Where to Eat in Baltimore Right Now
To name the best Baltimore restaurants is sort of a complicated task. 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.
What is also incredibly impressive, of course, is how new spots are popping up in 2020 -- a year that has challenged even the most resilient dining establishments in Baltimore. Check out the most interesting new hot spots or keep scrolling to find some of the best places that have persevered over the last five years. 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.
The gist: Former Top Chef contestant Jesse Sandlin livens up a corner block, former home of the beloved Laughing Pint, with a vibrant and tropical ode to Baltimore kitsch and bar food.
The food: Go here for messy and satisfying comfort food, all made with fresh and mindfully sourced ingredients. The watermelon and feta salad bursts with fragrant mint, basil, and pickled onions and the mac and cheese oozes with bechamel. But the star is the Highlandtown Smashburger -- two generous patties of short rib-brisket-chuck blend, shredded iceberg, American cheese, fried onions, pickles, and spicy sauce on a potato roll. The Big Mac wishes.
The cost: Starters are $9-14, entrees are $12-45, and drinks and desserts range from $3-8.
How to order: Reserve outdoor sidewalk seating on OpenTable or get carryout through Toast.
The gist: The latest venture from Peter Chang -- known for his multitude of Sichuan restaurants through DC and Maryland -- is helmed by his daughter Lydia and chef Pichet Ong, inside a beautiful and ornate corner building in Southeast Baltimore.
The food: Traditional Chinese dishes, innovatively made to work as takeout kits for the time being, include Peking duck with sweet and savory sauces and brown rice buns, addictive shrimp dumplings with chili oil and crushed cashews, and chicken chow mein with heat that sneaks up on you. Don’t overlook the tofu -- both the fiery mapo version with mushrooms and the chilled iteration served with a century egg that Ong remembers eating as an after-school snack.
The cost: Lunch special is $15, starters are $3-13, mains are $19-35, desserts are $6-15, and the Peking duck kit is $68.
How to order: Outside seating is coming soon, but for now order takeout on its website and delivery through Uber Eats.
The gist: An 18th-century mill has been transformed into a mixed-use market and event space with retail, cafes, bars, and restaurants.
The food: You could spend a whole day shopping for baked goods from Crust By Mack, hot and cold drinks from Wight Tea Co., prepared foods and kitchen goodies from Gundalow Gourmet, caffeinated boosts from Ceremony Coffee, everything for your charcuterie board from Firefly Farms Market, gifts from Homebody General Store, and modern Filipino food and drinks from Heritage by Chef Rey Eugeino. As if that’s not enough, look out for tacos from Cocina Luchadoras debuting soon.
The cost: Prices vary by vendor.
How to order: Masks required inside the market and outdoor tables are available.
Café Dear Leon
The gist: On a square known more for its night owls than early birds comes a coffee and pastry spot named after co-owner Min Kim’s son.
The food: All of the items are made from scratch daily, including drool-worthy ham and cheese croissants, glistening egg tarts, and fluffy and decadent banana pudding. The minimalist shop also features Ceremony Coffee bags for sale and a full coffee and tea menu. Just be sure to get to the shop early as a lot of the popular items, including its famed traditional Japanese egg sandwich, tend to sell out.
The cost: Pastries and sandwiches are $3-8, drinks are $2-5, and desserts are $2-8.
How to order: Open from 6am-4pm, the cafe is available for walk-up service.
Ice Queen Snoballs
The gist: Joining countless other Baltimore snowball stands is this cornershop with a New Orleans twist, opened by neighborhood residents Dasia Kabia and Dr. Monica Burke.
The food: While crushed ice and sugary flavoring might not seem too complicated, Ice Queens proves otherwise with nearly 50 flavors available -- from blood orange to whiskey sour. Feel free to get your sweet treat the “Queen’s Way” with ice cream on the bottom and candy toppings, such as marshmallow cream or Nerds, as the crown.
The cost: Snowballs are $1-5, drinks are $3-5.
How to order: Takeout window and outside seating are available.
True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
The gist: The dream team of Chef Zack Mills (formerly of Four Seasons Baltimore), Nick Schauman (everyone’s favorite Local Oyster stall), and Patrick Hudson (of True Chesapeake Oyster Farm in St. Mary’s County) open a seafood restaurant in Whitehall Mill.
The food: Be sure to order Chesapeake classics including spaghetti and middle neck clams, roasted oysters, a farmhouse salad with seasonal veggies, crab dip mac and cheese, and whatever preparation Mills has thought up for the rockfish.
The cost: Apps are $12-19, entrees are $14-25, cocktails, beers, and bottles of wine are $10-35.
How to order: Make a reservation for outdoor dining on Resy or order takeout through Toast.
Le Comptoir du Vin
The gist: Le Comptoir du Vin is located in this cozy 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 food: 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.
The cost: Charcuterie is $7-35, starters and pantry items are $5-12, sandwiches are $10-12, and bottles of wine are $19-32.
How to order: Order online for contactless takeout.
The gist: Located in what’s been a revolving door of restaurants on North Charles Street, Orto may have finally given the space some stability.
The food: Chef Matt Harper (who came from Philly) 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 summer bruschetta with sumac roasted tomatoes, fried prosciutto, basil, and arabiti aioli or expertly made pasta like saffron torchietto with lobster and red bell pepper atop a dreamy pool of lobster and garlic oil. And who can argue with the newly added Negroni Jello shots?
The cost: Snacks and salads are $5-13, pasta is $16-25, entrees are $23-38, dessert is $6-10, and cocktails and bottles of wine are $6-60.
How to order: Make a reservation for outdoor dining on Resy or order takeout through Upserve.
Dylan's Oyster Cellar
The gist: Oyster expert Dylan Salmon (yes, that’s his real name) originally 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.
The food: Dylan’s features an expanded menu beyond just oysters and cocktails -- though you shouldn’t leave without sampling both -- and shows what its team 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.
The cost: Snacks and salads are $4-13, sandwiches are $14-27, entrees are $14-26, and cocktails are $10-12.
How to order: Make a reservation for outside seating by calling 443-759-6595 or order takeout through ChowNow.
The gist: This Fells Point institution spruced itself up after many years of abandon and revitalized business in the surrounding area.
The food: 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.
The cost: Prices vary by vendor.
How to order: Outside seating is available and the vendors are also open for takeout and delivery.
The gist: Union Craft Brewing moved its beer 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.
The food: One visit to Union Collective and you can grab a pint of first-rate beer like Double Duckpin, 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, try wine and small plates from The Wine Collective, and even scale a rock wall at Earth Treks.
The cost: Prices vary by vendor.
How to order: Outside seating for Union Craft and Well-Crafted Kitchen available on OpenTable, curbside pickup and takeout available for most vendors.
Ida B's Table
The gist: The soul food restaurant started by Chef Dave Thomas and his wife and business partner, Tanya, has been picked up by Real News Network, Eddie Conway, and Derrick J. Pursell.
The food: 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.
The cost: Starters are $7-11, entrees are $10-26, desserts are $3-6, and drinks are $2-12.
How to order: Order takeout through Toast, or delivery through Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.
The gist: 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. Now, they’ve got two brick-and-mortar spots and we couldn’t be happier.
The food: Asian-influenced dishes with unabashedly fun twists, including giant and pillowy steamed buns. Thai chicken meatballs, the Neighborhood Bird, and tempura broccoli have become staples in the Baltimore vocabulary, thanks to these enterprising guys. If soft-shell crab anything is on special, get it.
The cost: Bun sandwiches are $10-12, bowls are $14-16, sides are $2-6. You can also buy a hospital or healthcare worker a bun for $10.
How to order: Order takeout through ChowNow.
The gist: Argentinian steakhouse from the James Beard-nominated Chef Cindy Wolf and co-owner Tony Foreman in a soaring, lush hall.
The food: A departure from Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group’s cuisine, which has focused on Lowcountry and Italian classics, Bar Vasquez celebrates everything Argentine. Executive chef Mario Cano Catalán puts the focus on the protein: wood-fired duck breast, crispy chicken ala plancha, poached and seared Spanish octopus, or caballero steak with a side of spicy chimichurri. Don’t miss out on the grilled veggie sides or bursting housemade empanadas.
The cost: Tapas and starters are $9-16, mains are $33-88, sides are $9-14, and wines by the glass are $7-24.
How to order: Make dine-in or patio reservations through Resy (read the health and safety guidelines before you go) or order takeout by calling 410-534-7296.
The gist: There’s a joke around town that whatever restaurateur Lane Harlan touches turns to gold. While that may be a bit hyperbolic, one look at Clavel during a sun-drenched happy hour and you’d be convinced. Plus, the spot is known for its constant fundraising efforts.
The food: 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, massive burritos, or selection of tacos where the protein and handmade tortillas are the stars. Be sure to order a spicy mezcalita (and thank Dre) for something a little different from your typical margarita.
The cost: Starters are $4-12, tacos are $3-5, mains are $5-16, and cocktails are $10-14.
How to order: Outside seating is first come, first serve or you can order curbside pickup online.
The gist: Basque became a household term in Baltimore once the Lefenfeld family opened La Cuchara in Woodberry.
The food: 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. Peruse the extensive wine list that boasts the best of both countries, too, and stop in during the incredibly affordable happy hour.
The cost: Starters and tapas are $3-18, mains are $24-34, and drinks are $7-15.
How to order: Make a reservation for patio seating through Resy, or order pantry items and chef-prepared foods from La Cuchara Marketplace.
Hersh's Pizza & Drinks
The gist: The minimalist aesthetic and funny-but-not-cutesy menu details immediately make guests feel welcome at Hersh’s, but it’s the thoughtful play on Italian fare that makes them stay.
The food: Chef Josh Hershovitz finds beauty in the ordinary, making mundane green beans, corn, and 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 here.
The cost: Snacks and salads are $10-14, pizza is $15-18, pasta and entrees are $24-26, drinks are $6-12.
How to order: Make an outdoor reservation through OpenTable or order carryout and delivery through ChowNow.