Best of Baltimore
Best of Baltimore 2022: Food & Drink
Our annual compendium of the people and places that make Charm City great.
Edited by Jane Marion
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TSUCALAS
The cocktail menu at this Fells Point burger joint looks like it belongs at a bar on the beach in some South Pacific Island paradise. Vintage tiki illustrations accompany the drink names and descriptions, each one more vibrant than the next. The cocktails themselves are tikiinspired takes like the Perfect Painkiller, made with blended rum, fenugreek, pineapple, orange, and crème de coco, or the Dirty Banana with rum, coffee liqueur, and banana syrup. Most everything on the menu includes a colorful garnish and a glass full of fun.
THB BAGELRY + DELI
Perhaps what we love most about this homegrown cafe chain, which has six locations scattered from Towson to Columbia, is that the menu is a bona fide “choose your own adventure.” As far as toppings go, you can opt for an egg sandwich, BLT, chicken or tuna salad, classic schmear, or even peanut butter and jelly. (Sounds sacrilegious, but don’t knock it until you try it.) No matter your go-to order, the common denominator is the freshly boiledand-baked bagel foundation. With its crunchy exterior and chewy center—the closest we’ve found to an NYC classic in these parts—any topping is a winner.
THE BREWER’S ART
Cold and dark are not adjectives usually employed to describe a popular bar, but we’ve been reveling in the dungeon-like environs of this Mt. Vernon staple since it reopened after a long COVID-induced closure. Descend the six stone steps from busy Charles Street and you’re quicky transported to a world where the beers on tap are brewed on the premises, cocktails are expertly prepared, and the alluring scent of rosemary-garlic fries is nearly impossible to resist. We can’t think of another place where cold and dark conditions produce an atmosphere so warm and bright.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TSUCALAS
Whenever we try a new barbecue joint, we judge it largely by the quality of its brisket. It’s the hardest meat for a pitmaster to, well, master and can easily emerge from the smoker too tough or dry if left in the wrong hands. George Marsh, the owner of this Govans gem, has never butchered a batch of brisket in his life. Or so we choose to believe. Every time we’ve chowed down at this relatively new spot, which also serves top-notch smoked chicken, pork, and sausage along with outstanding sides and rum-based cocktails, our brisket has emerged from the smoker incredibly tender and peppery, each piece cut with the perfect amount of fat. Get there as soon as possible and judge for yourself.
You can taste the love in everything cooked by owner Marie Branch at this Canton corner takeout. There’s a long list of meats (including vegan and turkey versions of bacon and sausage) and cheeses that can be combined to create a breakfast sandwich served on a number of bread choices, but nothing beats scrapple, egg, and cheese on a biscuit. Branch’s biscuits are beautifully buttery and flakey, yet they stay together despite the runniness of the egg, the gooiness of the cheese, and the softness of the scrapple. It’s not health food, but it is food for the heart, and it’s a perfect way to start a day or shake off cobwebs from the night before.
NEPENTHE BREWING CO.
Oddly enough, there have been times when beer has been the last thing on our minds during a trip to this Hampden brewery. Don’t get us wrong, Nepenthe’s brews are excellent, but the food emerging from its kitchen equals the quality of its suds. Chef Charlie Wickboldt arrived from Dutch Courage at the end of last year and immediately upgraded the already stellar staples. Burgers, wings, and cheesesteaks (here it’s a delicious Korean variety topped with housemade kimchi) remain, but he’s added more upscale gems like albondigas, Spanish-style beef and pork meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce; and blistered shishito peppers, served covered in gochujang, kimchi aioli, and sesame seeds. Everything is excellent and, yes, it all pairs well with a beer.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE MORGAN
FIREFLY FARMS MARKET
The Western Maryland cheeses have been available at local stores for a while. But to get the full flavor of the goat's- and cow's-milk products, a visit to the FireFly Farms Market in Hampden’s Whitehall Mill is in order. The helpful staff will explain the various nuances of each creation—how the “black and blue” is different from the “moo and blue,” for example—and tempt you with a nibble to seal the deal. And while FireFly’s cheeses dominate the selection, there are other choices, too, as well as cured meats, sausages, and custommade charcuterie platters. You can also pick up a bottle of wine to complement your snacks.
For 25 years now, Charleston co-owner and executive chef Cindy Wolf has worked in her gleaming restaurant kitchen, mentoring her staff and wowing her throngs of fans who show up to eat her blend of French and Southern cooking. Wolf doesn’t do it for the accolades, though they have come. She’s a nine-time finalist for the James Beard Award as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic and was recently a semi-finalist for Outstanding Chef in all of America. Those kinds of kudos might make some chefs too big for their toques—not Wolf, who regularly greets diners by name and delights in getting to know her guests as they eat in her elegant dining rooms. Regardless of the national recognition, she belongs to Baltimore—and we are better for it.
There’s usually something new and exciting on the menu at Lydia Chang’s nationally known Canton eatery, but we tend to take pleasure in the standards. The crispy bamboo fish, prepared with cumin, chile, and cilantro, has a nice spicy profile, and the shrimp dumplings are always plump and tasty. Of course, the Peking duck, revolutionized in this region by her acclaimed father, chef Peter Chang, never disappoints. The stylish restaurant includes a small bar that serves interesting cocktails and boasts a wide selection of baijiu, a clear Chinese liquor distilled from fermented sorghum and other grains. NiHao serves not only the best Chinese food in Baltimore, it’s also among the most innovative restaurants in the city.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TSUCALAS
FARM TO TABLE
The name of the restaurant says it all. While many restaurants give lip service to farm-to-fork fare, chef—and certified mushroom forager—Chris Amendola has helped lead the local movement. He truly sticks with the seasons, which means hominy cakes with herb ricotta, mushroom duxelles, and pickled ramps come spring or a tomato dish with goat cheese, watermelon, basil, and wineberry vinaigrette in high summer. The chef, who grows heirloom crops at his home for his Station North restaurant, is devoted to letting the seasons speak for themselves, and produce and proteins are sourced from area farms and fisheries. While the fare is seemingly simple, there’s nothing rustic about the artful presentation or the flavors here—the food at Foraged is exceptionally fresh, yes, but also exceptionally delicious.
In this crab-crazed town, there are many great places to head for pleasing patties, but there’s only one place that’s “the best”—and that’s Faidley. Located inside Charm City’s “World Famous Lexington Market,” at 136, the family-owned Faidley is one of Baltimore’s most enduring institutions. One of their biggest claims to fame? The cakes, molded by hand from a top secret fourth-generation recipe, are all jumbolump Maryland meat. They’re also enormous, perfectly seasoned, and a proud product of our very own Chesapeake. Years ago, we wrote about Faidley, “You’ve won best of so many times, we had to retire the category,” but who doesn’t love a great coming-out-of-retirement story?
BALTIMORE SPIRITS COMPANY
Even more impressive than the variety of spirits produced at this distillery inside the Union Collective in Hampden—four types of gin, multiple apple brandies, rye whiskey, and several Amaris among them—is their quality. Barreled Shot Tower gin spends nine months aging in used rye barrels. Fumus Pumila is a mezcal-style apple brandy with a solid smoky flavor. Blend-your-own-whiskey tours are available, but if you desire a less hands-on way to sample the spirits, stop by the Cocktail Gallery to try one of the many mixed drinks. The pineapple mojito is among the most popular, and while it’s plenty refreshing, we prefer the Spring Sunburn, a spicy margaritainspired blend of Fumus Pumila, house-made rye-based orange curaçao, and a salt-and-pepper lined rim.
Chef Rey Eugenio, the owner of Heritage Kitchen, doesn’t just have fans, he has groupies. That’s because his Whitehall Mill food stall—one of the only Filipino restaurants in town—serves up some of Baltimore’s most crave-worthy food. The menu changes frequently, but look for savory staples like pork or chicken adobo (braised in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and served with garlic fried rice and sautéed greens), the addictively tangy vegan pancit bihon noodles, and the sublimely comforting chicken arroz caldo (ginger-scented rice porridge, roasted chicken, and marinated tofu). Eugenio and his small staff are all exceptionally friendly and more than happy to make recommendations for newbies. Word to the wise: Heritage Kitchen has slightly idiosyncratic hours and they run out of certain menu items—so check their Instagram page frequently and don’t get your heart too set on a particular dish. Trust us, no matter what you order, you’ll love it.
For the past 20 years, the Costilla family has parked their taco truck, Tacos Jalisco, in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic church on South Broadway in Fells Point. Unsurprisingly, the family—and its recipes—originally hails from Jalisco, Mexico. The truck serves tacos, tamales, and made-to-order gorditas daily, plus menudo, a beef soup, and pozole on certain days. The gorditas, fresh masa stuffed with filling and grilled, are fantastic; and the pozole, a red chile-zapped pork stew made with hominy like giant popcorn, has the power to save even the worst Monday.
FRIED CHICKEN SANDWICH
With scintillating specials, community events, and even a new food truck roaming the city, our beloved Asian-fusion spot with two locations (Fells Point and Hampden) seems only to get better with age. But no matter how much we love the idea of a fried catfish bun or a pho-spiced cheesesteak eggroll, when it comes time to order, we can’t help but gravitate toward the sandwich that started it all. One of the original items from back when owners Steve Chu and Ephrem Abebe began as a hot dog cart at the Fells Point Farmers Market, the Neighborhood Bird steamed bun—a massive hunk of Taiwanese curry-fried chicken thigh with pickles, herbs, and a drippy dose of spicy sambal mayo—continues to quell cravings during every visit.
While we do miss the old-world charm of its Highlandtown location, we have to admit that this century-old Italian deli’s move to shinier, airier digs in Brewers Hill has been an upgrade in almost every way. There’s far more room to roam and gaze at the mouthwatering display cases with ready-to-eat salads (try the spicy penne pasta), every manner of stuffed olive, and an array of meats and cheeses. There’s even fresh produce. Rest assured, DiPasquale’s legendary sandwiches, pizzas, and Italian classics like baked ziti are unchanged—plus, now there’s the plenty of parking outside.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TSUCALAS
There’s a lot of soul in the Southern offerings being dished out at Taste This (two locations, in Charles Village and Hamilton, plus a third specializing in Creole-Southern cuisine). Co-owners Dante Davis and chef Craig Curbean pride themselves on turning out delicious, down-home meals, like what they would find in their grandmothers’ kitchens. We agree. The comfort-food platters will nourish your memories and your stomach, from the messy, succulent barbecue baked chicken with yellow rice, yams, and collard greens to the oversized grilled catfish plumped with crab imperial and served with string beans and the best-we’ve-had mac and cheese. You also won’t go wrong with fried chicken and waffles.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but after almost 100 years in Highlandtown, Andrew “Andy” and Alexia Farantos, the owners of G&A, decided to move the family diner, known for its Coney Island hot dogs, to a strip mall in White Marsh. Any worries about whether customers would come were quickly dispelled when they opened in March to crowds streaming out the door. And just as he has been doing since he took over the place in 1988, Andy Farantos is still making those signature delectable dogs—franks slathered with yellow mustard, homemade chili sauce, and chopped onions. Old-timers will appreciate a wall of photos surrounding a neon sign beaming, “With love from Baltimore.”
STONE MILL BAKERY
This town is blessed with a bevy of above-average lobster rolls, but the version at Stone Mill Bakery—all claw and tail meat lightly tossed with mayo and loaded properly on a house-made brioche hot dog bun that gets griddled on both sides and served with dark russet chips—is the real deal. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that cafe co-owner and one-time commercial clammer Alfie Himmelrich attended college at Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine, where he learned the intricacies of proper presentation from his years of living—and eating—in The Pine Tree State. In season, Himmelrich ships the shellfish to his Lutherville-Timonium restaurant straight from the source off the coast of Maine. It’s enough to make us forget about crabs (for at least one lunch shift).
NEOPOL SAVORY SMOKERY
Crowds have been lining up at Neopol since it opened at Belvedere Square Market in 2003, introducing diners to its smoked fish and assorted products. The eatery has been holding court ever since at the North Baltimore location and other markets. On any given morning, customers queue up to order their favorite sandwiches, spreads, and the legendary cheese pies. The salmon BLT is a must-have, piled high with tender chunks of fish, house-smoked bacon, tomatoes, and red onions on a choice of bread (do try the sunflower flax) slathered with honey-Dijon aioli. The smoked egg salad is another hit, and the smoked mussels taste like candy. Pair your meal with the house lemonade, a refreshing concoction with ginger and cardamom.
THAMES STREET IN FELLS POINT
Three years ago, the words “parklet” and “streatery” weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, the outdoor seating structures are everywhere. But no one embraced the alfresco spirit quite like Thames Street in Fells Point, where spots like Kooper’s Tavern, Waterfront Hotel, Riptide, and The Point in Fells have given us the ability to enjoy a harborfront view while remaining COVID-conscious. Many of the parklets, made from reclaimed materials and accented with plants and flowers, were assembled by community volunteers in the summer of 2020. And some, like the inflatable domes outside Kooper’s, have even taken an all-weather approach. (They took them down for summer, but fear not, they’ll be back out when it’s cold again.) Sure, there’s been less parking for visitors ever since, but we’d argue that the lively neighborhood has never looked better or been more vibrant.
When Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz opened their Riverside Italian restaurant more than a decade ago, they knew next to nothing about making Neapolitan-style pizza. Today, Josh, who oversees the kitchen, is a veritable expert. Hersh’s makes the dough daily using Double Zero flour from Italy, and it ferments in the walk-in refrigerator for three days before being used as a foundation for the most delectable pies around. The thin-crust pizzas go in the 800-degree oven for just 90 seconds and emerge perfectly charred. While the crust is the star, fresh toppings and inventive combinations, like the mushrooms, chèvre, fontina, pecorino, and sherry- thyme vinaigrette atop the Da Funghi Due, demonstrate that these siblings have become certified pizza masters. Even the simple Margherita with housemade mozzarella is sublime.
THE VALLEY INN
The 100-year-old Valley Inn has long been a Greenspring Valley institution, but historically speaking, it was always more of a horse country hangout than a spot for elevated dining. That all changed when the Atlas Restaurant Group purchased the landmark in December 2021. They revamped the menu to elevated gastropub fare (and recently hired Manuel Sencion, former exec chef at STK Steakhouse in New York), added a deejay, gave the patio a facelift, and came up with one of the best happy hours around with glasses of prosecco for $4 and discounted—and delicious—appetizers. We’re looking forward to dining for another century at The Valley Inn.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TSUCALAS
On a recent weekday, the 18-seat Allora in Mt. Vernon was packed with a lunchtime crowd. We shouldn’t have been surprised. Word has spread quickly about this bright, cozy townhouse bistro, owned by chefs Brendon Hudson and David Monteagudo, where Roman cuisine rules. Reservations are a must. Midday diners can dig into luxuries such as a perky orange salad with capers and shaved Parmesan, an addictive pear-and-brie panini on crispy rosemary focaccia, and an impressive pasta Amatriciana, starring paccheri (think oversized rigatoni) and porky guanciale in a flavorful tomato sauce. The BYOB restaurant offers tasting and a-la-carte dinners on Fridays and Saturdays.
WHOLE FOODS TOWSON
Our newest local Whole Foods is so modern and organized that it almost reminds us of the staged store on Guy’s Grocery Games. Luckily, this one is fully functioning. And what we love most—aside from the specialty departments around the perimeter (the salad bar is back in full force!)—are the end-cap shelves that call out local makers. On a recent visit, we spotted Maryland products from Lord Byron’s Honey, Zest Tea, Cape Seasonings, Mount Royal Soaps, Shea Radiance, and Oyin Handmade. It helps that the friendly staff was just as pumped to promote the local stuff as they were about the 365, store-branded classics.
Lane Harlan and Carlos Raba’s Clavel may be billed as a mezcaleria, but it’s the tacos that draw the lines that can stretch down the Remington street before the restaurant even opens. Built on house-made tortillas of either flour or corn nixtamalized in Clavel’s own nixtamalería, the taco menu showcases Yucatecan cochinita pibil, both beef-pork and a stunning lamb barbacoa, lengua, huitlacoche, carnitas, fried cod, and a terrific al gobernador of chile-spiked shrimp and oozy melted queso. Each component is as perfectly made as the tortillas, no mean feat. There’s a reason Raba was nominated for a regional Best Chef James Beard Award this year.
Time was, there were few options for vegans when it came to dining out. But thanks to the Inner Harbor’s Double Zero (and its fine-dining sister spot, Liora), that’s all changed. Luckily for us, restaurateur Matthew Kenney, who has restaurants all over the world, from Lima to London, plunked down in Baltimore with his innovative plantbased cuisine. Vegan or not, Double Zero features some of the tastiest Italian-inspired dishes around, from the plant-based “pepperoni” pizza to the sunflower Caesar. You’ll never miss the meat, or the eggs, or the dairy—or anything else for that matter. In fact, the food is so flavorful, you’ll never know it’s missing.
GRAND CRU MARKET BAR
A wide variety of cocktails and beers are available at this new cornerstone in Belvedere Square, but something about the environment created by husbandand-wife co-owners Jayce Flickinger and Rebecca Sandler just seems to call out, “Wouldn’t you enjoy a glass of wine?” A smartly curated list of varietals from around the world is available on tap, by the bottle, by the glass, and ingeniously by the half-glass. Another wise choice is the Boy With a Coin, Grand Cru’s take on sangria. It’s redwine-based with house-infused vanilla Cognac, pomegranate, and spices, and it’s as delightful as the atmosphere in which it’s served.
The polarizing debate over who serves the best wings in Buffalo is much like the one surrounding crab cakes in Baltimore. It’s a matter of deep civic pride. We hope that for the sake of the good folks in upstate New York, there’s a place with crab cakes as authentic as the wings are at iBar. The Station North restaurant claims to use the same recipe as Buffalo’s iconic Anchor Bar, where the wing was invented more than a half-century ago. iBar’s are super crispy, tossed modestly (not drowning) in the pleasingly hot sauce, moist and tender inside. In short: iBar will give the wings in Buffalo a run for their money.
COURTESY OF DAVE SEEL
The passion that local publicist Dave Seel has for the dining scene practically leaps off his Instagram grid. After scrolling this foodie’s feed for only a few seconds, you get a sense of our scope as a food city—with colorful snaps ranging from stacked burgers and loaded burritos to pretty plates of escargot and lamb shank ragout. It’s a fitting way for Seel, who founded the Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund to support service workers in the wake of COVID-19, to document his love for the industry and the people who keep it going.