Travel

The Best Restaurants in Baltimore's Inner Harbor

How to *not* eat like a tourist: Skip the Hard Rock
Best Restaurants in Baltimore
Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

If all you know about Baltimore is what you've seen on The Wire or Homicide: Life on the Street—or, say, a school field trip to the National Aquarium—it's time to update your reference points. Baltimore is a jewel of a city that's more than the gritty landscapes you've seen on-screen, the chain restaurants you've passed by in the more touristy parts and the exit signs you breeze by on your way to Washington, D.C. or New York City.

Thanks to its relative affordability—at least compared to other mid-Atlantic and Northeast destinations—Baltimore has experienced a bit of a renaissance in recent years, one marked by cool boutique hotels, innovative restaurants and a slew of good bars. Even the Inner Harbor, the city's most touristy hub, has some worthy gems to uncover—that is, once you breeze past Hooters and the Hard Rock Cafe. Here's where to start.

Pratt Street Ale House

This is your best bet for a good beer before or after an Orioles game or an event at the Convention Center, located across the street. The surprisingly roomy pub brews a rotating selection of beers—including the great Modern Life Is Rubbish, a Victorian porter inspired by the Blur album—and serves up not-so-standard fare. Don't leave without trying the fried-to-order Brussels sprouts with chipotle rémoulade.

Encantada at the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM)

 

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To get to Encantada from the harbor, you could walk around the waterfront. Instead, take the water taxi, which costs $18 for unlimited travel from morning through night and offers a nice tour of the harbor along the way. This bar and restaurant serves cocktails inspired by the outsider art featured in and around the museum, like The Whirligig, a cocktail named after an exterior installation and made with grapefruit vodka, lime juice, fig jam and ginger beer. Pair it with the addictively spicy Nashville Cauliflower, then spend a few hours browsing the AVAM's lower floors.

Charleston

 

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After an afternoon at the museum, take the water taxi across the harbor to neighborhood of Harbor East. You'll dock near the new Four Seasons hotel and just around the corner from Lancaster Street, which is dotted with great restaurants. One standout is Charleston. Led by chef Cindy Wolf, a 2017 James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, this refined restaurant has been a local favorite since 1997. Its menu of French-accented Lowcountry fare changes frequently, but keep an eye out for the local sweet corn flan.

Café Gia Ristoranté

For a more casual dinner spot, stroll north a few more blocks to this cozy Little Italy restaurant. Don't be fooled by the faux-Italian-city murals: The Sicilian comfort food is absolutely killer, from the succulent, tender grilled octopus to seasonal entrées like the pork shank, which is braised in beer and peaches. It's one of those meals you can eat two of—even if you're full after half a plate.

⑤ Sagamore Pendry Baltimore

 

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Easily reached by foot or water taxi, the Fells Point neighborhood sits west of Harbor East and Little Italy. The blocks close to the water have lovely little cafés, historic brick homes, cobblestoned streets and boutiques; as you move further away from the water, however, the vibe gets a little less quaint. The newest draw is the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, a luxe boutique hotel in a rehabbed 1914 building that originally stored port cargo and went on to star as a location in Homicide. Linger over drinks at The Cannon Room, the hotel's plush, clubby whiskey bar.

Stuggy's

 

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The other must-do in Fells Point isn't as sophisticated as the Pendry, but it's no less fantastic: Stuggy's, a tiny hole-in-the-wall hot dog joint. Try Da Beast, topped with Fritos and mac 'n' cheese, or the Bob Marley, topped with Caribbean slaw, jerk chicken and mango mayo. Order it with a Boylan's Birch Beer from the fountain and the hand-cut fries.

Brie Dyas is a contributing writer for Tasting Table and an avid collector of your grandmother's fine china. You can find her occasionally sharing photos on Instagram at @briedyas.

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