East and Southeast
641 S. Montford Ave., (410) 732-3000, www.birchesrestaurant.com, $$
Why We Go: Anyone can make a meat loaf and call it comfort food. We like how seriously Birches takes comfort food. We love having access to the Monday through Thursday burger and pizza menu, but gird ourselves for bigger fare on weekends.
What We Eat: The New England cobb salad, arranged as it should be, with strips of delicious maple-rubbed chicken, avocado, and blue cheese. It's just the kind of thing everyone else screws up.
What We'd Change: What do they got back there, an Easy Bake? It's crazy to keep diners away from empty tables because of a small kitchen.
2318 Fleet St., (410) 732-1961, www.geckosonline.com, $$
Why We Go: The fun, nonkitschy take on Southwesternizing typical pub grub.
What We Eat: Santa Fe mussels, the yummy crab, corn, and roasted red pepper quesadilla.
What We'd Change: Add a few more new items to the always intriguing daily and weekly specials.
2901 O'Donnell St., (410) 276-3160, www.mamasonthehalfshell.com, $$
Why We Go: Raw seafood.
What We Eat: Raw oysters, beer, raw oysters, beer, and usually some more oysters with the occasional clam or scallop thrown in--particularly the pan-seared scallops.
What We'd Change: The clientele: If we can consider a no-smoking resolution, could we also consider a citywide no-baseball-hat resolution during dinner hours as well?
2907 O'Donnell St., (410) 675-0898, www.nachomamascanton.com, $-$$
Why We Go: Hubcaps of chips with salsa and margaritas at the cute old-school bar and then messy Texie-Mexie in a comfy booth under Natty Boh and Elvis memorabilia.
What We Eat: We love the chicken and beef combo fajitas, big-ass seafood quesadillas, and fat burritos, all of which reheat like a dream for leftover lunch the next day. Bonus unexpected ingredients--feta, crab, artichoke, Gouda, meat loaf--to play with.
What We'd Change: Parking in Canton sucks.
?821 O'donnell St., (410) 522-7678, www.portsidetavern.com, $$
Why We Go: It's often the only Canton Square bar, tavern, or restaurant without a long-ass wait for a table on an average night, the wine pours are generous, and the (maybe lonely?) service is friendly and attentive.
What We Eat: Portside's treatment of mussels is more luxurious than we typically encounter at bars: a big appetizer serving of the clam's poor relation, in a cream sauce with fatty slices of pancetta and spicy tomatoes and onions. It's pretty cheap at $8.95, and definitely enough for a main course.
What We'd Change: Maybe Portside could play up its perfectly respectable menu and offer some wine deals to pull in a steady, sedate dinner crowd. After all, those twentysomethings that first populated the Canton bars back in the early gentrification years are getting older, right?
2200 Boston St., (410) 675-7077, $
Why We Go: Although our common sense and wallet may be impaired after last call on the weekends, our appetites are not.
What We Eat: Simple diner fare like grilled Swiss on rye, BLTs on wheat toast, turkey sands, and bacon cheeseburgers; breakfast plates of eggs, hash browns, bacon/sausage, and toast with jelly; soup du jour and iceberg salad; and gyros and spinach pies from the Greek selections fill tummies old-school style.
What We'd Change: One word: flies.
2901 E. Baltimore St., (410) 522-5893, www.parksidebaltimore.com, $$
Why We Go: We like the space, which has provided a much needed smoke-free gathering spot and watering hole for a parched neighborhood.
What We Eat: We're still waiting to be thrilled by something here. The menu's tentativeness is frustrating.
What We'd Change: The place needs to realize its potential by getting more serious about itself. We can get mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders at a thousand smoky dives within three blocks.
3700 Gough St., (410) 276-6787, www.dipasquales.com, $-$$
Why We Go: This Highlandtown institution offers the best of both worlds: Italian deli and bistro food. Why go to two places when one has it all?
What We Eat: Go with a few people. Have some sandwiches--in the meat department, we like the Porketta (roasted pork with melted provolone, olive oil, and grated Parmesan); veggies can get the Calabrese (provolone, artichoke hearts, sweet peppers, and more). Everyone else gets one of the pizzas or pasta specials--mmm, the pasta specials--and then share everything.
What We'd Change: Those pasta specials, usually well under $10, are some of the best eating in town. But you can only get them for lunch. So, Di Pasquale's, how about opening for dinner a couple of nights a week?
601 S. Conkling St., (410) 276-1117, $-$$
Why We Go: Because it's cheap, the portions are filling, and the food tastes just like our Dominican neighbors' house smells.
What We Eat: The Pernil, a pork shoulder slathered in garlic and spices, slow roasted to perfection, available as a sandwich or a platter, the latter of which comes with white rice, red beans, tostones (flattened and fried green plantains dusted with garlic), and salad.
What We'd Change: A further delivery range. And a bigger kitchen: If you visit in a large group. someone's food is going to be cold.
611 S. Fagley St., (410) 563-7577, www.eichenkranz.com, $-$$
Why We Go: Reasonably priced Old Baltimore German food the likes of which we hope will endure for, uh, a thousand years, and easy parking.
What We Eat: Meat! Sour beef, bratwurst, barenwurst, and the best of the wurst, bratwurst, grilled and slightly crunchy on the outside, succulent and spicy-greasy inside, slathered with hot mustard, accompanied by little side dishes of cabbage in its many forms--tangy red, sour (sauer)kraut, just-moist-enough dill-spiked slaw--chased down with hoppy German beer, and finished off with a generous portion of warm apple strudel and a cup of coffee, please, to wake us up for the drive home.
What We'd Change: There are certain expectations one develops when visiting a restaurant that's been operating in one form or another since 1939, but new or infrequent visitors to this bastion of Hasenpfeffer might react poorly to the shopworn tablecloths, so some new table linens may be in order.
701 Eastern Ave., (410) 342-0937, www.habanerogrill.com, $
Why We Go: It's one of our favorite filling stations. The prices are low, the portions are huge, and the food truly feels like home-cooking.
What We Eat: One of the city's best cheap appetizers--the tamal de elota, sweet corn fried into cornmeal, with bone-white chilled crema.
What We'd Change: The liquor license is on its way, we hear, and as much as we like toting in our own stuff, sometimes we forget to plan ahead.
3928 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-5055, $
Why We Go: Like the business card says, “Autentica Cocina Mexicana,” while catching up on our Mexican soap operas and game shows.
What We Eat: Nicely stuffed burritos with flavorful chicken and greasy tacos with chopped white onion and two tortillas are our faves. That, and the huge bowls of steaming soup with veggie garnish, and the refried beans. Bottles of beer with lime take the lard edge off.
What We'd Change: Bring on las margaritas.
3131 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-8755, www.matthewspizza.com, $
Why We Go: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.”
What We Eat: Love, love, love Matthew's pizza with crumbly Italian sausage and mushrooms, but you seriously can't go wrong. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs covered with red sauce is worth venturing off the round-dough route, if that's your thing.
What We'd Change: Everybody and their best friend eats there before or after an event at the Creative Alliance across the street--we thought of it first and will fight you.
600 Oldham St., (410) 675-5292, $-$$
Why We Go: While other Greektown restaurants have their partisans, Samos remains the people's choice--check out those weekend lines--because it serves up the overall tastiest food in the most pleasant of surroundings, somehow out of a kitchen the size of a closet.
What We Eat: Um, everything, if we could stuff it down. But roasted chicken is a good place to start, and make sure whatever you order comes with Samos' justifiably famous roasted potatoes and vegetables. And don't forget to order the suite of Greek dips (hummus, taramosalata, baba ghanouj, etc.) as an appetizer, or as a main course, or, heck, as dessert, too.
What We'd Change: Samos expanded once in recent years. Re: those weekend lines, it may be time to buy the rowhouse next door to do so again.
5801 Pulaski Highway, (410) 483-2379, $
Why We Go: Pit beef and pit ham nestled between a gentlemen's club and a 24-hour adult store, duh.
What We Eat: Pit beef (never, ever order “well done,” trust us) and pit ham, which we cover with a dab of each condiment--horseradish, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, mayo, onions, hot sauce, etc.--and sides of tomatoes, green beans, corn, mac 'n' cheese, coleslaw, and whatever else they are making to cut the meat festival on your tray.
What We'd Change: Running into our parents coming out of either the gentlemen's club or the 24-hour adult store across the street, we swear, like every time we get our Chaps on.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201