Baltimore has plenty of good breakfast places, but they rarely stray past the traditional eggs and pork products, or perhaps some sauced-up brunch fare. Golden West's Southwestern slant and early-adopter slow-food-iness remain a breath of fresh air on the local fast-breaking scene, even after a decade. Seriously, the Frisbee-sized pancakes alone make it essential. Even better, Golden West's chile-laden, veggie-friendly menu spans all three major meals with salads, sandwiches, and entrées, while the restaurant itself has hung onto its casual-hang vibe, which is a good thing any time of day.
The setting at Helen's Garden is whimsical and romantic. This O'Donnell Square fixture is a maze of quaint, tiny two-tops dotted by refined lamps and bud vases. The menu is tasteful and straightforward, offering items like pecan-crusted trout, but what the dishes lack in imagination they make up for in taste. Sunday brunch at Helen's is always packed, and it still boasts Baltimore's longest happy hour from 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Seating at the sun-lit bar is usually limited, but the atmosphere and food make the wait worth it.
If there's a prevailing accent at Ixia, we've never discerned it. Asian ingredients marry with French technique, and New American meets Old World. The eclectic food and equally eclectic décor don't quite congeal into one particular theme or approach, but the creativity and flavor coming out of the kitchen and the soaring ceilings of the main dining room provide the necessary expansiveness to deal with that.
Remember when Hampden had little more than that pizza place with the gargantuan slices? Those days are long gone, partly because of Rocket to Venus, the retro-chic joint with the delicious Brussels sprouts--yeah, we said Brussels sprouts--and cornmeal-fried oysters. There are plenty of draft beers, a wine list that extends from Australia to Europe to California, a knack for large cocktails, plus a jukebox with artists ranging from G.G. Allin to the Jackson Five.
High ceilings, moody lighting, and dramatic flower arrangements all work to give Sascha's a romantic downtown vibe. Small plates like Baja tacos, shrimp and grits, and the perennial "mental greens" salad hold more interest than larger entrees. Desserts are a meal in themselves.
Dining at Ze Mean Bean can be pricey, but the Eastern European menu is unique, and the cozy interior is inviting. Because of the menu's heavy reliance on former Soviet-bloc staples like potato cakes and goulash, Ze Bean is a good place to go for a filling wintertime meal. The maple pork with honey and horseradish is especially delectable. Not everything's a hit, though; less adventurous palates should perhaps steer clear of the unfamiliar.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201