Outside the City
It's probably impossible to get bad barbecue at a restaurant with a giant pig on the roof, and it's definitely impossible to get anything other than fantastic food at Andy Nelson's. Everything is slow-smoked over hickory wood--no shortcuts like pre-boiling here. Ribs are a must-eat--go dry rub, with Andy Nelson's homemade barbecue sauce on the side--and the pulled-pork sandwich is orgasmic. The smoked catfish (only available on Fridays) is a silky, unctuous delight, and all the homemade sides like collard greens, corn bread, and barbecue beans are fantastic. Wash it all down with some sweet tea.
Though its appearance is cookie-cutter suburban chain feedlot, Bluestone is a dependably above-average destination for very fresh and well-executed seafood. Preparations tend not to be off-the-wall creative, but bits of fusion-ish influence can be found alongside more locally-themed recipes. Fried green tomatoes with lump crab and the Bluestone salad with pecans and really good bacon are excellent apps. For main courses, stick to the fish and shellfish section and you'll be good. Ask to be seated in a booth if possible, it's much nicer in that section.
A venerable spot right on the pit-beef mainline that is US-40. The pit beef is pretty good, and tender if a bit pedestrian, flavor-wise. Roast pork is also good. More often than not, we are not asked for our preferred doneness, so if you prefer medium-rare make sure to say so. The hot open-faced sandwiches with gravy are pretty good, as are the boardwalk-style fries. Skip the much-touted chili, but the baked beans make a good side.
A visit to Catonsville Gourmet is like eating at the beach, but without having to cross the bridge. Family-friendly without being childish, with a cottage-like interior that's clean and bright without being cute, the restaurant serves up mostly seafood entrées and sandwiches (including the Hutzler--shrimp salad on garlic cheese toast). They also sell fresh seafood from the market at the back of the restaurant. A BYOB policy keeps the bill reasonable.
As in New Orleans, the staff at Clarence's treats you like a long-lost friend, and Chef Clarence himself will often appear at your table, dirty-aproned and smiling, to ask how ya like the food. You will. The jambalaya is starchy, with a touch of heat, and the fried catfish strips are crispy and tender. Whether you get the crawfish etouffee or the Chesapeake-influenced blackened catfish with crab topping, Clarence's delivers substantial portions at a Big Easy pace. Relax and linger with an Abita beer, and don't leave without a few beignets.
Costas Inn does old-school Baltimore food and does it well--its crab cakes and pit beef are both exemplary. One look at all the brown paper-covered tables surrounded by folks hammering happily away on supersized steamed crabs, however, reveals that Costas is mainly a destination crab house, eat-in or carry-out. The house-made crab seasoning, heavy on the black pepper, is part of the attraction, along with the management's uncanny ability to always have great quality, big, heavy crustaceans year round.
Goldberg's is all about bagels, of course--the preternaturally golden-yellow egg bagels, the nubby-textured, always-get-stuck-in-your-teeth seeded everything bagels, the when-will-they-ever-be-passé cinnamon-raisins. But to overlook the stuff to put on the bagels (or just as good, the bialys) would be folly. The whitefish salad is food for the soul and the brain; the lox, good for what ails you. Breakfast here is a bustle of come-and-go businessmen, mothers with small children, and retired kaffeeklatschers. But someone is always keeping an eye out, and you'll hear it from staff if you keep your dining companion waiting.
It's just a fact of life that to find Baltimore's best Chinese food one must leave the city. The new-ish Hunan Taste, located next to Asian mega-grocery H-mart, serves up a long list of variety meats (tendon, tripe, tongue, and far beyond) from a variety of species (frog, turtle, ox) not usually found on local menus, all cooked with impeccable authenticity. Don't-miss dishes include tea-tree mushrooms with pork, preserved pork with smoked bamboo shoots, and fish-head stew, though outstanding versions of old-favorite American Chinese dishes are available for the less adventurous eater.
Reasonable prices and generously portioned, authentic Mexican food keep folks coming back to Mari Luna again and again. Don't need a burrito as big as your head? Try crispy tacos de papa stuffed with potatoes and cheese, flaky empanadas, soft enchiladas melting into green chili sauce, or a plate of smoky pollo en mole. Service is as warm as the restaurant's sunshine-colored walls.
Get your plant-based food power on at the Natural Brothers, a compact but charming café located inside the Natural health-food store. Great smoothies and fresh juices (try the green lemonade--made with lemon, apple, celery, and greens--for a delish immune-system boost) are available, along with generously portioned, inner-Buddha-pleasing meals like the house-made lentil burger or grilled avocado and cheese. The brothers--they really are brothers--use organic, locally sourced foods whenever possible to create their extensive menu of earth-friendly, body-boosting vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Spicy food lovers, take note: Vietnamese food was made just for you, and Towson's Pho Dat Thanh makes the French/Asian fusion more accessible to Baltimoreans looking for a spicy fix. The restaurant is comfortable and unassuming, a place to take friends when you feel like sharing entrées, and the food is conservatively spiced and served with a big bottle of Sriracha for a custom-heat meal. Grab the pho, soup with all the fixings on the side (the usual suspects of cilantro, lemongrass, and of course, jalapeno), and plenty of noodles to noisily slurp.
It's a bit off the beaten path (there may be a pun in there) but Pioneer has excellent pit beef--nice char from real charcoal, a well-seasoned crust, and tender, thin, across-the-grain slices. They always ask for doneness (e.g. medium, well), which is appreciated, and even dole out samples when the line gets a few people deep. We like medium rare with a couple of end slices for added burnt flavor. The standard complement of sauces and condiments are present, of course, but the barbecue sauce is above average, as are the fries.
Finding fine dining in a Mays Chapel strip mall is the first of many surprises Sabor brings to the table. Another is the restaurant's cozy interior, filled with dark wood and overstuffed banquettes. But the most welcome surprise is the way chef/owner Roddy Domacassé includes nods to his Puerto Rican heritage on his menu. Salads are garnished with plantain crisps, salt-cod fritters make an appearance as appetizers, and daily specials include pastelón and asopao de camarones. And there aren't too many places in the city or the 'burbs where you can get calves' liver and lobster pot pie.
A surprisingly delightful sit-down place nestled in a residential neighborhood (about a mile south of Route 40), Sapore di Mare features Italian-style seafood and traditional Italian-American style (read--familiar and soft-cooked) entrées that are delicious, filling, and cheap. Faves include the penne primavera, with broccoli, tomatoes, and mushrooms in a thick cream sauce, veal marsala, and the traditional (and redundant) shrimp scampi. The salads, sandwiches and pizzas are all good, too, and the place features a full compliment of beers, wines, sodas, and coffees (espresso and cappuccino included).
At Catonsville's Spicy Garden, fluorescent lights glare brightly, Bollywood films play loudly on the television, and little English is spoken. But the dosas--crisp outside, potato-and-onion filled inside--easily stretch across two Styrofoam plates. So do uthappam studded with tomatoes and seasoned with mint and chiles. The restaurant offers what they call "Indo Chinese (Fusion)" dishes, but stick to Southern Indian specialties like biryani or chole batura (spicy chickpea curry), and you won't go wrong.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201