Traditionally, Baltimore hasn’t been thought of as a top dining destination—but that’s changing rapidly. “Baltimore is one of those cities that may not be on the culinary radar, but there are lots of great things happening in the local restaurant scene,” says Baltimore native Melissa Harrison, former contestant on the Bravo TV show “Top Chef,” owner of Chicken Legs Catering in Bozeman, Mont., and head chef at Martín Pescador Lodge in Patagonia, Chile.
Most notably, many Baltimore restaurants have committed to using locally produced food. That’s great news for diners, since the Chesapeake Bay area boasts fantastic crab, rockfish and other fresh seafood, and is home to several organic farms. Ready to sample the best healthy, local and organic eats the city has to offer? Here are Harrison’s suggestions for getting a true taste of Baltimore.
In 2009, Bon Appétit magazine named Woodberry Kitchen one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, in large part because of its strict yet inspired farm-to-table commitment. Sample oysters from the local Rappahannock River, and try Tilghman Island crab. There’s even a gluten-free menu.
The Dogwood draws rave reviews for its locavore menu and scrumptious sandwiches, but scores extra points for its social mission. The restaurant runs a job-training program for people who are battling addiction, are homeless or have been recently released from prison.
One World Café is a vegan and vegetarian treasure, thanks to its colorful menu filled with items such as vegan baked chicken(less) parmesan and vegetarian crab(less) cakes. “They have a good sense of humor about their food,” Harrison says. That humor translates into serious eats.
Although this upscale Greek restaurant goes straight to Kalamata for its cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, it sources most other ingredients closer to home, partnering with Whitehall, Md.-based One Straw Farm to score organic produce.
A soup-and-sandwich operation with retail locations and market stalls across the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region, Atwater’s distinguishes itself from national chains by using organic and local ingredients; showcasing exotic items such as gazpacho, banh mi and muffaletta; and educating area schoolchildren about healthy eating and farm-to-table concepts.
The place to see and be seen, Cinghiale offers chic, modern Italian cuisine in a ritzy atmosphere, complete with a salumeria (traditional Italian delicatessen) in the heart of the restaurant. Diners can choose between a formal dining room and a more casual wine bar.
Every Italian neighborhood has one local-landmark restaurant, and in Baltimore’s Little Italy, that’s Dalesio’s. This lively, welcoming place has served ravioli, lasagna and other favorites for more than 20 years. It’s tough to decide which is better—the atmosphere or the food.
A comfy seafood house in Baltimore’s bustling Canton neighborhood, Mama’s offers delicacies straight out of the Chesapeake, with a focus on oysters served every way imaginable.
Vegetarians and vegans will find Great Sage worth the 25-minute drive to Clarksville, because the restaurant takes plant-based cuisine to new levels. Try gluten-free spring rolls, white-truffle rigatoni or the brunch-time Baltimore Benedict featuring artichoke “crab cakes.”
A 25-minute car ride from the convention center, Ocean Pride is where Baltimore natives like Harrison go for steamed crabs. The popular 40-year-old establishment now ships its fresh seafood and crab cakes around the country.
1725 Taylor Ave. Parkville, MD 21234
Harrison says Pappas is a fabulous place to sample Maryland’s signature dish, crab cakes. This old-timey joint, which is a 20-minute drive from the convention center, is known for offering some of the best cakes anywhere.
Whenever Denver-based writer Joel Warner visits family in Maryland, he relishes sinking his fork into a big, steaming plate of crab cakes.