Let's start with an easy one.
|spicy wontons in red oil at Red Pepper|
Top 3 Favorite Chinese Restaurants
Just a few years ago, this category would have been impossible. While there are tons of mom-and-pop Chinese carry-outs in the Baltimore area, I wouldn't say any of the ones I've visited were great. And larger-scale restaurants like Szechuan House in Timonium were just...ok. (I know that restaurant had a lot of fans, which was perplexing.) If Mr Minx and I wanted really good Chinese food, we had to schlep out to Odenton for Grace Garden or to Catonsville for Hunan Taste. But now there are three relatively new restaurants in the northern Baltimore County area, each with its own strengths.
1. Red Pepper - Pretty much everything here is spicy-hot, so not for wimpy palates. The menu is fairly long and somewhat exotic, featuring dishes made with rabbit, or guts. We enjoy spicy food though, and have never had a disappointing meal here. (11 Allegheny Ave, Towson, MD 21204)
2. Asian Kebab & Hot Pot - We were sad when Hunan Taste suddenly closed, but overjoyed when that restaurant's owners opened Asian Kebab much closer to us. While cooking skewers of meat and dunking bits of this and that into bubbling tabletop hot pots can be fun, the kitchen dishes are excellent and not to be missed. The ma po tofu is outrageously good, and we have enjoyed the pea shoots and Kung Pao chicken as well. (1414 York Rd, Lutherville Timonium, MD, 21093)
3. Kung Fu 12 - This restaurant replaced Szechuan House and we found it a welcome change. Everything was remodeled, from the decor to the food. The menu is a nice blend of Chinese restaurant favorites like beef broccoli and moo shu pork with more authentic dishes like boiled spicy fish, sin chew rice noodles (aka Singapore noodles), and beer-cooked duck. I really enjoy the Shanghai braised pork belly and the salt and pepper squid. (1427 York Road, Timonium, MD, 21093)
Honorable mention: The Orient in Perry Hall serves plenty of classic American-style Chinese dishes, but also excellent Singapore noodles, salt-and-pepper shrimp, and crispy sesame eggplant. Portions are generous and we're always happy with leftovers. (9545 Belair Rd, Nottingham, MD 21236)
|salmon at La Calle|
Top 3 Favorite Mexican Restaurants
I love Mexican and Tex-Mex food and attempt to make it at home fairly regularly with varying degrees of success. Or, more accurately, I add Mexican flavors to a dish that might not be Mexican in origin. There are several Mexican restaurants in our area, many seeming to cater too much to gringo tastes. My number one complaint about those restaurants is that meats can be under-seasoned and dry. (I almost always regret ordering chicken.)
1. La Calle - It's good to have at least one upscale Mexican place in the area, serving foods other than tacos and burritos (though they do offer tacos). This pretty restaurant, on the edge of Baltimore's business district, consistently has the best salmon in town. I know, because I've ordered it at least ten of the dozen times I've eaten there. The skin is always crisp, the meat done to that perfectly "blubbery" texture (thanks to Tyler Florence for that apt descriptor), with just the right amount of seasoning and sauce, and an interesting veg accompaniment in the broccolini. Everything else we've tried there is very good, including the ceviches, the sandwiches, and yes, the tacos. (10 South St, Baltimore, MD 21202)
2. R&R Taqueria - When my Dad was in assisted living in the White Marsh area, we went to R&R quite a bit. While he preferred the more safe taco fillings, like carnitas and chicken tinga, I always went for the offal. Lengua (beef tongue), buche (pig stomach), and cabeza (cow head, no longer offered), were my favorites, all stewed to tenderness but not without a little texture. I am also a fan of their fluffy and light tamales, which I get smothered in not-too-spicy mole sauce, and the torta with milanesa de res (breaded and fried beef cutlets). (5005 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall, MD 21128)
3. El Salto - This local mini-chain offers the stuff we 'muricans grew up eating: hard-shell tacos with ground beef or shredded chicken; taco salads; platters featuring various combos of enchiladas, burritos, and tacos; addictive queso con chorizo with thin crispy tortilla chips; nachos. But their large menu also includes egg dishes, chilaquiles, shrimp dishes, fajitas, and a T-bone steak. We get something different every time, but I am partial to the chicken tamales topped with more chicken, and the chiles rellenos. (8816 Waltham Woods Rd, Parkville, MD 21234)
Honorable mentions: La Food Marketa. This inauthentic, white man's version of the foods of Mexico and other Latin American countries can't be called a true Mexican restaurant, but everything from the tacos to the reuben quesadilla tastes great. We like to order several of their interesting apps and a sangria and call it dinner. The loaded yuca fries are a must-try. (2620 Quarry Lake Dr, Baltimore, MD 21209) Fiesta Mexicana has not only tortas but also pambazo, in which the buns are coated with a spicy chile sauce. And they're the only place I know of that makes quesadillas with fried masa, rather than with flour tortillas. But their taco meat is often dry and chewy. (8436 Philadelphia Rd, Rosedale, MD 21237).
|pepperoni deliciousness from Hersh's|
Top 5 Favorite Pizza Joints
Here's another category that would have had very few contenders just a handful of years ago. My best friend in high school loved pizza, so I ate a lot of it in the 80s. It was mostly bad, with thick doughy crusts called "hand-tossed," or "fresh dough." As if pizza made with anything other than hand-tossed fresh dough was worth eating. However, no amount of tossing is going to make bad, underbaked, pizza good. (I'm looking at you, Papa John's, Domino's, Pizza Hut, et. al.) There are a few local joints that were popular back then and are still around today, though I have only eaten in a handful. I have determined that I prefer thin crust pizzas with somewhat esoteric toppings. Mr Minx likes NY-style pies with thin crusts that crack when folded, smothered in good old-fashioned pepperoni. There are so many good pizzas around now that it was hard to pick three. You get five, and several honorable mentions.
1. Hersh's - Hersh's Neapolitan pies cook for a mere 90 seconds at 800F in their wood-fired oven--long enough to produce beautiful leopard-spotted thin crusts just sturdy enough to hold interesting toppings like smoked mozzarella and fried eggplant (my favorite), or kale and pistachios. A shame it's so far away and requires a drive through the city, or we'd eat there often. (1843-45 Light St, Baltimore, MD 21230)
2. Squire's - We've been eating pies from Squire's since we were little kids. The sturdy crisp crust and herby sweet sauce are quite unique to this Dundalk restaurant, making it a pizza like no other. They pile on the toppings, especially on our usual order, "everything, hold the green peppers." Their meatballs are excellent, too. (6723 Holabird Ave, Baltimore, MD 21222)
3. Earth, Wood, & Fire - This place has become our go-to. We eat in the bar, as it's usually a child-free space, and always order a large Lorenzo salad with whatever it is we get for an entree. Sometimes it's wings, dry-rubbed and meaty--and once in a while a very good burger. But our favorite food option is the pizza. When they first opened, EWF's crusts were whisper-thin and crackery, but they've thickened nicely to something in between NY and Naples. I like all of their regular selections, but am happiest when they offer their jambalaya pie as a special. Loaded with shrimp, blackened chicken, andouille sausage, fresh jalapenos, provolone, mozz, and cheddar cheese on a red-sauced crust, this pizza has a lot of flavor. (1407 Clarkview Rd, Baltimore, MD 21209)
4. Paulie Gee's - Paulie Gee's is fancy and expensive, serving small pies with interesting toppings, meaty and otherwise, that are blasted in their imported Italian wood oven. They also have deck oven pies that are just as good and crispy as their original pizzas. They seem to offer either one or the other but not both on any given day. Also, this place is paradise for vegans, or the lactose-intolerant, or weirdos who like the taste of vegan sausage and non-dairy cheese. (3535 Chestnut Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211)
5. Il Basilico - The pizzas at Il Basilico are no-nonsense NY-style pies with mostly classic toppings, but also a couple with things like bbq chicken or chicken, bacon, and ranch. (Not sure why ranch dressing needs to be anywhere near a pizza, unless it's on a side salad, but I assume somebody enjoys such atrocities.) Their pasta dishes are all good, too. (49 W Aylesbury Rd, Timonium, MD 21093)
Honorable Mentions: We've only tried one pizza at Walker's Tap & Table, the Big Mac, but it was delish. Need to get back and try more. (2465 MD-97, Glenwood, MD 21738) We've tried several at Cosima, and my fave is the cape sante, with scallops, bacon, and pesto. If this was a Top 10, Cosima would be on it. (Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211) Ledo pizza almost isn't actual pizza, more like a savory pastry. Love the cannonball, topped with halved meatballs. (Over 100 locations in the Mid-Atlantic region, and coming soon to 1238 Putty Hill Road, Towson, MD 21286.) Birroteca (1520 Clipper Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211) would also make a Top 10 list, as would Ribaldi's.(3600 Keswick Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211), so why isn't this a Top 10 when there are 5 honorable mentions? Because I'm tired of writing this post... Back with more categories eventually.
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