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Does DC have some good things happening in the food department? Sure, it has its strengths, from tons of international options to, you know, being the capital of the damn country.
But, to me, it lacks a little bit of spirit, a little bit of character, and a lot of personal identity. Which is why, on any day of the week, I’d rather eat in Baltimore than DC. Here are 10 reasons why:
Most people outside of Baltimore have never tried -- or even heard of -- this unlikely version of barbecue. To call it barbecue is a little off, since it’s top round that isn’t smoked at all, just grilled over an open pit (hence the name). Unlike, say, the brisket of Texas, it's cooked rare and shaved paper-thin with a peppery, crusty edge. Traditionally, it’s meant to be eaten on a kaiser roll, with crazy-spicy horseradish and topped with rings of white onion. The beauty of this sandwich is not only its tender texture and smoky flavor, but it’s served in the most unassuming places, like carnivals, shacks, or even (true story) in the parking lot of a strip club.
The only food “native” to DC is just a gussied-up hot dog
Ah yes, the half smoke. Let’s be honest, it’s really just a glorified chili dog. People just get it as a sort of DC-bucket-list thing (or a hungry-at-3am thing), but it’s just not that special.
Crab and Old Bay are literally everywhere
Sure, DC reaps SOME benefits from that Chesapeake blue crab, too, along with a smattering of crab houses here and there (though, curiously, very few on the water). But in Baltimore, it’s practically impossible to pick up a menu without sweet crabmeat on it in some form. Crab dip is a requisite appetizer. Crab tacos are served out of food trucks. There’s crab pizza in southeast Baltimore. There is even Old Bay salted caramel ice cream -- which is strangely, undeniably delicious.
Baltimore takes better advantage of its waterfront
Granted, the Chesapeake Bay juts into Charm City in a pretty hardcore way -- which means there's plenty of waterfront real estate -- but the city really takes advantage. On pretty much any strip of land that is water adjacent you’ll find rows of bars and restaurants, some of which you can pull your boat right up to. DC just can’t compete.
You’ll find some of the best food in some of the biggest dives
DC being DC, it’s often about the hottest new spot or the fanciest place on 14th St when it comes time to dine out. But some of my favorite Baltimore meals -- from seafood pasta to filet mignon -- have been in old, worn-down dives (which, apparently, don’t really exist in DC unless you want your meal with a side of shrieking college students).
Charm City’s chefs are winning awards left and right
DC may be used to getting international accolades for its cuisine, but Baltimore’s chefs have been receiving the most recent praise. In fact, two of this year’s James Beard Mid-Atlantic nominees (and eventual winner!) were Baltimore chefs, while none were from the District. Scoreboard!
Baltimore markets feel homey
Baltimore’s public markets feel like they should -- full of hustle and bustle, surly characters behind the counter, and a lived-in atmosphere. Walking into Union Market feels like a stroll through a Pottery Barn catalog. And you certainly won’t find beers in giant Tupperware containers.
You can actually get a table during restaurant week
So the whole point of a city’s restaurant week is to be able to try new, fancy restaurants at discounted prices, right? Well, all of that is moot in DC when the majority of the reservations are booked within the first couple of days. Unless you REALLY like eating at 4pm.
Whether it’s a new restaurant opening, a bar on a Saturday night, or the Shake Shack in Dupont Circle, there are lines pretty much everywhere. And don’t get me started on the absurdity that is Georgetown Cupcakes -- which are outrageously expensive and overrated. I’ll take my $5 pack of Berger Cookies at the grocery store any day.
Your wallet will thank you
At the end of the day, both cities may have something to offer culinarily. But I’d much rather enjoy Baltimore’s food scene without spending my life savings doing so.
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Jess Mayhugh is a Baltimore-based writer, who is already halfway to Chap's for a pit beef/turkey combo with tons of tiger sauce. Follow her: @jessmayhugh.