Charm City might be our nearest metropolis, but it couldn’t be more different from DC — which makes us love it all the more. After a one-hour drive or a short, inexpensive trip on the MARC train, which now runs on weekends, Washingtonians can gain access to Baltimore’s quirky, fun and creative vibe, which most definitely infuses the cooking and cocktails. Walk around the Inner Harbor or Hampden, hit the stalls of the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar, shop at the home-salvage mega-compound Second Chance and visit the Maryland Science Center. Oh, and don’t forget to eat. You can go old school and hit a casual seafood spot or try one off the city’s fast-growing list of chic, trendy eateries. Here are some of our favorites:
Chef-owner Spike Gjerde regularly makes national headlines for his cadre of successful restaurants in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. But it’s Gjerde's flagship Woodberry Kitchen that provides the most compelling reason to hop on a MARC train or hit the road to Baltimore for the day. Be sure to stop in at its sibling coffeehouse, Artifact Coffee, for some fuel before heading back to the DC area.
Must-order: Tilghman Island crab pot; cast iron chicken and biscuit; one of the seasonal pastas or flatbreads
Insider tip: The full menu is served on the outdoor patio during summertime; when the weather turns colder, guests can huddle around the alfresco fireplace and order coffee, drinks and s'mores.
2010 Clipper Park Rd.; 410-464-8000
Rye Street Tavern
Well-known New York chef Andrew Carmellini has opened his second Baltimore spot in the shadow of the Sagamore Spirit Distillery in the industrial yet burgeoning Port Covington neighborhood. The gorgeous space features water views, a large fireplace, an open kitchen, outdoor seating and two original pieces of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on display.
Must-order: Broiled oysters enhanced with Hatch green chiles; fried chicken with biscuits; a dish of crab cocktail with Bloody Mary dressing on the brunch menu
Insider tip: Pay special attention to your GPS since the directions are confusing even for locals, and definitely look into taking a tour of the distillery while you’re there.
225 E. Cromwell St.; 443-662-8000
As much as we adore Union Market (and believe us, we do), we still have major food-hall envy every time we visit this amazing version in Remington that also helps chefs test new concepts. The 50,000-square-foot former auto shop features 10 eateries ranging from gigantic fried chicken sandwiches at BRD to arepas at White Envelope, from tacos at Amano Taco to raw fish galore at Hilo Poke & Sushi.
Must-order: Ice cream at Little Baby’s (flavors range from decadent — think hazelnut s’mores — to wild, like Earl Grey Sriracha); roast pork arepa at White Envelope; katsu sando at BRD
Insider tip: Before or after stuffing yourself at R. House, take a trip upstairs to check out the Movement Lab, a wellness center that also features a boutique selling chocolates and kombucha.
301 W. 29th St.; 443-347-3570
Thames Street Oyster House
Seafood seems like a natural choice when you’re surrounded by water — whether you’re at the beach or in downtown Baltimore — and this Fells Point favorite fulfills that craving every time. Here, you’ll find a roster of briny dishes that pull from up and down the East Coast, and even the occasional nod to Europe with such dishes as fish 'n' chips and bouillabaisse.
Must-order: Roasted Chesapeake oysters; cast-iron crab cake; lobster roll
Insider tip: If you’d really like to get into the Fells Point spirit, try one of the four oyster shooters, such as the house version served with a Natty Boh, Old Bay and lemon.
1728 Thames St.; 443-449-7726
Chef-owner Cindy Wolf has been wowing special-occasion diners at her fine-dining destination spot for 20 years while receiving regular accolades for her alluring combination of Lowcountry cooking and French techniques. Choose whether you’d like to indulge in three, four, five or six courses — with or without wine pairings — and prepare to be pampered.
Must-order: Lobster-curry soup; cornmeal-fried oysters; pan-roasted halibut
Insider tip: If you don't want to commit to a tasting menu, guests in the bar area can order from the menu à la carte.
1000 Lancaster St.; 410-332-7373
Chef and co-owner Carlos Raba cooks the food of his ancestors — including tacos featuring house-butchered meats and tortillas made with a family recipe — from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Mezcal is a big focus here, as well, so be sure to ask one of the knowledgeable bartenders, who were all trained by mezcal distilleries.
Must-order: Queso fundido; ceviche Sinaloense featuring shrimp and avocado; cochinita pibil tacos
Insider tip: This spot is open daily but doesn’t take reservations, so be sure to have a plan for what you’ll do if there’s a wait.
225 W. 23rd St.; 443-900-8983
Executive chef Mark Levy serves impressive seasonal dishes during dinner service Tuesdays through Saturdays at this chic standout nestled on the lower level of the incredibly luxurious Ivy Hotel in Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood. If you’d like to be further dazzled, ask for a peek of the hotel upstairs before you collect your car from the free valet service. (Better yet, stay the night. You won't regret it.)
Must-order: Raw and shellfish platter; five-spice eggplant dumplings; Ora King salmon with pickled grapes and cauliflower
Insider tip: The Robert M. Parker Wine Cellar — yes, the Robert Parker — highlights highly rated small-production American wines.
205 E. Biddle St.; 410-514-6500
The blue lights illuminating the dining room give it the feel of an underwater club, but the Greek-leaning Mediterranean dishes here are perennial crowd-pleasers. Plus, there are no less than eight types of ouzo to sample while you’re there.
Must-order: Shrimp saganaki; the shareable classic meze sampler; braised lamb shank
Insider tip: For those who appreciate Poseidon’s bounty, there’s an icy fish display showing off pristine seafood priced per pound and charcoal grilled for those prepared to wait 30–40 minutes.
1000 Lancaster St.; 443-708-5818