Best Restaurants in BaltimoreOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Greg Weekes
Classic Favorites in the City
From the classy décor—black and gold lacquered walls, leopard-print carpeting—to the tuxedoed wait staff to background music played on a baby grand piano, dinner at The Prime Rib announces itself as a special occasion and is a great option if you're looking for things for couples to do on vacation. It's an old-school experience all the way, so go with the flow and order a classic starter like jumbo shrimp cocktail or the jumbo lump crab cake. The signature entrée is prime rib, but you don't have to choose red meat; Chesapeake Bay rockfish and cold-water lobster tails are also on the menu. For dessert, delightfully tart Key lime pie or cheesecake with fresh strawberries should finish you off nicely. And do respect the swank atmosphere by leaving the Nikes at home and dressing up.
Bright and airy, beautified with paintings and potted plants, Petit Louis Bistro fills the bill if you're in the mood for French. This convivial Roland Park eatery's menu doesn't stray far from the classics you'd expect at a French bistro: cheesy French onion soup, foie gras, Roquefort salad, duck confit, mussels Provencale, braised veal. Steak frites is a grilled New York strip served with a pile of fries; croquelet roti, pan-roasted chicken with new potatoes and mint, is another simple but tasty dish. The wine list is extensive, offering bottles from every region in France. And you mustn't skip dessert; opera cake and the pot de crème du chocolat are both awesome. Service is unfailingly well-mannered, knowledgeable and attentive.
If you want a real Charm City experience and are wondering where to eat, high-tail it over to Cafe Hon, hon. It's a Bawlmer institution as well as a Hampden neighborhood fixture, right down to the very large pink flamingo standing out front. Don't expect haute cuisine, though; this is basically a diner, and the menu is strictly comfort food. Cafe Hon doesn't have the city's best crab cakes—not by a long shot—but you can get a crab cake platter with fries and slaw all day for $19.99. Weekend brunch specialties include gingerbread pancakes with cinnamon apples and the Hon salad, served with a homemade dill vinaigrette. Service can be slow, so don't come here if you're in a hurry.
Head to Federal Hill for Mexican Food
In the heart of Federal Hill, Blue Agave Restaurant has a neighborhood feel and a popular Monday happy hour with $2 soft flour tacos and $1.50 Natty Boh (that's National Bohemian) beers. For dinner, start with a spicy Guavarita—chili-infused tequila, guava syrup, and fresh lime and pineapple juices—a drink that pairs nicely with the complimentary chips and salsa. There are main dishes you won't find in many Mexican restaurants, like plantain-encrusted Chilean sea bass with a mango-habanero sauce. Order a side dish of elote, grilled corn on the cob squirted with lime-infused crema and sprinkled with Cotija. For dessert the tres leches cake is properly soaked in milk, and the slice is big enough to share.
Must-Eat Seafood on the Inner Harbor
It's crab, crab and more crab at The Rusty Scupper Restaurant—broiled crab cakes, creamy crab soup, crab bruschetta, crab-stuffed shrimp. Even the grilled rockfish has crab meat strewn across the top. If you opt for fish or shellfish, order it grilled rather than fried. The view of the Inner Harbor is top notch, whether during the day when boats are bobbing on the water or in the evening when lights are twinkling. The Scupper even has its own water taxi stop, which is convenient if you're visiting town and staying at a nearby hotel. We recommend Sunday brunch; in addition to live jazz, the bountiful spread includes a raw bar with freshly shucked Blue Point oysters, steamed shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, made-to-order omelets, Old Bay home fries and homemade beignets.
A similar experience awaits at Phillips Seafood, the Inner Harbor's other big, touristy restaurant. The large dining area, with its piano bar, chandeliers and subdued lighting, has a dark-wood warmth. You could start with the signature Bloody Mary or the house-made sangria with fresh fruit. Chilled snow crab legs are a good appetizer, and you can't go wrong ordering simply grilled swordfish or mahi mahi. Tip: Ask your server for bread if you want to sop up any extra juices; it's not automatically brought to the table. If the weather's nice, try and snag a table at the outdoor “crab deck” seating area with a view of harbor activities, although there's usually a loud soundtrack courtesy of the classic rock blaring over the speakers.
Ethnic Eats in Harbor East and Little Italy
Not all local restaurants revolve around seafood, the Lebanese Taverna being a prime case in point. If you can't take the thought of one more garlicky, Old Bay-encrusted steamed crab, give this Harbor East establishment a try. The sidewalk tables have a nice view of the Inner Harbor East Marina, and the dining room's high ceiling lends a spacious feel. The pita bread here is different than the flat, round discs at other Middle Eastern restaurants—puffy, oval-shaped and delivered warm to the table, it's delicious, and perfect for dipping into a bowl of smooth, nutty-flavored hummus. Marinated roasted olives flecked with thyme and rosemary have a briny tang. Chicken shwarma is a substantial main dish, the carved rotisserie meat served with fragrant long-grained rice, tahini sauce and a zippy garlic puree. Desserts like baklava and Lebanese-style doughnuts with honey-saffron syrup are on the sweet side, but you could end the meal with Arabic tea, loose leaves flavored with a touch of cardamom.
You know what you're getting in Little Italy, and choosing among the many nearby restaurants in this historic neighborhood can be a delightful dilemma. At Dalesio's Restaurant of Little Italy there's a touch of elegance in the white table linens, dark woods and table lamps in the downstairs dining room, and on a nice summer evening the second-floor balcony is delightful. Order the warm Umbrian salad, greens tossed with gorgonzola, walnuts and raisins; it's delicious. Pollo Bolognese, a hearty tomato sauce with ground chicken, minced carrots, onions and celery, garlic and red wine, is served over linguine, while mushroom ravioli topped with sun-dried tomatoes in a brown butter sauce is a savory vegetarian entree. Regardless of your choice, the house Chianti is a nice accompaniment.
If you're not tired of Italian, Amicci's is another Little Italy favorite, a casual spot that dishes up old-fashioned comfort food. Their signature appetizer is the Pane Rotundo, a round loaf of toasted Italian bread brushed with garlic butter and filled with shrimp in a creamy scampi sauce. It's rich and definitely big enough to share among several people. The preparations are straight up, like eggplant Parmigiana served with a side of linguine marinara and the house-made gnocchi, plump potato dumplings with strips of prosciutto, fresh spinach and roasted red peppers. The Luigi—Italian sausage and shrimp sautéed with zucchini, garlic and mushrooms in marinara sauce—is also tasty. Service is fast, and you'll likely be taking leftovers with you.
Harbor East's Cindy Wolf's Charleston just might offer more to entice serious foodies than any other restaurant in town. Executive chef Cindy Wolf creates dishes that are an intriguing blend of classic French and South Carolina Low Country influences, like head-on shrimp with stone-ground grits, tasso ham and Andouille sausage. Curry-accented lobster soup is sinfully rich and delicious; pan-roasted rockfish is accompanied by a savory fricassee of oyster and button mushrooms and a lemon beurre blanc sauce. For dessert, one word sums up the chocolate pudding cake: heavenly. Diners can select from three to six courses that include pairings from an extensive wine list. The attentive service is a match for the food. Fine dining comes with a hefty price, of course, but here it's worth it.
Where to Eat in Fell's Point
Family owned and operated, The Black Olive is the place in Fell's Point for traditional Greek cuisine. Savory appetizers like grilled calamari stuffed with feta cheese and village pie—homemade phyllo baked with Greek cheeses and herbs—pair nicely with warm, dense caraway-seeded bread. The specialty of the house is whole fish—which you can inspect on ice before making your choice—grilled, filleted tableside and served with a house-made sauce. Marinated shrimp grilled over charcoal is a good dish to share among several diners. The bill can add up quickly, but if you're in the mood to splurge and willing to devote an entire evening to a leisurely dinner, this place is worth investigating.
If you're looking for diner-style comfort food in a place that has a funky, hippie-ish vibe (lots of rock ‘n roll artwork and Mexican sun sculptures), head straight to the Blue Moon Cafe. The Captain Crunch French toast, topped with fresh fruit and dusted with powdered sugar, may put you into a sugar coma. Another sweet treat is the humongous homemade cinnamon bun. Those lacking a sweet tooth will be satisfied by Dimitri's salsa burritos, two flour tortillas filled with three eggs, hash browns, salsa and cheese. The Blue Moon just serves breakfast and lunch and there are only about 10 tables, so arrive early (especially for weekend brunch) or be prepared to stand in line and wait on the sidewalk.
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Maryland's statewide sales tax is 6 percent. Baltimore has a 7.5 percent lodging tax; an 11.5 percent tax is levied on automobile rentals.
311 or (443) 263-2220
Greater Baltimore Medical Center, (443) 849-2000; Johns Hopkins Hospital, (410) 955-5000; MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, (443) 777-7000; Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, (410) 601-9000; University of Maryland Medical Center, (410) 328-8667; University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, (410) 225-8000.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), about 10 miles south of downtown, is reached via I-195 off I-95 or SR 295 (Baltimore-Washington Parkway).
Numerous automobile rental agencies maintain offices at the airport and downtown. Hertz, (410) 850-7400 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Baltimore Penn Station is at 1500 N. Charles St., between Oliver and Lanvale streets. Baltimore is situated on seven Amtrak routes, including the Acela Express to New York City and Boston; phone Amtrak, (800) 872-7245.
The Greyhound Lines Inc. terminal is at 2110 Haines St.; phone (410) 752-7682 or (800) 231-2222. Megabus offers service from the southern side of the White Marsh Mall parking lot, adjacent to Honeygo Boulevard; phone (877) 462-6342. (New York service is from the south side of the White Marsh Park & Ride lot.) BoltBus offers service from 1578 Maryland Ave.; phone (877) 265-8287.
Taxis are metered. The base fare is $1.80, $2.20 for each additional mile and 20c each 30 seconds of waiting time. A 50c surcharge is added for trips between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. An additional 30c-per-mile surcharge is added for trips beyond Baltimore. Among the larger cab companies are Diamond, (410) 947-3333; Sun, (410) 235-0300; and Yellow Cab, (410) 685-1212.
Baltimore's public transportation consists of buses, a subway system, light rail and MARC commuter trains.
Water taxis are available at the Inner Harbor.