Nothing gets Marylanders more riled up than a discussion about their beloved crab cakes. (We all agree it’s difficult to find a good one outside the state’s boundaries. See Victor Paul Alvarez’s essay on the topic.) But who has the best in town? Is it G&M vs. Faidley; Pappas vs. Koco’s? Not so fast. There are other places vying to be recognized, too. To keep the dialogue going, we sampled dozens of crab cakes to find our top 25 choices. We looked at size, price, and the ambiance of the restaurant. And we’re happy to report that they’re all winners. There are plenty of great patties out there for everyone to try. All you need to do is figure out what side dishes you want. We asked several local chefs to share their favorite accompaniments. Grilled watermelon? Kettle chips, anyone? Let the debate continue.
11 W. Aylesbury Rd., Lutherville-Timonium, 410-561-1100
In keeping with the restaurant’s upscale vibe, the dinner-hour crab cakes aren’t served with coleslaw or even fries. The pair of five-ounce crab cakes ($29) comes with roasted fingerling potatoes and broccolini sautéed in garlic and oil. The cakes, packed with lumps and a hint of Old Bay, are broiled to a nice brown crust. There’s also the option of a fried cake combined with shrimp salad in a seafood club. At lunch, the crab-cake sandwich offers an optional side of fries. We think the best strategy is to embrace the fingerlings and hit the bar with its vaulted ceiling and nightly specials at happy hour, when the people-watching at this popular watering hole for professional suburbanites is at its best.
Bo Brooks Restaurant
2780 Lighthouse Point, 410-558-0202
The popular crab-and-seafood-centric destination sits tucked off Canton’s marinas, offering some of the best sunset views of the Inner Harbor from its glass-enclosed main dining room, outdoor porch——and, yes, floating deck. Perhaps best known for their hard-shell crabs, the restaurant offers 5.5-ounce, jumbo-lump crab cakes ($29 entree includes a twice-baked potato and seasonal vegetable) that make a visit to the Baltimore institution worthwhile anytime. The patties are perfectly seasoned, without too much breading, full of white lump crab, and broiled to a golden-brown finish. We started with a spicy cup of Maryland crab soup, though cream of crab soup is an option, too, as well as appetizers like crab pretzels, crab guacamole, crab deviled eggs, and Chesapeake toast——mini house-made backfin lump crab cakes served atop baguette slices with chipotle aioli. The restaurant accepts walk-ins, but make reservations on weekend nights or expect a long wait for a table.
Boatyard Bar and Grill
400 Fourth St., Annapolis, 410-216-6206
This Eastport neighborhood gathering spot feels like a congenial yacht club in a preppy New England coastal village. The airy interior with white-beamed ceilings painted in summer-house blue is decorated with a clutter of memorabilia from faded photos of sailboat races and bait-shop bumper stickers to taxidermied specimens of prized catches. It’s no wonder the crab cake can’t go wrong here. Two broiled cakes, crisp around the edges, come with a choice of two sides (though it’s unlikely you’ll want to give up the smashed red potatoes that are included) as the crab-cake dinner. The six-ounce cakes ($29.99) are low on filler and seasoned with an Old Bay bite and a sprinkling of parsley. Washed down with a local draft——think Dogfish Head IPA——there’s nothing better after an afternoon on the water.
The Bowman Restaurant
9306 Harford Rd., Parkville. 410-665-8600
Though we’ve had bigger crab cakes at fancier establishments, Bowman provided us with one of our favorite meals. It began with a lovely seat by the window in the restaurant’s front dining room, which looks out over window boxes. The crab-cake platter (single $17, double $29) comes broiled or fried (we chose broiled) with a choice of two sides. We appreciated the diversity of the offerings, which ranged from the standard (fries, coleslaw) to the healthy-ish (pickled beets, vegetable du jour, steamed asparagus) to the all-American (Red Bliss mashed potatoes, baked potato, applesauce). The five-ounce cake was a little dry but contained plenty of good jumbo-lump meat bound together by a house mixture that includes Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, and Dijon mustard. Finish with a house-made dessert like the cool, creamy peanut-butter pie, and don’t be shy about adding a dollop of local Prigel Family Creamery ice cream as well.
By the Docks Restaurant & Lounge
3321 Eastern Blvd., Middle River, 410-686-1188
The mega crab cakes ($17.50 for a single crab-cake platter; $27 for two crab cakes at dinner), weighing in at eight or nine ounces, are a meal unto themselves, especially when combined with a scoop of mustard-infused potato salad (or your choice of two sides, including applesauce, pickled beets, and rice pilaf). The cake is coated with a glaze, a sheen resulting when an eggy binder meets broiler flame. Located two doors from Bengies Drive-In Theatre, By the Docks has a calm décor with antique-blue wainscoting and white tablecloths surrounded by banquet-style, cushioned chairs. There’s a replica of a lighthouse in the dining room, too. It’s a place where the sea——and all things seafood, especially the crab cakes——are front and center.
The Corner Stable
Two locations, including 9942 York Rd., Cockeysville, 410-666-8722
Walking into The Corner Stable, located on a busy intersection in Cockeysville, feels like a respite. Patrons immediately feel at home amid the dark woods and wagon-wheel chandeliers at the restaurant, which has been going strong since 1972. Of course, there’s an apparent horseracing theme with jockey uniforms and Pimlico photos lining the walls. While the ribs get all the credit, another reason to come here is the crab-cake dinner with two sides for $21.49 ($14.99 with fries on Wednesdays). There is a vast selection of comfort-food sides to choose from, including applesauce, coleslaw, baked beans, fries, and stewed tomatoes. We opted for macaroni and cheese and tender green beans. But the real showstopper is the cake itself——eight ounces of huge jumbo lump that’s broiled and crisp on the outside and creamy and eggy in the center, just how your Baltimore grandma would make it.
The Crackpot Restaurant
8102 Loch Raven Blvd., Towson, 410-828-1095
The crabhouse is looking a little frayed around the edges these days, but you can still count on getting a great crab cake as well as other offerings here. The cream-of-crab soup is milky and crabby; the clams casino is plump and juicy. And the all-jumbo-lump crab cake (six ounces, $16.95) lives up to expectations. We like the Maryland version with just a smidge of Old Bay, but if you’re adventurous, the restaurant also makes crab cakes in a variety of flavors——from Mexican and Hawaiian to Caribbean Jerk and Italian. We’re traditionalists: We only veer from the original when getting a crab fluff ($17.95)——and we highly recommend it. It’s a crab cake that’s been battered and deep fried. Double the pleasure!
148 Mayo Rd., Edgewater, 410-956-3202
There’s no water, and the Anne Arundel County restaurant certainly isn’t edgy, but it serves one of the finest crab cakes in the area. The other food is good, too, and is what you would expect from a family-run place that opened in 1948. The gray-shingled, ranch-style house is small with two dining rooms and a bar area with booths, but the service is big-hearted with cheerful waitresses who make you glad you stopped by. The broiled jumbo-lump crab cake ($18.95 at lunch) is a beauty. Our server told us it was seven ounces in size, adding, “but it’s probably bigger.” We think she’s right. The platter comes with a side dish and one trip to the salad bar. The fixings are bare bones, but fresh and crunchy: iceberg lettuce, sliced cukes, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, and a few other selections. The potato salad is worth the trip alone. We picked steamed green beans to accompany our crab cake, but there were other choices, including stewed tomatoes with lima beans, and a vegetable du jour. And that’s exactly what we like about the menu: old-fashioned food that never goes out of style.
Lexington Market, 203 N. Paca St.,
For many Baltimoreans, the name Faidley is synonymous with crab cakes——as it should be. The 6.5-ounce lump crab cake is everything we want the dish to be: golden, moist, and packed with sweet nuggets of crab. You find yourself eating the whole thing, even though you know you’re getting full. The side dishes don’t come in second place here. They’re freshly made and delicious. We couldn’t decide if we had a favorite among the ones we tried: coleslaw, macaroni salad, cucumber salad, carrot salad, and delectable deviled eggs. They’re that good. The ambiance of the bustling, historic market helps, too. You’ll find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with all ages, including visitors, regular shoppers, and workers. If you need to re-up your city credentials, this is the place to go.
G&M Restaurant & Lounge
804 N. Hammonds Ferry Rd.,
Linthicum Heights, 410-636-1777
To some, G&M is the quintessence of the Baltimore crab-cake experience. On a weekend night, the bar is packed and a crowd of folks hovers around the entrance, clutching pagers and waiting for the lights to flash and signal their table is ready. Servers scurry through the expansive dining room balancing heavy trays. More often than not, the cargo is exclusively crab cakes: plates bearing eight-ounce cakes ($17.95), browned from the broiler and ivory inside with plenty of lumps and minimal filler. They come with a choice of sides (onion rings, coleslaw, pickled beets, and more) plus a prosaic iceberg salad. A trip to G&M is well worth it——partly for the crab cake and partly for the bragging rights.
The Baltimore Museum of Art,
10 Art Museum Dr., 410-889-3399
On the smaller side, yes, but Gertrude’s crab cakes are as artful as the restaurant’s museum setting. The six-ounce cake, accompanied by crunchy apple-fennel slaw (or other sides of your choice; our second fave is the sesame noodles), comes in two versions. There’s Gertie’s ($22), a feisty cake with a spicy bite named for chef/owner John Shields’s grandmother, or a crab cake of the day (market price)——the Chesapeake when we visited, an unadorned patty with a buttery sauce. Go on a Tuesday when a handful of Gertrude’s specials are $12 (including Gertie’s cake), and a selection of wines is priced at $20 a bottle.
Gianni’s Italian Bistro
3720 Washington Blvd., Halethorpe,
Whether you eat on the dining-room side of Gianni’s or in the more casual Mallet section across the hall with its white-paper-covered tables prepped for steamed crabs, you’ll still get the same fabulous, hefty crab cake (10 ounces, $15.99). There’s a slight breading aftertaste, but the plump lumps dictate the great flavor. The platter comes with coleslaw and fries, but you can trade them for another side dish. We opted for the wonderful grilled asparagus, drizzled with olive oil and generously sprinkled with grated Romano cheese. But perhaps its most noteworthy offering is the Mallet soup: It’s half Maryland crab and half cream of crab. It could have been a recipe for disaster, but that was hardly the case. It all worked together beautifully.
Gunning’s Seafood Restaurant
7304 Parkway Dr., Hanover, 410-712-9404
Despite its Anne Arundel County corporate-park setting, Gunning’s never abandoned its city roots. The food harks to the restaurant’s early days in South Baltimore and is still produced by another generation of the Gunning family today. You need only taste the seven-ounce crab cake ($15.99, lunch) to know they get it right. It’s filled with lump, has a touch of Old Bay, and reveals a pleasant gooey texture. You can get it broiled or fried. The coleslaw tastes like it was just made, though we had to pay another $1.99 to add it to the platter instead of fries or chips. But it’s worth every bite. And who can resist “World Famous Pepper Rings.” We can’t. These fried orbs, similar to onion rings, get a dusting of powdered sugar for a “wow” effect.
Jimmy’s Famous Seafood
6526 Holabird Ave., 410-633-4040
Jimmy’s hasn’t changed its crab-cake recipe since it opened in 1974, and why should it? You don’t mess with perfection. The cake is an eight-ounce powerhouse, broiled (or fried) golden brown and held together by, well, we’re not quite sure. Our eye could detect no breading in between the thick slivers of silky crab. The single platter, which is a steal at $14.95, also comes with fries (or another side) and a lemon half swaddled in yellow cheesecloth with a green ribbon closure ——a practical and refined touch, which leads us to our only quibble with Jimmy’s: The crab cake isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed since the beginning. Though there is charm to be found in its old-Baltimore décor (low-ceilings, dark wood, framed sports autographs in the bar), some of the aesthetics (brown tablecloths, really?) could use an update. Other than that, Jimmy’s epitomizes the maxim: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
4301 Harford Rd., 410-426-3519
Do not underestimate this tiny bar that flashes a brash yellow exterior in Lauraville. There’s some serious crab-cake making going on inside. People talk in reverential terms about the restaurant’s cake ($23.99), a truly impressive 11-ounce whopper that is, in our opinion, everything our native food should be——a patty filled with blue-crab lumps molded together with minimal filler and a smidge of Old Bay. Reservations are advised if you want to sit in the bare-bones dining room that flows into the bar, where it’s also difficult to snag a stool. We dropped by unannounced one evening and managed to scoop up one spot at the bar. The other patrons couldn’t have been friendlier, helping us find another seat when our crab-cake platters arrived. Stick with a familiar side of coleslaw or get a Caesar salad as an accompaniment. You’ll leave with leftovers and much happiness.
2119 York Rd., Timonium, 410-252-2022
The restaurant, which started out as small neighborhood bar, has become a mainstay along the York Road corridor, drawing locals and visitors with its well-prepared cuisine. The “colossal crab-cake platter” ($31) reflects that. The cake, weighing in at 10 ounces (also available in a five-ounce version by itself or with a six-ounce filet for $38.50), comes with two sides——we went with fries and coleslaw, though mashed potatoes, a vegetable du jour, and even a green salad are options. The broiled cakes, with a creamy binder and plenty of lump meat, are also available by mail order. But we like to savor ours in the serene sage-colored dining room, or in Michael’s famously convivial bar, piping hot with a chilly cocktail at the end of a long week.
Miss Shirley’s Cafe
Several locations, including 750 E. Pratt St., 410-528-5373
Despite the breadth of Miss Shirley’s menu, the restaurant surprisingly lacks a traditional crab-cake platter. No matter, the crab-cake sandwich ($21.99, market price) does quite nicely. Served on an extraneous roll, the six-ounce ball of broiled crabmeat contains little binding and is accented with a smear of Old Bay rémoulade (basically, Old Bay mayo), which gives the proceedings a much-appreciated kick. Red and yellow tomato slices, a sheaf of lettuce, and a pickle spear add visual interest and some vitamins but are superfluous. Although, if you want your crab cake with extra bells and whistles, Miss Shirley’s has several other creative crab menu items to tempt you, including the decadent brunch dish of crab cake and fried-green-tomato eggs Benedict and the less flashy jumbo-lump crab-cake bites appetizer, which features that spicy Old Bay rémoulade.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
801 Aliceanna St., 443-872-0000
Chain restaurants often get a bad rap, and sometimes with good reason. But The Oceanaire in Harbor East doesn’t need to worry. The restaurant has impeccable seafood from around the world and an extensive wine list. Its interior resembles a high-end ocean liner and has the prices to match. Typically, the crab-cake platter comes with two five-ounce cakes with a mustard-mayonnaise sauce and no sides for $34.95. We recommend going during happy hour (weekdays from 5-7 p.m.) when you can get three mini crab-cake sliders with the same sauce for just $7. The cakes are expertly broiled with a slight char and lump crab that breaks apart with a touch of the fork. The sauce is tangy, but not overpowering. We suggest a side of truffle fries or the spicy red-chili calamari. Champagne taste on a Natty Boh budget.
Pappas Restaurant & Sports Bar
1725 Taylor Ave., Parkville, 410-661-4357
This ball of crabmeat has been around since 1972. Take a bite, and you’ll see why. While it may not be the biggest patty on the block——at eight ounces——it packs a wallop of flavor and is chock full of big lumps and barely-there breading. The original recipe is still a secret guarded by the Pappas family. We liked that our patient waitress didn’t mind us splitting a double crab-cake platter ($26.99, includes two sides——fries and coleslaw for us). She even had the kitchen place the cakes on separate plates. That’s the kind of place this is——plenty of Baltimore hospitality in a ’50s-era dining room. If you really want to indulge your inner crab-loving self, order the stuffed mushroom caps to start your meal. The mushrooms are filled with lump crab, topped with a rich crab imperial, and baked to a golden hue. Now that’s how we like to eat our vegetables.
550 Cranbrook Rd., Cockeysville, 410-683-0604
Our waitress was thrilled we ordered the fries with our crab-cake platter ($18.50, one patty with two sides, lunch). “We make them fresh with each order,” she told us proudly. Indeed, these slender spuds were quite good, served hot with soft centers and lightly crispy exteriors. And they went perfectly with the softball-sized crab cake (eight ounces)——
essentially a mound of lumps the size of olives formed with a bit of creamy binder. A dish of coleslaw was a crunchy asset, too. We also liked the Maryland crab soup with its rich tomatoey broth and fresh vegetables. The cup portion would be considered a bowl in some places.
Ask for Hildy, the sweet server who will call you, “Honey,” for an extra treat.
Several locations, including 601 E. Pratt St., 410-685-6600
There are lots of seating options at Phillips. You can dine on the “crab deck,” literally on the Inner Harbor water, inside the spacious dining rooms, at the bar or bar lounge, or, as we did, on the sun-drenched patio——all the better for tourist-watching. Wherever you sit, you can’t go wrong with Phillips’s crab cakes (two four-ounce cakes for $29; two six-ounce cakes for $34)——just the kind of deep-golden-brown patties stuffed with chunks of white crabmeat that you’d expect from a 99-year-old Maryland establishment. Bonus: Phillips serves a zippy chipotle rémoulade with its crab cakes——a welcome change from traditional tartar sauce. Our platter also arrived with roasted red potatoes and a sautéed mix of zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers, and onions. While we’ll go back another time for our server’s favorite appetizer (crab-stuffed mushrooms), we recommend the calamari to start——lightly breaded and fried and served with a pineapple-sweet-chili sauce. As we said, lots of good options.
1822 Aliceanna St., 410-675-2080
The Fells Point restaurant is hard to miss. Not only does it stand out among the brick row homes on Aliceanna Street with its bright-yellow-and-lime-green exterior, it’s a local go-to spot for the upscale Maryland cuisine it’s been serving for nearly 25 years. The most popular item on the menu may be its four-ounce crab cake, prepared either smoked or traditional (we got one of each) and served with slaw, fries, and tartar sauce ($31 the night we went). The unique smoked crab cake has a distinctive taste, reminiscent of bacon and not far off from chipotle. We prefer the traditional one, a broiled ball of lump crab with little filler and tons of flavor. But the real heroes are the sides——tender, mini-Brussels sprouts in a tangy mayonnaise-based sauce; crisp, peppery shoestring fries; and a tartar sauce laced with capers and roasted red peppers——that tie it all together.
Sip & Bite Restaurant
2200 Boston St., 410-675-7077
The modest, row-house restaurant has made an appearance in Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and attracts a clientele that includes Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, blue-collar workers, and upscale Cantonites. The trustworthy, diner-style menu with Greek specialties is the draw. But its other claim to fame is the crab cake, an eight-ounce grilled wonder ($17.95, two patties, two sides) that is smooshed like a fat pancake but resonates with crabby lumpiness flaked with parsley and a whisper of Old Bay. Instead of traditional sides like slaw and fries, we went rogue with pickled beets (which are making a comeback) and a macaroni salad that tasted like lazy-day summer picnics.
2360 W. Joppa Rd., Lutherville-Timonium, 410-583-8275
The Maryland crab soup sets the stage for the main event with a vegetable-laden broth heavy with shredded crab. Then, refresh your palate with Lindsay’s Chicago chopped salad (a shredded mélange of romaine and iceberg and other goodies) before delving into the tennis-ball-sized crab cakes (five ounces each), offering a traditional sweet-meat flavor. The entree platter features two jumbo-lump-filled cakes and two sides ($35, market price). We loved the restaurant’s crisp onion rings that are the size of cuff bracelets and the giant stalk of steamed broccoli. But the patty is also good as a sandwich ($20, market price) on a brioche roll with lettuce and tomato and slice of pickle on the side. The coleslaw is worthy as a side. You don’t even have to decide which sauce you want with your crab cake. Both versions come with tartar and cocktail dips.
Thames Street Oyster House
1728 Thames St., 443-449-7726
The quaint Fells Point row house does, indeed, play up bivalves as well as other seafood on its menu. We had some luscious oysters from several locations, including Choptank Sweets from our waters and Katama Bays from Massachusetts. And the lobster mac and cheese is heavenly. So, it’s no surprise that you’ll also find a crab cake ($26) tucked among the offerings. This nine-ounce big boy differentiates itself from the rest of the pack by being served in a cast-iron skillet for dinner. It’s a great presentation——and an impressive patty with an underlying mustardy zing. Even the non-traditional rémoulade sauce works. The sides change with the seasons. In the cooler months, you might have butternut squash and chard. As the weather warms, a savory corn pudding and grilled local asparagus are supporting players. It’s quite a performance.