Since I began contributing to The Baltimore Banner as one of the Creatives in Residence, many of you have shared your favorite Baltimore-area restaurants with me.
You’ve introduced me to eating spots and dishes I have not yet tried or reintroduced me to some that I had forgotten.
As I continue exploring the area’s dining scene and giving some of my own recommendations, I am going to start sharing what I learn and hear from you as well.
I am beginning a new series, Ask Charm City Table. In this column, I will visit some of the restaurants you have suggested, try the recommended menu items, and offer tips and restaurant recommendations based on emails I receive from readers like you.
One reader helped me rediscover an old favorite, Puerto 511, located at 102 Clay St., tucked between Saratoga and Lexington, just off Cathedral Street.
Lisa Simeone responded to my call for favorite Baltimore restaurants, saying the quaint Peruvian eatery is her “#1 favorite restaurant in the city.” Alma Cocina Latina is a very close second, she said.
“Spectacularly good, fresh food, every time — best ceviche anywhere — in a tiny, almost hole-in-the-wall location,” she wrote. “Blink and you’ll miss it. Plus it’s BYOB, so you save money. And the owner, Jose Victorio Alarcon, makes the best Pisco Sours (bring your own Pisco, of course).”
After reading Lisa’s email, I revisited Puerto 511 since it had been awhile, and I had to try their seasonal ceviche. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the host and chef and seated in the modern space with roughly ten tables. Once seated, the bottle of pisco I brought with me was whisked away by our server and she quickly returned with pisco sours for the table.
For those new to pisco, it is a fermented grape brandy made in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. To make the cocktail, pisco is mixed with lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters and egg whites. The drink is tart and sweet with a smooth, almost velvety mouth feel.
Chef and owner Jose Victorio Alarcon reflects upon his own childhood memories and experiences of growing up in Callao, Peru to develop the seasonal, small plates menu at Puerto 511. You will find protein from fish and livestock, vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts used throughout the five- to six-course, two-hour dining experience. Adjustments can be made to accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions up to 24 hours in advance.
On this visit, I opted for the six-course dinner available only on weekends. Courses were beautifully plated with bold flavors and varying textures. Course three was the ceviche. Chef Jose’s Amazonico Ceviche consisted of fresh, raw fish, coconut tiger’s milk, grilled pineapple, cancha (corn nut), cilantro, ginger and cassava chips.
Simeone said Puerto 511 has the “best ceviche anywhere.” The bright, acidic, sweet taste combined with the firm, crispy, crunchy bites of the dish qualifies this as one of the best versions of ceviche I have tasted.
Puerto 511′s seasonal, rotating menu allows customers to try different plates every couple of months. I caught the end of their summer menu. Their fall menu incorporates lots of starchy root vegetables and autumnal grains and flavors.
Here are the details of all six courses I ate:
Anticucho: Grilled skewers of veal marinated in aji panka, garlic, cumin, oregano, grill potato, Peruvian corn, rocoto sauce
Shrimp Tamal: Peruvian mashed corn, cilantro, shrimp chili sauce, criollita mixed green salad
Pulpo en su causa: Grilled octopus, Peruvian potato, yellow pepper, bojita sauce and avocado and rocoto chimichurri
Amazonico Ceviche: Fresh fish, coconut tiger’s milk, grilled pineapple, cancha, cilantro, ginger and cassava chips
Pachamanca: New York Steak, Peruvian potato, mint, huacatay, fava beans, uchucuta de rocoto y sachatomate
Peruvian sampler dessert: Traditional quinoa with dulce de leche, served with Peruvian ice cream and berries and chocolate
This is your sign to grab a bottle of pisco and make your reservation at Puerto 511. Thank you for the recommendation, Lisa.
Would love to know your favorite restaurant or offer you dining suggestions in the Baltimore area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with details.
Simone Phillips is the founder of the food blog Charm City Table and a Creative in Residence for The Baltimore Banner.