Before I moved from Colorado in 2008, a friend of mine who was from the East Coast said the restaurants would be better in Baltimore. I doubted what he said until I had a year to check out over sixty of the local dining establishments. With eight years of dining in and around Baltimore behind me, here is where I think you should go.
First off, you might ask, “why the Inner Harbor area?” The answer would be this; most visitors to Baltimore come to the Inner Harbor, so it is a good place to pick as a center point for your culinary exploring.
A bar and brunch at Miss Shirley’s Cafe
First up on the list is Miss Shirley’s Cafe for breakfast. Miss Shirley’s Cafe is well known in Maryland and has three locations, with one of those at 750 E. Pratt Street near the Inner Harbor. Named Maryland’s favorite restaurant by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, and recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this place is a winner! Consider starting out your meal with their fabulous Fried Green Tomatoes and maybe an order of Cornbread Squares with blackberry-bourbon jam. For your main entrée, try their Down On The Bayou Benedict with cornmeal encrusted fried oysters and Andouille sausage making this a down-south winner.
Healthy diners choose from specialties like Fall Harvest Apple Steel-cut Oatmeal, Breakfast Banana Split, or Power Greens Skinny, a crustless egg white quiche with gobs of greens in it plus a side salad. On the sweet side of the menu, try the Coconut Cream Stuffed French Toast, Mini German Apple Pancake Skillet, or a Berry Fresh Waffle Sampler. Drinks are served at Miss Shirley’s Cafe and you can get a Born On The Bay-O Bloody Mary, Southern Ruby Crush (a grapefruit and vodka drink), Mimosa, or maybe a Blackberry Cranberry Crush? With a breakfast place like Miss Shirley’s Cafe, you will be off to a great start to see the Inner Harbor. They also serve brunch and lunch all day everyday! (Brunch isn’t just on the weekends) Monday - Friday 7 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sat. & Sunday 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Nothing fishy about it
Baltimore is a city known for seafood, especially crab and crab cakes. One of the best places for all things fishy and crabby would be the iconic Rusty Scupper. It defies the warning of staying away from restaurants with excellent views and not-so-good food. They have both great food and views looking straight across the whole Inner Harbor from across the water. Their Sunday brunch from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm is one of the best in all of Baltimore, with a veritable Neptune’s feast spread before you. Sip a chilled Mimosa and munch steamed shrimp to your heart’s desire while admiring the waterfront view of Baltimore. Lunch and dinner both feature extensive menus and a full bar is available. In a city where parking can be a problem Rusty Scupper has a covered parking lot with plenty of space just steps away from the front door, or can be reached by taking the popular water taxi.
Italian, Greek, Spanish and more ethnic choices
The number of ethnic dining choices are many, both humble and fancy. One of the best options for Mediterranean food is Lebanese Taverna. Open every day of the week at 11:30 am, they serve lunch and dinner to lucky guests who find this taverna in a jungle of restaurants and cafes. In good weather, enjoy lunch outside overlooking the Inner Harbor munching on the best hummus in the city. Their chef’s platter (vegetarian) or taverna platter (lamb, chicken, beef) takes guests on a tour of Mediterranean food, no additional travel needed. With such an extensive menu it makes it easy to try many items if you order one or both of these platters. Seafood lovers will enjoy the whole grilled sea bass with lemon-cilantro sauce, vegetables and rice.
Under the watchful gaze
Italian cuisine is found throughout the city and one of the very best is Cinghiale. This is part of the well-known Wolf-Foreman Group, one of the best restaurant groups in the Mid-Atlantic area. With three dining areas to choose from, you are sure to find an option that fits your mood. Cinghiale is open only for dinner, serving regional foods from central and northern Italy. Try the bar under the gaze of two wild boars if you want a relaxed light meal with drinks and exploration of their extensive Italian wine list. In the middle of the restaurant is the salumeria featuring a large selection of cured Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables. The enoteca or osteria offer the same menu but the osteria is more formal. The wait staff and sommelier staff are some of the best in the city. Let the sommelier guide you through the wines of Italy.
Truly fine dining
Next up is also a member of the Wolf-Foreman Group. Charleston is the best fine dining in Baltimore. Chef Cindy Wolf has been nominated several times for the prestigious James Beard Award and unbelievably missed the top honor. Charleston is notable from the moment you enter and are pampered at first contact. Perhaps a chilled glass of champagne before dinner in the bar that looks out on the Inner Harbor is the best way to start? You won’t be in a hurry here, so sit back and enjoy what for most is a splurge. The dinner menu is structured for guests to choose from either a three, four, or five course dinner where you pick you items from the city’s best menu. Many start out with Chef Wolf’s rich lobster soup with curry, or succulent cornmeal fried oysters? Move on to the pan-roasted rockfish with Andouille sausage creole sauce, or grilled Colorado lamb chop with zucchini and goat cheese cocotte. The homemade breads are outstanding and it is hard to quit eating the cornbread that keeps coming around as you dine. The wine list is one of the best in the U.S. and Tony Foreman and Chef Wolf personally visit many of the European and American wineries to make selections for their cellar. Dessert is amazing also and is included with dinner at no extra charge so be sure and save room.
When to visit
It’s best to have one or two full days to get the most out of a trip to Baltimore and its historic downtown. The Inner Harbor is the best place to start your exploring, with many options easy to access on foot. The best time to visit is in the spring, summer or fall. Come see why so many foodies think Baltimore ranks high with its dining scene, and see if you agree with the praise.