It’s always a good time to eat your way around Portland, Maine, but given that they just won Bon Appetit’s 2018 Restaurant City of the Year, now is a GREAT time to do it.
Portland is glorious in the summer (hello -- no humidity!), but spring and fall are just as beautiful. The relatively compact city and the fact that the flight is under two hours from D.C. (and less than $250) means that a quick weekend getaway is sufficient to experience much of its beauty, and to get your fill of lobster. And yes, you should eat all the lobster, but there's a lot more to explore in this charming food city. Here are our picks.
There is a reason this spot is extremely popular, and while you should eat as many of the 20+ varieties of oysters and other raw seafood offered, you absolutely MUST get the brown butter lobster rolls. The roll is more like an Asian bao bun, and the chunks of lobster are generously drizzled with brown butter lemon vinaigrette – this is absolutely one of the best dishes (and one of the best lobster rolls!) in town.
This trendy but casual spot was on Bon Appetit’s list of best new restaurants a few years back, and it still gets well deserved attention from the food community. They change their menu daily, but the selection of small plates is consistently eclectic. The caramelized sheep’s cheese and any of the “toasts” are must gets, in addition to a couple of the crudos. They don't accept reservations though, so I recommend coming right at opening or coming about an hour before you actually want to eat, putting your name down and grabbing a drink nearby.
A perfect Portland morning includes a croissant from Standard, a coffee, a chat with the locals and their pups and a leisurely stroll by the waterfront. Get there early to get the best goodies, as they do sell out.
Portland is legit obsessed with donuts, and The Holy Donut is the holiest of them all. These handmade Maine potato donuts come in about 20 different flavors, and include a selection of gluten free and vegan selections. Maple bacon and lemon are my favorites, but pick up a few and enjoy them by the water.
A classic Portland breakfast spot, locals and tourists abound at this no-frills, old-school diner to fill up on pancakes, egg and mountains of home fries.
This modern Jewish deli is getting a lot of attention and love for the bagel sandwiches with white fish or lox, but the word on the street is that their latkes are amazing too. Rose Foods was also in Bon Appetit’s top 50 new restaurants of the year.
They just a won a spot on the Top 10 best new restaurants for 2018, so a stop at this funky natural wine bar with small plates and a wine store is a must visit. Wild-caught fish and other seasonal modern American dishes are also offered.
This modern bar with cocktails and Scandinavian snack food is a great way to start the evening, or even a spot for drinks while you wait after getting your name in at Central Provisions.
Portland is also well known for its beer scene – Maine Beer Company is a short drive away and produces great beer. But their mantra to “Do What’s Right” is what really impresses me, with all their electricity coming from solar panels. Allagash, Oxbow and Bissell Brothers are also popular with great tasting rooms. Try a few different local beers at microbrewery and gastropub Little Tap House in downtown Portland.
When you're done eating your way around the city, take a ride out to one of the many lighthouses in the area and explore the trails by the sea. The Portland Head Light is a short drive away, and an added incentive to go there is the Bite into Maine lobster truck -- enjoy classic lobster rolls while overlooking the lighthouse.
A nice way to get some fresh air and that Atlantic breeze is to walk the Spring Point Shoreway trail from Bug Light Park to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse to Fisherman’s Point via Willard Beach. This three-mile round trip is an easy, scenic walk along the waterfront, and a fabulous way to see some of the iconic lighthouses of Maine.
A fun and informative way to appreciate all the lobster you consume is to take a lobster boat tour. Learn the complexities of catching lobsters, identifying male and female,acceptable sizes and the strict sustainability practices followed all over Maine. I'd highly recommend this if the option is available when you visit.