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January 7, 2009

Baltimore's "upscale" ethnic restaurants

CarlyleClubStyle.jpgI was going to include an upscale ethnic restaurant on my wish list yesterday, my point being that Baltimoreans tend to insist that ethnic food has to be cheap, come in huge portions and be served in a hole-in-the-wall.

I got used to a very different attitude -- especially as far as Asian restaurants were concerned -- when I went out so often to visit my daughter in LA. (Sigh. I have the winter blues today.)

I still think that's our tendency as a city, but we also have some notable exceptions: the Helmand, the Ambassador, the Carlyle Club and the Mari Luna Latin Grille come to mind. ...

Among the chains, Fogo de Chao and Roy's (if you consider Hawaiian an ethnic cuisine) are pretty fancy.

They all present their food with plenty of style and in a very nice atmosphere. All have liquor licenses. You could dress up a bit for dinner at all of them without feeling out of place.

I can't decide. Are Baltimoreans more willing than they have been in the past to pay for style and ambiance with their ethnic food? That said, the Helmand has the best of both worlds. People consider it a bargain even though you can't BYOB and the dining room is candlelit and charming (when it's not too packed).

(Andre F. Chung/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:11 PM | | Comments (39)


I have found in my travels through Europe and the Near East that the best local food came from the little holes in the wall that the local people favor and tourists never see. It helps if you know a bit of the local language, but you can usually get by with a smile and some judicious finger pointing.

why can't there be a middle? I grew up in Texas and have lived in Los Angeles. There is plenty of ethnic food in both of those places that is neither fancy/high-end nor a whole-in-the wall. Is the issue maybe that we don't have much of a middle ground in Baltimore at all when it comes to dining? (other than bars that serve food?)

Black Olive

Tio Pepe

When I lived in Los Angeles, the beauty of many ethnic restaurants was the combination of wonderful food and reasonable prices. Perhaps that's changed but I think back to Thai restaurants like Natalee in Culver City (around the corner from the Sony Studios,) Mexican favorites like Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks or Casablanca in Venice and the exceptional Chinese fare at Twin Dragon in West LA. The more expensive ethnic restaurants, like Trader Vic's, were considered touristy. But that was more than ten years ago.

can't we all just get along?


Would you count the Brewers Art as either ethnic or upscale?

I'm thinking of ethnic as trying to present the cuisine of another country. Brewers Art seems to me New American with some Continental thrown in. EL

Anonymous wrote: "whole-in-the wall"

A peculiar twist on the adage.


I'd much rather go to Thai Arroy than Lemongrass. Thai Arroy has more well-spiced food, and it's BYOB. Lemongrass was a bit too pretentious for me.

And I'll take the Lebanese Taverna over the Ambassador any day. Even though it's a chain, the Taverna has better food and larger portions. The Ambassador really wows you with its setting. But the Ambassador also takes advantage of people who rarely eat Indian food. Small portions, poorly spiced, overpriced.

Our recent dialogue about what's missing from the Baltimore restaurant scene reminded me of two more absent ethnic cuisines. Indonesian, i.e. a rijstafel, where a bowl of rice serves as the base for a tantalizing succession of small dishes And a real smorgasbrod, the kind where you roam a circular buffet laden with a variety of smoked fish, salads and luscious Scandinavian specialties. Unfortunately, both would need considerable start-up capital and a good deal of promotion to attract adventurous diners and build a following. No easy order in this economy. Which suggests a long-gone (though hardly ethnic) eatery that might just make a comeback. The Horn and Hardart Automat.

My wife and I prefer places like Mugal Gardens, Thai Restaurant and (the sadly defunct) Banjara. They put out white table cloths and slightly tacky decorations to cover up unrenovated old-Baltimore spaces. These seem the most authentic and unpretentious and remind us of the wonderful types of ethnic restaurants you find by the dozen along random streets in new york, San Francisco, Toronto, etc... I guess that we are the type of Baltimorians that you refer to in the first paragraph!

Lemongrass would only be considered an ethnic restaurant in disney world.

Well worth the trip, I'd highly recommend Jalapeno's in Annapolis. It has an extensive menu of latino dishes. All that I've tried are very good to excellent! Nice atmosphere.

Adam, you make fun, but I think some of the Epcot restaurants are pretty great. I've totally enjoyed Morocco, Norway, Canada and France's fine dining restaurants. All the food was authentic and Disney employs only native countryment to work in these establishments. The king of Morocco actually participated in the building of the Epcot exhibition by sending his personal architects and artistsans. The chefs have all been trained in their home countries. I think their food is more "authentic" than anything you can get in Baltimore right now. Don't knock the Mouse!

Sorry, Joyce.... my barb was directed at Lemongrass not Disney. The mouse was an innocent bi standard. In truth, I seem to remember enjoying epcot also!

I second Jalapeno's. It is amazing.

The mouse was an innocent bi standard.

Mickey is bi?

gotcha, Adam. Barbs at Lemongrass totally cool and acceptable.

innocent bi standard


Lissa - Yes, but apparently only an average one.

I'm laughing because I'm remembering an old episode of the show Soap. The charactor played by Billy Crystal is explaining to an older woman that plenty of well known people throughout history were gay. One of the people he names is Plato, to which she replys "Mickey Mouse's dog was gay?" LOL!

Joyce - I loved that show! Remember how risque it was for having, gasp, a
G-A-Y character on it.

Trixie, I loved that show too. It was so ground breaking at the time. And so so funny!

I rate Soap the best comedy show of all time.

No, Bucky. Xena was the best comedy show of all time. Easy on the eyes, too.

Bucky & Joyce - I wonder if it is available on DVD, any idea?

Trizie -- Soap: The Complete Series is available as a box set at Amazon.

Trixie, an search reveals that, yes, Soap is available on DVD.

Lissa - I don't know that Xena was really a "comedy" but, HOT!...ya know?

How many years was Soap actually on the air? I've bought a few series DVDs and they don't tend to be cheap but that's one I'd like the whole collection of! Especially the early years where Danny had to marry the mob bosses daughter and they did the Taming of the Shrew thing!

Xena was many things, Joyce. Ester Friesman has a hilarious tribute poem to her.

According to wikipedia, Soap ran from 1977 to 1981. Which explains why I never saw it. My father would never have permitted me to view such a lewd show.

Lot of good it did, eh?

Joyce, get them from the library. If they don't have them, politely request them.

Lissa - great idea, since my son has gotten older and the internet has grown up too, I tend to forget the library. Time to visit. - I'm wondering how Soap held up with time. When it was new it was hilarious.

Thanks hmpstd and Lissa! Hope I did not come across as lazy, I posted that on my way out to watch the Ravens game ( Go Ravens!), did not have time then to research. Appreciate the info.

Joyce - I have a feeling that we would appreciate it now as much, if not more, as we did when we were younger. I mean Bert's whole "invisable thing" is timeless!

All four season of Soap are also available from Netflix.

Wow - it's hard to believe that there were only 4 seasons of Soap. So much happened on there all the time it seemed like it was on much longer!

I somehow lost track of this discussion (yesterday was a bad day...the lamp blew out in my television and I discovered that retailers don't carry replacement lamps, they have to be ordered. It takes three freakin' days to get here, which means Wednesday at the earliest, but more likely Thursday. American Idol starts on Tuesday.)

Anyway, hmpstd answered the question, yes Soap is on DVD and RtSO noted they are available from Netflix, which is where I got them. And, Joyce, I think they held up well.

The best ethnic restaurant.....OOOHH
Shiny DVD.

laughing, RayRay - that's ADHD for you!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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