Haussner's · Martick's · Sabatino's · Da Mimmo · Palmer House · Gunning's Crab House · Bo Brooks · Obrycki's · Ikaros · Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant · Tony Cheng's Szechuan Restaurant · Jerry's Bel
Haussner's (3244 Eastern Ave.,  327-8365) is a Baltimore institution and a civic treasure--a feast for both palette and eyes. Its art collection is epic in scope, as is the menu (with close to 100 items). Always a sure bet is the Kasseler Rippchen (smoked pork--best accompanied, natch, with sauerkraut). We know others who go gaga for the creamy crabmeat-and-Smithfield-ham medley. Whatever you order, it'll be wheeled to your table by an affable waitresses in a crisp white uniform (who has probably been doing this duty since the age of streetcars and nickel cigars). There's just no better way to put on the dog old-school style than to plunge into the genteel, continental world that is Haussner's. Oh, and be sure save room for the array of made-on-the-premises desserts.
Martick's (214 W. Mulberry St.,  752-5155), the city's oldest French restaurant-cum-speakeasy, is a quirky Baltimore landmark; everyone who aspires to truly get Baltimore should begin their education here. The food is outstanding, the service relaxed but attentive, and the atmosphere--that of an elegant, if slightly worn, secret hideaway--simply, irresistibly romantic. It's a secret everyone knows about, but knock on Martick's door for fabulous bouillabaisse and an unforgettable evening.
Sabatino's (901 Fawn St.,  727-9414) is an old-Baltimore institution where you'll find pols who follow the well-worn track from nearby City Hall to this Little Italy eatery to indulge in some serious back-room moving and shaking. This venerable restaurant is just a good old-fashioned spaghetti house that happens to be favored by local (and visiting) celebrities; recommended for the VIP quotient as much as the Bookmaker Salad and spaghetti Bolognese.
Downstairs at Da Mimmo (217 S. High St.,  727-6876), the walls boast black-and-white glossies of famous folks with Chef Dominic Mimmo. The piano player wears dark pinstripes and white shoes. Coifed men and women sit at the bar sipping Manhattans. Upstairs the scene is equally indulgent, if more elegant. Black-jacketed waiters serve delectable $36 cuts of swordfish and huge platters of the freshest antipasti. The food is fantastic, the wine list long, and the prices more palatable after a stop downstairs for a stiff cocktail.
The Palmer House (106 N. Eutaw St.,  752-8969) was long one of Baltimore's Big Occasion restaurants, the kind of old-school-classy place where patrons dined on surf 'n' turf by candlelight. The Palmer House's glory days are gone now, faded like the photographs of obscure celebrities that line its walls. The Italian dishes are a safe bet, but the restaurant is now best appreciated for its nostalgic days-gone-by atmosphere and the fact that you can get a tarot-card reading after dinner.
Nothing screams Baltimore like a paper-covered table and a pitcher of beer. What the barbecue shack is to Memphis and the lobster pound is to Maine, the crab house is to Mobtown. Among the city's numerous old-school exemplars of claw-cracking tradition, Gunning's Crab House (3901 S. Hanover St.,  354-0085) is our favorite--not just for the fat, steaming hard shells but for the fabulous fried green-pepper rings, the mutant eclairs, and the South Bawlmer vibe. With its plastic seats and buckets (for crab leavings) at each table, Northeast's Bo Brooks (5415 Belair Road,  488-8144) has an even more plebian aesthetic; it also has its partisans, who voted it top honors in last year's City Paper Best of Baltimore readers' poll. If you require swankier digs, there's perhaps the city's best-known crab house, Obrycki's (1727 E. Pratt St.,  732-6399; currently closed for the winter but scheduled to reopen March 18), where you can eat crustaceans by candlelight--provided you prefer Obrycki's black-peppery spicing to the more common Old Bay.
Maker of mighty Hellenic fare, Ikaros (4805 Eastern Ave.,  633-3750) carries the old-world standard for East Baltimore's Greektown within its stucco walls, serving up strapping kebabs and casseroles of shrimp or octopus, hunks of bread, and flaming Kasseri cheese for a clientele that's been coming back for years--nay, decades.
Baltimoreans have been visiting Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant (3317 Greenmount Ave.,  366-3333; 44 South St.,  727-6666) for Chinese food for a long time. The Greenmount location has perhaps seen better days--it was a favorite pregame dinner stop when the O's ruled a few blocks away at Memorial Stadium (if you dined there you could leave your car in the restaurant lot and walk to the game). But the graceful Inner Harbor restaurant, situated in an ornate, vaulted building that was once a bank, remains a popular spot. A different sort of old-Baltimore vibe gets a workout at Tony Cheng's Szechuan Restaurant (801 N. Charles St.,  539-6666), where power lunchers still broker deals over kung pao chicken and fried rice in the elegant Mount Vernon dining room.
The menu at Jerry's Belvedere Tavern (5928 York Road,  435-8600) comfortably covers a lot of ground (grilled seafood through pasta), but many regulars at this timeless corner bar-cum-eatery never get beyond the reasonable, reliable rib-eye-steak platter. Meat and potatoes über alles. Oh, and Jerry's zippy, garlicky house salad dressing turns an iceberg-lettuce medley into something that would make a Parisian chef do a cartwheel.
Burke's (36 Light St.,  752-4189) has been guarding its downtown corner since the days when you could catch the night boat to Norfolk, offering hefty, Falstaffian goblets of beer and a trim, inexpensive petite filet mignon (consider it a petit four of grain-fed flesh). Back on the big side, you have Burke's famed Hula Hoopsized onion rings.
Some things never change and we sincerely hope Essex's Middleborough Inn (319 Miles Road,  682-6058) is one of them. The menu's claim to fame is Maryland seafood, but steak and sour beef with dumplings are equally popular with the (mostly) blue-haired clientele. Customers have been coming to this suburban Baltimore icon for decades, enjoying fine dining in a good old-fashioned "Colonial" setting, with dark wood paneling and a genuine fireplace. If George Washington had been born in Baltimore, we're sure he would have dined here.
The Crack Pot (8102 Loch Raven Blvd.,  828-1095) is one of Baltimore's traditional destinations for seafood, and the menu offers a fine kettle of fish even when Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are out of season. Excellent steamed shrimp, meaty crab cakes, and terrific crab soup make this semisuburban North Baltimore restaurant more than worth the drive. But watch out for the cocktail sauce--it packs a mean horseradish-powered kick.
Back in the day, when black beans and burritos were still relatively exotic, the Hacienda (4840 Belair Road,  488-9447) was where Baltimoreans went for Mexican. It still has a bit of that Wonder Years, bring-the-family-feel--a big old place to carbo-load with the kids or schmooze with local power brokers. Like its NorEBo neighbors, the Hacienda isn't fancy but it's generous and friendly, offering heaps of Tex-Mex comfort food and high-test, low-cost margaritas.
For more than half a century Matthew's Pizzaria (3131 Eastern Ave.,  276-8755) has been serving up some of the best pizza pies in the city. They do take-out here, but you'll want to visit the cozy dining room with its checkered tablecloths and friendly atmosphere. There are other things on the menu, but Matthew's is mainly about the traditional (and inconceivably tasty) deep-dish pies. Bring your own beer or wine, sit back, and listen in on the latest Highlandtown gossip or slyly eye the first-date couples (Matthew's gets a lot of that).
Calling all misanthropes: Tyson Place (227 W. Chase St.,  539-4850) is at your service. Actually, that's a harsh way to say that this dated little eatery is never crowded. But we like this overlooked little nook, honestly. It has an aura of understated, timeless coolness about it. The walls echo with 30-year-old laughter (if that makes any sense to you). Go for the good sandwiches and crab soup. And the horseshoe bar is perfect for drowning your sorrows. There are 30-year-old tears here as well.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201