Midtown / Bolton Hill / Charles North
NOTE: Click on a restaurant's name to get more information in our Eat Guide.
1501 Bolton St., (410) 383-8600
The geniuses behind some of Baltimore's best and most successful upscale-you-can-afford eateries (Helmand, Tapas Teatro) scored again with this elegant bistro that fits its picturesque neighborhood to a “b.” Well-heeled Bolton Hillers and trustafarian MICA art students alike take in the neighborhood's stately rowhouses from inside b's tasteful, high-ceilinged interior, or at one of the prized outdoor tables. The fare is cosmopolitan bistro: vaguely French, vaguely Californian. We've eaten here a bunch of times and can't remember a single dish, except for the exquisite calamari. But it's always good.
133 W. North Ave., (410) 545-0444, www.joesquared.com
Joe Squared looks like an off-campus dive bar, and that's a large part of its charm. Depending on who you are (scenester or square), you'd rate the ambiance with four stars or none. The large-format square pizzas are noteworthy for their thin crusts and creatively devised specialty toppings: an Irish pizza with corned beef, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and Swiss; a chicken, corn, and apple version with Granny Smiths and Vidalias; another with meatballs and spaghetti. Pasta dishes and ample entrée salads are also available. Start with wings or the good stuffed focaccia, and bear in mind the dodgy location.
18 W. 20th St., (410) 837-5231
On its web site, Joung Kak describes itself as “charming and strong . . . an iron pot full of delightful and exciting foods.” This actually rather neatly describes Joung Kak's house specialty: do-it-yourself tabletop grilling. The accommodating staff brings a brazier of glowing wood coals to your booth and provides a platter of tidbits for grilling thereon plus another piled with garnishes. (The fearless may want to go with the full Joung Kak experience, featuring slices of tripe, beef tendons, and liver, but maybe it's best to begin with short ribs and sliced tenderloin.) Don't worry, they stick around to show you what to do, and which garnishes go with what grilled viand. Karaoke every night after 8, and Joung Kak serves until 4 a.m.
2126 Maryland Ave., (410) 685-6237
Nam Kang is the granddaddy of Baltimore Korean restaurants, the first to open in an otherwise bleak section of midtown. Nam Kang's lunch menu is a great way for the uninitiated to become acquainted with the hot (chile peppers), sour (kimchi), and rich (fermented black bean paste) flavors of Korean cuisine. For truly bargain prices you can pick from all the Korean classics--bulgogi, jampong, bibimbap--and feast on the array of panchan, little bowls of treats like kimchi and sesame bean sprouts, that accompany each order. But any time is fine to dine at Nam Kang, which stays open until 4 a.m. to keep the world supplied with bubbling hotpots of seafood stew.
1711 N. Charles St., (410) 332-0110, www.tapasteatro.net
Tapas Teatro should get big credit for ushering in the era of small-plate dining to Baltimore. Happily, there is now a plethora of local places slinging small plates of everything from pan-Asian fusion to Mediterranean tidbits, but we keep coming back to the Teatro for its classic Spanish tapas. There are plenty of garlicky, spicy treats, and most of the meats benefit from char-grilling over a wood fire. Sangría is the classic tapas companion, and when it is enjoyed by the pitcher (surrounded by stacks of recently emptied plates of grilled calamari or skewered tenderloin or roasted eggplant) at one of the eatery's sidewalk tables, life is good, indeed.
Baltimore sorely lacks in vegetarian/vegan-friendly dining. At least the few spots it does have go out of their way to make meatless, dairy-free eating worth the trek. Take the Yabba Pot, which--dare we even use these words in print?--kicks it up a notch. Where most places would make you settle for bland tofu salads and seitan stir-fries, the Yabba Pot offers Trinidadian rotis, vegan “tuna,” and curried “goat.” For a mere $8 you can choose four items off the menu and sample several creative meat-free treats. Bam!
1726 N. Charles St., (410) 727-8815
We've eaten here almost as often as we've had a drink next door at the Club Charles or caught a film at the Charles Theatre across the street. As long as they keep rotating the menu--even slightly--with the Sun Signs, we'll keep ordering the always innovative soups and salads, interesting sandwiches, and homey big plates. Good for vegans, and great for vegetarians, Zodiac's menu covers all types and lets you in on the mystery with icons, but they don't shun the fish- and meat-eater. They offer appetizers incorporating duck, fancy cheeses, nuts, and shrimps; pizzas with mozzarella or soy cheese; grilled chicken sandwiches and burgers; pastas and steak; and a nice selection of entrées with Cajun flair. Bonus: a full bar and cute bartenders to pour.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201