College Town Tours: The Best of Baltimore, MD

Johns Hopkins is located in the northern part of Baltimore in Charles Village. It’s a green campus, set off in its own little neighborhood and really combines the best of two worlds – it’s a self-contained campus just minutes from some of Baltimore’s coolest, most exciting neighborhoods.

When I told people I was going to Hopkins, people loved to talk about how I was going to be “living in The Wire.” But I was pleasantly surprised to find that my first impressions of Baltimore were closer to the truth: it is a fabulous city with lots of charm. There are rough spots (like any other city) but there are also gorgeous neighborhoods, brilliant restaurants that rival some of the best in larger cities I’ve visited and a vibrant nightlife. Baltimoreans have a lot of hometown pride, evidenced by the sea of purple during the Ravens’ football season, and even though the Orioles haven’t had a good season in a while, Baltimoreans still love their hometown baseball team. From great crab cakes, to a world-renowned aquarium, to Duff Goldman’s famous Charm City Cakes, Baltimore stands out in so many ways.

While I’ve always made the effort to explore the city beyond the Hopkins “bubble” my friends and I have made a senior year bucket list with all the “Baltimore” things we have to do before we graduate. It includes brunches at The Ambassador–a great Indian restaurant near campus that offers all you can eat and drink mimosas on Sunday—and picnics at the Tulip Garden, also near campus. But below is a list of my tried and true; the places that I will always remember and return to whenever I am back in Baltimore. I hope you enjoy reading it and are inspired to come visit, whether as a college student or for a fun getaway weekend. You’ll be glad you did!

Katie Brossman is a senior at Johns Hopkins University where she studies creative writing and spends an inordinate amount of time “procrastibaking” for her friends. Her favorite condiment is sriracha and she enjoys exploring the Baltimore restaurant scene on the weekends.

**SKC Picks**

Best Place to Cure a Hangover
Pete’s Grille
3130 Greenmount Ave. // (410) 467-7698

Pete’s is a Baltimore treasure. It’s packed with locals, so if you make it here, you’re getting a truly authentic Baltimore experience. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch and it’s a really small place. You sit at the counter, order eggs and fluffy pancakes, drink great diner coffee, and then you’re on your way, ready to conquer your day. Michael Phelps (a native Baltimore resident) is known to refuel here after long swim practices and I know that if I wake up not feeling great after having too much fun the night before, the only thing I want is a short stack of chocolate chip pancakes and cheesy eggs. This place has stood the test of time (it’s been around forever!) and when you leave, satisfied and happy after a delicious meal, you’ll understand why.
Must Order: Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Best Bagel
Greg’s Bagels
519 East Belvedere Ave. // (410) 323-9463

Greg is actually a Hopkins alum! You’ll see him working at the counter and I love to chat with him about his time at Hopkins. Word of warning: if you are looking for a traditional, chewy, thick New York-style bagel, this is NOT the place for you. These bagels are more Montreal style – crispy, thinner and very flavorful. They’re great, but what you really come for are the toppings, namely, the lox. There are chalkboards listing the different types of salmon, both smoked and cooked, from all over the world. My favorite thing to order is a toasted sesame bagel with tomato, cream cheese and whatever the special lox is that day. Be adventurous – try something new! But if you’re in the mood for a sweet bagel, not to worry—the chocolate chip bagel is fantastically amazing and my other favorite topping combo is apple butter and cream cheese. Heads up: this place is cash only.
Must order: Anything with Lox

Best Café on Campus
Carma’s Café
3120 St. Paul Street // (410) 243-5200

This is a Charles Village and campus favorite. This six-table café has everything a college café should: good coffee, muffins, bagels, excellent soups to warm you up on a cold day, packed paninis to power you through a busy class schedule, and fruity, refreshing iced tea when the weather finally starts to warm. A month into my freshman year, my mom called me, confused. “Katie, I thought you were on a meal plan. Why are you going to Carma’s every day?” This café is always an instant hit with students. It’s small and the menu is as well, but there’s enough variety that you won’t get bored. There are also daily specials, featuring what’s in season. My personal favorite is the sourdough grilled cheese sandwich alongside creamy tomato basil soup. The paninis are great for lunch but breakfast is probably my favorite meal here. I always get the yogurt (it’s a top secret recipe they make themselves and has been voted best yogurt in Baltimore years running). Order it with fruit compote and granola. It’s divine.
Must order: Yogurt with Fruit Compote and Granola

Best Brunch
Miss Shirley’s
Several locations including: Roland Park, 513 West Cold Spring Lane // (410) 889-5272

Miss Shirley’s is a Baltimore must for weekend brunch. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill brunch place. The menu features many dishes with Baltimore’s world famous crab and sweet dishes that blow any dessert out of the water. Every dish feels decadent even when ordering off the “healthy” menu. My personal favorites include the monkey bread and the basket of sweet potato fries. Expect a wait here if you come during peak weekend brunch hours, but rest assured, it’s totally worth it.
Must order: Monkey Bread

Best Place to Spend a Saturday Morning
Atwater’s at Belvedere Square
529 East Belvedere Ave. // (410) 323-2396

This place has everything! I love it because the store is sectioned off so it feels like you’re going to five different places at once. You can walk through the deli section where they offer great seasonal salads, soups and sandwiches. You can buy sushi grade fish to make your own sushi at home; you can peruse fresh produce, order a delicious blueberry muffin and cappuccino at the bakery or get the best fresh lox at the smoked fish counter. I love this place because I always just go for brunch but end up coming home with a whole yummy selection of treats – crackers, cheese, and fresh pasta. Order the oatmeal and coffee and then while away your morning browsing, thinking up what to make for dinner.
Must Order: Atwater’s Chicken Salad

Best Sushi
Sushi Hana
Two locations including: 6080 Falls Road // (410) 377-4228

There’s not much to explain here. If you’re looking for straight up good, fresh sushi, this is the place to go. Baltimore has a lot of “trendy” sushi places popping up around the city recently, and they’re definitely fun if you’re looking to drink a fish bowl and eat “sexy” sushi rolls with your friends at happy hour. But if you’re like me and you just want good old sashimi, this is the place for you. The fish is fresh and you can order specialty rolls (which are delicious) but you can also just order the classics. This is always the place we decide on when my mom comes to visit; we can’t help it, we’re sushi fanatics!
Must order: Spicy Tuna Roll

Best Restaurant for Parents’ Weekend
Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Road, # 126 // (410) 464-8000

Woodberry Kitchen might not only be my favorite restaurant in Baltimore, but one of my favorite restaurants ever. I say it’s a good parents’ weekend place because parents love this restaurant (or at least mine really do) but the menu is so varied (both food and prices) that you could also come here with your friends to order drinks and small plates. The menu is eclectic, always revolving around what is freshest, in season, and in the area. My favorite way to order here is to start off with a few “snacks” for the table (I love the deviled eggs), and then order dishes to share. I really like ordering a few small plates as opposed to just ordering one entrée but I’ve done it both ways and have never been disappointed. Favorites dishes include the cornbread and the CMP dessert, which is life changing. Duff Goldman talked about it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the popular Food Network series, and ever since I tried it, I’m hopeless to find any other dessert that compares. There’s also a great brunch menu on the weekends if you’re looking for a good spot to take your family!
Must Order: C.M.P.

Best Seafood
The Black Olive
814 South Bond Street // (410) 276-7141

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at The Black Olive my first time was the fresh fish all laid out on ice in the center of the restaurant. I watched as servers brought their diners over to show them what they had to offer for the evening and observed as piece by piece, the fish started to disappear to the kitchen to be grilled, fried and blackened to serve the eagerly awaiting diners. I remember desperately hoping that the fish that caught my eye wouldn’t be gone once I sat down. Baltimore has a great collection of Mediterranean places but I love this one because of the fresh seafood they offer as well. You can order small plates with garlicky hummus and babaganoush, and for your entrée, you can order the freshest fish the city has to offer. This place is nice – white tablecloth nice – and perfect for a special occasion (we already have a reservation for graduation night). It’s also a great place for a date with a special someone.
Must Order: Stuffed Baby Calamari

Best Girls’ Night Out
1606 Thames Street // (410) 563-7600

My friends and I started coming here freshman year for the great Mediterranean-inspired small plates. Once we tried the barbecue salmon and tender lamb giouvetsi, we were smitten. It quickly became our favorite restaurant and whenever we wanted to go out to dinner, we chose to come here. Eventually we realized that Baltimore has an awesome restaurant scene and we were doing ourselves an injustice by not varying our options at all, but it’s still our favorite. It’s a great place to come with your girlfriends and spend the night getting lost in conversation as waiters bring plate after small plate of delicious Mediterranean dishes. And don’t forget the sangria! Their recipe is top secret (I’ve asked) and our favorite way to order is to mix half red and half white. The best part, of course, is munching on the drunken fruit at the end of the glass. A very sweet way to end a perfect meal!
Must Order: Barbeque Salmon

Best Gelato
802 South Broadway // (410) 236-0741

I spent a month studying art history in Florence my sophomore year and it was perhaps my all-time favorite culinary experience. What could be better then fresh pizza, pasta and gelato whenever I wanted it? I thought I had died and gone to heaven the first time I had pistachio and hazelnut gelato in Florence and worried desperately about what I was going to do when I would not be able to get my daily dose of the most delicious thing on earth. Then I found Pitango. This cute little gelato shop in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore features all of the classic gelato flavors you’d find at a gelataria in Italy. It’s so good that it really did remind me of what I ate when I was abroad, so much so that I crave this gelato whenever I’m in a five-mile radius of Fells Point. I’ll be at a great restaurant downtown for dinner but will opt to skip dessert just so I can come here. My personal favorite is chocolate hazelnut and pistachio. And now I’m getting hungry.
Must Order: Chocolate-Hazelnut

Best Date Night
Tapas Teatro and The Charles Theater
1711 North Charles Street // (410) 332-0110

Tapas Teatro is another great small plates restaurant in Baltimore. The dishes have a Spanish flair and some of my favorites include the croquetas and paella. The sangria is also devilishly good, but don’t be fooled by how sweet it is – the stuff is strong! What is really great about this place is that it is connected to the Charles Theater, where a handful of good, often artsy movies play daily. I love to come here and eat and then see a movie, or see an earlier movie and end the night with a delicious meal. It’s also a good date night place because you have the movie theater right next door and you have to share the dishes since they’re all small plates – attn: guys: this is romantic and provides for a lot of chivalry and flirting opportunities!
Must Order: Sangria

Best Bakery
222 Albemarle Street // (410) 685-4905

Baltimore’s Little Italy has a ton of great restaurants with all of the specialties but when I come to this neighborhood the only thing I want is a cannoli from Vaccaro’s. This place is the real deal, totally old school, family-owned and the cannolis taste like your best friend’s Italian grandmother made them from scratch. They rival the best I’ve had in New York City, and I’ve eaten a lot of cannolis! Every Monday night from 6-9 p.m. Vaccaro’s offers all-you-can-eat dessert and coffee for just sixteen dollars. This sounds totally dangerous but something you might have to do (at least once!) Senior year bucket list, anyone?
Must Order: Cannoli

Best BYOB and Pizza
818 North Calvert Street // (410) 528-0818

This place is great if you’re looking to go to a fun dinner with friends but without all the fuss. Iggies is really laid back – you order your pizza at the counter, set your table with tableware and wine glasses all provided, uncork your BYOB wine and spend the night eating pizza and drinking for as long as you want. This isn’t your traditional Italian pizza – it’s a little bit “fancy,” even trendy, if you will. There’s always a pizza of the month. My favorites include the Alice, with goat cheese, tomato, and pesto and my recent favorite order was a pizza with pistachios on top!
Must Order: Alice, Verdura Fresca

Best Yoga
Bikram Hampden and Charm City Yoga
Bikram – 911 W. 36th Street // (410) 243-2040
Charm City Yoga – multiple locations

I really enjoy yoga and enjoy practicing Bikram as well as regular vinyasa. Bikram Hampden is a great studio if you have been practicing for a while but it’s also a great place if you’ve never practiced and are looking to give it a shot. Charm City Yoga is a lot like any other yoga place you’ve probably been to, but they have a really great hot vinyasa class that gives you a great workout and plays fun music too. Charm City Yoga also has many different locations around the city so it’s really convenient with many different class times to fit your busy schedule.

Best Food Truck
The Gypsy Queen Cafe

I am one of the food chairs for our big campus Spring Fair every year, so I have to be up to date on the Baltimore food scene. So when food trucks took the Baltimore food scene by storm last year, I was always excited to explore and try the newest truck with unique offerings. The Gypsy Queen Café is my favorite food truck and we’re really hoping they’ll come to our fair this year. I like this food truck because of its variety. A lot of times a food truck has a specialty – burgers, tacos, cupcakes. But I can be indecisive and often don’t decide what I’m going to order until the last possible second, so a truck that limiting is not the truck for me. At Gypsy Queen you can order everything from mac and cheese, to crab cake sliders, to a falafel pita sandwich. You can even order dessert! I love this truck because the food is consistently good and they always have something that strikes my mood.
Must Order: Mac and Cheese in a Cone

Best Pretty Neighborhood to Walk Around on a Nice Day
Mount Vernon

Baltimore is divided into neighborhoods, each known for a different thing. You’re going to find a bunch of great restaurants and a cool bar scene down on the water in Fells Point. Go to Harbor East for shopping and dining with your girlfriends. Head to Federal Hill if you’re looking for a crazy night. But if you’re looking for a truly beautiful part of Baltimore, Mount Vernon is the place to go. It’s only five minutes from campus, about midway before you hit downtown. Mount Vernon has a bunch of my favorite restaurants (Iggies, The Helmand) and it’s a really gorgeous neighborhood. I love to spend time walking around here especially since it’s such a short distance from campus. You can stop and marvel at the gorgeous Peabody Library, or spend the afternoon taking in ancient sculpture at the Walters Art Museum. And after you spend some time being intellectual, don’t forget to have a meal! Mount Vernon has some of the best restaurants in the city.

Best Ethnic
The Helmand
806 North Charles Street // – (410) 752-0311

Afghan food is similar to Indian food, but still quite different. I love Indian food but Afghan is great if you want something warm, like curry, but aren’t looking for food as spicy as Indian. My favorite dish here is a pumpkin appetizer that comes with yogurt. It’s salty and sweet and I love soaking it up with the warm naan the servers bring to your table. Look for tender chicken and vegetable curry dishes with aromatic rice. Dishes range from not spicy at all to too spicy, so be sure to talk to your server about what degree of hot you’re looking for. And don’t forget to order the special ice cream for dessert. It tastes like cardamom and comes with figs and dates and is perfectly refreshing after a warm, heavier meal.
Must Order: Kaddo Borwani (Pumpkin appetizer)

Best Thai
Thai Arroy
1019 Light Street // (410) 385-8587

This is consistently listed as one of Baltimore’s best Thai restaurants, and for good reason! It’s actually one of the first restaurants I fell in love with in this city. I came here with my family the day they were leaving to drop me off my freshman year. It was my birthday and we were looking for a place to celebrate. I’m not entirely sure how we decided on this place, since it’s sort of a tiny hole in the wall all the way down in Federal Hill (which is way beyond campus) but we were blown away at the authenticity of the dishes. The restaurant is BYOB, tiny, and very popular on the weekends, so don’t come here if you’re looking to relax and unwind over a long dinner. The menus can be quaintly handwritten and the owners are warm and welcoming. The food is spicy and authentically Thai. You won’t find better anywhere else in town!
Must Order: Green Curry

Best Hidden Culinary Adventure
2127 East Pratt Street # 1 // (410) 276-5480

Whenever I try to convince someone that Baltimore is a truly great food town, I talk about this restaurant. Chef Jason Ambrose’s menu changes on a pretty regular basis but you can always count on it for truly great, unique food. The duck fat French fries appetizer is an absolute must, and favorite dishes in the past have included scallops, vegetable ratatouille, and porcini mushrooms. This restaurant is sort of off the beaten path, on a small street somewhere between Fells Point and Canton, another Baltimore neighborhood, but it is absolutely not to be missed. I love this place because it is small enough that you truly feel like you’re having a unique dining experience. It makes you realize that you are fortunate to be among such a small group of people and that the person that made your dish thought through every aspect, every bite. You can really taste the effort.
Must Order: Duck Fat French Fries

Best Seasonal Excursion
Waverly Farmers’ Market
E. 32nd Street and Barclay Street

This farmers’ market is actually open all year round but I really despise the cold and it’s hard enough to get me out of my bed in the winter, let alone walk around in the cold at the farmers’ market. I love this market because it’s small enough that it isn’t overwhelming but it has everything I need to get me through the week. I always buy my produce here (well, at least through November) as well as fresh bread, pumpkin butter in the fall, and granola. The people who work at the stands are really nice and I love the sense of community I feel when I’m walking through the stalls, discussing the state of a farmers’ honeycrisp apples with him as seriously as if I had brought up a political issue. I always feel like I am a real member of the Baltimore community when I spend my Saturdays here, as opposed to just a member of the Hopkins community.

Originally posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012

9 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Baltimore, MD”

  1. Aaron

    March 15th, 2012

    Great post Katie. Love the “Best Date Night”. That was my first date with Julie. Clearly it worked out pretty well!

  2. Euna Kwon

    March 15th, 2012

    Awesome post! You really captured the heart and character of so many places I have grown to know and enjoy as well. You have written a great Baltimore love story and it is fabulous!

  3. Barbara Figge Fox

    March 16th, 2012

    Thank you, thank you Katie! Because we ‘left’ Baltimore 50 years ago, returning only to visit family, we never knew these way-cool spots. You’ve given us a reason to return ‘just because’ and now we can graze more widely. Plus — you’re a great writer. (Wonder where you got THAT talent, smile!) Am sending this to all my high school friends…

  4. Katie Brossman

    March 16th, 2012

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I really had a great time working on it. Now that I’m a senior, it’s nice to have all of my favorite places recorded in one place so I can have it forever!

  5. Katie Brossman

    March 16th, 2012

    Thanks, Aaron!

  6. Meredith Gould

    March 16th, 2012

    You captured the area around JHU perfectly! I moved here two years ago and am still discovering the places you’ve mentioned. Clearly, I have catching up to! Great writing.

  7. Katie Brossman

    March 18th, 2012

    Thank you!! Let me know what your favorite places are when you go back!

  8. Katie Brossman

    March 18th, 2012

    Thanks! I hope you enjoy trying new places :)

  9. Euna Kwon

    September 18th, 2012

    I just re-read this for the first time in a long time and am awash with nostalgia for all of these lovely and unique places you have captured so perfectly.

    It is a beautiful primer for all visitors to Baltimore-new and old- as well as long-time residents because of the obvious hard work and love you have poured into the exploration and writing of your favorite places.

    You have written many wonderful things, but of everything, this ranks as one of my top choices because of the heart and soul that is so evident! Bravo! Love this piece! When are we going back to Baltimore?

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