Most websites do a recap of their 10 favorite whatevers of the past year, usually linking to archived blog posts. Since I can’t do that, here are the best places I ate (and drank) in Baltimore this past year:
- Jack’s Bistro. My boyfriend took me there as the second stop on our second date (on which I was hungover–a rarity for me, especially at 6 pm on a Sunday). We go back now at least once a month, and the managers, servers, and bartenders at least recognize us now. Ryan makes creative, delicious, and POTENT cocktails–definitely some of the best I’ve had in the city. Their smoked gouda grits are the best grits (and one of the most comforting and delicious dishes) I’ve ever had. My boyfriend’s favorite dish is the smoked tomato.
- Of Love and Regret. Another second date spot–the first stop we made. The former chef of Of Love and Regret, Ted, has now opened Jack’s Bistro (and supposedly, the two left on bad terms). The food here supposedly isn’t as good, but I’ve always had a good experience–try their steak fries. The bartenders and owners really know their beer, and one of the owners is the Stillwater brewer himself, Brian Strumke. About 20 beverages on tap, including at least 10 Stillwater beers, a few wines, a local hard cider, and sometimes cocktails. My favorite cocktail is the Smirk.
- Hamilton Tavern. Now known in our house as HamTav, their burger is legendary. Abbey Burger Bistro? NO WAY. This is the best burger I’ve ever had–coarsely ground, juicy, beefy, well-seasoned, always cooked the way I ask, and appropriately topped and bunned. (I have a lot of opinions on burgers.) Monday is burger night, and you get a humongous burger, a side, and a draft for $15. I’ve had some great dishes from the rest of the menu, which rotates seasonally. Their homemade totchos are always good, and their onion rings with garlic dipping sauce are excellent. (This is coming from someone who is not an onion ring fan.) Some of their mains fall short, though–be careful what you get.
- Fleet Street Kitchen. This was the real sleeper hit of the year for me. It was a humid night, and I was NOT interested in walking 20 minutes to some place that seemed snooty and too fancy for what I felt like wearing (jeans). Turns out that as long as you’re wearing nice jeans, you’re pretty much fine here. Every dish we had was thoughtful, playful, creative, and well-balanced. It’s a little pricey, but it’s totally worth it. The egg yolk ravioli had me using my finger to swipe up the last of it. The pork belly with poached egg, smoked maple glaze, and butter toast powder was a fun nod to breakfast–and a tasty one at that.
- Thames Street Oyster House. This reminds me of a mix of Hank’s Oyster Bar and Beuchert’s Saloon in DC. I love the white tiles and huge wooden bar. While I’ve only been once, the burger I had was really excellent, and at $12, it’s a pretty good deal for a gourmet burger. The lobster roll is small for $17, but it’s buttery, rich, and light–all at the same time, if that’s possible. The Ginny Lynn cocktail was perfect–a bit tart, but not sour, and the fresh grapefruit juice made a huge difference.
- Tavern on the Hill. Supposedly, this used to be a terrible place called Howard’s, but I didn’t live here then. I’d heard they had a good burger, and on a Tuesday night right around 8:00, my boyfriend and I stopped in. I couldn’t believe how packed it was on a weeknight–except when someone asked us if we were here to play trivia. Of course I said yes–I love trivia. I ordered a burger, he had the ham and cheese melt, and we shared a bucket of Bohs ($12 for 7). This burger was cheap ($9 or $10), juicy, and cooked exactly how I asked. The trivia was the best I’ve been to in a long time. The questions aren’t so hard that it’s not fun, and the hosts are great. Some rounds win your team shots if you guess closest. One involved a twerk-off. And there are always shitty yet fun prizes to win. You can call ahead and reserve a table with your team name, which I’d recommend if there are more than two of you.
- V-NO Wine Bar. I don’t know much about wine, but I know I like it here. They only have six items on the food menu, but their wine list is thankfully longer. I had a really affordable and really tasty vinho verde this summer ($7, I think), and another I can’t remember. I’ve been wanting to go back since.
- Peter’s Inn. Most people in Baltimore know of Peter’s Inn–it’s the tiny, eclectic place that’s always at the top of the Best of Baltimore lists. One of the reasons I love it, aside from their great wine selections and cozy neighborhood feel, is that on my first trip, John Waters came in for a drink. Apparently he comes there often! And I know how he orders his martinis. Food-wise, it can be hit or miss, but I love that the menu changes every week. Their garlic bread is a few pieces of text toast with tons of garlic and herbs and cheese on it. Hands down best I’ve ever had. Their chocolate pot de creme is almost always on the menu, too, and it’s rich yet not overly sweet. Even though I don’t like dessert that much, I love this dish.
- Artifact Coffee. This place is owned by Woodberry Kitchen. People LOVE Woodberry, but I am not one of them. I’ve had a few really great dishes there (steak tartare, CMP), but I’ve had more so-so ones. Artifact is what I wish Woodberry was. They have coffee, of course, and all of the accoutrements to go with it (baked goods, etc.). But they also have a great selection of teas, they serve beer and wine, and their food is the BEST. It’s always incredibly fresh and respected–Artifact proves that you don’t need to do much to great ingredients. I’ve been for lunch twice. While some of the menu changes, some things stay on. Their ham and cheese sandwich was piled high with smoky local ham and slices of sharp cheddar, and the bread was top-quality. My boyfriend loves the Vegetable Banh Mi, even though he’s in no way a vegetarian. Just go here. I can’t recommend it enough.