Meatballs are having a moment right now and, at our house, we couldn’t be more thrilled.
There’s a lot to love about little balls of ground meat. Whether they’re on a sandwich, topping a big pile of pasta, or they’re all by themselves in sauce, they’re comforting, savory and fun to eat.
Once strictly the domain of Italian restaurants, meatballs are popping up on menus of all kinds. Yes, you’re going to find some great ones at traditional Italian groceries around town (the DiPasquale meatballs, which I buy at Mastellone’s, are some of our favorites). But these days, the restaurant doesn’t have to be Italian to turn out a nice meatball.
Narrowing this list down to five restaurants was tough; Dixon and I probably could’ve created a list of 50 of our favorite spots for meatballs. We’d love to hear about your favorite meatballs, too – please share in the comments!
best meatballs in baltimore
410 South High Street, Little Italy | 410-685-6727 | website
If you’re in the mood for a meatball, you probably can’t go wrong anywhere in Little Italy. We could’ve built this entire list just around the restaurants on High Street. But we needed to pick just one place, so we focused on Café Gia, a lively corner spot with tons of personality and a bison meatball we can’t resist.
Bison is a lean meat, but the meatballs aren’t the least bit dry. The meat is ground finely – something kids will love – and juicy. Doused in red sauce and sprinkled with freshly-grated cheese, when we split an order of these meatballs, you can be sure we’re going to fight over who gets the last bite.
But again, you’ll find good meatballs all over the neighborhood. In fact, Little Italy recently hosted its first ever meatball competition. The winner, Margaret Occhiogrosso, works at Aldo’s. She took home the prize thanks to an old family recipe (that you can now find on the Aldo’s menu as a special).
8 Ball Meatball
814 South Broadway, Fells Point | 443-759-5315 | website
With “meatball” right there in its name, this Fells Point restaurant puts all its eggs – or balls, as it were – in one basket. The menu lets you choose your own adventure, picking your protein, sauce and delivery method. One day, you can go for a classic spaghetti, meatballs and red sauce combo. On another occasion, you might opt for a veggie meatball slider. Your choice.
Dixon and I are both partial to the restaurant’s classic meatball, which is made with a well-seasoned combination of beef, pork and veal. But you can’t go wrong with a little experimentation, either. The spicy pork meatball has a kick that is a fun match for parmesan cream, served over spinach.
Before you go to 8 Ball, you should know that the restaurant’s humor is on the cheeky side. Because he is a 10 year-old boy, Dixon naturally thought the “balls” sign on men’s restroom was hilarious, but jokes like that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
5716 York Road, Baltimore | 410-433-8677 | website
If you live in or around the northern part of Baltimore, chances are you’re already familiar with Toss, the petite BYOB just south of The Senator Theater.
Though Toss is best known for its pizza (if you haven’t had it, try the Toss special), the rest of its menu is also terrific, including the meatballs. Available with pasta or alone, as a side dish, they are soft, tender and seasoned gorgeously.
Dixon eats these for dinner at least twice a month. They’re so good, we order two servings, to make sure we have a few left over.
3845 Falls Road, Hampden | 410-878-0884 | website
A casual Hampden restaurant/bar might not be a place you’d expect to find on a list like this, but it’s proof that these days, meatballs are everywhere.
This new spot, located in the old McCabe’s space on Falls Road in Hampden, is more kid-friendly than you might expect from the location. The kids’ menu is a good one, including all the classics, but the list of starters also has plenty of options appropriate for younger palates.
That’s where you’ll find the meatballs, which are placed in a cast iron pan, doused in marinara, topped with mozzarella and baked. Dixon loves their soft texture – and the added bonus of crispy, cheese-topped bread served alongside the dish.
When it’s cold outside, Grano Pasta Bar, in Hampden, might be the coziest spot in Baltimore. Small and narrow, with just a couple tables and a long bar, this BYOB is full of smiling faces and fabulous aromas.
Like 8 Ball Meatball, Grano’s menu puts the onus on the diner to figure out which combination of pasta, sauce and side appeals most that day. If you want to go slightly spicy, try the amatriciana. Sophisticated? The gorgonzola and walnut sauce is unforgettable. But for Dixon, it’s all about the meaty Bolognese, amped up with an extra side of meatballs.
The meatballs are little guys, impressively soft, and made with beef and Pecorino cheese. Served in chunky tomato sauce, they are both tasty and, somehow, adorable.
Photos by Laura Black