Eat Like a Local: Baltimore, Maryland

Rachel Tepper Paley

For Yahoo Food’s summer travel series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

Steamed crabs may first come to mind when you think of Baltimore, Maryland, but the harborside city has a vibrant, varied food scene these days. Ryan Detter, writer for local alt-weekly Baltimore City Paper, gave us the lowdown on good eats around town.

The iconic sign marking Bar’s entrance. Photo credit: Paul Simpson/Flickr

Best Dive: Bar

"It’s literally called ‘Bar,’” Detter said, negating further explanation. “People are drinking cans of Natty Bo [that’s National Bohemian, in Baltimore-ese] and playing pool. The whole place is probably 12 feet wide and 40 feet long.” Behind the bar is the characteristically crotchety owner, known to toss out patrons who rub her the wrong way. “The lady who runs it, I swear, she must have had this place paid off forever,” Detter said, because she clearly doesn’t mind kicking paying patrons to the curb. (Detter assured us that this is a good, character-building thing.) (1718 Lancaster St.; Baltimore, MD; 410-327-4508)

Best Hole in the Wall: Duda’s Tavern

Burgers, crab cakes, and steamed shrimp dusted with Old Bay are the things to order at Duda’s Tavern. “It’s right in the heart of Fells Point”—a popular tourist destination—”but no one really knows about it,” Detter said. The low-key, wood-paneled place has a friendly staff and “super-cheap beer.” Bonus? A regular microbrew special. (1600 Thames St., Baltimore, MD 21231; 410-276-9719)

Best Lunch: Dooby’s

Pork buns on parade at Dooby’s. Photo credit: DoobysCoffee/Facebook

Detter describes Dooby’s as a “coffee shop slash bar,” but it’s pork belly bánh mì, Korean cheesesteaks, and savory Gruyère-and-caramelized-onion scones that steal the show. Laptop-toting patrons tend hang out for hours midday, which lends a “Starbucks vibe, but it’s not Starbucks.” On the way out, snag an oatmeal-Fruity-Pebbles cookie for the road. (802 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD; 410-702-5144)

Best Dark and Sexy Date Spot: Bottega

An intimate dinner at Bottega. Photo credit: Bottega - BYOB/Facebook

"Baltimore is not a very sexy city—we’re not a flashy place like D.C.," Detter said. OK. But Bottega, which offers an American take on Italian fare, might be the exception. “There’s really only 20 seats in the whole place,” which is dimly lit with candlelight. “They treat you like family, and it feels like you’re in on something special because it’s so hard to get a table.” The menu changes frequently based on which produce is seasonally available, but the restaurant regularly posts photos of its blackboard menu on its Facebook page. (Pro tip: They’re known for pastas, like butternut squash-stuffed tortelli and sweet potato leaf malfatti.) (1729 Maryland Ave., Baltimore, MD; 443-708-5709)

Best Coffee Shop: TriBeCa Coffee Roasters

The interior of TriBeCa Coffee Roasters is sparse and minimalist, but “the coffee is better than at any other shop I’ve been to,” Detter said. They’ve got all the fancy contraptions, though, for “the cold brew, the pourovers, and all that stuff.” Owner James Jean roasts his own coffee beans, which perhaps explains why he wasn’t afraid to open up shop across the street from a Starbucks. (1210 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD; 443-869-4279)

Best Hungover Brunch: Pete’s Grill

The “legendary” pancakes at Pete’s Grill. Photo credit: Pete’s Grill/Facebook

"It’s basically an old-school diner," Detter says of Pete’s Grill. Chief among the greasy spoon fare are the pancakes, which are “stuff of legendary nature.” The only downside is that the Pete’s closes up shop by 1:15 P.M., “so hopefully you’re not THAT hungover [and can] get there in time.” Plan accordingly. (3130 Greenmount Ave., Baltimore, MD; 410-467-7698)

Best Ethnic Eats: Jong Kak

Of the five or six restaurants in the small Koreatown just north of the Station North neighborhood, Detter swears Jong Kak is the best. “There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s full of Koreans,” he said (implying that those who hail from that nation know best).The fare on offer is Korean barbecue—there’s a grill set into each table—and the meal comes with a smattering of pickled and fermented side dishes called banchan. “It’s super cheap, relatively speaking, for how much food you get.” (18 W. 20th St., Baltimore, MD; 410-837-5231)

Best Street Food: The Local Oyster

The Local Oyster pops up at festivals and other events around Baltimore. Photo credit: The Local Oyster/Facebook

At various events around town, The Local Oyster owner Nick Schauman sets up temporary shop and starts shucking local Maryland and Virginia bivalves. “Oysters are the best street food,” Detter said. “You just shuck it and eat it. It’s very Baltimore.” The Local Oyster serves up more than oysters, though. “I’ll tell them what notes they should be looking for on their palates, explaining that the oysters will taste different if from different waters,” Schuaman told The Baltimore Sun last month. (Various locations,

Best White Tablecloth: Charleston

"I’m not a big white tablecloth kind of guy and I don’t think most people in Baltimore are either, so it takes something special to get people into that kind of dining here," Detter admitted. Good thing chef Cindy Wolf’s Charleston is something special. Next-level service and elegant surroundings are striking features, but the French-with-Low-Country-touches cuisine is the restaurant’s real draw. In particular, Detter recalls a curried seafood soup with poached lobster, which was dramatically assembled at the table. “It was very theatrical, but not done in a pretentious way,” he said. “I think it’s worth every penny.” (1000 Lancaster St., Baltimore, MD; 410-332-7373)

Best Serious Beer Spot: Max’s Taphouse

The menu at Max’s Taphouse features roughly 1,200 bottled beers. Photo credit: Max’s Taphouse/Facebook

Max’s is the best beer bar, there’s no doubt about it,” Detter said with certainty. “I know my beer pretty well, and still I look at their beer list and 40 percent I’ve never heard of.” The casual and fun-lovingsuds-focused spot features a rotating menu of 140 different draft beers, plus five hand-pumped cask ales, and a stock of about 1,200 bottled beers. (737 S. Broadway, Baltimore, MD; 410-675-6297)

Road Trip Destination: Volt

For something special, Detter suggests you hop on I-270 and head toward Frederick, Maryland for a ritzy tasting menu at Volt, the fine dining eatery from “Top Chef” star Bryan Voltaggio. “It has a pretty good brunch, and they usually have open seats for brunch,” Detter said, though reservations are probably a good idea. Afterwards, take in the sights around tiny Frederick. “It’s just so quaint and cute, and you can walk the whole thing,” Detter said. (228 N. Market St., Frederick, MD; 301-696-8658)