Where to Eat in Portland, Maine Right Now
A new oyster bar, from-scratch Sichuan spot, and expanded BBQ joint.
It’s winter with a capital W in Portland, Maine—with cold temps and COVID challenges combined—but in true Portland style, our resilient restaurant community powers on, cooking up creative world-class fare along with inventive ways to serve us lucky diners. From curbside pick-up, takeout, and special pantry offerings to cook-at-home kits, to-go cocktails, and heated outdoor patios, there are many delicious ways to support the local food scene while following state guidelines and keeping safety top of mind. Here is our salute to Portland’s best new restaurants, including brave new stars, as well as faves from the past five-ish years.
The gist: The talent behind this chic oyster bar and bistro newcomer is impressive: owner Lizzie Legere, who previously did stints at More & Co. and Drifter’s Wife; GM, James Rose, who worked at Boston’s Neptune Oyster; chef Billy Hager, who came to Portland byway of San Francisco, where he was chef-partner at Homestead; and sous chef, Dana Woodward, formerly of Dobb’s Ferry in San Francisco.
The food: Hager’s seasonal sensibility—paired with influences from live-work stays in Germany, France, and Italy—translate to dishes like chicory salad with fresh horseradish dressing, glazed short ribs with Swiss chard and braised beans, and Parsnip cake with cream cheese frosting and salt-kissed toasted walnuts. The prix-fixe comes with tender rolls and salty butter plus optional adds like raw oysters from up and down Maine’s coast, served with a weekly mignonette. Couple these with bubbles from a beguiling list of Champagne, or stunning cocktails. There are Maine-centric craft beers and a full wine list, too.
The cost: Three-course prix fixe menu is $50, fresh oysters and caviar with fixins’ run, $24-65, beer and cocktails are $8-14; wines by the bottle range from $20-68. Look for an expanded à la carte menu later this year.
How to order: Order takeout on Toast.
The gist: Nearly 100 paper lanterns cast a warm glow over the slim, two-tiered space where owner Qi Shen offers a wide array of authentic regional dishes from China’s Sichuan province.
The food: The menu includes the sorts of tongue-tingling málà dishes many American food enthusiasts know and love, but there are plenty of tamer options, too. Shen makes everything from scratch, including her own chili oil and doubanjiang—a fermented chili bean paste that gives dishes like double-cooked pork (tender flash-fried pork belly with leeks) their well-balanced, salty fermented flavor. Start with Zhong pork dumplings, bathed in a sweet-tangy chili sauce, or a plate of smoky tofu and roasted peanut salad. Then move on to mala dry hotpot vegetables or spicy, sour soup noodles, a belly-warming soup featuring skinny tender noodles, fresh bok choy and minced pork.
The cost: Small plates and salads range $7-15, vegetables, rice, and noodle dishes are $12-18, entrees run $10-25. Honey citron tea is available for $3. Beer and other alcoholic beverages are on hold until in-person dining resumes.
How to order: Order takeout at Sichuan Kitchen or Square.
The gist: Owners Pliny Reynolds and his wife, Melanie Kratovil, along with chef Wilson Rothschild brought Austin-style Tex-Mex barbecue to Portland’s Washington Avenue in 2015. After a short COVID closure, they’ve reopened in a larger space complete with a two-tiered outdoor deck and festive margarita garden.
The food: From tortillas, hot sauces, and chile-laced vinegars to house-smoked meats cooked in a custom-built, wood-fired smoker, just about everything on chef Rothchild’s menu is made from scratch. Start with a plate of smoked pork ribs with fresno-lime hot honey and scallions, or a cooling ceviche of local seafood, citrus, ginger and hibiscus. Soft tacos include smoked brisket with avocado salsa and queso chihuahua and a daily barbecue board features smoked meats, greens and beans, cornbread with honey butter and pickles. Terlingua’s bracing margaritas are offered with a salt or chili rim. Go traditional, or swap tequila for mezcal or sotol, a spirit distilled from the desert sotol plant in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
The cost: Small plates run $8-13, salads, chilis, tacos and sides are $2-16, BBQ boards are $34-62, cocktails range $9-16, and tequilas and other spirits go for $4-22. An adjacent market offers house-smoked large cut meats, house-made cocktails to go, bottled beer and wine, Mexican blankets and other fun dry goods, grab-and-go meals.
How to order: Reserve a table for limited indoor and outdoor seating at Terlingua, or order takeout at Toast.
The gist: Husband and wife duo Jake and Raquel Stevens (chef and front-of-house maven respectively) cut their teeth at nationally acclaimed restaurants, including Beast in Portland, Oregon and Drifter’s Wife in Portland, Maine before opening Leeward.
The food: Stevens roots his Italian-inspired, pasta-centric menu in tradition while incorporating seasonal ingredients in deliciously fun ways. Start with a burrata, citrus, and pomegranate salad, accented with earthy taggiasca olives, fresh mint, and pistachio aillade (a light garlic and nut emulsion) before tucking into ricotta gnocchi with trumpet mushrooms, arugula, and black truffle conserva, or ribbon-shaped mafaldine bolognese. Cocktails like the Dead Ringer (rye, Cynar 70, Dry Curacao, and pineapple gomme) fall in line with Leeward’s playful style.
The cost: Appetizers and entrees will run you $5-25, cocktails for two $20-22, and bottled beer and wine $1.50-55. Fresh pasta and sauces to cook at home ($7-14), Take n’ Bake dinner kits that feed up to four ($65-75), as well as bottled wine and pints of gelato ($10) are also available. Gift cards and merch, like cute t’s, totes, and tortelloni keychains are on offer, too.
How to order: Order takeout on Upserve and delivery via Carhop.
The gist: Chad Conley—who co-owns Palace Diner in Biddeford and brought smoked fish, bagel sandwiches, and other Jewish deli favorites to Portland at Rose Foods— opened this Philly-style hoagie shop with partner Josh Sobel in April 2020, just weeks after the pandemic hit. Their star sandwiches have been sellouts since day one.
The food: Egg and cheese sandwiches (served all day) come with bacon, if you wish, plus fancier add-ons like broccoli rabe or Calabrian chili spread. Or go for the breakfast hoagie—an egg, cheese, salami, and roasted pepper number slathered with pepperoncini mayo. The turkey caesar hoagie features pickled onions, caesar mayo, lettuce and Parm. There are also classic Italian meat, tuna salad, and vegetarian options, along with plenty of sides.
The cost: Sandwiches are $6-15, chips and sides $2-6, and drinks $2-3.50. Gift cards and cool branded merch are available, too.
How to order: Order takeout by calling 207-956-7194 or through Upserve, and delivery via Carhop.
The gist: Husband and wife Randy and Ally Forrester ran Osteria Radici in Allentown, New Jersey, where they were recognized with two James Beard nominations, before moving to Portland to open this pizzeria in July 2020.
The food: Randy forms his naturally fermented dough (read: yeast-free) into thin-crust rounds that, once baked, offer a pleasing subtle tang and nicely charred chewy edge. Go basic with a classic margherita or try a more complex pie. The Maialino—house-made pork sausage, Taleggio, radicchio, and caper honey—is a local favorite. The Sunday-only Al Ragù, features a slow-simmered Napoletana meat sauce made with Radici’s own pork sausage, plus pork cheeks, bone-in cuts of lamb, and lotsa fresh garlic. A salad of mixed lettuces and pickled peppadews, dressed with a 12-year Tondo balsamico and single-estate Sicilian olive oil, will offset your carb load, and Perugina chocolates and espresso make for a lovely simple dessert.
The cost: Salad and pizzas are $9-20, non-alcoholic drinks and coffees go for $2.50-6, beer and wine (both by the bottle) run $4-33. Pantry items, like caper honey and lemon salsetta (a tangy sauce for dressing everything from salads and pasta to roast chicken or fish), along with merch like pocket tees, hoodies, and wine totes, are also available.
How to order: Takeout orders on Toast open up a day ahead at 9 pm (with pre-orders suggested to secure quantity and desired pick-up time)
The gist: Native Mainer, Amy Fuller and her husband, Chris Deutsch did on-the-ground due diligence in Paris and Rome before opening their gorgeous corner bakery/pizza joint on Munjoy Hill in 2017.
The food: Expect French-style laminated sweet and savory pastries, buns, and cakes in the day and Roman-style pizza by early eve. Croissants (plain, almond, chocolate, and ham, Dijon, and Gruyere cheese) shatter into beautiful buttery crumbs, galettes are packed with seasonal fruits, and cakes are sweet and decadent. The Roman-style pizza is served by the half or full pie, and comes plain (margherita); topped with ricotta and sweet caramelized onions; or with mozzarella, crispy-edged pepperoni, hot honey and pickled jalapeño.
The cost: Pastries and cakes go for $4.50-6.50, juices, soda and beer $2.25-6, pizzas $16-30. Great tees, totes, beanies, travel tumblers, and gift cards are also on offer.
How to order: Order takeout on Square (live for same-day purchases at 7:45am) or visit the onsite walk-up window for in-person orders
The gist: Tucked into a pretty storefront in a quiet residential neighborhood, this is the place to get your authentic Jewish bagel sandwich, smoked fish, and other appetizing shop favorites.
The food: Bagels—plain, poppy, sesame, everything and rye, and a fun daily special such as chili-garlic-fennel—are made in house. Choose one for any of the nine sandwiches, build your own sandwich, or take fixings home and lay out an elaborate spread. Smoked fishes and spreads include nova lox, Rose (gravlax-style), pastrami nova, sable, and whitefish salad. You’ll also find traditional egg salad, chopped liver, deli pickles, and a variety of cream cheeses.
The cost: Bagel sandwiches and platters are $6-18 and a fisherman’s Feast for two runs $32. Coffee, water, juice and sodas, $2-3.25. Gift cards and cool branded merch are available, too.
How to order: Order takeout by calling 207-835-0991 or on Upserve.
The gist: Spanish and French-inspired cuisine in a rustic, romantic space, cooked up by two-time James Beard Award nominee Ilma Lopez; her husband, Damian Sansonetti, who manned stoves as executive chef at Bar Boulud in NYC before the couple moved to Portland; and talented chef de cuisine, Kirby Sholl.
The food: A menu made up of snacks, small plates, and larger dishes lets you mix and match. Warm olives, patatas bravas, and paper-thin plates of nutty Iberico ham are fun to pair with cocktails like the Martini Sec (London dry gin, extra dry vermut de reus, rancio sec, orange bitters, Spanish queen olive) or a glass of vermouth. You can stay in tapas territory or move on to bright seasonal salads and dishes like fideos (Spanish vermicelli noodles), tainted with squid ink, tossed with chorizo and piquillo peppers, and dolloped with green crab aioli; or Coq au Vin, a rich chicken, red wine, and bacon lardon braise, with heirloom carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and pearl onions. Sweets like seasonal churros and crema Catalana are a must.
The cost: Tapas, small plates and salads from $6-17, larger plates run $17-28, cocktails and wine are $10-15, with bottled versions of both available to go. From the Butcher Shop, order frozen beef and bone marrow pot pie, housemade spiced nut mix, pimenton oil, local pork shoulder chops, and dry aged steaks to cook at home.
How to order: Make reservations via Chaval for heated outdoor patio and individual greenhouse dining (cozy blankets and seat cushions are provided), or order takeout on Upserve.
The gist: Drawing on Japanese restaurant experience in San Francisco and Tokyo, husband-and-wife team Thomas Takashi Cooke and Elaine Alden opened this wildly popular spot on Washington Avenue in 2017.
The food: Izakaya Minato’s mix of small and medium plates are fun to share and make it easy for solo diners to enjoy a variety of bites. Pair garlic edamame; cucumbers with pickled plum paste; and fried tofu with jalapeño soy sauce and bonito with cocktails such as Plum Vesper (spicy plum sake, gin, vodka) or any number of sakes on Alden’s well-curated list. Add wild mushroom okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake), bacon-wrapped mochi, buta kimchi bento (pork, cabbage, and kimchi sauté), and Kamo Yaki Udon (stir fried udon noodles with duck breast and seasonal vegetables) to build a bigger meal.
The cost: Menu items run from $3-15, cocktails average $11, and beer, wine, and sake (by glass and bottle) go for $4-56. Gift cards, cool tees and totes, sake cups crafted by Takashi Cooke himself, and more are also available.
How to order: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-613-9939 to make a reservation for heated outdoor dining (BYO blanket!), or order takeout online or delivery via Carhop.
The gist: What began as a popular food truck cooked up by sweethearts Austin Miller and Hana Tamaki, is now a brick-and-mortar go-to for casual Japanese pub snacks and more, with the goods served all day.
The food: Mami’s menu starts with snacks like yaki onigiri (miso-glazed grilled rice balls filled with spicy salmon and fermented mustard greens) and nikuman (BBQ’d steamed pork buns). Get the house burger—which comes with lettuce, tomato, and pickle plus American cheese, ketchup, Kewpie, and bonito flakes on a squid ink brioche bun—or a fried chicken katsu sandwich for a bigger meal. Watch for weekend ramen specials like Tonkotsu (creamy pork bone broth with a sesame paste tare, 6-minute egg, chashu, cabbage, and scallions), and rotating pastries, like toasted coconut-matcha mochi cake with coconut pastry cream. To drink, there are great local beers, plus lots of fun wine, sake, and sodas.
The cost: Snacks hover in the $6-8 zone, larger dishes average $12, beer, wine, and sake go for $5-14. Gift cards and cool merch are also available.
How to order: Limited indoor seating, takeout via Mami or Clover, delivery at Carhop and 2Dinein.
The gist: When Jordan Rubin (aka Mr. Tuna) began peddling his wildly good Japanese-style temaki hand rolls from a rehabbed hot dog cart in 2017, fans followed on social media for up-to-the-minute intel on where he’d pop up next. Rubin and his partner and fiancée, Marisa Lewiecki, have since grown the business to include multiple mobile units and a brick-and-mortar spot in the Public Market House, where they’ve added many more menu items.
The food: Rubin is a master at pairing local ingredients in unique ways while staying anchored in traditional Japanese technique. Case in point: a Maine crab, yuzu mayo, avocado, and cucumber hand roll or one filled with Hamachi, pickled Maine strawberries, jalapeño, and shiso. Subarashii Don (tuna tartare, Maine scallops, salmon toro, ikura, premium Maine uni, and quail egg yolk over rice) is a seasonal mid-winter must. A unique selection of Japanese sodas and sake, plus great local beer add to the goodness.
The cost: Hand rolls are $6 a pop or 3 for $15; larger dishes go for $18-58, sodas, sake, and beer run $3-13. At $58, the multi-course omakase is a steal. Also on offer: cute t-shirts, onesies, dad hats, tote bags, greeting cards, gift cards and more.
How to order: Order takeout on Mr. Tuna and delivery at Carhop. Follow @mr.tuna_maine for mobile schedule (resuming Spring 2021).
Woodford Food & Beverage
The gist: This buzzy neighborhood brasserie, housed in a storied mid-century modern space, tweaks classic French and American fare with contemporary Maine flair, and delivers one of the warmest hospitality games in town.
The food: It’s tempting to put together a meal of starters when choices include smoked trout mousse with house-made potato chips, icy seafood plateaus, deviled eggs with smoked bacon, and pickled crudité. They’re all terrific with cocktails like the Emergency Margarita (Reposado tequila, Grand Marnier, Aperol, grapefruit, chipotle salt) or expertly prepared Negroni. But don’t miss out on larger plate offerings like Parisian gnocchi, spicy shrimp & grits with fried pickled okra, meaty pork chops with a buttery potato and cabbage mash, or one of Portland’s most beloved burgers. And do leave room for a warm fruit crisp or dark chocolate pudding.
The cost: Starters and entrees range $5-22, most cocktails are $10, and beer and wine run $5-14. Gift cards, tees, and other merch are also available.
How to order: Order takeout and make reservations for weather-dependent patio dining at Woodford Food & Beverage. For delivery, visit 2Dinein.
Solo Italiano Restaurant
The gist: In a rustic, warehouse space in bustling Old Port, Genoa-born chef Paolo Laboa makes daily updates to his extraordinary Northern Italian menu.
The food: Laboa’s traditional six-section menu begins with a beguiling array of crudo. Start with a plate of Atlantic Bluefin tuna tartar with salsa verde, a farm egg yolk, and beet mostarda then move on to antipasti. Pastas like carbonara di mare (maccheroncelli tossed in an an uni emulsion with guanciale, caramelized onions, Pecorino Romano, and Gulf shrimp) and Laboa’s delicate handkerchief pasta with award-winning emerald-green pesto are a great midpoint prelude to dishes like pan-seared local dayboat scallops with housemade ‘nduja and cherry tomatoes over Maine Grains polenta, or duck breast with figs and braised cabbage. And leave room for a cookie plate and other tasty desserts.
The cost: Starters, pastas, and entrees approximate $15-40, most cocktails are $14, and beer and wine run $5-14. Gift cards are also available. The restaurant’s sister market, Solo Cucina, in South Portland, is well worth a visit, too.
How to order: Make a reservation on OpenTable for limited indoor and seasonal patio seating, or call for takeout at Solo Italiano.
The gist: In a gorgeous, soaring space overlooking one of Portland’s busiest working waterfronts, you can watch the boats go by while you tuck into chef Fred Eliot’s French inflected seafood-centric menu.
The food: Scales employs one the city’s best bar crews, so start with an icy martini (or your favorite beverage) and a plate of smoked bluefish pate, fried whole belly clams, raw oysters or crudo before moving onto larger dishes like local Bang’s Island mussels with a mustardy cider cream sauce or pan roasted halibut with brown butter and hazelnuts. Desserts include a butterscotch sundae with vanilla frozen custard, maple cream, and caramel popcorn.
The cost: Starters and entrees range $8-39, most cocktails are $12, and beer and wine go for $4-14. Gift cards are available by phone.
How to order: Make a reservation on OpenTable for limited indoor or seasonal outside seating.
The Honey Paw
The gist: The team behind Eventide and Hugo’s extended their Middle Street sparkle when they opened Honey Paw in 2015.
The food: Slather sweet chili butter over warm fried bread and snack on Napa cabbage kimchi while you wait for larger dishes like lobster wontons in miso dashi; tingly biang biang noodles with braised beef; and smoked lamb khao soi—a brothy coconut curry accented with mustard greens, coconut, and lime. The honey soft serve with chocolate shell and honeycomb provides a sweet note to end on.
The cost: Starters and entrees range $5-22, most cocktails are $15, and beer and wine sold in four-packs and by the bottle go for $14-30.
How to order: Order takeout at The Honey Paw, and delivery from Uber Eats or 2Dinein.
The gist: After turning heads as the chef de cuisine at Eventide and executive chef at Ogunquit’s Velveteen Habit, Chris Wilcox took over a small space in an up and coming neighborhood of South Portland and named it Judy Gibson after his two grandmothers.
The food: Wilcox’s winter menu centers around crisp, juicy fried chicken and next-level fixins’ like Lacinato kale, horseradish, and cheddar cheese sauce gratin; three-cheese mac & cheese; coleslaw in a celery seed vinaigrette; and house-made pickle chips. You’ll also find wildcard sandwiches, like smoked mackerel banh mi, dressed with spicy maple nuoc cham, and a marinated vegetable sub, with winter squash mayo and shredded iceberg. Cocktails include a Clavo Oxiado (mezcal and Drambuie) and the Crookneck, a twist on a classic caipirinha: cachaça and lime, with butternut squash shrub standing in for sugar. For dessert, there is creamy dark chocolate pudding. Gluten-free fried chicken is available with an advance order.
The cost: Fried chicken and fried chicken meals run $18-40, sides are $3-8, cocktails that serve two and wine by the bottle go for $22-45, NA drinks are $2-3. Pantry items, like housemade stocks, apple butter, and a knockout kielbasa-anchovy vinaigrette are also on offer.
How to order: Order takeout on Toast and delivery via Carhop.