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January 5, 2010

Top 10 Best Restaurants I Reviewed in 2009


This list was inspired by an e-mail from Lars Rusins of asking if there was any way of searching the Sun's restaurant review database by how many stars were awarded.

The answer is not yet, although that would be a good thing to add, as I found when I tried to make up this list.

I went back into the Sun archives to create it, and I put the stars awarded for food in parentheses.

But wonderful food isn't the only qualification for why I want to go to a restaurant, so I next decided to order them in terms of overall experience.

This is a totally personal ordering, and one I can't really defend except to say I'd go back to Restaurant A before I'd go back to Restaurant B.

Out of curiosity, I asked Other Reviewer Richard Gorelick what his standout restaurants for 2009 were. He e-mailed back: "Hi, Mekong Delta is the one place I was most happy to tell readers about."

Here's my list: ...

1) Prime Rib downtown (4 stars). A classic that just gets better with age.

2) Volt in Frederick (3 1/2 stars). Go for the total experience as much as the food. 

3) Sam's Kid in Fells Point (3 1/2 stars). Inexpensive Pan-Asian tapas in a high-style atmosphere. 

4) Tapas Adela (3 stars). Authentic Spanish small plates in a handsome dining room with good service.

5) Bistro Blanc in Glenelg (3 1/2 stars). A wine bar with elegant food. 

6) Restaurant Sabor in Lutherville (3 1/2 stars). Good, eclectic menu ranging from French to Puerto Rican and BYOB. 

7) Alizee near Johns Hopkins University (4 stars). The food was great; the service was inconsistent. But that was three months ago.

8) Talara in Harbor East (3 1/2 stars). The menu has changed since I ate there and now isn't just ceviche and tapas.

9) Peter's Inn (3 stars). Gourmet comfort food in a classic Baltimore bar.

10) Brasserie 10 South downtown (3 1/2 stars). French-inspired American food. Closed and then reopened with a different chef and menu. This is not the same restaurant I reviewed.

(Elizabeth Malby/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:09 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


My husband and I have both been to Alizee with other guests. I found the food at lunch to be just so-so, but the service was fine. He went at night and the service was extremely inept. Has anyone else had a better experience?

rather handler: Cleatus's CBS code name.

We went for dessert (after dinner at the Ambassador) and sat at the bar. The bartender was quite attentive even though she was busy. The desserts were superb. The chef came out and introduced himself - an added plus that makes us want to come back and do dinner. This is a nice way to "test" a new restaurant.

Birches is HANDS DOWN the best food in Baltimore. Quality, variety, and setting trumps anything else I have seen. And to put Petes Inn on this list? That place is a far runner up to Jacks Bistro and Birches.

I didn't review either Jack's Bistro or Birches in 2009. Please read what the list is before you complain about it. EL

Birches is also fairly famous around here for their service policies, which many here have not found conducive to a pleasant evening's outing.

EL did say, after all, that this was not just about food. The best food I've had this past year was at the Prime Rib, but I think I've felt most comfortable at Peter's Inn, where I think the food can be a bit uneven. On the other hand, number two for both is Chicken Rico, so maybe I should just go for charcoal chicken. (Although I will agree that Mekong Delta is a delight, although they were more of one in the first couple months they were open.)

Peter's seems to be my go-to when it's a semi or special occasion. Never experienced the uneven food, but the service has always been spot on, even with my more picky of companions.

Perhaps it's a phobia of reservations, but the places I've been to in the area recently don't seem to warrant them in fullness of capacity or quality of food/service.

captcha: isolated whences ( bubble i'd like to park dad when eating out)

Reminds of people who walk into a wine shop and ask to see all the wines Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator gave 90+ points. These people are missing alot of really good wine. Unfortunately the obsession people have with points and stars influences what wine shops stock, which restaurants succeed, and what type of new restaurants open. For restaurants I think the star isssue helps/hurts places that count on convention and tourist dollars.

If I remember correctly, Peter's Inn is also cheaper than Birches. They're in slightly different dining categories.

But unfortunately it's been a while since I've been to Peter's Inn, so maybe I'm a bit fuzzy on the price difference.

This reminds me that I need to get to Peter's Inn soon. It's very good.

I would never go back to volt. We had a long wait even though we had a reservation. Service was just ok. thhe portions were minute though "artfully" presented. I left hungry. I think the first duty of a restaurant is to feed you, the rest is important, but if you leave hungry, nothing else matters.

Well, uneven may be the wrong term for Peter's Inn. I have gotten dishes there that were not accurately described on the menu once or twice. But, I do like their food, and their service is excellent. Even if a server did touch me lightly.

Went to Alizee last weekend to celebrate my father’s birthday. The food was superb and the restaurant worked with me to create a special prix fixe menu to accommodate our larger group. It was the first time any of us had been to Alizee and we are looking forward to returning. Beautiful restaurant and memorable food!

Does Peter's still serve that fantastic garlic bread with the salad? Haven't been there in years even though I live within walking distance - will have to go back. I understand it's not as grimey as it once was, which in a way is a shame.

Talara is a "best" restaurant?? The food was okay, but paying $8 for 6 chips with salsa, $14 for paella that took 5 bites to eat, and $7 for a tiny salad is crazy...not to mention the service. We waited 45 minutes for ceviche and about an hour for the salad! The restaurant wasn't even busy. Our bill came to over $100 (for 2 people) and we only had 2 drinks! Good atmosphere and flavorful food, but we left feeling hungry (plates are REALLY small), like we paid too much and annoyed by how long it took. I would rather buy a bag of chips and dip and save $95 bucks.

Sorry to hear that you didn't have a good experience. I am just curious as to when your visit was? The reason I ask is because we have been open 6 months and have made some menu changes. I would like to invite you and your guest back for dinner on me. I don't feel that you have got an accurate representation of what we have to offer. Again, I apologize and hope that you can give us a second chance.

Hi Nicholas,
I appreciate you responding! I believe we visited back in August or September, so it looks like you had just opened. Perhaps the new menu is worth a second chance. Thanks!

We were regulars at Talara and just loved it. We have a business in Pittsburgh so my husband eats at seviche often. We do not like the new Talara not sure if we will go back. Like the edgy funkiness of the old. Menu better, no table cloths.

Had a similar experience at Talara over the summer. Waited at the bar for 15 min before one of the 8 bartenders greated me. Food I ordered never came. I should give them another chance, but there are so many other places on my list to try (or go back to) that sometimes I never make it back somewhere that gave a lackluster first impression.

Yeah, I had a bad experience too. Really, I did. Can't give you any details, but do I get a free meal too?

Just kidding Nicholas. I admire how you stepped up to the plate in a very professional manner. It is responses like yours that would lead me to visit your restaurant, where before I may not have really thought about it.

Re: Talara

Nick must have been the manager I overheard, at the beginning of the evening shift, giving his staff individual marching orders, in the form of firm but encouraging comments like, "I want your special goal tonight to be greeting customers." or "Your goal tonight is to work on your description of specials." Well, I'm paraphrasing, but he had obviously noted areas of concern and had found this way to both let employees know they had been critically observed by him and that any improvements they were making would be noticed and appreciated, too.

That is about as good as it gets in the people business.

Fortunately, we had a much better experience at Talara, although it was quite a while ago ("old Talara"). Great food and the service was tee-riffic. I even discovered that, under the right conditions, I do enjoy salmon.

Peter's Inn has been found and that is part of the problem. We still get good food there but we often feel like a tourist. One night when it was too packed, the bar tender directed us to an old friend, Henninger's, which is a very comfortable spot. Shhhh!

I didn't review either Jack's Bistro or Birches in 2009. Please read what the list is before you complain about it. EL

Why didnt you. Maybe should go and review the place before leaving it off your list.

Good question. And the answer is that I don't get back to restaurants I've already reviewed every year, given how many new restaurants there are. I only review at most 50 restaurants a year. EL

for my money Speakeasy in Canton has some of the best food in Baltimore. The prices are affordable, the staff is fun and laid back. Mamma's deserts are crazy good. why pay more money for a name and a write up in a fish wrapper?

Maybe should go and review the place before leaving it off your list.

What? Maybe EL should review a place before leaving it off a list of places she reviewed? How would that work exactly?

Wait! I know! She could have readers review all the restaurants she will leave off her list of places she did or didn't review, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Restaurant Sabor is absurdly overrated. Overpriced, inconsistent, bad atmosphere.

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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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