340 N. Charles St., (410) 727-7971, www.banthai.us, $$
Why We Go: Fresh seafood prepared in a piquant and lively Thai style; absolutely essential for a pre-An die Musik concert dinner.
What We Eat: The delicious soft-shell crabs when in season, the divine lemon-grass duck appetizer, yum ped yang.
What We'd Change: More diverse lunch specials and convenient parking, like, anywhere nearby.
353 N. Calvert St., (410) 837-2274, $-$$
Why We Go: Yummy, well-portioned authentic Jamaican fare, decent specials, and wallet-friendly prices.
What We Eat: The stewed fish, curry goat, and jerk chicken are all awesome, paired with rice and peas, cabbage, and plantains.
What We'd Change: Sometimes the lines are just a little too long around lunchtime, and when we're jonesing for jerk chicken, we don't want it now--we want it right now.
313 N. Charles St., (410) 727-6080, www.cindyhutsoncuisine.com, $$
Why We Go: It's a quiet date-night or post-happy hour dinner place, with grown-up dècor, friendly but not buttinsky bartenders, and proximity to rowdier, more plebeian Mick O'Shea's.
What We Eat: The fried calamari salad is big and splittable, with plenty of squidy-O's and some crunchy tentacles, fresh crisp greens, and a light-tasting tomato-basil dressing. And despite Baltimore's obsession with fist-sized crab cakes, we like us some of Copra's mini cakes: each one is two bites of mostly crabmeat--purportedly curried, but we can't detect it, and that's OK--sprinkled with a sweet mango salsa that has just a tiny pinch of spice to it.
What We'd Change: The uncomfortable, high-backed, timeout-type chairs at the tables make us feel like we've been bad and need to be punished, but not in the pain-is-pleasure way.
120 E. Baltimore St., (410) 837-7482, www.cypriana.com, $
Why We Go: Felafel pita sandwiches the size of a baby's leg.
What We Eat: The aforementioned felafel and the Greek salad with the tarragon-aromatic house dressing.
What We'd Change: Nothing, save a satellite location opened, like, right next door to our office.
527 N. Charles St., (410) 539-8880, www.saschas.com, $-$$
Why We Go: Tasty grilled paninis, a nice selection of fresh daily specials, and a good variety of wines by the glass when a weekday lunch really needs one.
What We Eat: One of the grilled panini options for the day with a cold side salad.
What We'd Change: Start keeping the kitchen open during those no-man's-land lunch hours between 3 and 5 p.m.
405 N. Charles St., (410) 625-0534, www.sottosoprainc.com, $$$
Why We Go: The boss is buying, or maybe we're just in the mood and have room on our credit card to drop a few bucks on a multicourse evening of indulgence.
What We Eat: Practically anything on the menu. Last time we were in there for lunch (a great way to experience dining here for the first time and overcome any trepidations about dinner-time sticker shock) we paired the zuppa del giorni--in this case a lovely leek--with the cuore di lattuga salad of tender delicate Boston lettuce adorned with Gorgonzola, Granny Smith apple, and anointed with an appetite-enraging balsamic vinaigrette, which set the stage for a not-too-large plate of bucatini all'amatriciana, perfectly cooked pasta in red sauce with bacon, onion, and red pepper. We then finished it off with a creamy, dreamy pistachio crème brûlèe and several cups of coffee before belching delicately into our cloth serviette.
What We'd Change: We need a better-paying job so we can eat here more often, but as far as the restaurant is concerned, it'd be nice to see the duck ravioli on the lunch menu.
36 Light St., (410) 752-4189, www.burkescafe.com, $-$$
Why We Go: A Baltimore staple, offering old-school rib-sticking platters like crab cakes, wings, steak, seafood, and traditional German staples.
What We Eat: Hangover relief like the steak, eggs, and hash browns with a Bloody Mary are the perfect thing to cure you after your night of drinking and smoking and chowing down on the wings and fries basket they fed you the night before.
What We'd Change: More booths in the nonsmoking section, as the other seating options make us feel claustrophobic.
500 E. Pratt St., (443) 703-4064, www.thecapitalgrille.com, $$$
Why We Go: We've got this particularly fussy friend who is placated by the smooth operation at this posh downtown steakhouse. The portraits of Baltimore notables help make a chain place feel homegrown.
What We Eat: The everyday steaks are superb, but Kona-crusted sirloin with caramelized shallot butter makes us feel like we're eating something.
What We'd Change: Unsheltered and bareknuckle, the outdoor seating on a grim plaza is a lame afterthought. We're expecting more effort here next season.
1000 Lancaster St., (410) 332-7373, www.charlestonrestaurant.com, $$$
Why We Go: It's as good as it gets, provided we're with the right person, one who sees the value in complete self-indulgence. The idea of wandering in for a mere meal is laughable.
What We Eat: Anything Southern-fried, and whatever we don't see anywhere else--sweetbreads, of course, or goodies like a terrine of pheasant, chicken, and foie gras.
What We'd Change: No doubt there's a good reason why diners at the bar can't eat from the main menu, but sometimes we want something short of full immersion, especially when we're traveling solo.
Harborplace, 201 E. Pratt St., (410) 843-9804, www.edosushimd.com, $$-$$$
Why We Go: Because we're in the Inner Harbor and we are not going to the Cheesecake Factory. Edo Sushi offers incredibly fresh fish in a surprisingly elegant environment for Harborplace. Not to mention the selection of other Japanese dishes. Also, we're suckers for hot towels.
What We Eat: Any of the enormous fish-crammed stunt rolls like the Black Dragon roll of shrimp tempura on the inside and eel and avocado on the outside.
What We'd Change: Sushi isn't cheap anywhere that you'd really want to eat it, but Edo's prices give our wallets nightmares--the fancy rolls start at about $14.95.
Power Plant Live!, 26 Market Place, (410) 528-0128, www.mexbaltimore.com, $$
Why We Go: El Corn, the corn-on-a-stick appetizer coated in cheese, spice, and chiles.
What We Eat: (see above)
What We'd Change: We live in hope some day they'll figure out a way to make an entrèe based on El Corn, but that aside, the service is somewhat random, so lower your expectations, loosen up with a margarita, stay on top of your server, and you'll have an acceptable experience.
801 Aliceanna St., (443) 872-0000, www.theoceanaire.com, $$$
Why We Go: Well, if we told you that we actually think the whole midcentury transatlantic cruise theme is cool, you'd think we were kidding, so we'll explain how sincere we are at our supersecret hangout, the gorgeous oyster bar.
What We Eat: It's so gratifying to see Pacific fish without a puerile fruit sauce thrown on it that we'll usually throw ourselves on the wahoo if it's on the daily menu. Here, they rub it with some salt and olive oil and grill it. Sold.
What We'd Change: A cell-phone ban would certainly help. The oversized side dishes make sense for four people but not so much for two--a chef-composed dish, sides included, would make the experience feel less gimmicky and coporate.
231 E. Redwood St., (410) 752-3335, $
Why We Go: If we're downtown and parked anywhere near it, we try not to miss out on enjoying an old-school breakfast or comfort-food lunch in a time-machine setting you can't find anywhere else.
What We Eat: You cannot go wrong with a hot turkey sandwich and real mashed potatoes with gravy all over and a side of green beans. Get a real milk shake on the way out.
What We'd Change: Maybe it's just us, but it seems like this joint is closed for vacation, closed for use in a television or movie production, or closed for something else (last time a sign on the door read closed - due to lack of cook) whenever we stop by, but maybe we just need to get downtown more.
306 S. High St., (410) 727-0700, www.aldositaly.com, $$$
Why We Go: We take--and send--people here who bad-mouth Little Italy. They end up convinced, chastened even, not only by the quality of Aldo Vitale's ingredient-loving regional preparations but by the topnotch service and the hand-built deluxe interiors.
What We Eat: The triumphant tournedos Rossini, filet mignon with foie gras, four-cheese risotto, and a porcini and wild mushroom sauce. Even typing it makes our mouth water.
What We'd Change: The $30.07 Restaurant Week three-course tasting menu is the perfect introduction to a pricey restaurant--it'd be great to have it available, at least once a week, all year long.
1019 E. Lombard St., (410) 563-2666, www.attmansdeli.com, $
Why We Go: 'Cause there's nowhere else in Baltimore where you can get sandwiches like this. Heck, there may be nowhere else south of, say, New Brunswick, N.J., where you can get sandwiches like this.
What We Eat: Anything with corned beef, pastrami, or chopped liver. In other words, the Lombard Street: hot corned beef, hot pastrami, chopped liver, and Russian dressing, on rye, of course. Also: knishes and sour pickles.
What We'd Change: We'd ask the counterpeople to be a bit kinder to newcomers, who can get flustered by Attman's lightning pace, but nah--a little bit of hazing is good for the soul.
223 S. High St., (410) 547-0820, www.caesarsden.com, $$-$$$
Why We Go: The totally old-school Italian fine-dining experience with attentive staff, robust dishes, and multiple courses.
What We Eat: A calamari entrèe, exquisite veal rounds served in wine and prosciutto sauce, pretty much anything where the menu description ends in “and light cream.”
What We'd Change: A concession to seasonal anything on the menu.
411 S. High St., (410) 385-4900, www.india-rasoi.com, $$
Why We Go: To sample some of the most intricately flavored and richly spiced Indian food in the city.
What We Eat: We cannot get enough of the lemony-scented and delicate mulligatawny soup, and we're also quite fond of the bengan bharta, a tangy eggplant dish with coriander and cumin, and the chicken tikka masala.
What We'd Change: The dècor, which is a bit sparse, and the lack of music or ambient noise, which makes for an uncomfortably silent dinner experience.
901 Fawn St., (410) 727-9414, www.sabatinos.com, $$-$$$
Why We Go: Dependable late-night eating and belly-rubbing satisfying Italian fare.
What We Eat: A bookmaker salad that could easily feed a family of five or one really motivated man after a few pints; the veal à la Beppi, succulent medallions sautèed in white wine and brandy and served with earthy mushrooms and pimentos.
What We'd Change: Just start dropping a ramekin of that house dressing on the tabletops as a dip.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201