13 Quintessential Baltimore Bites to Try Right Now
From crab cakes to crushes to snowballs and lemon sticks, Baltimore has other cities beat when it comes to these bites.
When it comes to cuisine, Charm City’s always been ahead of the curve. In a city full of creative makers, innovators and entrepreneurs, it follows that our food and beverage scene would be unlike anywhere else’s. The items on this list embody Baltimore’s eclectic taste, from snacks you won’t see anywhere else (such as lemon sticks and snowballs) to dishes that Baltimoreans just do better (such as steamed crab with Old Bay seasoning). No matter what you’re craving, one of these quintessential Baltimore bites is sure to satisfy.
It doesn’t get more Baltimore than steamed (note: not boiled) Maryland blue crabs—named for the color of their claws pre-cooked. While this crustacean comes in many forms, there’s nothing like a good ol’ summer crab feast, best enjoyed outside with friends and lots of fixings (butter, Old Bay and ice cold beer). Need help getting started? Check out our video on how to pick a crab.
If you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty, you can’t go wrong with a classic crab cake. The famous Faidley’s Seafood, a family-run business located in the historic Lexington Market, has been serving theirs since 1886, and people from all over the country flock to Charm City just to try them. TODAY’s Al Roker even visited recently to film a segment for his “Family Style” food series. Other places to grab a crab cake include Koco’s Pub (Mayor Brandon Scott’s favorite!) or Pappas, the preferred choice of Oprah Winfrey. And in case you’re wondering what differentiates Charm City’s crab cakes from the rest of the country’s—the proof is in the filling (or lack thereof). Here, restaurants pack in the meat, so you’re guaranteed to get the most bang, and flavor, for your buck.
Also located in Lexington Market, Berger’s Bakery is a beloved Baltimore institution. They’ve dished out their signature treat, which consists of a soft cake-like cookie coated in a rich fudge frosting, since 1835 when German immigrant Henry Berger opened his first bakery in East Baltimore. You’ll also commonly find these treats in grocery stores in the area.
By now you’re probably thinking: are there really that many ways to eat a crab? But the thing about Baltimoreans is we’re not afraid to experiment, and when your seafood is this fresh, you might as well work it into as many meals as possible. Find crab dip in its traditional form at just about every seafood restaurant in the city, but some of our favorites are Nacho Mama’s in Canton, Pratt Street Ale House along the Inner Harbor or Alexander’s Tavern in Fell’s Point. Or, get creative at places like Camden Yards, where you can find crab dip on french fries, kettle chips, hot dogs, soft pretzels and more.
This unofficial summer drink of Maryland consists of juice from a fresh-squeezed orange, vodka, triple sec and, most importantly, crushed ice. The cocktail was created by Ocean City bartenders in the late 1990s and quickly made its way to beach towns along the East Coast. We might be biased, but we think Baltimore has those other cities beat when it comes to the crush’s execution—many establishments are equipped with industrial-grade juice presses and ice machines to get them right every time. Orange is the classic flavor, but you’ll find all sorts of variations in Baltimore, including lemon stick and cherry lime-aid from AJ’s on Hanover and blackberry & basil and sweet tea from Mama’s on the Half Shell.
Named for the state flower of Maryland, the Black-Eyed Susan has been the official cocktail of the Preakness Stakes since the 1950s. It consists of Maker’s Mark, DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps, Effen vodka, orange juice and sour mix. Pick up the official version in a commemorative glass while cheering on the horses on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico, or keep an eye out at local bars.
When you’ve finally had your fill of blue crab, opt for fresh oysters plucked straight from the Chesapeake Bay! In fact, Baltimore once held the nickname Oyster City, which isn’t surprising considering how many mollusks reside in our waters (400 million according to a recent count). And we serve them every way possible—steamed, fried, raw, char-grilled and more. Find them at some of our favorite seafood restaurants in Baltimore, such as Bertha’s, The Urban Oyster, Thames Street Oyster House and True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
Beat the summer heat in Baltimore with a snowball, a cup of finely shaved ice covered with flavored syrup. Although there are dozens of flavors to choose from, egg custard (plus a dollop of marshmallow on top) is the most traditional and favored by many locals. There are dozens of snowball stands scattered throughout the Baltimore region, but each one has its own signature style. Ice Queens in Locust Point is known for its New Orleans-style of shaved ice and vast assortment of flavors. Walther Gardens, the oldest snowball stand in the region, is a scenic farm-like property that also sells flowers, herbs and skincare products. And Hampden’s Quality Snowballs is operated out of a converted shipping container.
While not technically a bite on its own, no crab dish is complete without Old Bay seasoning. The blend of 18 spices was invented by German immigrant Gustav Brunn in the 1940s and bought by the Baltimore-based McCormick and Co. in 1990. And it’s not just for seafood! Baltimoreans put it on pizza, wings, popcorn, fries and even elote. Once you’ve acquired your inevitable Old Bay obsession, shop McCormick’s website for some seriously spicy branded merchandise, from inflatable pools to baseball caps and dog collars.
Everyone in Baltimore operates under the warm and watchful eye of Mr. Boh, the cheeky iconic emblem of National Bohemian Beer that’s plastered to, and illuminates, the Natty Boh Tower in Brewers Hill. The beer company, now owned by Pabst, began brewing in Charm City in 1885, survived Prohibition and gained recognition as the national beer of Baltimore in the 1960’s. Though Natty Boh is no longer manufactured in Baltimore, the city still accounts for 90% of its sales and it remains a fixture at Orioles and Ravens tailgates.
When Adam Otterbein first opened his bakery near Fort McHenry in 1881, he couldn’t have anticipated that his business would one day sell over one million cookies each year. But five generations later, Baltimoreans still can’t get enough of the crispy, buttery, imperfectly shaped cookies. They come in six flavors—lemon sugar, double chocolate, ginger, sugar, oatmeal raisin and the most popular, chocolate chip. Find them at grocery and convenient stores around the region.
This savory dish is a local delicacy made from a mixture of potatoes, eggs, onions, saltine crackers and cod fish, rolled in a batter and then deep fried. The meal was ubiquitous in Baltimore in the 50s and 60s, and though today it’s not as prominent as the crab cake, you can find it at church fundraisers and long-running seafood establishments like Faidley’s, Pappas and Dylan’s Oyster Cellar.
Its formula is simple – a peppermint stick wedged into a halved lemon – but this Charm City snack engages all your senses. As you sip on your peppermint straw, the saccharine taste merges with the tangy lemon to create one stellar sweet-and-sour treat that smells as great as it tastes. No one knows quite how the lemon stick landed in Baltimore, but local lore traces the lemon stick’s origins in Baltimore to the first Mount Vernon Place Flower Mart in 1911. That same Flower Mart is still going strong today, taking place toward the end of April every year.