Where to Eat in Baltimore Right Now
Middle Eastern staples, wood-fired pizza, and tropical cocktails galore.
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 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.
Whether you’re dining in or ordering takeout, check out the newest hot spots or keep scrolling to find some of the best places that have persevered over the last several years.
The first thing that will strike you about Cookhouse is how beautiful the space is, fitting for a neighborhood known as the home of historic brownstones and the Maryland Institute College of Art. But beyond the library ladder behind the bar and rich blue velvet banquets are stellar food and drinks to back it up. Start with a Dayana cocktail with infused gin, egg white, and edible flowers; and move to apps like delectable blue cheese-stuffed dates and rotating croquettes; finally cap off your meal with a truly incredible burger typically layered with bacon jam, sharp cheddar, and crispy onions. Choose to go all out on date night with escargot and a dry-aged strip or just post up at the bar with a good book, glass of orange wine, and truffle fries.
When the pandemic hit, chef Chris Amendola thought that was the end for his dream restaurant, Foraged, which takes a hyper-seasonal and hyper-local approach to cuisine. Thankfully, he was able to move into a Station North restaurant space in 2021 and start anew. The bigger digs allow for more seating and a full bar (which is worth a visit in itself), but expect the same rotating menu of fresh produce and provisions used in creative ways. Take the “crab cake” that utilizes lion’s mane mushrooms and ramp remoulade. The summer menu includes a watermelon salad, sungold tomato pasta with clams, and catfish served alongside summer squash, but the fun in Foraged is to keep returning to see how the seasons change.
How to book: Via Tock
Mera Kitchen Collective
There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a talented group of people get the permanent space they deserve. Such is the case for Mera Kitchen Collective, a worker-owned cooperative that empowers refugees to tap into their culinary heritage through cooking. What started as pop-ups throughout the city, and morphed into a support system during the pandemic, is now a bright and colorful restaurant on a Mt. Vernon corner. Expect the same Middle Eastern, African, and Latin staples we’ve come to know from Mera: creamy hummus and tabouleh, barely fried cauliflower fritters with lemon-tahini sauce, crispy yassa chicken wings, and bowls piled with falafel, Burkina-style plantains, and chicken kabsa. Plus, sip on a housemade bissap with mint and ginger or a cocktail with local gin and orange blossom. Dine inside the mural-filled, two-story space knowing your dollars are helping support the future of international chefs.
Channeling nostalgia from the days of neighborhood butcher shops, John Brown General and Butchery opened in Baltimore County in 2015 as a whole-animal butchery selling products sourced through sustainable practices. The brand opened its city outpost in the summer of 2021 as a full-service restaurant with butchery services on the side featuring beef, lamb, pork, and poultry. But surprisingly the thing to keep coming back for is the New York-style pizza made in a wood-burning oven—we’re partial to the arugula pie with mozz, fontina, shallots, red pepper sauce, and garlic oil, but you can’t really go wrong. Also, shout out to the innovative bar program, featuring quirky cocktails and a well-curated selection of local beer and wine.
You’ve found the right place when you see the giant mural and plumes billowing out from a smoker on the side of York Road. Heritage Smokehouse opened on a busy, urban thoroughfare (there is parking in the back!) but step foot inside and you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. That world can be best described as childhood-basement chic with wood paneling, neon signs, and rustic art on the walls. The menu here is strictly barbecue with some higher end entrees, so you can order everything from a pulled pork plate with the best mac ‘n cheese in town (we said it) or smoked foie gras terrine, depending on your mood. A menu of classic tiki-style cocktails and an impressive rum list pair surprisingly well with the carnivorous dishes.
If you couldn’t make it to Europe this summer, you can pretend by having a long, wine-filled meal at Allora in the heart of Mt. Vernon. This intimate Roman bistro just opened on in the fall of 2021, but exudes a warm, lived-in vibe—like you’re attending a good friend’s dinner party. The space is BYOB (luckily there’s a wine shop a block away) and only open for lunch during the week and dinner on weekends. No matter when you go, snack like you’re in the Mediterranean on mixed olives, blistered shishitos, anchovy-topped sourdough, and crusty toasts draped in prosciutto and mortadella. Of course, the housemade pasta is the star of the show and you can’t go wrong ordering a plate of amatriciana with paccheri or cacio e pepe for the table (or just for yourself).
We’re always weary to see what replaces a beloved dive bar, and seeing the Fells Point space that once housed the Dead End Saloon sit vacant was becoming too hard to bear. Luckily (heh) for us, DC-born Lucky Buns decided to use the space for its Baltimore location. The Thai- and British-influenced menu is fairly simple with options for apps, chips (fries), burgers, and other plant-based or meat-filled buns. Get anything with spicy mumbo sauce, the massive jackfruit spring rolls, or the signature Alfie burger featuring two patties, gouda, a runny egg, and pickled beetroot. Here, drinks aren’t an afterthought, so peruse the colorful, illustrated menu to find a potent, tropical creation that will start your night off right.
Mt. Vernon Marketplace
Though this food hall has been around since 2015, the constant roster of new stalls making a debut makes it feel fresh every time we go. Be sure to pay a visit to anchors like The Local Oyster (about to open a new outpost in Locust Point!) for raw bivalves and a shrimp salad sandwich, Taps for beer and wine, Pinch for handmade Chinese dumplings, and Centre Bar for craft cocktails. But we’ve also loved discovering additions like the from-scratch Mexican food of Cholitas Tacos, steaming noodle bowls at Slurpin’ Ramen, mouth-watering seafood at Fishnet, apps and sandwiches from Cheezy Mike’s, and the fast casual Korean food and soju bar at Brown Rice.
It’s not every day a legendary chef like Matthew Kenney opens a restaurant in your city. So the hype was real when he announced the debut of Double Zero in the fancy new 414 Light Street condo building in the summer of 2021. As is Kenney’s way, the entire menu is plant-based with pizza boasting creamy cashew mozzarella, pasta with mushroom walnut ragout, and eggplant parm with macadamia ricotta. Thanks to double zero flour (hence the name), the dough holds up in the high-temp, wood-burning oven and makes for a crispy but doughy base for all the pies. The restaurant’s neighboring bar is also doing exciting things with vermouth cocktails and sustainable wines.
Cindy Lou’s Fish House
This Foreman Wolf restaurant inside the Canopy hotel has a seafood-centric menu and sweeping patio views of the Harbor. The name says it all, as James Beard-nominated chef Cindy Wolf oversees a Southern-style menu incorporating local seafood. Highlights include melt-in-your-mouth wild halibut bites with Old Bay aioli and hush puppies, oysters on the half shell accompanied by apple cider mignonette, and a seafood perlau of Carolina gold rice, shrimp, clams, crab, and andouille sausage. If you like bitter gin cocktails, the Burns & Russel is for you
True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
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) opened a seafood restaurant in Whitehall Mill. 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.
Duck Duck Goose Baltimore
This Fells Point building houses a brasserie-style restaurant, chic bar, a romantic back courtyard, and plenty of sidewalk tables. On the heels of his success with Bethesda restaurants, chef Asish Alfred opened this Baltimore concept in 2018. The menu is specific and Parisian with various cheeses, patés, vegetables complementing classic mains like duck confit and a côte de boeuf for two. For something a bit less fancy, brunch is a great time to visit for shrimp & grits and avocado toast. Of note are thoughtful zero-proof cocktails, a nod to Alfred’s personal journey with sobriety.
Mona’s Super Noodle
This corner spot on The Avenue found its happy place with a quirky spot for Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine. After years of working in the food industry and making amazing Southeast Asian dishes in her home kitchen, Mona Kettavhong opened up her own spot serving spring rolls, curry, pho, and fried rice with super fresh ingredients. Be sure to order her riff on a Baltimore chicken box with Laotian-style fried chicken, sticky rice, and a sweet dipping sauce.
Alma Cocina Latina
This airy, plant-filled space for Venezuelan cuisine moved from Canton into an expanded space in Station North. Alma introduced Baltimore to the arepa, or cornmeal cake stuffed with cheese, pulled chicken, pork, beef, eggplant, or tofu—depending on your preference. But that’s just the tip of the international iceberg, as you can expect bright flavors in the gazpacho salad, yuca fries, seafood paella, and plantains with melao. That same transformative feeling comes through in colorful pisco and daiquiri cocktails. What’s more, Alma partnered with Mera Kitchen Collective and World Central Kitchen to cook nearly 100,000 free meals for the community in 2020, so you can feel good about ordering the entire menu.
Former Top Chef contestant Jesse Sandlin livened up a corner block, former home of the beloved Laughing Pint, with a vibrant and tropical ode to Baltimore kitsch and bar 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 ‘n 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 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. 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. Be sure to check out the drink menu of non-alcoholic options and Baiju cocktails.
An 18th-century mill was transformed into a mixed-use market and event space with retail, cafes, bars, and restaurants. 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, modern Filipino food and drinks from Heritage by Chef Rey Eugeino, and burgers from The Urban Burger Bar.
Café Dear Leon
This top coffee and pastry spot named after co-owner Min Kim’s son opened on a square known more for its night owls than early birds. 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.
Le Comptoir du Vin
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 bowl of French lentils (with curry and labneh) is a revelation. The house sourdough bread (credited to 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.
Dylan’s Oyster Cellar
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. 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.
This Fells Point institution 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, Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, and Taharka Bros—provide even more exciting reasons to stop in.
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 marketplace for local startups. One visit to Union Collective and you can grab a pint of first-rate beer like 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, try wine and small plates from The Wine Collective, and even scale a rock wall at Earth Treks.
A few years back, Steve Chu and Ephrem 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 menu features 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.
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. 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.
Basque became a household term in Baltimore once the Lefenfeld family opened La Cuchara in Woodberry. 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.
Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks
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. 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.