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Baltimore-Old school restaurants? No touristy or chain places please

I'm coming to Baltimore this weekend with my 13yo son who's a good eater. I embarrassingly have never really spent time in Baltimore and would like to check out some restaurants that are old school/Baltimore institutions (aside from Phillips).

We live in Philadelphia so ethnic food is abundant here and doesn't have any novelty for us. I'm particularly interested in anywhere good in little italy. I'll have a car so willing to drive. Staying in Timonium. Any suggestions for things to check out aside from the Aquarium would be great too. The only areas in Baltimore I've been are Charles St, Fells Point and in the burbs.

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

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  1. You don't get much more old school than Tio Pepe on Franklin St. I'd hit the Walter's Art Gallery and then head to Tio Pepe for dinner one night.

    Also, the Visionary Arts Museum is pretty cool and has a new American restaurant upstairs - Mr. Rain's Funhouse (although I'm not a fan and wouldn't recommend you go). IMHO you will be disappointed in Little Italy. Having spent an abundant time in Philly, you will not find anything on the level of Modo Mio (my favorite) or even La Viola in Little Italy. If you are dead set on eating in LI, Aldo's is your best bet, but the salad at Chiapparelli's is worth eating. If it's just Italian you are looking for, go to Sotto Sopra.

    If you are looking for basically the best meal you can get without breaking the bank head to B&O Brasserie (don't miss the crispy pork belly if you go). I like to send people from out of town to Henninger's Tavern, Peter's Inn, and Captain Larry's for a good taste of the local flavor.

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    Henninger's Tavern
    1812 Bank St, Baltimore, MD 21231

    Chiapparelli's
    237 S High St, Baltimore, MD 21202

    Peter's Inn
    504 S Ann St, Baltimore, MD 21231

    Captain Larry's
    601 E Fort Ave, Baltimore, MD 21230

    Sotto Sopra Restaurant
    405 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201

    1. When I think of old-school Baltimore, I always think of Tio Pepes and the Prime Rib. Both have extensive menus with solid food. Also, both are a quick ride from the Science Center, which definitely would be a hit with a 13 year old.

      Sabatinos and Chips in Little Italy are also long-standing, Baltimore institutions, but the food is nothing special.

      Enjoy your visit and let us know where you end up.

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      Prime Rib
      1101 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

      4 Replies
      1. re: stephanieg

        Tio Pepe is indeed old school Baltimore, but I have to confess I was disappointed when I ate there bout three weeks ago. The sauces were heavier than I recalled; the fish (dorade?) was a bit overcooked; and the desserts were a bit tired.

        The Prime Rib, on the other hand, never disappoints.

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        Prime Rib
        1101 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

        1. re: stephanieg

          I concur about Sabatino's but if you do end up there the double sided garlic bread is worthwhile to order. When a working group I'm in was there last we ended up at a place with an indoor Bocce court down near the Inner Harbor. It was decent; nothing out of this world, but not bad. Nice place, but I forget the name and can't seem to easily find it through search.

          Here's a thread that is probably helpful:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/706489

          and
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/634333

          1. re: Dennis S

            You must be describing La Scala! I rate their food as consistently very good, but nothing to die over.

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            La Scala
            1012 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21202

            1. re: stephanieg

              Yes! And that's a perfect description. We had a private room, service was above par, but the food was just above good. Apparently when the matron Mamma is there the desserts at least are outstanding (I'm not a dessert person). I don't think she was there when we were (I think I understood that she traveled often).

        2. When I think "old school" I think of Pappas Seafood Restaurant at 1725 Taylor Avenue. Old school enviornment, waitresses, platters with free sides, etc. And their crab cake is one of the best in town.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kim2310

            Pappas is like eating in a nursing home dining room and the crab cakes are made with imported crab meat which I find pretty tasteless.

          2. for "old school" near where you are staying, The Ocean Pride in Lutherville and Michael's in Timonium fit the bill.
            http://oceanprideseafood.com/
            http://www.michaelscafe.com/

            5 Replies
            1. re: hon

              I agree with hon. Ocean Pride is a great Maryland seafood restaurant, perhaps the best in Baltimore, and it is nearer than the city. I also agree with the poster who opined that Philly's Italian food is superior to that of Baltimore.

              1. re: elgringoviejo

                I think Mamas on the Half Shell is much better then both places but they said they would be in the Timonium area...

                1. re: hon

                  Never been to Mama's, but Ocean Pride is old school Maryland seafood and that's how I roll. You are a very reliable and excellent poster so I hope to check out Mama's some of these days.

                  1. re: elgringoviejo

                    I recently gave Mama's another shot and I just don't get it. The bar atmosphere is nice, but the food is run of the mill. I had pasty crab dip and everything else was super greasy.

              2. re: hon

                I go to Michael's with some regularity for family reasons. It is only acceptable

              3. 1. The Prime Rib: the icon of old school baltimore- excellent prime rib, seafood including crab cakes, steaks and fish. large drinks. used to require a sports jacket for men and would supply you one if you didnt have one
                2. Tio Pepe: another baltimore icon- great authentic spanish cuisine. large menu and even larger specials list daily. fresh seafood and fish dishes are great. sangria and for desert they have great souflee' and pine nut cake
                3. Ikaro's: old school greek restaurant in the greek town area. there several other places in the same vicinity that some claim as their fav's
                4. Bertha's: famous for "eat Betha's mussels" bumper stickers- bar in Fells Point.
                5. Lexington Market: larger version of the Reading Terminal Market: hit the raw bar at Faidley's seafood for oysters and clams and get the most expensive of their crab cakes as an iconic baltimore dish. Also get some fresh roasted nuts, go to the Berger's bakery stand and try their iconic chocolate top cookies. fun for sat daytime
                6. Vacarro's: italian pastry shop with gelato and home made pastries- our version of termini bros. located in little italy
                7. Chiapparellii's or Sabatino's: similar to south philly red gravy italian restaurants. Both have a great home made salad dressing on the house salad. rest of food is ok--once was great

                -----
                Lexington Market
                400 W Lexington St, Baltimore, MD 21201

                Prime Rib
                1101 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

                2 Replies
                1. re: dining with doc

                  I'm also from Philly and I really didn't get Bertha's. The mussels were ok, but they were just steamed and served by themselves with a dipping sauce on the side. In Philly, we steam the mussels in a broth, let the mussels release their liquor into the broth, and serve it all in a big bowl with lots of crusty bread to dip (or on top of pasta). That broth is where all the flavor is.

                  1. re: Philly Ray

                    I disagree. When I went, the mussels were very fresh and perfectly cooked, and the dipping sauces were sublime. I think it's great for the price. BTW, most places here do serve mussels in sauce (white wine, tomato, whatever) with bread, Bertha's just happens not to.

                2. There is Michael's Steak House on Eastern Ave . in Highlandtown and the Sunset Restaurant in Glen Burnie. Both pretty old school, and least we forget The Peppermill on York Road.

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                  Peppermill Restaurant
                  1301 York Rd Ste G5, Lutherville Timonium, MD 21093

                  1. Check out Eichenkranz in Highlandtown.

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                    Eichenkranz Restaurant
                    611 Fagley St, Baltimore, MD 21224

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: youami

                      I'm curious about why you want traditional Baltimore without asking "any good?" Because pretty much nothing in Little Italy is good. Most have been lousy for years. If it is still open, nothing is more old Baltimore than Marconi's on Saratoga. I have no idea if it is still good. Haven't been there in 20 years.

                      I used to LOVE Tio Pepe's but it went downhill years ago and from what I hear, it never came back.

                      For lunch - The Women's Industrial Exchange Tea Room in the 300 (or 400?) block of N. Charles. Hon.

                      1. re: Just Visiting

                        Unfortunately Marconi's closed several years ago. See this article: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/enter...
                        If you are going to propose a true "Old School" Baltimore institution that is no more, however, I'd nominate Haussners. But that doesn't solve the OP's request for an actual "old school" institution where he can eat now.

                        1. re: Just Visiting

                          I have to say that I've been to Tio's several times over the past year and still LOVE it. Maybe it depends on what you order? I always find the fish to be amazingly fresh and delicious-- I particularly adore the riojana sauce. My husband usually gets one of their veal dishes and is always in heaven. The garlic shrimp appetizer is one of my favorites, although we recently tried the seafood salad, which was light and so flavorful. Together with a pitcher of Sangria and a piece of pine nut cake, it's a perfect meal. I especially appreciate the value for the money-- the portions are always large and accompanied by delicious vegetables and rice-- so you also get a wonderful lunch the next day.

                      2. Plenty of great local spots. A few of my favorites are Blue Agave in Federal Hill for Mexican, Matthew's Pizza on Eastern Avenue for a no nonsense old scholl pizza joint, Red Star in Fells Point for a cool American restuarant. Mama's on the Halfshell in Canton for seafood. The list just goes on and on.

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                        Blue Agave Restaurant
                        1032 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Mud Pig

                          I'd steer clear of Blue Agave. Overpriced, and uninspired. Basically any taco joint between Fells Point and Greektown is going to be head and shoulders above Blue Agave.

                          You did mention two places in Canton/Highlandtown that are great. Mama's is my favorite place for happy hour. Some oysters, steamed shrimp, and a few drafts downstairs. Great way to get the weekend started.

                          -----
                          Blue Agave Restaurant
                          1032 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

                          1. re: hotel

                            May I ask how recently you two have been? I had a great meal there about a year ago, but have heard they've gone downhill. I've also been impressed with all of the little Latin American joints on Eastern Ave.

                        2. Snyder's Willow Grove in Linthicum Heights. Last week, I had some of the best oysters of the season and an excellent prime rib that was easily over 2 pounds. This place is definitely old school, in operation for over 60 years. We were eight very hungry and thirsty people and the bill was under $400, including a decent tip. The price was right and they treated us right.

                          -----
                          Snyder's Willow Grove
                          841 N Hammonds Ferry Rd, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                            I'm with you -- when someone says "Old School Baltimore" I think of places like Snyders or the Sunset.

                            1. re: placidothecat

                              I share Stepanieg's assessment of Tio Pepe's. I particulary like the "Champagne oysters" and the roast suckling pig. The last time I went my wife and I split one of each along with a pitcher of their red sangria. The sangria should be approached with caution unless there is a designated driver along. I will have to try the seafood salad.

                              While not "old school" in the sense of the longevity of the restaurant how could we not mention "Ryleigh's Oyster" whose 3-7PM weekday oyster happy hour (Many oyster selectionsare $1 each including Blue points and a couple of PEI varieties along with Chincoteagues) for an evocation of what raw bars might have been here in Baltimore years ago.

                            2. re: flavrmeistr

                              Hey, for once I'm not the first to say Snyder's. I forget how I found this place but I love IT!

                              It also reminds me of backroads places in Missouri. At the very least it's a time traveling machine.

                            3. This is a sad post. With the exception of The Prime Rib, a few not very good places in L'il Italy, Faidley's, Ikaros, and maybe Tio's there are no venerable places whose cuisine has defined the City for decades All gone. Not to say there are not a lot of good places to eat, but they are relatively new.

                              Linwood's, which I love, has been around almost as long as Tio's. And i'm surprised that there has been little discussion of crab houses, a group which certainly defines food in Baltimore to the rest of the world, ans some of which--Snyder's. Obrycki's. Bo Books--have been around for quite a while.

                              -----
                              Prime Rib
                              1101 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tartuffe

                                Obryckis is no longer and like Bo Brooks, both overpriced tourist traps.
                                You want real "Old School"? Go to Jennings Cafe in Catonsville
                                http://www.jenningscafe.com/

                                -----
                                Bo Brooks Restaurant
                                2701 Boston St, Baltimore, MD 21201

                              2. I am surprised that no one recommended Attmans for lunch. It is a deli that has been around for generations. Their sandwiches are huge and filling. I have friends who come to Baltimore just for a sandwich from Attmans.

                                Another old school place would be the Owl Bar at the Belevedere. It has been open since the 1920s and still has a lot of the original furniture. There is a bit of history to the decor that if you ask the waiters they will tell you. It is more like a bar than a restaurant. I would recommend going there if you want a light dinner such as pizza or sandwiches.

                                Chiapparelli's tends to get busy on the weekends so I would recommend to call ahead. The salad is very good. I would not recommend La Scala as the food is just mediocre.

                                As a child, I remember going to Friendly Farms which is north of Timonium. It is a farm style meal where you select the entre and all the sides, desserts and salads are family style. It may be of interest to your son.

                                Cafe Hon, while it has only been around for 15 years or so, always feels like old Baltimore. It is in Hampden, which reminds me of what parts of Baltimore must have been like in the 1950s. The food is decent and won't break the wallet.

                                -----
                                Chiapparelli's
                                237 S High St, Baltimore, MD 21202

                                La Scala
                                1012 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21202

                                Cafe Hon
                                1002 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

                                Friendly Farm
                                17434 Foreston Rd, Upperco, MD 21155

                                4 Replies
                                  1. re: hopeinmee

                                    Friendly Farms can be very good -- the crabcakes and the fried oysters are the way to go. Avoid the meat entrees, unless you like shoe leather.

                                    Good call on Attmans too!

                                    -----
                                    Friendly Farm
                                    17434 Foreston Rd, Upperco, MD 21155

                                    1. re: hopeinmee

                                      I went Chiapparelli's about 2 years ago for a birthday party the food was great

                                      -----
                                      Chiapparelli's
                                      237 S High St, Baltimore, MD 21202

                                      1. re: hopeinmee

                                        i forgot about the owl bar and attmans. I have always loved the owl bar- yards of beer, good food, great ambiance
                                        attmans- my grandfather was a deli man there. iconic jewish style deli on corned beef row in baltimore. good for lunch

                                      2. Agree with the other Chower's that, to fulfill your request, Tio Pepe's, Prime Rib, Snyder's Willow Grove, Sunset Restaurant, Peerce's (although the "old school" restaurant has been closed for several years and has only reopened)--there are only a rare few of the remaining truly Baltimore restaurant/institutions remaining.

                                        We lost Marconi's, Brass Elephant, Haussner's, Danny's, Chesapeake,
                                        Brentwood Inn, etc.

                                        But, you may want to consider (pricey) the Milton Inn (Sparks, Md--not far from Timonium) and the Oregon Grille (sme area). HIgh end-old fashioned Baltimre dining, i.e., crabcakes, steaks, primerib, seafood items--no molecular or whatever fusion influence on the food.

                                        Cafe Troia (in Towson--about 15 minutes south of Timonium) has excellent Italian cuisine--much better then anything in Baltimore's Little Italy. A cozy restaurant with excellent choices, such as the veal chop and salmon over pasta. Happy Dining--hope this comes to you in time to make some selective choices. FoiGras

                                        -----
                                        Brass Elephant
                                        924 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201

                                        Prime Rib
                                        1101 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

                                        Snyder's Willow Grove
                                        841 N Hammonds Ferry Rd, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090

                                        Cafe Troia
                                        31 Allegheny Avenue, Towson, MD 21204

                                        The Milton Inn
                                        14833 York Road, Sparks, MD 21152

                                        Oregon Grille
                                        1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, MD 21030

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: FoiGras

                                          Cafe Troia is an excellent suggestion, and has been around long enough that it may actually qualify as old school. The Oregon Grill, on the other hand, is a newcomer and (in my opinion) a pretentious, overpriced clip joint.

                                          -----
                                          Cafe Troia
                                          31 Allegheny Avenue, Towson, MD 21204

                                          1. re: lawhound

                                            I had to look up "clip joint" but I'm glad I did. That's an incredibly funny (and sadly accurate) description of Oregon Grill.

                                            1. re: chefdilettante

                                              My orthopaedic surgeon and I had quite a discussion about the Oregon Grill while he operated on my wrist. Overpriced clip joint, WAY too full of itself, was the upshot of our
                                              conversation. I just won't give them any more of my business no matter what the food is like.

                                              Attman's - great idea, especially for your son (the "good eater")

                                              1. re: ivysmom

                                                Not impressed by Attman's. They don't even fry the bologna anymore-- packaged hotdog with a cold piece of lunchmeat on top on a crappy storebought roll.

                                        2. I had an awful, awful meal at Tio Pepe. I rarely go to an upscale restaurant and find that NOTHING tastes good. It was restaurant week, which may have had something to do with it, but it was thoroughly unpleasant.

                                          1. Although it has been there since I was kid (so mid century), the Ambassador Dining Room basically not changed its surrounds. The current ownership has been there since early 90s and offers excellent Indian cuisine. Go and take a step back in time.

                                            -----
                                            Ambassador Dining Room
                                            3811 Canterbury Rd, Baltimore, MD 21218

                                            1. Sorry that I didn't think of this restaurant prior to your visit to Baltimore, but I am surprised that no one (inlcuding myself), didn't think to mention Captain Harvey's on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills. (It isn't very far from Timonium and there wouldn't be a hassel with parking which you may have encountered when driving into downtown Baltimore).

                                              The restaurant serves many typical Baltimore-style seafood dishes along with meats and a slight leaning towards southern Italian.

                                              The Eula salad is reminiscent of the Coffey Salad that used to be served at the Old Pimlico Hotel Restaurant and similar to the one served at Chiaperelli's in Little Italy.

                                              There is also the "crabhouse" section of the restaurant where one can dine in on steamed crabs.

                                              If you ever return to this area, I highly recommend Captain Harvey's. If in season, you would have to order the fried softshell crabs. Out of this world. Best in the area. FoiGras

                                              -----
                                              Captain Harvey's Restaurant
                                              11510 Reisterstown Rd, Owings Mills, MD 21117

                                              Little Italy Restaurant
                                              6920 Bradlick Shopping Ctr, Annandale, VA 22003