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January 18, 2010

Great little holes-in-the-wall

PinebrookRestaurant.jpgTo foodies, the expression "a great little hole-in-the-wall" is about as good a compliment as a restaurant can get.

It suggests a find, a place where the quality of the cuisine is in inverse proportion to the atmosphere and prices. Foodies love finds.

I found out early on, though, that no restaurant likes to be described as a great little hole-in-the-wall, even if it's guaranteed to bring in customers by the droves. ...

At one point, we ran listings of restaurants regularly in the paper, or maybe the twice-yearly dining guides, with one- or two-sentence descriptions of them. I was enamored of the Pinebrook in Hampden because of its awful atmosphere and fabulous homemade dumplings that the Chinese owners practically gave away. So my one-sentence description was, you guessed it, a great little hole-in-the-wall.

The owners were so incensed the wife called the Sun and asked us to take the listing out altogether.

I've reported here that my daughter called it the Cheapest Chinese Restaurant in the World. I found a photo of it in the archives -- I actually hadn't expected to. Apparently I reviewed it in 1997. The photo caption reads:  "Pictured are hot and sour soup for two, left, ($2.50) and a plate of Fried Chiao Tzu (10 dumplings for $1.70)."

I miss the Pinebrook. It closed when the husband got too old to make the dumplings anymore.

It is tempting to come up with a list of the Top 10 Great Holes-in-the-Wall, isn't it?

(Kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer)


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:27 AM | | Comments (13)


this seems esp. true of Asain places and Pit Beef. I don't know why, but that's my experience.

Pete's Grill in Waverly.
No tables, just a lunch counter. Groups of three or more, hope you don't mind not sitting together. Or being asked to move over so available seats are available to those waiting.
Freaking FANTASTIC omelets.. they remind me of being 4 or 5 and my Granny making me breakfast. The home fries are correctly greasy.. not too much and not dry either, the onions are slightly caramelized, but not so much as to overpower the potatoes.

captcha: luckiest information. knowing where Pete's is, indeed.

My vote would definitely be with Tijuana Tacos on Fleet Street - a friend introduced it to me. The Torta Cubana (as is all the food) is quite excellent. And if you're a sweet tea drinker the tamarind water just may make you a convert.

We had a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Chinese carryout in Catonsville years ago that had dumplings to die for. Unfortunately they closed some years ago. I also love how the hole-in-the-wall motif has been emulated by Five Guys... no frills, just good burgers and fries (and all the peanuts you want while you wait).

Hi there. I know the perfect HITW place in Annapolis, Carlson's Donuts and Thai Kitchen. It's owned by a Thai family and they started making awesome donuts first and then added the Thai food a couple years ago. Kind of a weird combination but the food's really good. They give you a free donut or two after your meal if they have any left. Bare bones place but the people are super nice and they have close to a cult following.

Grace Garden in Odenton can be described as a hole-in-the-wall. Having to walk through a laundromat to enter only enhances the effect.

When I hear the term, I am reminded of eating at a great place in Nogales, Mexico. As we were approaching it, our friend kept raving about this great hole-in-the-wall place she was taking us to. We turned the corner, and there was a pile of bricks on the street. To access the restaurant, one literally had to walk through a hole in the wall!

She was right - the food was great!

Gas stations are the new "hole in the wall." R&R Deli in the Shell station at Rte 175 and U.S. 1 sells great tacos and other Mexican food.

Mexico may have a lock on these. I ate at a place called-"El Garaje'-the garage. It was not a reconditioned shop. It literally was someone's garage that had folding tables and chair with oil spots on the floor. Great pozole. On the other end there was a place called the "No name restaurant". It was in Tlaquepaque outside of Guadalajara. Fine dining by Mexican standards at the time (late 70s.) The dining area was outside. If it rained no service. There were bougainvillaea, poinsettias, and hibiscus in constant bloom. The only problem was the strolling peacock who roamed the garden. Great food.

Does Soup's On on Preston Street count?

More please! keep 'em coming; you're just getting warmed up.

I love the new kabob & sub place on charles (where the subway used to be). Its not dirt cheap, but the portions are great, the atmosphere is spare, and the food is delicious.

There are 3 Tijuana Tacos. The one on East Baltimore is my default Mexican takeaway place. It is very good. Genesis, across the street and a block east is also very good. It is more Central American, though.

I didn't walk through a laundromat to get to Grace Gardens.

Weis on Lombard (near Attmans).

What about Top 10 former Holes-in-the-Wall? Holy Frijoles springs to mind.

Interesting idea. Name a few more. EL

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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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