Highlandtown / East Baltimore
NOTE: Click on a restaurant's name to get more information in our Eat Guide.
5801 Pulaski Highway, (410) 483-2379,
Pit beef is Baltimore's signature meat. It's what we natives do when faced with a hunk of cow and some fire. Unfortunately, many purveyors of our local open-pit pride tend to go a little long, serving up beef that is dry and stringy. Sorry, hon, but horseradish and bbq sauce can only cover so many sins, and overcooked pit beef ain't one of 'em. Chaps makes a point of doing pit beef right: tender, flavorful beef piled high on fresh kaiser rolls. You can lean in the kitchen window to plead for the chewy end pieces or the rarest, reddest middle slices. Ultimately, they leave all the doodads, the onions and sauces and whatnot, for you to apply as you will, which is as it should be.
3708 Eastern Ave., (410) 342-7117, www.easternhouserestaurant.com
Eastern House is thoroughly and enjoyably old school in the sadly fading tradition of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink restaurants, with broad menus encompassing everything from steaks to seafood to pasta to baked ham with pineapple rings. As a bonus, Greek dishes like pastitsio and moussaka are available and worthy. However, classic taste treats like mushroom caps stuffed with crab imperial, oyster stew, and prime rib of beef au jus are not just best bets but get-'em-while-you-can artifacts of American cuisine. Eastern House offers an unbeatable special theme menu each weeknight (our favorite is Thursday, International Night, featuring sour beef with dumplings) where entrées with veggies and salad are $8.95.
611 S. Fagley St., (410) 563-7577, www.eichenkranz.com
For a city heavily settled by German immigrants, Baltimore has few German restaurants. Eichenkranz is the last outpost of hasenpfeffer and schwinkoteletten mit apfeln, not to mention four kinds of schnitzel. There's also the wurst platte with knockwurst, bratwurst, and baurenwurst. If you have a yen for such a sausagefest but your dining companions shy away from sauerbraten, Eichenkranz also serves up solid old-school items like lumpy crab cakes and fried soft-shell crabs, as well as steaks and chops, chicken, and pasta. The black forest cake and apple strudel are worth saving room for.
4701 Eastern Ave., (410) 342-0937, www.habanerogrill.com
Taking over a Greektown space formerly devoted to non-Hellenic cuisines (it was formerly a chicken-and-waffle joint), Habanero serves insanely huge portions of Tex-Mex and Central American food at laughably low prices. Appetizers go over very, very well. Try the tamal de elote con crema, a warm sweet-corn tamale served with chilled crema, a fatty Mexican cream; or the yuca con chiccharones, crackling good cubes of tasty pork mixed with starchy slices of casava. Fresh-sauced Tex-Mex entrées succeed better than Salvadoran fare, which tends to sit there on the plate not doing much. For the adventurous, there's tongue, tripe, and cow's feet. Frugal, hungry patrons are wanted.
3928 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-5055
La Sirenita offers traditional Mexican on the cheap with no thrills. The dining area is tight alongside a busy, open kitchen and a soda case with plenty of authentic flavors in glass bottles, including Sangría without the alcohol. Huge bowls of soup (shrimp or beef tripe or hominy with pork or fish) come with a platter of hard corn tortillas and veggie garnishes, and at just around a ten-spot, they make for a hearty meal. A list of beef and chicken specials includes fried quail; all specials are served with yummy refried pintos and corny yellow rice, as are the spicy enchiladas with red or green sauce, chile rellenos, and chilaquiles. Seafood also plays a role on the menu--La Sirenita means mermaid--with ceviche, oysters, grilled shrimp, and fried fish. The à la carte burritos and simple tacos with fresh parsley, chopped white onion, and flavorful meats make for a nice lunch, as do the large meat-filled sandwiches. They promise a BYOB license soon, so until then, save the Coronas with lime for before and after.
3131 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-8755, www.matthewspizza.com
This perennial favorite checkerboard-cloth joint has been dishing out its beloved made-to-order deep-dish pies for more than six decades. Its fans admire the hand-grated cheeses, chunky toppings, and especially that inimitable white-bready crust. There is avid support for the meatballs, subs, pasta dishes, and thin pies, too, but not approaching the zealotry associated with the house specialty. With a homey, friendly atmosphere, Matthew's is essential as a pre-show spot for events at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson.
600 Oldham St., (410) 675-5292
Open the front door of this tiny Greek restaurant and you'll likely be greeted with a line of diners awaiting tables. One whiff of the aromas drifting from Samos' open kitchen easily convinces you that the wait (which is generally reasonable) will be worth it. Lunch counter staples like crisp-outside-tender-inside calamari and giant gyro sandwiches are good and cheap, and more ambitious fare--shrimp and feta pie, pastitsio, dolmades--is even better, and still surprisingly inexpensive. Hurry up and finish that, wouldja? People are waiting.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201