From Boston, you can reach Portland, Maine, in about two hours by bus from South Station or by train from North Station, and many of the city’s impressive restaurants are conveniently clustered on a three-mile-wide peninsula that’s walkable for many. Those factors make Portland an ideal getaway for a weekend or even a day trip. Of course, you may seek out the area’s renowned bars and breweries, interesting sandwich shops, and classic lobster shacks, but this list focuses on essential restaurants where you can sit down to a memorable meal you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. While their influences are international, these fifteen winners represent Maine’s biggest city at its best.Read More
15 Essential Restaurants in Portland, Maine
It’s a seafood paradise — and so much more
It’s hard to imagine Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood without Jing Yan, despite the small restaurant being a relative newcomer of the pandemic era. Chef Bijan Eslami’s menu melds flavors from Asia’s diaspora in dishes such as duck fesenjoon featuring walnuts, pomegranate, and hoisin sauce, and the food pairs masterfully with cocktails like Journey to the East with junmai sake, bitter melon, and osmanthus flower. It’s no surprise that co-owners Leo Zhang and his wife, Britt Langford — whose artwork adorns the restaurant — had prior success running a cocktail bar in China.
Cong Tu Bot
Cong Tu Bot comes from the minds of Vien Dobui and Jessica Sheahan, who first introduced the concept as a pop-up. The colorful shop on buzzy Washington Avenue recently went through another little evolution, adding a reservation system, new cocktails like the Fernet & Rums with coconut and a milk wash, wine by the glass, more shareable dishes, and sultry lighting that Cong Tu Bot dubs “bisexual.” Dobui learned how to make noodles at his uncle’s shop in Vietnam and uses traditional techniques to create dishes like ca kho, a mix of Faroe Island salmon and cured egg bathed in nuoc mau caramel sauce and schmaltz, seasoned with a generous amount of black pepper and cilantro.
At Izakaya Minato, a compact Japanese-style gastropub across the street from Cong Tu Bot on Washington Avenue, order small plates of fried tofu, crispy skinned ocean trout, kelp-cured white fish, and bacon-topped okonomiyaki, or let chef Thomas Takashi Cooke be your guide with family-style omakase. If you sip junmai, take a moment to admire the unique sake cup — most of the restaurant’s collection comes from Japan, but Cooke crafted some himself, right down the street at Portland Pottery.
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Eventide Oyster Co.
A large granite nest of ice and East Coast oysters takes center stage in this small venue, where fresh bivalves and brown butter lobster rolls mingle happily with celery gimlets and doubly dirty martinis, awash in both olive and oyster brine. Of course, if you’ve already been to the Fenway location of this nationally acclaimed restaurant, consider a stop at Eventide’s sibling noodle bar next door, The Honey Paw, a delightful destination in its own right.
Fore Street Restaurant
The grand dame of Portland’s dining scene, Fore Street hasn’t lost a step since kicking off the city’s farm-to-table movement decades ago. Signature dishes such as the turnspit chicken benefit from seasonal sourcing and cooking on the grill or oven, both of which are wood-fired and proudly located at the center of this comfortable former warehouse overlooking Casco Bay. Nearby, owner Dana Street’s seafood-focused restaurants — boisterous Scales and intimate Street & Company — are slightly easier to get into but no less worthy of your dining budget.
Schulte & Herr
Steffi and Brian Davin’s cozy spot on Cumberland Avenue flies consistently under the radar regardless of its generous plates of homestyle German favorites including zwiebelkuchen — a rich onion and gruyere tart — smoked trout salad, and Rheinischer sauerbraten, whose saucy marinated beef and tangy red cabbage soak into ample bread dumplings. Fresh rye bread comes out with a paprika-heavy quark spread upon your arrival, the perfect bite to start pairing with whatever beer, wine, or cider you brought since the restaurant is BYOB sans corkage fee.
Featuring a rustic brick interior and dominated by an elegant bar on each level, two-story Central Provisions is one of Maine’s best. Memorable small plates range from spicy raw beef salad topped with cilantro and peanuts to smoked carrots with whipped goat cheese and coconut fried smelts, while the cocktails lean classic with a twist. Check out sibling restaurant Tipo for a more casual, Italian-leaning concept off the peninsula.
Evo Kitchen + Bar
A reminder that hotel restaurants don’t have to be dull, Prentice Hospitality’s Evo wins fans with a Mediterranean-inspired menu that makes use of Maine’s bounty in a chic downtown setting. Try seared duck accented with cherries, fennel, and black garlic, or a local sweet potato tagine topped with cilantro and persimmons. Alternatively, weigh in on whether Prentice’s swanky new waterfront establishment, Twelve, is ready to uphold Portland’s fine dining mantle now that Hugo’s, Back Bay Grill, and Five Fifty-Five are no more.
Find respite from the notoriously windy section of Free Street at aptly named Leeward, where gorgeous plates of Maine scallop crudo and beef and pork ragu bolognese have made this pasta haven a fast favorite. Led by Jake and Raquel Stevens — whose resumes include Portland, Oregon’s beloved Beast and Portland, Maine’s beloved Drifter’s Wife, both now closed — Leeward also offers a smart selection of low-intervention wines to go with its house-made noodles.
After a hiatus, Miyake is back with a freshly renovated space but the same thoughtful approach to Japanese cuisine, supplied in part by chef Masa Miyake’s own farm. Sit at the elegant new 10-seat bar for a different kind of Maine lobster roll — one wrapped in nori rather than a hot dog bun — or the chef’s choice omakase sashimi and a thoughtful selection of sake and cocktails. Alternatively, try steaming bowls of ramen with local draft beers at Miyake’s more casual establishment nearby, Pai Men.
Tucked away on a short stretch connecting Congress Avenue and Free Street, unassuming Asmara serves communal platters of Eritrean specialties like alitcha — potatoes, cabbage, and carrots in a garlic and turmeric sauce — and fiery chicken stew for scooping with spongy, tangy injera flatbread. Luscious, slightly viscous honey wine made in-house pairs beautifully, shining through berbere pepper, cumin, and warming spices.
Overlooking Longfellow Square, Boda maintains its cult popularity with dishes like quail eggs served in kanom-krok pans alongside rotating specials such as goong sa-rong shrimp wrapped in crisp noodles with sweet plum dipping sauce. The homestyle dishes and street foods are inspired by chef Dan Sriprasert’s youth in Thailand, where he cooked alongside his mother at her restaurant. Down the block, Boda fans will find even more vegetarian and vegan options at sibling restaurant Green Elephant.
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Restaurante El Corazon
Chef Joseph Urtuzuastegui ran a lauded food truck with his step-daughter and her husband for several years before landing this stationary restaurant in Longfellow Square. Now, he runs Restaurante El Corazon (and its sibling, Casita Corazon SoPo, across the bridge in South Portland) with his wife, Laura, frying local white fish perfectly for chipotle aioli-laced tacos and burritos, topping chile rellenos with house-made hatch green chile sauce, and carrying forward recipes from his late mother, Rosa, including her enchiladas and birria de chivito slow-simmered goat.
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Bao Bao Dumpling House
A piece of art in the form of a dragon runs nearly the length of Bao Bao Dumpling House’s interior, a striking addition to this historic West End townhouse. Chef Cara Stadler’s cool Portland restaurant expands on her success at Brunswick gem Tao Yuan and benefits from the supplies of her aquaponics greenhouse, Canopy Farms, and her food production facility at Zao Ze Cafe & Market. Try the pan-fried beef bulgogi and steamed shaomai dumplings, garlicky smashed cucumbers, and a po’ boy with katsu-fried Winter Point oysters, pickled daikon, and hoisin tofu mayo on duck fat-toasted milk bread, all easy to share with a local beer or Miso Old Fashioned.
This Spanish- and French-influenced Pine Street establishment from pastry chef Ilma Lopez and her husband, chef Damian Sansonetti, makes exceptional use of local ingredients in dishes from grilled Maine mackerel with heirloom tomatoes to Breezy Hill Farm pork chops with peekytoe crab and shellfish cream sauce. Whether you sit inside Chaval’s warm dining rooms or on the cheerful private patio, don’t miss dessert, which might involve cream-filled trocaderos or wild Maine blueberry and lemon curd pie.
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