Food & Drink

Open & Shut: Toki Underground; The Empanada Lady; Sartori; Common Ground

The latest restaurant openings, closings, and recent news.


Toki Underground: Yes, temps might have soared over 90 degrees this week, but that shouldn’t stop you from popping into the newly opened Toki Underground—a Washington, D.C. hotspot known for its ramen, dumplings, steamed buns, and artsy-punk aesthetic. The Charm City outpost opened last week at 2731 Greenmount Avenue in the Harwood/Better Waverly area. The debut menu includes a variety of ramen bowls, from the Toki Classic with braised shredded pork, Chinese broccoli, and a soft egg to the Taipei Curry Chicken with fried chicken. (There’s also a top-notch spicy vegan ramen.) Other bites include kimchi, dan dan noodles, pork belly or fried chicken steamed buns, and fried shrimp that comes with a delectable Kewpie mayo for dipping. 

Partner Jeff Jetton says that, while scoping out a Baltimore location, the team was looking for a space larger than its neighborhood joint in D.C. “We realized we could build the kitchen we want here,” he says, adding that the thoroughfare of Greenmount and the location’s centrality also made it appealing, especially for takeout and delivery operations.

Along with high-tops, classic tables, and a covered breezeway to accomodate more guests, the space features counter seats where patrons can get a prime view into the kitchen. That is, if they’re not distracted by the rotating skateboard decks that adorn the ceiling (a fun bit of amusement—like watching the slowest kickflips overhead) or the wall papered with old Japanese wrestling magazines. Jetton worked with interior designer Christophe Richard—a Toki partner and the son of late James Beard Award-winning chef Michel Richard—on the space’s design, while Sean Berg designed, fabricated, and did the steelwork for the skateboard installation.

“When we decided to expand to a second location, I wanted to take those little moments of discovery—things that you might find in Tokyo underground that are part of its DNA—and really build upon them,” Jetton says. The ceiling tiles especially, he adds, were white, reminiscent of “a dentist’s office,” and in need of some sprucing. 

When it comes to beverages, expect the fruited gose made with yuzu that Toki created with new neighbor Peabody Heights, as well as a forthcoming cocktail menu that will feature a shochu made special for Toki by St. Michael’s distillery Gray Wolf.

“We’re well known for our cocktail menu in D.C., so we’ll bring that and then expand on it,” Jetton says. ‘We have a lot of cool stuff lined up.”

The Empanada Lady: A new brick-and-mortar from The Empanada Lady—the longtime favorite pop-up and caterer that was most recently serving out of its bodega on West North Avenue—officially opens downtown on Saturday, July 15, at 10 South Street. Expect a full-service experience highlighting owner Elisa Milan’s traditional Puerto Rican empanadas with fillings like ground beef, pork, shrimp, and salmon sautéed with peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro. The restaurant will also offers bites like loaded nachos, ceviche, chicken wings, and arroz con gandules (a dish that combines rice, pigeon peas, and pork). Signature cocktails are on offer, too, like a riff on a French 75 called a French 718, as well as the Guava Rico made with rum, fresh guava juice, cane sugar, muddled mint, and club soda. 

Buns & Roses Chimney Cakes: What’s a chimney cake, you ask? It’s a European dessert native to Hungary made with a sweet dough rope that’s spiraled into a hollow chimney-like shape. The dough is caramelized and crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside. At the newly opened Buns & Roses in Federal Hill, owner Deirdra Campbell fills her cakes with soft-serve ice cream, caramel, Nutella, fruits, and other fun options. Signature cakes include the Strawberry Crunch with vanilla bean ice cream, fresh strawberries, and a white chocolate drizzle, as well as the Oreo Smash, where the chimney cake is coated in an Oreo cookie crumble. The storefront also pours espresso, teas, and special unicorn lattes in pretty pastel shades of purple, blue, and pink.


Verde Owner to Open Sartori Next Year: Not long after opening a new pizza truck in South Baltimore in May, Verde owner Edward Bosco has unveiled plans for a new Italian concept at the Constellation Building in Harbor Point next spring. The new restaurant, Sartori, will be open for lunch and dinner, serving up “dishes prepared using traditional Italian methods with reasonable portions, lighter sauces, and higher quality ingredients,” according to a press release. Expect Neapolitan-style pizzas (duh), plus pastas and sandwiches.

“What we know is pizza, and that’s going to remain a focal point, but Sartori will not be another Verde,” Bosco clarified in a statement. “Expect a menu that’s tastefully different, fully bringing the culture and flavors of Italy to Baltimore.”

The 3,364-square-foot space will feature two pizza ovens in an open-kitchen setting, as well as a mezzanine that will be bookable for private events. Other plans for Sartori (the name derives from Bosco’s maternal side) include pizza-making and wine-tasting classes. 


7/21-7/31: Baltimore Restaurant Week
Baltimore Restaurant Week returns this summer for the final 10 days of July, bringing great deals for diners looking to hit some of Charm City’s best eateries. For $35, $45, or $55, get a prix-fixe dinner at spots like Alma Cocina Latina, Foraged, Miss Shirley’s Cafe, Nacho Mama’s, Sally O’s, and more. And don’t forget about brunch or lunch, which start at $15. If diners don’t have time for a sit-down meal, they can look for prix-fixe carryout menus, too.


Common Ground: After more than two decades in business, Hampden coffee shop and cafe Common Ground closed suddenly on July 2. Although owner Michael Krupp has not made a statement regarding the closure, employees of Common Ground wrote on social media that they were “as shocked as the rest of the community members at the sudden closure of our place of work and abrupt termination of our employment. We were given less than 12 hours notice.”

The group shared that under the banner of Common Ground Workers United, they had already been in “a months-long process of organizing together to improve our collective situation.” The post says they are discussing the possibility of forming a worker-owned cooperative “to save our jobs and Common Ground.” We’re following this story closely, so stay tuned for more updates.