The Best Places to Eat in Baltimore

Too many enticing food options in Charm City? Here are Food Network's essential eats.

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Welcome to Baltimore

“Crab cakes and football — that’s what Maryland does!” Any Marylanders roaming outside the Old Line State have likely heard the Wedding Crashers line hollered their way. It’s true that Baltimore is good at those things, but there’s so much more that merits mentioning — and eating. Maryland’s largest city is a way-underrated food town, one with accessible traditions, strong chefs and a palpable sense of slightly off-kilter pride. It’s pretty easy to let Charm City charm you, as long as you show up hungry.

Pit Beef: Pioneer Pit Beef

Pit beef, sometimes described as Maryland’s native barbecue, always tastes best when ordered from certain places — a boardwalk stand, a roadside shack, a church parking lot. This smoke-soaked terroir is strong at Pioneer, a literal shed a few minutes outside city limits, where the chimney puffs like a steam machine in an old cartoon. Meatmasters, who always hand over a one-bite sample after you order, oversee rounds of beautifully smoked beef, ribboned on a meat slicer and served on a kaiser roll with your pick of condiments (traditional is raw onion and the mayo-horseradish “Tiger Sauce”). Though beef is the thing here — “nobody does it better,” proclaims the very accurate sign — they also make serious pit ham and turkey. Plan for lunchtime takeout, as they’re open only until 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Iconic Spot: Woodberry Kitchen

Spike and Amy Gjerde’s Woodberry Kitchen may not be the oldest restaurant in Baltimore, but it’s probably made the biggest impact on the local restaurant community. Open since 2007, Woodberry Kitchen has earned its reputation through passionate support of the Chesapeake region’s best farmers, watermen and producers. The menu changes daily and is an unabashed local lovefest — Maryland farmstead cheeses, regionally grown greenery, Tilghman Island crab pots — and the kitchen's knack for elevating native ingredients goes a long way in boosting the state's overlooked cooking heritage. Seasonal entrees, along with the killer brunch plates, like buckwheat waffles and the WK Benedict, all nail that elusive midpoint between elegance and accessibility.

Seafood: Jimmy’s Famous Seafood

A true Baltimore success story, Jimmy’s has been in the seafood business since 1974, trumpeting its “famous” moniker well before it actually was. Now known citywide and beyond, especially by Orioles and Ravens fans, the house that Greek immigrant restaurateur Jimmy Minadakis built remains a reliable go-to for authentic Maryland-style steamed blue crabs, but there’s much more to the menu than mallets. Crowds pack the place for the crab cakes, Chicken Chesapeake, stuffed oysters, and even steaks and burgers.

Brunch: Ale Mary's

It’s not difficult to find a proper pint in Fell’s Point, the undisputed bar capital of Baltimore. But it’s only at Ale Mary’s that you’re going to find that pint decked out in angel wings and a glowing halo. Operating in the cheeky (and somewhat controversial) realm between reverence and revelry, the neighborhood pub is draped in religious iconography, like old Catholic school photos, holy-water fonts filled with peppermint pinwheels and a behind-the-bar monstrance modified with the iconic National Bohemian mascot. The food is always solid and drinking-friendly (they serve more than 600 pounds of Tater Tots a week), but the Bloody Mary-heavy weekend brunch is where the kitchen really shines — look for the infamous Saints & Sinners Sandwich, with sausage, bacon, eggs and cheese smashed between glazed doughnuts.

Ale Mary's

Pizza: Matthew's Pizza

The pizza cognoscenti love organizing their pies into neat file folders, but Matthew’s Pizza in Highlandtown escapes easy categorization. Though sometimes called Greek, it is best (and only) described as “Matthew’s style.” At it since 1943, Matthew’s is the rare institution that lures locals and tourists in equal measure. Baked in pans, their pizzas emerge high-walled, with a crunchy outer crust and a tender, focaccia-like crumb. You’ll want the cheesy crab and the bluntly named “both cheese,” with mozzarella and Reggianito (add basil and garlic for no extra charge). But if you want those to go, you’ll get them in a Matthew’s-style “box” — two disposable plates wrapped in butcher paper.

Coffee: Artifact Coffee

The Woodberry Kitchen team’s sterling track record is bolstered on the beverage front by the excellent Artifact, a polished caffeine haven with light cafe fare. Coffee — made from internationally sourced Counter Culture beans — is available from the espresso machine or the pour-over bar. In warm weather, go for the Japanese-style cold brew, made super-strong and tempered over ice. The beverages jibe well with the simple from-scratch menu, including an all-vegetable “greenhouse” sandwich on rye; and chicken sausage sub with sauerkraut and mustard. Artifact also hosts weekly coffee cuppings, or formal tastings, for serious sensory drinkers.

Sandwiches: DiPasquale's

DiPasquale is a famous Italian surname around Baltimore, for one easy-to-understand reason: This clan can cook, and they’ve been bringing it since 1914. Whether you’re in Highlandtown or Harborview, these hybridized grocery store-deli-casual restaurants have you covered, especially when what you’re craving comes between bread. Homemade meatball, chicken parm, pressed panini stuffed with mortadella and roasted peppers, and the house special Real Italian sub are but a few of the can't-miss sandwich picks.

Local Seafood: Dylan's Oyster Cellar

No longer in an actual basement, this plucky seafooderie, which now occupies a primo street-level space in Hampden, serves some of the cleanest, meanest shellfish in town, with cocktails to match. Co-owner/shucking sherpa Dylan Salmon lords over an oyster list that draws from both the Chesapeake and both coasts, but this not an exclusively raw deal: Other specialties include fried whole belly clams, whole rainbow trout and coddies, the round fish-and-potato cakes native to Baltimore.

Splurge: Charleston

For more than two decades, star chef Cindy Wolf has set the bar for Baltimore fine dining. Though she and partner/wine director Tony Foreman have opened a number of additional concepts in the city over the years, Charleston is a rock, racking up countless accolades since its 1997 debut. Attribute that to beyond-elegant environs and Wolf’s unmistakable personal style, which combines classic French technique with skills she absorbed over years living, studying and cooking in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Patio: The Chasseur

Level three of The Chasseur might be the most-unique open-air restaurant space in the city. Up here, the interior seating, split between stools, high-tops and communal tables, is framed by garage doors that open fully, providing sweet crosswinds on nice nights, plus lofty — and rail-protected! — views of lovely Canton (the roof is partially retractable, too). Accordingly, the bar up top leans breezy with its program when the weather calls for it, turning out seasonal crush cocktails from a drink menu distinct from downstairs.

Wood-Fired Pizza: Paulie Gee’s

A Big Apple operator hunkering down amid a sea of Orioles fans who seize up at the sight of pinstripes doesn’t seem like a safe idea. But dough dynamo Paul Giannone, aka Paulie Gee, read Baltimore remarkably well in expanding his brand from its Greenpoint home base to left-of-center Hampden, a location owned and operated by Kelly “Pizzablogger” Beckham. The expansive pie menu, which includes a huge vegan section, requires multiple deep dives. But what really sets this Paulie’s apart is the deceptively large barroom cloistered behind the dueling wood-fired ovens. Decked out with taxidermy and trophies in a nod to the space’s former life as a social club, this wood-paneled sanctuary has the feel of a cozy Elks Lodge — if said lodge employed amiable bartenders who mixed a mean Bamboo.

Food and Fun: Crabtowne USA

Though it technically sits just outside city limits, in Glen Burnie, Crabtowne USA may as well be its own census-designated fiefdom. Humming from open to close, the old-school seafood house does right by the classics — fried rockfish and shrimp, raw Chesapeake Bay oysters and, of course, Maryland's spiritual crustacean every which way (crabcakes, crab mac and cheese, even a crab-topped bloody mary). Entering the buzzing and whirring room just off the bar, however, is where you’ll find kids of all ages, plus kiddish adults, testing their joystick mettle on more than 100 vintage arcade cabinets, pinball machines and games. Don’t worry: The staff is more than happy to change out your cash for quarters.

Burger: Abbey Burger Bistro

A welcoming bar and grill in busy Federal Hill, the Abbey lures serious burger enthusiasts with its creative signature creations, including the Greek-inspired Lamb Burger dressed in feta and herbed yogurt; B’more-to-the-core patties bathed in homemade crab dip; and a duck served Korean-style with spicy gochujang. But ask for the build-a-burger checklist if you’d like to flex your inner grill jockey. Unconventional meat options (bison! shrimp!), a variety of roll alternatives (pitas, lettuce wraps, tortillas), and nearly 60 different cheeses, sauces and toppings offer plenty of ways to go custom in Charm City.

Kid-Friendly: Breaking Bread

Caterer-turned-restaurateur Kimberly Ellis owns and operates Breaking Bread with her husband, Edward, and she's also a mother and grandmother — so it's no surprise that their Pigtown BYOB goes out of its way to make the entire family happy. In warm, sunny environs comfortable for all comers, they offer crowd-pleasing cooking prepared with a touch more flair than you'll find in the average home kitchen — look for their signature sweet-and-spicy "stickywings," plus burgers, salads, seafood and more. But there are also many thoughtful kid-friendly dishes designed to make things a little easier on parents. It's the perfect menu to explore as you gather for one of their regular game nights, when the restaurant opens its tables up to families looking to spend some old-fashioned quality time together over board games and conversation.

Vegan/Vegetarian: Red Emma's

Open since 2004, cooperatively owned Red Emma’s is a bookstore inspired by the tradition of the radical “infoshop,” an educational gathering space for progressive, community-minded citizens, artists and activists. But the Station North gathering space is also a remarkably veg-friendly restaurant, with options like a tofu scramble Benedict with vegan hollandaise, buffalo cauliflower wings, seitan cheesesteaks and chana masala. Thread Coffee, the cafe’s transparently traded bean source that also operates on the co-op model, is roasted in an associated facility just a few minutes away.

Baked Goods: Dovecote

While cafes half as popular as this Reservoir Hill fixture discourage lingering in hopes of turning your table, the Dovecote crew goes out of its way to make sure you don't skedaddle. But the warm family vibe extends well past the hospitality into the eats. The baked goods are especially appealing, including all manner of sticky buns and muffins and the sought-after peach upside-down cake (co-owner Gilda Pew's secret recipe). It’s not all about indulgence: The cafe partners with community initiatives like Brown + Healthy, a B’more-based educational program that encourages people of color to invest in their physical and mental health.

Happy Hour: Bar Clavel

A harbinger of culinary energy to the northern neighborhood of Remington, Lane Harlan’s Clavel opened with a mezcal-spiked bang in 2015, wooing waves of Baltimoreans with distinctive draws like scratch-made tortillas, cochinita pibil, natural wine and agave-based spirits well beyond tequila. (Check out the staggering selection of terroir-driven flights.) Sinaloan-born chef-partner Carlos Raba’s menu packs them in, as does its wildly popular happy hour. Every weekday from 5 to 7 p.m., they knock $4 off their killer house margaritas, which can run up to $12 (the beyond-inhalable queso fundido is discounted, too).

Modern Asian: Ekiben

A trio of young, ambitious chefs runs the show at this hopping pan-Asian takeaway, specializing in hearty steamed bun sandwiches, loaded-up rice bowls and ever-changing small-plate specials. Start with the signature Neighborhood Bird, dizzyingly crunchy Taiwanese fried chicken with sambal-spiced mayo, before tackling the Thai chicken meatballs, broccoli tempura or peanut-sauced tofu nuggets. Bonus: The corner shop’s excellent soundtrack — bumping White Stripes one minute and Biggie the next — always makes for an energetic lunch break.

Local Hang: Idle Hour

In a city dotted with dozens of well-worn tappies, Idle Hour stands out thanks to its insistence on being itself. The unassuming South Baltimore bar, plugging along since the early aughts, is dimly lit in the most-soothing sense of the term, its broken-in stools populated by easygoing locals listening to whatever’s spinning on the turntables (BYO records on nights without DJs). They’ve got all the stuff you’d expect from a quality hang (local drafts, local art), along with other stuff you wouldn’t — see the inexhaustible supply of Chartreuse, more commonly associated with high-end cocktail bars.

Korean: Hanoori Town

Don’t be startled by the sharp, successive cracks you hear reverberating through Catonsville’s Hanoori Town. What sounds like Indiana Jones wielding his whip is actually a Korean noodle master, stretching, twisting and thwacking his Chinese-inspired myeon against the counter in the back. That stall is just one of the seemingly infinite options in this bustling food court, a Hangul-heavy setup with something to satisfy every proclivity: baby octopus in sizzling stone rice bowls; sublime platters of grilled galbi (short rib); naengmyeon, buckwheat noodles served in an cucumber-y iced broth topped with fiery gochujang. After you’re done eating, poke around the massive basement shop for Korean cooking tools and kitchen supplies.

Mexican: Michelle's Cafe

There are certainly splashier Latin restaurants in town, but Michelle’s, a family-owned cafe on Eastern Avenue, is more than just a morning grab-and-go, if you hadn’t already gathered much from the clear-cut slogan on the awning: “something else than a coffee.” That something: the type of soul-stirring home cooking you don’t know you’ve been missing until you’ve tried it. On any given day, you might find tacos, piled-high tortas or their claim-to-fame tamales — with combinations like mole poblano, salsa verde or rajas con queso, wrapped and steamed in the proper corn husks or banana leaves.

Roving Eats: Blacksauce Kitchen

Chefs Damian Mosley and Vesnier Lugo built a loyal following the old-fashioned way — by bringing their food to the people at a variety of local catering gigs, private events and farmers’ markets. Beloved for its scratch biscuits, Blacksauce also turns out some mean meats (brisket, pork ribs, oxtail), vegetables (smoked green beans, wood-roasted cabbage) and sweets (the bread pudding is unbeatable), with the menu updating frequently enough to keep you on your toes.

Brewery: Union Craft Brewing

Active since 2011, this Woodberry operation has distinguished itself in the growing Maryland craft-beer crowd with a simple philosophy and an open-door policy. The team behind popular flagship ales like Duckpin and Anthem also operates a casual, airy taproom, attracting drinkers looking to enjoy the weather, tailgates and intimate brewery tours, plus rotating food-truck fare and occasional live music. Swing by on Thursdays for special one-off cask-conditioned selections.

Spanish: La Cuchara

Chef Ben Lefenfeld marries the unmistakable flavors of Basque Country with best-of-the-season Mid-Atlantic produce for dishes at La Cuchara, a spacious Spaniard built out of a former raincoat factory in Woodberry. Timeless pintxos — think Tortilla Espanol, salt cod croquettes or pan con tomate (boquerones or bust) — warm tables up to tackle larger plates, many prepared on the centerpiece wood-burning grill. Just don’t get too attached to any one dish — the menu reinvents itself nearly daily.

Hot Spot: The Food Market

Located right in the middle of Hampden’s option-filled “Avenue” (36th Street), Chef Chad Gauss’ electric Food Market can be a tough reservation — but the wait is worth it. Lighthearted in approach, but serious in execution, the menu sprints all over the map, culling classic and contemporary influences into dishes that are boisterous and big on flavor. The hearty, high-low approach — Fried Oysters “Carbonara,” Crispy Lobster Fingers with truffled honey mustard, and a hulking double bison burger with blue cheese and braised onions — covers everyone, so all you really need to bring is an appetite.

Late Night: Papermoon Diner

Decorated like something out of a John Waters/Salvador Dali/Pee Wee Herman neon fever dream, Remington’s Papermoon is quintessentially Baltimore — a little off, in the best possible way. The huge, hearty comfort-food menu runs the gamut from unconventional breakfasts (shrimp and grits with Tasso ham sauce, and French toast over housemade vanilla bean custard) to satisfying all-day food, like a “Mom’s Meatloaf” TV dinner and a vegan hoisin tofu wrap. The lively, diverse and unpredictable evening crowd is just as entertaining as the zany, visually stimulating environs.

Beer Bar: Wet City

Boasting a soothing vaporwave vibe that seems to take lighting cues from Blade Runner and/or Miami Vice, Wet City looks nothing like your typical craft beer bar. It distinguishes itself on the liquid end, too — 20 total taps, repping loads of locals plus out-of-town breweries, ensure there’s a pour for every palate. It’s a formidable cocktail bar, too (go for the Chartreuse Old Fashioned), a two-pronged attack that makes it that much easier to order food (the short rib poutine or Nashville-style hot chicken should work).

Barbecue: Smoke

You’ll smell Josh White before you see him. Slinging out of a humble stall in soon-to-be-revamped Cross Street Market, the outgoing pitmaster is the meat man behind Smoke, which has grown into the city from its original outpost due north, in Cockeysville. If you see the sesame-studded Korean sticky ribs, get them before they sell out, but know that permanent menu items, like the Notorious P.I.G. (a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich), won’t steer you wrong.

Cocktails: The Bluebird Cocktail Room

Situated above the Belgian beer hall De Kleine Duivel, the polished, airy Bluebird cuts a sophisticated silhouette over Hampden. A real-deal cocktail-drinker’s bar with an erudite literary bent — it’s named after a bit of Charles Bukowski verse — the bar changes its menu by the season, employing all the bells and whistles that turn good drinks into great ones. (One shockingly clear hand-carved ice hunk for my Vieux Carré, if you please). To poorly paraphrase the poet: If there is a thirsty bluebird in your heart that wants to get out, go ahead and pour a little whiskey on him.

Food Hall: R. House

This much-ballyhooed 50,000-square-foot eater’s playground is not the only food hall in Baltimore City — Mt. Vernon Marketplace, a short drive away, is just one well-loved counterpoint — but R. House distinguishes itself by sheer force of culinary diversity. A self-styled launch pad for fast-rising local chefs of all stripes, the space hosts 10 distinct concepts under a single neo-industrial roof, all bordering a central cocktail bar that pulses with young, hungry vitality. On a single go-round, you can load up on Mexican street corn (Amano Taco), bay-seasoned Bmore Buffalo wings (BRD) and an ahi tuna poké bowl (Hilo), and still have some room left for a cone from the quirky Philadelphia creamery Little Baby’s.

Ice Cream: The Charmery

An excitable line running out the door and snaking down the block isn’t always a guarantee that whatever’s on the other side is worth the wait, but The Charmery is one B’more business that’s earned this type of sustained hype. David and Laura Alima’s colorful scoop shop doles out literally and figuratively cool flavors — speculoos, pistachio toffee, even Old Bay Caramel — alongside old-school soda jerk offerings, like chocolate egg creams, root beer floats and hot fudge sundaes.

Wine Shop: Remington Wine Company

Though this lean retail store is a relative newcomer to the Remington scene, it’s got ample street cred with Charm City oenophiles — it’s owned by Mitchell Pressman and Debbie Jones, the couple behind the long-running Chesapeake Wine Company. RWC is smaller than that now-shuttered operation, but it’s no slouch when it comes to its globe-spanning selection, which also features beer and spirits, plus the cheese, charcuterie and gourmet condiments you need to build a serious tasting plate. Want to pop the cork on something new for a solid value? Spring for their monthly $100 Case, a dozen bottles representing a wide swath of countries, regions, producers and grapes, assembled by the expert staff.

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