Maine’s largest city rests on a peninsula that juts out into island-dotted Casco Bay. Biting winds and snow predominate in winter, but Portland summer is a wonderland. Runners flood Back Cove Trail and people explore nearby lighthouses and dive into a prominent part of New England history, which is rooted in the stories of Native American people like Penobscot Nation, and starting in 1623, became intertwined with English colonialists, which Naval Captain Christopher Levett led. Portland’s culinary scene has evolved considerably from New England traditions and now incorporates more global flavors. Learn about 10 places to eat and drink coffee and beer in Portland, plus three bonus picks in nearby Biddeford and Cape Elizabeth, based on my trip there from September 17-20, 2019.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Stainless steel beer tanks tower above surrounding trees in an industrial park near the 95 freeway. Between 1995 and 2010, Rob Tod sold so many barrels of Allagash White, to name just one hit, that the brewery’s founder was able to expand Allagash into this far larger facility. The space now touts twin bars with separate beer lists, a big covered patio, and a picnic table filled tent. Headquarters even hosts Bite into Maine‘s Airstream trailer that serves some of Portland’s best lobster rolls. Four-beer flights are a great way to scratch the surface on Allagash’s deep line-up. I sampled three-ounce pours of hoppy Belgian-style “House” beer and three tart ales: Brightline saison brewed with black currants; Farm to Face pale ale punched up with Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and peaches; and citrusy, hop-kissed Saison Gratis that luxuriates in Allagash’s old school coolship.
MUST ORDER: Four-Beer Flight, Brightline, Farm to Face, House, Saison Gratis
Lobster rolls are practically gospel in Maine, and Bite Into Maine serves some of the state’s best rolls at three locations. Karl and Sarah Sutton run a 12-seat outpost within their Scarborough commissary, park an Airstream trailer at Allagash, and a silver trailer perched on the hill at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth is most picturesque of all, featuring red picnic tables under an American flag with views of the Atlantic Ocean and lighthouse. Lobster rolls come with a choice of six preparations in toasted, lightly buttered split-top hot dog buns. Why choose between text Maine (mayo and chives) and Connecticut style (drawn butter) lobster rolls when you can get both? I also found “picnic style” with cole slaw, warm butter and celery salt intriguing, along with the “curry” version folded with yellow Indian curry mayo, but opted for simplicity for my first visit. Bite Into Maine’s clam chowder is thicker than other versions I sampled on the trip, but a must-order, loaded with chopped clams and buttery potato chunks.
MUST ORDER: Clam Chowder, Connecticut Lobster Roll, Maine Lobster Roll
Belfast-born chef Ian Dutch and wife Lucy survived kitchen wars in San Francisco, Boston, and Nantucket and turned their attention north to Portland, where they opened eponymous Dutch’s in 2014. A large split-level space on a downtown side street features cream-colored walls lined with travel and camping posters and a signature mural. They bake all breads, biscuits and bagels in-house and stock a case by the register with tempting pastries. Order breakfast and lunch at the counter from blackboard menus. I’m a sucker for a good breakfast sandwich and enjoyed their spicy chicken biscuit, which teams a crispy chicken thigh with creamy avocado mash, and tangy, vinegar-based house hot sauce on a soft rectangular biscuit. My wife opted for corned turkey hash, a savory griddled pancake plated with two eggs, a choice of bread, and berry jam.
MUST ORDER: Corned Turkey Hash, Spicy Chicken Biscuit
Greg Mitchell, who revitalized Biddeford’s Palace Diner with business partner Chad Conley, debuted Flood’s in May in a historic brick building on Portland’s West End. The welcoming space features burgundy cushioned banquettes, a small eight-stool bar, mottled yellow walls, and blues music. Flood’s creative comfort food deserves to become a major draw. Start with “surf & turf” chips, puffy fried beef tendons sprinkled with herb dust, lobster salt and lemon zest. Clam & mussel toast makes the most of local seafood, slathering crusty Night Moves bakery bread with butter and aioli before topping with scallions and bursting sungold tomatoes. Mackerel is another highlight, featuring whole fish with minimal funk pulled from nearby waters, griddled and served in a pool of brown butter with herbs and grilled lemon. Seared beef tongue reminded me of corned beef, plated with crispy onions, chopped hard-boiled egg and salsa verde. Chocolate pudding is a decadent dessert that co-hosts house-made cream and chocolate shortbread cookie graced with sea salt.
MUST ORDER: Clam & Mussel Toast, Griddled Mackerel, Seared Beef Tongue, Surf & Turf Chips, Chocolate Pudding
Leigh Kellis makes 16 donut flavors daily at three Portland area locations: West End (2012), Old Port (2013), and nearby Scarborough (2017). Counter seats framed the entrance of her Old Port outpost, which also houses a Coffee By Design coffee bar. Kellis is remarkably transparent about her donut recipe, which incorporates local butter and buttermilk, mashed Aroostook County potatoes designed to boost moisture, and glazes made with fruit juices or vegetable dyes. I’m a believer in The Holy Donut’s crusty Maine apple fritter studded with apple chunks and sporting an apple cider glaze. Her “holy cannoli,” a ginger-flecked old-fashioned donut with ginger glaze and fluffy ricotta filling, is another fun option. The abundant donut case could induce ordering anxiety, but the best bet is to just go with the seasonal flow when placing an order.
MUST ORDER: Maine Apple Donut
This pastel pink and aqua café has charmed Woodfords Corner locals since October 2017. That’s when longtime hospitalians Andrew Zarro and partner T.J. debuted Little Woodfords at the base of a brick building with an eye-catching clock tower. The interior features a tile counter with pastel aqua stools, pastel pink letter board menus, and pink neon heart. The design isn’t the only draw. Vivid Coffee beans from Vermont and a two-group La Marzocco espresso machine fuel a notable coffee program. I appreciate Shorty’s simple pleasures. 2 ounces Sugar Shack espresso and 2 ounces of milk arrive over ice. Bonus: happy hour involves 50% off drinks daily from 3-4 p.m.
MUST ORDER: Shorty
7. Mr. Tuna
Portland isn’t known for sushi, but considering Casco Bay’s bounty, it makes sense that somebody would step up. Sushi veteran Jordan Rubin is originally from Boston and launched the Mr. Tuna food cart downtown in 2017 starring conical hand rolls crafted with crispy nori, sushi rice, and local seafood. Rubin still serves rolls from roving carts, but a Public Market House counter is now Mr. Tuna’s center of operations. Flavorful preparations include ocean trout paired with popping ikura and shiso; and sweet Jonah crab leg meat bundled with yuzu mayo, avocado, and cucumber; plus atypical proteins like Boston mackerel and salmon toro. Kama, roasted fish collar, changes daily, and I was lucky enough to snag delectable ocean trout kama marinated in chile and sesame oils, soy sauce, sake, mirin, garlic, ginger and scallions. No wonder seats at Mr. Tuna’s bar are so in demand.
MUST ORDER: Boston Mackerel Hand Roll, Kama, Maine Crab Hand Roll, Maine Uni Hand Roll, Ocean Trout & Ikura Hand Roll, Salmon Toro Hand Roll