The Cool Kids

By Amy Scattergood

Photography by Scott Suchman

Illustrations by JORDAN AMY LEE

The Tastemakers

The Tastemakers: Carlos Raba & Lane Harlan

The most influential movers and shakers on Charm City's Hospitality scene.

By Amy Scattergood

nyone who still thinks of Mexican food as relegated to taco trucks and casual lunch spots has yet to experience the profound joy of chef Carlos Raba and restaurateur Lane Harlan’s Clavel, a paean to the former’s home-country cuisine. Before the once-hole-in-the-wall opened in Remington eight years ago, the unlovely stretch of 23rd Street was dominated by concrete pavement and dilapidated car shops. Now, a seemingly permanent line waits for a seat in the sublime space—exposed brick, lofty ceilings, strung lights—that is not only a restaurant, but a nixtamaleria, a mezcaleria, and one of the hippest places in town. This means that the staff uses an ancient process to prepare the corn, flown in from producers in Puebla and Oaxaca, and makes the masa for the tortillas that accompany many of the exquisite dishes. This commitment to authentic sourcing and practices extends to the bar team—all of whom have been trained in mezcal distilleries in various Mexican states—who create drinks from those smokey agave spirits from Puebla and Oaxaca as well. (Not for nothing is Clavel a two-time James Beard Semi-finalist in the bar category.) “We wanted a bar, but we’ve evolved into a restaurant,” says Raba, who was also nominated for a James Beard Award as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic last year. That’s an understatement, but it’s also accurate, as Harlan and her husband, Matthew Pierce, came to Remington in the first place to open W.C. Harlan, an impeccably cool speakeasy that’s 500 feet away.

But now, in this cinderblock building that they acquired upon its foreclosure, Harlan and Raba serve up some seriously delicious food. That includes ceviches made from pristine raw seafood cured in lime, herbs, and chiles; their addictive queso fundido, melted into a cast-iron skillet; and tacos loaded with barbacoa made with house-butchered lamb, stewed in spices and both Mexican coffee and beer. Which is to say that while this is a neighborhood taqueria for those lucky enough to live in Remington, it is also one of the best restaurants in the region, serving food that is both classic and contemporary. To keep it that way, Clavel’s crew takes annual trips to the motherland, a commitment that’s clear from the scope of the menu and the restaurant itself, given its expansion into nixtamalization, the traditional preparation of corn for masa. Raba may be from Sinaloa, but Harlan—a college dropout with no culinary training—was the one who got obsessed with mezcal on a long-ago visit to Oaxaca, then launched a mini restaurant and bar empire (W. C. Harlan, Clavel, Fadensonnen) far away from Baltimore’s fancier restaurant hubs.

Not content with simply revitalizing the city’s Mexican food scene, Raba is in the process of opening Nana, bringing food from northern Mexico to Towson. Harlan’s latest cocktail bar, The Coral Wig, opened in Mt. Vernon in May. That the pair are branching out is good news for Baltimore, as the prospect of more of Harlan’s cocktails and Raba’s rotisserie chicken is pretty transformative. It’s good for Clavel, too, which functions like a third space which ushers in happiness with a dish of their aguachile. The renaissance continues.

The Torchbearers

David & Tonya

The Showmen

Alex & Eric Smith

The Sober Ambassador

Ashish Alfred

The Community Activists

Mera Kitchen

The Crab Queen

Nancy Devine

The Team Players

Steve Chu &
Ephrem Abebe

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