Inner Harbor / Little Italy
NOTE: Click on a restaurant's name to get more information in our Eat Guide.
306 S. High St., (410) 727-0700, www.aldositaly.com
Unless you've been there, it's hard to grasp what distinguishes Aldo's from its neighboring Little Italy restaurants. A lot of it has to do with chef Aldo Vitale's craftsmanship and his insistence on using locally purveyed ingredients, and on how you swell you feel in the double rowhouses' various Italianate rooms, all of them crafted by Vitale himself. Regulars have their favorite tables, waiters, and dishes. Aim high and fat: The tournedos Rossini gilds a filet mignon with foie gras, black-truffle oil, porcini, and wild mushroom sauce.
231 S. High St., (410) 528-1096, www.amiccis.com
It's Amicci's own damn fault if it's universally thought of us a one-dish wonder--pane rotundo! pane rotundo! It's hardly genetic coding, just a pile of garlicky jumbo shrimp in a bread bowl, but it's fantastic. Better to think of Amicci's as the rare restaurant that succeeds in doing precisely what it promises, offering a moderately priced, youthful, and casual alternative to its family-oriented and/or fussier Little Italy competitors. A new adjacent bar and lounge is promised for the near future, giving the neighborhood something it amazingly has never really had--a place to hang out.
1019 E. Lombard St., (410) 563-2666, www.attmansdeli.com
This Corned Beef Row relic is a local institution, and with good reason. Elbow your way through the boisterous lunchtime crowds down to the end of the long, long, long deli counter and speak up loud and clear when it's your turn to order your corned beef on rye, hot pastrami, Reuben, or kosher dog, all as good as you'll find in town. You could step across to Attman's modest, ambiance-free “Kibbitz Room” and dine in, but once you've survived the line, you've already had the second-best experience Attman's offers. They usually wrap up the best to go.
36 Light St., (410) 752-4189, www.burkescafe.com
To be honest we are not quite sure how Burke's has remained in operation since 1934. The food is hard-core old school--meat and potatoes with gravy and fried seafood baskets--while the quality is simply OK. But we like that Burke's lost-in-time menu shows Baltimore's German roots; it's one of the last places in town you can still find sour beef or calves liver, plus what's not to love about a place where potato pancakes are offered as a vegetable. It's also a reasonably priced and locally owned eatery amid the downtown sea of corporate chain restaurants, and serves a full menu until 2 a.m. OK, now we get it.
1000 Lancaster St., (410) 332-7373, www.charlestonrestaurant.com
As a cuisine, South Carolina low country cooking achieves perfect balance between delicacy and richness. In Baltimore, Charleston restaurant is the place to experience the magic of delicate ingredients in deluxe combinations, like heads-on shrimp with smoky tasso ham and buttery grits. The ever-evolving menu is a sophisticated but deeply pleasurable board of fare, always skillfully executed and flawlessly served. Every course is worth lingering over, savoring the intricate flavors of, say, Charleston's incomparable shellfish bisque while anticipating the upcoming plate of pan-seared duck breast in a Burgundy reduction sauce. And the new prix fixe menu allows you to create your own three- to eight-course meal from a series of small plates, so you can pick whatever dishes look best to you without being a slave to the whole appetizer/entrée hierarchy.
801 Eastern Ave., (410) 837-5500, www.dellanotte.com
Customers stop smirking about the outrageous exterior once inside, where the high-ceiling, sweep-seating interior is downright pretty, if still a bit tacky. Della Notte prides itself, justifiably, on its baked-on-premises breads, homemade pasta, and extensive wine list. The manageably sized menu holds surprises--buttermilk-battered oysters, succulent little foie-gras quail, roasted guinea fowl, duck confit. Very good crab cakes and beautifully marbled beef suggest Della Notte for business dinners, as does the post-dinner Emperor's Lounge, where big daddies retire for grappa, cigars, and piano lounge singers.
Harborplace, 201 E.Pratt St., (410) 843-9804; 53 E. Padonia Road, Timonium, (410) 667-9200; 10347 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, (410) 363-7720; 10995 Owings Mills Blvd., Owings Mills, (410) 356-6818; www.edosushimd.com
at suburban locations, Downtown,
Edo Sushi is an example of local restaurant makes good: Take a clean, well-lighted sushi bar, add consistently high-quality fish and Japanese entrées and smooth service, and then repeat. Each incarnation of Edo does sushi very well, with emphasis on fresh fresh fish. Maki (rolls) are inventive and vary between locations; we love our beloved silky rock 'n' roll and the double-spicy crabmeat maki. Be sure to supplement any sushi selection with appetizers like the baby octopus salad, spinach sesame, or shumai soup.
29 S Front St., (410) 837-3737, www.gardels.com
Gardel's mixes dancing under a funky custom chandelier with an ambitious kitchen, dance club, and cavernous elegant banquet hall. The small plates (available at the bar) complement the healthy beer selection and friendly bartenders. The entrées delight, though sometimes their wild tastes compete with one another. Small plates from the bar can be a meal: The white pizza works well, as does the prosciutto with figs and mascarpone dumplings in rosemary broth. In the dining room, consider the eggplant appetizer followed by the macadamia nut- and lime-encrusted red snapper. Tango lessons are available most Sunday afternoons.
411 S. High St., (410) 385-4900
If you thought there were only Italian restaurants in Little Italy, think again. Right in the thick of the city's pasta-pushing district sits India Rasoi, a decidedly low-key joint that serves up authentic and pleasing Indian cuisine. Traditional dishes such as chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo, and palak paneer are a little spicier and more vibrant than those you might find at other Indian restaurants around town, so if you like your masala mild, let them know when you order. And don't skimp when you dine here--get the mulligatawny soup. You won't regret spending a coupla extra bucks for that fragrant, lemony, lentily goodness.
801 Aliceanna St., (443) 872-0000, www.theoceanaire.com
Does this city really need another high-priced seafood restaurant? Oceanaire has a lovely art deco dining room, made to feel like the interior of a 1930s ocean liner, and its seafood menu is flawlessly fresh--the menu changes every day, according to availability. Still preparations, while done well, are not particularly inventive. A shout out to the side dishes here, which many seafood places shamefully neglect; Oceanaire's potatoes Dauphinois are to die for.
901 Fawn St., (410) 727-9414, www.sabatinos.com
The grandmother of Little Italy's family-friendly restaurants will disappoint finicky diners looking for cutting-edge cuisine, but it overwhelmingly pleases almost everyone else. Menu highlights include the homemade pastas, veal Francese, and the mammoth bookmaker's salad, dressed with Sabatino's gritty house dressing. The waitresses work their black-apron magic, serving up huge portions in white rooms that look as fresh as they did when Sab's opened 50 years ago. And it's open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Harborplace, 201 E. Pratt St., (410) 483-8968, www.tirnanogbaltimore.com
This new Harborplace pub adds some contemporary twists to Irish favorites, like the kohlrabi remoulade that accompanies oak-smoked salmon, or the chanterelle sauce that glazes a platter of pan-roasted sausages. A lot of this cheers--spicy Thai calamari arrives cleanly, unbreaded, with peppery oil. The lamest things, oddly, are the traditional favorites, like an herb-heavy and flaccid shepherd's pie and soggy fish and chips. The décor, much of it reportedly authentic, commits the silly mistake of disturbing the bright harbor views.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201