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I grew up in the Southeast Baltimore neighborhood of Fells Point, back in the days when it was a largely residential neighborhood inhabited by a number of Polish and other European immigrants. Baltimore was, at one time, the second largest port of immigration after Ellis Island. It was where my grandmother disembarked in 1913 and made her new life, raising four children in a house that later included the second generation of her family.
When I was living there, the area’s shops had all the essentials for making delicious meals at home. The Broadway Market featured a fishmonger and a dairy, fresh vegetables, and poultry. Just around the corner from our house on Ann Street was Siemek’s, a small grocer that specialized in meats, and not far from there was the famous Ostrowski’s, where we’d stand in line to buy our fresh kielbasa for Christmas and Easter. There also seemed to be a bar on every corner, but not very many restaurants.
Today, the neighborhood is still very residential, and many of the current residents hail from various parts of Latin America. Businesses with Spanish names offering comidas have replaced the kielbasa shops, as the families of European immigrants have moved on to other areas. And, to my great surprise, Fells Point is now a dining destination, with restaurants of every stripe lining the streets. Several of them cater to the residents from Honduras and El Salvador, but many serve Mexican food.
Though my dreams of a “taco truck on every corner” have been dashed, some of the best tacos in town can be found at Tortilleria Sinaloa, partway up Eastern Avenue from the neighborhood’s main drag of Broadway. They make their tortillas in house and sell them by the kilo. One can also buy various taco meats–like steak, tongue, and chicken–by the pound, if you want to have a taco party off-premises, or would just rather assemble them yourself at home. On the other end of the same block is El Taquito Mexicano. Housed in the former Budacz furniture store where my family bought pretty much all their beds and lamps and whatnot, El Taquito Mexicano has tacos, but also sopes, huaraches, and chiles rellenos.
For more upscale cuisine with a Latin influence, walk south on Broadway toward Thames Street. The instinct is probably to pronounce that word as “Tems,” as the British do, but locals pronounce it “Thaymes.” Because we haven’t been part of England in at least a couple hundred years. Turn right on Thames and you’ll find Points South Latin Kitchen, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Baltimore. The owner, Bryson Keens, and chef Rey Eugenio, worked together at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion as quite the dynamic duo. They’ve recreated that magic at Points South, where Bryson makes guests feel at home while Rey dazzles their palates with his beautiful food. Dishes originate in various parts of Latin America, from Mexico to Peru to Puerto Rico and feature bold flavors. I’m a fan of the fork-tender short ribs braised in bittersweet chocolate sauce, and the chicharrones are a must.
Though its address is Thames Street, Barcocina is actually on the very end of South Broadway. A fine place to spend a summer afternoon (or evening) sipping margaritas, this restaurant has a pretty great view of the water, including the iconic Domino Sugars sign to the south, and the former Recreation Pier cum luxury hotel that served as the police department in the 90s NBC drama, Homicide: Life on the Street to the east. Barcocina’s food has Mexican influences, but is far from autentico. For example, you can get tacos stuffed with eggplant parmesan, Jamaican jerk fish, and Moroccan lamb shank as well as turkey mole, but my favorite are the tiny taquitos filled with tuna tartare in a shell made from the tuber known as malanga.
Papi’s Tacos on Aliceanna Street (“Alizann” in the local vernacular) is owned by Carrie Podles and Charlie Gjerde, who have other restaurants in the ‘hood. Being gringos hasn’t stopped Podles and Gjerde from serving muy tasty treats like street tacos, tortas, and tamales. Their “Papi” Hour is also pretty fab.
Speaking of Happy Hour, the next installment in your tour through Fells Point will focus on bars with good food. Or restaurants with great bars, depending on how you look at things.
Kathy Patterson 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.