Barring traffic, Bostonians can drive to Portsmouth, New Hampshire or Kittery, Maine in just over an hour. The beautiful coastal city and town, respectively, are essential summer destinations — but don’t ignore them in the winter. There are always great things to eat, drink, and see.
Use this guide as a starting point for dining adventures in the side-by-side spots, and check back next season for additional recommendations; this guide will continue to grow.
Welcome to Portsmouth, a small city with fewer than 25,000 residents but droves of summertime tourists. Portsmouth’s size makes it easy to explore most of the city on foot: Unless otherwise noted, all spots in the Portsmouth section of this guide are either right in downtown Portsmouth or within a reasonable walking distance.
The food scene has many highlights; it’s brimming with seafood, but don’t miss other options. Bakeries and cafes make a particularly strong showing in Portsmouth, with plenty of pastries to try, from ice cream-filled macarons at La Maison Navarre to the iconic popovers at Popovers on the Square. Acclaimed chefs such as Matt Louis and Evan Mallett are cooking up a storm in the New American realm. The beer scene is stronger than ever, and cocktails are starting to catch up.
Here’s a sampling of essential dining options around Portsmouth, including full-service restaurants, fast-casual spots, and more, listed alphabetically within each category (not ranked).
29 Ceres St.
The ultimate date-night spot, this bistro — equal parts cozy and upscale — serves a seasonally changing menu that highlights the best of New England and beyond. Forgot to make a reservation for the intimate restaurant? The upstairs wine bar opens at 5 p.m.; try for a seat up there. Co-owner and chef Evan Mallett is a James Beard semifinalist and a cookbook author. He and his wife Denise also own a spice shop next door, Stock + Spice.
Bubby’s NY Style Delicatessen
241 Hanover St.
French toast made with challah; blintzes stuffed with sweet cheese and topped with fruit; matzoh ball soup and borscht; deli meats piled high on rye; knishes, kugel, and latkes — those seeking Jewish-style deli classics will find them at Bubby’s. Breakfast is available all day. There’s also a deli counter for takeout. (See the Fast-Casual Dining section for more information.)
Cava Tapas & Wine Bar
10 Commercial Alley
This romantic date-night spot serves tapas, paella, and pretty desserts (including the restaurant’s signature churros with chocolate), alongside easy-drinking cocktails and plenty of wine. The space features two wine bars and an attractive patio with a leafy “living wall.” Cava has been around since 2008. Sip a caipirinha; eat some patatas bravas and croquetas de jamon serrano.
189 State St.
This downtown restaurant’s name refers to how most of the proteins are prepared — brined and slow-cooked for “maximum tenderness and flavor,” per Cure’s website. The meaty menu is full of comforting entrees, from guava barbecue glazed short ribs to lobster mac and cheese. If weather permits, try to get a seat in the adorable garden patio. Inside, the intimate space features plenty of exposed brick and dim lighting.
The Franklin Oyster House
148 Fleet St.
This sequel to Moxy — both restaurants by acclaimed chef Matt Louis, who has been a semifinalist for a James Beard award on multiple occasions — features the best of the Seacoast’s seafood (and more) in platters of oysters, small plates that are constantly changing, charcuterie made in-house, and very local beers. Visit during the daily “happy hour” (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) for discounted oysters. This is the kind of restaurant that can be suitable for everything from a casual night out with friends to a ritzy date night.
- Oysters at Franklin Oyster House Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Fries at Franklin Oyster House Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Squid ink ramen at Franklin Oyster House Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Vietnamese roasted Brussels sprouts with peanuts at Franklin Oyster House Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Chicken sandwich at Franklin Oyster House Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
The Friendly Toast
113 Congress St.
Now a small chain that is growing throughout Massachusetts, The Friendly Toast originated right here in Portsmouth, a funky diner full of eclectic decorations, a giant menu, and popular brunch and late-night scenes (open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights). Egg-filled breakfast dishes galore, burgers, sandwiches, burritos, and more, including plenty of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options.
212 Islington St.
A short walk from the main drag of downtown Portsmouth, Lexie’s is a convenient stop for lunch en route to Liars Bench Beer Company and Great Rhythm Brewing Company. The casual burger joint also has locations in Durham, New Hampshire; Exeter, New Hampshire; and Newburyport, Massachusetts. The restaurant serves burgers piled high with toppings, hot dogs, grilled cheese, fish sandwiches, fish tacos, and the appropriate sides (fries with various toppings, onion rings, and fried pickles). There are also milkshakes, beer, and wine.
106 Penhallow St.
Small plates tend to get a bad rap these days, especially for diners in the Boston area, which is over-saturated with small-plate menus with bills that add up quickly, well before appetites are satiated. But Moxy (one of New England’s most essential restaurants) has been doing the tapas-meets-new-American thing right since opening in 2012, offering up fun, creative bites that don’t break the bank. Even the larger dishes — such as the johnnycakes, which have been a mainstay on the menu for years — top out around $14. While a few other dishes, such as the lacquered pork belly and the whoopie pie sliders, tend to stick around, most of the menu changes often, highlighting the best seasonal ingredients available.
- Lacquered pork belly bites at Moxy Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- A cauliflower dish at Moxy Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Goat leg prosciutto with pappardelle at Moxy Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Whoopie pie sliders at Moxy Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- A cocktail at Moxy Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
5 Portwalk Pl.
Younger sibling to a Boston restaurant by the same name (which is one of New England’s most essential restaurants), Portsmouth’s Row 34 shows off seafood — particularly oysters from its sibling oyster farm, Island Creek in Duxbury, Massachusetts — alongside a stunning beer list. Don’t miss the lobster roll (cold with mayo or hot with butter), one of the best in the region, and take advantage of daily dollar oysters (before 5 p.m.)
801 Islington St.
About another 10-minute walk beyond Lexie’s Joint, Street is a little bit of a hike from downtown Portsmouth, but the eclectic spot is a fun lunch or dinner destination with a menu that touches on regions all over the globe. From Thai ribs to empanadas, Cubano sandwiches to lamb shawarma, Street tries out a lot of different things. Don’t miss brunch, which gets silly with dishes like the crazy toast (“with a crazy fruit and bacon face.”) The extensive cocktail list also hops around the world with pisco sours, margaritas, calimochos, gingin mules, and lots more.
2456 Lafayette Rd.
Recognize the exterior? Yep, this used to be a Friendly’s. Located almost four miles outside of downtown Portsmouth, this one’s a drive rather than a walk, but it’s worth the trip for tacos (confit pork belly, mushroom “chorizo,” and more), enchiladas, and the signature pig head platter for four. There’s a large selection of tequila — try a flight — and plenty of margaritas. Swing by during happy hour (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday) for discounted bites and drinks. $5 house margarita, anyone?
Bubby’s NY Style Delicatessen
241 Hanover St.
While the restaurant offers full-service dining, Bubby’s also has a deli counter with an abridged menu of knishes, sweets, bagels, meats, and more for easy takeout as well as catering. Contact the restaurant in advance for large orders, such as deli meats in bulk or giant pans of kugel. (See the Full-Service Dining section for more information on the full menu.)
175 Fleet St.
Late-night hot dogs in a tiny historical diner car. It is what it is, and it is perfect. Also available: burgers, grilled cheese, poutine, chili, and more — and Gilley’s wristbands. Open until 2 a.m. daily.
Breaking New Grounds
14 Market Sq.
Portsmouth’s downtown coffee destination since 1993, this spacious cafe features a patio perfect for people-watching, located right in the heart of Market Square. The coffee is roasted in-house (and able to be shipped anywhere in the United States), and Breaking New Grounds also serves plenty of baked goods, from scones to cinnamon rolls to muffins and beyond. Keep an eye out for seasonal gelato as well.
163 Islington St.
Find Caffe Kilim a few blocks outside of the heart of downtown Portsmouth, over by Lexie’s Joint, for strong espresso, baked goods, snacks, and a variety of specialty food products from Turkey and beyond, not to mention rugs, pillows, towels, and more. The cafe originally opened in a downtown space in 1993 before moving a few doors down in 1996 — and then moving to Islington Street in 2006 and expanding to open a market in the adjacent space soon after. Because the current location is ever so slightly off the beaten path, it’s a good place to hide from tourists, drink Turkish coffee, eat baklava, and grab some wifi.
51 Penhallow St.
This adorable bakery has been serving Portsmouth since 1980 (and still only accepts cash and checks; there’s an ATM onsite). It was actually located on Ceres Street until 1983, taking its name from the street and the Roman goddess of agriculture, before moving to its current location on Penhallow. There are plenty of baked goods and other breakfast and lunch options, and the staff is ready “to create a profound sandwich to your precise specifications,” per the bakery’s website. Keep an eye on the always-changing daily specials, including soups, pizzas, and more. There are always options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Vonsolln Coffee & Tea Co.
79 Daniel St.
Vonsolln’s owners come from Solln, a district in Munich, Germany, and their goal is to provide Portsmouth with a European-style cafe, serving European pastries, such as Viennese apple strudel. They focus as much on tea as they do on coffee, and Friday and Saturday nights feature cappuccino cocktails. Vonsolln opened in 2010.
La Maison Navarre
121 Congress St.
Like macarons? Take it to the next level with an ice cream-stuffed version. This lovely French cafe in downtown Portsmouth features a variety of flavors of macarons, both regular and ice cream-filled, not to mention numerous other beautiful French pastries, as well as quiches, sandwiches, wine, and more. The spacious cafe also offers wifi.
Popovers on the Square
8 Congress St.
Get the namesake item, of course — whether it’s a large popover with a side of maple butter or a scrambled egg and cheese-stuffed breakfast popover or even a mac and cheese entree with a mini popover on the side. This counter-service spot also features soups, salads, sandwiches, and more, along with free wifi. There’s also a location in Epping, New Hampshire; plus, the Galley Hatch in Hampton, New Hampshire and Grill 28 in Portsmouth are part of the same group.
Portsmouth Book & Bar
40 Pleasant St.
Part used book shop, part cafe, part bar, part live music venue, Portsmouth Book & Bar fills in quite a niche inside its historic downtown space, the former Custom House. Visit any time of the day for espresso or tea, wine or beer, as well as a food menu of bagels, sandwiches, and small plates. The space plays host to numerous events, from music to readings to film screenings.
Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream
49 Ceres St.
A Portsmouth institution since 1982, Annabelle’s serves up a wide variety of ice cream flavors and doesn’t shy away from packing them full of mix-ins. Take the flavor called Yellow Brick Road, for example, which fills vanilla ice cream with roasted pecans, praline pecans, and caramel swirls, or the seasonal Pirate’s Treasure, a rum-based frozen pudding stuffed with soaked rum raisins and “saturated” with tropical fruit. In addition to the Portsmouth shop, Annabelle’s ice cream is now available at a number of restaurants and shops in New Hampshire and Maine.
Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain
112 State St.
From the team behind Pickwick’s Mercantile and several other shops comes this exceedingly charming ice cream parlor — the kind of parlor that feels like it should be spelled “parlour” — where old-timey costumed employees serve over-the-top sundaes and shakes. (Also on the menu: coffee and tea, beer and wine, sweet and savory crepes, pastries, sandwiches, and more.)
- An espresso-topped sundae at Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- A strawberry shake with Pop Rocks and a Rice Krispies treat at Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
- Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
So Many Breweries
Portsmouth is a hotbed of great breweries, new and old. They deserve their own complete guide; check it out right here to learn about Earth Eagle Brewings, Great Rhythm Brewing Company, Liars Bench Beer Company, Portsmouth Brewery, and other breweries in and near Portsmouth.
41 Vaughn Mall
In a city with a heavy beer focus, Latchkey is a new piece of the small but growing cocktail scene. The speakeasy-inspired bar (complete with somewhat hidden entrances) opened in spring 2017, offering a huge selection of whiskey and plenty of craft cocktails, including a build-your-own Old Fashioned. The menu arrives in an old book. Latchkey serves some bar bites, and there’s live music and other performances, such as a Fifty Shades of Grey-themed male burlesque show and plans for Great Gatsby-themed parties in the future.
Louie’s (86 Pleasant St.), a popular Portsmouth Italian restaurant, has been shuttered since a devastating April 2017 fire burned down the building next door (including longstanding restaurant State Street Saloon and a number of apartments). Louie’s suffered a lot of water damage and is currently undergoing extensive renovations. Check Facebook for updates and information about pop-up events around town.
The Press Room (77 Daniel St.), a longtime music venue and bar (that happens to serve an excellent Reuben, among other comfort food), is taking a break over summer 2017 in order to bring the space up to code. The ownership has changed, and the old venue — which had been grandfathered in under a number of codes from way back — now needs some mandatory updates. It is expected to reopen in fall 2017; watch Facebook for news.
And a relocation: The Blue Mermaid Island Grill (409 The Hill) closed in June 2017 after almost 23 years; it’s moving across the river to Kittery. A new address has not yet been announced, but expect the Blue Mermaid to make its comeback in Fall 2017, per Facebook.
Note: This information is accurate as of this guide’s publication in mid-July 2017; the Eater team will remove these restaurants from the “Temporarily Closed” section as soon as possible following their eventual reopenings. Hit up the tipline to give us a heads up.
With a population approaching 10,000, the town of Kittery is even smaller than Portsmouth, but it’s home to many excellent restaurants and bars — and of course, the outlets.
From downtown Portsmouth, it’s about a 25-minute walk to Kittery’s restaurant-packed Wallingford Square area, where one can find Anju Noodle Bar, Lil’s Cafe, and more. Tulsi and Loco Coco’s Tacos aren’t far from there, and Beach Pea Baking Company is reachable as well, about a 10-minute walk from Wallingford Square. In the other direction, Tributary Brewing Company is about a 15-minute walk from Wallingford Square.
The walkability falters on the way to the outlets, though, thanks to pedestrian-unfriendly highways. To go shopping and to reach restaurants such as Bob’s Clam Hut and When Pigs Fly Pizzeria, a car is necessary. It should take under 10 minutes to travel between Wallingford Square and the Kittery Premium Outlets.
Anju Noodle Bar
7 Wallingford Sq., Unit 102
This small, casual restaurant serves what it describes as “intricate free-style Asian cuisine” — expect bold flavors, hearty noodle bowls, and a whole lot of kimchi. There’s plenty of pork, from the excellent pork buns to the pork-filled shoyu ramen and spicy miso ramen, not to mention the sweet and spicy braised pork cheeks. But vegetarians will find a few solid dishes to love, too, including the falafel buns and the kimchi mac & cheese (with dancing bonito flakes). To drink, there’s sake, wine, beer, and a couple of bottled cocktails. The Anju team also owns the outstanding cocktail bar next door, The Wallingford Dram.
60 Wallingford Sq.
Named for “one of New York’s most famous citizens” whose descendants tried to claim ownership of acres of Lower Manhattan, this Wallingford Square bistro features a lounge with a fireplace (perfect for a winter visit) and an abbreviated lounge menu. In the main dining room, the menu (which changes weekly) is mainly comprised of seafood- and meat-based entrees, such as salmon with ratatouille and cous cous; hanger steak with fingerling potato salad and asparagus; and brick Statler chicken with polenta and citrus-radish salad. Anneke Jans has a date-night ambiance — or try the lounge area for more of a casual feel.
Bill’s Original Kitchen
1 Government St.
Bill does everything himself at this unique spot — chef, host, server, and all the other jobs. He thinks he makes one of the best lobster rolls in Maine, and diners agree. Open for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday with an ever-changing menu (but always lobster rolls), plus beer and wine. Bill’s Original Kitchen opened in 2015. Located across the street from the Black Birch.
The Black Birch
2 Government St.
Located steps from The Wallingford Dram in Kittery’s Wallingford Square, the Black Birch serves a seasonal menu with an eye towards local sourcing. At any given time, dishes may include bar bites such as deviled eggs, duck rillette, and marinated olives; small plates such as poutine with duck confit, Buffalo chicken mac and cheese, and a panko fried pork chop; and larger options, such as a bánh mì, grilled cheese with tomato soup, and deep fried short rib. The restaurant has been around for more than five years and has also cultivated a reputation for its excellent bar; swing by as early as 3:30 for drinks and bar bites before dinner service begins. (Also consult the Adult Beverages section for more information on The Black Birch as a drinking destination.) No reservations.
20 Walker St.
Featuring North Indian and Mughlai cuisine, Tulsi is right behind Wallingford Square, about a two-minute walk from the Black Birch, serving everything from goat curry to lamb jalfrezi and even pork vindaloo. There are also a fair number of vegetarian options, including aloo gobhi matar (vegan) and kadhi paneer. Featuring very local sake from Kittery’s own Blue Current Brewery, as well as beer, wine, cider, and cocktails. Tulsi has a sister restaurant in Wells, Maine called Tulsi North.
When Pigs Fly Pizzeria
460 US Rt. 1
Yes, it’s the same company that sells bread around Massachusetts. The company store is up here in Kittery, full of bread and merch, attached to a 160-seat restaurant that serves wood-fired pizza, local and non-local craft beers (flights available), giant pretzels, humongous boneless wings, sandwiches, and more. Located further up Route 1 than the outlets, When Pigs Fly is not walkable from Portsmouth or Kittery’s Wallingford Square; get a ride.
Bob’s Clam Hut
315 US Rt. 1
Located right by the outlets (but established well before said outlets existed), this Kittery classic has been around for over 60 years, serving up all things seafood, from fried clams (in “big” and “bigger” portions) to haddockwiches to chowder. In addition to traditional chocolate, vanilla, and twist soft-serve ice cream, Bob’s Clam Hut also serves Argentinean-style ice cream from Kennebunkport-based Rococo Ice Cream, with flavors such as Maine whoopie pie and goat cheese blackberry chambord. Bob’s Clam Hut has been owned by Michael Landgarten since 1986; he later went on to open Robert’s Maine Grill and Lil’s Cafe, named for the late longtime Bob’s Clam Hut cashier Lillian Mangos. (He sold Robert’s in late 2016.)
Loco Coco’s Tacos
36 Walker St.
A five-minute walk from Wallingford Square, Loco features counter-service (perfect for takeout tacos) as well as a full-service dining room and bar. Tacos come with a variety of fillings, including beef tongue and carnitas, and the menu also includes burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, loaded nachos, and more. Don’t miss dessert: flans, churros, and even sopapillas, which can be hard to find in this area. The restaurant opened in 2004 as just the counter section before expanding to include the full dining room.
Beach Pea Baking Company
53 State Rd., Rt. 1
About a 10-minute walk from Kittery’s Wallingford Square is a little cluster of food businesses: Carl’s Meat Market (meat, poultry, etc.), Golden Harvest Produce Market (produce, cheese, wine, and other grocery items), Terra Cotta Pasta Co. (fresh pasta, ravioli, and sauces), and Beach Pea Baking Company, a bustling bakery known particularly for its beautiful breads, from ciabatta to fougasse. (Heart set on a particular variety? Consult the website; some breads are only available on specific days.) Beach Pea shows off its breads in sandwich form as well, and there are also plenty of salads, pastries, cakes, and sweets available. There’s a little bit of seating inside and outside.
7 Wallingford Sq., Unit 106
The crullers are legendary, with good reason. While they’re the absolute must-try, there are plenty of other pastries, sandwiches, breakfasts, and other items to try as well. After the cruller, of course. The popular cafe also has a full range of coffee, tea, and other beverages, and there’s a pleasant patio, free wifi, and a collection of vintage records. As noted above, Lil’s was named for the late Lillian Mangos, beloved longtime cashier at Kittery landmark Bob’s Clam Hut, per the Lil’s website. Bob’s and Lil’s have the same owner, who was also behind Robert’s Maine Grill before selling it at the end of 2016.
The Black Birch
2 Government St.
While this Kittery spot offers a popular dinner menu, it also features an enjoyable bar scene for those who just want a drink (and maybe a snack). The drink lists are always changing, but customers are sure to find the right fit — and the right price. The beer list, in particular, is well worth exploring, and most beers top out at $8, aside from the special “odds and ends” being featured at any given time, highlighting hard-to-find brews, special releases, and large bottles. This is a good spot to check out beers from respected Maine breweries, such as Bissell Brothers, Oxbow, and Maine Beer Company. (Also consult the Full-Service Dining section for more information on The Black Birch as a dining destination.)
Tributary Brewing Company
10 Shapleigh Rd.
Coming from downtown Portsmouth on foot, this is a bit more of a hike than the Wallingford Square area — about 15 extra minutes — but it’s a lively taproom that’s worth a visit. Dog-friendly, too. Check the brewery’s website for up-to-date info on what’s on tap in the tasting room, such as an Italian-style pilsner, a hefeweizen, or a porter. There are generally six beers available; enjoy them in four- or 12-ounce pours, flights, or 32- or 64-ounce growler fills. There’s live music on weekends, and customers are welcome to bring their own food.
The Wallingford Dram
7 Wallingford Sq., Unit 101
Fans of Backbar in Somerville, Massachusetts will feel right at home in this cozy, creative cocktail destination; it has much the same vibe, with an impeccable drink list as well as friendly bartenders who will help guide drinkers to the perfect beverage on or off the menu. There’s some charcuterie and other small bar bites available. The Wallingford team is also behind Anju Noodle Bar next door, and they are reportedly opening a restaurant in Portsmouth as well.
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