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November 23, 2010

Top 10 outrages of the 50 Best thing

tio pepeHere is what I take to be the top 10 objections to the 50 Best Restaurants. The longer comments below are from emails sent to me by readers. I do get occasional emails, but four or five on the same topic or issue is something major.

1. Tio Pepe wasn't on it.

    Mr. Gorelick, I have enjoyed your restaurant reviews and was glad you were made a permanent restaurant  reviewer - I think (emphasis mine). However, we were personally devastated that you did not include Tio Pepe in your list of the 50 Best restaurants.  Why was that?  Surely any restaurant that has been in business business for 40 years, must be serving great food and giving good servicethey would not survive.  One recent Saturday night, we went there with friends and they were packed with happy people who were obviously enjoying themselves. Although we were 8 for dinner, our service was superb. . Then we were there  this past Thursday ( a quieter evening)  and again had wonderful seafood and excellent and unobtrusive service.  The chef Emiliano Sanz came out to greet his customers as he usually does and made sure everything was okay. He even sent us a new dessert he was trying out.  How often do you see a chef come out to greet his customers. When I compare it to the horrible service we had at A__ (you can read my comments online) and the very rude service we had at P__ when the arrogant maitre d' would not let us sit at our table until the other party arrived there is  just no comparison. Coming from Columbia we were 15 minutes early but he just made us stand with a bar, even though Mike was in a foot cast. Then when our friends arrived, he seated us at a table that had been empty the whole time we were standing. And that is good service?  I am sure you were inundated with comments but I could not participate in the online chat. Please advise.  You are breaking our hearts and that of Tio Pepe.

2. There was no mention of Tio Pepe:

    Dear Mr. Gorelick, I was shocked that you did not include Tio Pepe among your top 50 restaurants.  I understand that this list was based on your own personal experiences and opinions, but I'm still curious as to how you reached this decision.

    I've dined at Tio Pepe on four occasions, the most recent being my 27th birthday in late-October.  I've always found the waitstaff to be attentive and efficient and the quality of the food unsurpassed.  The sangria is the best I've had in the city and although I haven't tasted EVERY sangria in Baltimore, I've tried enough to know the good from the bad.  The suckling pig I enjoyed on my last visit was juicy and cooked to perfection.  Granted, the restaurant can become cramped, nd being seated does not go assmoothly as it could.  No place is perfect of course. Making reservations at the P___ about two months ago was an extremely frustrating ordeal - I had to spell my name three times for the host and was put on hold twice during the exchange.  The only reason I didn't slam the phone down in aggravation and take my business elsewhere is that I love the P___ experience once I arrive at the restaurant.

3. The exclusion of Tio Pepe

Richard Gorelick's list lost all credibility when he left out Tio Pepe. Is it a personal vendetta?
4. "There is a little restaurant at 10 W. Franklin St. you should try"

5. How could you forget Tio Pepe?

    Various posts on my Facebook page

6. Gorelick! Tio Pepe!!

    Various on-the-street encounters

7. Hello!?!? Tio Pepe?!?


8. Where was Tio Pepe?

    Conversation at mother's bridge game

9.  Tio Pepe

10. Frazier's on the Avenue!!!!!!


The omission from the list of Tio Pepe stirred up an emotional response.

I'm glad.

Tio Pepe was my family's special occasion restaurant. Established in 1968, it was a pioneering restaurant in the Baltimore dining scene and has weathered its share of storms. It's still there, remarkably unchanged. I haven't been in the past year, but it hasn't been that long since my last visit -- I'd say three years. It was how I remembered it.

I risk sounding both self-aggrandizing and self-serving (a neat trick) with this next comment, but I think having left Tio Pepe off the list entirely may have served the restaurant better than ranking them in the 40s.

I would characterize its omission as a deliberate accident:

I made my first draft of the 50 Best Restaurants in a free fashion. I thought of a place and typed in a document. I wanted to see which restaurants would fight their way onto the list. I did this, in part, the way you might. By walking a mental map of the city -- what am I missing in Fells Point?

After this first pass, I started ordering them, roughly, from top to bottom, in groups of ten. The upper quintile was always going to be safe; anything in the bottom quintile was in danger of being bumped off as more restaurants came to mind.

Of course, I eventually consulted various databases, online and off, to help me recall restaurants that hadn't been in the front of my mind. I occasionally shared different versions of the list with editors and with one friend -- what's missing, what's weird, what's egregious? It was a back-and-forth process, building and winnowing. At one point I had a document with 138 restaurants on it. Tio Pepe wasn't on it.

Closer to deadline, though, its absence was noticed. There was still time for me to have instated Tio Pepe on the list. I didn't. I stand by that.

If nothing else, Tio Pepe deserves my re-consideration. I plan to visit soon. (It may be a few weeks or a few months) or maybe longer.

2005 Baltimore Sun photo/Elizabeth Malby 

Posted by Richard Gorelick at 11:12 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: 50 Best


I, for one, never wonder when Tio Pepe fails the make the list of top restaurants in Baltimore. The first and only time I ate at Tio Pepe, it was a work holiday lunch. The experience was unexceptional. But worse that than was the food poisoning I got that laid me low for the next 24 hours. Not surprisingly, I have not felt compelled to return to Tio Pepe. Certainly not when there are plenty of other excellent choices to try.

having eaten there a handful of times over the last decade or so, i'm more surprised when it DOES make best of lists.

Given the lackluster food, service, and ambiance, i'm continuously confused as to why people keep mentioning it as a quality destination.

It wouldn't make my top 50, but it might make a good setting for an episode of "Mad Men."

There's another restaurant that's been in business for 55 years and served over 99 billion and it didin't make the list! 99 billion people can't be wrong!

I think Dahlink is on to something here. I've been there once, and I found that the ambiance and the Sangria were the most memorable things there. The food really hasn't stuck in my mind. So if their ambiance is your thing, it'll be a better experience for you.


Obviously, we each have our personal Top 50. And for the most part, all of RG's 50 would have likely made my Top 65 or 70 list. And I would have put Tio Pepe on the list

But I would have excluded one: Da Mimmo. Just can't do it. Where Tio Pepe has a charm in its retro (read: never made it out of the '70's) feel, Da Mimmo reminds me of my grandmother's house, only without the plastic on the couch.

I went to Tio Pepe recently (as someone's guest) and the experience reminded me of why the last time I went was so long ago and I hadn't thought of going back in the meantime. The place is frozen in time. The service is fine, the atmosphere tomb-like, and the food just better than average. Truth be told, Mari Luna in Pikesville does Spanish food better. Top 50? No way.

Tio Pepe was left off the list for good reason, it isnt one of the best 50 resturants in the city limits of Baltimore. Food is average to poor, decor and overall experience is dated and stale. Just because its old doesnt make it good. RG, you did a fine job with this list. Just wish Birches was on there.

I was just at Tio Pepe a couple of months back.

I definitely remember it being better when I had been years prior. It seems like the weight of history associated with the place since its opening keeps its reputation higher than actual execution at present. It's still a great restaurant, and probably deserved to be listed in the Top 50, I'll grant, even if not especially high.

good job rich although B is a longshot for me. Tio Pepe was good in 1989. its ok now. whats with the orange pine nut cake.ruined the best item on the menu. place hasnt been the same since the chef departed, this is the most they have beeen talked about since the critter episode

My oh my tempest in a teapot..agree or disagree and I've heard both opinions over the past few days..But I agree with andrew n that it hasn't been talked about this much in richard you done good

Really boring people used to say how you needed to get reservations 6 months in advance ... 15 years ago. They never said why. It apparently it was a popular place for people who liked popular places. The only positive thing I have ever heard about the food was about the sangria. BTW that's not food. And who the f**k cares about sangria? Any idiot can make good sangria if they have solera. But why bother? Why would anyone care about crappy wine mixed with solera and fruit and who knows what kind of sugary nonsense?

So that's what I've heard about Tio Pepe. And apparently they have food. The final nail in the disinterest coffin is that my ex-gf thought it was a great place. She also thought the awful Arcos had great Mexican food and generally had the taste of a 5 year old combined with the taste of her elderly parents. Top Pepe!

Short version: Tio Pepe's – Don Draper approved.

Sounds like "Oriole Park at Camden Yards".
Remember when that was a popular place for people who liked popular places? Yuk.

I take no stock (pun intended) in top 50 lists of Baltimore restaurants that do not include, in no specific order, Mari Luna Latin Grille, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant, Aida Bistro and Tio Pepe's.

I would like to sum up all criticism: "Richard, your opinions are wrong."

Former New Jerseyian here again. If you want good Spanish Food, go to North Jersey. They are so much better in terms of food and so much less pretentious.

Went to Tio Pepe's with my wife back in the 80's shortly after we arrived in Baltimore. The wait (with reservations), the "jacket required", the OK food...never went back (or desired to go back).

Tio Pepe is a nice place for Mister Eddie's father to take a young lady on a third date.

My wife took me to Tio Pepe's for my 35th Birthday. The host approached us and began to show us to our seats. Then he abruptly stopped, went back to a group of four, helped them with their coats and got them seated. Only as an afterthought did he return without an apology and put us in a tight hallway seat. Would I return? No! And that was 25 years ago!

I generally hate these types of lists. Top 50’s or whatever countdowns are normally the trade of insipid publications like Cosmo or Baltimore Magazine. Nevertheless, I realize they generate views, so they probably aren’t going away.

That said, I can understand that Tio Pepe's would be off your list (I can't understand why Akbar or City Cafe is on your list, but that's another story) There is no doubt that at one time Tio Pepe's was the "in place", but now it is the kind of place you overlook or forget about when it is time to decide where to go.

I did go to Tio Pepe's about a year ago,
and I really enjoyed the food, the service and the decor. What I didn't care for was how casual some people where dressed, and I do think that because of that the sophistication, the style and the specialness of the place has been if not lost greatly diminished. Even with that, Tio Pepe's still would have been in my top 50.

I ignore anything designed to just get page views, so I haven't looked at the list.

The only things lists are good for is starting discussion, but we don't seem to have discussion here anymore.

Surprise, surprise, Lisa, everything is awful.

There is a simple list independent of the photo gallery. Obviously you can't be a positive part of the conversation if you are willfully ignorant and yet you still attention. But thanks for the amère bouche.

I'm not sure how one could have the rack of lamb, shrimp in garlic sauce, or chocolate souffle and not love Tio Pepes. I like to order their puffy fried potatoes, then put the shrimp and garlic sauce inside the pouch, divine!

I was really excited when a contractor we worked with at my previous job told us they'd like to take us to Tio Pepe's for a nice business dinner. I had heard such glowing reviews, and I was thrilled to have some authentic Spanish food (I studied in Barcelona, so I know it well). Then we went, and it was, well, just meh. So, yeah, there's my 2 € cents.

I never even thought of Tio Pepe's as possible for the 50 best restaurants. I went there for special occasions in the 80's and 90's and it was a very good experience. We took our mother there for her birthday a few years ago, and it was a terrible dinner. We waited a long time to be seated in a very crowded tiny space even though we had reservations. The service was terrible and the food average to poor. There are too many good places to eat in Baltimore for a restaurant to survive on past reputation.

Voilà. Tio Pepe's just got more free publicity than it has had in ten years and a dead dog bounce. The worst isn't off the list, but close to the bottom, 48 or 49.

The worst isn't off the list, but close to the bottom, 48 or 49.

In your face Da Mimmo and Crush.

The excellent TV critic Tim Goodman who runs the blog The Bastard Machine does something called the Power Ranking where once a week he ranks the top X shows. The interesting part is the idea that a show is moving up or down. For this list, it would be fun to imagine if a place is trending up or down. 50 and rising is great thing. 488, say, and falling is much worse.

Mmm, having a bowl of kim chee for breakfast. DY-NO-MITE!

Interesting reading. My wife and I have gone to Tio Pepe's for special occasions for 35 years. Yes, its had its up and downs in that time. Has every meal been a triumph? Of course not. But the consistency of excellent food has been amazing. And that keeps us going back.

With the current recession, the long waits are gone, and service is more attentive. To me, Tio's still sets the standard for "special" meals in Baltimore. Best crab cakes? Tio's. Best fillet mignon? Tio's. Best seafood? Tio's. Want fresh stone crab claws? Tio's.

Does it deserve to be included in this list? Yes, and near the top please. It will still be at 10 E. Franklin serving excellent food long after 95 percent of the "top 50" restaurants go belly up. My opinion only. Your mileage may vary.

Otherwise, Richard's reasons for not including it at all are nebulous BS. And a list of 138 w/o Tio's? Get a grip. Maybe you should try rating stocks instead.

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner 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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