Top Ten New Restaurants of 2015

1. Clavel (225 W. 23rd St.,[443] 900-8983, barclavel.com) There's a lot to love about this new mezcaleria and taqueria from Lane Harlan, also the owner of speakeasy W.C. Harlan located nearby. It boasts a long list—Harlan has called it a "library"—of mezcals, the Mexican spirit that's distilled from agave plants. The atmosphere is comfortable and bright, lacking the manufactured twee that characterizes W.C. Harlan. And the food is delightfully delicious, with a menu of carefully curated, authentic-tasting small Mexican dishes. The dainty tacos are ideal for mixing and matching flavors, and we haven't stopped drooling over the aguachile ceviche (see page 31) ever since we first ordered it. This is a place where you'll want to linger awhile with friends. (Anna Walsh)

2. La Cuchara (3600 Clipper Mill Road, [443] 708-3838, lacucharabaltimore.com) This Basque restaurant boasts both an elegantly crafted menu and an obsessive staff that moves through the large, modern-feeling space like clockwork, one staffer bringing your dishes, another refilling your water glasses, yet another stealthily whisking away your emptied plates from the table. The carefully efficient service complements the carefully crafted menu: The dishes here change frequently, but on our last visit, we adored nearly everything we tried, from the smoked mussels pintxos—a singular mussel, flanked on a food pick by olives and piquillo peppers—to a tapas dish of elegantly plated charred peach halves, to the duck confit that paired crunchy, crisp skin with tender duck meat and unbelievably good gnocchi on the side. (AW)

3. Alma Cocina Latina (2400 Boston St., [667] 212-4273, almalatinacocina.com) Try an arepa, bulging with slow roasted beef in sticky caramel sauce at Alma Cocina Latina, and you will be convinced that Baltimore has needed—really needed—a pan-Latin American restaurant. The creation of native Venezuelan (and now longtime Baltimorean) Irena Stein, Alma is at once casual and magical—a place that actively welcomes families with children, but still feels special enough for date night. Dishes are built around components like tiger's milk and grapefruit meringue, crispy cassava and melao de papelon, and the cocktails look too pretty to drink (but taste even better than they look). Stein's graciousness imbues the atmosphere at Alma, which begs return visits. (Mary Zajac)

4. Azumi (725 Aliceanna St., [443] 220-0477, azumirestaurant.com) What's there to say about Azumi that hasn't already been said? The best sushi in the city, some of the most decadent ingredients available (Wagyu beef, king crab legs the size a femur, live sea urchin), an extensive list of hard-to-find Japanese whiskeys and sakes, all presented gorgeously in a dark, swank Asian lair boasting some of the best views of the harbor in the city. After taking over the previously loved Pabu space, Azumi has made believers out of us, even if the cost prohibits us from visiting other than the rare special occasion or to quench an impromptu hunger for the best fish in the city. (Ryan Detter)

5. Encantada (800 Key Highway, [410] 752-1000, encantadabaltimore.com) This vegetable-oriented restaurant boasts the same colorful, boisterous aesthetic as the museum it's located in—Encantada lives on the third floor of the American Visionary Art Museum. And the offerings here frequently have a sense of playfulness to match the decor: turnips cooked to resemble deviled eggs, a cabbage-based "magic velvet blue ice" square that changes the color of the cocktail it's in, cauliflower prepared Nashville style with hot sauce and vegan ranch dressing. Devoted carnivores needn't worry, as there are meat entrees here that sit comfortably on the more high-brow end of American cuisine. (AW)

6. Clark Burger (5906 York Road, [410] 323-2356, clark-burger.com) 2015 was the year that poutine, an eastern-Canada treat of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, finally arrived in Baltimore, and that was in large part thanks to Clark Burger, a counter-service restaurant next to the Senator Theatre that's owned by a real native Canadian. The french fries here are sturdy and tasty, the gravy is herbaceous, and the cheese curds (aka the solid parts of soured milk—it tastes better than it sounds) are tasty and squeak between your teeth, as cheese curds should. And don't miss the burgers here: The patties aren't huge meaty behemoths, but the well-cooked meat still packs plenty of flavor. (AW)

7. Lobo (1900 Aliceanna St., [410] 327-0303, lobofellspoint.com) In a town that prides itself on its unpretentiousness, it's easy to see why people have taken so enthusiastically to this little hidden gem that sits on a quiet corner in Fells Point. With all food coming out of its modestly appointed open kitchen and raw bar, you'd never guess Lobo had any limitations from the bold flavors that are delivered to the table. From its soul-warming Manhattan seafood soup, to its melt-in-your-mouth sandwiches and a "cheeseburger" tartare that will have you "WTF"-ing at its arrival, Lobo's food is equal parts comforting, high-end without seeming fancy, and sneakily good. (RD)

8. 1157 Bar + Kitchen (1157 Haubert St., [443] 449-5525, facebook.com/1157barandkitchen) It may be hard to find a seat in this tiny-but-well-appointed spot in Locust Point, and that's probably because chef/owner Jason Ambrose has taken what he's done so well at Salt in Butchers Hill and translated it into a more casual concept without skimping on the end result: flavor. Previously a corner dive bar, 1157 has been transformed into a modern-yet-warm oasis that boasts a well-curated drinks menu and offers can't-miss shareable plates, an array of high-end sandwich boards (braised short rib melt, please), and a rotating pair of entrees that have featured bold ingredients such as wild boar and rabbit. The menu changes on the regular, which makes for the perfect excuse to return time and time again. (RD)

9. Mare Nostrum (716 S. Broadway, [410] 327 6173, marenostrumbaltimore.com) When you think seafood and Fells Point, Turkish cuisine doesn't necessarily come to mind. But it should. Mare Nostrum, which is Latin for "our sea" and refers to the Mediterranean, flies in fish from the Aegean Sea each day and the freshness really shows. The bronzini is banging and the grilled octopus is outlandishly good. But it's not just the seafood that makes the place. The adana kabab, a spicy lamb dish, is spectacular—even the bread is great. But remember it's BYOB. (Baynard Woods)

10. Delights by Mina (105 N. Charles St., [410] 637-3637, delightsbymina.com) One of our favorite things about Baltimore's food scene these days is how increasingly international it's becoming. While there have been a few Ethiopian restaurants in the city for a while, other African cuisines are starting to get more representation here, including West African food at Delights by Mina. If you want a crash course on the various West African cuisines, go to this new downtown spot on a Thursday or Friday to get the lunch buffet and try sweet plantains, thickly glazed peanut butter chicken, or Senegalese tiebou yap, a savory jasmine rice with meat and corn. (AW)

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