What’s the best meal you’ve had in B’more recently? That’s a tough one. For me, it’s more than just the food. It’s the people I’m with, the surroundings, the service, the vibe, and yes, of course, the food. If the food is bad, what’s the point?

Some friends and I were talking the other day about our favorite restaurants in Baltimore. There were some strong opinions! Here are some of mine, not really in order. I love them all for very different reasons.

b – Bolton Hill
Cozy, warm space…chalkboard menu, friendly service and of course, amazing food. Love the roasted forest mushrooms, bistro salad and crispy pork belly…entrees like duck confit, steak frites, roast chicken. Yum. Oh, and the homemade ice creams and sorbets – interesting flavors like cardamom, ginger and blood orange. They also have excellent wine selections and they’re half price on Tuesdays. Add in al fresco dining in charming Bolton Hill on a beautiful night. Perfect. It feels like a nice night out but not too fancy. (I love “not too fancy.”)

The Food Market – Hampden
Creative, delicious food, reasonable prices and…it’s not trying too hard to be cool. But it just IS cool. Talented Chef Chad Gauss and the charming front of house man, Elan Kotz are quite a team, turning out great food and giving diners a smooth, enjoyable experience. My favorite things here change a lot because the menu changes with the seasons and local ingredient availability (and also because I can walk there and seem to be there every other week). This summer, I loved the heirloom and burrata (soft, buttery cheese…oh, dear it is gooood) salad with balsamic…and the lobster roll, soft pretzels and Buffalo pickles are always a hit. Plus, they do brunch and offer free valet. Yes, it’s loud, but they’re continuing to work on that. Request a table in the front — it’s quieter. Or even better? Get there early, sit at the bar and you’ll be outta there as the crowd begins to swell. Love, love, love.

Corner BYOB – Hampden
I’m an adventurous eater and, here, that’s a good thing. But if exotic meats (think elk, kangaroo) and fish you may never heard of (skate, sablefish) are not your thing, you might go for mussels, burgers, steaks, risotto, salads and more. Yum. The people here are so accommodating, helpful and, best of all, they want you to love your meal. Every time I’ve visited, the food has been fantastic. Audible gasps (but then, that’s me). I also love that it’s BYOB — bring something from home or hit the Wine Source next door. Some of my friends have complained to me about the corkage fees, but I really don’t mind them. This is a gem.

PABU – Harbor East
What a great place. Izakaya style Japanese: It’s kinda like a restaurant and a very cool bar in one. Food and beverages are both to be appreciated equally. Modern, yet approachable. The sake list was artfully curated by sake sommelier Tiffany Soto. She is insanely talented and will help guide you through the list. (Her Sake 101 classes? Fab.) Chef Jonah Kim is skillful, creative (you have to have his ‘Happy Spoon’) and he locally sources his meats, dairy and more. These people are true artists. Get down to Harbor East, have a great dinner out with friends, take a sake class, sushi rolling class and hit their great happy hours. It’s really like no other place in town. (Here is a little more in depth look at PABU.)

Woodberry Kitchen – Woodberry
Duh. Spike and Amy Gjerde’s comfy supper joint. They got it all right. The space, the people, the vibe, the menu…oh, how I love it here. I can’t always afford dinner here, so sometimes I just meet a friend at the bar early (like by 5:30, no later) to have a cocktail and nibble on simple snacks like kitchen pickles, smoked onion dip and deviled eggs. What you must try? The CMP. I am not a huge sweets gal, but holy dirt…I fully agree with Duff Goldman that the CMP is amazing! It comes in a glass with a hard sugar top. You have to tap the sugar to break in and then you find malt ice cream topped with marshmallow fluff, chocolate sauce and wet peanuts. Happiness.

Peter’s Inn – Fell’s Point
Part neighborhood bar, part gourmet restaurant. The New York strip, mashed potatoes and garlic bread make me very, very, very happy. The menu is smart and tight and changes a lot, which I love. They do 1/2 price wines on Wednesdays and have a great selection of draft beers. Highly recommend the white chocolate caramel pot du creme for dessert. I do not get down to Peter’s nearly enough. Such nice people – they really know what they’re doing here. And, the ladies room is quite entertaining!

Grand Cru – Belvedere Square
Okay, so it’s technically a wine bar not a full-on restaurant, but I love it so much. Fantastic wine and cocktail menu, beers on draft change constantly and delicious snackage. When they have the raclette — oh, for the love of perfectly melty cheese, potatoes, gerkins, bread and prosciutto — get it. They have the most delicious thin pastry crust pizzas — or tartes flambées. My fave is the leek + goat cheese. I also like to get the warm, soft house baked pretzels served with mustard and onion dip. Last time I was there I had a local craft beer that was a collaboration between Union Craft Brewing and Artifact Coffee  it was ridiculously good — and then it was gone (from my glass and from the tap). What makes this place great is its staff. They make you feel at home. It’s definitely my favorite bar in town.

Iggies – Mt. Vernon
If there is ever a time when I like “fancy,” it’s on my pizza. You know, unique toppings like red onion confit, roasted duck, mushroom ragu, stuff like that. But then at a place like Iggies, even a basic cheese or pepperoni pizza is not basic…it’s insanely good. You can also “take and bake” your pie if you want to cook it at home, too. And the best part? It’s BYOB! Weekend afternoons are a great time to go — sit outside and watch the world go by. Even though some great new pizza places have opened recently (Hersh’s is amazing and their menu is much more extensive), I still think Iggies makes my favorite pizza in town.

Little Grano – Hampden
Tiny, tiny, tiny. Catch it at the right time? Heaven. And it’s BYOB. You choose your pasta and your sauce (I am a big fan of the Bolognese), add in a nice little salad, pour your wine and enjoy. Go early, or late…you will be happy!

Here is Baltimore mag’s list of top restaurants for last year.

Also, check out these new dining spots in Charm City and let me know what you think.

Johnny’s – Roland Park
Birroteca – Hampden
Kettle Hill – Power Plant Live
Gordon Biersch – Harbor East
Ouzo Bay – Harbor East

What local restaurants do you LOVE? Fave dishes?

Here some yum plates from some of my faves (and others I didn’t write about this time around).

Happy spoons at PABU


Crispy polenta at Birroteca
Cipolla pizza at Iggie’s
Cappuccino at Johnny’s
Macarons at LAMILL

Shrimp and grits at Langermann’s

Candy bar dessert at Blue Hill Tavern
Duvel at Alonso’s
Roasted pork and fennel sausage at 13.5%
Sofi’s gruyere and bacon crepe
Bolognese and ravioli at Little Grano
Lobster wedge salad at Thames Street Oyster House
Buffalo pickles at The Food Market

Skip the chains, go local!

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