Tell your friends that you’re planning a trip to Baltimore and they’re likely to furrow their collective brow. Decades of well-reported urban decline, not to mention a little television juggernaut called The Wire, have given the city something of an image problem. But the mid-Atlantic port is on the rise, as the convergence of inexpensive rents, creative culinary talent and incredible regional ingredients create one of the most dynamic restaurant scenes on the East coast. From a hyper-local, James Beard-baiting restaurant in hip Hampden to a live music hall frying up killer Korean dumplings in an industrial district, Baltimore has flavor for miles. Here are 7 places to chow down in the Charm City.

  1. Birroteca
    A craft beer mecca in a former millhouse, this swank spot in Jones Falls celebrates its one-year anniversary next month. The trattoria-inspired menu includes a spinach and gorgonzola salad tossed with braised duck, an array of thin-crust pizzas and one family-style special per night. Aim for a Saturday visit to get a taste of the Figgy Piggy, a meltingly tender pork shank cooked with figs and designed for sharing (but only with people you really, really like). The 24 beers on tap skew local, with several pours from nearby Evolution, Union, Heavy Seas and Flying Dog breweries. 1520 Clipper Road, 443-708-1934, bmorebirroteca.com
  2. Woodberry Kitchen
    The blue ribbon of Baltimore’s culinary scene, Woodberry Kitchen has been serving award-winning farm-to-table fare in hipster haven Hampden since 2007. Native son Spike Gjerde and wife Amy, a former pastry chef, have a welcoming, warmly lit establishment that is so committed to local agriculture, it makes you want to put on a plaid shirt and talk crop rotation. Start with an order of the fresh cheese curd flatbread, topped with Maryland-grown fish peppers cultivated specifically for the restaurant, then try the hearty, homey turkey pot pie, which combines heritage birds with locally grown celery root, squash and chard. 2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126, 410-464-8000, woodberrykitchen.com
  3. The Crown
    Sometimes, you want to stay out late, hear an experimental set by an unsigned band and eat a bulgogi sandwich or two. New Station North spot The Crown speaks to all of these needs. Situated in a Hyundai Plaza building with no visible signage, the bar/lounge/restaurant/etc. has an underground feel and surprisingly delicious menu of Korean fusion fare. Consider a plate of squash and potato curry, hangover-preventing fried dumplings, or try your luck on taco Tuesdays for creations like grilled pork and apple, or maduros tossed with grilled peppers and vegan sour cream. 1910 North Charles Street, 2nd Floor, thecrownbaltimore.tumblr.com
  4. The Food Market
    Despite an unimaginative name, and the fact that it isn’t hard to imagine that the space used to house a grocery store, this Hampden hotspot is a local favorite for top-notch comfort food. Join the comely crowd chatting over shrimp and cheddar grits, Durac pork chops and addictive buffalo pickles, which are lightly breaded and flash fried to perfection. The international, affordable wine list tops out at $12 per glass, and is complemented by a rotating cast of five seasonal beers on draft. 1017 W. 36th Street, 410-366-0606, thefoodmarketbaltimore.com
  5. Joe Squared
    There are two locations of native son Joe Edwardson’s popular pizza shop, but night owls head to the Station North original, which transforms into a cover-free club with live music and a friendly, multi-generational crowd at around 10 p.m. nightly. Performances by local bands and DJs keep things spinning until last call (which, in Baltimore, is a fairly civilized 2 a.m.). Show up early to catch the acoustic set over dinner service, which include Joe’s award-winning, square-shaped pies and a solid eggplant parm sub, and stay late to get your groove on with $5 beers and over 50 rums by the glass. 133 W. North Avenue, 410-545-0444, joesquared.com
  6. Shoo-Fly Diner
    When Spike Gjerde announced he was planning a new venture in up-and-coming Belvedere Square, the entire state of Maryland took notice. His hotly anticipated Shoo-Fly debuted on October 11. As at Woodberry Kitchen, the Mid-Atlantic bounty is the star here, with a focus on homier dishes like cast-iron-cooked catfish, seasonal pies and what we hope is an eternally available Chesapeake crab roll. The long, already-packed bar pours DIY highballs, local Maryland rye and non-alcoholic sips like house-made root beer and Baltimore’s own HEX Ferments kombucha. Lest you think it’s all fun and games, the 5,000-square-foot spot also has a preservation wing to support Gjerde’s pervasive canning habit. 510 East Belvedere Avenue, 410-464-9222, shooflydiner.com
  7. Paulie Gee's (coming soon)
    New Yorkers will recognize this name from urban pizzaiola Paul Giannone’s enormously popular, eponymous Greenpoint eatery. The man who made haute Neapolitan pies for Brooklyn’s hip and hungry is about to do the same for Hampdenites. Scheduled to open later this year, the Baltimore branch will have two Stefano Ferrara wood-burning ovens, and will serve up Paulie’s classic creations like the Grapeful Dead pizza, topped with fresh spinach, gouda and house-made pickled grapes. Keep on keepin’ on, Baltimore. 3535 Chestnut Avenue, pauliegee.com/hampden

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