Baltimore often gets a bad rap. But there’s much more to this Mid-Atlantic city than what you’ve seen on The Wire and the evening news. Like many historically blue collar towns, Baltimore’s food scene is picking up steam. And while its stodgier neighbor, Washington, D.C., is currently sopping up all the culinary accolades (both Zagat and Bon Appétit, among others, named it 2016’s top food city), the hearty cuisine in Baltimore is incredibly delicious, giving what you’ll find roaming the corporate streets of DC a run for its big wad of money.
So why dine among boring politicos and the Beltway elite when you can chow down with the friendly and funky denizens of Charm City? Here are five reasons why you should hop on the next Baltimore-bound Bolt Bus for a weekend food-fest.
- Crab cakes
Need we say more? For jumbo lump crab cakes done right—fluffy with very little filler and broiled to golden brown perfection, never fried—head to Oprah’s beloved Baltimore eatery, the boat-shaped Captain James Landing in Canton; Miss Shirley’s Cafe, a folksy brunch and lunch spot at the Inner Harbor; and Gertrude’s, John Shields’s famed restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
- Food markets
A grocery and takeout staple since 1782, Lexington Market boasts over 100 food and produce vendors (its Mary Mervis Deli makes one of the best shrimp salad sandwiches in town). Ushering in a new era of food halls is R. House, a 50,000-square-foot historic warehouse in the artsy Remington nabe. The hall offers 12,000 square feet of open seating and showcases ten chef-driven food and drink concepts, including Stall 11 (vegan and vegetarian), ARBA (Mediterranean) and Ground & Griddled (breakfast).
- Hopping Hampden
Welcome to Bawlmer, hon. This working class north Baltimore neighborhood has come a long way since local hero John Waters filmed the original Hairspray there in 1988. Located on the mom-and-pop retail strip affectionately called “The Avenue,” The Food Market is a modern foodie hangout helmed by award-winning chef Chad Gauss that focuses on approachable yet creative comfort food. For even more diet-be-damned grub, check out Café Hon—where diners can feast on Thanksgiving dinner fixins’ (turkey breast, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans) year round.
- A booming farm to table movement
Hailed as one of Baltimore’s best restaurants, chef-owner Spike Gjerde’s rustic Woodberry Kitchen features the best seasonal ingredients from local growers of the Chesapeake. The Hampden hot spot even draws Washingtonians with next level comfort food dishes like oyster stew and cast iron chicken and biscuit. Other culinary winners with sustainable and locally sourced cuisine are Encantada at the American Visionary Art Museum, and Fleet Street Kitchen, both in downtown Baltimore.
- A brewing craft beer scene
Media darling Union Craft Brewing is the go-to pub in Hampden for local beers like Duckpin Pale Ale (a Baltimore original) and Old Pro (a summer seasonal German-style wheat beer), as well as grub from Baltimore’s finest food trucks. Additional hometown favorites include Canton’s Of Love and Regret, known for its rare imports, wine and cider; and the legendary Fell’s Point watering hole, Max’s Taphouse, home to Maryland’s largest beer selection with over 100 drafts, several hand-pumped cask ales and 1,200 bottles.