The [incomplete and ever-changing] TMFP guide to eating in Baltimore.

The TMFP incomplete and ever-changing guide to eating in Baltimore.

I just love this sea turtle at the National Aquarium–no sea turtles are involved with any food options.

I’ve been meaning to publish this for some time and have even started it a few times, but now is as good as ever to get it out there for the world. After living here for more than four years now, I finally feel equipped to recommend some awesome places. Some we go to often because they are down the corner from us, and others are more of a special occasion, but all are places we’ve taken our guests to and so these are places we would heartily recommend.

The Brewer’s Cask

This gets first mention because this was the first place we sat down and had some burgers and beers following our first full week in the city. We ended up meeting our first local friend here, and there have been times when we’ve come here more than once a week. If craft beer is your jam, this is probably the best place in Federal Hill to go, because the selection is solid and also ever-changing. If you’re here right before the holidays Dogfish Head does a tap takeover that also serves as the bar’s holiday party, and it’s as much fun (if not more) than you think it is. The food is solid bar fare, with the fish tacos being a personal favorite as well as the loaded tots.

The Outpost American Tavern

The Outpost is a couple blocks away from our building, and so it’s naturally a favorite place to go on Friday nights for happy hour. The building used to be home to a pubby spot that had overly fussy food; thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Kitsch is the name of the game here: there are random taxidermied animals everywhere, along with vintage chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and board games strewed about the booths. The happy hour menu boasts more refined versions of your favorite McDonald’s sandwiches, including a pork belly sandwich that is fantastic and really tasty chicken tenders, and the regular menu has solid entrees, sandwiches, and small plates. Brunch here is also fun—there may have been a rainy spring Sunday afternoon where we lingered over mimosas and got into an impromptu singalong to a Celine-Dion-inspired playlist.

Cross Street Market

Watch this space—I’m waiting for the renovated market to open, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

CrossBar Der Biergarten

So this bar is a bit of controversial one—certain folks in the neighborhood tried their damndest to prevent this place from opening, and were successful up to a certain point. (Original plans included it being an open air space, but they compromised by putting a big glass roof over the main hall instead.) But open it finally did, and honestly, I think the neighborhood is better for it. Of all of the bars on Cross Street it’s the one I enjoy going to the most, because the staff here is awesome and always game for silly debates and story sharing during slow periods but work their asses off when the place is slammed during peak times like Ravens games. Most of the beers here are German, but they do keep a couple of local drafts on tap regularly, and beers tend to be swapped out on a seasonal basis. The food here is solid German fare, and I’m a particular fan of the weisswurst sausage with bacon and onion as well as their giant pretzel with bier cheese and mustard.

Birds of a Feather

If you are a scotch enthusiast, you absolutely must place this cozy little bar on your list of must-visit places. The front half of the bar is what you would expect, while the back half boasts a fireplace and leather chairs and couches that basically dare you to resist sinking down into them and enjoying your generous pour from the proprietress’ vast collection of scotches. If you don’t know what you want, the menu is broken up in a matrix to help you find the right mix of peatiness and smokiness. I’m not a big scotch person–I’m happy with a glass of Ron Swanson’s beloved Lagavulin if I’m there–but it’s just such a lovely place to be that it’s almost beside the point. There’s no food here save for some clip strips of chips, but you can bring in food from any of the nearby restaurants if you’d like.

Mi & Yu Noodle Bar

Mi & Yu is an up and coming mini-chain of ramen restaurants—there are a few in the city proper, and they have since expanded to Virginia—and it’s well-deserved. This is a place where you can build your own bowl of ramen either for eating in (it’s BYOB) or for carryout (our usual preference). The duck adobo broth is to die for, and probably my favorite aspect of the menu is that you can easily add more noodles, protein, or eggs to your order depending on how hungry you are. Just writing all of this down makes me want to go there again sooner rather than later, so now I’m hungry while writing this at 9:30 at night.

Ryleigh’s Oyster

While this is admittedly not my favorite place for oysters in the city (oh, how fortunate are we to have multiple options!), it’s one of my favorite places to go in the summertime to enjoy a couple of platters of buck a shuck and either a crisp glass of white wine or a nice local beer during happy hour because it too is just down the street from where we live. Happy hour is well worth coming here for, and on another note I will always be grateful to them for lending me a cup of soda water when we needed it to make fried squid one Sunday afternoon.

Max’s Taphouse

This is a legendary beer bar, and if you’re a nerd about beer this is an absolute must-visit. (The Admiral Fell Inn across the street even offers a Max’s package deal!) There are 108 taps on hand, and they rotate through them a LOT. They’ll do themed weekends, including one dedicated to Belgian beers which gets a HUGE turnout each year. Everything is served pub-style; you order your brews and your food from the bartender, and magically they know where to find you when they deliver your food to your table. Speaking of food, the stuff they have on the menu is excellent: personal favorites of mine are the bison sliders and the Eastern Shore sliders (which are, naturally, crab cakes). Avoid this place during football games if you’re looking for a quiet place to eat because it gets full AND rowdy, but otherwise this is a can’t miss place to sip on some beers and relax.

The Abbey Burger Bistro

This place is tucked away right off Cross Street, and is the perfect place to go if you like burgers and are curious about trying new kinds of meat. While you’re always able to get burgers made out of beef and lamb and the like, what’s always fun about this place is to see what special meat is on the menu, be it llama, wild boar, or kangaroo. You have the option to build your own burger via a paper menu you fill out at your seat, and I highly recommend doing this as the combinations are endless. Personal favorite toppings of mine are the sautéed mushrooms (so savory!) and the caramelized onions, but whatever floats your boat pretty much goes here. This is also one of the few Fed Hill bars that does a great job in covering soccer games, if that interests you at all.

Little Havana

So full stop, this place might be one of the bro-iest we frequent with any regularity. During football season especially it can be jam-packed with dudebros getting wasted on bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys on Sundays, but it can also be a surprisingly relaxing place when it’s not quite as busy. On Sundays they offer the aforementioned drink specials with purchase of any brunch entrée, and at at $22.99 a person, it’s a fabulous deal. What’s kept us coming back, though, has been the excellent food and service. The brunch menu is well-edited (my go-to is the Santiago Wrap), and if you sit at the bar you can watch how well the staff handles making endless pitchers of mimosas and Bloodys. It also boasts a lovely deck that looks right out onto the harbor, so you better believe that the first unseasonably warm day after winter sets in means this place gets FLOODED.

Bar Liquorice

Another key piece of evidence that Baltimore is more than just brews and burgers is this local gem: here, cocktails come first and foremost, and while there is a small menu of pressed sandwiches and the like to tide you over, you’re here to sample the seasonal menu of quaffs the staff has on offer. There is also freshly-popped popcorn to devour along with jars of Good-N-Plenty and red Twizzlers all along the bar. The owner is a character himself, sharing crazy stories about his life and offering to pick up Starbucks orders for anyone who may feel inclined to one. While their cocktail menu is excellent, be sure to pace yourself enough to tell one of the bartenders to “make you a bicycle, clown!” and they will come up with something fabulous based on what you like.

Hersh’s

This is a relatively recent discovery for us, and shame on us for taking so long to get down here. For all of the places in the neighborhood to get a good drink, it’s also important to have places that boast incredible food, and Hersh’s fits the bill on both fronts. (Fun fact: John Oliver came here after his New Year’s Eve show in the city!) The menu is Italian, with a focus on pizzas and pastas. The combinations are meant to be a bit unconventional—the ingredients are all traditional, but used in a way that is just a little unexpected. If you’re really hungry, you can probably devour one of their pizzas in one sitting, but they are always happy to wrap up any leftovers for you. Get anything with the house-made ricotta cheese, whether it’s the artichoke pizza or the meatballs that are served on a bed of it as you won’t be disappointed.

Thames Street Oyster House

One of my favorite things to do on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend is to hop on the commuter boat and head over to Thames Street to enjoy some oysters for a late lunch. The shift in the schedule this year means I may have to adjust that slightly (or at least consider walking the whole way there and taking the boat back later), but it’s worth it to hop on a stool, order a selection of oysters (and often some snails slathered with garlic and butter) and catch up on some reading. This place is not cheap, but that means it’s the perfect kind of indulgence to partake in when the mood feels right.

The Food Market

This is a Hampden gem that is perennially difficult to get into, because the food there is just that good. We took my in-laws there for brunch, and spent a solid hour traipsing around Hampden to pass the time (and I seriously thought I was going to get a little woozy from hunger) but the wait was totally worth it, as the hype this place has is very much earned. They also have a sister restaurant that we have yet to visit, but apparently it is one of the only places left to score a copy of their cookbook The Food Market {At Home} which we definitely want to get if we can, so we may need to make a pilgrimage to check it out.

 

Mount Vernon Marketplace

Food halls have long been a tradition in Baltimore, as the Lexington Market is one of the oldest-running markets in the country. Our local city market Cross Street is in the midst of a much-needed overhaul, and when it’s done they are also hoping to revive it and bring in a variety of new as well as returning vendors. Mount Vernon Marketplace, meanwhile, is a relatively new hall that opened a few years ago a few blocks away from the Walters Gallery in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. It has a lovely variety of food options, ranging from oysters to charcuterie to ramen to dumplings. A few shops that had popped up in Cross Street have since moved their operations there for the duration of the renovations taking place, and while I’m sorry to see them leave our neighborhood, it’s even more of a reason to make a trek uptown to hang out here once again.

Shoyu Sushi

I’m not the biggest sushi person, only because it makes me think of awkward business lunches in which the sushi is expensive and never filling enough to power through the rest of the day. But when our neighbors told us about this place down the block from their house, we decided to go for it and we let them order some of their favorites from this little (at the time) hole-in-the-wall, and the experience immediately brought me back to our New Haven days and going to Miya’s Sushi. Much like there, the sushi here is creative and compelling, and they will be absolutely upfront with you if a particular fish isn’t having its best day that day or if there’s something special that you absolutely must order. The restaurant just moved into a larger space down the street, and it’s a total upgrade, no question.

Faidley’s Seafood at Lexington Market (and Lexington Market, period)

I would be remiss in not directing someone visiting Baltimore to go to Lexington Market, and specifically to Faidley’s Seafood (so long as they didn’t have a shellfish allergy, naturally). The market is huge and a lot to take in, but as you walk past stands filled with fascinating ingredients, eventually you’ll make your way to Faidley’s and their famous crab cakes. Their part of the market smells like the sea, as they not only have dishes to eat like oysters and fried seafood, but they also have fresh ingredients for purchase as well. (I’ve definitely had scallops from them and damn if they weren’t the best I have had in ages.) Lexington is the longest-operating city market in the country, and it’s worth it to see the chaos, the neon, and of course, the food.

Attman’s Deli

Way back when, Baltimore had what was referred to as Corned Beef Row in the Jonestown neighborhood of the city. Jewish delis lined Lombard Street, but sadly their numbers have dwindled in recent years. Attman’s is still holding on for now, and is as busy as ever—on a weekend afternoon you’ll stand in line for a good 20 minutes at least waiting for one of their sandwiches, and it’s absolutely worth the wait. What’s so great about this place is how egalitarian it is—everyone waits in the same line to get  food, so you can all share in your collective hunger and how GOOD it smells in there. The pastrami is a personal favorite of mine, as are the pickles that are in giant barrels right before you’re ready to check out. Enjoy this place while it’s still around; while it’s been a Baltimore staple for over 100 years, its future is by no means guaranteed.

Clavel

Bar Clavel probably has the best  Mexican food in the city, complete with fancy cocktails. The food here is quite excellent, and while it’s a bit of a hike for us to get to, it’s always worth the visit. This place gives me strong bartaco vibes with its white-painted walls and lots of windows allowing for much natural light, and in writing this I realize that we’re long overdue for another visit there.

W.C. Harlan

A sister bar to Bar Clavel, this is one of the first of the more modern speakeasies to pop up in the city, and they lean into the speakeasy motif. Between old-timey décor and interesting cocktails named after birds and the like, this place is a place to get your favorite obscure cocktail or try one of the many on their menu. (One of our friends took up a new nickname after falling in love with their cocktail The Dark Cardinal.)