Charm City Table: Good eats in Highlandtown

Published on: September 25, 2022 10:26 AM EDT|Updated on: September 28, 2022 2:25 PM EDT

Snake Hill’s brick and mortar though I’ve tried their food at festivals and popups around Baltimore. The restaurant specializes in craft sausage with options for everyone, including vegans.

Highlandtown is an enchanting, multi-ethnic neighborhood with a colorful, exciting arts scene. Home to Baltimore-style pizza, a “Top Chef” alum’s interpretation of comfort food, Peruvian chicken, tacos, pho and more, this east Baltimore neighborhood is densely packed with options for foodies.

As part of an ongoing series with The Baltimore Banner, I am exploring Baltimore’s neighborhoods for its most iconic and interesting eats. Here are the spots I found while spending time in Highlandtown.

3131 Eastern Avenue

Since 1948, Matthew’s Pizzeria has been a city and neighborhood institution. Serving what many call “Baltimore-style pizza,” their pies are saucy and cheesy with crispy edges, and a soft, deep-dish crust.

It had been a while since I sat inside of Matthew’s. “Best pizza” awards, magazine and newspaper features and old pictures of Baltimore decorate the otherwise “no-frills” establishment. In the back is a counter where customers line up to place their order. This time, I ate their famous crab pie.

The crab pizza includes backfin crab meat, hand grated mozzarella and imported cheeses, topped with caramelized onions and Old Bay seasoning. A balanced blend of flavors, I could taste the subtle sweetness of crab, the spicy, salty bite of Old Bay seasoning and richness of caramelized onions. If you are a crab lover, this pizza is a must try.

With over 30 different toppings to choose from, Matthew’s pizza continues to keep a full house of tourists and locals stopping in for their Baltimore pizza.

3531 Gough St

A bar artful enough to attract newcomers while remaining true to the neighborhood, Sally O’s uplifts Highlandtown with its comforting and quirky concept.

Energetic, bright and tropical are words that describe the restaurant’s decor. The chairs are velvet and the walls covered in blue, green and pink plant-patterned wallpaper designed by MICA students. A pink neon sign above the bar reads “This must be the place.”

Sally O’s food is described as a twist on classic comfort foods. Owner and Food Network’s Top Chef alum, Jesse Sandlin, has some beautifully plated menu items including watermelon salad, Crabonara and their celebrated Highlandtown Smashburger. I had the pleasure of tasting these menu items along with their Magret Duck “Steak.”

My watermelon salad came with peaches, feta, mint and walnuts in a pickled strawberry reduction. It was an exquisite start to the meal. The Crabonara, a crabby twist on carbonara, included bucatini, lump crab, smoked bacon, red onion, garlic, herbs, egg yolk, parmesan and black pepper. The flavors of traditional carbonara are there but bolder. The added crab is a welcomed Baltimore upgrade.

The Magret Duck “Steak” is my new favorite bite at the bar and restaurant. Paired with the summer sauteed succotash and corn, I loved the flavor and fattiness of the duck with the bright, juicy corn.

It is difficult to find a kitchen that is open late in the city especially during the week. Sally O’s provides us with a kitchen open until midnight, outstanding bites and a crafty, fun cocktail menu. My favorite cocktail right now is their Drop the Beet; black tea infused reyka vodka, lemon, beet syrup and herbal bitters.

3232 Eastern Ave

At a glance, Off the Rox looks like a typical wine and beer store; the fancier kind with a large wine selection and local craft beer options. The shop is small, mostly gray, with a few chairs and tables out front, and tall shelves of their wine and beer offerings. Along with having one of the best beer and wine selections in town, Off the Rox hosts events, tastings and offers beer and wine on tap to enjoy at the store.

On my recent visit, I was greeted warmly by the staff who were very knowledgeable about wine and made some great recommendations. They also invited me to enjoy the free beer tasting taking place out front. I passed on the tasting this time but ordered an earthy red wine on tap for $5 and sat at one of the outside tables to enjoy and watch the beer tasting.

Each Thursday and Friday, Off the Rox offers complimentary beer or wine tastings. The staff sets up a table outside and gently offers free samples to those passing by and customers visiting the store. Most people, while I was there, were enthusiastic about trying the tasting selection from Checkerspot Brewing — the featured beer of the day. There were four different beers to taste and each tasting session lasted about 5 to 10 minutes. It was a delight to watch the friendly, neighborhood interactions while sipping a glass of wine.

It is clear Off the Rox has created something more special than a corner wine store. There’s a sense of community and a safe space for both wine and beer enthusiasts and novices.

3728 Eastern Ave

Many name Highlandtown’s Chicken Rico as the best spot to get Peruvian Chicken (Pollo a la Brasa) in Baltimore. The restaurant is painted red and white and has the basics of a simple, fast casual Pervian chicken spot — the long counter, numerous options for rice, sides, and sauces, and charbroiled whole chickens cooking over flames.

I ordered my usual half chicken with yellow and green sauces and yucca fries. Chicken Rico uses a 50-year-old family recipe for their chicken. The marinade flavors the chicken throughout. It is savory and juicy with some charred smokiness in each bite. The yucca fries were the perfect consistency with a crunchy outside and pillowy, starchy inside.

Chicken Rico has been a flavorful, consistent option in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. Every time I visit, I am reminded that it holds up as one of the city’s best fast casual concepts.

418 S Clinton St

This was my first visit to Snake Hill’s brick and mortar though I’ve tried their food at festivals and pop-ups around Baltimore. The restaurant specializes in craft sausage with options for everyone, including vegans. However, they do not stop at sausages. Snake Hill has daily specials, a salad menu, thoughtful cocktail menu, and a nice whiskey selection.

With playful decor, over 17,000 Scrabble pieces decorate the bar; there are cue balls for draft handles, and nostalgic signs and trinkets everywhere. Behind the bar is where you can see the cooks grilling sausages and dropping fry baskets into the hot grease.

I ordered the specials of the day — fried pickles and a fried chicken sandwich. For my sausage, I tried the Greek Goddess. The fried pickles were covered in a seasoned, crispy breading. Inside, a classic dill pickle; salty, sour, slightly sweet. My chicken thigh sandwich was briny, peppery, and topped with onion rings which added a welcomed crunch.

The Greek Goddess is a Rosemary Garlic Lamb sausage, grilled and topped with tzatziki cucumber sauce, crumbled feta, tomato and onion, on a brioche bun. The sausage had the distinctive, gamy lamb flavor that’s a tad grassy and it was also juicy. Rosemary and garlic added depth to the flavor of the sausage. The toppings tied everything together, resulting in a harmonious bite of a fresh and creative sausage.

Snake Hill has over 20 different sausages with some exotic menu items like rabbit and rattlesnake and ghost pepper and alligator. I will be back to try some of the more unique menu items very soon.

Honorable Mentions:

As a Baltimore native and food blogger, I have frequented Highlandtown many times to dine. Some honorable mentions I’ve visited are Avenue Sushi for sushi and BYOB, Taqueria Vargas and Cinco De Mayo Taqueria for tacos, Indoviet Restaurant for Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisine including Pho, and Franchesca’s Empanadas Cafe for corn, white flour, and vegan friendly empanadas.

Tell me your favorite eateries in the city. Email with recommendations.

Simone Phillips is the founder of the food blog Charm City Table and a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.

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