323 Park Ave., (410) 727-5599, $-$$
Why We Go: It's Chinatown, Jack, the only one we've got.
What We Eat: Dim sum, a myriad of dumplings and buns surrounding stuff like pork, tofu, shrimp, lotus seed paste, and ground fish, and also more straightforward offerings of steamed chicken feet, cuttlefish, and steamed snail. After the dim sum, a big dish of beef chow fun, the “dry” version, with beef, scallions, and wide, flat rice noodles sautèed in oil.
What We'd Change: We're used to it, but the entrance foyer, housing buckets, hoses, and fish and lobster tanks, is a little foreboding and makes us worried that casual customers might be put off.
Lexington Market, 203 N. Paca St., (410) 727-4898, www.faidleyscrabcakes.com, $-$$
Why We Go: Big, lumpy crab cakes, freshly shucked oysters, cold beer, and the best crowds in all of Baltimore.
What We Eat: Why those crab cakes and oysters, of course. And sometimes, if our wallet's hurting, we'll get a delish fried-fish sandwich.
What We'd Change: If we had to change something, though we really shouldn't be messing with perfection, we'd move back closing an hour or two so we could pick up something to-go on our way home from work.
3450 Wilkens Ave., (410) 644-8716, $-$$
Why We Go: Mostly for the cheap eats and cheap domestic beers, which are only $2.30 weekdays and $1.85 during happy hour.
What We Eat: Onion rings, served by the foot or half-foot, and Kibby's supreme burgers, slathered with melted cheese and topped with bacon. When we're not in the mood for the greasy fried fare, we order the stellar shrimp salad--mayo, Old Bay, and huge hunks of jumbo shrimp--which may well be the best in the city.
What We'd Change: The red-seated booths in the bar area need some fixing. Last we visited, the padded bench in the booth we selected flipped right off its base.
21 N. Eutaw St., (410) 837-2100, www.maggiemoores.com, $$
Why We Go: To eat solid meat-and-potatoes fare in a clean, ambiently lighted place.
What We Eat: “The Killer,” which is two kinds of bacon, Irish banger sausage, American cheese, jalapeños, and an egg on a potato roll, is just genius. Come on, two kinds of bacon, plus bangers? How could you go wrong? If that kind of artery-hardening is not up your alley, though, Maggie Moore's also serves up a mean cobb salad.
What We'd Change: Please, don't change a thing.
214 W. Mulberry St., (410) 752-5155, www.marticks.com/marticksite.htm, $$-$$$
Why We Go: We sometimes ask ourselves this question when we're standing in front of the locked front door of the shabby building with the crazy blue-and-white chevrons, wondering if we're going to be let in, even though we called first, because lately it's been busy, but when the door opens (sometimes it doesn't, so always call first) we relax and bask in the approval of being allowed to step into a one-of-a-kind, only-in-Baltimore speakeasy Wonderland rabbit hole of mostly Français cuisine that is not going to be around forever.
What We Eat: Pâtè, you gotta eat the pâtè, and the sweet potato soup, maybe the bouillabaisse, and then whatever else the irascible, unpredictable, kinda crazy chef Morris Martick puts up on his ever-changing board. We usually go for some sort of fish.
What We'd Change: Portions are somewhat smallish, but that's a good excuse to order more different stuff, right? First-timers must understand that place setting-wise, this restaurant does not have matching anything, and servicewise, patience aids good digestion, but really, Morris, don't go changin'.
934 W. Pratt St., (410)576-8899, www.patricksofpratt.com, $$
Why We Go: Bragging rights. Try to casually work in that's it's the oldest Irish pub in the country, owned by the same family since 1847. That'll either get a bar bet going or a fight.
What We Eat: Because it's, you know, the oldest Irish pub in the country, they don't have to use that pub-in-a-box kit that one suspects comes from the marketing geniuses at Guinness, and the same goes for the food. There's a mean shepherd's pie, but the only corned beef on the menu is on rye. Cod with Thai lime sauce, not bangers and mash.
What We'd Change: Patrick's is “100 percent smoke-free,” and a clean and well-lit place, but we suppose some people like that, and it seems to be the way Ireland's gone as well--smoke-free, that is, we can't vouch for the country's cleanliness.
39 S. Arlington Ave., (410) 244-0909, $
Why We Go: To grab a quick bite to eat to go or to sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the small counter with other folks who've come in out of the cold for their fix of light and sweet coffee.
What We Eat: The sweet smell of pancakes and waffles hits you as soon as you walk in the door, but the place is so small, we usually just grab a breakfast sandwich to go.
What We'd Change: When it's crowded here, you can hardly squeeze yourself inside, because there's such a narrow space between the counter and the front door. Plus, some consistency wouldn't hurt--depending on who's working that day, our order comes out different each time. Not always for the better.
406 N. Paca St., (410) 685-7285, $
Why We Go: Olive oil, olives, pocket-change cheap bottles of wine, a single sandwich that will feed you for both lunch and dinner. It's also the best-smelling hallway in the entire city.
What We Eat: The muffuletta, a barge of Italian salamis, provolone cheese, and olive oil on fresh bread. And, yes, we've also been known to make lunch a half-pound of dry-cured black olives.
What We'd Change: It'd be nice if the store was open even for a few hours on Sundays--but, you know, even God rested on the seventh day.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201