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Eat Feature

Special Issue Eat Guide

A Tour of Some of the Homiest--and Best--Baltimore Restaurants

Frank Klein
City Café
Christopher Myers
Apicella's Osteria
Christopher Myers
Suburban House
Frank Klien
Fazzini's Italian Kitchen
Christopher Myers
The Prime Rib
Christopher Myers
Martick's Restaurant Français
Christopher Myers
Yabba Pot
Frank Klien
Zorba's
Frank Klien
Dizzy Issie's
Christopher Myers
Alonso's
Frank Klien
Christopher Myers
Chinatown Café
Christopher Myers
Nam Kang
Christopher Myers
Bonaparte Breads
Christopher Myers
Andy Nelson's Pit Barbeque

Eat Special Issue 2004

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Chicken Box Blues When You Leave Baltimore, You Find Yourself Missing the Little Wings | By Vincent Williams

Homely but Homey When it Comes to Authentic Bread Pudding, the Proof is in the Well, You Know | By Michelle Gienow

The 7 Percent Solution In Post-Boh Baltimore, Resurrection Ale Rises to the Occasion | By Richard Gorelick

Special Issue Eat Guide A Tour of Some of the Homiest--and Best--Baltimore Restaurants

Eat 2004

Posted 2/25/2004

CENTER CITY

Abacrombie Fine Foods
58 W. Biddle St.,
(410) 244-7227

The symphony crowd has been warmly applauding chef Sonny Sweetman's ambitious and rigorously wrought seasonally changing menus. There's no condescension to finicky, babyish eaters--the choices are limited, but adventurous diners will be satisfied and sometimes dazzled by, say, a "melted pumpkin" stuffed with roasted blue crab. The below-ground dining rooms remain as romantic as ever.

Akbar
823 N. Charles St,
(410) 539-0944

Mount Vernon's first Indian restaurant has remained steadily popular, not to mention affordable, for 17-some years. Paneers, palaus, masalas, and tandoor specials please with their simple richness, and the candlelit, brick-walled cellar dining room has welcomed countless grad students in love. Good vegetarian options, and a daily lunch buffet, of course.

Babalu Grill
32 Market Place,
Power Plant Live!,
(410) 234-9898

We saved our favorite overused adjective just for restaurateur Steve de Castro's instantly successful Cuban restaurant: It's exuberant. Classics like arroz con pollo and ropa vieja are treated respectfully while other dishes--carne asada and ceviche--benefit from fresh twists. Our reviewer flipped for the "sublime" red snapper.

The Brass Elephant
924 N. Charles St.,
(410) 547-8485

Mount Vernon's prototypical elegant townhouse restaurant, arguably the setting over the years for more marriage proposals than any other restaurant in town. The small menu (e.g., veal scaloppine, Nantucket scallops, roasted garlic chicken) is as carefully crafted and attractively maintained as the surroundings.

The Brewer's Art
1106 N. Charles St.,
(410) 547-6925

It bears frequent repeating that the rosemary-garlic fries and dangerously good house brews are only part of the story at this ever-popular Mount Vernon hotspot. Chef Ravi Narayanan has turned the kitchen into a top-performing, risk-taking atelier, and the opulent upstairs dining rooms feel a universe away from the hilarity in the downstairs bar.

Caribbean Kitchen
353 N. Calvert St.,
(410) 837-2274

Succulent jerk chicken is among the best in town, and curried goat, steamed fish, and brown stew chicken are all hugely satisfying, especially with plantains or a buttery cabbage mixture. Gigantic portions and bargain prices. Try showing up during off-peak hours; loyal crowds can leisure up the pace.

Carolyn's Café
213 Penn St.,
(410) 752-3896

Host/cooks Queen Nzinga and Ras Doobie take care of you at their funky and tiny downtown Jamaican oasis, where good reggae heightens the good vibes. Subtly spiced jerk chicken is just scorching enough, and the veggie burger might be the best in town. Finish up with dreamy lemon-lime coconut pie. Calling ahead is al

Center City
8 E. Preston St.,
(410) 986-0331

A work-in-progress worth watching. The kitchen here can soar: A pistachio-encrusted rack of lamb is stellar, as is a poblano-encrusted chicken breast. If you had a magic wand, though, you'd do something about the general ambiance, which was a bit stiff when we last visited. The cool-cat downstairs bar has caught on and may buoy up the dining potential.

Chinatown Café
323 Park Ave.,
(410) 727-5599

This storefront restaurant, located in the downmarket heart of what was once Baltimore's Chinatown, doesn't look like much, but those bubbling tanks full of future seafood entrées in the entranceway are an excellent sign. The food follows up on that promise, offering excellent takes on the standards, plus ever-available dim sum and unique, porky Hong Kong-style preparations. Most likely the best in town.

City Café
1001 Cathedral St.,
(410) 539-4252

Hats off for 10 years-plus of giving the folks of Mount Vernon (and everyone else) a clean, well-lit space to hang out, write dissertations, and meet friends. Half the joint remains counter service, the other, more upscale side gets frisky table service. Borderline pricey daily specials augment the regular menu of accessible light fare. Everyone goes here for weekend brunch.

Cyrpiana Café
120 E. Baltimore St.,
(410) 837-7482

Lunch has been nearly perfected at this downtown Greek favorite, and when warm weather comes, the outdoor tables fill up with people clad in their Jos. A. Bank finest. The falafel pita has few competitors anywhere in the city, unfortunately, and the spinach pie and lamb gyro are similarly exemplary.

Donna's Coffee Bar
800 N. Charles St.,
(410) 385-0180;
3101 St. Paul St.,
(410) 889-3410;
and other locations

The signature roasted vegetables, on sandwiches and in salads, are always worth rediscovering; the pan bagna remains one of the city's finest Italian sandwiches (credit good ingredients); and the tiramisu is ever splendid. The original Mount Vernon location lacks the kitchen space of the Charles Village location, where patrons enjoy a somewhat fuller menu and more varied specials.

Dougherty's
223 W. Chase St.,
(410) 752-4059

A (truly) diverse crowd of slackers, hipsters, and other assorted-ers share space in this Mount Vernon treasure. The menu--and the prices--have changed little over the years--still the same way-cheap hamburgers, turkey burgers, and black-bean burgers. The meltingly good turkey Reuben is unreasonably delicious, and the daily changing soups are always worth a go. Bartenders are first class.

Downtown Southern Blues
889 N. Howard St.,
(410) 728-4889

Baltimore needs its own version of Sylvia's, the world-famous Harlem soul-food restaurant. Cafeterias and takeouts are fine, but a good and fancy sit-down would be just the thing. With time and support, this place could contend. Set on Antique Row, this pretty bluesy place already has an inviting menu of Southern and Cajun classics--consistency awaits.

Five Seasons
830 Guilford Ave.,
(410) 625-9787

For extra spice in your Ethiopian fare, ask the chef to boost the heat in his flavorful lentil dishes and meat stews. Veggie �dishes can be bland, but gomen--collards, onions, and garlic--is divine. Top off with cardamom-accented tea. Lunch buffet daily and $6.95 all-you-can-eat seafood on Friday nights.

George's on Mount Vernon
612 Cathedral St., Clarion Peaody Court Hotel,
(410) 727-7101

This perennially pretty but historically capsizing street-level restaurant has apparently finally been made seaworthy by the current crew. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a fancy hotel atmosphere, with a casual menu. Call for weekly specials, and keep in mind when visiting nearby museums.

The Helmand
806 N. Charles St.,
(410) 752-0311

In flavor, price, and mood, dining approaches perfection. The elegant Afghan food reflects India's influence, with a minor-key hint of the Middle East. Meat dishes and vegetarian ones are both superb; some items, such as silky, leek-filled aushak, can come either way. Try the pumpkin.

Ixia
518 N. Charles St.,
(410) 727-1800

A luxe, cool blue, and assertively upscale restaurant/club with an appreciative following. Panko-crusted crab cakes and carpaccio of octopus suggest the ambitions of the menu's Mediterranean fusion cuisine. Linger after dinner in the cocktail lounge--at the 40-foot black-granite bar or in a comfy chair.

Kawasaki
413 N. Charles St.,
(410) 659-7600;
907 S. Ann St.,
(410) 327-9400

The city's oldest continuously operated sushi restaurant continues to supply some of the best presented sashimi and nigiri in town. Bonuses include featherweight tempura, serene ambiance, and a thoughtful sake collection. Outside dining at the Fells Point location.

Lucille's
26 Market Place,
Power Plant Live!,
(410) 539-5353

Perfectly agreeable approximations of New Orleans cuisine. The portions are plentiful, the fare affordable, the outdoor plaza provides good people watching, and buttery, creamy Creole entrées are worth wearing expandable-waistline pants for. Bread pudding served with Grand Marnier ice cream is terrific.

Martick's Restaurant Francais
214 W. Mulberry St.,
(410) 752-5155

Marvelous Martick's is the same as it ever was, from the preserved-in-amber ambiance (that snakeskin wallpaper!) to the fantastic food--the city's best p’té appetizer--and reasonable prices. Go soon, though: Morris Martick's not going to be simmering that extraordinary bouillabaisse forever.

Mick O'Shea's
328 N. Charles St.,
(410) 539-7504

The succulent ribs, crispy fish and chips, meaty shepherd's pie, and beefy hamburgers get their own weekly markdown specials at this accommodating bar, but anytime's a good time for traditional Irish fare like a ploughman's platter. Live Irish music (open mic on Wednesday), and darts in the backroom.

Midtown Yacht Club
15 E. Centre St.,
(410) 837-1300

A (truly) diverse crowd frequents this living testament to good management. More than decent Tex-Mex accented pub fare, peanut shells on the floor, sports on the TV, good times always. The Sunday brunch buffet is a carnivore's picnic--picture piles of bacon and bursting country sausage.

Minato and Café Viet
800 N. Charles St,
(410) 332-0332

The menu of this cool, cellar-level Mount Vernon restaurant lists separate offerings of Japanese (including sushi) and Vietnamese food. The nigiri is small, but long sushi rolls are plump. Teriyaki is tasty; tempura is fair, but comes in big portions. Noodle soups are the best bets, and lunchtime bento boxes and sushi combos beckon.

Mondo Bondo
30 Market Place,
Power Plant Live!,
(410) 244-8080

Refreshingly unassuming (despite the bombastic name) amid the hubbub of Power Plant Live! Worth visiting on Thursday, pasta night, for linguine topped with two perfectly grilled and alarmingly large fennel-flavored sausage or the peppery chicken fra diavlo. The Phat Ass Pork Chop is mighty, as in good, tender, and big.

Mughal Garden
920 N. Charles St.,
(410) 547-0001

Stellar appetizers and breads accompany textbook chicken, lamb, and vegetable dishes--the lamb kebabs are particularly and ineffably tender. The daily $6.95 lunch buffet offers sauces of diverse hue, nuance, and spice level. It's tempting to fill up on luscious palak paneer, but try everything. The big dining room is not without décor weirdness.

The Owl Bar
1 E. Chase St.,
Belvedere Hotel,
(410) 347-0888

This handsome, storied bar has settled back into a comfortable groove. It's chief assets include attentive service, elbow room, and the legendary space, a treasure tucked inside the magnificent Belvedere Hotel. The wood-burning brick oven and raw bar supply food until bar closing.

The Prime Rib
1101 N. Calvert St.,
(410) 539-1804

Never ever a misstep, awkward moment, or the appearance on your table's horizon of anything less than perfect. The atmosphere can feel brassy, even gaudy, at first glance, but patrons inevitably sink into the plush. Steak, of course, either the eponymous cut or buttery soft filet mignon. Unwind with a perfectly made martini. Expensive, dress code.

Purple Orchid
729 E. Pratt St.,
Scarlett Place,
(410) 837-0080

A former recipient of City Paper's Best of Baltimore nod for "Best Restaurant You Think Was Closed." It's still not closed, and Russell Wong is still producing his elegant and passionate French-Asian fusion. Extensive sushi/sashimi selections.

Red Maple
930 N. Charles St.,
(410) 547-0149

The high-design minimalist décor is a visual foretaste of its tapas menu--spare, beautifully arranged, studiedly hip, and enormously intriguing. Exotic cocktails and DJs spinning music are given equal emphasis in the soigné Red Maple universe. Tuna tartare and panko-breaded crispy tofu are runway perfect.

Saffron
802 N. Charles St.,
(410) 528-1616

A bracingly stylish Indian restaurant, filled with ambition and even challenge. Some examples: a confit of foie gras, brown lentils, and cardamom; a cassoulet of veal-tempered lentils and provenÁal herbs; and a sandalwood-smoked quail with saffron-flavored couscous. You'll have ample time to enjoy the prettily renovated space--the courses come slowly.

Sascha's 527
527 N. Charles St.,
(410) 539-8880

The colors are bold, as are the flavors--especially sauces, which run to the likes of soy-wasabi ginger and jalapeÒo minted onion salsa. Build a meal with small plates, including tempura mushrooms, chicken tenders, or potato pancakes and caviar. Great for dates. The daytime setup, when customers order ý la carte from the counter, contents all of Mount Vernon.

Spike and Charlie's
1225 Cathedral St.,
(410) 752-8144

A sleek and stylish restaurant/wine bar a stone's throw from the major performing arts venues. Seasonal menu invariably includes expert applications of succulent duck. Thin-crust pizzas are topped with prime ingredients like applewood-smoked bacon, Great Hill blue cheese, and Ostrowski's sausage. Avoid the pre-concert crowds if you can.

Tapas Teatro
1711 N. Charles St.,
(410) 332-0110

Swarms of moviegoers from the Charles are the only trouble with this small-plate eatery from the Helmand's Qayum Karzai. The sauces grab your attention, from cool cilantro sour cream (with crusty roasted potatoes) to fiery pepperoncini vinaigrette (with grilled calamari). The specials typically speak with more verve. Gorgeous.

Thai Landing
1207 N. Charles St.,
(410) 727-1234

Spicy or mild, meaty or meatless, there are plenty of choices. Don't neglect appetizers such as rice cakes with minced shrimp and chicken in peanut-coconut-cream sauce, or crispy fried catfish meat with onions, peanut, and ginger. There are nicer dining rooms you'd rather spend time in, though.

Viccino Bistro
1315 N. Charles St.,
(410) 576-0266

Reliable pre-concert spot delivers on promise of creative French and Italian fusion cuisine: crab carbonara, pumpkin ravioli, and an Asian risotto with pan-seared duck, scallops, onions, artichoke hearts, and corn and Thai-peanut sauce suggest the effort here.

Women's Industrial Exchange
333 N. Charles St.,
(410) 685-4388

A Baltimore staple that survived a remodel with its soul and its old-school menu more or less intact. Breakfast and lunch and (only slightly dinged) atmosphere served here. The chicken salad with tomato aspic--just like your grandmother used to eat--is the signature dish. And be sure to mind your manners.

Zodiac
1724-1726 N. Charles St.,
(410) 727-8815

Vegan and vegetarian dishes dot the planet-orbiting menu. There's a thread of Greek inspiration, and various other dishes have roots in Greek and Mexican cuisine. Duck is always a good way to go. The décor is diner chic, and everybody's favorite hipster bar, the venerable Club Charles, is right next door.

SOUTH

Afghan Kabob
37 S. Charles St.,
(410) 727-5511

The silky smooth Afghan dishes you've come to love uptown at the Helmand--aushak, mantwo, boulawani--are yours for the ordering at this modest and very sunny downtown eat-in/carryout joint. Kebabs skewer expertly grilled meat, and the beloved kaddo (pan-fried baked baby pumpkin) is done justice. But go on weekends to avoid the business crowds.

Asahi Sushi
629 S. Broadway,
(410) 534-4255

Freshness rules. The enormous Love Boat, sushi and sashimi for two, demonstrates the quality of the ingredients and the artistry of the chef. There's also tempura, teriyakis, and tonkatsu.

Bandaloops
1024 S. Charles St.,
(410) 727-1355

How long has the skylit Bandaloops been delighting Federal Hillers? Since the days when patrons would have actually appreciated the eponymous allusion to the works of Tom Robbins; before the time when "eclectic" and "Californian" came to describe the menu of every other restaurant. Since 1987, for true. The bar endures as a watering hole for neighborhood homesteaders.

Banjara
1017-1019 S. Charles St.,
(410) 752-1895

Well-regarded and highly respected, with a "can't order wrong" reputation, the intimate and attractive Banjara helped usher in Federal Hill's current era of ethnic-food saturation. Frequent shout-outs are heard from heat-seekers for Banjara's bold use of peppers in the spicier preparations. The daily lunch buffet is inexplicably undervisited.

The Bicycle
1444 Light St.,
(410) 234-1900

The only peeps of dissent among the choruses of praise for the Bicycle had to do with cramped, noisy quarters, and a recent expansion has silenced even those. The combination of healthy good looks and ambition backed by talent are as rare in restaurants as they are in people. If Michelle Pfeiffer were a restaurant . . . The menu continuously evolves, but perennial triumphs like the vegetarian Thai Nirvana and the soy blackened sea scallops endure.

Blue Agave
1032 Light St.,
(410) 576-3938

Snub the tacos for high-end seasonal dishes, made with the likes of corn smut or julienne cactus. The kitchen can overreach, but buttermilk corn cakes with chipotle-seared shrimp are always good, and ditto the smoky, porky carnitas Uruapan.

Corks
1026 S. Charles St.,
(410) 752-3810

Impeccable service and an avowed mission to make wine accessible and enjoyable flatter the dramatic and savory cuisine turned out by chef Jerry Pellegrino. Porcini-dusted free-range chicken and a stuffed oyster appetizer were recent standouts on a seasonally changing menu. The intimate and somewhat stagy setting feel better suited for foodies-in-love than large, informal parties.

DuClaw Brewing Co.
16 A Bel Air South Parkway, Bel Air,
(410) 515-3222;
7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Arundel Mills, Hanover
(410) 799-1166

Staple beers with names like Misfit Red (an amber ale) and Venom (an American-style pale ale) are the come-on for this local success story, but the hearty pub grub (ribs, pot roast, beer-battered onion rings) is a cut above the norm. The Arundel Mills location is easily recommended for pre- or post-movie dining.

Hampton's
550 Light St.,
Harbor Court Hotel,
(410) 347-9744

Those in search of fine dining find the dining fine here. Lavishly praised for its plush atmosphere, professional service, and expertly handled serious cuisine--sweetbreads, Dover sole, Long Island duckling. Required: Jacket and tie, indoor voices, and deep pockets.

Joy America Café
800 Key Highway, American Visionary Art Museum,
(410) 244-6500

The tableside guacamole is reason enough to visit; the museum-quality setting and fabulous views from the patio are another. The menu borrows influences from Cuba, the American Southwest, and Central and South America, with superb results in the Tijuana Caesar salad, pepita-crusted salad, and trendily topped chalupas.

L.P. Steamers
1100 Fort Ave.,
(410) 576-9294

Family-owned, friendly, and informal crab house in Locust Point. (L.P., get it?) A rooftop deck affords one of the city's best approximations of an honest-to-goodness Baltimore crab feast. For added atmospheric effect, there's even a Little League ball field across the street. Other seafood comes steamed and fried.

Little Havana
1325A Key Highway,
(410) 837-9903

Cuban food in a perfecto warehouse setting. Summertime finds fierce competition for the waterside patio, and all year long friends carve out entire Sundays for the delirious $11.95 brunch, which includes unlimited house mimosas and Bloody Marys. Note: Fare from the regular menu has recently made major strides.

Matsuri
1105 S. Charles St.,
(410) 752-8561

This tiny restaurant just steps from Federal Hill's Cross Street Market certainly gets the scale of an urban Japanese eatery right. They do well on the kitchen side, too. Order a soba noodle dish or some nabeyaki udon and you won't go wrong. The sushi bar is long, immaculate, and well-stocked: surf clams, quail eggs, two kinds of eel.

Mother's Federal Hill Grille
1113 S. Charles St.,
(410) 244-8686

This fun-loving eatery makes a go of being all things to all people. Get first-rate bar standards, or go to the tin-ceilinged dining room for Bubba Gump shrimp salad, filler-free crab cakes, and soy-glazed tuna. Sunday brunch is filled with Federal Hill tots, who probably prefer the dreamy ice cream to the crab and shrimp omelets. They'll learn. Nightly specials, and the Purple Patio.

No Way Jose Café
38 E. Cross St.,
(410) 752-2837

This lively Federal Hill cantina remains merrily unfazed by growing awareness of "authentic" Mexican cuisine. Arriving with the first wave of Mexican restaurants in Baltimore, the alleyside restaurant still whips up those heaping plates of enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and (their best effort) super tacos. Menu mentionable: "hot hot hot habanero-style" chicken wings.

Porter's Pub
1030 Riverside Ave.,
(410) 539-1999

Federal Hill residents are lucky to have such a dark and cozy corner bar. On a recent visit, though, entrées and sandwiches were spotty, though the fries were terrific. Find one or two more decent menu items, and you've got yourself a hangout.

Regi's American Bistro
1002 Light St.,
(410) 539-7344

Twenty years and counting--this Federal Hill favorite is back in good hands after a wobbly interregnum. House specials calamari, potato-encrusted Atlantic salmon, and Black Angus beef are enjoyed in twin 1860 townhouses, with lovely but nonworking fireplaces. Outdoor dining in clement weather. Sunday brunch buzzes.

El Salto
5513 Gov. Ritchie Highway, Brooklyn Park,
(410) 789-1621;
8816 Waltham Woods Road, Parkville,
(410) 668-3980

Miles of combo plates, lardacious frijoles refritos, and a wide selection of Mexico's finest beers. Something for every palate, from the frightened-of-spice to the jaded Tex-Mex junkie to the hardcore vegetarian. If you want heat, tell them so.

SoBo Café
6 W. Cross St.,
(410) 752 -1518

The menu changes constantly, depending on available ingredients and the chef's whims, and the inventions are mostly good ones. Prices are low, and soups never disappoint. Among regular dishes are the chicken pot pie and a deluxe take on mac 'n' cheese, the latter a must-have.

Soigné
554 E. Fort Ave.,
(410) 659-9898

The setting is relaxed yet polished, and chef Edward Kim's Asian fusion is so good it's painful to make choices. Foie gras and scallops with caramelized mango? Macadamia-encrusted marlin steak? Not the wasabi crab cakes, though. End on astonishing, purifying lemon-grass parfait, with pineapple salsa and rose peppercorns.

Ten-o-Six
1006 Light St.,
(410) 528-2146

Chef Tom Chungkasoon creates breathtakingly beautiful French-influenced Thai cuisine in a comfortable Federal Hill townhouse setting. Colors, flavors, and shapes relate in ways that demand attention--shrimp tom yum sets a shrimp pyramid in a spicy clear broth; perched on top is a soup spoon made of pastry dough. Not cheap, but memorable.

Vespa
1117-21 S. Charles St.,
(410) 385-0355

Vespa's pasta and pizza are made with a light touch, and appetizers are ambitious. Don't miss arugula salad with tender grilled octopus, fried polenta, or the varied antipasti, including smoky prosciutto and walnut-sized capers. Vegetarians and meat eaters both have plenty to choose from. The stark atmosphere and self-satisfied service leave some diners cold--wearing black helps.

X Café
48 E. Cross St.,
(410) 637-3622

Chef/owner Mulugeta Gima doles out savory Ethiopian wats, or stews, both vegetarian and meat-based, as well as an assortment of more standard fare (from smoothies to full-on American breakfast) in a café setting. Friendly and affordable.

EAST

Acropolis
4718 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 675-3384

There's hearty and wholesome fare for Olympian appetites at this casual and cavernous Greektown mainstay. Lamb, seafood, and crab cakes are the house specialties, and all of the ancient favorites are on tap--moussaka, spanakopita, dolmades, and pastitsio.

Aldo's
306 S. High St.,
(410) 727-0700

Evident pride and enthusiasm permeate chef Aldo Vitale's Little Italy marvel. The stunningly pretty dining rooms, largely hand wrought by Vitale, make eating the spirited southern-influenced Italian regional cuisine that much better. The tournedos Rossini--filet mignon with Hudson Valley foie gras and black truffle porcini--is worth saving up for.

Amicci's
231 S. High St.,
(410) 528-1096

A recent expansion has produced additional second-floor dining rooms at this casual and youthful alternative to the more formal and family-oriented Little Italy restaurants. The signature dish is the mouth-watering pane rotundo--a hollowed-out bread loaf stuffed with good and garlicky jumbo shrimp scampi.

Apicella's Osteria
221 S. High St.,
(410) 547-7131

This corner shop, unknown to many nighttime visitors to Little Italy, purveys cured meats, praiseworthy homemade mozzarella, and homemade Italian sausages. Neighbors and Harbor East workers head there for the brick-oven pizzas and meat-and-cheese-stuffed sandwiches. Al's Hoagie has earned a loyal following. The staff's everyday niceness is icing on the cake--or anchovies on the pizza.

Attman's Authentic New York Delicatessen
1019 E. Lombard St.,
(410) 563-2666

The city's oldest surviving deli and still family-owned, it's an institution, and a worthy one. It's an experience, too, and placing your order with the multitasking counter staff is part of the ride. There's a fatty (in the most complimentary sense of that word) and juicy pastrami sandwich with your name on it. Go claim it.

Bertha's Dining Room
734 S. Broadway,
(410) 327-5795

For tourists, it's a reliable place to dine in Fells Point and the only place to get one of those eat bertha's mussels bumper stickers. For locals, it's a cozy, homey restaurant and bar, and the only place to get Bertha's mussels, which are still worth a trip.

Birches
641 S. Montford Ave.,
(410) 732-3000

Contemporary American cuisine in a neighborly setting. Ridiculously undervalued, too. Execution of the innovative menu (pheasant confit and pancetta, crackling Caesar salad, shredded sweet potato-encrusted salmon) is elevated by a seasoned hardwood grill. An affordable pizza and burger menu (with such thoughtful available toppings as GruyËre and backfin crab) makes resistance futile.

The Black Olive
814 S. Bond St.,
(410) 276-7141

Fresh, fresh fish reigns at this seductive and charming Fells Point powerhouse. Diners are offered preview tours of the daily catch by the well-informed waitstaff, and selections are grilled and then filleted at the tables. Not to be overlooked are the spiffed-up versions of traditional Greek fare, all of which benefit from the use of good, frequently organic ingredients.

Blue Moon Café
1621 Aliceanna St.,
(410) 522-3940

The seven-day-a-week gourmet brunch-style breakfast, served on lacy tablecloths, fills a culinary gap in the city. Cinnamon rolls are a must; even the hash browns surprise. Lunch (especially the veggie sandwich and the roast beef) and desserts excel as well. You might end up waiting awhile for a table on weekends.

Boccaccio
925 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 234-1322

Northern Italian in an unapologetically tony setting. Bigwigs, plutocrats, athletes, and local TV personalities appreciate the discreet service, and everyone with enough scratch can admire the freshness of the ingredients composing such house specialties as zuppetta mista, carpaccio, and homemade pastas.

Bonaparte Breads
923 S. Ann St.,
(410) 342-4000

Remember bread--you know, the staff of life? Bonaparte's is a panophobes nightmare. The breads are perfection. The bakery's gay Fells Point outpost sells a prix fixe breakfast and lunch, featuring traditional French sandwiches and rich, eggy quiches. In mild weather, an esplanade provides some of the town's most serene al fresco dining. Bring that novel you've been working on.

Geckos
2318 Fleet St.,
(410) 732-1961

Innovative Tex-Mex cuisine in a convivial neighborhood joint. Few pretenses are made toward authenticity, leaving diners free to enjoy mostly savory items like mango, chipotle, and passion fruit margaritas, and a dreamy mushroom enchilada good enough to renew your vegetarian vows.

Hamilton's
888 S. Broadway, Admiral Fell Inn,
(410) 522-7377

Gracious dining in a historic inn. Consistent performance and innovative New American cuisine sensibly exploit the enviably advantageous location, the corner of Thames Street and Broadway in Fells Point. The Sunday Champagne brunch is justifiably popular.

Café di Roma
413 S. High St.,
(410) 685-1151

The informal downstairs café has long been an affordable Little Italy lunch destination for its savory sandwiches and panini, but there's been a recent freshening up of the dinner menu, served in more sedate surroundings upstairs. Homemade gelato--raspberry, mango, peach--beckons passersby, and the counter folks are super sweet.

Café Madrid
505 S. Broadway,
(410) 276-7700

Reliable Spanish cuisine, presented by the garrulous Chef Pepe. An appetizer of shrimp and garlic sauce (it rivals the version at Tio Pepe) and an abundant seafood paella are tops, but best of all might be the palmito, a crunchy cold salad with hearts of palm, tossed in a pimento dressing.

Chameleon Café
4341 Harford Road,
(410) 254-2376

One of the best arrivals in recent years, helmed by a brash and savvy young partnership. Ambitious, reasonably priced eats start with a charcuterie plate or oysters en brochette, either one a mini meal. Press on to balsamic-glazed pork chop, grilled salmon on lentils, or free-range chicken. Marvel at the transformative power of the gravy.

Charleston
1000 Lancaster St.,
(410) 332-7373

Cindy Wolf's sophisticated and idiosyncratic take on Low Country cuisine, serviced by classic French training, has helped make her one of the city's few household-name chefs. (Ceaseless WYPR underwriting helps, too.) People who've had the she-crab soup never forget it, and all smart diners save room for the city's best cheese course. Minor caveat: smaller spenders can feel overlooked by upselling waitstaff.

Claddagh Pub
2918 O'Donnell St.,
(410) 522-4220

If Claddagh's owners are sentimentally Gaelic about the bar, they're less so about the menu, which is free of cabbage and lamb stew but delivers terrific crab cakes and steaks. The kitchen is capable of some clunkers, but who could ever hold a grudge when everyone's this nice?

Coburn's Tavern and Grill
2921 O'Donnell St.,
(410) 342-0999

Attention to detail and a manifest concern for pleasing make what looks like a million other neighborhood taverns a real find. Someone bothers to regulate the music and lighting, and to dress the tables attractively. The food similarly succeeds by being prepared with concern and care, not to mention talent. A model restaurant of its kind.

Costas Inn
4100 North Point Blvd., Dundalk,
(410) 477-1975

With great crabs at very good prices, Costas is a dependable bet for quality steamed hard-shells. The large rectangular space seems sprawling, but good spirits make neighboring diners into chums-for-the-evening. However, the rest of the menu--particularly the outstanding Maryland crab soup--also commands respect. Miss Iris swears by the crab cake.

Crabby Dick's
606 S. Broadway,
(410) 327-7900

Good crab soup, great hush puppies, signature crab balls pave the way for such man-sized entrées as fried hard-shells and seafood kebabs. A high threshold for the printed menu's smutty double entendres helps going in, but the relaxed and fun attitude of the staff and fellow diners prove ultimately winning.

Daily Grind
1722 Thames St.,
(410) 558-0399

Things change. The original Daily Grind--ramshackle and smoky--is now a maritime museum. Smokers have been banished from the new location as well, and the crowd coming in looks positively reputable. The Key Coffee brews are still among the best around, and nourishing sandwiches (powerhouses, hummus sandwiches) and baked goods (that blueberry muffin) remain affordable.

 

Dalesio's
829 Eastern Ave,
(410) 539-1965

A fine-dining Little Italy restaurant distinguished by, among other fine attributes, its offerings of "spa" cuisine, appetizers and entrées that promise reduced calories (the numbers are pinted on the menu) and lower cholesterol. For example, chicken marinated in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, and garlic, chargrilled, and served with couscous and fresh vegetables (352!).

Della Notte
801 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 837-5500

Free, on-premises parking in Little Italy is but the first happy surprise. The extravagant exterior, imposing and faux, belies the goodness inside--a dramatic but intimate dining room, excellent homemade bread, and a thoughtful mix of the traditional and the ambitious. There's a for-real tree in the middle of the dining room, and we like it.

Ding How
631 S. Broadway,
(410) 327-8888

The only dine-in Chinese restaurant in historic Fells Point serves reliable Chinese comfort food in very unpretentious surroundings. Not a destination restaurant perhaps, but surely every neighborhood needs a familiar and friendly place for a moderately priced (lunch is plain old cheap) meal of old favorites.

Duda's
1600 Thames St.,
(410) 276-9719

Neighborly Fells Point corner bar evades the self-conscious raucousness of neighboring establishments without going gentry. Excellent burgers at former City Paper Best of Baltimore recipient winner for best mussels and best Fells Point bar. Sixteen beers on tap and 150 bottled brews.

Eichenkranz
611 S. Fagley St.,
(410) 563-7577

Here are schnitzel and wurst for Haussner's refugees, but also twists on international fare: spinach pies with sweet marinara, zucchini in tempura. Nightly specials are eye-popping-full dinners at $7.50 or less. Apple strudel is surprisingly light.

Geckos
2318 Fleet St.,
(410) 732-1961

Innovative Tex-Mex cuisine in a convivial neighborhood joint. Few pretenses are made toward authenticity, leaving diners free to enjoy mostly savory items like mango, chipotle, and passion fruit margaritas, and a dreamy mushroom enchilada good enough to renew your vegetarian vows.

Helen's Garden
2908 O'Donnell St.,
(410) 276-2233

Fans of this wisely run Canton pleaser know to avoid the small crowds that line up for the Wednesday night $10 entrée special. (Tuesday's $25 wine dinner is far more civilized.) Representative entrées are pecan-encrusted trout, blackened beef salad, and curried salmon. Sunday brunch--try the amaretto-almond French toast--is majorly popular.

Henninger's Tavern
1812 Bank St.,
(410) 342-2172

This small and funkily romantic Fells Point spot hasn't slipped a notch over the years. Always recommended on the seasonally changing menu are the fried oysters with Pernod sauce and spinach, barbecued shrimp wrapped with bacon, and the terrific crab cakes. Lighter fare--including oyster sandwiches--are served at the neighborly bar.

Ikaros
4805 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 633-3750

Greektown's Old Faithful still packs 'em in. Trendy dishes may miss, but the basics--Greek salad, stuffed grape leaves, tender braised lamb, moussaka--can't go wrong. Add perfectly oven-roasted potatoes, but save room for baklava.

India Rasoi
411 S. High St.,
(410) 385-4900

Ditch the usual fare in surrounding Little Italy for dense mulligatawny soup, samosas, and stuffed naan, followed by rogan josh, a fiery vindaloo, or a sweet biryani. Or get lighter vegetable dishes, such as bengan bartha or chick pea-onion bindi pyaaz. Daily buffet, naturalmente.

James Joyce Irish Pub
616 S. President St.
(410) 727-5107

The Irish fare in this very handsome new gathering spot is consistently hearty and wholesome (a spicy shepherd's pie, fresh-tasting fish and chips), and the staff's good manners feel too genuine to be a put-on. Consider the live music either a bonus or a negative, as you like it. If they don't go all out for Bloomsday 100, though, for shame.

Jimmy's
801 S. Broadway,
(410) 327-3273

Justifiably famous traditional breakfasts draw patrons to this Fells Point landmark diner. Lots of patrons--arriving before 10 a.m. helps. (Eternal question: How do you go about getting that big round table?) But afternoon and evening offerings have charms, too. The crab cake sub belies its humble origins.

John Steven Ltd.
1800 Thames St.,
(410) 327-5561

Poster tavern for the new Fells Point lifestyle. Fresh seafood, sushi, pizza, and a hopping steamer/raw bar attract throngs. In summer, most folks like to sit on the patio. Don't panic if everyone turns and glares when you walk in the dark bar; after a few drinks, you'll be joining in that fun.

Kali's Court Mezze
1606 Thames St.,
(410) 563-7600

Sprung Athena-like from the neighboring, more formal Kali's Court, this is about as satisfying a place as could be hoped for. Mezze (plural: mezethes) is the Greek version of tapas. Meaty baby lamb chops, otherworldly spinach fritters, and feta-topped oven-baked oysters are among the top-flight small plates.

Kelly's
2108 Eastern Ave.,
(410)327-2312

Hard crabs, fried seafood, and massive servings of lasagna at a smoky, friendly, and (very) casual watering hole. Value-conscious specials on Sunday (lasagna or spaghetti), Thursday (ribs), and Wednesday (burgers). Serious karaoke on weekends with 3,000-plus-title songbook.

Kiss Café
2400 Boston St.,
(410) 977-0254

Bright cavernous spot in Canton's formidable Can Company, in the space vacated by Donna's. Combination coffee bar, billiard hole, and café, with a decent menu of sandwiches, salads, and light fare. Live music and outdoor seating.

Kooper's Tavern
1702 Thames St.,
(410) 563-5423

Even-tempered and good-natured Fells Point hangout, much like the handsome yellow Lab for which it's named. Menu offers fresh Maryland seafood, including humongous crab cakes, and studly burgers. Irish pub atmosphere downstairs, fireplace setting up.

Liquid Earth
1626 Aliceanna St.,
(410) 276-6606

Sweet and cozy coffeehouse that puts real effort into its menu of vegetarian and vegan foods--toothsome muffalettas, meal-size salads, and a dessert case packed with scrumptious baked goods. The range of the restorative, expansive juice bar is probably unmatched in these parts.

Matthew's Pizzaria
3131 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 276-8755

Old-school, wood-paneled pizza spot boasts the thickest crust in town. A perennial Best of Baltimore winner, and now that the happening Creative Alliance at the Patterson is just across the street, it's even more worth the trip.

Morning Edition
153 N. Patterson Park Ave.,
(410) 732-5133

This Butcher's Hill staple has been serving up weekend Vermont-style brunch for what seems like forever. Spectacularly eclectic omelets, fruit- and nut-festooned French toast and pancakes, various takes on the Benedict. It's lovely and has wonderful food, but in times past the wait for entrées has sometimes seemed like forever, too.

Pazza Luna
1401 E. Clement St.,
(410) 727-1212

This cozy Italian restaurant helped put Locust Point on the culinary map. Soaring fare from a menu that changes daily, full of artful preparations presented attractively. Pesto sings with basil, and veal Marsala is tender and flavorful. Go early--popular entrées can sell out quickly.

Peter's Inn
504 S. Ann St.,
(410) 675-7313

Chef Karin Fuller Tiffany writes six or seven things on a chalkboard on the wall of this teeny Fells Point bar each week--that's it, that's the menu. There's always a juicy steak, always a vegetarian dish (say, butternut squash and shiitake mushroom risotto), and every entrée comes with a salad and the garlickiest garlic bread in the world. Square foot-for-square foot, a solid contender for the best restaurant in the city.

Pierpoint
1822 Aliceanna St.,
(410) 675-2080

Chef Nancy Longo's long-playing culinary show continues in her charming Fells Point restaurant. The smoked crab cakes are still out-of-this-world delicious, and there's a welcome and intriguing Asian influence in the daily specials. Pricey, though.

Restaurante El Trovador
318 S. Broadway,
(410) 276-6200

The Plato Tipico Salvadoreno I gathers a piping hot papusa, marinated steak, rice, beans, fried plantains, and a fried corn tamale, and is a good introduction to the heavy-duty offerings at this Central American restaurant, which is distinguished from the neighboring Spanish Town dives by a more welcoming, gringo-expecting atmosphere. That's yuca root with your complimentary salsa.

Ristorante Due Isole
1911 Aliceanna St.,
(410) 522-4466

Sardinia and Sicily are the two islands this newcomer's name refers to, homes of, respectively, the owner and the chef, Fabio Mura, whose zuppa di pesce, a pastry-topped super bowl of fresh seafood swimming in a gentle tomato broth, is a wonder to behold, and even better to eat. Comfortable and impressive.

Sabatino's
901 Fawn St.,
(410) 727-2667

Volume business on a friendly scale at this remarkably stable and consistent Little Italy institution. Everyone has his or her favorite--the cheesy house dressing, the voluminous bookmaker's salad, boccie ball-sized meatballs. Those sweet, starchy waitresses. Good people. Openly dismissing the experience might mean you have high standards but a bad character.

Samos
600 S. Oldham St.,
(410) 675-5292

This spacious Greektown gem promises fair prices and high quality. Highlights include pies (spinach, cheese, and shrimp), powerful melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), garlic-spiked leg of lamb, and the groaning pekilia platter--dolmades, souvlaki, gyro, and spanakopita.

La Scala
1012 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 783-9209

Southern Italian essentials, served at decent prices (for Little Italy), in a sexy and operatic townhouse. Start with a sensational Caesar salad, the foundation of which is a grilled head of romaine. Specials are elaborately conceived and invariably excellent. Cannoli, filled with flavors like lemon, hazelnut, and mocha, are made from a Sicilian family recipe and are spectacular.

ShamDanai's Chicken-n-Waffle House
4701 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 558-2110

This Greektown anomaly is overflowing with niceness, not to mention expertly fried chicken served with crispy waffles. And the staff is as sweet as the beautiful sweet potato pies that come tumbling out of their ovens. You'll be reminded that real fried chicken takes time to make and encouraged to replace the chicken with the even better catfish.

Sip and Bite
2200 Boston St.,
(410) 675-7077

A Gibraltar of diners, from the basic roast beef sandwich (piled high and smothered in gravy) to the pork chops (thick and juicy) to the fried flounder (fresh and delicious). Post-carousing visits there are a rite of passage. A sense of humor and cast-iron stomach help.

La Tavola
248 Albemarle St.,
(410) 685-1859

The enterprising dishes at this habitually underrated Little Italy winner include fresh pasta creations like madalde alla Fiorentina, a mélange of cream, spinach, raisins, and pine nuts over wide-ribbon pasta, and seafood plates like sea scallops with shiitake mushrooms.

El Taquito
1744 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 563-7840

The tacos al paisano de pollo are highly recommended at this rickety little Cheap Eats favorite--lovingly constructed soft tacos stuffed with pulled roast chicken, chopped red onions, and cilantro. BYOB, and bring your own cash, too--no credit cards.

Ze Mean Bean Café
1739 Fleet St.,
(410) 675-5999

Pierogi come in multiple flavors, subject to change (try potato, potato-cheese, or prune). Holupki (stuffed cabbage, known around here as gulumki) are attractive and interestingly spiced; the borscht is fine. All of the above unavoidably overshadow the creative, non-Slavic salads and sandwiches.

Zorba's
710 Eastern Ave.,
(410) 276-4484

A big part of the Zorba's experience is watching spits laden with chicken, lamb, and pork revolve over hot coals. The kitchen is a bit hit and miss: the taramasalata and moussaka lack spicy bite, but the kontosouvli (grilled marinated pork) is delicious and plentiful. Stick with the pit.

NORTH

Alonso's
415 W. Cold Spring Lane,
(410) 235-3433

This pubby Roland Park favorite is now nonsmoking, after an upscale revamping, and the pizzas have been gussied up as well. The immense and highly touted burgers, though, are still here. The crab cake is reliable; Manhattan-style steak salad is simple and fine.

Ambassador Dining Room
3811 Canterbury Road,
(410) 366-1484

Fine Indian cuisine served in the baronial dining room of a former hotel-turned-apartment building located in the neutral zone between Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus and the tony Guilford neighborhood. The elegant food is one thing, but the covered courtyard also offers some of Baltimore's loveliest outdoor dining in the warmer months. The lunch buffet is less formal and a good deal to boot.

Los Amigos
5506 Harford Road,
(410) 444-4220

Just the kind of humble, homey Mexican restaurant Baltimore needs more of--but only if they're this good and this friendly. The tart ceviche appetizer will convince you that "pucker" is an actual flavor, and a good one at that. The Mexican standards are standard, if a cut above the usual. Best of all are the Peruvian dishes, a house specialty.

An Poitin Stil
2323 York Road, Timonium,
(410) 560-7900

Habitually packed Irish-themed (and by Irish-themed, we mean Irish- themed--care has been taken) restaurant featuring, besides devoutly tended Guinness, Harp, and Bass, a menu of both heavy-duty American tavern fare (12-ounce burgers, venison au poivre) and such Old Sod favorites as bangers and mash, Irish stew, and shepherd's pie.

Andy Nelson's Southern Pit Barbecue
11007 York Road, Cockeysville,
(410) 527-1226

The real deal. Meat slow-smoked over hickory logs dressed with fantastic homemade barbecue sauces mean good eats. The pulled-pork sandwich and Memphis-style ribs (wet or dry) are the best around these parts, the baked beans the best around anywhere. It's a bit of a haul from the city, but you'll be glad you made the effort.

Angelfall Studios and the Palate Café
2936 Remington Ave.,
(410) 261-3313

"Havarti in Remington?" asked our reviewer. Dislocating incongruity aside, the ace tapas café attached to a stylish art gallery serves up not only urbane plates of Carrie Bradshaw-esque café fare (an apple-lingonberrry salad, stuffed artichoke hearts, French bread pizzas) but boutique-sized portions of nigiri, sashimi, and maki as well. Wine and beer for patrons talking of Michelangelo.

Angelina's
7135 Harford Road,
(410) 444-5545

The crab cakes are fabled, and the use here of exclusively domestic blue crabmeat (said to be sweeter than the imported stuff) is a source of considerable pride. It's a fuss-free crab cake, a benchmark that future versions can be measured against. Also served are more seafood and a sturdy slate of Italian specialties.

A Common Ground
819 W. 36th St.,
(410) 253-5533

Funky coziness, robust brews, and an affordably eclectic menu combine to make this Hampden coffeehouse indispensable. Highly recommended for the toothsome, shareable desserts; we pine for the outstandingly flaky fruit pies and delightfully creamy tiramisu.

Bill Bateman's Bistro
7800 York Road, Towson,
(410) 296-2737;
8810 Waltham Woods Road, North Plaza, Parkville,
(410) 668-1080;
and other locations

It's a chain, but a local chain. And once you get beyond the collegiate-kegger atmosphere, you'll find a respectable family restaurant. Behold the one-pound New York strip, the full rack of ribs, the two-pound Humdinger burger. Crab cakes are pure lump, and buffalo wings come in 16 varieties. The takeout business on Super Bowl Sundays is insane, if that tells you anything.

Café Zen
438 E. Belvedere Ave.,
(410) 532-0022

Ants in a tree--perfectly grilled diced chicken and crispy noodles in twin lettuce leaves--starts off a delightful, fresh meal in Govans. Gow bahs, stews served over crisped rice, are terrific, as is the sweetish garlic spinach. Overall, the kitchen's output is marked by a lightness and freshness often absent in other Chinese restaurants.

Carlyle Club
500 W. University Parkway,
(410) 243-5454

Lebanese food is the specialty in these somewhat formal and subdued dining rooms. The flavors and ingredients are eye-opening and the presentation exacting, but neophytes might feel nonplussed by the haphazardly arranged menu. From the good folks behind the much-loved Ambassador Dining Room.

Crepe du Jour
1609 Sulgrave Ave.,
(410) 542-9000

Crepe-heavy Mount Washington café has expanded its menu to encompass French staples like steak frites and poulet roti, with trËs bon results. Higher-end dishes shine with complex sauces and herb flavorings. A Nutella and banana crepe taken on the sheltered back patio can make you feel like your old self again.

Desert Café
1605-07 Sulgrave Ave.,
(410) 367-5808

Vibrant Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-influenced fare served amid pleasant surroundings in a teeny Mount Washington space. The desserts please as well. The microscopic porch makes for nice warm-weather dining. BYOB.

Dizzy Issie's
300 W. 30th St.,
(410) 235-0171

The pride of Remington. Is it a dive bar, a homey hangout, or a legend in the making? Ask your friends, because they've been coming here for the great prices on simple kitchen cuisine. Our reviewer loved the "journey to American Cheeseville." Like much in life, it helps a lot if you're drinking.

Ethel and Ramone's
1615 Sulgrave Ave.,
(410) 664-2971

Creole food (sometimes fused with European traditions) prepared by a chef trained at Chez Paul's in New Orleans and served up in a quintessentially charming Mount Washington sidestreet cottage. The persuasively spicy, andouille- and chicken-filled gumbo is highly recommended. Outdoor dining in nice weather.

Fazzini's Italian Kitchen
578 Cranbrook Road, Cockeysville,
(410) 667-6104

Homemade pasta, huge portions, and friendly atmosphere provide a low-cost, low-stress alternative to Little Italy, all tucked away in a strip mall in the commuter countryside of suburban Cockeysville. Try the soups, or anything with the spicy marinara. The daily specials are inventive and always good. Really good.

Four West
4 W. University Parkway,
(410) 235-8286

Seasonal American cuisine from executive chef Jerome Dorsch served in the slimmed-down, brightened-up former headquarters of the redoubtable Polo Grill. Now a brasserie atmosphere is striven for, and achieved. But still for well-heeled grownups. The signature dish is a fried lobster tail.

Frazier's on the Avenue
919 W. 36th St.,
(410) 662-4914

A Hampden tavern best known for its weekly specials--Monday night's for drinks, Wednesday night's for steak and potato, Saturday night's for fighting. Just kidding. Recognized, too, as the establishment that most comfortably mixes original Hampdenites with the new arrivals.

Gertrude's
10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore Museum of Art,
(410) 889-3399

Chef John Shields takes Maryland cuisine just slightly upscale. The setting at the Baltimore Museum of Art couldn't be more cosmopolitan--the outdoor seating overlooking the museum's sculpture garden is popular with good reason--but the crab cakes, seafood, and other Free State-related fare manages to be adventurous, homey, and affordable. Tuesday night dinner specials.

Golden West Café
1105 W. 36th St.,
(410) 889-8891

The green chile sauces, chorizo burritos, and huevo rancheros have moved up the Avenue to new and larger digs. Customers still file in for the rib-sticking New Mexican cuisine (some Asian-influenced dishes pop up, too), and the all-day breakfast selections remain tantalizingly available. Cheerful and kitschy, with institutional white plates.

Greg's Bagels
519 E. Belvedere Ave., Belvedere Square,
(410) 323-9463

Greg Novik and Co. have been making delectable gourmet bagels with fresh ingredients and loving care in Govans for going on 20 years. Perhaps the only thing better than the unique bagel blends (macadamia nut and white chocolate, anyone?) is the array of toppings, which range from the standard schmear to a dizzying array of one-of-a-kind items--custom-smoked salmon, baked Brie, barbecued pork.

Henry's Bistro
9493 Sweet Air Road, Jacksonville,
(410) 667-6600

Unpretentious and hearty fare predominate the menu at this casual restaurant, prettily landscaped within a north-county shopping center. Typically winning dish: scallops chinois, which alternates sizable bivalve mollusks with fresh orange slices, all in a zippy peanut dressing.

Holy Frijoles
908 W. 36th St.,
(410) 235-2326

Mountainous servings of Mexican food in funky surroundings are the specialty at this Hampden favorite. Quesadilla and chiles rellenos are delicious; the grilled-veggie burrito is as good as burritos get. Get the corn-and-bean salsa.

Indonesia House
22 W. Allegheny Ave., Towson,
(410) 825-2181

The area's first full-on Indonesian restaurant is a pleasant place to get flavorful, fresh food, served in the generous helpings we've come to expect from American-style Asian restaurants. The menu could help more with diners' attempts to pin down this elusive and variously influenced cuisine.

Joung Kak
18 W. 20th St.,
(410) 837-5231

Squid rules at this dependable Korean joint, which also serves Chinese and Japanese favorites. O-jing-o-bokup is a squiggly mound of it, stir-fried with slivered vegetables and swimming in a crimson crushed-pepper sauce. Squid tempura could stand as a meal. Soups and noodles are also splendid. Wood charcoal barbecues are embedded in diners' tables.

Loco Hombre
413 W. Cold Spring Lane,
(410) 889-2233

A recent renovation has brought with it a major menu overhaul. The Tex-Mex cuisine has been replaced by respectful but innovative takes on pan-Latino food by a talented chef. Witness a flight of ceviche demonstrating indigenous styles of Honduras, Ecuador, and Veracruz. A dusky mole flatters juicy pan-seared chicken breast.

Maison Marconi
106 W. Saratoga St.,
(410) 727-9522

It's not as genteely tatty as it was in the days when many people believed it the inspiration for Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, but it's still sufficiently unusual and anachronistic to inspire loyalty if not awe. Escoffier fare like sweetbreads, sole meuniËre, and lobster cardinale are sandwiched between two perfect things: the chopped house salad and the hot fudge sundae.

McCafferty's
1501 Sulgrave Ave.,
(410) 664-2200

You don't have to be a former pro athlete or a glad-handing pol to eat at McCafferty's, but it certainly seems to help, at least judging from the memorabilia and caricatures lining the walls of this clubby, sporty Mount Washington perennial. The prices are major-league, too, but this is the kind of joint that does big beef and traditional heavy-duty entrées right.

Nam Kang
2126 Maryland Ave.,
(410) 685-6237

Nam Kang isn't the only Korean restaurant in Baltimore, but it may be the most loved. Down in its cozy, pink-walled basement digs, grateful patrons lap up steaming, spicy hot pots and soups or order treats from the sushi bar. (Chinese dishes have place of pride on the menu as well.) It stays open until 4 a.m., too.

The New Wyman Park Restaurant
138 W. 25th St.,
(410) 235-5100

Diner fare, served at an honest-to-God heart-of-the-city diner with no self-consciously kitschy crap in sight. No surprises here, except how good this stuff can taste when done right. Try anything involving gravy--it's real, not canned.

New No Da Ji
2501 N. Charles St.,
(410) 235-4846

All-you-can-eat lunch and dinner buffets bring in the grateful Charles Villagers and legions of hungry Hopkins students. The Korean, Japanese, and Chinese offerings run from egg foo yung and spareribs to sushi, presented in impressive volume--maki at lunch, nigiri at dinner. For the money, big appetites could do much worse.

Nile Café
811 S. Broadway,
(410) 327-0005

Well turned-out, savory Middle Eastern fare delivered in a sunny setting smack in the middle of Fells Point, complete with a full roster of schwarmas, kebabs, pita sandwiches, and Egyptian-style pizzas. Vegetarians and vegans will find themselves expected and considered. Sometimes there's belly dancing.

One World Café
100 W. University Parkway,
(410) 235-5777

Plentiful and organic vegetarian and vegan choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tempeh Reubens, organic tofu with steamed vegetable and brown rice, and black bean burritos. Homemade desserts, nourishing smoothies, organic coffee, and liquor (yes) round out the package. The barstools are ugly-ass.

Orchard Market and Café
8815 Orchard Tree Lane, Towson,
(410) 339-7700

A surprise oasis in an unprepossessing strip mall. Fragrant and eye-pleasing Persian food makes splendid use of pomegranates, walnuts, and a signature saffron-garlic-curry-tomato sauce. Offerings divide evenly into traditional and updated categories. Charming.

Pacific Rim
9726 York Road, Cockeysville,
(410) 666-2336

Soothing ambiance on York Road. Fusiony Peking duck fajitas, however, leave you craving either real fajitas or real Peking duck. Less Western-inflected Asian fare works better: fresh and artful tempura, or seared dynamite maki with creamy sauce.

Pete's Grille
3130 Greenmount Ave.,
(410) 467-7698

Much fancier restaurants no doubt envy the rush this humble Waverly breakfast and lunch counter sees on weekend m0rnings. Neighborly charm is backed by genuinely good food, at incredibly low prices. The specialty is comfort food, and lots of it. Daily specials include roast turkey (from a bird cooked on-site), fish and chips, and--mmm--blueberry waffles.

Petit Louis
4800 Roland Ave.,
(410) 366-9393

Escargots, aubergines, paté, quiche, croque monsieur--it must be French. This instant Roland Park success hums and buzzes with a lively, garrulous din. (Some just say it's too noisy.) The wine list is extensive, the foie gras terrine terrific, and the steak frites is just mmmwwwahh! The bill adds up.

Ploughboy Soups
529 E. Belvedere Ave., Belvedere Market,
(410) 323-2396

Just soups and sandwiches for the lunchtime crowd in Govans, but what soups and sandwiches. The menu changes daily, but the seafood gumbo is a sausage-rich environment, and the curried cauliflower soup has legions of fans. The gourmet-licious sandwiches, served up on slices of baker/proprietor Ned Atwater's finest loaves, are fortunately well worth the occasional wait.

Saigon Remembered
5857 York Road,
(410) 435-1300

Warm up with pho or spicy Thai soup; move along to skewers of shrimp, beef, pork, or chicken--or vegetarian dishes of lemon-grass tofu or Singapore noodle. Also savor the open space, smooth service, and low prices. Tables are at a premium early on date nights--the Senator Theatre is right across the street--but it's a great way to start an evening.

Suzie's Soba
1009 W. 36th St.,
(410) 243-0051;
7 N. Calvert St., Munsey Building,
(410) 528-8883

This small eatery decorated in a soothing celadon undersea motif serves straight-up versions of noodle dishes from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and beyond--no fusion faux pho here, just the real thing done very well. The newer downtown location, in the Munsey Building, is dramatic and Zenic--the thought of having the spicy tuna tartare in halved avocado is incentive for showing up for work.

Tamber's Nifty Fifties
3327 St. Paul St.,
(410) 243-0383

Milk shakes and burgers and lamb saag and naan? Somehow it works at this chrome-spangled but otherwise unflashy neighborhood diner/Indian joint. Hot fudge sundaes, lemon meringue pie, and Tamber's Brownie, topped with ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry complete the faux '50s picture.

Thai Restaurant
3316 Greenmount Ave.,
(410) 889-6003

Standards at Baltimore's benchmark Thai restaurant may have slipped a little with new ownership, but the city's best pad thai still resides within. The curry classics, in six different varieties, are still solid. Don't miss the sticky rice with mango for dessert.

U Jung Kwan
14-16 W. 20th St.,
(410) 230-0422

Koreatown's best selection of free appetizers opens a meal in spacious surroundings. Shrimp with cellophane noodles is nice and mild; seafood stews, hot pots, or smoky short ribs are bold. Pizza-sized pa juns (the much-loved Korean seafood pancakes) are can't-miss.

Yabba Pot
2433 St. Paul St.,
(410) 733-1045

More than filling the void left when the Golden Temple folded some years ago, the Yabba Pot has firmly established itself as the best bet for a cheap, hot vegetarian meal in Charles Village. The small menu (always 100 percent vegetarian and generally vegan) varies daily, consisting of a main course and several more side dishes. Everything is homemade and tastes it.

York Inn
10010 York Road, Cockeysville,
(410) 666-0006

A suprisingly diverse selection of hearty and robust vegetarian entrées (coconut curry tofu, portobello ravioli) complement a menu of more standard suburban fare like filet mignon and shrimp scampi. An ideal compromise restaurant for families saddled with a new vegetarian.

WEST

b
1501 Bolton St.,
(410) 383-8600

Great expectations for this stylish new spot. The panzanella salad, which combines grilled bread, fresh tomatoes, and capers, might be the ultimate summer delight. The only misgiving: not enough simple fare for a neighborhood bistro.

China Best
9958 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills,
(410) 363-8160

Beautifully fresh sushi and sashimi are offered side by side with Cantonese, Hunan, and Szechuan fare. Try the lunch or dinner sushi buffet, the all-Chinese early-bird special, or sushi to go at $9.95 a pound.

Cibo Bar and Grille
100 Painters Mill Road, Owings Mills,
(410) 902-2426

The folks behind Little Italy's Aldo's offer something for everyone here in a stylish suburban setting: Mandarin duck rolls, entrée salads, panini, shareable pizzas, deep-fried sea bass, and a terrific burger with lovely, lovely Gorgonzola. The fish of the day arrives either oven-roasted or Hong Kong style (whole and deep-fried).

Edmart Delicatessen
1427 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville,
(410) 486-5558

Tops for lox, and for sturgeon, whitefish, sable, and herring. Not really the mystique-filled Old World re-creation you might expect--it's a store, not a museum. But wills have been revised for children who honor their parents with Sunday morning Edmart purchases. Essential for shiva houses.

Goldberg's Kosher New York Bagels
708-10 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville,
(410) 415-7001

The bagels are to die for, especially the Black Russian, a crusty, slightly sweet pumpernickel variation. Spinach and kasha knishes are fine, especially dunked in mushroom-barley soup. Excellent pastries are shipped in from New York.

The Hidden Bean
1431 John St.,
(410) 225-9667

Meatless burgers, moist and well-spiced, are the best among wholesome sandwiches served up friendly and cheap in Bolton Hill. Or get the excellent hummus sandwich--but make them hold the overpowering Muenster.

Kibby's
3450 Wilkens Ave.,
(410) 644-8716

The décor at this venerable Southwest Mobtown institution runs to dark paneling, red pleather, and stained glass, and the menu offers the food equivalent: three kinds of "imperial," stuffed mushroom caps, sour beef and dumplings, etc. But its No. 1 draw is the shrimp salad: simple, straightforward, excellent.

Linwood's
25 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills,
(410) 356-3030

Longstanding Owings Mills neighborhood destination for an upmarket neighborhood. Cushioningly sleek atmosphere, solicitous service (it had better be), and sophisticated renditions of comfort food are major factors in the successful formula. It couldn't hurt to show up with a regular.

Micah's Cafeteria
5401 Reisterstown Road,
(410) 764-9206

The lake trout is wonderfully seasoned; the stewed chicken breast is juicy and just sweet enough. Anything the gravy touches turns tasty, whether pork chops or lima beans. Bring your biggest appetite and go whole hog--mac 'n' cheese, sweet potato pie, all of it.

Patrick's of Pratt Street
131 S. Shroeder St.,
(410) 576-8899

This Southwest Baltimore find is not just the oldest Irish pub in Baltimore but the oldest in America. But you wouldn't know it from the up-to-date, international bistro menu--quiche Lorraine, sauerbraten with dumplings, penne marinara. The crab cakes are lumpy, large, and held together by Hellman's and magic.

Porters Coffeehouse
771 Washington Blvd.,
(410) 539-5333

Welcome to Pigtown, or, if you must, Washington Village. For breakfast, the Pigtown Platter assembles three eggs, home fries, toast, coffee or tea, and three kinds of pig--two sausage links, two strips of bacon, and a slab of ham. Go, buy property nearby.

Suburban House
911 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville,
(410) 484-7775

Go not for the atmosphere but for the chicken soup, lox-and-egg omelets, chopped liver, kreplach, and stuffed deli sandwiches. Smoked delicacies are handled by experts who know their way around whitefish. Portions are generous, and the unflappable servers have seen it all.

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