Portland, ME

The aftermath of our few days in Portland could best be described as a “food coma.” We both felt like geese about to have our livers harvested for foie gras (although they would have found pure wine and Sazerac where our livers are supposed to be).

After eating and drinking at what felt like 320 restaurants, we definitely had our most memorable moments

Notable lines out the door at everywhere popular, especially Holy Donut, the aforementioned Tandem, Duckfat (for fries, really?), Hot Suppa for breakfast, and Eventide

There was a long (long) list of honorable mentions. And it’s important to note there were two places that warranted repeat visits, even in our short weekend: Tandem and Honey Paw.

We’ve been to Portland several times before if it happened to be raining in our go-to weekend spot of Kennebunkport, about a half-hour south. This time, we decided to spend a few full days and nights there, leaving the car semi-permanently at the valet to get to know the city… As well as probably every somewhat notable restaurant and bar there. 

Bon Appétit recently named it the restaurant city of year, and it’s regularly called a foodie city, but we tried not to let the hype discourage our trip. (Why won’t the word “foodie” just go away already?)

In between the excessive eating and drinking, we did manage to circumnavigate the entire city. We walked the entire west end, including the neighborhoods, we walked around the entire east end along the water, then headed up Munjoy Hill. We loved seeing the neighborhoods filled with young families and corner markets and bakeries—there seems to be a bakery every hundred feet. And there is actually history (the city was founded in 1632) and interest (Eastern Cemetery, a working port, etc.) here, in addition to all the breweries, distilleries, and restaurants.

All that walking didn’t make up for the excessive eating and drinking. We could have walked back and forth to Boston three times (it’s 100 miles, FYI), and that still wouldn’t have been enough. So here’s our un-informed list of honorable mentions from mere mortals. Side note: Most of our information comes from the local bartenders, arguably the best source for where to actually go in almost any city.

STAY:

The Press Hotel for boutique-meets-chain (with a great location), or the Francis, for luxury with the biggest benefit of being across from Tandem Bakery. At the Press, there is the Union restaurant. We didn’t eat there, but we did have the whipped cheesecake dessert and Amaro one night—it’s worth a stop.

EAT/DRINK:

Honey Paw: Our intention was to go to Eventide for a warm-up lobster roll, but the 700-person line directed us to next-door sister restaurant Honey Paw. Thank you, thank you, Eventide line. Honey Paw and everything on its menu is incredible. Make sure to get the Bun Cha and the Fry Bread, but everything we tasted was incredible. Honey Paw, Eventide (oysters, lobster rolls, etc), and Hugo’s(more finer-dining) are side-by-side, owned by the same group, and all a must.

Standard Baking: This place is popular for a reason. The bread is literally to die for, but they have a chocolate cookie that is impossible to describe.

J’s Oyster and/or Portland Lobster Company: These are both on the water on two different wharfs, and feature old-school menus with fried clams, lobster rolls, fried fish sandwiches, and everything else you need in your life. The service at both is geared toward volume, not quality, but the water location combined with the quality for what it is make them worth a stop.

Fore Street: You’ll need a reservation because the wait list even at the bar is insane, but it’s worth it. We ate here years ago when Fore Street was arguably just putting Portland on the map, and now it’s even more fine-tuned and executes perfectly. And it has a bread basket from Standard—a huge bonus (although we have no idea why they have a coffeemaker on the central, focal-point bread station)

Breweries/Distilleries:

There are a bunch. We barely made a dent with visits to Hardshore (primarily known for its very floral gin) and Maine Craft Distilling, which is much more polished and established, with some of its signature drinks sold bottled and canned. For beer, the city is a beer drinker’s dream, but Allagash is the local favorite.

Drifters Wife: This little darling is the one getting the most media attention, and with good reason. The food and wine were definitely of the highest quality, in a dark, non-designed, unassuming space. If we had just happened upon it, we would have really thought we found a gem. We also had probably the single best bartender/server in recent memory, Lennie.

In the two-block area around Drifters Wife, you’ll find Cong Tu Bot for clever Vietnamese (a James Beard semi-finalist), Terlingua, Izakaya Minato, Hardshore, Maine Craft Distilling, and Island Creek Oysters. It’s safe to say this is the dining destination outside of the old Port area.

The next morning, we started early and strong:

Tandem Coffee and Bakery: About a 10-minute walk from the old port area, this place has lines. And when you taste any of their baked goods, you’ll understand why.

Chaval: We opted to try this sister restaurant to Piccolo for brunch. It was not a mistake; it was fantastic and creative, yet simple at the same time.

After an epic breakfast, lunch seemed an impossibility, but we manned up.

Island Creek: Island Creek and its sister Row 34 in Boston are favorites of ours. And if you’re just looking for a tray of fresh oysters, this is the place.

BLVL (or Belleville): This bakery (oh wow, a bakery in Portland?!?!?) has incredible croissants, galettes, and Roman-style pizza at 11:30 every morning, with a crust that’s buttery, chewy, and well-topped to add incredible flavors.

Scales: Scales is Fore Street’s seafood-forward sister restaurant. It basically takes all the classics from places like J’s, and gives them a chef’s upgrade—like a hot buttered lobster roll that may be among my favorites (and that list is long). It’s as refined as Fore Street in service, although there is a little unnecessary snottiness among the host staff.

After another morning panic stop at Tandem (fearful that we’d never again have something this good), it was back to Boston. On the drive, I started Googling “Fasting Diets” for the first time in my life. That only lasted to Ogunquit, where we stopped for lunch at MC Perkins Cove—one of the best in this section of Maine.

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