Where to Eat in Portland, Maine Right Now
Jewish deli staples, raw bars galore, and Japanese street food.
Portland, Maine’s city motto is “Resurgam,” which is latin for “I shall rise again.” These are words we all need right now as we navigate the challenges of COVID-19, and a phrase that especially resonates with the city’s resolute restaurant owners and their intrepid crews. Lucky for us diners, Portland has maintained a vibrant dining scene, with creative restaurateurs who are providing astoundingly creative and delicious fare under more pressure than ever, while keeping safety top-of-mind.
Whether you call the city home or are just visiting, it’s easy to support local spots by ordering takeout or dining outdoors. Here is our salute to Portland’s best new restaurants, including brave stars from 2020, as well as faves from the past five years.
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 small plates like grilled Romano beans with hazelnut and poblano romesco before tucking into spaghetti nero with tender squid, pickled chiles and cherry tomatoes, or ribbon-shaped mafaldine bolognese. Cocktails like the Parting Hand (gin, dry vermouth, tomato, dill, salt, pepper) and Henry’s Field (bourbon, lemon, blueberry, baking spice, whey), along with a selection of house-made gelato and sorbet fall in line with the owners’ playful style.
The cost: Appetizers and entrees will run you $5-25, cocktails $9-12, and beer and wine $7-14. Fresh pasta and sauces to cook at home are also available for $7-14.
How to order: Make a reservation on Resy for outdoor dining or order takeout on Upserve.
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, 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. There are also classic Italian meat, tuna salad, and vegetarian options, along with plenty of sides.
The cost: TSandwiches are $6-14, chips and sides $2-5, and drinks $2-$3.50.
How to order: Order takeout by calling 207-956-7194 or through Upserve.
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 pizzaria 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 -- topped with pork sausage, fior di latte (a fresh cow’s milk mozzarella), radicchio, and caper honey -- is a local favorite. A salad of mixed lettuces with toppings like peppadews and yogurt dressing will offset your carb load, and Perugina chocolates and espresso make for a lovely simple dessert.
The cost: Salad and pizzas are $9-19, non-alcoholic drinks and coffees go for $2.50-6, beer and wine (both by the bottle) run $4-33.
How to order: Order takeout on Toast.
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.
How to order: Order takeout on Square or delivery on 2dinein.
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 daily wildcard 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.
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 and her husband, Damon Sansonetti, who manned stoves as executive chef at Bar Boulud in NYC before they moved to Portland.
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 or Quebec-style chicken confit. Try the Spanish Sundae or light-as-air Ile Flotante with raspberries and tangy lemon sherbet for dessert.
The cost: Tapas, small plates and salads range from $6-17, larger plates run $17-28, cocktails and wine are $10-15.
How to order: Make a reservation on Yelp for patio dining and limited indoor seating 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 menu offers small and medium plates that 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 like the Plum Vesper (spicy plum sake, gin, vodka). Add dishes like wild mushroom okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake), bacon-wrapped mochi with soy, and kimchi fried rice to build a bigger meal.
The cost: Menu items run from $3-15, cocktails average $11, and beer and wine go for $4-11.
How to order: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-613-9939 to make a reservation for outdoor dining or order takeout online.
The gist: The team behind Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts, opened this popular raw bar and shellfish market on the northern end of Washington Avenue.
The food: The handpicked selection of East Coast oysters leans mostly Maine, with sweet Island Creeks also represented. Shucked to order, they pair perfectly with cold glasses of wine and local beer in an airy space that opens up to outdoor seating. Add a Spanish tinned fish plate (served with toasts, mustard, and pickled cabbage), tartine, or tin of caviar for a more substantial meal.
The cost: Oysters go for $1.50, tinned fish run $9-44, and caviar is $70. Wine and beer are $7-12.
How to order: Dine-in and outdoor tables are first come, first served or order takeout on The Shop.
The gist: What began as a popular food truck 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 (a miso-glazed grilled rice ball filled with spicy salmon and fermented mustard greens) and nikuman (miso-BBQ 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. There’s a fun selection of local beer plus 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.
How to order: Patio seating is first come, first served or you can order takeout on Clover.
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 nigiri, sashimi, and snacks.
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. His Take n’ Bake Mr. Tuna maki roll comes with instructions for quick prep and warming at home. A fun selection of Japanese sodas, sake, and local beer add to the fun.
The cost: Hand rolls are $6 a pop or 3 for $15; larger dishes go for $18-45, sodas, sake, and beer run $3 to 13. At $45, the 10-course omakase is a steal.
How to order: Follow @mr.tuna_maine for mobile schedule or order takeout (resuming late October 2020) on Mr. Tuna.
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 Best Beloved G&T (London dry gin, rhubarb infusion, lemon, lime, rose wine, spiced tonic) or the expertly prepared Negroni. But don’t miss out on larger plate offerings like big steaks and chops, Portland’s most beloved burger, or a deliriously good fried oyster Caesar. And do leave room for dark chocolate pudding.
The cost: Starters and entrees range $5-12, most cocktails are $10, and beer and wine run $5-14.
How to order: Make a reservation on Resy for patio seating, order takeout on Woodford Food & Beverage, or order delivery on 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, pasta, and the main courses. Don’t miss Laboa’s thin focaccia di Recco baked with stracchino cheese or the delicate fresh handkerchief pasta, tossed with his bright green award-winning pesto.
The cost: Starters and entrees approximate $15-40, most cocktails are $14, and beer and wine run $5-14.
How to order: Make a reservation on OpenTable for patio and limited indoor 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 or fried whole belly clams 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.
How to order: Make a reservation on OpenTable to dine indoors or outside.
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: Outdoor dining is first come, first served using the Resy remote waitlist. Order takeout and delivery from Uber Eats and 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 paired-down menu favors small plates and, yes, you want them all. Think a crispy smoked whitefish hash brown with pickled ramp and anchovy tartar sauce, tomato and peach salad with tahini and hot honey vinaigrette, grilled sourdough toast topped with smoked Bang’s Island mussels (which are local and extraordinarily good) and dried chilies. Desserts like vanilla pudding with summer berries and crunchy bites of preserved Meyer lemon shortbread are not to be missed.
The cost: Small plates for $7-13, entrees average $35, beer and wine by the glass are $2-15, with two carafe sizes and bottles also available.
How to order: Make a reservation on Resy for outdoor dining or order takeout on Toast.