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Eat Feature

Get Stuffed

The Restaurants A-Z

Photos by Christopher Myers
Aladdin's Café
Captain Larry's
Caribbean Kitchen
Coburn's
Dizzy Issie's
Grand Cru
Italian Stallion
Jasmine Asian Bistro
Kiku Sushi
Mama's on the Half Shell
Mr. Chan's Szechuan Restaurant
Polock Johnny's
Sofi's Crêpes
Taste
Tio Pepe

Eat Special Issue 2005

Stuff It City Paper’s Annual Guide to Filling Your Face

Get Stuffed The Restaurants A-Z

Restaurants With Live Music or DJs Where That's a Good Thing We thought about making a category for places not to go with live music or DJs. So many restaurants ... | By Richard Gorelick

Restaurants to Go to On a Date When You're Hoping It'll End in Drunken Groping There are a handful of restaurants which understand that the key to a good date is to not give your ... | By Rebecca Alvania

Restaurants to Hit When Someone Else Is Picking Up the Tab Baltimore has a ton of affordable dining options, but sometimes we all want a totally pampering culi... | By Anna Ditkoff

Restaurants to Take Out-of-Towners to When They Start Screaming for Crab No matter how much you try to avoid it, sooner or later the inevitable is going to happen. You will ... | By Rebecca Alvania

Restaurants Where You Can Check Your E-mail While You Eat When the city announced in 2003 that the Inner Harbor was going wireless, there was an awful lot of ... | By Rebecca Alvania

Places to Get a Slice of Pizza If you're like us, sometimes you're plowing through your daily 483 things to do when you realize tha... | By Bret McCabe

Restaurants Where You Can Grab Food for a Sofa Picnic Ever hungry for restaurant-quality food but just don't frigging feel like sitting in a restaurant to... | By Michelle Gienow

Restaurants to B-More Meatless Despite the much-lamented passing of the Pimlico vegan soul food express Hook-Up Rastarant, Baltimor... | By Eric Allen Hatch

Restaurant Women's Rooms Reviews as Told to Me by My Girlfriend I'm in love with a woman for whom the term “high maintenance” barely approximates how demanding she ... | By Bret McCabe

Restaurants With Creamy Dips You Can Order at the Bar Sometimes you don't want a meal, but you want more than a snack. Sometimes you feel like getting out... | By Bret McCabe

Restaurants He'll Take You to Before He Stops Taking You to Restaurants The beginning of a relationship is a restaurant wonderland. It seems like every night you're going t... | By Anna Ditkoff

Restaurants Where You Don't Have to Finish Your Meal to Get Dessert The continuing absence from our culinary landscape of a top-flight dessert restaurant is mystifying.... | By Richard Gorelick

Eat 2005

Posted 3/2/2005

Click on a restaurant name to view their page in our Eat Guide.

58 W. Biddle St., (410) 244-7227, www.badger-inn.com
A recent menu from whiz-chef Sonny Sweetman paired bacon-studded Savoy cabbage with potato-roasted salmon; shiitake mushrooms with filo-crusted halibut; and roasted rutabaga purée with grilled pork tenderloin. Sound good? Hope so, because cocksure Sweetman nightly conjures up only a handful of choices --no room in these seriously romantic cultural-district digs for the choosy, the unadventurous, or the allergic.

823 N. Charles St., (410) 539-0944, www.akbar-restaurant.com
For nearly 20 years, this Mount Vernon landmark has served up generous helpings of thick, soothing, reasonably priced Indian fare. The basement dining room is dark and intimate, and the service is unfailingly pleasant. The palak paneer and chicken madras are not to be missed, and the daily lunch buffet has become something of an institution.

900 Cathedral St., (410) 962-8859, www.cafeisis.com
Al Pacino's combination of American, Italian, and Mediterranean food is a little perplexing, but the fact that the folks there do them all well is a miracle. The whole menu is a little incongruous; falafel and mozzarella sticks, anyone? The Middle Eastern dishes are good, the hummus especially, but they really excel at pizza. They have an incredible selection of pizzas, many of which can be served with soy cheese, with ingredients you would never think to put together. But you'll be glad that they did. They even deliver, to a teeny tiny radius of lucky Mount Vernon people.

1421 Lawrence St., (410) 625-7800
With its low-key, casual dining room, outdoor seating, and enormous hookahs, this small South Baltimore Middle Eastern spot offers an amazingly pleasant atmosphere. The fluffy, crunchy falafel and thick, satisfying lamb kebabs are among the best in town, though you wouldn't know it from the consistently low prices. And it's BYOB, which makes Aladdin's the perfect place to warm up for a night out.

306 S. High St., (410) 727-0700, www.aldositaly.com
When looking for that perfect romantic place to spend a cultured, intimate evening with the one you love, Aldo's should be on the top of your list. Housed in two converted townhouses, and with superbly prepared entrées ranging from filet mignon to homemade pastas, for any romantic evening this is the spot. Men, be warned: Jackets are required.

3811 Canterbury Road, (410) 366-1484, www.ambassadordiningroom.com
This upscale restaurant is a little more expensive than many of the other Indian restaurants in town, but in return you get plush ambiance, excellent food, and a private back patio that offers arguably the nicest outdoor dining experience in town. A wide variety of vegetarian dishes are offered, including the outstanding vegetable jalfrezi. The chef's recommendations are also excellent, in particular the goa fish and the lobster khas.

231 S. High St., (410) 528-1096, www.amiccis.com
While Amicci's has slipped some since it first opened 15 years ago, it remains the only bargain restaurant in Little Italy, and one the neighborhood's best spots. While famed for its fat calorie-explosion of an appetizer, the pane rotundo--a bread bowl filled with big shrimp and creamy sauce--we suggest starting out with something simpler--perfectly fried calamari perhaps?--to save room for one of Amicci's very good entrées. The shrimp fra diavlo (featuring more of those huge prawns) and the gnocchi (some of the best in town) are especially good.

11007 York Road, Cockeysville, (410) 527-1226, www.andynelsonsbbq.com
Baltimore is lucky indeed that Andy Nelson Sr. stuck around town after his days as a Colts defensive back instead of heading home to Alabama. The Nelson family has been provisioning Charm City with mighty fine hickory-smoked 'cue ever since, from spunky pulled pork to deeply flavored ribs and some of the tastiest sides--beans, corn bread, collards--to ever grace a meat- and-three platter.

7153 Harford Road, (410) 444-5545, www.crabcake.com
A neighborhood Italian joint with an Irish pub in the basement might seem a strange place to sample one of Charm City's finest signature delicacies, but Angelina's delivers pleasingly plump lump cakes. Literally: they ship their famous fresh crab cakes anywhere in the United States. And all of Angelina's quality, rib-sticking old-school fare, from soup to rolls to dessert, is made in-house.

3600 Keswick Road, (410) 235-2595
This little carry-out place a block off Hampden's “the Ave” is locally renowned for its big slice: a single wedge of pizza the size of a dachshund but much, much cheesier. All you need is one with some toppings thrown on--big ups to some fresh garlic and sliced tomatoes--and you could hibernate for a week. Angelo's also dishes out the usual Italian sub-shop fare with equal aplomb--pals say it's got one of the more steakalicious cheese-steak subs around, and that the chick parm deserves its own little corner in takeout heaven. But we're creatures of habit, and few things satisfy a pizza jones like getting big 'n' slicey.

221 S. High St., (410) 547-7131
If you can handle the Little Italy parking heebie-jeebies, it's worth finding a spot to grab lunch at Apicella's. This little carry-out just a block from the big-name restaurants serves up the brick-oven pizzas, salads, and overstuffed Italian subs on thick chewy bread like nobody's business. The Italian cold cut hoagies and meatball subs especially pack a wallop.

629 S. Broadway, (410) 534-4255
This reliable little Fells Point sushi house has demonstrated impressive consistency and staying power, and we know a few mavens who swear up and down that the sushi here is the best in town. The udon, tempuras, pajun (Korean-style pancakes), and gyoza are all a notch above the norm, too.

1019 E. Lombard St., (410) 563-2666
The “Kibbitz Room” allows for on-premises dining, but the real Attman's experience consists of jostling with the crowds that invariably line the deli's loooong counter until you have your to-go order ready for the famously brusque staffers. (Let's just put it this way: You'd better be ready.) Then, of course, there's the corned beef, aka heaven on rye with mustard, the Rueben, and, reluctantly putting down the corned beef for a second, the jumbo kosher beef dogs, served Attman's-style with a slice of bologna. There's tons of other stuff you can order, but why would you?

Belvedere Market, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 323-2396
Ned Atwater's bakery in the new Belvedere Market has done wonders for the lunchtime landscape in North Baltimore. At the adjacent Ploughboy Soups counter, you can dive into one of several delicious homemade soups du jour (the gumbo, a staple, always pleases), sandwiches (served up on bread baked on site), and salads. Everything's made with the finest and freshest ingredients Atwater can score, everything is worth a taste, and everything's also available to go.

1501 Bolton St., (410) 383-8600
For such a smart little eatery--interesting food, homemade desserts, attractive setting--with such reasonable prices right in the heart of the city, b does not get a lot of attention. Bolton Hill residents probably like it that way, rendering this terrific café a true neighborhood joint where everyone seems to know one another. But b is worth remembering--and visiting--for well-prepared dishes a cut above the ordinary.

Power Plant Live!, 32 Market Place, (410) 234-9898, www.babalugrill.com
Classic Cuban food--ropa vieja, pollo adobado--shares space with adventuresome Nuevo Latino dishes like grilled ahi tuna in a spicy orange-chile glaze on Babalu's brief but entertaining menu. It's a fun and energetic restaurant, featuring an enormous portrait of Ricky Ricardo smiling down on diners who perch atop conga-drum bar stools to sip the best mojitos in town.

5230 York Road, (410) 433-0040
Thousands of Baltimoreans drive past this Govans eatery every day, but few seem to realize that it offers some of the best Thai food in the city. The extensive menu offers endless varieties of hot, zesty curries, and the fried bananas are no joke. The spacious dining room always has a few tables open, a refreshing change from the restaurant's packed, noisy downtown competitors.

1017 S. Charles St., (410) 962-1554
Baltimore is blessed with a variety of good Indian restaurants, but Banjara distinguishes itself by not shying away from the chile heat essential to classic Indian cuisine. Banjara's elegantly subdued setting seems a decorative metaphor for the kitchen's restrained but knowledgeable use of spice; one standout is shahi korma, roasted chunks of lamb that come bathed in a smooth yogurt sauce redolent of cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon.

6444 Light St., (410) 234-1900, www.bicyclebistro.com
The Bicycle's wholesome, handsome good looks are so California cool that, at first glance, you might think, Hollywood macrobiotic vegan joint. But look closer. There are carnivores inside, tearing into red chile-encrusted rack of lamb, slow-roasted Cuban pork, a tenderloin of beef in Bourdelaise sauce. The Bicycle's seasonally changing menu boasts crackerjack preparations of fish and seafood, and showcase vegetarian creations. But daddy wants that meat.

5713 Harford Road, (410) 444-6422, www.bigbadwolfbarbeque.com
Scott Smith, who once cooked for an Eastern Shore firehouse gang, brings his love and talent for all things barbecue to the lucky residents of Hamilton. Choose from among six classic regional sauces (e.g., Kansas City sweet or spicy, Carolina mustard or vinegar) and apply it to pork ribs, pulled pork, beef ribs, brisket, or chicken. Seating within the little yellow-brick structure is limited to a sweaty counter; wait for nice weather and commandeer one of the plastic outdoor tables.

7800 York Road, Towson, (410) 296-2737, www.billbateman.com
OK, calling something housed in a shiny building a bistro stretches the quaint factor a bit, as do the many televisions piping in whatever sporting event is on at that moment, but the sports bar-qua-college pub vibe also boasts a diversely fun menu. Bill Bateman's is famous for making more styles of wings than Poland has kielbasas, but the highlights are its creamy soups (crab, seafood bisque), a superbly fresh California salad that's bigger than the San Fernando Valley, and a grouper sandwich that's better than any fish with two eyes on one side of its head has any right to be.

641 S. Montford Ave., (410) 732-3000,www.birchesrestaurant.com
Birches is the kind of neighborhood tavern where you can eat every night and never get bored. Weeknights are for enjoying capital burgers and pizzas with such well-considered toppings as horseradish aioli, Asiago cheese, and lantana tobacco onions. Weekends are for contemporary American cuisine like blue crab fra diavlo, shrimp etouffée, or anything emerging from the hardwood grill. Pommes frites a must.

814 S. Bond St., (410) 276-7141, www.theblackolive.com
Black Olive has chosen one thing to do and it does it exceptionally well: the very best and freshest fish, simply prepared. Diners can choose their own dinner from the chipped-ice altar of world-class seafood at the center of the restaurant; while it's being prepared, some of the outstanding small plates make stellar starters. The savory bread pudding--made with olive bread, leeks, mushrooms, artichokes, and cheese--is not to be missed.

1621 Aliceanna St., (410) 522-3940
One of Baltimore's most sublime breakfasts, served every day until 3 p.m. to benefit the late riser. The Blue Moon does fine sandwiches and snacks all day (and late-night), but a line stretches out the door come brunch time. Mile-high French toast with caramelized bananas, Maryland eggs Benedict with a mountain of lump crab, and high-octane java are standouts.

2701 Boston St., (410) 558-0202, www.bobrooks.com
This popular Canton seafood restaurant sits right on the water, which means you have a nice view no matter where you're seated. In warm weather it also offers outdoor seating, which is the best vantage point to watch the boat people who are docked in the marina drink beer and tinker with their vessels. But Bo Brooks is more than people watching; the crabs are good and offered year-round, and there's an enormous menu so that nonseafood lovers have lots of options as well. They'll also hold crab and shrimp feasts for private parties.

:24 N. Charles St., (410) 547-8485, www.brasselephant.com
A place of formal opulence, the Brass Elephant is where the legendary Other Half dines in splendor using multiple forks, under the watchful eyes of multiple attendants. The main dining room is resplendent in gold leaf, plaster medallions, and crystal chandeliers. The scallops are a winner. Upstairs, the Tusk Lounge offers a friendly atmosphere and an array of plates that won't break the bank.

1106 N.Charles St., (410) 547-6925, www.belgianbeers.com
Chef Ravi Narayanan's unabashed adoration of top-quality ingredients, and of the craftsmen who raise, age, and render beautiful portions of seafood, pork, and beef (like the gorgeous culotte cut that headlines the steak frites) fills these stately townhouse dining rooms with foodlove. Once again, we beg you: Tear yourself away from the party downstairs and walk up to a civilized meal of confidently produced grown-up cuisine. If we're all very nice, they'll bring back the seasonally changing menu that decadent foie gras BLT.

800 S. Broadway, (410) 563-1600, www.boppizza.com
Brick Oven Pizza is so proud of its wood-burning stove and old-school baking method that it named itself after it, but you're gonna be all about the almost infinite kinds of pizza you can dream up by combining its 53-plus toppings options. Or just opt for one of its house specialties: go cheesy (the mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, Romano, fontina, and Gorgonzola Lucky 7 White Cheese), go traditional (the mozzarella and fresh basil Margarite Lisa), or just go nutty (the barbecue chicken and shrimp).

223 S. High St., (410) 547-0820, www.caesarsden.com
Old-school Italian cooking in an old-school fine-dining setting: Caesar's Den serves its zesty dishes in a white table cloth dining room that feels like it hasn't changed décor since Frank and Dino topped the pops. The well-balanced fare probably follows recipes even older. Alongside the usual anitpasti, zuppe, and capellini and linguine dishes you'll find specialties such as the peppery penne alla rigoletto (pasta with arugula and radicchio in a gorgeously aromatic Gorgonzola cream sauce) and the striking fettuccine nere con arugula, an elegantly simple black pasta with garlic, olive oil, and arugula for which it's worth returning.

1002 W. 36th St., (410) 243-1230, www.cafehon.com
Café Hon serves up beloved American diner food--egg salad on cheese toast, groaning portions of meat loaf with gravy, those insidiously irresistible “Hon Fries” loaded up with chili, cheese, and onions--on Formica tables. Absolutely save room for homemade desserts, especially the bread pudding, and resist, at all costs to your class-consciousness, the idea that the ersatz theme represents anything like true Hon culture. Live music plays in the newly appended bar.

438 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 532-0022, www.cafezen.com
A pleasant alternative to the undistinguished brown glop that usually passes for Chinese food around here, this Govans mainstay offers up fresh and flavorful Chinese cuisine (as well as some worthwhile curries and not-bad sushi) in a pleasant, design-y-on-a-budget setting.

3301 Boston St., (410) 276-8900, www.cantonspearls.com
Jazz and a lively happy hour have been drawing folks to this new Canton restaurant, which evokes the atmosphere of a country-club dining room done up for the holidays. Some menu items stand out--a seriously good corn and crab chowder; and semolina-dusted pan-fried oysters with wilted spinach and pancetta. The menu is ambitious, and sincere.

601 E. Fort Ave., (410) 727-4799
A near-perfect crab cake, really good fish and chicken sandwiches, and skins-on, house-cut french fries; an atmosphere that's neither old-school-locals scary nor new-school-yuppies frightening; and friendly bartenders and owners (often one and the same): What more do you want in a South Baltimore hangout? OK, how about $2 drinks--including the house-special Dark and Stormys--every weeknight from 4 till 7? You got it.

353 N Calvert St., (410) 837-2274
From its spare, sparkling clean storefront carry-out space, Caribbean Kitchen dishes up knockout Jamaican food. There are a few tables for diners to hunker down over the full-to-bursting Styrofoam trays of incendiary jerk chicken, rich saffron-yellow curry goat and fat, tender fried plantains. Buttery sautéed cabbage and carrots come with every order, and classic D&G ginger beer washes it all down.

500 W. University Parkway, (410) 243-5454
Though it's across the street from Johns Hopkins University, and in the ground floor of the Barton Fink-ish Carlyle Hotel that warehouses hundreds of Homewood students, this Lebanese restaurant is no falafel joint. Overly solicitous waiters dish out gorgeous Middle Eastern cuisine--smoky eggplant salads, tender kebabs, exquisite flaky desserts--in an elegant setting. Consider it a pricey alternative to the Helmand when you need to impress a date. For less momentous occasions, grab a seat at the rarely used bar and soak up some succulent pita-wipers.

Rotunda, 711 W. 40th St., (410) 467-0596
This off-the-beaten-path Rotunda counter offers the standard subs and salads options, but we really only hit it consistently for the pizza by the slice. Casa Mia's nice-sized cuts of pie--try the veggie or the spinach and tomato--are perfect pre- or post-movie snacks when hitting the Rotunda Cinemateque or the perfect self-reward for surviving a trip to Giant without having a nervous breakdown from having to navigate the Schylla and Charibdis of the elderly and the collegiate, both equally confused in crowds.

4341 Harford Road, (410) 254-2376
This Northeast Baltimore gem is a small restaurant run by young, enthusiastic owners who care about their food and customers. The food is humble yet intelligent and exquisitely prepared. Think seasonal menus dotted with fish and meat entrées, charcuterie and cheese plates, garlicky soups, inventive vegetarian dishes. And, thanks to its out-of-the-way locale, Chameleon Café feels like a discovery every time you visit.

5801 Pulaski Highway, (410) 483-2379
Baltimore is at the northernmost fringe of the nation's barbecue belt, and as a result our take on hardwood-smoked meat is a little idiosyncratic. Pit beef sandwiches are Charm City's version of 'cue, and Chaps serves up some of the tastiest in town. Kaiser rolls come piled high with tender, flavorful thin-sliced meat, served as rare as you dare.

1000 Lancaster St., (410) 332-7373, www.charlestonrestaurant.com
Charleston isn't the kind of place that most of us can afford to eat at on a regular basis, but when you're ready to splurge for a special occasion, chef Cindy Wolf's ode to Southern cuisine won't disappoint. The cornmeal crusted oysters with lemon-cayenne mayonnaise and the fried green tomato sandwich with lobster and crab hash are favorites, but you can't go wrong with any of Charleston's decadent takes on comfort food, all served in an opulent setting that will make you feel totally spoiled.

3107 St. Paul St., (410) 243-1611
What do we expect from a slightly seedy college pub? Nothing more than CVP provides. Cheap burgers that live on the right side of good, huge nachos, big salads with more than iceberg, economical beer, and sporting events on the televisions. Bonus points for the French onion dip to rock potato chips. Cigarette machine? Fuck yeah, plus coeds. Cool.

323 Park Ave., (410) 727-5599
The best Chinese restaurant in Baltimore? Considering the competition, it's an easy triumph, which is not to sell Chinatown Café short. The menu lists the expected Sino-American cuisine faves and the kitchen executes them well, but the best and most interesting things here are the entrées and appetizers you won't be able to get at your local bulletproof takeout: the pork-rich Hong Kong-style preparations, the available-anytime dim sum menu, etc. In fact, what's for lunch?

6620 Harford Road, (410) 426-3244
From the soups to the desserts, Hamilton's best-kept secret has long been a favorite for the poor-yet-Thai-hungry crowd. Don't let the takeout image fool you; with spicy rich dishes such as pad Thai, panang, and a plethora of curries, Chok Chai is a must for anybody.

1001 Cathedral St., (410) 539-4252, www.citycafebaltimore.com
One half of this Mount Vernon institution is a café for those who just want to grab a quick cup of coffee and a pastry, while the remainder operates as a full-service restaurant for those looking to linger over their meal. Don't miss their expansive weekend brunch.

2921 O'Donnell St., (410) 342-0999, www.coburnstavern.com
A living, working illustration of how just-plain caring and attention can elevate an otherwise generic space into something mighty worthwhile. Coburn's looks like a million other restaurants, but tables are set with flowers and charger plates as though company is expected, and a well-trained kitchen assembles pretty plates of standard fare like steaks and salads. And when other staffs are still nursing hangovers, the Coburn's crew opens the doors at 9 a.m. on weekends to feed us breakfast. Now, that's caring.

819 W. 36th St., (410) 235-5533
There's a bumper sticker behind the counter at A Common Ground that reads “Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks.” And who needs chain brew with Hampden's neighborhood coffeehouse standing by? Of course there's all the expected caffeine-laced concoctions. The daily lunch specials are passable but the baked goods are a cut above, featuring an assortment of pies and thick, saucer-sized tollhouse cookies. And the Ground's best feature is its back porch on a lazy spring morning.

313 N. Charles St., (410) 727-6080
Midtown life got a shot of adrenaline when this upwardly casual spot opened last summer. The space's midcentury-modern good looks are supported by a shrewdly devised menu of bistro fare--lamb chili, hot-pressed sandwiches, and pizzas from the Australian wood-burning oven, topped with, say, manchego cheese and jerked chicken. Big-ticket items like strip steak with Guinness demi-glace and rockfish casserole satisfy, too. The emerging popularity of the downstairs lounge is cause for concern, though, as the staff's attention can wander.

1026 S. Charles St., (410) 752-3810, www.corksrestaurant.com
Corks is named for its excellent wine selection, but it is Jerry Pellegrino, the man behind the open kitchen, that makes it stand out. The Federal Hill restaurant has a menu that is complex and interesting enough for a serious foodie--pan-roasted duck breast with confit potato and watercress salad and a fig tartlet-- without scaring off the meat and potatoes crowd--beef medallions with rosemary-scented potatoes. And though Corks looks small from the outside it has two different dining rooms, the crisp modern front room and the luxurious dark-wood backroom filled with wine. Guess which one we prefer.

4100 North Point Blvd., Dundalk, (410) 477-1975, www.costasinn.com
Despite the fact that ever more out-of-towners seem to be finding their way to Costas Inn, this place remains one of the most reliable and well-priced crab houses around. We certainly hope Costas never changes, because we wouldn't change the place one iota: from the paper-covered tables and plastic beer pitchers to the big, heavy crustaceans crusted with Costas' own proprietary red pepper crab spice.

120 E. Baltimore St., (410) 837-7482, www.cypriana.com
Mmmm, falafel. Sure, there is plenty of good falafel to be had around Baltimore, but Cypriana's is damn near perfect. It would have to be to make us fight the downtown traffic and hunt for a parking space just to grab a lunch that comes wrapped in tinfoil. But those flavorful cushiony pieces of falafel on soft pita with just the right mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, and tahini keep us coming back.

2400 Fleet St., (410) 522-7437, www.dangerouspies.com
Stop by the retail shop, a former bakery, that fronts Rodney Henry's burgeoning wholesale pie empire (he supplies myriad restaurants) and choose from among nearly two dozen of his beautiful homemade creations. Taste what pie should be, made from fresh ingredients, with sunny, homemade crusts. Sit at a ramshackle table with a cup of coffee and listen to some vintage rock. Dangerously Delicious is an original.

7209 Harford Road, Parkville, (410) 254-8373, www.deadfreddies.com
On festive nights this Harford Road pub can turn into its own kinda DJ-and-projection-TV hell, but the rest of the time it's a fab away-from-the-norm place to grab a bite and a brew. The menu boasts the usual pub-grub appetizers, but Dead Freddies' winners are its grilled burgers and chicken sandwiches (try the wing-sauce and blue-cheese topped Buffalo), the sort of shrimp salad sandwich you usually only find at old-school delis, and pub fries options that include the melted cheese, bacon, and ranch Sinfully Delicious Freddie Fries that could only be improved upon if each individual fry were wrapped in a bacon strip, the perfect vehicle for an early-coronary ranch-dunking.

501 Eastern Ave., (410) 837-5500, www.dellanotte.com
From the can't-miss-it nuòvo Roman facade to the expansive menu of Italian classics, Della Notte is as grand and exuberant as Pavarotti. And yet inside it is comfortable, almost casual. Boasting “Baltimore's most extensive wine list,” Della Notte also features standout brick-oven pizza. The ambitious, pricey chef specials (calamari ripieni, say, or branzino arrosto con cardi) contrast beautifully with the only free parking lot in the neighborhood.

1605 Sulgrave Ave., (410) 367-5808
This cheerful, friendly Mount Washington café defies our notion of most Middle Eastern eateries. The usual suspects--falafel, hummus, baba ganouj--are all expertly prepared and elegantly presented, but we like it even better when the kitchen steps out with nonstandards like curried chicken salad with mango. Sink back into the piles of embroidered cushions and enjoy.

8 E. Preston St., (410) 244-1020
The latest in what has become the prototypical Baltimore hangout: popular scenester spot downstairs, serious-minded dining upstairs. Early on, the dining room, just seconds from cultural destinations like the Meyerhoff and the Lyric, has languished needlessly. But word is spreading about the kitchen's skills--go try the filo-wrapped jumbo shrimp, the tender chicken saltimbocca, and especially the poached wild salmon fillets in pungent arugula sauce.

3700 Gough St., (410) 276-6787, www.dipasquales.com
A great Italian market and a chef-run delicatessen that turns out mouth-watering pasta dishes in addition to the submarine sandwiches it's most famous for. Go early, though, since they close shortly after work lets out. Better yet, go on a weekend afternoon, when hardly anyone else is there, and get treated like royalty--if your server fails to bring out a dish of Di Pasquale's dream-worthy bruschetta, ask for it.

300 W. 30th St., (410) 235-0171
A neighborhood bar to put all to shame, Dizzy's wants to not only pour your cups but feed you, too. Along with a solid menu of sandwiches, including a perfect grilled chicken club, hot turkey, and burgers, the handwritten copy of daily specials goes fancy with shrimp, fish, and steak entrées and appetizers that offer a selection of homey goodness that never disappoints. Did we mention the service and holiday-specific lights? We should have.

800 N. Charles St., (410) 385-0180; 3101 St. Paul St., (410) 889-3410; www.donnas.com
How long has it been now? How many cooking sheets of roasted vegetables, how many caper-flecked scoops of that amazing tuna salad? And if you laid end-to-end all of the monkey dishes filled with good herbed olive oil Donna's has placed on patrons' tables for bread-dipping they'd probably reach from here to Tuscany and back. Good, smart Mediterranean-flavored food.

6300 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, (410) 744-4151
If your weekend afternoon party of four can't decide between breakfast and lunch, Italian or Greek, American or seafood, don't decide. Just come to this 24-hour Catonsville standby and make everybody happy. The Double-T makes some mean breakfasts--the lox and onion omelet is a personal fave--and its lunch-counter meat and potatoes and standard Italian fare never disappoints. But we prefer the combination Greek platter (spinach pie, moussaka, grape leaves, Greek side salad) followed by a cup of diner joe and a slice of pie. Bonus round: a liquor license, so you can have a Bloody Mary with your grilled cheese when the fancy strikes.

223 W. Chase St, (410) 752-4059
Although this Mount Vernon pub is best known for its varied and affordable beer selection, there's also some damn fine bar food. They offer an array of hot and cold sandwiches, as well as more substantial entrées, all at extremely affordable prices. Burgers (beef, turkey, or bean) and fries are recommended.

1100 Maryland Ave., (410) 385-0318, www.dukemrestaurant.com
We like Ethiopian food--the rich complexity of its spices, its little-dab-of-everything approach, the communal, utensil-free nature of eating it. And we like Dukem, the new Ethiopian place that took over the Mount Vernon spot formerly occupied by Ghion Café; the new management gave the erstwhile tavern a much-needed revamp, making it lighter and altogether more pleasant. The friendly vibe and tasty wots (Ethiopian stews) will bring you in, keep you there a good while, and bring you back.

53 E. Padonia Road, Timonium, (410) 667-9200
From the drum by the front door that entering and exiting customers bang for good luck to the kimono-clad, hot-towel-bearing staff, Edo Sushi is an earnestly old-school Japanese restaurant. They back up that atmosphere with impeccably fresh fish, expertly prepared by no-nonsense sushi chefs, as well as an extensive menu of traditional--but sometimes hard to find--Japanese dishes like udon, yosenabe (seafood stew), and conch salad. It's BYOB, but the ever-eager staff cheerfully accommodates with chilled glasses for your brown-bagged Sapporo lager.

411 Fagley St., (410) 563-7577, www.eichenkranz.com
One of the last culinary bastions of Baltimore's once-dominant German population, Eichenkranz serves the best wurst in town. Also the best schnitzel (four different kinds), hasenpfeffer, and Schwinkoteletten mit Apfeln (pork cutlets with apples). If that is just too much pork for your personal fork, there is also a broad selection of well-executed classic seafood dishes like crab imperial and stuffed flounder.

5513 Ritchie Highway, Brooklyn Park, (410) 789-1621; 8816 Waltham Woods Road, (410) 668-3980
Ah, El Salto, from tapas and chile rellenos to enchiladas and tacos, you can rarely go wrong at this yummy, cheap Mexican restaurant. With locations in Parkville and Brooklyn Park, El Salto is often overlooked, but never by those who eat there. Comfortable atmosphere, and terrific flan--either one is worth a visit or two.

1744 Eastern Ave., (410) 563-7840
This supercheap Fells Point restaurant churns out superior tacos on fresh, soft tortillas and equally sumptuous tamales. Specials feature variations on workaday Latino food, and you'll be surprised by some of the sweet-meets-savory flavors on the menu. Take it to go, or pull up a white plastic chair and get to work before all that salsa soaks your bag.

318 S. Broadway, (410) 276-6200
Modest, home-style Salvadoran food has been long available along several ramshackle blocks of Broadway in upper Fells Point, but this is the first establishment that feels wholly welcoming to curious gringos. Your first visit should include a plato tipico--one version assembles a good 'n' greasy papusa, marinated steak, rice, refried beans, fried plantains, and a smashing fried corn tamale, all for $8.95. Up the culinary ladder are mesquite-grilled steak and fish. And that's yucca root they bring to your table with the complimentary salsa.

1615 Sulgrave Ave., (410) 664-2971
Ebullient chef Ed Bloom layers classical training onto his beloved Creole cuisine and the results are hugely satisfying. Among the wonders inside this quintessential Mount Washington cottage restaurant are the red wine, apple, and raisin demi-glace that coats a juicy chicken breast; the mini-samplers of freshly prepared soups; and absolutely, positively, the meal-sized, sweat-producing, real-roux flavor-boasting bowls gumbo, filled with your choice of andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, or steak.

Pier 5 Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave., (410) 230-9992, www.serioussteaks.com/steaks/restaurants/eurasian_harbor.htm
This Inner Harbor fusion spot has a slick, dark, stylish dining room and intimidatingly high prices; it's not the sort of restaurant that seems to belong in Baltimore. But the food is beautifully presented and wonderful. The crisp citrus-roasted duck and spicy shrimp and scallop dishes go together beautifully, and the pad Thai is delicate and flavorful. The service is almost too good; we don't need to be constantly asked if everything is OK. It is.

501 W. Cold Spring Lane, (410) 235-8118
The Evergreen, a small café in Roland Park, serves coffee as well as sandwiches and pastries. The food and drinks are good, and there's usually plenty of seating to relax and read one of the many newspapers strewn about the tables. It can get pretty busy on the weekends, though, when people are more likely to come and hang out for hours, thanks in part to the free wireless connection.

Lexington Market, 203 N. Paca St., (410) 727-4898, www.faidleyscrabcakes.com
Go to Lexington Market, get in line at Faidley's, put in your order (no dilly-dallying, please), grab your Styrofoam plate topped with a fish sandwich, some fried clams, or the world's best crab cake (splurge for the all-lump version) and some sides, walk a few steps to the standing-only lunch counters, and eat it. Go back tomorrow and hit the raw bar for oysters. There, you're a regular. Now you have to go back all the time.

Cranbrook Shopping Center, 578 Cranbrook Road, Cockeysville, (410) 667-6104, www.fazzinis.com
Snap out of that Little Italy mindset. There's a restaurant in a strip mall in Cockeysville that serves wonderful Italian food well worth the drive--hearty homemade pastas that always taste fresh, zingy sauces, homemade bread, portions that should be served with a doggie bag right up front. The space is, well, strip mall-y, but the atmosphere couldn't be more friendly, and your meal is gonna be really good.

4700 York Road, Towson, (410) 377-7300
This Rodgers Forge strip-mall pizza counter might put out more food in a day than most of us could eat in a lifetime. And it does it all with a calm brio. The pizza by the slice or whole pie is always solid, as is its zesty tomato bread. These guys can whip up a 12-inch meatball and cheese sub in 10 minutes that will do you right for the rest of the day. And Fortunato's makes a Greek salad served with crumbled feta cheese (not the unwieldy slabs) and a tangy oil and vinaigrette dressing that's a meal unto itself.

3 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, (410) 296-4004; 8865 Stanford Blvd., Columbia, (410) 312-4907
For a thick burrito, quickly and cleanly made before your eyes with delectably fresh ingredients, you can't beat Frisco Burrito. Their marinated tofu burrito (don't forget the spinach, cilantro, and guac) topples all challengers, and their chips and salsa could win ribbons, too. Memo to restaurant owners: A staff as friendly as Frisco's makes every bite taste better.

29 S. Front St., (410) 837-3737, www.gardels.com
An elegant supper club named for Carlos Gardel, the father of the tango, Gardel's offers dancing in a soaring dining room. Chef Russell Braitsch has brought maximalist thinking to every dish, from the tempranillo braised pork shank (with tangelo-scented boniato puree, roasted winter vegetables and marjoram reduction) to the dazzling (and much less expensive) bar menu. And owners the Alonso family greet you like old friends, giving you the feeling that you're the guest of honor at an opulent estate.

2318 Fleet St., (410) 732-1961, www.geckosonline.com
The college-bar space prepares you for the worst sort of Southwestern slop, but looks deceive. The food here is bracingly good and impressively fresh. A superb, homemade black bean and mango chipotle dresses up everything from chicken wings to roasted enchiladas; and the chilaquiles, the classic “poor man's dish,” a kind of Mexican lasagna is worth knowing, too. The Key lime pie is among the best around.

Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, (410) 889-3399
Gertrude's offers tasteful, tasty dining at the Baltimore Museum of Art; tables on a slate patio overlooking the museum's sculpture garden provide one of the most pleasant outdoor dining spots in town. All that said, this is no austere tall-food temple. Chef John Shields is a local boy, and the menu of crab cakes, seafood, and other Chesapeake basin fare is prepared with flair, but also with the kind of gusto and moderate pricing hometown folks can really appreciate.

1105 W. 36th St., (410) 889-8891
Since moving to a larger space a year and a half ago, this Hampden restaurant has become a local cultural landmark, hosting parties and concerts like the recently discontinued series of Quiet Music Nights. But the food is constantly improving. The banana pancakes in coconut syrup are thick and satisfying, and the Thai and Vietnamese salads are light, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. And now there's a bar.

Belvedere Square, 527 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 464-1944, www.grandcrubaltimore.com
Come here to try out tasting flights, wine by the glass, or entire bottles from the wine shop (marked up only by a modest corkage fee). The friendly staff kill themselves to demystify the wine-tasting experience, making it accessible and enjoyable. Food from neighboring markets--gorgeous antipasti from Ceriellos, awesome smoked morsels from Neopol--help make this the ultimate destination for before or after trips to the nearby Senator Theatre.

5809 Clarksville Square Drive, Clarksville, (443) 535-9400, www.rootsmkt.com
Vegetarianism gets a first-class venue in this stylish, sophisticated Howard County bistro, a love project from the folks behind the (almost) adjacent Roots Market. Start with the Great Sage sampler of mushroom-walnut pâté, orange-spiced carrot purée, and a Georgian beet plate. Continue with an artisinal cheese plate, and keep your eye on the nightly specials, which exhibit more flair than the standard menu.

3901 S. Hanover St., (410) 354-0085
Depending on your qualifications, Gunning's may be the last old-school, blue-collar crab house left inside city limits. Plus, it's the quirkiest crab house around, what with the tacky yet lovable “garden” dining patio and the weirdest side dish to be found on a local menu: powdered sugar-covered deep-fried green pepper rings. Oh, and the crabs are good, as is the rest of the menu, including a delicious stuffed soft-shell crab.

1000 Hull St., (410) 837-0073, www.myharvesttable.com
Why is Harvest Table one of our favorite destinations for Saturday morning breakfast? Credit the homemade muffins, the healthy blender drinks, the chicken pancakes with pear salsa, and the Carolina layered breakfast--scrambled eggs, grits, cheddar cheese, and chopped bacon. Throw in the laptop-friendly tables, the sunny bright ambiance--on the beautiful Tide Point campus, whose denizens cram the place for weekday lunch--and we're pulling off our pajamas in anticipation.

1825 N. Smallwood St., (410) 523-9800, www.heavensgateeatery.com
The ground on which the foundation of Heaven's Gate rests used to be a trash-infested West Baltimore lot that members of the Mount Hebron Church cleared every summer for tent revivals. Now it's a sanctuary of another sort. The church operates a restaurant where kids and area residents can kick back with hearty down-home cooking like good ol' mac 'n' cheese, lake trout, fried chicken, and collards. If you've grown up with--or grown to love--Southern, soulful, home-style food, Heaven's Gate certainly puts you in a restful state of mind. And we're not just talking about the effects of that sugary sweet tea.

2908 O'Donnell St., (410) 276-2233,www.helensgarden.com
Unlike most of its neighbors along Canton Square, upmarket Helen's draws its most loyal clientele from beyond the immediate neighborhood. Co-owners Ed Scherer and Tom Looney have earned a savvy following by making casual dining feel special, by letting their kitchen's talents and imaginations grow, and by devising weekly specials that attract something like a mob. The wine bar downstairs hosts the city's longest happy hour (Tuesday through Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and spirited, impromptu trivia matches. Perfect for when Mom comes to town.

806 N. Charles St., (410) 752-0311, www.helmand.com
One of the best-loved dining spots in town, this Afghan restaurant is the place to take someone when you want to show them that Baltimore has some serious restaurant chops. The ambiance is warm and inviting, but also classy, so you feel equally comfortable in jeans or a suit and tie. The entrées, including many vegetarian options, are delicious and so reasonably priced that you almost feel guilty for not demanding to pay more. Consider it a perk for living in the city.

8812 Bank St., (410) 342-2172, www.henningerstavern.com
Long the perfect destination for romantically inclined couples, this charmingly outfitted, off-the-beaten-path, insiders-choice Fells Point dining room approaches nirvana--the pan-fried breaded oysters in Pernod and fennel and the bacon-wrapped Texas-barbecue shrimp achieve it. The small menu helps concentrate the kitchen's efforts on smashing crab cakes and carefully wrought steaks. The friendly bar attracts a savvy crowd who order from a lower-priced menu of soups and sandwiches.

908 W. 36th St., (410) 235-2326
We loved this once-tiny Hampden restaurant before they added on a spacious bar next door. Back in the days of BYOB, we were happy to. But with the opening of the bar, which has quickly become a local favorite, we've found so many more things to love. Most have the word “margarita” in them. Now Frijoles! is a triple-threat: inexpensive Tex-Mex comfort food, yummy drinks like mango and pomegranate margaritas, and a fun neighborhood-bar atmosphere.

4805 Eastern Ave., (410) 633-3750
Trendy restaurants are popping up all over East Baltimore, but oblivious Ikaros just keeps on doing what it has done so well for so long: classic Greek fare served in a simple whitewashed dining room. Home to Baltimore's best moussaka, Ikaros also serves a standout taramasalata and gargantuan kebabs. And we are reasonably sure that this is the only restaurant in town that serves flaming cheese.

411 S. High St., (410) 385-4900, www.indiarasoirestaurant.com
Homey is a good word to describe the ambiance of India Rasoi, housed in a modest little rowhouse in Little Italy. The décor is simple, but the flavors here are complex--surprisingly spicy chicken masalas and ridiculously rich korma sauces are highlights of the menu. But the true star is the mulligatawny soup, for which we return to Rasoi again and again.

2101 N. Charles St., (410) 468-0969
The cheap, cheap lunch buffet (still $4.95) at last count has created a lunchtime following. But dinner has its own rewards--a BYOB policy and a sweet, candlelit dining room tended to by the charismatic Davinder Singh. Remember to start with a bowl of fresh lentil soup, and tell your vegetarian friends about the vegetable thaali, a meal-sized assortment of delicious samosas and pakoras.

Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington St., (410) 539-6039
You never have to wait at this Lexington Market stand where if it can be deep-fried it will be. It's almost like the four to 10 people working at Italian Stallion can read your mind as you approach, because by the time you've ordered, paid, and received changed, your grub--from subs to pizza, fries to onion rings--is being passed to you tidily wrapped up. Bonus round: Cold beer on tap to cool the oven-lip you get from biting into that piping-hot lunch.

518 N. Charles St. (410) 727-1800, www.ixia-online.com
From the more traditional dishes like the braised lamb shank osso buco to the old-standards-with-a-twist such as the wasabi pea-encrusted wild salmon, Ixia does Mediterranean fusion divinely. The design of the restaurant itself is airy, contemporary, and graceful, an elegant complement to the well-put-together menu. Word to the wise: Don't skip the appetizer course here, as the selections, which include a phenomenal Hudson Valley foie gras, are as carefully executed as the main courses.

510 York Road, Towson, (410) 296-9118
Despite the constantly changing face of Towson dining, Jasmine Restaurant has settled in to become a mainstay. Whether it's the tempting dishes like coconut curry chicken and basil chicken and shrimp, and their uniquely delicious sushi rolls (try the sweet potato tempura roll), or the easy proximity to Towson colleges, Jasmine is the budget-easy version of Thai One On/San Sushi Too.

2141 York Road, Timonium, (410) 308-2700
Food that folks like--crabcake platters, steak smothered with onions, and pasta dishes--served up in a welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere a stone's throw from the State Fairgrounds. Soups are homemade (try the crab), and the customary sides--fries and slaw--are considerably better than usual. There are ample vegetarian choices, too.

7800 Thames St., (410) 327-5561, www.johnstevenltd.com
John Steven Ltd. doesn't buck trends--it defies them. This classic corner pub with a smoke and oiled-wood patina has one of the best sets of taps in town, as well as serving notch-above pub grub and studiously prepared seafood plates. Extra points for outdoor dining and new hardwood floors, a reminder that John Steven survived a hurricane and will probably outlast you.

18 W. 20th St., (410) 837-5231
Joung Kak stands out from the pack of midtown Korean restaurants by virtue of its seafood dishes. However, the Korean hot pots are where the real action is. Available in nearly any combination of ingredients imaginable, your server brings you a cauldron of tender crustaceans and cephalopods mingled--if you dare--with less familiar ingredients such as fish cake all sizzling over red-hot coals.

American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, (410) 244-6500, www.avam.org/joyamerica
Perched atop one of the most interesting museums in town sits Joy America Café. But this is no museum cafeteria; this is a bona fide restaurant, with a gorgeous view of the Inner Harbor and a menu to rival any in Baltimore. The cuisine is a combination of American Southwest and Central and South America, and the star of the show is the guacamole, freshly prepared at your table. Killer desserts, too. Check out the bread pudding.

4606 Thames St., (410) 276-4700, www.kaliscourt.net
This beautiful Mediterranean restaurant in Fells Point has a crisp classiness that is perfect for special occasions. But it's the wonders they work with fish that keep us coming back. The grilled octopus is firm, not chewy, and the whole fish--the bronzini and the dorade are favorites--are simply prepared, allowing all the natural flavors to come through. This is one of the city's top choices for people who don't think fish can ever be too fishy.

1606 Thames St., (410) 563-7600
Small plate for small plate, Kali's Court Mezze is the best you're likely to find in town. We can't get enough of those otherworldly spinach fritters, but of late the plate of haloumi, grillable sheep's cheese native to Cyprus, is competing for our attention. Everything pleases, though--oven-baked oysters topped with spinach and feta; fried (real) calamari; silky hummus and baba ghanouj. The serious sangría is spiked with brandy, and all of the portions are bigger than you'd expect, considering the concept.

413 N. Charles St., (410) 659-7600, www.kawasakiassociates.com
This downtown Japanese restaurant is a great place to take both sushi newbies and aficionados. They serve delicious nigiri and have a large maki menu, with rolls to suit all tastes, from veggie and smoked salmon for the timid to rolls that contain so much raw fish they could choke a whale. And Kawasaki offers a chef's selection of sushi designed to ease people into the deeply traumatizing experience of raw fish served in an enormous toy boat. They also have an impressive sake bar, which makes the whole toy boat experience even more fun.

3450 Wilkens Ave., (410) 644-8716, www.kibbysrestaurant.com
This is the kind of restaurant your grandparents love: The food is predictable and straightforward, prepared old-school style with iceberg-lettuce salads and steamed veggies on the side. But Kibby's is also the kind of restaurant we love: The food is predictably delicious and served up at ridiculously reasonable prices. The place is legendary for its shrimp salad, but it also deserves props for its crab cakes and sour beef with dumplings.

1017 Light St., (410) 468-4468
This South Baltimore sushi spot with images of sumo wrestlers, geishas, and huge sea waves offers a counter in front of the chef with just enough space for a tray of sterling sushi, big silver cans of Sapporo, and a shared li'l sake pitcher. Along with the requisite sushi à la carte selections, spicy tuna rolls, rainbow rolls with layers of brightly colored sliced fish, smoked eel rolls with avocado, and smoked salmon skin rolls also with avocado all satisfy. Kanpai.

Can Company, 2400 Boston St., (410) 977-0254, www.kisscafe.us
Kiss Café defies description. It's a restaurant/coffee house/pool hall/bar. You're likely to see a knitting group sipping coffee next to a couple eating a romantic dinner, all downstairs from a bunch of guys drinking beer and playing pool. But it seems to keep the Cantonites happy, and who can ask for more? The burgers and sandwiches are pretty good, as are the desserts, and they have special deals most nights of the week (Wednesday is low-carb night--how disturbing). They also offer a free wireless connection throughout the building.

Belvedere Hotel, 1023 N. Charles St, 410-685-0780
Kobe houses both teppan-yaki chefs and a great sushi bar. This makes for an exciting dining experience, where you can chow down on delicious nigiri and maki to the sights and sounds of flying utensils and customers who just caught a shrimp in their lap. Kobe also acts as a club on Friday and Saturday nights, so you can hang around after your meal and savor your sake.

1702 Thames St., (410) 563-5423, www.koopers.com
Huge crab cakes, superior hamburgers, and a solid Sunday brunch have secured this Fells Point restaurant/bar a permanent place in the affections of the kind of regulars that look awkward out of their lacrosse uniforms. Tuesday is the insanely popular $3 burger night.

1718 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-9485, www.gabirecords.com/lacazuelaindex.htm
One of last season's happiest arrivals, this modest Fells Point eatery serves up simple and very hearty Ecuadoran fare. Did we say hearty? We meant gargantuan--the churrasco assembles long, flat cuts of marinated steak, avocado, a mountain of white rice, fried eggs, tomatoes, and steak-cut fries; a mammoth fritada adds plantains and hominy to melting-off-the-bone roasted pork. Also try Ecuadoran specialties like moto pillo (mac 'n' cheese, but with hominy), chuzos (Ecuador's worthy entry into the world skewered-beef sweepstakes), and strangely dark, brothy, and briny Ecuadoran ceviche.

3928 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-5055
For Mexican-Mexican food in Maryland--as opposed to Tex-Mex or masquerading Salvadoran places--your best bet is the “Little Mexico” group of shops and restaurants in Bladensburg. If that's not possible, head to La Sirenita, a Highlandtown outpost of one of those Little Mexico cafés. At this locals-ish yet inviting spot you'll find huge seafood soups (filled with whole bony fish, big shrimp, octopus, and much more), ceviche cocktails, moles, chilaquiles, terrific tacos--and very little cheese, sour cream, or guacamole.

548 Albemarle St., (410) 685-1859, www.la-tavola.com
This perfectly agreeable Little Italy restaurant carves out a niche with its casual (but not overly so) setting, and its made-from-scratch pasta dishes, all of them enterprising, complex in composition, but simple in their impact--green and white linguine tossed with prosciutto, shallots, mushrooms, and sweet peas or priests' caps stuffed with ricotta cheese and chopped spinach. Veal and seafood fill up the refreshingly manageable menu.

1626 Aliceanna St., (410) 276-6606
Liquid Earth is indispensable. A family-run, personally tended vegetarian spot featuring the city's most seriously managed juice bar--it's the only place we'd ever dream of going for fresh wheatgrass juice. The regular menu consists of salads and splendid sandwiches like vegetarian Reubens and muffuletta. Daily homemade soups are a best bet. The restaurant doubles effortlessly as a mellow café/hangout, abetted by French-press coffee, loose teas, and sublime homemade vegan pastries.

1325 Key Highway, (410) 837-9903, www.littlehavanas.com
This South Baltimore Cuban restaurant and bar is packed to the gills most summer nights. In addition to the tasty Cuban dishes and mojitos (served by the pitcher but better by the glass), Little Havana has a large outdoor patio where you can relax on the water and sip the night away.

5506 Harford Road, (410) 444-4220, www.losamigosbaltimore.com
Possibly the best sit-down Mexican restaurant in Baltimore, Los Amigos has a number of dishes nailed: Melt-in-your-mouth ceviche, kickass margaritas, and gut-busting tacos de carne asada served with an excellent tomatilla sauce. Like most Mexican restaurants around here, though, the owners aren't Mexican; they're Peruvian (the paintings of Andean kids and llamas are a giveaway). So give the roasted pork and french fries a shot next time. Either way, you'll be greeted with a warm Hola, amigos.

1708 Aliceanna St. , (410) 327-2610
What could be mo' betta than gazing in your lover's eyes over candlelight? How about, in addition, a great aged Angus filet, a New York strip, or a grilled lamb chop in a mahogany-style restaurant that makes you feel like you're in the middle of a state long on Southern comfort? You'll never tire of good choices at Louisiana--like the gumbo or the catfish with Cajun collard greens and tasso ham. And if you're feeling French, try the rockfish with fennel, creamy sauce, and jumbo-lump crabmeat. Très magnifique.

6100 E. Fort Ave., (410) 576-9294, www.lpsteamers.com
L.P. Steamers is, above all, a great place to eat crabs in Baltimore. It's family-owned and family-operated, and one of the few places around that doesn't feel like a factory. The limited-seating rooftop deck is worth strategizing for--it's our choice spot for bringing out-of-towners and other first-time crab-eaters. The city should be filled with duckpin houses and friendly neighborhood crab houses like this one. Support the ones we've got.

Power Plant Live!, 26 Market Place, (410) 539-5353
They serve alligator at Lucille's. Yup, alligator. For the less brave, Lucille's has a variety of bar fare, including the tart and tangy Asian chicken salad, the heavily loaded black and blue burger topped with a mound of so-what-if-it's-not good-for-you blue cheese, and various Cajun favorites. The staff are upbeat and receptive and won't tell if you have a beer on your lunch break. Oh, and in case you're still stuck on the alligator thing, it tastes a lot like chicken. Seriously.

106 W. Saratoga St., (410) 727-9522
The oldest of old-school Baltimore restaurants, Marconi's enters its ninth decade with a menu dedicated to Continental classics like sweetbreads, lobster cardinale, and sole almondine. Time seems to stand still in the elegant celery-green dining room with its crystal chandeliers, and the tuxedo'd waiters are the very soul of deferential solicitousness. Marconi's may seem an odd place for the city's most magnificent hot fudge sundae, but trust us and save room.

2901 O'Donnell St., (410) 276-3160, www.mamasonthehalfshell.com
This nervy attempt to create, out of nothing, the feel of an old-fashioned oyster house could have misfired so badly. But it didn't. The result is this thoroughly decent, atmospheric restaurant in the heart of Canton. Don't pass up the raw oysters, about which the staff is eloquently knowledgeable; make room for the perfect oyster stew; and consider one of the entrées from the section of “Connelly's Classics”--crab cakes, simply fried fish, and seafood. The fish and chips features flaky cod in a Pabst Blue Ribbon batter.

911 W. 36th St., (410) 366-2996
Tired of the cutesy and self-consciously kitschy restaurants that have choked Baltimore's restaurant scene? Then why not get a taste of the real thing? Mamie's has only been around for 10 years, but it has an authentic old-school feel, with its mismatched tables and place settings and a décor that ranges from Grandma's house to budget Medieval Times. And the food is of the serious comfort variety. Plus, Mamie's has never met anything it doesn't want to stuff with crabmeat: shrimp, oysters, mushrooms, potato skins.

6365B Dobbin Road, Columbia, (410) 884-3426.
Herbivores and masala addicts take notice. Mango Grove's south Indian cuisine eschews meat entirely, and its paper masala dosai--a plus-sized pastry stuffed with spicy potatoes--offers a majestic twist on more familiar Indian fare. The Grove's appetizer and dosai menus do heavily favor potatoes and lentils, so for variety's sake bring friends and throw some equally excellent curries into the mix.

102 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, (410) 486-9910, www.marilunamexicangrill.com
Mari Luna offers surprising and delightfully handcrafted Mexican food in a smartly renovated roadside structure. The sample platter introduces diners to exemplary versions of papusa, tamales, flautas, and enchiladas, along with some of the very best gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) inside or out of the Beltway. Among the delectable, ambitious entrées (featuring lamb shanks, pork chops, and salmon) is the steal of the decade--a $10 half-chicken coated with a triumphant mole sauce.

214 W Mulberry St., (410) 752-5155
Thirty-five years ago Morris Martick democratized dining in Baltimore by introducing classic dishes like his elaborate, scrumptious bouillabaisse but not charging the stratospheric prices typical of French restaurants. Times have changed but Martick's has not. It's still a relative bargain, with fabulous French fare like pâté, cherry-glazed duck, and profiteroles in a dimly lit, snake skin-wallpapered time-warp atmosphere.

1105 S. Charles St., (410) 752-8561
This little Japanese restaurant is in the heart of Federal Hill, right by the Cross Street Market, which means you'll be pretty annoyed by the time you get to the front door due to your inability to find any place to park nearby. Don't worry, all of your anger will melt away when you start munching on the delicious sushi, and be sure to order the perfectly salted edamame to start. Desserts like red bean ice cream are also worth a taste. To top it all off, Matsuri is relatively inexpensive for a sushi restaurant, which means you'll be whistling a happy little tune as you walk the two miles back to your car.

3131 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-8755
This Highlandtown institution, conveniently across the street from the Creative Alliance, has been offering up the thickest, most tempting pizza in town since before we were born. Matthew's offers thin-crust pizza as well, but the deep-dish pies are the way to go. Show up early; they tend to run out of ingredients later in the evening.

Qier 5 Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave., (410) 234-1300, www.mccormickandschmicks.com
This seafood restaurant is a great place to take visitors--they get to see both the Inner Harbor and eat crab cakes at the same time. And if the thought of braving the Inner Harbor makes you develop a migraine, console yourself with the knowledge that this place is good. Fresh fish are flown in every day, and the menu offers an extensive selection of all things from the sea. It's pricey, of course, but if you're there you're probably not the one paying. There's also a bar where you can have a more casual dinner or grab a stiff drink to prepare yourself for the inevitable tour of the U.S.S. Constitution.

902 S. Charles St., (410) 234-0235
The wine bar downstairs has attracted a Federal Hill crowd that feels too grown-up for neighboring beer- and vodka-soaked establishments. The regular menu combines big-ticket fare, like an excellent fillet of salmon prettily coated black-and-white sesame seeds, with pubbish selections like quesadillas and Reubens. By day, Metropolitan remains an accommodating location for coffee and breakfast.

235 W. Read St., (410) 462-3662
If two people occupy the lone stools in this Mount Vernon carry-out the place feels hot-spot packed, but it's still worth waiting out the rush to order a pizza, calzone, or one of its many subs. It's not so much that Michaelangelo's fare is head and shoulders above others of its ilk--it knows its way around a veggie sub, but that's also hard to muck up. But the food bang for the buck here is pretty sweet. An eight-inch veggie sub is only going to set you back $4.99. And, ladies, Michaelangelo's eight inches actually looks like eight inches.

728 N. Charles St., (410) 539-7504, www.mickosheas.com
While we can pretty much agree that Irish bar fare is often less than exquisite, nothing beats a great shepherd's pie and so-thick-its-almost-an-appetizer beer the day after a night on the town. Cheers to Mick O'Shea's, then, for providing Baltimore with exactly that in a casual, friendly, and hangover-welcoming environment.

800 N. Charles St., (410) 332-0332, www.geocities.com/minato_restaurant
Step through the doors of the downstairs entrance to Minato, and feel like you have walked into a land of taste-bud pleasure. Everything's good--the atmosphere, the pungently delicious teriyaki chicken, and the oh so magically prepared sushi. Oh, and the shumai, oh my. And the owners always greet you with a nod and a smile.

Power Plant Live!, 30 Market Place, (410)-244-8080
While you won't have much trouble finding places to eat along Power Plant Live!'s restaurant row, Mondo Bondo's colorful front and casual inviting setup is sure to lure in the indecisive. The appeal doesn't stop at the door, either. Once inside, you are tempted to choose from a wide array of tasty treats such as the ever-messy (but still worth the napkins it requires) pastrami Reuben, a delicious, almost gourmet chicken cheese steak, and of course plenty of Italian-inspired meals perfect for anyone craving the stick-to-your-ribs variety of entrée. And the real kicker? They deliver.

909 N. Charles St., (410) 685-7427
With two great and diverse atmospheres available via the upstairs and downstairs seating, and a menu chock-full of oversized sandwiches, giant wraps, burgers, and even Mexican food, you can't go wrong with a stop at the Stable. Sit upstairs for a casual dinner date, or hit the downstairs bar for beers and the inevitable jukebox selections that follow. Have we mentioned the carafes of Bloody Mary or mimosa during Sunday brunch? There's something oddly satisfying about finishing a “carafe” of alcohol, and at only $14.

5700 Newbury Road, (410) 367-6903, www.mtwashingtontavern.com
Wend your way back through the woody barroom and find yourself in an unexpectedly soaring atrium space that's ideal for family dining, brunch, and other informal, leisurely meal situations. Sit down and order from the menu of clubby pub fare with confidence that it's gonna be good and surprise-free (in ways both positive and maybe not so, depending on how much excitement you're looking for). If they want to seat you in one of the building's other dining nooks, pitch a small fit.

1000 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, (410) 484-1100
Those bored with their neighborhood Chinese joint need to take a trek up Reisterstown Road and help themselves to such mind-blowing delights as Chan's nasu ten maki (eggplant tempura and sundried tomato sushi). Think you've mastered Chan's massive (tempeh, seitan, healmay, yuba) vegetarian menu? Sample sleepers like the innocuously titled green curry with tofu, a knockout combo of piping hot bean curd, spinach, peppers, shiitake, and shallots.

920 N. Charles St., (410) 547-0001
An Indian restaurant with a beautiful dark wood bar, a copious lunch buffet, and a legendary Sunday brunch, Mughal Garden, in the heart of Mount Vernon, more than holds its own. Service is attentive, the tandoori chicken is juicy, and the curry, yogurt, and flatbreads make the mouth water.

2907 O'Donnell St., (410) 675-0898, www.nachomamascanton.com
This small Canton restaurant pays homage to all things Natty Boh, and it's suggested that you start imbibing immediately because a good buzz is the only thing that will take your mind off the long wait to get seated. Should you manage to get a table, Nacho Mama's serves good Tex-Mex grub (try the salsa) and a pretty tasty margarita. But be prepared for tight quarters and drunk people at the bar still waiting to be seated.

2126 Maryland Ave., (410) 685-6237
A late-night favorite of Hopkins students, Nam Kang brings out the spicy kimchi assortment to start you off and follows with sumptuous delights from the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese traditions. The modestly decorated basement restaurant features a TV hanging over the sushi bar and a dividing wall made partially of fish tanks, making Nam Kang cozy, authentic, and inexpensive.

829 N. Charles St., (410) 727-7191
The newly rebuilt and redecorated Never on Sunday is the same old favorite we remember from years ago. Wait, no, that's not quite true; it's an improvement. Selling the same tasty cheese steaks, pizzas, and Greek dishes to die for (and until 3 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday), Never on Sunday has cleaned up its act. Imagine eating fast food in a warm, inviting, and clean atmosphere. Too good to be true, right? OK, but take a hint from the name of the place and go on a Saturday.

138 W. 25th St., (410) 235-5100
There are plenty of old-school diners out in the counties, but precious few within city limits. This is one. Breakfast and lunch, served hot and cheap at a lunch counter or a handful of booths. Anything with the gravy on it is gonna be really good.

2600 Insulator Drive, (410) 347-4123, www.nicksfishouse.com
Once the folks behind this only-of-its-kind seafood shack began to fully capitalize on the access its owners (they're the folks behind the legendary seafood stalls at Cross Street Market) had to the freshest fish and seafood available, everything started to fall into place. The setting, overlooking the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, was already in place. When the weather turns warmer, make sure you head down there. Arrive early for the best tables on the lower deck.

1727 E. Pratt St., (410) 732-6399, www.obryckis.com
Obrycki's, the popular upper Fells Point crab house, is fairly well-known nationally, so it can get pretty busy, especially on the weekends. The black pepper-spiced crabs are pretty good, but the crab cakes and sandwiches are even better. And for some reason, there's free wireless access, because there's nothing strange at all about surfing the internet while jackhammering crab legs. Just make sure to bring one of those plastic covers for your keyboard, because crab juice between your keys is gross.

-534 York Road, Lutherville, (410) 321-7744
Steamed crabs are the order of the day at Ocean Pride when the side-walking crustaceans are in season, but it also serves up other solid seafood fare worth checking out: raw oysters, fried clams, crab cakes, and the usual accompanying fries and slaw that complements such so well. But even better than the steamed blues are Ocean Pride's seasonal soft shells. A sautéed soft-shell crab served with a piece of green leaf lettuce, a thick-cut slice of summer tomato with a bit of salt and pepper, and a skosh of mayo on a kaiser roll is one of the best things about living on the Chesapeake Bay. And if the rest of the world doesn't know it, well, let's just keep it to ourselves.

100 W. University Parkway, (410) 235-5777, www.one-world-cafe.com
We miss the relaxed, homey atmosphere of the One World's old Federal Hill location, but the restaurant has certainly stepped up its menu since moving to University Parkway, offering tasty vegetarian fare as well as a great little dessert selection and a whole mess of smoothies. The nacho plate is among the largest and cheesiest we've ever failed to polish off in one sitting.

8815 Orchard Tree Lane, Towson, (410) 339-7700
For years this has been the quintessential treasure of the true foodie. Hidden from view in a doleful strip mall, hard by a skating rink, this pretty storefront restaurant introduced myriad locals to the allure of Persian food with skewered and slow-roasted cubes of beef and lamb, set off tantalizingly with pomegranates; almond-encrusted salmon; an eggplant and artichoke appetizer that melds sweet and salty flavors with feta cheese and black olives.

Belvedere Hotel, 1 E. Chase St., (410) 347-0888
History means more than your exes at this brick-lined Prohibition-era restaurant in the Belvedere. A charming hit for whatever you're in the mood for, the wood bar with a million beers on tap and roomy tables are a fitting space for crispy pizza from a wood-burning oven, two-pound steaks with the starch and veg served on the side, tons of seafood, large sandwiches, and salads that are well worth the 10 spot.

9726 York Road, Cockeysville, (410) 666-2336, www.pacificrimrestaurant.com
Don't judge Pacific Rim by its bland suburban wasteland exterior. Inside this friendly Cockeysville restaurant is a cheery series of dining rooms and an extensive menu of Szechuan, Chinese, Japanese, Asian fusion, and sushi options that will require a few lives to try. Pacific Rim scores bonus points for whipping up a seaweed salad that you don't push aside after three bites, a salmon avocado teriyaki we'd like to use as a face mask, and the absurd Rock-n-Roll Maki--eel, cucumber, and crab stick inside, avocado, tuna, salmon, and fish roe outside--that we would shellac and put on the wall were it not so freaking yummy.

227 W. 29th St., (410) 889-4444, www.papermoondiner24.com
Thank God for those few restaurants that will feed you in the middle of the night, especially those that make it taste good. Paper Moon is a staple of the late-night dining crowd, and the line out the door most weekend nights proves its popularity. But the late hours aren't the only reason the line trails out the door. Regardless of when you go, Paper Moon offers a large breakfast menu (the omelettes and home fries are particularly good), as well as a wide selection of sandwiches. Also, the décor is not to be missed. But don't be startled by the mannequin in the bathroom.

131 S. Schroeder St., (410) 576-8899, www.patricksofpratt.com
Patrick's is the latest incarnation of a family tavern business that has operated since before the Civil War across the street from what is now the B&O Railroad Museum. A tongue-in-cheek awning sign announces the restaurant as “Baltimore's finest Irish cappuccino and wine bar.” Fancy coffee and wine it has, along with decent American fare, a fine array of beer, no smoking, and the comfort of knowing the owners have had the same tavern in their genes for generations.

2426 N. Charles St., (410) 235-8744
We stand behind the light and salty moo shu vegetable with rice instead of those stupid pancakes and thickly sauced, spicy Szechuan bean curd with vegetables. Spring rolls come hot as hell when you get the goods delivered--which you should do, as the dining room is nothing special. Wait, the cold noodles in peanut sauce slays. And the sweet and sour chicken. Good American Chinese food, straight to your door.

1425 Aliceanna St., (410) 534-7296, www.pazorestaurant.com
The talk of the town, and with reason. The folks behind Charleston and Petit Louis unveiled a space of such staggering and sumptuous loveliness that patrons fairly swooned walking in. The menu, inspired by the peasant cuisines and techniques of Sicily, Sardinia, Catalonia, and Campania, comprises a couple dozen small plates of varying interest--try some of the gamier dishes like the Corsican rabbit, or the small wonders like roasted potatoes rendered in lamb fat. Weekend evenings can be overwhelming, and you'll feel better in pretty clothes.

1401 E. Clement St., (410) 727-1212, www.pazza-luna.com
Salted away among the bar-and-grills of Locust Point you'll find this oasis of thoughtful Italian fare. Carved out of a Formstone rowhouse, Pazza Luna offers classy Italian cuisine that combines flair with a respect for tradition. Fettuccine Bolognese is a cream-kissed dream--hearty with vegetables, veal, and lamb--while the veal scallopini features riffs of shiitake mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Stay alert for occasional specials.

504 S. Ann St., (410) 675-7313, www.petersinn.com
Tucked away inside this tiny, slightly grotty Fells Point bar is one of the most ambitious, most consistent, and all-around best kitchens in Baltimore--and when you compare per square footage, it may top all three categories. Chef Karin Fuller Tiffany's chalkboard menu only holds about a half dozen, ever-changing appetizers and entrées, but there's always a killer steak, always a veggie option, and everything is always hearty, generous, artfully prepared, loaded with flavor, and extremely affordable. If you can't eat happy here, we don't wanna eat with you.

3130 Greenmount Ave., (410) 467-7698
This corner lunch counter in Waverly caters to early birds. It's usually closed for the day by 1:30, so getting there in time can be a challenge. Even if you do rouse yourself early enough, you're likely to hit quite a line before getting seated, especially on the weekends. Pete's only offers counter seating, which can quickly turn into tag-team eating, where a line forms behind each stool waiting for the occupant to wolf down breakfast and vacate. But once you're on that coveted stool it's all worth it. Pete's serves one of the best breakfasts in town, with perfect hashbrowns and homemade waffles like your mother would make if she was still willing to cook for you.

4800 Roland Ave., (410) 366-9393, www.petitlouis.com
Classy but approachable Petit Louis is the perfect neighborhood restaurant for old-fashioned, shabby-around-the-edges Roland Park: the classic French bistro fare, while excellently prepared, offers no surprises. The menu is both sophisticated and relatively affordable, and the atmosphere cozy. In short, it's kind of like (neighborhood resident) Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant with escargots and tarte alsacienne a l'oignon.

5764 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, (410) 719-7500
We are happy to observe that simple storefront pho joints seem to be proliferating these days, making it ever easier to grab a quick, soulful bowl. The aptly named Pho #1 is the area's best soup shop, featuring 36 varieties of the Vietnamese staple served quickly and very inexpensively in relatively upscale surroundings. Most importantly there is a liquor license for washing down pho tai chin with a bottle of 33 Export.

Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington St., (410) 539-8385; 3212 Washington Blvd., (410) 644-5997
Baltimore's Eastern European roots still show in the town's love of a good Polish dog with lots of sauerkraut. The best place to grab the quintessential tubesteak treat is still Polock Johnny's, where the dogs are always firm, plump, and flavorful and a bargain at $2.50 for a jumbo. The perfect sides? Hand-cut “Ocean City” fries and homemade lemonade, of course.

771 Washington Blvd., (410) 539-5615, www.porterscoffeehouse.com
Porters serves classic breakfast and lunch platters--we're talking scrambled eggs and scrapple or corned beef sandwiches--but it's the coffee that has us hooked. Delicious, cold-brewed iced coffee, with nary a hint of acidity, and just the right sweetness. Drop in some sunny day, place your order, find a table upstairs, and enjoy the beautifully restored, airy Pigtown building with a book and that coffee. You'll be hooked.

9101 N. Calvert St., (410) 539-1804, www.theprimerib.com
From the leopard-skin carpet to the baby grand piano to the beef-o-rific board of fare, the Prime Rib defines swanky dining in this town. The dry-aged steaks are marvelous, the silky crab imperial a cardiologist's nightmare; even the vegetables--creamed spinach, asparagus with hollandaise--are bad for you. Wear your fur coat--everyone else is--and don't forget to tip the piano player.

Scarlett Place, 729 E. Pratt St., (410) 837-0080
When the Orchid operated up near the Washington Monument, Russel Wong introduced his delicately sublime take on French-Asian fusion to many a Baltimorean, who proceeded to lose touch with him when the works moved down to the Inner Harbor. This is our annual Eat exhortation for you to find your way down there (see: Complimentary Parking [WAS CUT] ) and taste what you've been missing.

213 Penn St., (410) 752-3896
Rasta chef Ras Doobie and his lady Queen Nzinga turn out some of the city's funky-freshest Caribbean chow in this colorful and exuberant little eatery. The kitchen has a particularly light hand with fish--don't miss the red snapper escaveitch--but we've never met a dish there we didn't like.

300 St. Paul St., (410) 230-0450, www.redemmas.org
A well-stocked bookstore and very valuable and friendly performance, meeting, and congregating space has been created by a collective of righteous anarchists in a long-abandoned Mount Vernon storefront. The early menu consists mainly of bagel sandwiches, granola, and vegan pastries. A perfectly honorable miso soup holds promise for more ambitious fare. Ask to try a suck of the yerba matte. Free computer access, too.

845 S. Montford St., (443) 524-1454, www.redfishusa.com
The kitchen here is capable of extreme pleasures--coquilles au poivre combine pan-seared scallops and artichoke hearts in a lobster broth laced with Plugra butter; a dry-rubbed flatiron steak entrée comes with crispy fried onions and smashed Gouda potatoes. Generous portions, and pretty plating help, with pasta specials joining the parade of seafood. The great half-price appetizer special is available only at the bar, which gets real crowded.

830 N. Charles St., (410) 547-0149, www.930redmaple.com
Red Maple is a trendsetting Mount Vernon hot spot, with deeply sexy California good looks and feel-happy music spun by cocksure DJs. The “Asian style tapas” are perfect for the space--they're great-looking and offer immediate, sensual pleasure. We're thinking of the tuna tartare won ton tower and the black bean scallion rice cakes. Eating them off low tables is awkward, though, if you've been skipping that Pilates class.

906 S. Wolfe St., (410) 675-0212, www.redstarbar.us
Time to stop talking about the amazing renovation of this once-forgotten Fells Point restaurant and start realizing how good the casual fare is. We've found the best panino in Baltimore here, with fat roma sausage, peppers, and onions; highly recommendable thin-crust pizza; and carefully composed entrée salads, featuring flank steak and crabmeat.

Belvedere Square, 600 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 464-1000, www.ryansdaughteririshpub.com
The aggressive wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling Irish-themed décor is probably going to attract and slightly repel potential diners in equal measure. That said, this Belvedere Square pub/restaurant has built a loyal following during its short existence, and it ain't for the décor. The menu updates Old World pubby faves (fish and chips, a spread of meat pies, and various traditional Irish entrées) and dishes them out with relative care and a gratifying minimum of Mickey Mouse.

001 Fawn St., (410) 727-9414, www.sabatinos.com
Before chain restaurants corrupted Italian-American dining traditions--family-style serving, bread served with butter, thank you, not olive oil--there was Sabatino's. A Little Italy stalwart, Sabatino's still bears the standard for vintage Italian-American fare: generous portions, long-simmered sauces, and larders of cheese in every bite. Classics are recommended here, like chicken parimgiana and penne in vodka sauce. And it's not always on the menu, but the chicken Florentine--an orgy of chicken breast, cheeses, and light wine sauce--is worth the uptick in your cholesterol count.

802 N. Charles St., (410) 528-1616, www.saffronusa.com
This place is fancy and strange, which turns out to be a fun combination. An über-stylish Indian fusion restaurant, Saffron is the type of restaurant where the name of every entrée is a paragraph long and contains at least one word you've never seen before. Despite the fact that you might not know what you're ordering, or recognize it immediately when it arrives, trust us, the strange unidentifiable thing will be delicious. The “lotus leaf wrapped tandoor smoked cauliflower bouquets in a tamarind consommé” (um, what?) is highly recommended. Saffron also provides a bar in the back of the restaurant, where it continues its quest to amuse and confuse the palate with inventive mixed drinks.

5857 York Road, (410) 435-1200
A cuisine often given hit-or-miss preparation gets some respect here. The dining room is spacious and pleasant, the menu is salted with Thai and Chinese substitutions for more timid diners, but the star attraction is the Vietnamese food--the phos (hearty soups), the golden cr'pe, and a slew of rolls, skewers, soups, and other smaller plates, all turned out in a way that makes you see the fuss without being fussy itself.

600 Oldham St., (410) 675-5292
Grab a bottle of Greek muscatel--or, better yet, a sixer of light beer--and get ready to feast. This bright, friendly BYOB Greek restaurant dishes out the souvlaki, gyros, calamari, and Greek salads at an alarming rate, and you always think you can eat more than you're able. Yes, it's heavy, rich food--so pace yourself. And, if you're heading over on the weekend, get ready to wait. Crack a beer and bask in the smells of the furiously busy open kitchen.

427 N. Charles St., (410) 539-8880, www.saschas.com
For a casual lunch, cafeteria-style, Sasha's features panini, a variety of pasta salads, roasted vegetables, and Stewart's sodas. At night it's a swanky bistro marrying a hipster edge to Old World charm. The bright yellow walls are decorated with original artworks, and the staff is friendly and helpful.

2031 Fairmount Ave., (410) 534-7100, www.simonsofbutchershill.com
Simon's offers heartfelt Cajun, Creole, and Southern cuisine served up in a homey and intimate dining room. Pan-seared scallops and bacon-wrapped halibut, served with andouille dirty rice and a fufu Cubano (a smash-up of yams and plantains) are top-notch entrées. Start with fried-green tomatoes and finish with the simple bread pudding.

2200 Boston St., (410) 675-7077
Why is it that the food at the Sip and Bite tastes better after last call? Round-the-clock breakfast is one of the Sip and Bite's charms, along with incomparable people watching any time of day or night (though the later the hour, the more Fellini-esque the cast of characters). Meat loaf is another menu standout, as are stuffed peppers; the homemade rice pudding is decadently creamy under its cinnamon skin.

1700 Thames St., (410) 563-6600, www.slainteirishpub.net
Run right through the generic downstairs bar and head right upstairs to the handsome-as-heck ruby-hued, cushiony lounge. Order right away a bowl of Guinness onion soup topped with Irish cheddar or homemade chicken soup, and make room for the shepherd's pie or chicken pot pie, finished to a golden brown. All many notches above the norm.

6 W. Cross St., (410) 752-1518, www.sobocafe.com
God bless the blackboard menu. It shows that the chef is making what he or she feels like cooking, and is using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Plus, it's aesthetically pleasing. And so is the rest of SoBo Café, with its soothing yellow interior and paintings by local artists dotting the walls. It almost approaches cuteness, but not quite. Same with the food. Mac 'n' cheese and pot pies, sure, but also more serious entrées, and a nice beer and wine list.

1723 N. Charles St., (410) 727-7732
Tiny can't begin to describe this kiosk/café tucked between Charles and Everyman theatres. But good things come in small packages and, besides, who needs to sit to eat cr'pes? Sofi's “savory” crêpes, like ham and cheese, are pretty filling sandwiches. There are also “sweet” crêpes, with fillings like butterscotch, chocolate, and Nutella. The savory selections are good, and a nice change of pace from the usual sandwich shops, but Nutella smeared on a warm crêpe is a thing of the gods.

554 E. Fort Ave., (410) 659-9898
This Asian-fusion restaurant in South Baltimore is one of the best restaurants in the city thanks to the presence of chef Edward Kim, formerly of Ixia, in the kitchen. The food is excellent, it's nearly impossible to make a poor choice from their menu, and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual compared to most other Baltimore restaurants of its caliber. Don't get too relaxed, though. Soigné can be pretty pricey, so you might not want to go all hog-wild when ordering, unless someone else is paying. In that case, eat like it's your last meal on Earth, and be sure to get the butternut squash ravioli as an appetizer and the lemon grass parfait for dessert.

,50 Main St., Reisterstown, (410) 833-7288
Straightforward Hunan and Szechuan cuisines, on a typically epic menu. Manifestly fresh ingredients, attention to detail, and an eye for presentation and sprightly garnishes help to elevate this suburban strip-mall restaurant above the norm. Diners will encounter few surprises--“Sonny's Corner” lists a handful of innovative dishes--but they'll maybe rediscover what first attracted them to the powerful pleasures of Chinese food.

11 W. Preston St., (410) 234-1377, www.sooskimcheehouse.com
One of the best places we know of for healthful eating, Soo's Kimchee presents balanced and nuanced versions of Korean classics--steamed dumplings stuffed with kimchi, a bibimbop platter that arranges rice, steamed fresh vegetables, soybean sprouts, and a radish salad in an earthenware bowl, topped off by a protein-carrying fried egg. Excellent soups and sushi, too, in a comfy, cat's-meow setting.

405 N. Charles St., (410) 625-0534
We pride ourselves on being liberal, but one tasty morsel of messicani di vitello alle olive (rolled and spinach-stuffed veal for those of us less fluent in menu speak) from this Italian-Mediterranean mogul of a restaurant and you'll find us hiding our animal-activist T-shirts under the napkins tucked into our collars. Still not your bag? Vegetarians can always indulge in the restaurant's perfectly firm pop-in-your-mouth gnocchi.

M4 E. Cross St., (410) 539-6751, www.geocities.com/sissonsbrew/spoons.html
Spoons, next to the Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, has been a local favorite for years. It roasts specialty coffee daily and is best known for its large selection of organic and small estate coffees. Spoons also serves a full breakfast and a light lunch.

2748 Lighthouse Point East, (410) 534-8888
Sister restaurant to Towson's popular Thai One On/San Sushi Too, this double-duty restaurant brings to Cantonites the same voluminous selections of pretty Thai cuisine and adroitly executed arrangements of raw fish. Friendly service and free parking help make up for the suburban strip-mall atmosphere.

5009 W. 36th St., (410) 243-0051, www.suziessoba.com
Dining at Suzie's Soba is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. A gorgeous array of artfully arranged vegetables and fruit decorates the open kitchen, and the food is beautifully presented. Suzie's kitchen doesn't mess with the menu's traditional Asian--Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese--offerings, but instead uses the freshest, highest-quality ingredients to make these dishes the very best they can be.

9711 N. Charles St., (410) 332-0110, www.tapasteatro.net
The most convenient dinner and a movie spot imaginable, this little restaurant is frequently overrun with Charles Theatre moviegoers. Once you get a table, Tapas Teatro has a wide selection of hot and cold tapas. There's also a bar in the back that, among other things, serves a mean sangría. Although the dining space is cramped, outdoor seating is available, a rarity downtown.

Belvedere Square, 510 E. Belvedere Ave., (443) 278-9001
Yet another newish upscale Baltimore restaurant where, so far, the appetizers outstrip the entrées. But hey, no complaining about the artful appetizers. The redone space (an old Hess Shoes store) is funky cosmopolitan fun, and the kitchen and servers put obvious care into their efforts to offer unpretentious American “foodie” fare.

1019 Light St., (410) 385-8587
This Federal Hill storefront restaurant scores major bonus points for its handsome décor, table settings, and prettily garbed waitstaff, all of which makes the food seem a little better than it is, which is pretty much standard-issue American-style Thai. Some dishes do announce themselves--a stir-fried crispy pork, whole steamed fish, and duck with chili paste and coconut milk. Soups can be salty, and pepperheads will have to plead for extra fire.

10 W Pennsylvania Ave., Towson, (410) 825-0907
Baltimore is fortunate to have an array of above-average Thai restaurants, but spunky, funky little Thai One On stands out for its especially authentic flavors. The kitchen sticks to traditional Thai preparations, turning out dishes with pure flavors and plenty of chile heat. The incendiary goong ma now (shrimp marinated with lime and lethal little Thai peppers) and the green papaya salad are two extra-spicy favorites, followed by succulent and soothing sweet black rice with young coconut.

3316 Greenmount Ave., (410) 889-6003
Waverly isn't exactly a mecca of culinary delights, but the atmosphere at this neighborhood staple is casual and cozy, blocking out the constant bustle of Greenmount Avenue. Plus, they serve some of the best Thai food in the city, all at a very affordable price. The masaman curry with tofu is especially delicious, and don't leave without getting the Thai iced tea.

10 E. Franklin St., (410) 539-4675
This subterranean Mount Vernon institution serves sumptuous and exquisitely presented seafood and meats, prepared in regional Spanish styles, without peer in this town. Every item on its tastefully limited menu--savory beef medallions, paella à la Valenciana (chicken, sausage, shrimp, clams, and mussels served with saffron rice), a garlic buttery escargot appetizer that makes you a snail fan for life--is a knockout. Weekend dinner reservations are essential, as is dressing like you're worthy of the impeccably attentive service, candlelit dining room, and after-dinner port ambiance.

406 N. Paca St., (410) 685-7285
One of the hidden treasures of Baltimore, this Seton Hill Italian-goods store is both deli and grocery. The deli menu includes a delicious prosciutto, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich, as well as a handful of other equally satisfying house sandwiches. In addition to the deli, they sell an assortment of Italian groceries at affordable prices so you can re-create the Trinacria experience in your own home. Watch out for those cookies displayed behind the counter; you won't be able to stop at a dozen.

1225 Cathedral St., (410) 752-8144, www.the23rddegree.net
To understand what type of cuisine is served at the 23rd Degree requires a knowledge of geography that we simply don't have. The name refers to lines of latitude, and the restaurant serves a fusion of cuisine from all the different areas in the world that lie along that line. This includes South and Central America, Africa, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and probably several others. We suggest consulting a map.

222 Albemarle St., (410) 685-4905, www.vaccarospastry.com
Vaccaro's gives delightful lie to the notion that Italian sweets go no farther than spumoni and cannoli. Buttery cookies in a myriad shapes, frostings, and flavors, gargantuan éclairs, mountainous ice-cream confections--dessert has never been bigger. Saturday nights bring lines out the door and down the street, but Mondays are our favorite for the legendary all-you-can-eat-for-$12 dessert special.

231 E. Redwood St., (410) 752-3335
Walking into Werner's is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting or onto a movie set. The wood-paneled Art Deco dining room is perfectly preserved, and the menu in keeping with the era. Nothing fancy, just good homemade soups and sandwiches: fine workingman's fare at reasonable prices, quickly served--explaining Werner's enduring popularity as a downtown lunch spot.

842 W. 36th St., (410) 235-9501, www.whiskeyisland.com
Whiskey Island, the purveyor of locally made hot sauces, spreads, and salsas, has added a sandwich counter to its Hampden digs. The massive sandwiches feature big slabs of meat with some of the above mentioned sauces and spreads in interesting and surprisingly tasty combinations. We've fallen for the Pirate Reuben piled high with turkey and heaps of spicy and crunchy-never-mushy coleslaw topped with sweet barbecue sauce. The sides, which include a better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be bean salad, are also not to be missed.

Foundry on Fort, 921 E. Fort Ave., (410) 244-6166, www.the-wine-market.com
This new Locust Point joint presents chef Jeff Heineman's expressive bistro fare in a loftlike, former factory setting. Edamame-crusted fried shrimp with sticky rice and wasabi black beans, and a panino with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes typify the offerings of a recent seasonally changing menu. Locals have claimed the bar as an alternative happy-hour spot. The titular wine store is attached.

1307 N. Charles St., (410) 468-0002, www.xsbaltimore.com
XS's dramatic open four-story vertical space in Mount Vernon accommodates all kinds of desires--for breakfast, sushi, coffee, dessert, drinks, and full-on dinner, too. The sushi has improved a lot and the sushi chefs like to show off their talents. The dynamite scallops, a crock-sized dish of chopped mollusks and shiitake mushrooms in a peppery fish sauce, is also a favorite.

2433 St. Paul St., (410) 668-8638, www.empresscatering.com
Anyone who has loved a vegan has heard ad infinitum the difficulties he or she has eating out. Thank God for the Yabba Pot, then, which not only provides sustenance for our vegan friends, but makes it so good that even confirmed carnivores will happily dig in to a veggie burger with a side of plantains. The menu frequently changes, but it typically features homemade juices, soups, and sandwiches at very reasonable prices. An organic food co-op is scheduled to open soon right next door, so you can eat and shop, always a nice combination.

1739 Fleet St., (410) 675-5999
A cozy, eclectic Ukranian café in the middle of Fells Point? Sure, why not. After all, Southeast Baltimore, once home to tens of thousands of Eastern European immigrants and their descendants, is now home to tens of thousands of upwardly mobile young people in search of a good dinner. Fortunately for them, Ze Mean Bean serves up a good dinner: While the chef's specials are good, you can find similar stuff at a dozen other restaurants, so stick with the holupki, borscht, and, mmm, pierogi.

1724 N. Charles St., (410) 727-8815
The stellar thing about Zodiac, besides the adjoining Club Charles, is the menu. Whether it's vegan soy cheese pizza, the Greek pita with tofu, veggie lasagna and enchiladas, filling chicken sandwiches, or the Creole-bent entrées, everyone can eat here. Plus, the creative appetizers and soups always please. A movie at the Charles + dinner at Zodiac + and drinks at Club Chuck = a real Baltimore date.

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