Food & Drink

The Best Baltimore Bites Our Food & Dining Editor Ate in 2023

It was a year of eating abroad, relying on old standbys, making new discoveries, and, of course, crabs, lots of them.

When I travel, my favorite way to explore the culture of a new place has always been through the lens of regional cuisine. In late March, I experienced southern Spain, where I feasted on plates of the region’s famed Jámon Ibérco ham and fell in love with the Andalusian dish berenjenas fritas con miel—a savory and sweet fried eggplant in honey—washed down by bottles of Rioja wine that were as cheap as bottles of water.

By October, I was in Honolulu, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. I gorged on just-caught poke, dined on lotus root, and tasted ‘ulu—the native bread fruit—for the first time. A month later, I wandered around the streets of Toronto, tasting my way through the city’s many fantastic bakeries, Michelin-starred restaurants (shoutout to the modern Mexican fare at Quetzal), and farmers markets, including the 220-year-old St. Lawrence Market for a signature peameal bacon sandwich—basically a thick slab of pork loin on a kaiser roll doused in mustard—at the iconic Carousel Bakery.

Scallops in green garlic butter at the Michelin-starred Quetzal in Toronto.
Vermouth at Bar Raval in Toronto.
Buttered ‘ulu with fermented black beans and sour orange at Mud, Hen, Water in Honolulu.
Tapas from Mercado de san Miguel in Madrid.

But eating in far-flung destinations also gives me a true appreciation for the embarrassment of riches we have back in Baltimore—and ultimately, I always miss what we have at home.

Locally, it was a year of relying on old standbys, making new discoveries, and, of course, crabs, lots of them—wherever and whenever I could get them. Between an unexpected ankle surgery that sidelined me for many months and the general state of the world, this was the year I craved—actually needed—comfort food.

So, in no particular order, these are the dishes, desserts, (and a drink), that were most memorable for me in 2023.

The Palacinke at Little Donna’s: Robbie Tutlewski’s late Yugoslavian grandmother, Donna, inspired not only the name of his restaurant, but she’s been his menu muse at this homey spot in Upper Fells Point. The palacinke, a sort of Serbian crepe, is ideal for any sort of sweet or savory filling, though the chef sticks to the latter. Tutlewski loads his with farmer’s cheese and then crowns them with various seasonal ingredients—pepper jam and a cooling apple salad, a scoop of Maryland crab, Asian pears, and salsa rojo. They’re incredibly versatile and delicious.

A palacinke filled with with brown butter, Asian pears, pumpkin seeds & salsa rojo at Little Donna's. —Little Donna's via Facebook

Fried Chicken and Biscuits at Bunny’s, Buckets & Bubbles: Fried chicken has deep roots in Maryland and chef Jesse Sandlin does the Southern classic justice with her twice dredged, canola-fried chicken that’s crispy, crunchy, and impossibly juicy. Every order is accompanied by sinful biscuits. Spring for the decadent honey butter and dip everything you eat in it. 

—Jane Marion

A Twist at Tropicool: I like my desserts simple, and there’s nothing more satisfying than a black-and-white custard (with chocolate Jimmies, as we call them in my hometown of Philly) at this Falls Road summer stand. It’s a cooling, creamy treat, but mostly I love the nostalgia of it all. This boardwalk-style custard stand takes me back to the sweet, salt-filled air of my childhood summers at the Jersey shore, where I’d savor the last melted bites that collected in the grid at the bottom of the cake cone and my mom wiped the Jimmies off my shirt—inevitably always white.

—Jane Marion

Gin Martinis at Peter’s Inn: A classic gin martini rarely varies—but at this beloved Fells Point institution, classic does not forfeit creative. For starters, the drink, served in a coupe glass on a silver platter, comes with a sidecar on ice for DIY refills. And the accompanying garnish—a cocktail onion, a pickle, an olive with a pimento, a jalapeño, and caperberry—all come speared on a single skewer, so you don’t have to decide. It goes down way too easy—and there’s nothing else quite like it in Baltimore, or anywhere else for that matter.

—Jane Marion

The Manchego and Chorizo Pintxos at La Cuchara: How can a single slice of Manchego and a few almost transparent slivers of chorizo, plus a blistered shishito, all skewered and served on a piece of bread dabbed with Dijon, add up to something that’s so sublime, satisfying, and easily eaten in two perfect bites? Math has never been my strong suit, but it just does. This is Spain’s answer to a snack—and it’s stupendous.

—Jane Marion

Baklava at Estiatorio Plaka: Phyllo dough was quite possibly invented by the Greek Gods and this new restaurant in Greektown serves a first-rate iteration. The layers of tissue-thin phyllo are drenched with honey and packed with pistachios and walnuts.

—Estiatorio Plaka via Facebook

Pepperoni Pizza at JBGB’s: I can’t get enough of the classic New York-style pepperoni pizza at this Remington restaurant/butcher shop. The crust is perfectly charred, and the cheese and the sauce form the ideal canvas for the spicy rounds of house-made pepperoni. When I want pizza, this is the pie that answers my carb cravings.

—JBGB's via Facebook

Caldo de camarón at Clavel: This new menu item, a cup of shrimp soup at the Remington taqueria, features a spicy tomato-based, briny broth with carrots celery, and rice, plus one giant, head-on shrimp curled over the cup’s rim. It’s deeply flavorful—and Mexico’s answer to penicillin. Order a side of cheese quesadillas for dunking, and you’ve got the perfect meal.

—Jane Marion

Cloud Shrimp Bao Buns at Toki Underground: While this Harwood hotspot is known for its ramen, the cloud shrimp, lightly fried in potato starch, are noteworthy. Tuck them into a set of tender bao buns, slather on some kimchi-kewpie mayo to add some mild heat, and add scallions and cucumbers for crunch. You’ll be on Cloud 9 in no time.

—Josh Sisk via Toki Underground on Instagram

Soft Shell Crab Sandwich at Dylan’s Oyster Cellar: We have an abundance of great crab sandwiches in our crustacean-leaning town, but this is the one to beat. Every spring, I eagerly await the arrival of the soft crab sandwich at this Hampden haunt. Dylan’s piles two crabs, a slice of tomato, and a bit of butter lettuce onto two thick slices of grilled and buttered Texas toast planted with a Maryland flag toothpick. The whole shebang is served with a half of a lemon and a bag of kettle chips. It’s Maryland pride on a plate.

—Dylan's Oyster Cellar via Facebook