Little Italy, terza parte: Best Neighborhood in Baltimore

I’ve tried to be good about pointing out restaurants as if you, the reader, are strolling through the neighborhood, but this post might not be as neat as that. While a walking tour of Little Italy is easy because so many restaurants are clustered together, there are also several notable places on the periphery. Keep in mind that the neighborhood isn’t all that large, so if you are anywhere in the vicinity, from Fells Point to the Inner Harbor, any of the places mentioned in this post will be walking distance from you.

Baltimore little Italy

We finished up last time having dessert at Vaccaro’s, on Albemarle Street. If you walk southeast down that same street, you’ll find La Tavola. Compared to other restaurants in the neighborhood with their voluminous menus, the offerings at La Tavola seem almost sparse, with a dozen antipasti, ten pasta dishes, and a mere four meat entrees. There are daily specials, too, which bring up the number a tad. Personally, I think having fewer choices makes matters simpler.  Pastas are made in house by chef Carlo Vignotto, and the most popular of those is his Spaghetti Neri al Granchio–pasta made black by the addition of squid ink, topped with spinach, cherry tomatoes, and a big pile of blue crab meat, all in a garlic white wine sauce. He also makes a proper lasagna Bolognese with bechamel, not ricotta. Despite being down the street from dessert heaven, La Tavola offers several sweet choices, including an original spin on cannoli, made with the crisp Italian waffle cookies called pizzelle, and my favorite way to end an Italian meal, affogado: a scoop of vanilla gelato “drowned” in a shot of espresso.

Continue down Albemarle to Dalesio’s, another Little Italy stalwart that has been chugging along since the mid-80s. Try their Insalata Umbria, with a creamy gorgonzola dressing, walnuts, and raisins, or their tasty eggplant Parmesan. And for those who may be beef-averse for any reason: they offer a chicken Bolognese sauce as well as the traditional veal. Next to Dalesio’s is Mo’s Crab & Pasta Factory. There are two Mo’s in Little Italy within a couple blocks of each other, which I don’t quite understand. However, they’ve both been around for a while and apparently not competing with each other. The one on Albemarle has a few more pasta dishes than the one on President Street, but all the Mo’s serve pasta (there are three other locations, all in Baltimore County). The big draw, however, is the seafood, which includes giant combo platters of steamed or fried goodies, lobster, plenty of fresh fish dishes, and hefty crab cakes. Even Anthony Bourdain has eaten at Mo’s, if that makes any difference to you.

Scoot back up Albemarle and head east on Eastern Avenue a couple blocks to La Scala. A favorite in Baltimore Magazine’s readers’ polls for several years now, the restaurant offers not only top-notch Italian cuisine, but also an indoor bocce court–because why not? La Scala has a nice selection of salumi and formaggi to start a meal in addition to some less-usual antipasti dishes like artichokes topped with crab, and green peppers sauteed with capers and anchovies. Their poultry dishes are made with free-range, antibiotic-free, organic chicken, and they offer far more red meat options than the other restaurants in the neighborhood. The vitello e gamberi Baltimore tops veal scaloppini with crab, shrimp, tomato, melted mozz, and an Old Bay white wine sauce, but you can get classic veal Parm, Piccata, or Francese, too. La Scala’s Happy Hour features not only Italian nibbles like bruschetta and calamari, but also a fun Mexitalian menu with choices like taquitos or Mexican lasagna.

Head north up Central Avenue to find something completely different. The old Holland Tack Factory at Central and Bank Street houses both a bakery and a restaurant. Piedigrotta, on the Bank St. side of the building, has all the Italian cookies, cakes, etc. you could ever desire, and their tiramisu is absolutely autentico. You see, Carminantonio Iannaccone, the owner, invented the famous Italian dessert in 1969. Just ask his wife, Bruna, and she’ll tell you the story.

Ok, so maybe an Italian bakery isn’t particularly odd to find in Little Italy, but how about a good old-fashioned beer-centric pub like Heavy Seas Alehouse? Fifth-generation Baltimorean Hugh Sisson turned his family’s eponymous Federal Hill beer bar into Maryland’s first brewpub in 1989. But having more interest in beer than bar, Hugh left Sisson’s to open Clipper City Brewing Company, which grew and morphed into Heavy Seas. Now the company has come full circle with the opening of two pubs, one in Baltimore and one in Arlington, and a burger joint, called Heavy Seas Burger, in the Horseshoe Casino on the other side of the harbor. In addition to their popular brews–Loose Cannon IPA is a favorite–the Alehouse offers craft cocktails and a variety of whiskies and other adult libations. Oh, and food. There are raw oysters and steamed shrimp, bar faves like chicken wings, soft pretzels, and sliders, super burgers, an oyster po’ boy, even a puff-pastry topped chicken pot pie. Many dishes incorporate one of Heavy Seas beers, including dessert. Don’t miss the “beerclair”–an eclair with beer-flavored cream filling–or the brownie with cherries soaked in Peg Leg Imperial Stout.

The final restaurant in this tour is My Thai, on Central Avenue. In 2010, the original Mount Vernon location of this family-run business was ruined in a devastating fire that also damaged two other restaurants. Brad and Pui Wales were able to move on and re-open a few years later in a larger space, bringing son Jirat Suphrom-In on to work with his Mom in the kitchen. Though Pui is the executive chef, Jirat showed he can compete with the best chefs in town when he won the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament in 2015. Together Pui and Jirat serve up authentic Thai food, including the family recipe for perennial favorite Pad Thai, spicy Tom Yum soup, and a selection of steamed dumplings. Happy Hour brings $8 Mai Tais and lychee-peach-tinis to enjoy with a discounted selection of small plates.

That concludes our tour of Little Italy. Next time, we’ll be searching the area surrounding Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for more good places to eat.


Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.


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