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Help a poor Los Angeles hound visiting Baltimore and DC

Hello 'hounds

Staying in DC and Baltimore (near convention center) without a car.

I'm looking for superlative examples of food not well represented in LA. Here's the rundown-- in LA we have much of Asia covered, and covered well. So while I'm interested to visit your Chinatowns, they will not be a food destination. Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan are all superlatively represented. Less so are Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore/Malaysia, Philippines. Of course our Mexican and Central American foods are legendary.

Having said this, what can I get my hands on in Baltimore and DC that is a superlative representation, and not well represented in LA? And without a car?

I know in DC you have those half-smokes-- gotta try those. Also, Maryland is of course famous for your crab. I know there is a much larger African population here than in LA. Having said that, I'm fine with eating great examples of regional American cooking as well. This doesn't have to be a "cuisines of the world" trip.

We've got a economic preference for budget eating, though I am not bound to this rule. And while in Baltimore, my sister might be visiting with her 3 year old so we'd be looking for a kid friendly place to eat some superlative crab. She may be driving, so it's possible we may have a car in Baltimore, though I can tell you that she will not want to drive very far.

Thanks in advance for all your help

Mr Taster
of the Los Angeles Chowhounds

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  1. In Baltimore you might want to get some cabs to get to some places away from the inner harbor, which is pretty lame and rather expensive.

    Matthew's Pizza in Baltimore is kind of legendary. I also really like Blue Grass Tavern for Southern food. You can find crabcakes and right now soft-shells in a variety of places. Faidley's is kind of a Baltimore institution. Mr. Rain's has a nice lunch and patio if you are at the Visionary Arts Museum. In that area my Mom really also likes Little Havana and the Wine Market. If you want to wander a fun neighborhood with lots of restaurants Hampden is really a cute area, but definitely a bit out of the harbor. (Most places are fairly kid friendly up there too) You might read the thread on the Food Lover's Guide to Baltimore. I am only up there from time to time to visit friends.

    In DC you definitely should get some Ethiopian food, try Ethiopic. Where are you staying in DC or sightseeing? Palena Cafe can be a bargain depending on what you order and the food is great.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ktmoomau

      Thank you for these tips. Can you talk a bit about Matthew's Pizza? Is this a style of pizza unique to MD? I grew up in New Jersey eating that style of pizza, but I've spent enough time around the country (and the world) to know that the definition of pizza can get pretty hazy around the edges. I'm curious to know what makes Matthew's special.

      We're not afraid to leave the waterfront, but I do need to be mindful of my little niece's crankiness level. Faidley's looks great. Good god, I'd love a crab cake right about now.

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        Without a car, getting to Matthew's Pizza may be difficult and while quaint, is just okay. Go to Faidley's and have a crab cake.

        1. re: ChewFun

          Matthew's is nothing. Don't bother.

    2. At the moment, most of the crab (hard shell or crab cakes) you will find are not using Maryland crab. The season has just opened and the local crabs are still small. However, soft-shell crabs ("busters") are in season now. They are a true regional delicacy. The entire crab, minus the gills and eyes, is dredged in flour and then fried.

      I haven't lived in Baltimore for years, so can't help with specific places to eat; I am guessing that most places near the Convention Center and Inner Harbor are not worthwhile and mostly for tourists, but again, I don't really know. Since Baltimore has little in the way of public transportation, you might need to take cabs. The nearest place to downtown I can recommend is Bo Brooks in Canton. Bo Brooks is considered a tourist trap by some, but that's because of the location on the water and the day-core, if you will. It was an old-time bar/crab-house up in a blue-collar part of Baltimore for many years. They moved down to Canton and I have been there a couple of times since I moved. The food seemed the same; atmosphere, not so much. Not the old Natty Bo joint I knew and loved since college. But the crabs and the onion rings were still great. Again, crabs won't be local, but that will be true almost everywhere.

      Point being that the cost of getting to DC could take you out of the budget category before you sit down to order.

      So aside from all that, it sounds like LA is deficient in the foods of West and Central Africa, and here we've got you covered. The U Street corridor is known as Little Ethiopia. Well-known places are Dukem, Etete, Little Ethiopia, Abiti, Queen Makeda. You would be able to take the Metro from Union Station.

      You don't say how long you will be here, but getting down to DC might not be worthwhile if it is for just a few days. MARC's Penn Line and Amtrak both run from Penn Station in Baltimore (a long walk from the Convention Center) to Union Station. MARC is basically a commuter train and there are only three trains back to Baltimore after 6 p.m. (7:40, 9, and 10:30). But cheap - $7 one-way. Amtrak prices vary by schedule but can be as high as $66 round-trip. So be careful about choosing your trains if you do Amtrak. Be sure to check prices. However, on Amtrak, you've got at least one train per hour.

      15 Replies
      1. re: Just Visiting

        Thank you for this.

        OK, first the boring details.

        We will not be commuting back and forth between DC and Baltimore.

        Details of the trip are still developing, but what is set is that we will be arriving at BWI on the evening of June 5 and going directly up to DC. We may be staying with a friend, but I'm not certain yet. Not sure what area he lives in, but he does live in a transit friendly area.

        We will be staying exclusively in DC from June 5-8. Evening of June 8th we will go to our hotel (Inner Harbor) in Baltimore so we can be near the convention center for the weekend, which is the official reason for this trip. We fly home from BWI around 5pm on Sunday, June 10. My sis and 3 year old niece, if they decide to come, will be with us on Saturday and Sunday in Baltimore only.

        With that in mind, on to the food!

        LA does in fact have a very small "Little Ethiopia" strip. The main commercial district is the one block between Olympic and Whitworth:

        http://maps.google.com/maps?q=los+ang...

        Having said that, if there is a superlative representation of the cuisine, or perhaps a localized or regional style of Ethiopian cooking that is not the standard doro wot/tibbs, etc. which one finds at "standard" Ethiopian restaurants, then I'd love to give it a shot. And the U street corridor looks like a great destination.

        As for the crab, what will the season be like during the time we're in town? (June 8-10)

        Thanks for all your advice.

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          I thought I'd explained about the crabs but maybe not enough? Local crabs are really not abundant or large until August, so the crabs you get will not be local. Soft shell crabs will be in season even in early June.

          Given that LA has everything that DC has, based on your description, then I can't think of another cuisine that is a speciality here that you couldn't get at home, except maybe southern fried chicken. That can be really hard to find. Personally I think half-smokes are all-hype and I've never thought much of Ben's Chili Bowl. It's an institution, but you don't go there for great food.

          We have lots of great restaurants in DC so if you specify your preferences I'm sure people can give you lots of specific recs.

          1. re: Just Visiting

            Local picked crab is easily available. I had crab cakes two weeks ago at brunch that were 10% Maryland and were great. The soft shells right now can be from the Chesapeake or from parts further south but this season, the crabs have been large and very sweet. Better than last year. There is this guy from Maryland department of fisheries, Steve Vilnet who has a newsletter you can sign up for to get the facts on local fish.

            1. re: wineo1957

              Right - picked crab for crab cakes. But hard shells are still very light at this time of year. I agree that this is the time of year for busters, but not everyone will eat them. It looks like giant fried spider on a bun and that takes some getting used to.

              1. re: Just Visiting

                Assuming a "buster" is a deep fried soft shell crab on a bun? Please explain. Remember, I'm not from your parts. Google is not being terribly helpful.

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Yes, as I said above: "However, soft-shell crabs ("busters") are in season now. They are a true regional delicacy. The entire crab, minus the gills and eyes, is dredged in flour and then fried."

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    dive in among the fried soft shell Mr. Taster. dive in.

                    think of it as a 'spider roll' maki in a bun. and yeah different flavor accents

            2. re: Mr Taster

              Can anyone chime in about how regionally specific the menus are at the U street Ethiopian restaurants? Or do the menus tend to reflect the standard wat/tibbs/kitfo rotation that is on most Ethiopian diaspora menus, but are just cooked to different levels of excellence depending on the restaurant?

              I'm asking this question out of total ignorance. I've never been to East Africa (but am planning a trip for next summer). One of the most interesting things to me when I travel is seeing how the food and people gradually change from region to region as I travel. In some countries, you find dishes are specific to a particular village, and that's the only place you can find it. (In Viernam for example, people in a neighboring village had never even heard of the dish we had just a few miles away)

              I'm not suggesting that sort of intense specialization exists outside of Ethiopia (it doesn't in LA), but I would be very curious to know if there's a difference, for example, between cooking in the north vs. the south, for example, much in the same way cooking from the northern Issan region of Thailand has been showing up on menus in LA for many years now.

              Thanks!
              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Not about Ethiopian, but your regional comment reminded me that it might be worth your while to go to Rasika. It's one of DC's best restaurants (Indian) and has a lot of dishes that you won't find at most Indian restaurants (even in Artesia) - especially if you eat fish/seafood.

                1. re: mdpilam

                  Although we do have rather broad regional Indian cooking (Northern Punjabi, southern vegetarian, Hyderabadi) it really isn't one of LA's specialties- at least not in the same way Korean, Chinese, Thai or Mexican would be. That sounds great. Thanks!

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    I concur with mdpilam about Rasika - good call. It's a great restaurant and would be a great choice for you. It's not too hard on the wallet if you stick to their excellent vegetarian choices. Don't fail to order the palak chaat. Uhockey did a nice write-up on it here:

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/05/b...

                    They now have two locations.

                    http://www.rasikarestaurant.com/pennq...

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  You will not find regional specificity in the Ethiopian restaurants in DC. There are some Eritrean places, but the one I go to for lunch near work doesn't have much of a menu.

                  If you want to go to a 'real' Ethiopian place, consider this one in the Northern Virginia suburbs that specializes in tere sega:

                  http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/ar...

                  PS - they have expanded their menu since this article.

                  1. re: Steve

                    Wonderful!! We just may need to take the 26G bus by the Pentagon to have lunch there, and visit Arlingon while we're at it.

                    Thanks so much for this spectacular recommendation.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      It's in the Build America Shopping Center, which is a polyglot collection of mostly Middle Eastern and North African bars and restaurants. What's especially intriguing about this center is that it is double-sided. There is a side that faces the street and is more popular, and then there is a hidden back side, just as big, that only the the locals and more intrepid know about. That's where you will find the Yemeni restaurant, Al Jazera. My favorite spot is a rather swank Ethiopian sports bar, Eyo. Very high quality. Almost surely better than what you have on Fairfax.

              2. re: Just Visiting

                I don't think Queen Makeda is in business anymore (as a restaurant at least, wasn't there a post that it is now strictly a nighclub?).

              3. In DC Ethiopian is a must. I haven't tried Ethiopic yet, but I like Etete best of the ones I've tried.

                For very unexceptional half smokes, the famous place to go is Ben's Chili Bowl. For great ones, go to the Eastern Market and get one from the meat market inside about half way down. I like the "hot half smoke in natural casing". You eat standing up and apply condiments yourself. It costs $2.

                For a soul food hole in the wall, check out Oohs and Aahs on U St. Another soul food place that is said to be good though I haven't been yet, is Levi's Port Cafe, near Eastern Market.

                4 Replies
                1. re: woodleyparkhound

                  Wonderful recs. I'm a big fan of public markets and will definitely have to check out Eastern Market. I read about Oohs and Aahs on another thread recommending Carolina BBQ and I may need to check it out (even though Raleigh is 5.5 hours away... but still closer than Los Angeles!)

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Mr. Taster.
                    You can purchase crabs by the dozen or bushel at the Maine St Wharf in DC from Captain Whites. Crab season started April 1st . I also second woodleyparkhound recommendation for Levi Port Cafe and Eastern Market. U St has a good deal of good restaurants I like Marvin and have heard good things about Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

                    Also there is really no reason to visit Chinatown in DC its more like Disneylands version of Chinatown and can't really compare to NY, San Fran or LA

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Yeah, no. See Oohs and Ahs is on U St. in DC. There may be another place in Raleigh by the same name, but woodleyparkhound is sending you to a place right here in DC.

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        You can get equally good Ethiopian in L.A., so I don't know if it's worth bothering with, but Oohs and Aahs is definitely worth visiting.

                    2. Wrt Baltimore only, we don't have a ton of food that is both indisputably tasty AND unique to Baltimore, with the execption of crabs, discussed in other responses.

                      Here are some suggestions in/near the Harbor that are good/unusual. Thousand Kabobs, on Liberty Street (5 minute walk from the Harbor), has excellent Pakistani food, especially biryanis but virtually everything is good. (There are some stools at a counter, but best to take out.) Lexington Market, home of Faidleys described elsewhere, also has a decent deli (Mary Mervis) and is near a great, throwback Italian deli, Trinacria (no place to eat at Trinacria, but you could take out their excellent muffalatta and eat it elsewhere). Also close to the Hrabor, maybe 10 mins walk, is Little Italy, home to Cafe Isabella (porchetta sandwich and great pizza) and Max's Empanadas (I'm sure there is a reason they're in Little Italy, but don't know what it is). A slightly longer walk (15 mins?) south of the Harbor would take you to Cross Street Market -- same city market idea as Lexington Market, with a good raw bar and poss fried soft-shells. There's plenty of fine dining, but only one restaurant in Baltimore that can really set itself out from the pack -- Woodberry Kitchen, about 4 miles north of downtown. (Accessible by light rail, but a cab is probably a better choice for a visitor.) And there's an excellent, reasonably priced restaurant-ina-a-bar called Peters Inn, about a mile east of downtown.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: lawhound

                        Spot on, lawhound. I agree with everything- Cafe Isabella, Trinacria and Woodberry Kitchen are 3 of my favorite places in Baltimore.

                        This may not be an option if you have children in tow, but a great local brewery is Clipper City (brewers of Heavy Seas beers)- located on the outskirts of Baltimore. They offer brewery tours that are great. If possible try to get one with the founder, Hugh Sisson http://www.hsbeer.com/

                        1. re: kdhickey

                          I wonder what someone from LA would think of Woodberry. The've cornered the market on hype and can deliver solid food, but are expensive (for Baltimore) and in a bigger city would just be one of many similar solid restaurants, probably not top tier.

                          Jack's Bistro is more interesting, in my opinion.

                          1. re: kukubura

                            You might be right (though the prices won't look out of line to someone outside Baltimore), but the point is that the surroundings are cool, the cocktails and wine are excellent, and they really do buy, prepare and sell local food. If you're from LA and looking for what we do here in baltimore, that's not a bad way to get some perspective. Shouldn't be the only way, but it's something you should def try.

                            1. re: kukubura

                              As a former Baltimorean, I really enjoy Woodbery K when I return. It doesn't serve the quintessential Maryland cuisine of my youth (think Crab Imperial), but its commitment to local sourcing means that much of what is served is distinctly local -- e.g., when we were last there, the seafood offerings were centered on rockfish and oysters because that is what was in season. And, the atmosphere and service are excellent. The challenge for the OP is that it's not easily accessible from his lodgings in the Inner Harbor, without a car.

                              1. re: masha

                                According to Google Maps transit, it looks like the 200 train (light rail?) goes right to the door.

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  See comments below regarding safety issues. As I don't currently live in Balto, I am unsure about the light rail but might hesitate to use it later than the evening rush hour. I'd think it would be fine during the day.

                        2. Check out DC’s eclectic food truck scene for a variety of cuisine for the budget conscious. Truckeroo is a monthly festival showcasing over 20 food trucks from the DC area – the next event is taking place on June 8 when you are in town. It's located at the corner of Half St. and M St., SE (Navy Yard Metro station) and the trucks serve lunch through late night dinner.

                          Truckeroo website:

                          http://www.truckeroodc.com

                          Local DC Food Truck Tracker:

                          http://www.foodtruckfiesta.com

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: jenchows

                            I went to one of these events once. I love the concept of it, but the execution is a different matter. All the trucks I was interested in had massive lines - at least 50 people in each line - and the lines weren't moving all that quickly. I gave up and left. This may not be practical for an out-of-town visitor - especially for one from a place where food trucks aren't a novelty.

                            1. re: jenchows

                              LA is where the food truck scene started, and finally jumped shark (before it even reached DC), so I doubt he needs to experience it.

                              1. re: mdpilam

                                Well put :)

                                The real food trucks (loncheros) are hardly a new thing in LA. But trendy hipsters and white collar workers eating at trucks is a new thing, and started in earnest with the Kogi truck several years back.

                                In fact, there's a crew of the new wave FancyTrucks™ that park a block away from my office. They used to park directly in front of the office, until this happened a few years ago:

                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtUjqM...

                                2012 Update: The management of Museum Square is still parking the crew of junk cars across the street, even though the un-official Museum Square FancyTruck™ row is now firmly established a block away.

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  I guess the novelty of the food trucks hasn’t worm off on me, yet. Anyway, I still think they are your best bet for variety on a frugal budget – especially for lunch in DC. Skip Truckeroo if you don’t need to “experience” a food truck festival but don’t overlook the trucks for a tasty and inexpensive lunch option. They tend to congregate round Metro stations which also makes them easily accessible to public transit.