Baltimore, Maryland is known as the Charm City and what could be more charming than a tiny restaurant? Block after block of row home complexes, some more than 150 years old, line the streets of Baltimore adding to the charm. Over the course of nine years exploring restaurants in the Charm City, I’m ready to share the three best tiny restaurants.
So, what is the criteria for a tiny restaurant you might ask? The restaurants have to have a small dining room and less than fifty seats. That might seem like a lot of seats, however, when you step inside these winners, you will see they are indeed tiny.
Rock the Cazbar
Cazbar is one of the best Mediterranean style restaurants in Baltimore. Advertised as a Turkish restaurant, the décor is decidedly Turkish. The light fixtures have intricate and colorful patterns that cast a warm glow in the brick-walled dining room. Great food and good service are what makes this tiny restaurant a winner.
Parking can be a challenge, but at dinner they do provide valet service. Cazbar is open for lunch and dinner. One of the big differences in the lunch menu is the 14 USD special where you choose one item from several starter and main options. The lunch special includes pumpkin or red lentil soup. Some 27 meze (appetizers) and 24 mains makeup the menu. To make it easy on your first visit, try the trio of mezes. This combo is three items you choose from the large mixed meze option and is good if you are dining with 2–3 at your table. If there are four or more, then the larger mixed meze makes sense.
For your three items in the trio, be sure and order the hummus and baba ganoush. For the third item ask your server for descriptions of the remaining four items to get the right fit. This trio is from the “cold side” of the Meze menu. You should also try some of the starters from the hot side of the menu. Their spinach and artichoke dip made with imported kasar cheese is rich and delicious and pairs well with a glass of wine from their wine list.
For the main dish, a kebap is a must have for meat eaters. Cazbar has lamb, beef, chicken, adana (ground lamb or chicken shish kebap), doner, shrimp, or salmon kebaps. Lamb three ways is a good choice if you love lamb. In this popular dish, you get lamb chops, lamb kebap, and adana kebap.
Vegetarians will find many items catering to the non-meat eater crowd. For starters, see above recommendations and also try the red lentil soup spiced with Za’atar. Order the baked okra combined with onions, garlic, and tomatoes for a savory main dish. The stuffed eggplant is another good choice for a vegetarian option. Whether you order vegetarian or meat items, chances are good you’ll be so full a takeout box will be needed.
A new contender
Next up on the list is a relative newcomer to Baltimore’s restaurant scene — Gnocco. What was formerly a dive bar is now one of Baltimore’s best casual fine dining choices serving an Italian and Spanish themed menu.
This corner location has an inviting bar and lounge where customers can grab a drink or a full meal. Start your journey at the bar where the bartender knows the wine list well and will steer you to the perfect wine. At Gnocco, they don’t mind giving you a small sample of wine from their impressive by-the-glass list. Several little known Italian varietals like pecorino or fiano are sometimes on the list.
After a glass of wine and an appetizer, it’s time to take a seat in the tiny dining room. There are only about 21 seats in this intimate space. The simple pinewood tables are decorated with flowers in a bare Mason jar and on the wall are whimsical tiny paintings depicting funny creatures in a Mason jar. There is nothing funny about the food though. Their salads are creative and delicious. Some are topped with a lovely blob of burrata then dressed in a house-made vinaigrette.
For main dishes, try one of the pasta dishes or gnocchi. The list of pasta dishes, while not extensive, offers up four delicious choices like squid ink tagliatelle, mushrooms, and gnocchi, or braised rabbit agnolotti. A grilled half chicken with polenta, and soft-shell crab are two “large plate” items worth considering. Save room for dessert! The chocolate budino topped with pistachios might just have you rolling your eyes in ecstasy. The made-to-order doughnuts go great with their coffee creations and should be part of your exit strategy.
A short trip south to Peru
Last but not least on the list is a trip to Peru. Puerto 511, in downtown Baltimore, is plain on the outside but tastefully decorated in colorful wall art inside. This is the tiniest restaurant of them all with only about five tables. Those lucky enough to find Puerto 511 and get reservations are in for a treat. The Peruvian-themed menu has evolved into a prix fixe-style dining experience on weekends but still regular menu on weekdays. Puerto 511 is open only for dinner. Bring your favorite adult beverage since they are a BYOB (bring your own bottle) establishment. They charge a mere 2.50 USD per person for the BYOB fee.
Enjoy what many regard as the best ceviche (raw fish) in Baltimore. Try the ceviche classico, a fresh fish paired with calamari, shrimp, and octopus in a “leche de tigre” marinade with sweet potato, red onion, and Andean corn. The Chaufa, a wok fried rice Peruvian-style is another seafood specialty worth a try. Red meat fans will find the Cordeito De Los Andes, a lamb dish to their liking. The lomo saltado is a stir-fried beef cooked Peruvian-style with onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and garlic for a beefy-good meal.
Finish your visit with a dessert like the quinoa flan or Peruvian toast with a chicha morada-purple corn beverage from Peru. If this was your first Peruvian dining experience, chances are good you enjoyed it immensely. If you have tried several other Peruvian restaurants, chances are this will rank at the top.
But wait, there's one more
One last mention would be Blue Moon Café, a breakfast and lunch eatery on Aliceanna Street. This local favorite was covered in The Five Best Restaurants For Brunch in Baltimore and is worth a visit. It’s easy to see the charm in this city, its residents, and its restaurants. If travel plans call for a trip to the Charm City, you are now in possession of a great list tiny restaurants to visit for an excellent meal.
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