Top Ten New Restaurants of 2016

1. Gunther & Co. (3650 Toone St., [443] 869-6874, eatatgunther.com)

When I walked through the doors of Gunther & Co., the first large-scale restaurant that has opened in Canton in a while, I was taken aback with how owners Nancy Hart and Jerry Trice (who’s also the chef) reimagined the former Gunther Brewing Company’s boiler room. Large steel beams crisscross over original brick walls while modern banquettes and light fixtures sophisticate the space’s original grittiness; a towering, leafy living wall watches over a marble open-kitchen, and the open kitchen design allows diners to catch a glimpse into the place where the magic happens. On one visit, the Thai hot pot brought a grin to my face, with its bounty of seafood nestled into a spicy coconut milk broth, and on another, the delicate tea-smoked duck breast had me plotting my next trip there. (Ryan Detter)

2. Colette (1709 N. Charles St., [443] 835-2945, colettebaltimore.com)

Warm, welcoming, and romantically lit, Colette is one of the coziest restaurants in Charles North. Always start with an enticing drink from their classic cocktail menu and of course, the playfully sweet and salty gruyere beignets, drizzled with sticky honey and flaky sea salt. Then venture through their French-inspired seasonal small plates and entrées, which can range from spiced lamb crépinettes to fresh steak tartare to a whole herbed branzino. Affable servers and bartenders are expertly versed in the intricacies of Colette’s menu and will guide you through a comforting meal that is so perfectly paired to your palette that this place will feel like home in no time. (Casey Embert)

3. Cosima (Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Road, [443] 708-7352, cosimamill1.com)

Couple the smartly renovated mill space and its inviting outdoor patio overlooking the Jones Falls with Donna Crivello’s lovely food, and you’ve got a combination that’s hard to beat. Cosima is not inexpensive, though those with less to spend can take advantage of happy hour offerings and a hearty array of small plates like the heavenly arancini and lighter-than-light fritto misto di pesce. A thoughtful, all-Italian wine list is a treat in itself, as is Crivello’s gracious hospitality. (Mary Zajac)

4. Paulie Gee’s (3535 Chestnut Ave., [410] 889-1048, pauliegee.com/hampden)

Has a pizza joint ever engendered as much anticipation as Paulie Gee’s? Baltimoreans waited for years for the local opening of the Brooklyn franchise. And while there has been a steady amount of tweaking of the menu and bar offerings, Paulie Gee’s does not disappoint and often delights. Tucked in between the more traditional pie offerings laden with soppressata or guanciale, you’ll find pizzas drizzled in Mike’s Hot Honey or layered with dried cherries or lemon slices, with ingredients that go south (Blue Pit BBQ) or north (maple syrup and Canadian bacon) and even vegan (house made vegan sausage and cashew ricotta). A welcome addition to the Hampden dining scene. (MZ)

5. Ekiben (1622 Eastern Ave., [410] 558-1914, ekibenbaltimore.com)

The boys of Ekiben totally leveled up their steamed bun operation this year by transforming their popular Fells Point farmer’s market cart into a full-fledged, brick-and-mortar location off Eastern Avenue. UMBC alumni Ephrem Abebe, Steve Chu, and Nick Yesupriya are slinging some seriously delicious steamed buns and rice bowls. Their pillowy steamed buns are stuffed to maximum capacity with Thai chicken meatballs smothered in a sweet and spicy coconut peppercorn sauce or a massive Taiwanese curry fried chicken thigh and a heaping dollop of spicy sambal mayo. And eating your vegetables has never been easier with their famous tempura broccoli, which flaunts their unrivaled fresh herb game. With an exciting rotating menu and a super chill, hip-hop soundtracked atmosphere, Ekiben demands repeat visits. (CE)

6. Dovecote Cafe (2501 Madison Ave., #1F, [443] 961-8677, dovecotecafe.com)

Yes, the food at Dovecote is good—get a coffee or tea with a pastry or panini—but what’s most magical about Dovecote is the energy. You feel welcomed there in a way you don’t always feel in other places to eat in Baltimore. Try to go in and sit down without having one of the owners greet you with a sunny smile—it’s impossible. When I interviewed owner Aisha Pew about the place a few months back, she told me she came to Baltimore looking for a place to “create something that is actually inspiring and moves people past anger.” I wrote that it feels like an incubator for black creatives and black businesses. As the cultural climate expands against the civil rights struggle, this stuff matters. (Lisa Snowden-McCray)

7. Breaking Bread (771 Washington Blvd., [443] 708-1903, facebook.com/breakingbread771)

Breaking Bread, a comfort food BYOB and catering business, settled in its Washington Boulevard spot in Pigtown late last year after we had settled on our Top Tens for 2015, so we’re counting it in now—partly because we’ve been craving chef Kimberly Ellis’ “famous” sticky wings all year. Drenched in a revelatory honey sauce with a slight kick, the wings are Breaking Bread’s crown jewel, but the fresh burgers, daily soups, otherworldly bread pudding, and “awesome fries” (topped with pulled, slow-cooked barbecue beef, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and scallions; oh man) are not to be missed, either. And we couldn’t feel more welcomed by the staff, many of whom are members of Ellis’ large, charming family. (Maura Callahan)

8. Shorty’s Bootleg BBQ (3400 S. Hanover St., [443] 831-1188)

Duane “Shorty” Davis is all the things—activist, artist, filmmaker, homeless advocate, organizational wizard, and this year’s Best Baltimorean according to us—yet most of these activities draw on his experiences cooking. For about a decade, Shorty ran Shorty’s Pit Beef & Ribs, which moved around but began at Greenspring Station. It shuttered in the late 2000s, and some of the best pit beef in the city was gone. He’d still bring out the grill for special events, catering, and to feed the homeless, until this year, when he resurrected his food hustle as Shorty’s Bootleg BBQ (“So good it’s illegal”), a rando pop-up spot for delicious meats that might show up in an empty gas station on Route 40 or near CVS on the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s funeral. That continues, but more recently Shorty’s got a dependable spot too—in Brooklyn on Hanover Street, in front of O’Flynn’s Crab & Cask House where he cooks just-right pit beef, ribs, and beer can chicken. (Brandon Soderberg)

9. La Food Marketa (2620 Quarry Lake Drive, [410] 415-0606, lafoodmarketa.com)

Chef Chad Gauss, of Hampden’s bustling modern American eatery The Food Market, embarked on his second local venture in September with partner Chef Johntay Bedingfield. Located in the Quarry Lake Shops, La Food Marketa serves up inventive twists on South American cuisine in a warm, inviting space. The tiered menu—ranging from small shareables to full-size entrées—boasts a multitude of exciting flavors, like sweet, coconut-y Brazilian shrimp, cheesy and spicy Mexican street cauliflower, and smoky Peruvian chicken fajitas. Pair it all up with a few rounds of minty mojitos or refreshing margaritas and you’ll be rest assured that life is a little better South of the border. (CE)

10. The Room (800 St. Paul St., [443] 438-7889, theroom800.com)

Run by Andre Mazelin, formerly of Creative Alliance, the slick bar/eatery opened this year in the Mount Vernon space that used to house Red Emma’s. The Room isn’t really a place for a sit-down dinner. Instead, prepare to sip a drink and hang out for a bit. Mazelin offers snack-y things like salads and paninis, guacamole and chips—served with coffee drinks, teas, wine, or beer. The food is good, and the place just looks cool, too—a colorful, geometric pattern decorates the ceiling and stands in stark contrast to the bright, white walls. Many of the wooden tables have a checkerboard design so that you can play a game while you nibble. You can play barfly at the Room’s smooth, oak bar, people-watch at windows that give you a street-level view of passersby, or snuggle down on the bright orange couch. (LS)

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