Fresh Catch: Save Your Appetite for Baltimore's Enviable Seafood Restaurants
By Tamar Alexia Fleishman
Baltimore Local Expert
It's difficult to truly experience the food culture of Baltimore without indulging in its seafood. Known widely for its crab cakes, blue crabs, Old Bay-seasoned steamed crabs, and crab soup (cream or vegetable), this is where you'd want to start your tasting journey - if crab is what you want. If you're looking for a wider range of seafood options, from oysters to rock fish, there's a plethora of restaurants to choose from all around the city and tucked away in Baltimore's neighboring suburbs.
If you're staying in the Inner Harbor, you're fortunate to have more than enough restaurants to choose from near the waterfront and in neighboring Fell's Point. Phillip's, synonymous for Baltimore crab cakes, is a city icon. A popular stop for visitors, due to it location, it's as much an attraction as it is a restaurant. You kind of have to go just to say you went. A short taxi-ride away, you can find yet another Baltimore icon in Lexington Market, Faidley's Seafood, also well-known for its jumbo lump crab cakes and oysters. This isn't a sit-down establishment but makes a great bite-and-go seafood dining choice.
Thames Street Oyster House, a newer establishment, is a crowd favorite. Located in Fell's Point, they serve traditional and modern Maryland, New England, and Mid Atlantic seafood dishes as well as an a la carte raw bar. With appetizers like lobster mac and cheese and Buzzards Bay scallop ceviche, you can feel confident that your seafood dining experience is going to be an exciting one.
Other popular stops include eateries like Mama's on the Half Shell, Rusty Scupper, and Bo Brooks Crabhouse. In general, you can find less expensive seafood restaurants a short walk or drive from the Inner Harbor. Whatever your fancy, Baltimore has you covered with great seafood restaurants.
Sterling's Crab and Oyster House
If you want to try Sterling's tasty fare -- people in Baltimore have been doing so for over 65 years -- you'd better hurry. This Baltimore staple in the working class neighborhood of Remington is going on the auction block on July 7. Why? The reasons are probably myriad. It's a take-out place that's not quite where their customers live. Owner Dorothy Goff is getting older (as are we all!) and owns The Seasoned Mariner in Dundalk. That restaurant is located on prime real estate, Bear Creek and its interior needs a facelift; no doubt it rates as the better investment of the two establishments. Hot seafood sandwiches are best eaten right away on site, so they don't get soggy. The seafood sub is the way to go! A huge, crunchy fried shrimp, oyster, scallop and piece of fried haddock (or other combination) share space with a medium crab cake. (410-467-7710)
G & M Restaurant
G & M uses huge lumps of sweet crab in their massive crab cakes. They're not seasoned with Old Bay, so you get all crab flavor. The cakes are gently assembled and don't have a bunch of filler. Located minutes from BWI airport, 10 minutes from downtown Baltimore and 30 minutes from DC, it's not surprising to see airline pilots, politicians, etc. chowing down here. As famous as their crab cakes are, you should really start with their oysters Casino. Fresh oysters are topped with tasty bread crumbs, fatty bacon pieces, red pepper and herbs and baked for a truly flavorful and local appetizer. (410-636-1777)
Nak Won Korean Restaurant
If you've ever watched any of Anthony Bourdain's travel shows after he's gone on a bender, you'll always see him wrap the night up with simple, but substantial food to prevent hangovers. What might be considered street fare/food truck food in Asia -- salty, laden with fats and proteins -- is supposed to sop up the ill effects of alcohol. For about $13, you can get a massive pizza-sized seafood pancake that's huge enough for several people to share, even starving people. Laden with fat Asian scallions and chunks of seafood, these fried pancakes are the secret foodie find of Baltimore. While you can order them after your favorite bar closes, they're available for brunch-time, too. ((410) 244-5501)
Harrison's Chesapeake House
Imagine, boat-to-table seafood and locally-sourced farm products incorporated in classic Maryland dishes. That's what the Harrison family has been serving since 1930! Their grandma's recipes are tastier than anyone's. You can pretty much sample the whole kit and kaboodle on the Friday and Saturday night buffets. Maryland's Eastern Shore is where Baltimore residence have come for weekends and holidays for over three centuries. Harrison's concentrates on oysters for the buffet during the cold weather months, including raw, oysters Casino and their incredibly buttery oyster stew. Sometimes they put it on the buffet, sometimes you have to ask your server to bring it. "Some" people have been known to get seven (7!) bowls of it! The warmer months bring out all kinds of local fish preparations (like rockfish), mussels, crabs, crab legs, and a few oysters for good measure. Their side dishes like mac & cheese, are dangerously good, too. (410-886-2121)
John Shields is a scholar on the traditional fare of Maryland's Eastern Shore, where crab cakes most likely originated. Not only can you get today's favorite jumbo lump crab cake, but he also offers a "crab cake du jour". After all, traditional crab cakes were a way to flavor and stretch all the crab, so indulge in a taste treat step back into time with one of his darker leg meat cakes, perhaps glazed with stone ground mustard for extra flavor. This is also a place to get both the red, tomato-based Maryland crab soup and also cream of crab. Shields has his own secret sources of oysters, for flavors not available anywhere else. (410-889-3399)
Luxurious, exotic Chinese fare like one would find in Asia? Check. Reasonable prices? Sure. Tucked into a suburban strip mall with free parking? Yes! Hunan Taste has beautiful quality, perfectly seasoned Chinese seafood. They're open 365 days a year, so you can have your own A Christmas Story moment. Think steamed whole Goby fish, flounder, braised fish, stir fried fish maw, shrimp, soft-shell turtle, stir fried eel, chrysanthemum fish, spicy frogs, stir fried octopus and even sea cucumber for vegans! But their piece de resistance is surely their Double Crispy Lobsters. A meal to share, they're two decent-sized whole lobsters deep fried with a light crispy coating, seasoned with salt and white pepper. The dish is garnished with fresh Asian spinach, watermelon radish, turnip and cilantro. So tender! So flavorful! (410-788-8988)
Faidley's is located in historic Lexington Market (George Washington shopped there),family owned and operated since 1886. Located up the hill from the Inner Harbor and blocks from the city's seats of power, you're just as likely to see national celebrities as neighborhood folks. Grab a few fresh, local raw oysters before walking down to an O's game. Coddies -- a secret Baltimore staple -- are cheap and delicious. Minced fresh cod with potato are deep fried into balls, served with saltines. Don't forget the yellow mustard! Faidley's serves what so many exclaim are the best crab cakes in Baltimore. Filled with crab and very little binding, they're fried with a crust that's buttery, crunchy and keeps the inside moist and tender. They serve several kinds, but if you can, treat yourself to the pricier jumbo lump. They also sell food to prepare, including shad roe, terrapins and raccoon! (410-727-4898)
Jimmy's Famous Seafood Restaurant
Jimmy's has been family owned since 1974. Indeed, with their huge banquet halls, they've been the tasty destination for rehearsal dinners, wedding banquets and even final send-off gatherings for generations of Baltimore's families. The quality is consistently tops across the menu -- whether surf, turf or suds -- and has remained so throughout the decades. Their recipes have that Old Bay flavor with a kick. Portions are very generous, drinks pack a punch. This is a place you can get seafood from around the world, steaks, famous crab cakes (which can be shipped anywhere you like!), raw bar items and now, sushi! They're open 365 days a year, so stop worrying that you burned the turkey. The owner is very involved in the community, raises money for charity. Locals love him for his salt of the earth comments about the Mayor on Facebook! (4106334040)
The Prime Rib
Some people don't think of the Prime Rib for seafood because of its name and that's a shame. When you're thinking of the most important meals of your life: the proposal, the big meeting, the big announcement . . . The Prime Rib's elegant surroundings, best of the best quality and tasty recipes will add to your special occasion. They source the finest oysters -- huge! -- for things like Oysters Casino. Imagine big strips of bacon on massive Long Island Blue Points, topped with garlic bread crumbs and butter. You can actually order any fish "Chesapeake" style (with crab Imperial): just ask. Theirs is not some runny dip on the plate; rather, it's got huge, sweet lumps of crab. Late Spring is the time for their crazy big soft shell crabs: crispy, sweet, beyond good. (410-539-1804)
Costas Inn has its own take on seasoning for steamed crabs: they don't just throw a bunch of Old Bay and black pepper on them. It has a distinct sweetness to it -- perhaps some toasted onion in there. It's beloved by celebrities and food authors, including David Rosengarten and the folks on the Today show. In the mood for something to start with (or instead of crabs)? Their Oysters Rockefeller are truly must-get. Run! They do a twist on the Pernod sauce with Amaretto. This lends a sweetness to the already sweet-fresh oysters that's perfect. You could definitely order the 5 oyster size (also available in 3 oyster size portion) for your lunch or light-ish dinner and be completely satisfied. Family owned, their rice pudding recipe is their mom's. The dining room is family oriented and the bar is a party. They have live music on Friday nights. (410-365-0145)
About Tamar Alexia Fleishman
It takes a Renaissance woman to cover cool, shocking, tasty and thought-provoking things. Tamar was a professional violinist, studying with Daniel Heifetz at Peabody Conservatory, serving as Principal Second with Annapolis Symphony. She earned her BA in Political Science from Goucher, her JD from the University of Baltimore and is a member of the Maryland Bar. She’s appeared on TV with Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Peter Frampton. A foodie, she’s judged the Roadkill Cookoff, the International Water Tasting Fest, the Mason-Dixon Chef Tournament. Tamar’s a Kentucky Colonel, a beauty pageant winner and managed Southern rock and alt-country bands.
Read more about Tamar Alexia Fleishman here.