Hampden / Roland Park
NOTE: Click on a restaurant's name to get more information in our Eat Guide.
415 W. Cold Spring Lane, (410) 235-3433, www.alonsos.com
Really, we should stop telling you that Alonso's is no longer that atmospheric, smoke-filled, grease-splattered corner bar, and that it's now a nice, clean family restaurant for the nice, clean families of Roland Park. It's just still a shock to see it so. (Some die-hards remain at the smoke-free bar.) The famous one-pound burgers are still around demonstrating how hard it is to evenly grill a pound of flesh. But it's the thin-crust pizzas, topped with a four-cheese blend and fresh-looking meats and vegetables that make Alonso's worth going to. Other menu items are institutional, spotty, and even the staff seems bored with them.
3811 Canterbury Road, (410) 366-1484, www.Ambassadordiningroom.com
One of the city's most consistently excellent restaurants for many years, the Ambassador Dining Room serves elegant, sophisticated Indian food in an equally elegant and opulent setting. Classic Indian cookery--curries, vindaloos, biryanis--are always terrific, but the real dazzlers reside under the Chef's Recommendations section of the menu, where out-of-the-ordinary dishes like shrimp adrak feature a tightrope walk between green chile heat and restrained acerbic lime and sweet tamarind. The vegetarian menu is large and varied, and offerings like the outstanding Bengan bhartha (cumin and coriander-roasted eggplant) are skillfully prepared. The Ambassador's popular lunchtime buffet, served seven days a week, is a terrific deal.
105 W. 39th St., (443) 278-9110
The dining scene's biggest question mark hangs over the redesigned dining rooms of the Broadview Apartments. The inaugural season at this earnest French restaurant has met with mixed reactions. Pacing has been a problem early on, some have found the food bland, others report perfection. But the overall impetus--to create the kind of lively, sparkly, and Frenchily French spot that good diners would visit on a jeudi or a samedi--feels right. The thorough refurbishment of what was formerly Jeannier's--especially the hot-spot bar--has elicited mostly praise; naysayers point out the HoJo color scheme.
1002 W. 36th St., (410) 243-1230, www.cafehon.com
Café Hon is all about home cooking done right. We are predisposed to adore any restaurant whose menu standouts are unglamorous foods such as chili cheese fries (drowning in meaty, spicy chili and tons of gloriously gooey cheese over hand-cut, perfectly fried potatoes) and succulent, silky, unabashedly homely bread pudding. But then every menu item lives up to expectations: Hamburgers are fresh beef, cooked right; blue plate specials like meat loaf truly are, as named, “better than mom's”, and the hearty breakfasts are worth waking up for.
500 W. University Parkway, (410) 243-5454
An upscale Lebanese café at the edge of Roland Park, Carlyle Club caters neither to the Johns Hopkins undergrads or budget tourists that stay in the Quality Inn Carlyle Hotel building. Rather, it has found a loyal clientele from the lush neighborhoods just behind the Soviet-style high-rise. The solicitous waitstaff can guide you in your travels through the extensive menu, but recommended are the smoky baba ghanouj, pumpkin soup, kibbeh (fried bulgur wheat balls stuffed with lamb and pine nuts), suzuk (beef-and-sausage links with sautéed onions), and whole-fish entrées.
501 W. Cold Spring Lane, (410) 235-8118, www.theevergreen.us
The tables are wobbly and the specials are hit-or-miss (yes on lasagna, no on quiche), but there's wireless internet and the salads and baked goods are always terrific. Make a small meal of the Caesar salad and a big chocolate-chip cookie at this cozy Roland Park coffeehouse and be very happy. The sandwiches and wraps are consistently good if not standouts. Open early for breakfast, but decline adding egg or sausage to your bagel. Do get a muffin or a scone. Better yet, go on Sunday for brunch featuring very nice omelets and memorable home fries.
1105 W. 36th St., (410) 889-8891
It's tough to nail down a place as eclectic as Golden West Café. The place where New Mexico meets the Far East has a whole lot of thrift-store paintings on the walls and menus that arrive in old record album covers, with food that ranges from Frito pie to warm Vietnamese noodle salad (aka the Mental Oriental). Somehow it all works, cheerfully and amiably. Weekend breakfast-time waits can be long, but are worth it--the kitchen churns out righteous huevos rancheros and hot cakes (three crucial words: real maple syrup), though our perennial favorite is the blueberry Bismarck. (“If butter offends you, do not order this,” the menu intones.) Lunch and dinner bring burgers, green chile soup, and other Southwestern treats, plus amazing homemade layer cake for dessert. Best of all, the Golden West's addition of a bar means, at long last, margaritas with that quesadilla.
908 W. 36th St., (410) 235-2326
Holy Frijoles' simple but substantial Mexican fare is addictive. We don't know what it does to those refried beans, but if we don't have them on a regular basis we get the shakes. Grab one of its huge burritos or chimichangas, offered with a variety of meat and veggie fillings, and you'll see what we mean--once you've gotten over that so-full-you-can-barely-breathe feeling. Frijoles is also known for its inventive alcoholic beverages. Try the Cucumber Margarita, the Tilted Windmill, or the Frijolejito. You won't be sorry.
3845 Falls Road, (410) 467-1000
McCabe's is one of those comfortable, no-surprises restaurants every neighborhood should be blessed with. Though the name conjures an Irish pub, the place is solidly American. Food is good if not spectacular, though burgers here are locally renowned for both their size and juiciness. Crab cakes are pricey but very lumpy, indeed, and one of our favorite dishes here. Desserts are homemade and change frequently--the bread pudding is thoroughly decadent.
410 W. Cold Spring Lane, (410) 889-5272, www.missshirleys.com
Respectfully named for Shirley McDowell, a longtime employee of the folks behind Classic Catering and Alonso's, this instant-hit breakfast and lunch spot packs patrons constantly into a smartly remodeled freestanding building situated along Cold Spring Lane's brunch row. Along with expressive omelets (e.g. the “bayou” with andouille sausage and blackened shrimp), breakfast sandwiches, and griddle cakes, Miss Shirley's takes a chance with Southern breakfast house specialties like sweet-corn cake eggs Benedict and a grilled breakfast kebab. The bayou biscuits served with turkey-sausage gravy rock. Downside: long waits and the hovering table-coveters. Try it on a weekday.
100 W. University Parkway, (410) 235-5777, www.one-world-cafe.com.
Besides the cheap tuna steak sandwich and spinach salad, the menu at this café/bar near Homewood includes vegan and vegetarian food outside of the hummus and black-bean burrito world (though they also have both) with a tempeh Reuben and a Philly cheese “steak-less” made with seitan. It's easy to find a favorite dish and stick with it, but try one of the specials--the occasional veggie sloppy Joes and pretty pasta combos are money. Breakfast offerings of eggs, fake sausages, and bagels go well with a Bloody Mary from their full bar, and organic/fair trade coffee and espresso complements a full dessert case.
4800 Roland Ave., (410) 366-9393, www.petitlouis.com
Petit Louis is a metaphor for its Roland Park/Guilford setting: elegant but old-fashioned, comfortable and homey but not stuffy, expensive enough to guarantee that being there is pleasant, but not so much as to shut out those of regular means: classic French bistro meets weeknight Baltimore. The menu changes seasonally, but some favorite dishes are eternal. Steak frites, the legendary Paris bar snack, reaches a new height here with fork-tender beef and garlicky fries. The confit de canard and terrine de foie gras are too rich to eat every day, but surely once a week can't hurt. The small but well-considered list of wines by the glass allows diners to savor some vintages that might otherwise be unaffordable by the bottle.
1009 W. 36th St., (410) 243-0051
The small but interesting menu at Suzie's Soba could be subtitled “A Tour of Noodles Throughout Asia.” Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and owner Suzie Hong's native Korean cuisine are all represented. Suzie's menu is particularly vegetarian friendly, with ample vegan options; try the bindae kuk, fried vegetable-studied mung bean pancakes. Suzie's desserts are the exception to the forget-about-it rule of most Asian restaurant's sweet endings--the tempura-fried banana or ginger and green-tea ice creams are outstanding.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201