Canterbury Road,  366-1484, ambassadordining.com, $$$) Classic Indian served in an elegant dining room with an even more elegant courtyard.
The Dizz (300 W. 30th St.,  869-5864, thedizzbaltimore.com, $) The local standard for pub grub.
Donna’s (3101 St. Paul St.,  889-3410, donnas.com, $$$) Artful sandwiches, salads, and coffee near Hopkins.
Gertrude’s at the BMA (10 Art Museum Drive,  889-3399, gertrudesbaltimore.com, $$$$) Chef John Shields serves up Maryland faves overlooking the Baltimore Museum of Art’s sculpture garden.
New Wyman Park Restaurant (138 W. 25th St.,  235-5100, $) Down and dirty diner fare.
One World Café (100 W. University Parkway,  235-5777, one-world-cafe.com, $$) Vegetarians and vegans flock.
Papermoon Diner (227 W. 29th St.,  889-4444, papermoondiner24.com, $$) Quirky décor and good takes on diner classics are the highlights.
Pete’s Grille (3130 Greenmount Ave.,  467-7698, $) Belly up to the mobbed counter for good and cheap breakfast and lunch.
Thai Restaurant (3316 Greenmount Ave.,  889-6003, $$$) Venerable local Thai favorite.
Joe Squared (133 W. North Ave.,  545-0444, joesquared.com, $$) Coal-fired gourmet pizzas augment a lively bar/music scene.
Joung Kak (18 W. 20th St.,  837-5231, $) Serious Korean staples.
Sofi’s Crepes (1723 N. Charles St.,  727-7732, sofiscrepes.com, $) Wee crêperie for the theater/bar crowd.
Tapas Teatro (1711 N. Charles St.,  332-0110, tapasteatro.com, $$) Among the top small-plates places in town.
Mount Vernon/Bolton Hill/Downtown
Akbar (823 N. Charles St.,  539-0944, akbar-restaurant.com, $$$) An intimate Indian restaurant.
b, A Bolton Hill Bistro (1501 Bolton St.,  383-8600, b-bistro.com, $$$) The sort of neighborhood bistro any ’hood would be lucky to have.
B&O American Brasserie (2 N. Charles St.,  692-6172, bandorestaurant.com, $$$) Contemporary dining in a historic setting.
The Brewer’s Art (1106 N. Charles St.,  547-6925, thebrewersart.com, $$$) House-brewed beers rule, but the kitchen and bar food (rosemary fries!) do too.
Feast at 4 East (4 E. Madison St.,  605-2020, 4eastmadisoninn.com, $$$) Not your usual hotel restaurant.
The Helmand (806 N. Charles St.,  752-0311, helmand.com, $$) Delicious Afghan cuisine and a local first-date staple.
Iggie’s (818 N. Calvert St.,  528-0818, iggiespizza.com, $$) Great thin-crust pizza in a self-serve setting.
Joss Café and Sushi Bar (413 N. Charles St.,  244-6988, josssushi.com, $$) Top-drawer sushi here.
Land of Kush (840 N. Eutaw St.,  225-5874, thelandofkush.com, $) “Vegan soul food” is not an oxymoron. The fake ribs and live kale salad will make you believe.
Mekong Delta Café (105 W. Saratoga St.,  244-8677, $) Charming little Vietnamese spot; often crowded, which is a good sign.
Milk and Honey Market (816 Cathedral St.,  685-6455, milkandhoneybaltimore.com, $) This bright storefront serves up a small menu of sandwiches, soups, and other foodstuffs, mostly organic and locally sourced.
Sotto Sopra (405 N. Charles St., 625-0534, sottosoprainc.com, $$$$) An Italian restaurant to change your mind about Italian restaurants.
Trinacria (406 N. Paca St.,  685-7285, trinacriafoods.com, $) Unbelievable Italian deli tucked away in a storefront on Paca.
Federal Hill/south baltimore
Abbey Burger Bistro (1041 Marshall St.,  453-9698, abbeyburgerbistro.com, $$) Gourmet burgers.
Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen (745 E. Fort Ave.,  727-7482, babaskitchen.net, $) This modest storefront offers excellent Middle Eastern fare.
Centro Tapas Bar (1444 Light St.,  869-6871, centrotapasbar.com, $$) Small plates get back to their Spanish roots.
Harborque (1421 Lawrence St.,  685-PORK, harborque.com, $$$) Carolina-style barbecue, plus local fave pit beef if you must.
Little Havana Restaurante y Cantina Cubana (1325 Key Highway,  837-9903, littlehavanas.com, $$$) A lively bar crowd shouldn’t dissuade you from the Cuban cuisine or the waterside deck.
L.P. Steamers (1100 E. Fort Ave.,  576-9294, lpsteamers.com, $$) You need to know where to get good steamed crabs—and now you do.
Matsuri (1105 S. Charles St.,  752-8561, matsuri.us, $$) Longtime source for sushi and Japanese staples.
Miguel’s Cocina y Cantina (1200 Steuart St.,  438-3139, miguels baltimore.com, $$$) Upscale Mexican.
Mr. Rain’s Fun House (800 Key Highway,  524-7379, mrrainsfunhouse.com, $$$) Quirky food and drink, entirely apropos for its home in the American Visionary Art Museum.
Nick’s Fish House and Grill (2600 Insulator Drive,  347-4123, nicksfishhouse.com, $$$) A reliable source of seafood and libations with a spacious deck for nice weather.
The Reserve (1542 Light St.,  605-0955, thereservebaltimore.com, $$$) Nice space with good, solid fare.
Thai Arroy (1019 Light St.,  385-8587, thaiarroy.com, $$) The city’s best Thai? Many think so, and it has the crowds to prove it.
The Wine Market (921 E. Fort Ave.,  244-6166, the-wine-market.com, $$$) Wine, yes, but also an excellent kitchen.
Andy Nelson’s Barbecue (11007 York Road, Cockeysville,  527-1226, andynelsonsbbq.com, $$) Undisputed local ’cue champ; don’t miss pulled pork or the ribs.
Goldberg’s (1500 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville,  415-7001, goldbergs bagels.com, $) Classic New York bagels, bialies, etc.
Hunan Taste (718 N. Rolling Road, Catonsville,  788-8988, $$) Many local Sinophiles’ fave Chinese restaurant.
Mari Luna’s Mexican Grill (102 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville,  486-9910, mariluna.com, $$) Cheerful, cheap, and authentic Mexican.
Pioneer Pit Beef (1600 North Rolling Road, Woodlawn) If you want to try the local delicacy known as pit beef, set the GPS for this address and bring cash.
Spicy Garden (6400 Baltimore National Pike, Suite 170-B, Catonsville,  747-0080, thespicygarden.com, $$) Indian worth the drive.
> Email Lee Gardner