Area classics offer everything from regional to ethnic cuisine The Classics: 40 restaurants that have stood the test of time.

March 26, 1998

The critics

Janice Baker (JB), Mary Corey (MC), John Dorsey (JD), Mike and Sheila Dresser (M&SD), Maria Hiaasen (MH), Kathryn Higham (KH), Peter Jensen (PJ), Elizabeth Large (EL), Suzanne Loudermilk (SL) and Tess and Michael Ollove (T&MO).

Stars are a rough guide to quality:

**** (the best Maryland has to offer)

*** (good)

** (fair or uneven)

* (poor)

Dollar signs suggest cost:

$ (inexpensive)

$$ (moderate)

$$$ (expensive)

$$$$ (very expensive)

With so many high-profile restaurants opening up in th Baltimore-Annapolis area this past year, the places that have been around for decades have gotten even less press than usual. So in this issue of Dining Out, we decided to take a look at Baltimore's Oldies but (we hope) Goodies - those restaurants that have been around at least 10 years. At least one reviewed in this issue has been around more than 60.

We narrowed a long list down to a Top 40. It wasn't easy. But one of the criteria was that the restaurant have the aura of a Baltimore- or Annapolis-area classic. So, for instance, you'll find Angelina's, Baltimore's archetypal neighborhood spot for some

48 years, and also the Thai, the restaurant that introduced Thai food to the city.

For you new-restaurant junkies, we also have reviews of places that have opened since our fall Dining Out. Those that you might expect but don't find here, like the brand-new McCormick & Schmick's, haven't been open long enough for us to review them.

Besides the reviews, this guide lists area restaurants by category. Here you'll find addresses, phone numbers, credit cards accepted, specialties and dinner entree prices.

Alonso's, 415 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-235-3433. **1/2 $

Time seems to have passed Alonso's by. You won't find any baked brie or fusion cuisine here. The tiny dining room of this Roland Park bar specializes in what must be the world's largest hamburger, made with a pound or so of lean beef and a monster kaiser roll. For some (me included) it's daunting; big eaters see this superburger as a challenge.

Start with the kitchen's tasty chili or have a surprisingly decent house salad. Alonso's pizza is fine, too - although, of course, the kitchen's idea of designer pizza is pepperoni and sausage. Club sandwiches named after local colleges are always a safe bet, although I would stay away from the ones that have pre-sliced American cheese on them.

What's not to like? French fries that taste of old grease and lackluster desserts. But who goes to Alonso's for its desserts anyway? -EL

Angelina's, 7135 Harford Road, 410-444-5545. *** $$1/2

Angelina's is that rarity: an oldie but goodie that lives up to fond memories. Yes, the "world famous" crab cake costs an arm and a leg these days, but it's every bit as good if not better than newcomers in the field. Made with enormous, snowy lumps of crab, it has a minimum of filler and a lovely golden crust. (Do get it fried; it's better that way.)

Only in Baltimore would you find a cozy Irish pub that specializes in crab cakes and Italian food, although there's plenty else to like on the menu. Mussels in a fresh-tasting marinara sauce with crusty garlic bread are great, as is the house specialty, filet mignon Baltimore - two prime fillets with crab meat and shrimp sauced with brandy and cream.

Count on salads to be uninteresting and green beans to be overcooked, but you have to love the red-skinned potato salad and the chunky stewed tomatoes. Only a slice of chewy-crusted apple pie was inedible - go for the cannoli instead.-EL

Benny Der's Golden Dragon, 8109 Liberty Road, Rockdale 410-922-7800. ** $

Benny Der's opened in 1968. Thirty years. That means big booths and, near the cash register, photos of the kids, the grandkids, the houses, the long gone. Remember when no one knew ginger from water chestnuts? Benny Der's does. Maybe that's why we saw ghosts around the dragon pillars and the old roasted-peanut machine.

Food was unremarkable, familiar and American friendly. Shrimp toast, like deep-fried quiche, was custard in a crisp, crackly crust. Egg rolls (mostly cabbage) were large. Sweet and sour soup was peppery, salty and very vinegary. Nothing is expensive: $4.75 bought enough shrimp toast to constitute a meal. Soup came free with shrimp in lobster sauce, our best main dish. The dozen shrimp were juicy and fresh-tasting. Huge servings of Hunan beef at $10.75 and of boneless duck at $10.25, both with vegetables, will please diners who want lots of food for their money.

Skip desserts. We didn't, but should have settled for tea and fortune cookies. P.S. Payment is in cash.-JB

Bertha's, 734 S. Broadway, 410-327-5795. **1/2 $$

The bumper sticker gives good advice: "Eat Bertha's Mussels." The house specialty is the best thing going on the menu of this Fells Point institution.

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