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Baltimore is known for its seafood, but the city is also home to a variety of ethnic and regional cuisines. There are plenty of good restaurants in the main tourist areas, with excellent choices in Little Italy, Fell's Point, Harbor East, and Mount Vernon.

In recent years, the Inner Harbor has become overrun with chain restaurants serving mediocre fare, but such places as the Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone continue to draw crowds. Power Plant Live, with its mix of restaurants and clubs, is also packed for dinner. You'll find it a block north of Pratt Street, a short walk from the Inner Harbor.

Little Italy -- In just a few packed blocks, you'll find all the pasta, cannoli, and chianti you could want. Make a reservation if you know where you want to eat beforehand. But if you prefer to wander, plan to eat early or late and choose a place as you stroll through the basil-scented streets. If you don't have room for dessert, remember, there's always Vaccaro's to go. Tip: Parking is fairly easy. Choose the garage at Pratt and President streets, opt for the valet parking many restaurants offer, or look for a spot on the street.

Baltimore's Best Crab Cakes

A visit to Baltimore means crab cakes -- but what makes a good crab cake is for a topic of heated debate. You can expect jumbo lump mixed with a bit of mayo; fried or broiled is often the diner's choice. But each recipe is different. Is Old Bay seasoning required? How much filler is too much? Should you see a fleck of any plant material besides parsley?

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Keep in mind a few things: Crabs run from May to September (more or less), so you have a better chance of getting local crab -- not Louisiana or Asia imports -- then. You don't have to go to a crab house for a decent crab cake. In fact, the number of crab houses has dwindled in recent years, but you can find good seafood at just about every restaurant around. Expect to pay $12 to $18 for a crab-cake sandwich (served on crackers or a bun). A crab-cake platter will be at least $25 and usually comes with fries, coleslaw, and sliced tomato.

Below is my list of where I think you'll find a good crab cake. Are these the best? Have a marvelous time deciding!

The Crab Shanty Restaurant, 3410 Plum Tree Dr. (Rte. 40 W.), Ellicott City (tel. 410/465-9660; www.crabshanty.com). Good-size cake, not too much filler. Open Sunday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. Carryout is available.

Faidley Seafood, Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington St. (tel. 410/727-4898; www.faidleyscrabcakes.com). The Faidley family has been selling seafood from this stall for 120 years, including a great traditional crab cake. Open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Carryout only; shipping is available, too.

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Gertrude's, at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr. (tel. 410/889-3399; www.gertrudesbaltimore.com). Noted chef John Shields offers traditional Baltimore-style cakes as well as a creative chef's special. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

Kali's Court, 1606 Thames St., Fell's Point (tel. 410/276-4700; www.kaliscourt.net). Crab, crab, and not much else. Open daily for dinner.

Nick's Fish House, 2600 Insulator Dr., South Baltimore (tel. 410/347-4123; www.nicksfishhouse.com). Maybe the old South Baltimore feel of this casual place swayed me, but this is a great traditional crab cake in a traditional (but new) crab house. Open every day for lunch and dinner.

Obrycki's Crab House and Seafood Restaurant, 1727 E. Pratt St., Upper Fell's Point (tel. 410/732-6399; www.obryckis.com). Traditional crab house, traditional crab cake. Open daily for lunch and dinner from mid-March to November.

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Pierpoint Restaurant, 1822 Aliceanna St., Fell's Point (tel. 410/675-2080; www.pierpointrestaurant.com). Crab cakes here are smoked -- different, but well worth a try. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.

Sweet Things in Charm City

Sometimes you just need a sweet -- and there are a couple sweet spots around town that shouldn't be missed if you're in the neighborhood. The most famous baker in town, Food Network's Ace of Cakes chef, Duff Goldman, has his Charm City Cakes shop in Remington, but it isn't open to the public.

The Baltimore Cupcake Company, 1433 E. Fort Ave. (tel. 410/783-1600; www.baltimorecupcakecompany.com). This little pink-and-white shop on the way to Fort McHenry sells cupcakes, other sweets, and Cafe du Monde coffee. Open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday from 9am to 5pm.

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Charm City Cupcakes, 326 N. Charles St. (tel. 410/244-8790; www.charmcitycupcakes.com). This downtown spot sells tasty cupcakes. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm.

Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1036 Light St., Federal Hill (tel. 410/522-7437; www.dangerouspies.com). No fancy stuff here -- just honest, homemade, fresh-out-of-the-oven pies. The rock-'n'-roll guys here make all kinds: fruit, Key (Bridge) lime, derby, and a towering lemon meringue. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 7am to 6pm.

Patisserie Poupon, 820 E. Baltimore St. (tel. 410/332-0390). You'll find this delightful French pastry shop in the shadow of the Shot Tower and near Port Discovery and Little Italy. (It's safer to drive here, due to traffic.) Stop for coffee and a croissant or a fabulously decorated pastry. Open Monday through Saturday from 7am to 6pm.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.