A Baltimore transplant’s restaurant discoveries

Published on: October 13, 2022 6:00 AM EDT|Updated on: October 13, 2022 1:02 PM EDT

Cookhouse – Espresso Martini

I moved to Baltimore in the summer of 2021 to launch The Baltimore Banner. I had no idea what to expect, especially when it came to food. I was ignorant of the options beyond crab cakes, which I couldn’t eat because of a shellfish allergy. I am a self-described foodie and a food snob to the point that I rarely take recommendations from most people unless I believe they know what they are talking about; I usually just tune out when they recommend places. And Yelp, don’t even bother.

With that starting ignorance and frame of mind, I have been pleasantly surprised at the food scene in Baltimore. I’m still in discovery mode but thought I would share some of my early favorites. Many overlap with Food & Wine’s recent piece on Baltimore’s culinary scene. After a year here, I can attest that Baltimore is a hidden gem. What gets me is the variety and uniqueness of the restaurants, and how good the cocktail program is.

1501 Bolton Street, Baltimore

My realtor Jessica — actually the realtor for everyone who has moved to Baltimore for The Banner — had mentioned CookHouse to me a couple of times. She owns the place with her husband George who also happens to be the chef. This place is a true delight. Everything I’ve had now, in five visits, has been really quite wonderful. The menu rotates every week, which is great but also annoying because you can never go back for more of what you fell in love with. They always have a version of steak and a burger that changes every week. The bar program is really amazing, with innovative cocktails. They may have the prettiest espresso martini I have ever seen. Tastes pretty good, too. This is a great neighborhood restaurant; if I lived in Bolton Hill, I may be here every week, if not more.

1701 North Charles Street, Baltimore

I really had no idea what to expect when I first went to Alma Cocina Latina. I love trying restaurants that have menus I am not familiar with. New to me is important, and Venezuelan food was new to me. The first time I went there for dinner, I didn’t know what to expect and I was completely overcome by how good the food was, including what have become my go-tos — arepas, latin gyoza and yucca fries. Apparently, per the man who knows these things, Baltimore Banner reporter John-John Williams IV, I have to try the roast chicken. Not only was the food beautiful, but it’s a great space and the wait staff are engaging.

1017 W. 36th Street, Baltimore

The Food Market in Hampden is the kind of place you want to go with no dietary restrictions, or diets. The food is unashamedly highly caloric and glorious. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating — they do have a few low-cal things, such as a beet salad — but the truly awesome stuff is not. Like the lobster fingers, French onion rings, pickle-brined fried chicken and more. The atmosphere is loud, hectic and fun. This is the kind of food I would love in a sports bar when I’m watching Liverpool Football Club on the weekends.

200 International Drive, Baltimore

The number of times I have gone to Maximón is becoming a running joke. It’s close to our office and I take a lot of breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings there. But beyond convenience, I like the food, a lot. Queso with chorizo and tortilla chips — not tortillas. The carne asada taco platter with all the fixings are my favorites. They also have one of the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had and they have an incredible tequila program, including more bottles of Clase Azul than I’ve ever seen in one place.

1709 N. Charles Street, Baltimore

Foraged in Station North, next door to Alma Cocina, was a real surprise. It reminded me of one of my favorite restaurants in Princeton, New Jersey. The chef, Chris Amendola, forages for things like mushrooms, hence the name. They describe it as a hyper-seasonal restaurant. The menu is inventive and everything I have eaten there has been worth the price of admission.

814 S. Bond Street, Baltimore

I have a little bit of a soft spot for this place, an authentic Greek restaurant with some wonderful seafood. It’s the first restaurant I tried when I moved to Baltimore. But more than that, the late Ted Venetoulis, who worked tirelessly to get The Banner launched, used to keep telling me about it and wanted to go there for dinner with me. He did the next best thing — one night I was there with my wife and when we tried to settle the check, we were told Ted had taken care of it. That’s what Ted did. I can never go there without thinking of him, and it really is a wonderful little place in Fells Point, unassuming, just really simple, well-made food, especially the fish dishes. And the Greek wine selection is pretty good too.

1005 N Charles St. Baltimore

Talk about a small restaurant that packs a wallop! Located in Mount Vernon, this Roman bistro may be the smallest restaurant I’ve ever been. They barely have five tables. All I know is that everything I have tried there is excellent. I’ve eaten salads, pasta, sandwiches at lunch and bistecca and duck at dinner. The pastas include classics such as bolognese, carbonara and amatriciana. The carbonara is probably one of my favorites ever, surprisingly. Allora is a BYOB restaurant, which makes it so much more accessible. Brendon Hudson, chef and owner comes from a line of Italian chefs; his grandparents owned Velleggia’s in Little Italy. All I have to say is get a bigger place!

803 S. Caroline Street, Baltimore

Baltimore is short of seriously good Indian food. Most of the Indian restaurants are really Nepali and there are regional differences from more traditional Indian food. Being of Indian origin, I need a pretty regular fix of Indian food and I’ve tried a bunch of takeout places, which is how I stumbled upon Harbor Tandoor in Harbor Point. The chicken kebab and dal and saag paneer are, well, really well done. It comes closest to what I want, what I crave. The food is expertly cooked with no frills and satisfies that craving for spice.

2322 Baltimore Street, Baltimore

Ever since I got here, I have been told to try NiHao. Not what I expected at all. I was expecting the standard Chinese dishes but instead what I got was really well-executed, refined dishes that expanded my concept of Chinese food. I always tell everyone who visits to drop any preconceptions, otherwise they may come away disappointed. Baltimore is a place that people can experiment and break conventions; it has its own vibe and they certainly do that at NiHao.

1000 Lancaster Street, Baltimore

Charleston is that special occasion place. The food is incredibly well-executed. This is fine dining at its best. I’ve done the whole sit-down dinner there, but my go-to now is just to sit at the bar and grab a couple of dishes. I always prefer sitting at the bar. I like chatting with random people and just learning about them and hearing their stories. While the food is fantastic, the menu is a little old school and classic, but definitely worth it.

300 South Exeter Street, Baltimore

Ovenbird is half a block from my condo in Little Italy and it is incredibly hard not to walk by and buy something delicious almost every day. My go-to items tend to be an everything bagel with spicy fennel, smoked salmon and lox, or a chocolate croissant. The bread there is all sourdough-based, and I recently had the focaccia. They gave me two for the price of one since they were closing for the day. Oh wow. I pretty much polished both off by the next morning. And the bagel may be the best I’ve ever had. It is better than any bagel from New York.

Other restaurants that I have enjoyed include, Dutch Courage, Clavel, Magdalena and Papermoon Diner, not necessarily for the food but the weird uniqueness that has Baltimore written all over it.

Imtiaz Patel is CEO of The Baltimore Banner. Baltimore Curated is a recurring column written by staff of The Baltimore Banner and other local contributors. It is designed to help navigate the best food, shopping and experiences in the city and region.