Everywhere You Need to Eat in Baltimore Right Now
To name the best Baltimore restaurants is sort of a complicated ask. We’re used to being told we’re a stopover city, a place to pass through on the way from DC to New York. And, sometimes, we relish that. We have so many well-kept secrets here that, often, it’s nice to enjoy them for ourselves.
But, like a good pot of steamed crabs, we can no longer keep a lid on the great restaurants and bars Baltimore has to offer. We have James Beard-nominated chefs and cocktail programs, tons of innovative restaurants, and, yes, bushels of local seafood to sample -- but crabs are far from the only Chesapeake Bay creature worth consuming.
What also may surprise the uninitiated is just how many new restaurants are popping up in Baltimore every day. Check out the most interesting new hot spots at the top of this story, or scroll down to find Baltimore’s all-time best restaurants -- the classic gems that define Baltimore as a seafood town, a creative hub, and a diverse city we’re lucky enough to call home. So, next time you’re road tripping on I-95 and you spot the neon, winking Natty Boh sign from the highway, consider a slight detour.
Jones Falls Valley
Baltimore could hardly wait for this seafood restaurant in restored Whitehall Mill to open its doors this fall. The dream team of Chef Zack Mills (of Wit & Wisdom in Four Seasons Baltimore), Nick Schauman (everyone’s favorite Local Oyster stall) and Patrick Hudson (of True Chesapeake Oyster Farm in St. Mary’s County) is a combination that’s hard to beat. And, so far, they haven’t been. The expansive, nautical restaurant has a casual raw bar with hightops on one side and an elegant dining room with an open kitchen on the other. No matter where you sit, order the spaghetti and middle neck clams to start -- try not to lick the bowl -- and continue with a dozen roasted oysters, an abundant farm and co-op salad with seasonal veggies, crab dip mac and cheese, and whatever preparation Mills has thought up for the rockfish.
If you’re going to open a fast casual lunch spot, bustling Harbor East is the place. With tons of offices, shops, and condos sprouting up by the minute, the neighborhood is primed and ready for a place like Bambao. The menu is pretty simple -- get any of its protein combinations on either a steamed bun, lettuce wrap, white rice, pearl barley, or cauliflower rice (insert Chipotle comparison here). But all the food is imaginative and made-to-order with ingredients like Sambal honey fried chicken, bulgogi beef short rib, pickled Asian pear, fried ginger, and silken tofu. In other words, this isn’t your average lunch break. Not to mention, there’s variety of Thai, milk, fruit, and bubble teas available. Plus, the bright and modern space is serene, especially if you can hide away on the peaceful second floor, allowing yourself to forget about the hustle of the city just down below.
Okay, we admit we slept on this one. Maybe keeping track of all the openings and closings in this spot felt dizzying (or it was the simple fear of mispronouncing its name), but after tons and tons of national accolades, this place gets a resounding oui. Le Comptoir du Vin has the obvious advantage of being located in this sun-splashed Maryland Avenue space with charm and chalkboard menus out the wazoo. But it’s what co-owners Will Mester and Rosemary Liss have created out of seemingly simple concepts that’s made it last. The bowl of French lentils (with curry and labneh) is a revelation. The house sourdough bread (credit sous Kelsey Martin) and delicate chicken liver pate with red wine shallots is addictive. And the steak tartare tossed in anchovy sauce alongside potatoes fried in duck fat is last meal kind of stuff.
Beloved burger spot Abbey Burger Bistro -- which already has locations in Federal Hill, Ocean City, and Fells Point -- made its way north with the opening of Uptown Abbey. The former Nickel Taphouse space was always warm and inviting but is now upping the ante with fresh renovations. Abbey Burger has always encouraged an adventurous palate (think duck, elk, boar, bison, and even camel meat) and the same is true here with its signature burgers. But the restaurant will also take advantage of the existing raw bar with additional seafood options. Plus, music to our ears, there are more than 30 craft beers on tap and a variety of boozy milkshakes that its sister restaurants made famous.
Est. 2019 | Station North
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 roasted squash salad with fragrant herbs, ricotta, and balsamico or expertly made pasta like firm pomodoro ravioli stuffed with four cheeses atop a dreamy pool of butter and basil oil. Don’t sleep on classic cocktails made at the elegant bar or its stellar brunch service.
Est. 2019 | Fells Point
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.
Est. 2018 | Hampden
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.
Est. 2018 | Medfield
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. Next up for the collective? A wine co-op coming in 2020.
Est. 2017 | Downtown
To know Ida B’s Table is to know Chef Dave Thomas and his wife and business partner, Tanya. 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. 2017 | Hampden
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 is downright beautiful in both sunlight or candlelight and the basement pub is extra cozy in the colder months. The system of service they’ve worked out is ingenious so no one is waiting too long for drinks 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 poured over a house-carved ice sphere.
Est. 2016 | Fells Point
Thai chicken meatballs, the Neighborhood Bird, and tempura broccoli have become staples in the Baltimore vocabulary, thanks to a couple of enterprising guys. A few years back, Steve Chu and Ephram Abebe began selling steamed bun sandwiches, rice bowls, and out-of-the-box side dishes from a hot dog cart at the Fells Point Farmers’ Market. Thanks to their IRL hustle and savvy social media, word quickly spread and the Asian-influenced dishes spoke for themselves. Now the pair have a brick-and-mortar corner store up the street from where it all started and another on the way in Hampden. The more buns, the merrier.
Est. 2015 | Remington
There’s a joke around town that whatever restaurateur Lane Harlan touches turns to gold. 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 (ask for Dre) 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 | 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. 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 | 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 beer selection. Sidle up to the shiny red bar and you’re sure to strike up a conversation with any of the tattooed bartenders. Beers -- like Mama’s Lil Yellow Pils or Monument City 51 Rye -- come on draft and in a lot of canned varieties here and it’s almost a requirement to play a round of Skee-Ball in the back. Look first to the creative weekly specials, but safe bets are always fried risotto balls, Trainwreck pizza with mushrooms and spinach, a mind-blowingly good bacon cheeseburger, and even plenty of delicious vegan options.
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 the 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 | Port Covington
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, burrata 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 in 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 has become a residential favorite along the way. By melding the flavors of India, Iran, Greece, and Afghanistan, diners have fallen in love with unfamiliar 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 Spanish spot Tapas Teatro and a fast-casual version of the Helmand called Kabobi, which are also 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 cultural epicenter of Mt. Vernon, The Prime Rib is one you’ll want to dress up for to channel a time where 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. 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 Divine 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.” We’re happy to oblige.
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