With local fresh seafood on its doorstep, a popular farm-to-table movement and a smattering of creative restaurants spicing up traditional recipes with contemporary flair, Portland, Maine, is quickly become a foodie’s paradise. Whether you choose from freshly dug Maine clams in a floating restaurant, New American cuisine in a former church or French fare in a cosy bistro, Portland’s eclectic dining scene – and these ten great restaurants – will leave a lasting impression.
DiMillo’s On the Water is a floating seafood restaurant with a colorful history. In 1965, local restaurateur Tony DiMillo opened a popular, successful restaurant on Portland’s waterfront and later, in 1978, bought a disused wharf and transformed it into DiMillo’s Marina. In 1980 Tony purchased The New Yorker, a former car ferry and in 1982 the boat became home to the relocated DiMillo’s restaurant, boasting beautiful outside decks with stunning harbour views. Today, DiMillo’s is run by Tony’s family with chef Melissa Bouchard, the 2012 Maine representative in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off and first female winner of the Maine Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year title, at the helm. To start, try Melissa’s steamed Maine clams, dug fresh from coastal mudflats daily, followed by DiMillo’s famous lobster – steamed or stuffed and baked, in varying sizes – or the mouth-watering pecan encrusted local haddock with a cornbread and butternut squash stuffing.
Five Fifty-Five is owned by husband and wife team Steve and Michelle Corry, who also act as executive chef and wine director-cum-general manager respectively. The stylish restaurant serves New American cuisine typified by fresh, delicious and seasonal ingredients and offers an a la carte menu as well as a five or eight-course tasting menu nightly. Inside Five Fifty-Five, exposed brickwork contrasts with wooden furnishings complemented by warm, autumnal tones giving the restaurant a rustic, warm and inviting atmosphere. It is no wonder that Maine Magazine named Five Fifty-Five as one of the most romantic restaurants in the state. Start with a simple appetiser of celery root soup with a parsley emulsion, fried capers and spiced-rye crackers, and then indulge in some comfort food with a contemporary, classy twist with the truffled lobster macaroni and cheese.
Mexican restaurant Zapoteca is owned by husband and wife Tom and Shannon Bard, alongside Guadalajara-born friend Sergio Ramos. All of them are firm believers in the farm-to-table philosophy, sourcing the best of New England produce including sustainable seafood and grass-fed meat. Shannon, who is also Zapoteca’s executive chef, has crafted a menu of vibrant, traditional Mexican dishes with bold, contemporary flair based on local ingredients. Pineland Farms rib-eye steak is given a twist of zesty lime, oregano and cilantro salsa and served with a garlic chipotle potato mash, while tender pork ribs are roasted in Mezcal and finished in the kitchen’s wood oven with a spicy agave morito sauce. A visit to Zapoteca wouldn’t be complete without sampling one of its many quality tequilas – splash out on the luxury patron burdeos aneja.
From the same team that brought Portland Five Fifty-Five, Petite Jacqueline is a laid-back French bistro established in 2011 and located in the city’s West End, close to the Arts District. The restaurant, which was a semi-finalist in the Best New Restaurant category at the prestigious James Beard Awards, serves traditional French comfort food inspired by co-owner Michelle Corry’s French heritage in a vibrant, chic space. Expect classic dishes such as onion soup with Gruyere cheese, steak tartare and escargot with fennel butter, mushrooms and squash. Petite Jacqueline also offers a Sunday brunch menu perfect for lazy Sundays with omelettes, crepes, assorted pastries and, of course, the brunch classic smoked salmon and poached eggs.
Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room serves the finest Maine seafood in a historic setting on Portland’s Commercial Street, which has been named one of the best streets in America by the American Planning Association. Boone’s has been a seafood restaurant since 1898 and is currently owned by Harding Lee Smith, a Culinary Institute of America trained chef with experience in Italy and Hawaii. Harding’s faithful restoration of Boone’s includes original Douglas fir beams with a roaring wood fire and tables and booths in beautiful cherry wood. Upstairs, Boone’s has an intimate raw bar serving a variety of oysters harvested from locations across New England. The charming main dining room serves dishes such as the Seafood Newburg – lobster, scallops and haddock in a sherry cream sauce, served in a popover – and lobster poutine – a Maine interpretation of the Québécois classic featuring chips and lobster meat smothered in lobster gravy and cashew cheese.
Eve’s At the Garden is a new American restaurant situated within the grounds of the stylish redbrick boutique Portland Harbour Hotel, where diners can choose to eat inside in a chic yet inviting dining room or enjoy al fresco dining on warmer nights in the restaurant’s delightful courtyard, complete with a fountain and trees decked in twinkling lights. Chef Timothy Labonte has created a sophisticated menu of classic New England dishes with a contemporary twist inspired by seasonal produce sourced from local farmers’ markets. Try the pan-roasted cod with cumin sauerkraut, acacia honey polenta and cranberry gastrique or the grilled pork loin served with parmesan farro, oregano chimichurri and pomegranate-dressed Brussels sprout leaves. Alternatively, go for breakfast and enjoy Timothy’s award-winning pork belly waffle served with sunny side egg and Pineland Farms cheddar with a Maine maple syrup and sea salt crunch.
Simply put, Grace is stunning. The elegant restaurant resides in the reinvented Chestnut Street Church, built around 1857, which is a magnificent example of gothic revival architecture. With an interior designed by Tivi Design, the building, which is on America’s National Register of Historic Places, features a huge central circular bar overlooked by a two-level dining area with grand high ceilings and original grain-painted wooden pillars – a design true to both the building’s history and Grace’s modern menu. Executive chef Peter Sueltenfuss introduces eclectic and innovative fare; whet your palate with an appetiser of stuffed Maine littleneck clams. Or try the local farm pork sausage with a potato-fennel puree and pistachio-lemon gremolata before indulging in a rich entrée of creamy Maine lobster with tabasco tagliatelle and yellow foot mushrooms or a juicy Black Angus steak with local root vegetable gratin and mustard beer sauce.
Local 188 was formed by executive chef Jay Villani and his wife Allison, alongside friends Pat Corrigan and Matt Purington who wanted to combine their love of food and art. The restaurant-cum-gallery quickly became a popular destination for foodies and art lovers alike, attracted to Local 188’s open kitchen, cosy lounge and airy, spacious dining room adorned with local art. As its name would suggest, the restaurant prides itself on using ingredients from Maine-based farmers, foragers and fishermen and offers innovative Spanish fare with Mediterranean influences. The charcuterie dish – barbecue smoked pork rillettes, duck confit and chicken liver pate – is perfect meat lovers, who can also try the classic paella made with chorizo, chicken, locally sourced mussels and mahogany clams. Local 188 also has an impressive wine list of over 200 varieties and a number of local ales produced by Portland-based breweries Rising Tide and Allagash.
David’s Restaurant, located on the edge of Portland’s Arts District, is the namesake of owner and chef David Turin who uses simple ingredients to create innovative, modern American dishes. The restaurant itself is a bohemian melting pot of new and old styles; outside a jazzy neon light bears the restaurant name and high windows give gorgeous views of Portland’s Monument Square, while inside is a contrast of exposed brick walls, retro floor tiles and warm, bistro-inspired lighting. David’s Restaurant dishes include the blackened Atlantic swordfish served with a corn and pineapple salsa and grilled polenta wholesome meatloaf with a modern twist, like the crispy cumin onions, mushroom gravy and roasted garlic potato mash. The popular dessert menu features such temptations as pecan and white chocolate torte with bourbon sauce and whipped cream and the berry and apple crisp, topped with granola and lemon zest and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
A true exponent of the farm-to-table movement, Vignola Cinque Terre is a chic Italian restaurant owned by Dan and Michelle Kary who also own and operate Grand View Farm in nearby rural Greene, Maine. The historic farm, in operation since the 1780s, grows around a quarter of all fruit, vegetables and herbs used by Vignola Cinque Terre with other ingredients sourced from fellow local farmers, fishermen and artisan cheesemongers. Executive chef and co-owner Lee Skawinski, a New England native, creates flavorsome and traditional Italian fare with the best ingredients Maine has to offer. Expect delights such as stuffed calamari with Maine mussels and duck sausage rigatoni with local mushrooms, thyme butter and concasse tomato. Traditional Italian dolci are also available, including a plate of double choc chip, orange poppy seed and white chocolate ginger biscotti or the classic vanilla bean panna cotta with blood orange marmalade, butterscotch and whipped cream.