The Noon Whistle
Women's Industrial Exchange · Thairish · Silk Road Café · Suzie's Soba · Faidley's Seafood · Caribbean Kitchen · Minato Japanese Restaurant · The Bridge · Silk Road · Troia Bistro at the Walters · Caf
May it be hereby declared that one has never truly lunched in Baltimore until one has had luncheon at the Woman's Industrial Exchange (333 N. Charles St.,  685-4388). A relic of that genteel age when a lady simply never appeared in public without gloves and a hat, the Exchange is a sweet step back to a time of tomato aspic and cucumber sandwiches (without the crust). The Exchange--whose continued existence was threatened last year, when it closed briefly due to money problems--was founded in 1882 as a place where women could make money selling their needlework and baked goods. It remains a charming and important vestige of Charm City's more civilized days gone by.
Everyone seems to be a regular at cubbyhole-sized Thairish (804 N. Charles St.,  752-5857). Though the menu is limited (befitting the joint's postage-stamp size) there's much good eatin' here. The medium spicy masaman curry dishes (tofu, chicken, or shrimp) are always a safe bet. The hearty pad Thai will get you through the longest afternoons. Look, too, for the daily specials, like blackened catfish (Bangkok meets the bayou) or the tangy pan-fried flounder.
Noodles may be perfect food: healthy, versatile, and cheap. The noodles at the Silk Road Café (3215 N. Charles St.,  889-1319) are all those things--and also delicious. This scrubbed little nook, tucked discretely under Charles Village's Blackstone Apartments, serves cold noodles (topped with fresh vegetables and a variety of sauces) and hot noodles (stir fried or in soups, incorporating everything from Chinese sausage to shrimp). Sandwiches, salads, and vegetarian rice dishes round out the offerings of this homey Hopkins hangout.
Speaking of noodles, nothing warms up a cold, rainy day like a brimming bowl of noodle soup. And since Suzie's Soba (1023 N. Charles St.,  244-0055) serves its from the bowels of the Belvedere, the rain will be that much more out of mind. If you associate ramen with the five-for-a-dollar packs of Oodles of Noodles you lived on at college, get to know the real thing. The homemade noodles topped with fresh vegetables are good, and the spinach and mushroom miso medley is also a warmer. Daily specials include fresh-made won ton soup and various sukiyaki combos (chicken or shrimp straddling a mountain of spicy noodles).
Faidley's Seafood (Lexington Market,  727-4898) offers great seafood and endless lunchtime entertainment, courtesy of the fascinating and colorful bustle of the city's largest municipal market. If a rich, juicy, bursting-with-backfin crab cake isn't what you're after, Faidley's offers fresh-cooked seasonal seafood. Pick out your fish, shrimp, oysters, etc., and they'll broil, fry, or steam it up for you to eat right there or take home (but we challenge you to resist devouring it on the spot).
Walking into the place, one would assume the Caribbean Kitchen (218 N. Liberty St.,  837-2274) is just an everyday lunch counter. That's partially true. The Kitchen does offer steak subs, burgers, and fries. But the reggae music wafting throughout the air and the lilting accents of the waitpersons are a clue that something more is going on. And it is--here you'll find authentic, delicious Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken, curried goat, and steamed fish at incredible prices.
Hidden away in its subterranean midtown location, Minato Japanese Restaurant (800 N. Charles St.,  332-0332) gives the feeling of an exotic retreat from the ordinary daytime world. In this tranquil restaurant, the midday repast suddenly seems an oasis; lunch is more than lunch when it's served in a gem-like lacquered tray, each compartment filled with different delicious tidbits such as Minato's oh-so-light tempura, tangy teriyaki, or incomparable sushi.
Come to the Bridge (353 N. Calvert St.,  727-8858) for comfort food: meat loaf and mashed potatoes, hamburgers and milk shakes--in short, all that makes living (and eating) worthwhile. The food is always simple and good, the servers always friendly amid the constant lunchtime rush. The Bridge is a true Baltimore gem that shines just like the city at its blue-collar finest: a little old-fashioned, cozy, and--though perhaps a bit shabby about the edges--wearing a wide welcoming smile.
For years Baltimore was a town that only went Afghan after dark, at the dinner-only Helmand. Now downtownies can get a midday fix at Silk Road (336 N. Charles St.,  385-9013), which spins a heavenly puréed-pumpkin soup and does some very nice things with saffron rice as well.
To fully revel in Troia Bistro at the Walters (600 N. Charles St.,  752-2887) requires a weekend afternoon, or at least a good piece of it, in the elegant indoor courtyard. Linger over several courses of Troia's equally elegant Italian light fare--soup or salad, antipasti, and pan bagnia make for a nice little feast--and avail yourself of multiple rounds of rich, fresh-brewed coffee.
Café Pangea (4007 Falls Road,  662-0500) brings the world to you via in-house computers, but the best part of a visit to this Hampden eatery is when the waitperson brings you one of the café's "sandwiches Toscana"--tasty concoctions of meat, vegetables, and fresh herbs (we suggest the artichoke and tuna with black-olive pesto, or the bursting grilled veggie with smoked Gouda) served on one of its wonderful breads, which range from browned baguettes to chewy panini.
Nestled next to a parking lot within sight of an overpass, the moviecentric (lots of movie posters and film-themed menu copy) Hollywood Diner (400 E. Saratoga St.,  962-5379) doesn't have the most sylvan location, but it offers satisfactory lunch-counter fare (and lunch counter the place is--it closes at 2:30 p.m. ) for downtownies and workers in nearby City Hall. It also puts you one degree closer to Kevin Bacon (it was the Diner diner). Best of all, you're eating for a good cause--profits benefit the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development.
When it comes to fueling up for a hard afternoon's work, Little Italy stalwart Iggy's Sandwich King (410 S. High St.,  685-6727) gets the job done. Iggy's is no aesthetic standout. It's compact, clean, and functional, from its Formica counter to the tiny tables in its small dining area. But what matters is the food--tasty homemade soups; subs and sandwiches (including Iggy's famous clubs); black-bottom muffins and lemon-meringue pie. . . . Is it noon yet?
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201