Ever find yourself in an unfamiliar area of town with a voracious appetite but no idea of where to eat? Yup, me too. But worry no more! Welcome to the Beltway Series *horn sounds* — a four-part series listing the best bites located a short drive off the 695 loop. Now no matter where you are, you’ll never have an excuse to suffer through a mediocre meal again!
First up (in order of exit numbers), the Northwest corridor, where you can find fast casual, fine dining, and everything in between.
Pioneer Pit Beef (Exit 16)
1602 N. Rolling Road, Windsor Mill
You may wonder “Where in the heck is he taking me?” You’re just going to have to trust the process. Hidden behind a liquor store, next to a woodpile, in an unassuming “shack” you’ll find some of the area’s most delicious (some might even say “world-class”) pit beef, at very affordable prices.
El Pueblito (Exit 17)
2015 Lord Baltimore Drive, Windsor Mill
When I walked in and saw a fridge filled with seven different flavors of Jarritos among cases of Mexican Coke and Sprite, I knew this spot was gonna be legit. The order: pupusas, camarones al ajillo, and birria tacos, which are always fun to dip in their homemade consomé. Although I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any of the carry out here!
The Reserve Restaurant (Exit 17)
1724 Woodlawn Drive, Suite 09, Baltimore
This hidden gem serves up savory and sweet soul food from scratch. You’re immediately put in the mood for great food when you smell the aromas of authentic southern cooking emanating from the kitchen. Executive chef Phil Crump’s self-proclaimed “best dish” is the fried chicken — and I couldn’t agree more. Each batch is made to order, well-seasoned, and comes with two mouthwatering sides. Bonus: You get to enjoy a playlist of 2000s R&B while you wait to take your food.
The Essen Room (Exit 20)
25 Hooks Lane, Pikesville
Some of these you know (for good reason), and some you may not. But if you haven’t been to The Essen Room yet, make it a priority. It’s virtually impossible to leave hungry, especially after devouring their stacked-to-the-ceiling sandwiches and baseball-sized matzo ball soup. You’ll hear your grandmother in the back of your mind asking if you want more.
Yesh Hummus (Exit 20)
607 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville
Do NOT let the outside fool you! As the name suggests, Yesh Hummus may just have the best hummus and pita around. And I don’t say that lightly. But that’s only the starter. While you can’t go wrong with any of their authentic, homemade Israeli delights, be sure to try the shawarma and shakshuka — it’s served with even more of their insanely delicious pita, made fresh daily from scratch and served piping hot out of the oven.
Jumbo Seafood (Exit 20)
48 E. Sudbrook Lane, Pikesville
Give me some General Tso’s chicken, egg rolls, spare ribs, and crab rangoon and I’m a happy camper (albeit in a food coma). Plus, we can thank the owner “Papa Chu” for Ekiben — it’s his son, Stevie Chu, who started it. Bonus: My last order was ready in 15 minutes … and delicious.
La Food Marketa (Exit 22)
2620 Quarry Lake Drive, Baltimore
It’s at the corner of comfort and Mexican-inspired cuisine. If you like its sibling restaurant, The Food Market, you’re going to love it here. It’s fun, approachable, and an all around good time. Just don’t forget to save room for the PB & J churros.
Citron (Exit 22)
2605 Quarry Lake Drive, Baltimore
It’s a stunning restaurant overlooking Quarry Lake with beautiful views, especially at sunset. Here you can enjoy modern American cuisine. Think seafood, steaks, and craft cocktails in a (*Larry David voice*) pretty, pretty fancy setting. Perfect for date night, business meeting, or any time you want to impress.
The Valley Inn (Exit 23)
10501 Falls Road, TImonium
Since 1922, The Valley Inn has been serving haute “horse country” cuisine in one of the county’s coziest settings. Whether you’re enjoying a meal by the fireplace, imbibing cocktails on the patio, or watching the game in the oyster bar, you’ll leave feeling full, warm, and fuzzy inside. Don’t sleep on the lobster burrito and don’t forget to check out their schedule of live music events!
Tark’s Grill (Exit 23)
2360 W. Joppa Road, Timonium
If there’s any local dining experience I’m most grateful for, it’s the outdoor patio at Tark’s Grill. While I still enjoy it on (at least) a monthly basis, I can’t count how many times I was able to enjoy the comfortable courtyard with my family throughout the pandemic. It doesn’t hurt that the expansive modern American menu, quite literally, has something for everyone including my favorites: Cheesesteak Spring Rolls, Blackened Salmon B.A.L.T., and Chicken Fun Salad (which comes with potstickers).
Snoasis (Exit 24, and a quick drive up 83)
35-79 Parks Avenue, Cockeysville
I know, I know. It’s already closed for the winter and a little farther off 695 … but when you pull this list up in the spring, you’re going to thank me. These are *hands down* the best snowballs in Baltimore. I may be partial, since I’ve been going most of my life — but I will die on this hill!
Towson Diner (Exit 26)
718 York Road, Towson
A Towson institution — at any given hour of the day, patrons vary from families to business people, to students, and more. In other words, Towson Diner is appropriate for every occasion and, like most diners, offers an enormous variety of options. Just don’t leave without ordering a milkshake!
Perennial (Exit 27)
1 Olympic Place, Towson
The Towson food scene has seen a renaissance thanks in no small part to this stunningly decorated, fine dining establishment helmed by chef Jay Rohlfing. With upscale and ever-changing seasonal items, you’ll leave planning your next visit — and you’ll have good reason to.
Underground Pizza Company (Exit 27)
28 Allegheny Avenue, Towson
While not many good things came out of the pandemic, UPC was one of them. With so many unique Detroit-style pizzas, including the Crab Dip Pie, Tiger King, and The Funfetti, you’ll definitely have a hard time deciding what to order. Thankfully, you can always come back for more.
Honorable Mentions: Of course, there are the “old familiars,” you know, those bars and restaurants that have expanded their downtown roots and replanted themselves in the county. Banditos, The Point, and Nacho Mamas are always good for a quick, casual meal, where you may already know your order.
Chris Franzoni is a Baltimore native, resident, food fanatic, and “Eater-in-Chief” of @EatMoreBeMore, which he started seven years ago with two goals — eating his way through the city and shining a positive light on the Baltimore restaurant and hospitality scene.