NOTE: Click on a restaurant's name to get more information in our Eat Guide.
58 W. Biddle St., (410) 244-7227, www.abacrombie.net
Think about reserving a table in this small below-ground insider's spot next Valentine's Day, or any other time you're planning a seduction. Chef Sonny Sweetman offers a fixed-price menu and just a handful of à la carte entrées and appetizers each evening. The building blocks are simple (salmon, grilled pork, filet mignon), but the dishes are lavish and beautifully constructed: phyllo-encrusted halibut, blue-crab-and-sweet-corn risotto, creamed savoy cabbage. Sharp service and a smart wine list round out your dining experience. Submit to the prix fixe and watch the web site for symphony-inspired special dinners.
823 N. Charles St., (410) 539-0944, www.akbar-restaurant.com
Providing spanking North Indian food to Mount Vernon for more than 20 years now, Akbar offers an intimate dining room and generous portions of all those comforting meat-eater staples like lamb vindaloo and chicken tikka masala, as well as a good range of veggie-minded options like a delicious palak paneer. Plus weekday lunch and weekend brunch buffets for that decidedly American pastime: all you can eat.
900 Cathedral St., (410) 962-8859, www.cafeisis.com
Al Pacino's cuisine is a bit schizo: a mix of trad American fare (burgers, mozzarella sticks) and trad falafel-hut food (stuffed grape leaves, hummus), plus stuff that meets somewhere in the middle (curry chicken pockets), all executed with a minimum of fuss and delivered in big ol' portions. Plus pizza, with every possible permutation of toppings you could imagine. (Lamb, olive, roasted peppers, feta, and cumin sauce, anyone?) The vegan-friendly option of soy cheese, and delivery to a tiny slice of Mount Vernon.
1106 N.Charles St., (410) 547-6925, www.belgianbeer.com
We all know the beers, sometimes to our public embarrassment. But the food at Brewer's may be the real prize, a mix of seriously gussied-up pub grub (those rosemary garlic fries) and dinners that make you feel all slick just saying the names. (Ballantine of Poussin rolls off the tongue.) The ingredients are fresh, the cuts of meat are carefully handled, the presentations are creative, and the end results are rich. After years of diner counters and pizza joints, the warm, grown-up dining room is like trading sleeping on the couch for 400-thread-count sheets.
1001 Cathedral St., (410) 539-4252, www.city cafebaltimore.com
Split into halves--table service or order-at-the-counter--City Café serves all your coffee needs, as well as pastries and baked goods (including a fine pumpkin cookie in the fall). The menu ranges from fancy dinner items like cinnamon duck to lunch fare like the very good hamburger to hearty breakfasts, if you can manage to get up that early. Plus after a while they remember your coffee order when you walk in. And at 8 a.m. that's very important.
8 E. Preston St., (410) 244-1020
Downstairs in the lounge, you can enjoy top-notch bar food like a filling and slightly fancy pizza or a juicy hamburger with gently upscale touches like good cheese and caramelized onions. Upstairs you have your pick of appetizers like an antipasto worthy of a meal in itself, as well as a range of artfully prepared meat, seafood, and pasta dishes. By all means enjoy the beer and finger foods below, but don't forget to take the stairs up to Dionysus' dining room every now and then.
223 W. Chase St., (410) 752-4059
It's your typical neighborhood bar--a bit dim and a little smoky. But if you're down with the ambiance, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the pub grub that fills out the menu here: burgers, fish and chips, and hot and cold deli sandwiches. Dougherty's has a decent beer selection, too, so you can wash down the fried finger foods you will consume during your visit.
1100 Maryland Ave., (410) 385-0318, www.dukemrestaurant.com
You can eat Ethiopian food alone, but all that dipping and sharing means it's much better with a group. Dukem's got the requisite wots, tibs, and plenty of veggie options, all served individually or in combinations, designed to be eaten by multiple people with just injera, the spongy bread that takes the place of forks and spoons. The quality of food means Dukem's small and comfortable dining room fills up quickly on weekends, and the unfailingly friendly staff is glad to help Ethiopian first-timers navigate the menu.
15 W. Eager St., (410) 244-0405, www.edenslounge.com
This style-conscious night spot has accumulated a steady, appreciative, mostly African-American clientele in its freshman year. The nifty physical setup, a series of interconnecting, music-filled, well-appointed lounges, seems to be the main attraction. The menu has apparently been scaled down since its opening--it now consists mostly of flamboyant tapas like sweet lobster toast with tangy apricot chili glaze and guava-glazed baby back ribs with a red pepper coulis.
806 N. Charles St., (410) 752-0311, www.helmand.com
There are many reasons why the Helmand is the go-to restaurant for first dates. The food at this Afghan restaurant is delicious, and it offers a selection that makes both vegetarians and die-hard meat eaters happy. The atmosphere is intimate and inviting, but the prices are low enough that if the date doesn't work out you won't feel burned. We would crawl through glass for the aushak, a rich, leek-filled ravioli, and the kaddo borawni, a delicious pumpkin dish that works as an appetizer or dessert.
818 N. Calvert St., (410) 528-0818
No delivery, no pizza by the slice, no Sinatra, no red-checkered tablecloths. And that's OK. Iggies serves as-authentic-as-it-gets Neapolitan-style pizza--superthin crust, chunky sauce--with really good ingredients--toppings include duck confit, sopressata, and arugula--in pleasant surroundings. Simple is best here; try the Alice (pesto, tomato, garlic, spinach, goat cheese, and Parmesan) or the Margherita (tomato, basil, and mozzarella). But whatever you get, we guarantee you'll keep coming back for the great crust. Bonus points for the communal table.
518 N. Charles St., (410) 727-0800, www.ixia-online.com
Granted, its stylishness is aggressively, boastfully self-conscious. This would guarantee its demise if it weren't actually so polished and well-maintained, and its sapphire-blue color scheme and the fashion-shoot detailing so damn fierce. The fusion menu reads like a distillation of the latest issue of Saveur magazine--free-range chicken with Meyer lemon, picholine olives, and Marcona almonds; pork belly with Fuji apple purée, baby leeks, and Calvados jus; braised veal cheeks with Granny Smith-celeriac purée and port veal reduction. Some leave dazzled but hungry, but the cocktail menu is superb.
1200 N. Charles St., (410) 837-9999, www.limogesbistro.com
In a warm but soaring room just two blocks from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Limoges offers fine French fare and a nice wine list to the pre-symphony crowd and the casual stroller-by. The service is snappy and attentive but not overbearing. Enjoy the montaditos appetizer (three Spanish canapés: one featuring fig-feta, another with tuna, and one with prosciutto), follow it with the spice-roasted duck breast or the truite farcie, a whole trout delicately stuffed with spinach, pine nuts, pancetta, and currant and served with a braised leek pilaf. The bread is crusty, the Pinot Noir is $9 a glass and--did we mention this?--the Meyerhoff is two blocks up Biddle Street. So, enjoy tonight's performance.
800 N. Charles, (410) 332-0332, www.minatorestaurant.com
Of all the sushi bars in Baltimore, Minato is one of the best places to actually sit at the bar itself--all the better to watch Minato's extremely professional sushi chefs at work. If you sit a while and seem truly interested in their work, the free samples will begin to come your way--tidbits of the evening's freshest, most excellent fish, or exotic tastes of giant surf clam and smoked eel. Otherwise, if seated at the tables, Minato seems like many other local sushi joints, though we appreciate the generously sized maki rolls and combo boxes.
909 N. Charles St., (410) 685-7427, www.mvstable.com
The Mount Vernon Stable offers a little bit of everything--wings, sandwiches, pasta, burritos, jerk chicken, calamari. All this variety might make the menu fun to read, but it's pretty pointless. There is only one reason to go to the Stable, the ribs, but what a reason they are. Slathered in deliciously sweet and smoky barbecue sauce and served in generous half- and full-rack portions with two sides, the ribs are damn near perfection. They're so good that rib-loving Neanderthals will brave the omnipresent cheesy dance music of this restaurant/gay bar just to get their hands on the meat. Oh, and the superfriendly service helps, too.
The Belvedere, 1 E. Chase St., (410) 347-0888, www.theowlbar.com
The dark, brick-lined bar, intimate dining room, and long-apron waitstaff suggest sophistication at this Mount Vernon nightspot, but the only thing haute about the Owl Bar is its mega-high ceilings. This menu of spruced-up bar food neither impresses nor disappoints--the tasty, golden crab cakes deliver, but with their steepish price what you're paying for is the ambiance--and its best options aren't that unique: You can trust the calamari. Both its brick-oven pizza and raw bar stay open late, and though the pseudo-fancy pizzas are solid pub grub, perfectly sized for two people approaching a drinking night's end. Do beware the urge to tackle oysters Belvedere--on the half shell with crab imperial--on a full belly of beer.
1101 N. Calvert St., (410) 539-1804, www.theprimerib.com
A superb steakhouse and all-around enjoyable dining experience, plain and simple. From the live nightly piano and bass music to the tuxedoed waitstaff, the Prime Rib has exuded class since it opened its doors in 1965. Be pampered by the courteous staff as you saw into some of the city's tastiest beef and chop cuts, in addition to mouth-watering seafood entrées, including their award-winning crab imperial. Jazz it up with all the generous sides your gut can handle. Hearty appetites and hefty wallets are required, and remember, gentlemen, so are jackets.
802 N. Charles St., Baltimore, (410) 528-1616, www.saffronusa.com
Saffron has the cool, hip feel of an upscale South Beach haunt. Its art-covered walls are painted in warm primary colors, and sleek lighting obscures the lack of windows, creating a cocoon that seems far from Baltimore. The food is a fusion of modern East and West, lofty with lemon grass, drizzled with fresh-fruit compotes, flavored and textured with spiced nuts and consommés. The fennel-scented tomato vegetable purses lightly skip across the tongue; the crab triangle pastry with cumin-scented tomato coulis floats like a mirage on the palate. Golden trout with ginger fennel vinaigrette is one of the menu's simpler entrée confections.
10 E. Franklin St., (410) 539-4675
Arguably Baltimore's first great restaurant, Tio Pepe invites heated debate among the citizenry, some of whom think it's slipped, most of whom find things just as they were when the restaurant opened in 1968. The candlelit whitewashed grottolike interior still stimulates romantic feelings, and the brightly dressed waiters still ruthlessly run the show. Prepare to spend a long, leisurely meal, and clear up some room on your credit card allowance. Tio Pepe is really expensive, best left for special occasions (or try it for lunch sometime). Always start with the shrimp in garlic sauce, follow with the fillet of sole with bananas, and try to persuade your dining companion to splurge on the suckling pig or, failing that, the slow-cooked paella. Jackets are required.
1307 N. Charles St., (410) 468-0002, www.xsbaltimore.com
Four stories high and made of lots of metal and neon, XS is an odd-duck mixture of all-day breakfast, sandwiches, and sushi, plus a third-floor bar for those times when you need a California roll with a side of bacon and a gin and tonic. On the first floor there's coffee and carry-out items like bagels and muffins. Breakfasts include your standard pancakes and waffles, plus more exotic items like an omelet with smoked salmon and capers. The first floor also houses the full-service sushi bar, with the usual assortment of rolls, sushi, and sashmi, as well as dumplings, edamame, noodle bowls, and more.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201