Down East’s Guide to Good Eating in Greater Portland.
Welcome to America’s “foodiest small town!” According to Bon Appétit magazine, at least. We at Down East: The Magazine of Maine concur. Portland has an unmatched collection of fabulous restaurants, talented chefs, fresh local ingredients, and a food-savvy population. Whether you’re looking to sample some of Maine’s famous seafood, settle in to a bowl of noodles, or grab a quick snack any time of the day, this city of 64,000 people has a delicious bite for everyone. For a weekend visitor, Portland’s array of food options can be overwhelming — which James Beard Award-winning restaurant should we go to? (Trick question: the answer is both Fore Street and Hugo’s. Did we mention you’re going to leave town quite full?) Where can I eat great food with a view? What’s the best lobster dish in town? Herewith is a digestible guide for the food-minded tourist.
"Whatever you do, don’t overlook Portland’s diners. Now, I’m no morning person, and I’m definitely not a breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day kind of guy — except when I’m in Portland.”
Bon Appétit magazine
Here are five of our favorite pretty places in and around Portland to grab a bite and take in the views. Bundle up! Some of these are only reachable by ferry.
Chebeague Island Inn
If you happen to be in town before October 18, check out this island inn, which boasts a formal dining room looking out to Casco Bay’s Littlejohn and Cousins islands. If you want to make a night of it, stay over and play some golf on the nine-hole course. 61 South Rd., Chebeague Island. 207-846-5155. www.chebeagueislandinn.com
Through Columbus Day, this restaurant on Portland’s Great Diamond Island is a great spot for a quick island excursion (it’s a half-hour ride on a Casco Bay ferry) with the bonus of some tasty traditional seafood for lunch or dinner. 1 Diamond Ave., Great Diamond Island, Portland. 207-766-5850. www.diamondsedge.com
Located on the wharf across from the Casco Bay ferry terminal, this bustling pizza place is family-friendly and offers a view of Portland’s working waterfront from the deck. 72 Commercial St., Portland. 207-772-0333.
The Lobster Shack
Open through October 24, this lobster joint sits out on the rocks near Two Lights State Park and has great views and a darn delicious lobster roll and fried clams. 225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth. 207-799-1677. www.lobstershacktwolights.com
Top of the East
For a sweeping view of Portland Harbor (if it’s clear enough you can also see Back Cove and New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to the west), ascend the elevator at the Eastland Park Hotel to the top-floor bar and lounge. It’s a great place to have a cocktail and catch the sunset or have lunch above the bustle of the city. 157 High St., Portland. 207-775-5411. www.eastlandparkhotel.com
"In the last decade, Portland has undergone a controlled fermentation for culinary ideas — combining young chefs in a hard climate with few rules, no European tradition to answer to, and relatively low economic pressure — and has become one of the best places to eat in the Northeast.”
The New York Times
Off the Bearded Path
Portland has its fair share of James Beard Award-winning and -nominated restaurants, but its smaller establishments are what truly make Portland a food-lovers paradise. With so many to choose from, we asked Anestes Fotiades, founder of the immensely useful online guide to Portland-area restaurants, Portland Food Map (www.portlandfoodmap.com), to share his favorite places around town:
“This is an essential weekend stop after my Saturday morning trips to the farmers’ market. Aurora Provisions lays out a fine spread of excellent breakfast sandwiches (try the Sabatino’s Way made with luna bread from Micucci’s), coffee, and baked goods.” 64 Pine St., Portland. 207-871-9060. www.auroraprovisions.com
“If a perfectly made morning cappuccino is part of your morning routine then Bard Coffee will quickly become part of your Harvest on the Harbor itinerary. For an extra special cup of coffee, ask your barista to AeroPress one of Bard’s single origin beans.” 185 Middle St., Portland. 207-899-4788. www.bardcoffee.net
“Guy and Stella Hernandez’s goal when they started Bar Lola was to create a restaurant that was ‘casual but precise,’ and they’ve succeeded in spades. The warm, welcoming atmosphere and constantly changing small plate menu keeps me coming back on a weekly basis. My current faves are the pork belly taco, smoked duck with sauerkraut, and the celery leaf and pâté salad.” 100 Congress St., Portland. 207-775-5652. www.barlola.net
“It’s one of those odd facts of culinary demographics that Portland, population 64,000, has more than a dozen Thai restaurants. All except one serve the standard Thai menu of pad thai, spring roles, etc. Boda, where the street-vendor inspired tapas rule the menu, is the exception to the rule. I can’t eat here without getting at least one serving of the miang kum som-oh — and neither should you. The crispy squid with chili-garlic sauce is also a standout dish.” 671 Congress St., Portland. 207-347-7557. www.bodamaine.com
“It takes Greek cuisine out of the taverna and into the realm of fine dining. Go there for the all-Greek wine list and the exquisitely prepared dishes of lamb and fish — and be sure not to leave without sampling the yogurt and honey dessert.” 547 Congress St., Portland. 207-221-0245. www.emilitsa.com
Homegrown Herb & Tea
“Need to detox from all the rich food and wine you’ve been having? Then go for a walk to Homegrown Herb & Tea where owner Sarah Richards will hand-craft a unique cup of herbal tea from her apothecary of ingredients to get you back on your feet and ready for more fois gras in no time.” 195 Congress St., Portland. 888-845-8747. www.homegrownherbandtea.com
“It offers an ever-changing menu of tasty soups and chowders that are just what you want as the cooler New England weather comes our way. Vegetarians, vegans, and those that need gluten-free meals will find plenty to choose from here. $5.50 gets you a bowl of soup and fresh baked roll, fine for a light meal or afternoon snack.” Public Market House, 28 Monument Sq., 2nd floor, Portland. 207-415-6692. www.kamasouptra.com
“It’s quite simple: For the best sushi in Portland head over to Miyake. Alexandra Guarnaschelli recently plugged the mushroom miso soup on the Food Network. The bowl of noodles Miyake prepared a couple years ago for a screening of Tampopo is still easily in my top ten of the best things I’ve ever eaten, so I’m especially looking forward to their new noodle house, Pai Men Miyake, that will be opening in Longfellow Square this fall.” 129 Spring St., Portland. 207-871-9170. www.restaurantmiyake.com
“This pub has the sort of beer list that makes beer geeks weak in the knees. European breweries loom large in their bottle and draft list but one of my favorite local brews, Maine Beer Company’s Spring Peeper Ale, is also available.” 4 Canal Plaza, Portland. 207-761-2437. www.novareresbiercafe.com
“Butternut squash and cranberries are just about the last two ingredients you might expect to see on a pizza but when Otto Pizza pairs them up on a pie with herbed ricotta it makes for a unexpectedly good eating experience. Get a slice and sit out on the sidewalk for some good people watching on Congress Street or grab a table at its new dining room and enjoy a glass of wine with your meal.” 576 Congress St., Portland. 207-773-7099. www.ottoportland.com
Lots of Lobster
Don’t leave town without sampling some of the city’s best — and most creative — lobster creations.
Steve Corry’s truffled lobster mac and cheese at Five Fifty-Five is a crash course in succulent decadence. Seriously, this dish is not for the calorie-counters, but it is delicious. 555 Congress St., Portland. 207-761-0555. www.fivefifty-five.com
Street and Co. is renowned for its seafood offerings — scallops, mussels, squid, clams, and, of course, lobster. Now imagine all of those fruits of the sea in one dish and you have the two-person lobster diavolo. 33 Wharf St., Portland. 207-775-0887. www.streetandcompany.net
Fore Street’s menu changes frequently, but if the wood-oven-roasted split lobster is on it, it is a delightful new way to enjoy Maine’s signature seafood. 288 Fore St., Portland. 207-775-2717. www.forestreet.biz
Dimillo’s Floating Restaurant has lazy lobster — perfectly cooked lobster meat drowned in a pool of melted butter. It should be on everyone’s Portland food bucket list. 25 Long Wharf, Portland. 207-772-1081. www.dimillos.com
The folks at the Salt Exchange created a divine combination of lobster with swiss chard and leeks with a red wine lobster butter. Look for anything to do with lobster — it’s bound to be a combination you’ve never tried before. 245 Commercial St., Portland. 207-347-5687. www.thesaltexchange.net