Located in what’s been a revolving door of restaurants on North Charles Street, Orto may have finally given the space some stability. Here, Chef Stefano Porcile (formerly of Bottega) is turning out Tuscan-inspired dishes with sophisticated twists. Named after the Italian word for vegetable garden, the restaurant follows suit with bright and seasonal ingredients on display in its radicchio salad with peaches, fennel, kohlrabi, and hazelnut tahini or expertly made pasta like tagliatelle drizzled with chanterelle cream and squid ink pasta topped with crab meat and salumi butter. Don’t sleep on classic cocktails made at the elegant bar or newly added brunch service.
Baltimore has experienced a market renaissance lately (see Cross Street Market and Lexington, which we mention below). But we want to give a special shout to this Fells Point institution that spruced itself up after many years of abandon, and revitalized business in the surrounding area. Make sure to patronize long-time market stalwarts Sal and Son’s Seafood for fried shrimp or grilled rockfish, Sophia’s Place for pierogies and cheese babka, and Vikki’s Deli for all your sandwich needs. But new vendors -- like Thai Street, Old Boy, Fat Tiger, The Verandah, Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, and Taharka Bros. -- provide exciting reasons to stop in.
Nothing warms our hearts more than when a pop-up turns permanent. Oyster expert Dylan Salmon (yes, that’s his real name) tested his concept in a Mt. Vernon basement and it worked so well that he opened his own brick and mortar on a corner in Hampden. He expanded his menu beyond oysters and cocktails -- though you shouldn’t leave without sampling both -- and now shows what he can do with an entire kitchen. Try traditional Maryland coddies (fish cakes served with yellow mustard and Saltines), seasonal salads, a fried oyster sandwich, or even a could-have-fooled-us green chili cheeseburger that tastes just like the Southwest.
There was much fanfare surrounding the opening of this downtown restaurant, named for a famed money mogul whose business became the first investment bank in America in 1800. That former bank has been transformed into a new restaurant with beautiful marble walls and columns, hunter green bankers’ lamps, sprawling horse country mural, and a stunning stained glass skylight. You could totally break the bank (get it?) by ordering the A5 wagyu for two or achiote fish tacos, but our recommendation is to grab a barstool and start small. The cauliflower, burger, and fried chicken are excellent snacks -- and a great way to soak up classic daiquiris.
We know that fancy cocktail bars can sometimes feel like a drag (overpriced, snobby) but local residents often flock to Bluebird. On two floors of a building right off Hampden’s main drag, the cocktail bar and restaurant is downright beautiful in both sunlight or candlelight and the new basement pub is extra cozy. The system of service they’ve worked out is ingenious so no one is waiting too long for drinks or food and no bar conversation gets interrupted by a waving credit card. Perusing the literary-themed menu is a fun adventure in itself and it rotates often, but a safe bet is the Old Fashioned with citrus and vanilla, the tangy lentil hummus lined with chili oil, and the locally sourced cheeseburger alongside shoestring frites.
Union Craft has paved the way for many breweries in Baltimore, showing them what’s possible with a little ingenuity and a lot of great beer. Hence, moving its brewing operation and tasting room to a massive old warehouse that allows for triple the brewing capacity and also houses an adjacent makerspace and marketplace for local startups. One visit to Union Collective and you can take a brewery tour, grab a pint of first-rate beer like the Divine IPA, sample ice cream at The Charmery, sip homegrown whiskey at Baltimore Spirits Company, get a jolt from Vent Coffee Roasters, eat a slice at Well Crafted Kitchen, and even scale a rock wall at Earth Treks.
Est. 2017 | Downtown
To know Ida B’s Table is to know Chef Dave Thomas and his wife and business partner, Tonya. They have a notable history of providing satisfying soul food and stories to Baltimore diners, first at Herb & Soul in Parkville and most recently at the downtown Ida B’s Table, named for the journalist and civil rights activist herself. The clever newspaper-themed menu pays proper homage and every item on it -- covering cocktails, brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert -- is packed with bold flavors and a powerful origin story. Take the fried blue catfish served alongside Liberian greens and mac and cheese, which fuses African traditions with flavors from the Deep South. No visit is complete without a slice of cornbread or rotating cocktail of the week.
Est. 2015 | Remington
There’s a joke around town that whatever restaurateur Lane Harlan touches turns to gold and, while that may be a bit hyperbolic, one look inside Clavel during sun-drenched happy hour and you’d be convinced. Thanks to copious amounts of research in Oaxaca, Mexico, Harlan and her team have been able to recreate Sinaloan cuisine without it being overwrought or flashy. Upon first visit, it’s best to zone in on a few things -- the bubbling queso fundido, acidic aguachile, or selection of simple $4 tacos where the protein and handmade tortillas are the stars. Be sure to spend time at the elevated mezcaleria bar to get an education in agave spirits.
Est. 2015 | Woodberry
Basque became a household term in Baltimore once the Lefenfeld family opened La Cuchara in Woodberry. The enormous restaurant, with a rectangular bar at its center, educates diners on the region where northern Spain and southern France intersect. The menu focuses on snacks, in this case "pintxos," like a mini eggplant sandwich or cod croquettes with orange blossom aioli. But don't ignore the crispy patatas bravas and blistered shishito peppers, or a stellar main event dish like flaky rainbow trout served with authentic Serrano ham and haricot verts. Be sure to peruse the extensive wine list that boasts the best of both countries, too, and stop in during the incredibly affordable happy hour.
Est. 2014 | Fells Point
Lobo is almost hard to categorize -- it’s an amalgam of a restaurant, cocktail joint, raw bar, sandwich shop, and anything you want it to be. Started by former owners from beloved Fells Point dive One-Eyed Mike’s, this corner spot brings that same casual vibe to really, really good food. We’d argue it has one of the best crab soups in town, using oyster stock for its briny base. You could fill up on a number of appetizers here, including the plump tuna tartare with crispy wontons, the always rotating cheese and pickle plates, or yellow curry PEI mussels. Just make sure your meal is bookended by superb and inventive cocktails.
Est. 2013 | Mt. Vernon
What was a traveling oyster cart helmed by Nick Schauman is now an entire restaurant group with locations in Baltimore and Virginia and forthcoming restaurants True Chesapeake Oyster House and Lagniappe, which will pay tribute to all things New Orleans. But start at the source and visit The Local Oyster’s flagship location inside Mount Vernon Marketplace. Here, you’ll find the plumpest Skinny Dipper bivalves, tangy shrimp salad on buttery buns, all the peel-and-eat shrimp your heart desires, and broiled crab cakes with no filler like grandma used to make. Plus they always have PBR (and local beer) on tap.
Est. 2012 | Lauraville
On an unassuming corner of Harford Road, you’ll find Maggie’s Farm. This cozy, red-hued bistro is as quaint as it is hip, providing comfort food with an upscale twist. Starters include farmstead cheese plates and a Nashville hot chicken bun. The menu also cleverly offers half-entrees and a lamb burger with hummus and crispy shallots. Maggie’s Farm is frequently populated by neighborhood folks, but rest assured that it’s worth the drive up to Northeast Baltimore.
Est. 2011 | Fells Point
For a different kind of regional seafood, head to the bright and airy Thames Street Oyster House, located on the main strip in Fells Point. Of course, there’s a raw bar with plenty of oysters to choose from, but don’t sleep on the New England offerings like Block Island scallops or the lobster roll on a buttered bun, filled to the brim with tail and claw meat. To wash it all down, order an Orange Crush (vodka, fresh-squeezed OJ, and crushed ice) from Tommy and enjoy it on the peaceful back patio with stringed lights overhead.
Est. 2010 | Upper Fells Point
This pizza pub at the cross-section of Canton, Fells Point, and Butchers Hill fulfills all of our adolescent dreams with punk rock on the stereo, skateboards on the walls, and a diverse but approachable menu. Sidle up to the shiny red bar and order snacks like fried edamame, crispy risotto balls, and Buffalo-style veggie nuggets (trust us). While thin-crust pizza is the star of the show here, we'd argue that Rad's also puts together one of the most satisfying burgers in town. Always check out the specials board and rotating draft list, plus be sure to play a round of Skee-Ball in the back.
Est. 2013 | Riverside
Who doesn’t like pasta and pizza? Ok, so maybe your gluten-averse friends shouldn’t run to Hersh’s (though there are options for them, too), but this South Baltimore bistro is popular for good reason. The minimalist aesthetic and funny-but-not-cutesy menu details immediately make guests feel welcome. But it’s the thoughtful play on ingredients that makes them stay. Chef Josh Hershovitz finds beauty in the ordinary, making mundane green beans, corn, and even peas sing with housemade aiolis, oils, and focaccia on the appetizer menu. Move on to toothy pasta like basil ravioli or squid ink tagliolini and Naples-inspired pies with kale and pistachio. Even the salads, which tend to be an afterthought at other places, stand out at every meal.
Est. 2004 | Port Covington
When you picture a crab feast, a few things come to mind: a water view, some paper on picnic tables, pitchers of beer, and a big pile of steaming crustaceans. All can be found on the outside crab deck of Nick’s Fish House, which overlooks the Patapsco River and Hanover Street Bridge. Nick’s has gotten a makeover in recent years thanks to new ownership and has never looked better. Though there’s often a wait on the deck, swift service, friendly bartenders, and potent Orange Crushes make any downtime a bit easier. And, once you sit down and catch a breeze off the water and smell of Old Bay in the air, you know there’s no place you’d rather be.
Est. 2004 | Mt. Washington
Good sushi can be hard to come by, and a cuisine you really don’t want to screw up, but locals consider Chiyo a go-to. While not in a touristy part of town, residential Mt. Washington has a few bars and restaurants worth traveling for and this spot in the heart of the merchant’s village is one of them. Expect simple decor, warm service, and consistently fresh Japanese dishes every time. Sure, there are the standard rolls common on every menu, but branch out with specialty selections like the Oriole or Dragon roll, satiating udon noodle bowls, or tempura in all forms (including ice cream). Perhaps the best part? Chiyo is on Grubhub for a lazy diner’s night in.
Est. 2000 | Roland Park
Every city resident needs a dedicated spot for a power lunch and this North Baltimore mainstay has been home to many of these (and celebratory dinners) over the years. Impeccable service from the host stand to the time your bill arrives is par for the course at Petit Louis. And it’s no wonder, since it’s owned by James Beard-nominated chef Cindy Wolf and her business partner Tony Foreman. Staples include the overflowing and cheese-capped French onion soup, anything off the roaming cheese cart, salad frisée with poached egg and pork belly, and the impeccable roasted chicken. Wine with lunch is totally the norm because, well, it’s French.
Est. 1996 | Locust Point
The tops of downtown row houses are peppered with roof decks, which make amazing spots for watching fireworks or, in the case of L.P. Steamers, cracking blue crabs. Located in the historic neighborhood of Locust Point (hence the L.P.), this seafood restaurant does crabs right -- serving them sweet and meaty and dusted with plenty of Old Bay. There are tons of other delicious seafood options, like scallops, lobster, and oysters, but we recommend sticking with the staple -- a side of hush puppies won’t hurt either -- and enjoying them on the wooden deck with a skyline view.
Est. 1996 | Mt. Vernon
Way before craft beer was cool, a cavernous brewhouse was being built on North Charles Street with the radical idea that white tablecloth fine dining could co-exist with incredibly strong Belgian beers. More than two decades later, the dichotomous Brewer’s Art is still kickin’ -- with some of the most refined food and beautiful architecture to enjoy upstairs and a nearly pitch-black gritty basement bar down below. Classic dishes include the steak frites served with rosemary garlic fries (hint: bring a mint) and mussels steamed in legendary pale ale, Beazly, which, fun fact, used to be called Ozzy until the Black Sabbath singer himself hit them with a cease and desist. This place must be pretty good if he’s paying attention.
Est. 1995 | Fells Point
Peter’s Inn was once a rowdy biker bar in the ’80s and ’90s. But when Bud and Karin Tiffany took it over, they started turning out Zagat-worthy cuisine. The biker edge still lives on in its quirky decorations (a giant marlin, pictures of Jesus) while the weekly rotating menu remains top notch: epic garlic bread, burratta with oven tomatoes, and signature steaks. Bud does the cooking (while sipping a Natty Light) and Karin runs front-of- house, always in a retro apron. A devastating fire closed the restaurant for a little while, but residents were glad to see it open back up with a new tin ceiling and that same massive marlin on the wall.
Est. 1994 | Canton
Once was, before Canton was a gentrified neighborhood, there were only a few bars on its preeminent central square, including the Mexican, Natty Boh-lovin’ Nacho Mama’s, owned by the late Patrick “Scunny” McCusker. Nearly 10 years later, McCusker opened a sister seafood restaurant down the street and it didn’t take long for Mama’s on the Half Shell to become an institution -- with its granite raw bar, colossal crab cakes, and delicious variety of fresh-squeezed Crush drinks.
Est. 1993 | Remington
The colorful Papermoon Diner is right near Johns Hopkins’ main campus, through there’s nothing buttoned-up about it. The décor is reminiscent of an acid trip, with Pez dispensers, action figures, and manikins glued to just about every surface. This eccentricity is reflected on the menu, which includes items like a bacon milkshake, bananas foster French toast, and a variety of “TV dinners.” Though it’s no longer open 24 hours (but until 2 a.m. on weekends), the Papermoon is entertaining any time of day.
Est. 1989 | Mt. Vernon
You might not think of midtown Baltimore as the place to travel for authentic Afghani food, but this city is full of surprises. For nearly 30 years, The Helmand has been introducing Middle Eastern dishes to the surrounding neighborhood and became a residential favorite along the way. By melding the flavors of India, Iran, Greece, and Afghanistan, the menu features dishes like Kaddo Borawni (pan-fried pumpkin drizzled with yogurt-garlic sauce) or Kabuli Pallow, which mingles basmati rice, raisins, and carrots with incredibly tender lamb. The Karzai family (yes, related to the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai) also owns several other restaurants, including a Spanish spot Tapas Teatro and a fast-casual version of the Helmand called Kabobi, which are worth a visit.
Est. 1965 | Mt. Vernon
Teleport to a Mad Men-era full of potent dirty martinis, a live piano player at the baby grand, and massive cuts of perfectly cooked meat. In the heart of bustling Mt. Vernon, this spot is one you’ll want to dress up for to channel a time when ladies wore their finest furs and gentlemen would never walk in without a jacket. Expect tuxedo-clad waiters (on a leopard-print carpet, no less) serving classic dishes like jumbo shrimp cocktail, crispy potato skins, creamed spinach, lump crab cakes, and, of course, the titular dish -- 28 ounces of bone-in ribeye. Don’t leave without cracking into the crème brûlée or tipping your piano player.
Est. 1886 | Downtown
Though the famed Lexington Market -- one of the largest, longest-running in the country -- is going to receive a facelift in 2020, we are assured that Faidley’s Seafood isn’t going anywhere. Recently, Faidley’s also announced it will be opening up a restaurant location and event space just outside of the city in Catonsville. But, even during all of that transition, the ever-popular seafood stall will be at the market, serving fist-sized crab cakes handmade by Nancy Faidley Devine herself, the local “delicacy” lake trout, soft-shell crabs, clams, and, of course, oysters. In fact, a sign above the stall proclaims, “Forget Viagra, eat oysters.” Sure, why not?