Located just an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., Baltimore feels like a world away from the nation’s serious, straight-laced capital. From its relaxing harbor front and large green spaces to its history-packed streets and quirky neighborhoods, Baltimore beckons visitors to savor its unique beauty—especially when the city is in full bloom.
If the mere mention of crab cakes makes you salivate, then Charm City certainly won’t leave you hungry. From diner-style dishes with a Baltimore twist to Latin cuisine sure to make your taste buds salsa to sweet and savory baked goods that’ll inspire you to plan a return trip before you’ve even left, Baltimore boasts amazing gluten-free goodies around every corner. Follow along on my ultimate foodie trip to Baltimore and discover Charm City’s essential gluten-free destinations.
Dig into Charm City classics at the Inner Harbor
Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth trip to town, you won’t be able to resist the magnetic pull of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. With its panoramic Patapsco River views, waterfront promenade and long list of popular sights, the Inner Harbor is the ideal place to start exploring.
But before you browse the eclectic displays at the American Visionary Art Museum, climb to the scenic summit of Federal Hill Park, or tour nearby Camden Yards, you’ll want to fuel up for the day. My favorite breakfast spot is Miss Shirley’s Café, a Charm City institution that’s been serving up its own diner-style take on Baltimore classics for over a decade.
It’s easy to assume that this bustling spot might be off limits for gluten-free diners, as its menu is peppered with pancakes, sandwiches and decadent desserts. However, I was relieved to find Miss Shirley’s takes food allergies remarkably seriously. Not only does the café support Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) initiatives, but all three locations also follow strict food allergy protocols. In fact, you can expect your server to greet you with questions about any food allergies before connecting you with a manager to confirm your gluten-free needs.
As you peruse the menu, go ahead and give in to the temptation to mix and match the extensive list of breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes. Start with the crab-topped Chesapeake Deviled Eggs and split a couple of savory dishes and sides, like the Healthy Hot Mess Scramble with gluten-free toast, the creamy grits or the black-eyed pea succotash.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget to add Miss Shirley’s famous gluten-free pancakes to your order. They’re made on a dedicated gluten-free griddle and come piled sky-high with garnishes like white chocolate and raspberries. Tasty enough to inspire you to lick your plate clean, these pancakes come in a sizable stack big enough for two, making this the perfect dish to share.
Treat yourself to Latin cuisine in Fell’s Point
After getting your fill at Miss Shirley’s, walk it off with a slow saunter through nearby Fell’s Point. Easily walkable from the Inner Harbor, the Fell’s Point neighborhood is over 350 years old and home to some of the most charming streets in Baltimore. I suggest following in our footsteps by marveling at the 18th-century Broadway Market, the centuries-old brick buildings and the cobblestone streets as you work up an appetite for one of the most memorable meals in Baltimore.
Tucked away just steps from the waterfront, Points South Latin Kitchen features a completely gluten-free menu packed with flavors from Latin America. Owner Bryson Keens, a person with celiac disease and frequent traveler, fell head over heels for Latin cuisine during his family’s adventures in Central and South America. At Points South, he and chef Scott Stauber put their own gluten-free spin on these tantalizing tastes.
Whether you stop by for lunch or settle in for dinner, you’re in for a true treat. Kick things off with starters like the nicely spiced grilled octopus with pepita romesco or the zesty shrimp ceviche before moving on to the main course. It’s tough to choose between popular dishes like the crab cake sandwich and the lamb ribs with creamy mojo, so I recommend ordering a couple to share.
Even if you don’t think you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to save room for the final course. The warm Coconut White Chocolate Tres Leches Bread Pudding and the dulce de leche-filled Chocolate Volcano Cake stand out as some of the most delicious desserts I’ve had anywhere, and you won’t want to miss out.
From the bold flavors to the warmth of the space to special events like drag brunches and salsa nights, this spot fully embodies Bryson’s mantra, “Don’t think of gluten-free as less than.” In fact, Points South goes over the top with its rich dining experience, memorable meals and unforgettable desserts.
Discover plant-based pastries in hipster Hampden
Next, head north to one of Charm City’s most eccentric enclaves. The Hampden neighborhood is home to off-the-wall art galleries, one-of-a-kind boutiques and hot spots both new and old. Visit in early June for the delightfully retro HONfest, which captures the endearing essence of this area, or stop by any time of year to see the quirkier side of Baltimore.
Nestled just south of hopping 36th Street, Harmony Bakery is the city’s best venue for hearty gluten-free and vegan fare. Don, Renee and Lisa Gorman, the father-mother-daughter trio behind the bakery, have been in the restaurant business for decades, specializing in everything from macrobiotic to plant-based cuisine. When Renee found that she could no longer tolerate gluten, the family shifted to making vegan, gluten-free and soy-free goodies — and Harmony Bakery was born.
The bakery produces an impressive array of sweet and savory treats, and when you arrive, you’ll be greeted by bright display cases brimming with tarts, pies, quiches and daily specials. If you’re hungry for something savory, go with the flavorful spinach, tomato and artichoke quiche or the spinach and mushroom tart with cashew cheese. Then step over to the sweet side and sample a Samoa bar with coconut filling, a couple of almond jam cookies or my favorite, a fruit tart with sweet cashew cream.
Even if you visit a couple of times during your trip, you’ll always find a new treat to try. Experimentation is the name of the game for this family-run spot, and the Harmony Bakery constantly turns out inventive recipes and delicious new sweets and savories.
Try local and international fare at a food hall
If you love exploring culture through cuisine as much as I do, then you’ll take any opportunity to tour a market or eat your way through a food hall. While Baltimore is home to a handful of worthy markets, some of which are over 200 years old, I suggest putting the comparatively new R. House at the top of your list. Located in a former auto shop near gems like the Baltimore Museum of Art and Johns Hopkins University, R. House hosts 10 food counters serving some of the tastiest bites in town.
It’s easy to get distracted by the tacos, poke bowls and ice cream in this buzzing food hall, but you’ll want to save your appetite for the colorful arepas at White Envelope. If you’ve sampled your fair share of these corn-based sandwiches before, you might expect to find customary combinations and traditional ingredients at White Envelope. Instead, chef Federico Tischler celebrates creativity and Venezuelan culture with arepas you won’t find anywhere else.
All of White Envelope’s arepas are gluten free, which makes deciding what to order difficult. Meat lovers will want to sink their teeth into the short rib and plantain puree-stuffed Paint It Black arepa, and vegans have plenty of options, too. But you can’t go wrong with The Immortal Crab Reloaded, which comes stuffed with a perfectly fried crab cake, fresh avocado and tart green mango salsa. With its Venezuelan, Caribbean and Baltimorean influences, this signature arepa captures a delectable combination of cultures in a single bite.
Top it off with a trip to Baltimore’s sweetest spot
Once you’ve enjoyed all the sights, smells and flavors of R. House, explore your choice of the many attractions near the Remington neighborhood. To the west, the expansive 19th-century Druid Hill Park welcomes visitors with walking trails, gardens and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. To the north, Wyman Park boasts the renowned Baltimore Museum of Art, the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and your pick of green spaces. When you start feeling peckish, you’ll be just a few blocks away from sweet27, Baltimore’s oldest gluten-free bakery and restaurant.
When this spot opened over a decade ago, sweet27 was a wholesale venue focused solely on baked goods, specializing in cupcakes and other sweet treats. Over the years, owner Suraj Bhatt turned sweet27 into a neighborhood bakery, café and restaurant with a completely gluten-free menu that emphasizes fresh, multicultural dishes. From the Caribbean-inspired goat curry and jerk chicken to the Indian-influenced Bombay chicken and Manchurian cauliflower, sweet27’s menu features an intoxicating mix of spices from around the world.
Whether you sit down for lunch or dinner, don’t miss your chance to top off your visit with one of sweet27’s classic desserts. At this sweet spot, you can treat yourself to more than a dozen gluten-free and dairy-free cupcake flavors, including red velvet, lemon buttercream, German chocolate and everything in between.
From sweet treats and hearty plant-based goodies to classic crab cakes and Latin favorites, Baltimore truly delivers when it comes to gluten-free cuisine. Consider me completely enamored with Charm City.