50+ Top Dining Spots

EAT FEATURE-March 2013
By Joe Ricchio
Photographs by Dan Soley + Meredith Brockington

Where the experts eat...
JOE RICCHIO, Maine food scene icon and our former food editor; ANESTES FOTIADES, creator of Portland Food Map and Maine’s favorite covert diner; & AMY K. ANDERSON, Maine magazine food editor and longtime server at Hugo’s, have the answer. The options are many and the experiences are all outstanding.

Local 188, photo by Meredith Brockington

 

 

FoodWriters Mar2013

40 Paper

40 Washington St. | Camden 207.230.0111  40paper.com

Not only do they specialize in handmade pastas and flatbread pizzas, but the 40 Paper chefs have also painstakingly perfected the art of gluten-free cuisine, helping to end the miserable pasta-deprived existence of many. All of this can be enjoyed with an ever-rotating selection of both modern and Prohibition-era cocktails.

76 Pleasant Street

76 Pleasant St. | Norway  207.744.9040

Nestled in the heart of the Norwegian wood you will find the beautiful mansion where chef Jeremy Donovan cobbles together his refined interpretation of globally influenced comfort food. There isn't a more tranquil setting in which to enjoy a large joint of braised meat alongside an ocean of red wine.

Arrows
41 Berwick Rd. | Ogunquit 207.361.1100

While meandering around their breathtaking garden, it will become clear how Arrows has earned its reputation of offering an all-encompassing dining experience. In addition to the chef’s tasting, diners are now given the option of assembling various “collections” into a personalized menu of sorts. In the winter months, both the garden and the restaurant dip into hibernation.

Back Bay Grill

65 Portland St. | Portland 207.772.8833

Thanks to an out-of-the-way location, the Back Bay Grill is one of Portland’s best-kept secrets. The old-school feel of the restaurant, with its high tin ceilings and white tablecloths, hints at an earlier era of fine dining. Sit at the bar for a cocktail, a bowl of truffle popcorn, and a view of the open kitchen.

Bandaloop

2 Dock Sq. | Kennebunkport 207.967.4994

Visitors quickly become regulars at Bandaloop. Its cool ambiance and commitment to local and organic ingredients appeal to locals and tourists, vegetarians and carnivores alike. You can expect the unexpected, like the “Bandaloop eggroll” with Gorgonzola, walnuts, and spinach, or the Vermont sharp cheddar and cavatappi mac and cheese.

Bar Lola
100 Congress St. | Portland  207.775.5652  
Owners Guy and Stella Hernandez combine well-crafted small plates with warm hospitality to deliver an excellent fine dining experience. At $44 per person, the seven-course Feed Me tasting menu is one of the best deals in town. Look out for wine dinner and cocktail special events each month.

The Black Birch

2 Government St. | Kittery 207.703.2294

While devouring a plate of delicate, wonderfully creamy chicken liver mousse and Concord grape gelée slathered on perfectly crispy-chewy toast, it is hard not to conjure up childhood memories of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Each dish on the menu plays off of this kind of comforting nostalgia, elevating preparations to an Elysian state.

Boda
671 Congress St. | Portland  207.347.7557 
All it takes is one crispy quail egg seasoned with soy sauce and scallions to understand that Boda gets it: simplicity is king. Open until 1 a.m., the Thai-inspired menu and hip atmosphere are perfect for date night, dinner with friends, or late-night drinks.

Bresca
111 Middle St. | Portland 207.772.1004

In a city full of great dining options, this pocket-sized restaurant is a star. James Beard-nominated chef Krista Kern Desjarlais prepares an outstanding selection of contemporary Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and exceptional desserts. The buttermilk panna cotta has a well-justified cult following. Starting in 2013, Bresca is also serving lunch four days a week.

Cafe Sorpreso
415 Main St. | Presque Isle | 207.764.1854

With a menu that changes weekly to reflect the changing weather and availability of ingredients, Cafe Sorpreso is the gold standard for fine dining in Presque Isle. Lunch features a variety of panini sandwiches, whereas dinner showcases quality cuts of meat and fish, accentuated with simple, delicious accoutrements.

Caiola's
58 Pine St. | Portland | 207.772.1110

Chef/owner Abby Harmon runs a cozy neighborhood bistro serving rustic Italian fare in the city's West End. In addition to dinner and one of the best burgers in the city, Caiola's serves one of the most acclaimed Sunday brunches in the state. Regulars—and there are many, so get there early to get a table—swear by the Lost Bread.

Cantina El Rayo
85 York St. | Portland | 207.780.8466

Located next to its sister restaurant, El Rayo Taqueria, Cantina is a great place to start or end your evening with daily specials and two happy hours a night. The Tlayuda—a Oaxacan dish resembling a pizza—stands up to excess margaritas. At Sunday brunch, Cantina's huevos rancheros is not to be missed.

Carmen at the Danforth

163 Danforth St. | Portland | 207.358.7103

Within the two-century-old walls of the Danforth, chef Carmen Gonzalez finds inspiration for her refined American cuisine that is festively accentuated by pronounced Latin flavors. Plantain dumplings, silky corn flan, and smoky, impossibly tender grilled baby flower octopus are among offerings that established Carmen as an important destination in Portland's restaurant scene right from the beginning...

Chase's Daily

96 Main St. | Belfast | 207.338.0555

This well-loved midcoast hot spot—perennial favorite of the James Beard Foundation nomination committee—has a fresh and flavorful take on vegetarian cuisine. Chase's downtown Belfast location also houses a farm stand and a popular bakery. Open daily for breakfast and lunch with dinners each Friday.

David's 388

388 Cottage Rd. | South Portland  207.347.7388

This younger sibling of David's in Monument Square balances familiar flavors with the small plate format of contemporary American cuisine in a welcoming and informal space a stone's throw from the SoPo foodie haven of Willard Square.

David's/Opus Ten

22 Monument Sq. | Portland 207.773.4340

David's has been a mainstay of the Portland dining scene since the 1990s. In 2012, chef David Turin launched Opus Ten, a restaurant within a restaurant that treats diners to a seven-to-nine-course tasting menu in an upscale sophisticated setting. David's location in Monument Square makes it one of the best summer spots for outdoor dining and people watching. The garlic knots are irresistible.

Earth at Hidden Pond

354 Goose Rocks Rd. Kennebunkport | 207.967.6550

You'll be talking about your dining experience at Earth at Hidden Pond for weeks after a visit. Nestled in the woods overlooking the pond, the connection to nature is everywhere. For an extra-special night, dine in the private potting shed. Earth is open from May through October.

Emilitsa

547 Congress St. | Portland  207.221.0245

Brothers John and Deno Regas share their Greek heritage and their mother’s recipes at their cozy and beautifully decorated restaurant, Emilitsa. The moussaka is comforting, and a glass from the exclusively Greek wine list makes you feel like a family member. The restaurant is open for lunch Thursday and Friday, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Eventide Oyster Co.

86 Middle St. | Portland 207.774.8538

Eventide opened last summer to rave reviews. In addition to the best oyster selection this side of New York City, Eventide serves a set of nuanced small plates and nightly specials—the oyster bun and lightly cured arctic char are standout dishes from the standard menu.

The Fiddlehead Restaurant

84 Hammond St. | Bangor 207.942.3336

The Queen City is currently experiencing a culinary renaissance of sorts, spearheaded by eateries such as Fiddlehead. Chef Melissa Chaiken's menu combines classic American comfort food with myriad global influences, from duck cacciatore to Singapore-style chicken and rice. A small yet concise wine list provides options for novices and geeks alike.

Five Fifty-Five

555 Congress St. | Portland207.761.0555

Contemporary American cuisine, a strong wine list, big-city atmosphere and attentive service secure 555's place on the list. The truffled lobster mac and cheese is a refined approach to an American comfort food classic. Open for dinner seven days a week and serves brunch on Sundays.

Fore Street

288 Fore St. | Portland 207.775.2717

Chef Sam Hayward, 2004 James Beard Best Chef, simply prepares the finest seasonal ingredients and lets the natural flavors speak for themselves. The wood-roasted mussels are not to be missed. Sit in the main dining room to watch the drama in the wood-fired open kitchen unfold. Reservations strongly recommended.

Francine Bistro

55 Chestnut St. | Camden207.230.0083

Tucked away on a quiet side street in Camden you'll find the high-energy atmosphere and innovative cuisine of Francine Bistro. Chef/owner Brian Hill brings his surfer's sense of balance and rocker's sense of rhythm to each and every dish.

Fromviandoux

20 Washington St. | Camden 207.230.7444

The small plate format, wines by the half glass, and extensive cheese list at Fromviandoux will appeal to your experimental instincts and curiosity about Fromviandoux's modern approach to French peasant food. A rarity in Maine, Fromviandoux offers a contemporary approach to afternoon tea with a selection of scones, tea sandwiches, and petit fours with a pot of tea.

Frontier

14 Maine St. | Fort Andross Brunswick | 207.725.5222

Overlooking the Androscoggin River, Frontier is open and airy with tall ceilings and exposed wood beams. The menu has something for everyone. With a performance area for live music and independent films, Frontier is a great place to do dinner and movie simultaneously.

Gather

189 Main St. | Yarmouth | 207.847.3250

While chef Chad Conley could have done practically anything with his experience in high-end, upscale restaurants, he chose to make seasonal, family-friendly comfort food in Yarmouth. Kids go for the fresh fish sticks while the adults share a bottle of wine and the crab and corn fritters.

Grace

15 Chestnut St. | Portland | 207.828.4422

Grace is set in the grand open space of a renovated nineteenth-century Gothic Revival church. Chef Pete Sueltenfuss serves a strong menu of richly flavored dishes. Be sure to save room for one of pastry chef Ilma Lopez's innovative desserts.

Grill Room

84 Exchange St. | Portland | 207.774.2333

The exposed brick walls, dark wood, and smell of meat and smoke hanging in the air at the Grill Room make you long for a bourbon and a cigar. But it's more than that. Sit at the bar to enjoy cocktails like the refreshing "2 Twenty-2 Baker St" made with Twenty 2 vodka, fresh basil, lemon juice, St. Germain, and soda water—and the duck confit and brie pizza is out of this world.

Havana

318 Main St. | Bar Harbor | 207.288.2822

A Bar Harbor institution, Havana serves up festive "Nuevo Latino" cuisine. This is supplemented with an extensive, well-thought-out wine program that rivals any other in the state, featuring rare bottles that have benefited from time in the cellar and the patience of the sommelier. As with most of MDI, they are closed in the off-season.

Hugo's

88 Middle St. | Portland | 207.774.8538

The new generation at the helm at Hugo's is ably carrying on the high standards established by former star chef/owner Rob Evans. Fine cocktails and an inventive multicourse tasting menu make this one of Portland's must-go restaurants for visiting gourmands.

Local 188

685 Congress St. | Portland | 207.761.7909

Local 188 is as funky and artistic as its servers. The Spanish-inspired menu includes tapas and full plates, and the cocktails live up to the hype. In addition to its sister restaurant, Sonny's on Exchange Street, owner Jay Villani plans to open Salvage BBQ on Congress this spring.

Long Grain

31 Elm St. | Camden | 207.236.9001

Drawing its primary influence from the hawker stalls of Bangkok, Long Grain's chefs offer traditional preparations utilizing the best ingredients around, such as Heiwa tofu from Camden as well as an assortment of fresh, locally foraged mushrooms. It's a tight space, so one would be prudent to secure a reservation.

Mache Bistro

135 Cottage St. | Bar Harbor 207.288.0447

Though chef/owner Kyle Yarborough is classically trained in French cookery, he is quick to throw off the many shackles and restrictions that the style is famous for. He implements flavors from his childhood, as is evident in a sweet potato and smoked duck brandade, served alongside ancho-chili-rubbed duck confit. The result is fusion cooking at its best.

Miyake

468 Fore St. | Portland | 207.871.9170

When Masa Miyake opened for business he raised the bar for sushi throughout the state, utilizing previously unavailable species of Japanese fish as well as a superlative quality of sushi rice. Now, settled into his new location and sourcing both meat and produce from Miyake Farm, the omakase tasting menu has reached new heights.

Natalie's

83 Bayview St. | Camden 207.236.7008

When asked recently to name my most memorable meal of 2012, chef Geoffroy Deconinck's lavish, globally inspired tasting menu at Natalie's was the clear choice. Enhanced by the cocktails and wine pairings of bar manager Tom Laslavic, no other dining experience offered perfection on each level in the manner that Natalie's did.

Petite Jacqueline

190 State St. | Portland 207.553.7044

Brought to life by the creative team at Five Fifty-Five, Petite Jacqueline imports the joie de vivre of a classic French bistro to the vibrant restaurant scene of Portland's Longfellow Square. The daily three-course prix fixes are a great way to explore the menu of French classics like coq au vin, moules frites, and steak au poivre. Save room for the banana and nutella crepe.

Pier 77/The Ramp

77 Pier Rd. | Kennebunkport 207.967.8500

Rather than make a big fuss about his use of top quality ingredients to prepare contemporary American fare, chef/owner Pete Morency simply refers to this practice as "the first thing you learn about cooking great food." After dining at Pier 77, it would be a sin not to have at least one tumbler of Scotch at the Ramp for dessert.

Ports of Italy

47 Commercial St. | Boothbay Harbor 207.633.1011

Eating at Ports of Italy in downtown Boothbay Harbor is like going to a friend's house for dinner. Owner Sante Calandri is charming, and his enthusiasm and passion for food is contagious. He makes the pastas and desserts himself, and the porchetta is not to be missed. This is food truly made from the heart. They are open seasonally from May through October.

Primo

2 South Main St. | Rockland 207.596.0770

Located in the coastal community of Rockland, Primo is the ultimate farm-to-table dining experience. From May to January, chef Melissa Kelly raises animals and grows vegetables on an acre of land behind her cozy farmhouse restaurant. For a special night out, enjoy the intimate dining rooms downstairs; to laugh and share a pizza with friends, go upstairs to the more casual and funky bar.

Sea Glass Restaurant

40 Bowery Beach Rd. Cape Elizabeth | 207.799.3134

Panoramic ocean views and the Cape Elizabeth seaside provide a charming backdrop for this in-house restaurant at the Inn by the Sea—Food & Wine executive editor Dana Cowin's go-to spot when she's visiting southern Maine.

Seagrass

305 Route 1 | Yarmouth 207.846.3885

The Seagrass Bistro menu changes every three weeks, providing even regular guests with a sampling of the seasons. Gourmet is possible even for those with strict dietary restrictions, and the open kitchen lets you watch as the expert chef prepares your meal. While conveniently located along a busy Route 1, Seagrass is a respite from the busy day-to-day.

Shepherd's Pie

18 Central St. | Rockport 207.236.8500

Chef/owner Brian Hill's sophomore restaurant effort after Francine Bistro combines the look and feel of an old English pub with a range of refined comfort foods. After all, there is no better complement to a "Grilled Duck PB&J" than a 40oz Pabst Blue Ribbon, preferably enjoyed straight from the bottle.

Solo Bistro

128 Front St. | Bath | 207.443.3373

Drawing on their experiences traveling and exploring different cultures, husband-and-wife team Will and Pia Neilson run Solo Bistro. Located in the heart of Bath, the classy, contemporary restaurant features live jazz on Fridays and an impressive selection of wine from around the world. Go Wednesdays for a deal on the nightly three-course tasting menu.

Suzuki's Sushi Bar

419 Main St. | Rockland207.596.7447

For a less expected seafood experience in Rockland, Suzuki's Sushi Bar prepares simple but elegant Japanese food. Suzuki's is dedicated to sourcing the freshest local seafood. And for an extra special treat, try their homemade ice cream, in unique flavors—black sesame, ginger, or green tea.

Tao Restaurant

22 Pleasant St. | Brunswick 207.725.9002

Though the menu is divided into the deceptively simple categories of "hot" and "cold," chef/owner Cara Stadler's range successfully runs the gamut of major Asian food cultures. Grandma Tang's Roast Pork Buns and smoked Darjeeling quail are among offerings that are all portioned and priced to share.

Town Hill Bistro

1317 Route 102 | Bar Harbor 207.288.1011

On the opposite side of the island from downtown Bar Harbor you'll find the fun and engaging Town Hill Bistro. Owners Maureen Cosgrove and JJ Zeph regularly serve their brand of locally sourced farm-to-table dining to a full house, so reservations are recommended.

Trattoria Athena

25 Mill St. | Brunswick | 207.721.0700

Combining the best elements from the cookery of Greece and Italy, with the wine list following suit, Trattoria Athena has established itself as one of the best reasons to visit Brunswick. Also of incredible value is their fixed-price, family-style dinner, served on Sunday afternoon only.

Tulsi Indian Restaurant

20 Walker St. | Kittery | 207.451.9511

There is something decidedly different, not to mention powerful, about the way chef Raj Mandekar prepares traditional Indian cuisine. Utilizing both modern technique and that taught to him by his grandmother during his youth in Mumbai, his food acquires vivid, intense flavors while maintaining an irrefutable finesse.

Vignola Cinque Terre

10 Dana St. | Portland | 207.772.1330

The modern aesthetic of Vignola and classic charm of Cinque Terre have merged into a single restaurant where chef Lee Skawinski serves a menu of contemporary Italian cuisine. Excellent cheese plate options are available as is an extensive wine list.

Walter's

2 Portland Sq. | Portland | 207.871.9258

Walter's has become one of Portland's classic restaurants. Its dimly lit bar with overstuffed chairs and dark corners beckons you in. Chef and owner Jeff Buerhaus puts his personal twist on the menu, highlighting the flavors of Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Walter's is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday.

The White Barn Inn

37 Beach Ave. | Kennebunk Beach 207.967.2321

The luxurious White Barn Inn is the setting for chef Jonathan Cartwright's classic American and European cuisine. The inn's impeccable service and beautiful setting draw clientele from far and wide. Cooking classes with chef Cartwright are available and the kitchen also offers gourmet picnic basket meals for guests to take with them on their day trips from the Inn

Zapoteca

505 Fore St. | Portland | 207.772.8242

Zapoteca makes Mexican food classy. With its bold flavors and unexpected cocktails like the habanero watermelon margarita, the bright atmosphere feels young and fresh. Come for tequila flights or brunch on the weekends, and let the valet service take care of the car.

IT JUST COULDN'T GO WITHOUT SAYING...

JOE, ANESTES & AMY identify some of their go-to eateries that didn't make the list above but are outstanding in their own right. Kuddos to that special someplace satisfying our cravings for "perfect barbecue," pork buns, the ultimate Italian comfort food, and pho.

JOE'S PICKS:

Long Lake Sporting Club
48 Highway 162 | Sinclair 207.543.7584

This is one of the most satisfying dining experiences in the state, and is well worth the seven-hour journey from Portland. Beautiful steaks, perfect barbecue, and gargantuan lobsters are all prepared with utmost care and respect.

Saigon

795 Forest Ave. | Portland 207.874.6666

Few things inspire rejuvenation like a cauldron-sized bowl of intensely aromatic pho, especially when it is preceded by an order of perfectly crispy, garlicky chicken wings. A wide range of both southern Vietnamese and Chinese comfort foods is executed brilliantly every time.

Veranda Asian Market

695 Forest Ave. | Portland 207.874.8001

Fresh produce is complemented by a dizzying array of whole fish on ice, as well as rows of barbecued fowl and belly pork hanging from the butcher's rack. This is a prime spot to procure hard-to-find items previously unavailable north of Boston.

ANESTES'S PICKS:

Pop-up Scene

various locations | Portland

Portland's pop-up dining scene has come of age, delivering new eating experiences for diners and creative outlets for Maine's culinary talent. Whether it's al fresco Twilight Dinners at Turkey Hill Farm or the full immersion experience of a Pocket Brunch, pop-ups are adding new vitality to Maine's culinary landscape.

Schulte & Herr

349 Cumberland Ave. | Portland 207.773.1997

With an unassuming space, warm hospitality, and homestyle German food, owners Steffi and Brian Davin quickly won over the hearts and stomachs of customers from all walks of life. BYOB.

The Well

21 Wells Rd. | Jordan's Farm Cape Elizabeth | 207.831.9350

The rustic outdoor setting on the grounds of Jordan's Farm, paired with the fresh and direct flavors from chef/owner Jason Williams's kitchen, make for a very special farm-to-table experience. The Well is open June to September. BYOB. Cash only.

AMY'S PICKS:

East Ender

47 Middle St. | Portland 207.879.7669

The downstairs dining room is warmed by a fireplace in the winter months, and upstairs, the old wooden bar is a great place to enjoy "wine down Wednesdays" where every bottle is half price. Try the baloney sandwich and deviled eggs for updated childhood favorites.

JP's Bistro

496 Woodford St. | Portland 207.899.4224

It seems everyone who lives within walking distance is a regular at JP's Bistro—so reservations are recommended. The no-fuss Italian comfort food—simple with generous portions—makes this neighborhood spot one of Portland's hidden gems. The short rib ravioli with Gorgonzola cheese is unbelievably good.

Pai Men Miyake

188 State St. | Portland 207.541.9204

The no-broth ramen dish is reason enough to go. But the pork buns, sushi, and variety of local beer on tap make this house of "one hundred noodles" the ideal destination morning, noon, and night.