As simple a concept as the crab cake is — crab meat formed into a patty, with some mild (and secret) seasoning, cooked and served either as a sandwich or in pairs — the variety is astounding. Broiling gives them one flavor; frying them another. Getting a jumbo backfin lump crab cake (which can cost about the same as a good steak, about $20–30) will result in a different, though not always better, crab cake than cheaping out for one made of less top-grade meat, with a little filler.
Seasonings vary from restaurant to restaurant as well; one may go light, another heavy. But for those seeking out the ultimate in Baltimore’s  signature meal (and frankly, you’re not going to find a better crab cake outside the city, no matter how much you pay), here’s a short list of places that have earned fervent devotees.
Note that these are generally unexpected places to find a great crab cake, and places favored by locals. If you’re at a premier restaurant and crab cakes are on the menu, you can be 99 percent that they’re going to be quite good: You just can’t survive in this town by serving a lousy crab cake.
There’s a triumvirate of local, long-time crab-cake sellers that have near-unanimous approval in Baltimore. First is the esteemed Faidley Seafood , in downtown’s Lexington Market; the delicacy is best eaten at Faidley’s long communal tables and washed down with a cold beer. It’s a great place to grab a crab cake for lunch (though lines can get a little long) or before a baseball or football game.
In Fell’s Point, the tidy corner bar Duda’s Tavern  turns out great pub food, including a much-respected, tasty crab cake. Finally, a bit east of Federal Hill is another no-frills local haunt, Captain Larry’s , where the bar’s microscopic kitchen somehow turns out a big, legendary crab-cake sandwich.
For a very different take on the dish, head to Pierpoint  in Fell’s Point, where they eschew the normal broiler or frying pan and cook their crab cakes in a smoker.