Where to Eat Now
Maine's top chefs pick 53 favorite restaurants.
- By: Kathleen Fleury
Photograph Courtesy of the White Barn Inn & Spa
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We are living through the Golden Age of Maine food. To help us sort through the state’s increasingly plentiful dining options, we have once again turned to the experts: the chefs and food industry folks that we trust to lead us to dependably good eats. This list represents their favorite dining spots. You’ll find some well-known institutions (because Fore Street in Portland really is that good), but you’ll also discover some surprises: cheap take-out joints and ethnic eateries that have impressed Maine’s finest chefs over the past year. So here it is, our annual eating guide of fifty-three restaurants that you absolutely must put on your to-visit list.
Tell us your favorites by adding a comment below.
568 Rte. 1, Freeport, 207-865-0600, www.bucksnaked-bbq.com
Maine is hardly known for its barbecue, but Buck’s Naked in Freeport offers an authentic taste of the South. This locally owned joint, housed in the old Dexter Shoe building, is chock-full of flavor. “It’s a great value, and its flavors are pretty on,” says Jeff Landry, of the Farmer’s Table. “I go there two to three times a month, and I’ve never ever had a bad meal. Plus, the décor is kind of funky, and the beer is always cold.” From fresh salads to tasty appetizers to gut-busting platters of ribs, brisket, cornbread, and baked beans, Buck’s menu has got something for everyone. The “naked” part means all the meats are dry rubbed, or naked, to be doused by the individual eater in one of the five homemade barbecue sauces. Be sure to check out “the juke joint,” a live music venue downstairs with pool tables, foosball, and darts.
Don’t Miss Dish: The burnt brisket ends. Sinfully indulgent, this so-called appetizer is a rich, incredibly tender dish. Make it your entrée with a draft of Magic Hat brew: BFP (Big Fat Pig). The Vermont brewing company created it in honor of Freeport’s Big Friendly Indian, Buck’s Naked’s former neighbor.
Dress it up: Buck’s Naked makes all its own BBQ sauces, including the Maine blueberry barbecue one. Look for all five to be bottled and sold this spring.
White Barn Inn
37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk, 207-967-2321, www.whitebarninn.com
“What is not to love about the White Barn Inn? The luxury, the decadence!” declares Primo’s Melissa Kelly. Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of nearby Arrows share Kelly’s sentiments: “Consistently, White Barn Inn offers gracious service in a lovely setting with delicious food. You can’t help but relax and enjoy yourself.” Many of our experts had high praise for this southern Maine spot, where chef Jonathan Cartwright has been at the helm crafting sophisticated meals in a romantically rustic and elegant barn setting since 1994.
Picnic Provisions: If you stay at the inn, the restaurant will pack you a personal picnic basket for your day’s exploration. Not only do you get to eat the award-winning food, but you get to keep the wicker basket, too!
112 Main St., Ellsworth, 207-664-7554, www.cleonice.com
The millions of people who visit Acadia and beyond each year often drive past this gem of a restaurant in downtown Ellsworth. Decked out in black and white checkered floors and stylish booths, Cleonice does Italian-Mediterranean cuisine in an elegant setting. “The tapas part of their menu is so good,” says Francine Bistro’s Brian Hill. “There’s a great yumminess about everything that [chef Richard Hanson] makes. And that tapas bar is so nice — it’s such a cool place to go in the afternoon or the evening.” Beyond tapas, Cleonice uses many ingredients from its own Bucksport farm on its regular full menu.
Exotic Options: “They have a taramasalata made out of smoked shad roe, from Stonington Sea Products, one of the best smokehouses in Maine,” says Hill. Cleonice blends the smoked shad roe with cream cheese, potato, olive oil, garlic, smoky paprika, and lemon, and spreads it on bread. It’s unbelievably delicious.”
pick a piece of pizza
A half-dozen slices to scream for.
Very thin crust brick oven style at Pizza Napoli, 667 Main St., Ogunquit, 207-646-0303 — Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, Arrows
Wood-fired thin crust from Bonobo, 46 Pine St., Portland, 207-347-8267, www.bonobopizza.com — Samantha and Don Lindgren, Rabelais Books
Hearth baked artisan style at Little Notch, 340 Main St., Southwest Harbor, 207-244-3357 — James Lindquist, Red Sky
Thin crust Neapolitan style from the Cabin, 552 Washington St., Bath, 207-443-6224 — Michael Gagne, Robinhood Free Meetinghouse
Hand-stretched thick crust at the Korner Store and Deli, 26 Oak St., Oakland, 207-465-3293 — Ryan Campbell, River Drivers
Authentic hand-tossed New York style from Finelli Pizzeria, 12 Downeast Highway, Ellsworth, 207-664-0230 — Gary Craig, The Pickled Herring
The local brew is the best brew, no matter where in Maine you happen to wake up.
“Portland Coffee Roasters (111 Commercial St., 207-772-9044, www.portland
coffeeroasters.com) is a haven for coffee lovers and music lovers alike, with weekends featuring talented local musicians.” — Stephen Lanzalotta, Micucci Grocery
“Zoot (31 Elm St., Camden, 207-236-9858, www.zootcoffee.com) is one of the best places I know for a great cup of coffee. It’s a great spot to read the paper and watch the goings on on Route 1, right outside.” — Lawrence Klang, Natalie’s
“Café Crème (56 Front St., Bath, 207-443-6454) has great coffee, a relaxed atmosphere, and is a great place to run into your friends or meet for short brief encounters, maybe romantic?” — Michael Gagne, Robinhood Free Meetinghouse
“We stock up on Randy’s Red Eye coffee at Fancy That (141 Rte. 1, Ogunquit, 207-646-4118). The espresso at Café Prego (44 Shore Rd., Ogunquit, 207-646-7734, www.caffepregoogt.com) is excellent, and it’s our favorite spot for gelato.” — Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, Arrows
“Willy Beans Bistro and Café (70 Lincoln St., Lewiston, 207-777-1111, www.willybeans.com) is a great space in the renovated Bates Mill. Leather chairs, fireplace, and a large offering of eats, with great coffee.” — Justin Oliver, Fuel
where to drink now
Five libation locations not to miss.
“John Myers is simply the best bartender in town, and his drink selection at the Grill Room (84 Exchange St., Portland, 207-774-2333, www.thefrontroomrestaurant.com) is a classic distillation (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of what to drink. And the best way to prove that beer deserves as much respect as wine is to spend an afternoon at Novare Res Bier Café (4 Canal Plaza, Portland, 207-761-2437, www.novareresbiercafe.com), sampling the great selection of beers, local and imported.” — Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, Rabelais Books
“The best view in Portland is to be had from the windows at the Top of the East (157 High St., Portland, 207-775-5411, www.eastlandparkhotel.com). While sipping a martini and nibbling on some appetizers from the bar menu, you can scan the city lights from your commanding vantage point thirteen stories above the sidewalks below.” — Anestes Fotiades, Portland Food Map
“With a selection of about eighteen undismissable food offerings — including warm spiced nuts, edamame, and white truffle popcorn — I don’t see much competition for Una Wine Bar and Lounge (505 Fore St., Portland, 207-828-0300, /www.unawinebar.com).” — Stephen Lanzalotta, Micucci Grocery
“She Doesn’t Like Guthrie’s (115 Middle St., 207-376-3344) in Lewiston serves up organic beers, wines, and the like. They have a fabulous music scene, and it’s small enough so you can really get close to the artists. Thursday night is fifty cent PBR night, if you bring your own Koozie.” — Justin Oliver, Fuel
Susan’s Fish N’ Chips
1135 Forest Ave., Portland, 207-878-3240, www.geocities.com/susansfnc
This is not some picturesque seaside shack atop a cliff on Maine’s coast. Rather, it occupies half of a building (the other half is a car parts business) near Morrills Corner, a busy Forest Avenue intersection. “It is usually a take-out joint,” according to Erik and Krista Desjarlais, of Evangeline and Bresca, respectively. “But sometimes we place our order, pour some fountain sodas, and go sit in the booths.” As the Desjarlaises attest, it’s a mistake to dismiss Susan’s for its location and downscale decor. “The young lady brought our food over with the most amazing ball jar of cold, delicious tartar sauce,” says Krista Desjarlais, of Bresca. “The lobster roll was packed with lobster, and the clams were golden brown delicious.”
Perfect Perk: One thing you won’t find at Susan’s is hoards of tourists. “The best part about Susan’s, besides the tartar sauce, is the lack of a line,” say the Desjarlaises. “We’ll gladly trade a 150-person line and screaming kids for fried food on Forest Avenue.”
288 Fore St., Portland, 207-775-2717, www.forestreet.biz
Run by the great Sam Hayward, Fore Street inspires a kind of reverence among Maine’s food industry authorities: it is the Maine restaurant our list of experts cited the most frequently. From the décor to the dessert, our chefs love it all. “I am a sucker for the rustic open plan and the panoramic view of the kitchen,” says Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, of Rabelais Books. For Melissa Kelly, of Primo, “it’s the simplicity and great ingredients,” reflected by a menu filled with Maine-grown food. (Hayward gets lamb raised on an island off the Maine coast for instance.) His commitment to local foods, especially meats, does not go unnoticed. “There are always fun meats and interesting seasonal game on the menu,” says Five Fifty-Five’s Steve Corry. “There is something about Fore Street’s wood-grilled food,” seconds Lawrence Klang, of Natalie’s. “The smokiness that permeates the meat and enhances the flavors of the dish make the meal immediately comforting and delightful.”
Menu Must-haves: While the constantly changing menu always has exciting new dishes, some of the steadfast favorites include the turnspit-roasted heritage pork and the wood-oven roasted mussels.
212 Maine St., # B, Brunswick, 207-721-0403, www.scarletbegoniasmaine.com
Whether you’re headed to a show at the Maine State Music Theatre or just passing through Brunswick, make sure to stop in for a bite at Scarlet Begonias. Tucked into a strip mall across from the First Parish Church, this tiny joint serves college-town food that’s both cheap and delicious. “Doug Lavallee does a bang-up job,” says chef Jeff Landry, of the Farmer’s Table in Portland. “His pizzas are fantastic and his crab cakes with cornbread are to die for.” Pick from dozens of pizzas and pastas — you’ll get a heaping portion without a hefty price tag. With only thirty seats, there can be a wait, especially on summer nights, but the food — a Mediterranean, Italian, American hybrid — proves well worth it.
Secret Saver: Scarlet Begonias is a bring-your-own alcohol establishment. BYOB can do wonders for the final tab.
Most Popular Pasta: The Rose Begonia, penne in a tomato cream sauce with chicken, bacon, and mushrooms, is the most popular seller, but Lavallee says that he gets the most compliments for the Scarlet Harlot, a classic puttanesca linguine.
Thanh Thanh II
782 Forest Ave., Portland, 207-828-1114, www.thanhthanh2.com
Maine used to have a reputation for having a lack of good ethnic food. Times are changing, and this unassuming Forest Avenue Vietnamese restaurant is part of the movement. Thanh Thanh II looks familiar, but its flavors and dishes are anything but. “They don’t feel like a cookie-cutter kind of place,” says Rob Evans, of Hugo’s, adding that he and his wife, Nancy Pugh, send all of their food-industry friends to Thanh Thanh II. “They do a really good job of balancing flavors and elements.” You can get an assortment of Vietnamese dishes from traditional soups to noodle and rice dishes to dumplings, spring rolls, and salads. “We do the pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup,” remarks Pugh. “There’s also the chicken cabbage salad that we always brag about, and a rare beef salad that is really spicy and really delicious.”
Drinkable Dessert: “Do the shakes with or without tapioca,” say the Hugo’s duo. Go safe with strawberry, pineapple, or coconut, or spice it up with the red bean, jack fruit, or mung bean flavors.
North Star Music Café
225 Congress St., Portland, 207-699-2994, www.northstarmusiccafe.com
Not only will the local musicians at North Star Music Café entertain you, the food will satisfy any eater — omnivores, herbivores, and vegans included. “This Munjoy Hill hangout is a coffee shop/café/music venue with a vibe that makes all its patrons feel good to be there,” says Portland Food Map founder Anestes Fotiades. “Good coffee is just the starting point. Add to that the comfy seating, free Wi-Fi, great people watching, and a selection of good food and snacks and you get the whole picture.” Choices range from rice and beans to salads and soups to sandwiches.
All Ages: “The North Star attracts a diverse clientele,” says Fotiades, “from the two-year-olds who hang out in the children’s play area to the seventy-two-year olds who come for the music.”
Encore Treat: Spelt, an ancient grain, might sound scary to some traditional cookie lovers, but the spelt chocolate chip treats they bake here are delicious.
Simones Hot Dog Stand
99 Chestnut St., Lewiston, 207-782-8431.
There’s nothing like an authentic Maine hot dog on a summer day — any day, really. And at Simones Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston you get the real deal. Known for its “red snappers,” Simones serves those delightfully snappy, fire-truck red dogs that have inexplicably captured Mainer’s hearts and stomachs for nearly a century — about as long as Simones has been serving them. “It’s been open one hundred years,” says Fuel’s chef Justin Oliver. “The Simones family is always there, always friendly, and always willing to talk politics. They have great dogs, of course, but they also have old-school, diner-style burgers, chicken sandwiches, and the like. Sit at the bar, and catch up on anything going on in town.”
Toppings: Its most popular seller, aside from the mustard, relish, onions, and celery salt classic, is the chili-cheese dog.
Decadent Dessert: Though the hot dogs are the main game here, be on the lookout for the seasonal homemade pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling.
849 Forest Ave., Portland, 207-761-8222, www.haggartys.com
Bold, vibrant, spicy Indian cuisine — if you want it, Haggarty’s on Forest Avenue is the place to go. This tiny take-out and delivery joint, technically serving Brit-Indi cuisine, has a small but sensational menu. Balancing favorites like masala and chicken tikka with more innovative dishes like patia, a thick sauce made of pureed mango, tomatoes, lemon, ginger, garlic, and mixed peppers, this authentic eatery has something for everyone. “To get peak flavor, you have to weather the heat: fiery hot South Indian garlic chili on your choice of protein is my number one,” says Micucci Grocery baker Stephen Lanzalotta. “But just as readily they can pull off a delicate coconut-milk trick they call creamy Ceylonese korma, perfect on squares of chargrilled chicken.” Dip the garlic naan in any of the above and you have a totally scrumptious, authentic meal that will feed you for days.
Do Delivery: You can eat in at one of two small tables, but there’s really nothing better than getting a piping hot tub of masala delivered to your door if you’re lucky enough to live in the area.
Finger Food: If you’re looking for a quick bite in the car that doesn’t involve the use of a fork, order the vegetable pakora. It’s a healthy serving of chickpea flour and vegetables mashed together in a crisp, dense, fried nugget.
Big G’s Deli
581 Benton Ave., Winslow, 207-873-7808, www.big-g-s-deli.com
Bring a big appetite to Big G’s Deli in Winslow. With immensely large sandwiches and an equally expansive selection, Big G’s stands out, according to River Driver’s chef Ryan Campbell of Millinocket. “It has some of the best and most creative sandwiches in the Northeast,” says Campbell. “I have been going to this place since I was a kid.” Sandwich choices abound, from the “Ex Governor McKernan,” with pastrami, corned beef, onions, swiss cheese, and tomatoes, to the “Sea Muenster,” with shrimp salad, muenster cheese, tomatoes, and sprouts. Big G’s also serves a killer breakfast. “It’s by far the best breakfast in Maine,” claims Campbell. “You always leave full. And you never have to have the same thing.”
Oodles of Omelets: Big G’s boasts more than thirty different kinds of omelets on the menu. They range from $4.50 to $7.25.
More Foodie Favorites
Bar Lola (100 Congress St., Portland, 207-775-5652, www.barlola.net). “It is a really lovely place to go when you want to graze,” says Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, of Rabelais Books. “Guy and Stella have a gem of a place on Munjoy Hill.”
Black Sushi (259 Main St., Ogunquit, 207-646-0727) “is a great local place,” according to Arrows owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. “It’s a fun hangout, unexpected among the usual run of Maine eateries. Its sushi is creative, and the setting is really intimate. Plus, you can bring your own wine or beer.”
Bresca (111 Middle St., Portland, 207-772-1004, www.bresca.org). “I thought Krista Kern’s version of pork and baked beans was a brilliant interpretation of the New England staple,” raves Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, of Rabelais Books. “This dish is in my top choices for my last meal.”
Five Fifty-Five (555 Congress St., Portland, 207-761-0555, www.fivefifty-five.com). “Have you tasted Five Fifty-Five’s lobster mac and cheese?” asks the Farmer’s Table chef Jeff Landry. If you haven’t, you should.
Lucia’s Kitchen (1151 Rte. 1, # A, Cape Neddick, 207-363-5557). “The Mexican and American food is superb,” say Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, of Arrows. “It is a total stand out in the world of prepared food.”
Orvieto (67 Prospect St., Millinocket, 207-723-8399, www.dicensiinc.com). “You wouldn’t expect to find a great Italian deli up in Millinocket,” says Ryan Campbell, chef at River Driver’s restaurant. “With the daily specials, from cold sandwiches to hot panini, it’s a wonder that Subway is still in business here!”
Paciarino (468 Fore St., Portland, 207-774-3500). This new pasta mecca not only offers bowls of delicious pasta, the owners teach you how to make it at their bimonthly classes. “Fresh from Milan just a few months ago, Fabiana De Savino and Enrico Barbiero offer pastas all freshly made,” says Don Lindgren, of Rabelais Books.
Vaughan Street Variety (235 Vaughan St., Portland, 207-772-8993). “The selection of sandwiches is just amazing,” says Lawrence Klang, of Natalie’s. “I figured I’d go with the sandwich they called ‘The Best.’ On soft focaccia, with a nice sprinkling of salt and rosemary, the sandwich had artichoke hearts, provolone, and capicola, as well as pepperoncini and tomatoes.”
Martha’s Maine food picks
Love her or hate her, Martha Stewart is arguably Maine’s most famous (summer) food expert. Whether she’s raving about Raye’s Mustard (P.O. Box 2, Eastport, 800-853-1903, www.rayesmustard.com) or doting on the peekytoe crab from MDI Shellfish Co. (118 Bass Harbor Rd., Southwest Harbor, 207-244-7048), Ms. Stewart has often proclaimed her love for Maine’s plethora of culinary treats on her TV shows and in her magazines. So where does the Seal Harbor resident like to eat when she’s in town? “One of my favorite things to do in Maine is to take a boat on a clear night to Little Cranberry Island and enjoy a meal at the Islesford Dock Restaurant (207-244-7494),” Martha tells us. Like many of our other experts, she also espouses the virtues of Fore Street (288 Fore St., Portland, 207-775-2717, www.forestreet.biz) and Primo (2 South Main St., Rockland, 207-596-0770, www.primorestaurant.com). One last Martha tip: on a balmy summer night try her favorite drink, the caipirinha, from Havana (318 Main St., 207-288-2822, www.havanamaine.com) in Bar Harbor.
- By: Kathleen Fleury