For generations, immigrants from all walks of life have ventured to the United States in search of new opportunity. In turn, they’ve brought with them the flavors, techniques, and recipes from home. Along the East Coast, our region is ripe with pockets of globally inspired food communities. Washington, DC, in particular, is a hub for immigrants. Perhaps this is spurred by its diversity and job prospects in a variety of sectors. Not to mention the federal programs that have resettled refugees in the area from a number of countries.
In 2020, the American Immigration Council released data on Maryland’s 2018 population:
One in seven residents is an immigrant, while one in eight residents is a native-born US citizen with at least one immigrant parent.”
Washington, DC’s immigrant population is even higher— one in seven and one in nine, respectively. Among both cities, the top countries of origin include El Salvador, the Philippines, Ethiopia, China, Mexico, and India.
The well-worn route from Baltimore to the heart of Washington, DC, runs fewer than 40 miles. But depending on the time of day, the aptly named Baltimore-Washington Parkway can take two hours or more to traverse. Rather than spend a commute languishing in the car, take a detour to find some of the Mid-Atlantic’s hidden gem restaurants. You’ll discover the region’s thriving international scene.
Tour of Maryland Restaurants in Townson
This journey begins north of Baltimore in the unincorporated community of Towson—known for the striking Jacobethan-and-English-Tudor campus of Towson University. Don’t let the size of the town fool you. A Maryland restaurants represent a remarkably large number of cuisines. In the quaint city center sits Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro. This spot specializes in Sichuan street food and authentic dishes you won’t find elsewhere. Stir-fried pork kidneys, diced rabbit in a spicy sauce, chile-spiced beef offal join the familiar—kung pao chicken and egg drop soup.
One block south, New Generation Hot Pot’s fully customizable menu makes it easy to build the perfect bowl. Pile on fresh veggies and proteins from spicy beef and scallops to ox tripe and boneless duck feet. Across town, Belvedere Square Market is a hip food hall full of international flavor: Ejji Ramen for warming noodle bowls, Hilo for Hawaiian-inspired poke and sushi, Koba for chargrilled Korean barbecue, and the newest addition, Thai Landing, for modern Southeast Asian dishes.
For a taste of Filipino comfort food, there’s the unassuming James Fiesta Grill east of Towson in Parkville, Maryland. The starring dish is dessert. James’ is one of the few places to order halo-halo, a colorful, refreshing combination of coconut jelly, shaved ice, tropical fruit, and ice cream.
Venturing into the city of Baltimore, the inner harbor is one of the top spots to spend a sunny afternoon. Start with a visit to the National Aquarium. Among the conservation-focused nonprofit’s dozen exhibits are Shark Alley, a several-story-tall shark tank, and Dolphin Discovery. This amphitheater boasted a stage for the aquarium’s shows until they were eliminated in 2012. Now, it’s open for visitors to watch the pod of bottlenose dolphins interact with their trainers.
Plan a visit around catching a show at Power Plant Live, an entertainment district with indoor and outdoor concert venues. Or, spend an evening learning how to play duckpin bowling, a version of ten-pin that many say began in Baltimore. (Though recently, there’s been arguments for Boston and New Haven as well.) Regardless of the disputed origin, its popularity in Baltimore is cemented. Several lanes offer the sport, including Mustang Alley’s Bar, Bowling, and Bistro. Hone your skills over an order of crab fries and try for an elusive perfect score. No one’s ever done it in a regulation game.
Maryland Restaurants Deliver
When it comes time for lunch or dinner, options abound. To the east, in Baltimore’s Little Italy, year-old RYMKS Bar & Grille serves modern interpretations of food of the African diaspora. Owner Teaon Everage describes the menu at RYMKS (pronounced “remix”) as “international soul food.” The fare draws influence from various African communities around the globe, including in the Caribbean and South America. The suya cheesesteak egg rolls—inspired by Everage’s Philadelphia roots—dipped in jollof gravy and jerk-seasoned rib bites served with sweet plantains are not to be missed.
Attman’s Delicatessen in neighboring Jonestown is one of the sole survivors of the once-thriving Corned Beef Row, a center of the twentieth-century Jewish community in East Baltimore. Harry Attman, an immigrant from the area around Kyiv, started it in 1915. The deli has evolved into a third-generation owned, seven-day-a-week haven for pastrami sandwich seekers. Just north of the Inner Harbor sits La Calle Restaurant, an upscale ode to Mexican cuisine started by four brothers from Puebla, Mexico. Roasted pork belly, herb-marinated brussels sprouts, and beer-battered fried fish fill the tacos here. Decadent entrees include Scottish salmon topped with a chipotle lobster cream sauce.
When it comes to spending the night in Baltimore, there’s perhaps no place more quintessential than the 1840s Carrollton Inn. Set in a span of historic, interconnected row homes, the thirteen-room boutique hotel takes guests back in time with antique furnishings and decor. The second-floor Independence Suite, for example, dates back to the late 1700s. However, modern amenities include a stately jacuzzi tub among the ornate furnishings.
Hit the Washington-Baltimore Parkway
The tour of Maryland restaurants continues along the well-traveled Baltimore-Washington Parkway with Rangoli Restaurant in Hanover. The fine-dining spot features both North and South Indian cuisine. Don’t skip the chaat, a selection of street food-style snacks. These include bhel puri (crispy puffed rice and noodles with tamarind chutney) and “chat papri” (potatoes and chickpeas with tamarind, cilantro chutney, and yogurt). “Samosa chat” (samosas over chickpeas, topped with tomato and onion) and pani poori (bite-sized hollow rice spheres filled with potato, chickpeas, and a richly flavored tamarind water) are great choices, too.
Onward, there’s Pleroma Cuisine and Angel Las Delicias Restaurant in nearby Laurel. Pleroma features home-style West African foods like handheld meat pies and comforting soups and stews. Angel Las Delicias has an expansive Salvadoran menu including a traditional breakfast platter—eggs, beans, fried plantains. The pupusa menu offers some dozen filling options.
Farther south in Bladensburg, the unassuming interior of Pho Tai 63 belies a richly flavorful menu of noodle soups, filled with all manner of beef. Alternately, there’s Nigerian comfort food by way of Agama Kitchen & Restaurant. Open only for dinner, Agama’s traditional menu includes a variety of soups and proteins ranging from jerk chicken to spicy roasted goat.
A Night in NoMa
Washington, DC’s vibrant NoMa neighborhood (so named for its location north of Massachusetts Avenue) is one of the fastest growing in the city. The lively pocket of restaurants, bars, and shops is anchored by Gallaudet University—a renowned university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing taught bilingually in American Sign Language and English, in which only 8 percent of the undergraduate student body is hearing—and Union Market, a food hall and shopping district with more than forty vendors.
Check out Laoban Dumplings for chef Tim Ma’s take on classic Chinese dumplings and noodle dishes. Or, opt for the aptly named startup Immigrant Food, which highlights global cuisines while partnering with local immigrant-service organizations to advocate for the communities they represent.
Just outside Union Market proper, there’s Masseria, a Michelin-starred ode to chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s roots in the Puglia region of Italy, served in the form of a six-course tasting menu. For upscale Thai food served family-style, there’s Baan Siam. Start with one of the many lychee-forward cocktails on offer paired with the pineapple chicken bites, a textural revelation of ground chicken, peanuts, and fermented radish set on a thin pineapple slice, and the refreshing green mango salad topped with roasted coconut flakes.
Laos in Town brings its own unique Southeast Asian cuisine to the DC scene. For the familiar, try their take on chicken curry, or be bold with the whole roasted branzino drizzled with tamarind, basil, and garlic sauces. Hip, emerald-hued Copycat Co. serves up Chinese-inspired small-plates perfect for sharing and a serious cocktail to match. Back in the realm of casual comfort, Indigo is the paper-cup takeout answer to classic Indian food cravings— and just the thing to reward you as you finish up the commute and your journey through Maryland restaurants.