7 Places To Eat And Drink Incredibly Well In Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine is quickly climbing the ranks as a culinary destination, offering much more than sublime lobster rolls. With easy access to both fresh seafood from the ocean and seasonal produce from local farms, a recent influx of big-city chefs seeking calmer waters, and a local less-is-more attitude (which translates into top-notch, ingredient-driven food sans hype or attitude), Portland's dining scene is vibrant, diverse and hotter than ever. Here, a few places worth checking out during your next trip to the beautiful coastal town.

Little Bigs

It's hand-held and utensil-free eats that win at this just-opened bakery by owners Pamela Fitzpatrick and James Murray Plunkett. By combining their talents, Fitzpatrick (who began her baking career under Nancy Silverton at her celebrated Los Angeles bakery La Brea) and Plunkett (who's cooked in some of Chicago's top kitchens) specialize in portable treats, from savory to sweet, packed with bold fillings and flavors. There's lofty, fluffy donuts filled with Tang-spiked cream (yup, the powdered breakfast beverage) and flaky turnovers filled with a housemade apple butter, which gets brightened with a splash of vinegar. Heartier bites include a sophisticated spin on Frito Pie, which takes native Texan Plunkett's meat chili recipe with sharp cheddar folded in, and bakes the mixture in a buttery, corn-based crust (think savory shortbread). The bakery is open until 3 p.m. (or when goods sell out, which happened within hours on opening day), so get in early. 340 Main Street, South Portland, 207-747-4233


Since opening his first restaurant in 2007, Masa Miyake (also of Pai Men Miyake and Miyake Diner, an izakaya which is slated to open early this fall) has garnered a devoted fan base of locals and epicureans afar for its meticulous preparation of pristine sushi and other Japanese delicacies, of which many ingredients are sourced directly from Miyake Farm. As you can imagine, the toughest decision is to figure out what to eat. And while we take no issue with paying for quality, it's a rare (and welcome, always) treat to be offered exceptional food at an equally exceptional price. This summer, Miyake launched an $18 bento lunch box with 6 ever-changing items including sashimi, maki, green salad, grilled fish, a rice bowl with grilled meat and pickles. And a bowl of miso soup to shift your appetite into high gear. Just be sure to request a seat at the sushi bar. 468 Fore Street, 207-871-9170 miyakerestaurants.com

David's Opus 10

After dreaming for years about what he'd cook for dinner in his ideal world — with no restrictions and complete creative control — famed Portland chef David Turin finally fulfilled his wishes here, at his 10th restaurant. This intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant (there is just one seating of 18 nightly) tucked behind David's on Monument Square, is an absolute winner. It's clear from the meticulously-plated starter — which is done table side on a rolling cart — of house-cured prosciutto, nutty Manchego, warmed olives and crostini studded with nuts and fruit, that the tasting menu will guide you along a well thought-out, gastronomic trip. From a delicate langostina cruda (Maine lobster that's just barely cooked) topped with rich brown butter and crispy garlic chips to a porky trio of perfectly-grilled loin, belly with crackly skin and fork-tender pulled rib meat playfully called "Three Little Pigs," the food here, from start to finish, is understated, quietly confident and unquestionably delicious. This is Portland dining at its finest. 22 Monument Square, 207-773-4340, davidsopus10.com

Blue Rooster Food Co.

Chef-owner Damian Sansonetti's background may be in fine dining — he was formerly the executive chef of Bar Boulud — but at his counter joint Blue Rooster Food Co., he's cranking out creative, inventive versions of the fare you craved as a kid (and now, as an adult). While the sandwiches make a strong showing here – The Crafty Swine, stuffed with house-made pâté, pickles and peach mustard is especially palate-pleasing with its salty, sweet and sour notes – we say dig into the specialty hotdogs and tots. The dogs are made in Maine, with a beef and pork blend and natural casings. You'll hear a satisfying snap with each bite. While the bacon-wrapped dogs are popular, we're going to single out the Seoul Dog: it's topped with peanuts, kimchi and a garlicky mayo. And in a nod to our Canadian neighbor, Tot-tine drowns a heap of crispy tater tots under a blanket of brown gravy and squeaky cheese curds. 5 Dana Steet, 207-747-4157, blueroosterfoodcompany.com


Inspired by the time of day when day meets night (we also call this happy hour), this bustling seafood joint by the owners of Hugo's, another neighborhood favorite, serves as a destination to revive you through food and drink. The day's oysters and shellfish, many of which are sourced from Maine, are displayed on a handsome slab of granite at the end of the bar. We recommend ordering an assortment of local oysters, and dressing them up with a couple of signature condiment ices (like tabasco, kim chi, and mimosa), which impart a flicker of flavor upon melting. Then get a pile of the fried oyster buns. Cornmeal-crusted oysters, creamy tartar sauce and pickled red onions are tucked into a sweet, pillowy, steamed bun (like a bao). You'll polish this off in two bites at most, and immediately want another (good thing you ordered a pile). Wash it all down with a glass of muscadet and if you haven't had your fill on shellfish at this point, an oyster shooter made with bloody house mix and frozen vodka. 86 Middle Street, 207-774-8538, eventideoysterco.com


The name, right off the bat, hints at its appeal. Situated in a quieter part of town, in the West End, Outliers Eatery isn't in the thick of it all. But the slightly offbeat location, as with all outliers, is what initially grabs your attention, and later, part of the allure of this newly-opened bar and restaurant. The design is sleek, yet casual-feeling. The menu is playful, yet smart. The vibe is hip (like you've stumbled upon the coolest secret in town), yet warm and friendly. Bar wise, there's a dozen taps pouring beers from Maine standouts like Rising Tide and Oxbow, spirited cocktails like the the bracing Harbor View (rum, ginger soda, simple syrup and lemon juice) and a smart list of wines by the glass. Your best bet is to belly up to the bar when all of these are yours for half price at happy hour (4-6 p.m.), and snack on some savory small plates to keep you thirsty and your hunger at bay. Standouts included the charcuterie plate, plump, wine-bathed mussels, and the buzzed-about pig ears. Deep frying crisps up the outer skin, while the cartilage inside remains chewy. The gloriously fatty, salty flavors hold their own against any boozy companion. 231 York Street, 207-747-4166, outlierseatery.com

Vaughan Street

A special shout goes to this beloved family-run sandwich shop, which opened in 1995. It's small and humble but earns top marks with its inventive, flavorful and overstuffed sandwiches (they're all under $9). The sort of care that husband-and-wife team Jeff and Martha MacDougal (both born and bred Mainers) bring to their shop on a daily basis is a rarity nowadays, and further adds to Vaughan Street's timeless charm. Jeff wakes up at the crack of down to prep — I've never seen anyone clean up and dice up chicken as meticulously as he does — and create daily specials (everybody now, say "cheeseburger baguette!") for customers who are short on time, and need to grab and go. If you have a few minutes to spare, order one of the 26 special roll-ups and focaccia sandwiches by number. The #7 sandwich (basil pesto chicken) and the #2 roll-up (Thai chicken) are best sellers. In the back kitchen, Martha whips up sauces (her mango chutney and Thai peanut sauce are crazy addictive), signature baked treats like clementine cake and apple dibble dabble, her famous macaroni and cheese, and hearty soups (if the apricot lentil is available, get it) from scratch. As Vaughan Street is a small operation, it's open early morning till mid-afternoon, Monday through Saturday. Tell Jeff I sent you. 235 Vaughan Street, 207-772-8993, vaughanst.com

Earlier: 10 Places To Eat In Portland, Maine