We’re not asking you to dine out at every amazing restaurant in Maine. Just these 20. Plus one entire town. Hope you’re hungry.
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
63 Washington Ave., Portland. 207-805-1336
The glossy food mags keep dwelling on the relative Brooklyn-ness of Peter and Orenda Hale’s snug new wine bar, which fronts their two-year-old organic/biodynamic wine shop, Maine & Loire. “Feels like it could be in Williamsburg,” Food & Wine gushed. Nails a big-city date-night vibe, said Bon Appétit, hailing it as one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants, “but what makes it better is that you’re nowhere close to Brooklyn.” Truth is, its proximity to Brooklyn is the least interesting thing about Drifters Wife. Chef Ben Jackson’s succulent, shareable dishes of local veggies and fish are exquisitely plated and prepped in a behind-the-bar kitchen using just an oven and a pair of induction burners. And that commitment to wholesomeness and simplicity? Sorry, Williamsburg, but that’s all Maine.
660 Forest Ave., Portland. 207-200-8503
Portlanders hope that Woodford F&B heralds a trend: off-peninsula neighborhood joints with heavy-hitting kitchens that stack up against reservations-only hotspots downtown. Woodford serves up brasserie fare — a superb steak and fries, luscious deviled eggs, fork-tender pork chops — in a warm, family-friendly dining room of vaguely retro booths and wall tiles. Chef Courtney Loreg is a Sam Hayward protégé who spent four years as sous chef at Fore Street, plus another couple at Bresca. Casual and fun, Woodford is definitely Portland’s best and most welcoming restaurant that shares a building with a tanning salon and dry cleaner.
47 Middle St., Portland. 207-879-7669
Bon Appétit named East Ender among its Best New Restaurants of 2015, and Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy’s unassuming little gastropub has only gotten better. The duo, who first made waves with their Small Axe food truck, are still plating up comfort food that’s inventive on the margins: chicken wings spiced with vadouvan Indian curry, duck breast with a Scotch (duck) egg, etc. But it’s like they’ve only now fully settled into their non-mobile digs: execution is more consistent, service is warmer, and the bar crowd upstairs has come to think of the place as their own. We’ve only seen the beginning of the East Ender.
419 Main St., Rockland. 207-596-7447
It’s been a decade since Keiko Suzuki Steinberger first lured diners to Rockland with her distinctive brand of sushi, which draws heavily from the local catch: halibut, mackerel, herring, tuna, whelks, clams. When a restaurant’s been around that long, it seems enough to hope for consistency. But Steinberger, a 2016 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for best chef, is ever more inventive in her approach to fresh morsels of seafood and veggies that arrive at each table like exquisitely wrapped gifts. Rockland dining is hot (note two entries on this list), and Suzuki’s is simply at the top of its game.
488B Main St., Rockland. 207-466-9059
Sam Richman’s food is hearty, unpretentious, and exuberant — like a backyard cookout in spirit, but way more delicious. Richman, who previously headed up the kitchen at the now-defunct Salt Water Farm restaurant, is a master of home-style cooking — roast short ribs, chicken stews, hamburgers, and the like. He pumps up flavors by smoking, grilling, pickling, or rubbing with herbs, and he presses into service whatever fresh veggies and fruits he finds on his morning rounds. Desserts — warm, spiced puddings, ice-cream sandwiches, blueberry crisp — are likewise evocative of home. Sammy’s Deluxe is at once kinda retro and kinda new, which makes it kinda perfect for an old fishing port morphing into Maine’s hippest, artiest town.
180 Lisbon St., Lewiston. 207-333-6840
Until this summer, Forage Market was simply a chill coffee shop and café, most notable for its 120-year-old building (a one-time junk shop with exposed brick walls and dramatic high ceilings) and its hand-rolled, wood-fired bagels, a mix of Montreal and New York styles, melding the exterior crispiness of the former with the salty, doughy heft of the latter. Then, this summer, Forage launched its Thursday-through-Saturday pizza nights, transforming the place into a pubby community gathering spot serving creative wood-oven ’zas (try the sausage, fennel, and gruyère with white cream sauce) and pouring some powerhouse local beers (including a few from Bear Bones nanobrewery, across the street). The epicurean ambitions, commitment to local sourcing, and hangout vibe are perfectly characteristic of the gradual re-awesome-ization of Lewiston’s Lisbon Street.
48 Hwy. 162, Sinclair. 207-543-7584
One of the more charming recent trends in the food world has been a nostalgic fascination with old-fashioned Midwestern supper clubs — and similar big-feed palaces of retro gentility all across rural America. Aroostook’s Long Lake Sporting Club has been obscuring plates with their giant and hand-cut porterhouses, fried shrimp and steak fries, and hefty racks of ribs for almost a century. These days, the bar still bustles on the weekends, snowmobiles fill the parking lot in winter, and the complimentary ployes (and snippets of Acadian French) are a reminder that you’re definitely not in the Midwest.
24 Central St., Rockport. 207-236-8880
Sara Jenkins has been slow-simmering her Mediterranean-style restaurant, perched high above Rockport Harbor, for months. Part of a small wave of chefs with Maine roots returning from adventures in New York, the Camden-born Jenkins opened Nīna June without fanfare in late spring, serving deliciously distinctive brunches like lemon ricotta pancakes and shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato-red pepper sauce). A few weeks later, Jenkins quietly added Sunday lunch, with dishes reflective of a childhood spent in Italy and Lebanon, and of her passion for fresh, local ingredients (think spaghetti with Maine crabmeat, arugula, and lemon butter or grilled eggplant and spicy feta atop Middle Eastern flatbreads). Finally, in September, Jenkins delivered on Nīna June’s summer-long tease, adding the kind of elegantly simple dinners that won her acclaim at Manhattan’s Porchetta and Porsena. Proof enough that anything worth having is worth waiting for.
2 State St., Ellsworth. 207-664-1030.
Ellsworth isn’t known for destination dining, so the lines at Serendib might take you by surprise. Standout Indian and Sri Lankan food is a welcome novelty on the midcoast, but the hearty, fragrant dishes coming out of Sanjeeva Abeyasekera’s kitchen could hold their own in Portland and beyond. Abeyasekera’s small menu sticks largely to the classics: curries, vindaloo, super chewy naan, and fresh, house-made paneer. One exception is the lamprais — a rich little package of mixed meat curry, eggplant, and sweet-and-spicy onion sambol, all baked inside a banana leaf. The dining room is no-frills, but for fans of subcontinental cuisine, it’s well worth a detour.
25 Broad St., Bangor. 207-941-8800
Opened last year in the stately, curved Merchant’s Bank Building (which sat mostly vacant for the 15 years prior), this clubby dining room sweeps around the impressive spectacle of an open historic bank vault. Evenrood’s is an inviting spot for an after-work cocktail or a pre-concert dinner — even al fresco dining on the downtown sidewalk outside. The menu’s unpretentious, but the steak and seafood entrées are cooked well and served with cheer, and seemingly unimaginative apps are surprisingly flavorful — the mussels have a delightful kick thanks to red curry broth, the seared tuna hits the perfect ginger-soy-wasabi balance. Evenrood’s makes a sturdy, classic anchor for Bangor’s expanding downtown dining scene.
In 180 paces (we counted), you can traverse the nucleus of Kittery’s snug Foreside district, passing eight restaurants, a whole-animal butcher, an import market of Euro delicacies, a dim craft-cocktail bar, and a coffee shop with the best vibe (and crullers) for 50 miles in any direction. And Kittery’s epicurean uprising isn’t limited to Foreside. “The identity of Kittery used to be ‘We’re not Portsmouth,’ ” says restaurateur Michael Landgarten, “but now we’re our own thing. We’re a force.” And if you’re eating your way across town, a tour de force. See more!