Portland, Maine Is Ground Zero for Great Dining Right Now
The seagull was unnerving me. He sidled up to me with all the grace and subtly of a teenage linebacker. Birds aren’t this big or bold in the middle northern part of the country where I’m from. His beak, roughly the size of the prow of the sailing boat I’d just departed, began listing towards my lobster roll that I swiftly began to prison-eat. Elbows jutting out, face hovering over the massive red claws of meat stuffed into a roll.
It was not my first or my last lobster roll that I would eat in my whirlwind tour of this impossibly charming town, but I would be damned if I was sharing any with some hulking bird that didn’t even have the good sense to put a little charm-shine on that begging.
That bird isn’t the only one that knows, there are scads of delicious offerings in this gorgeous seaside town. Bon Appetit named Portland, Maine the restaurant city of 2018. The publication also named Drifter’s Wife as one of its 10 best new restaurants of the year. Now is the time to check this town out, especially as the leaves begin to change.
Where to Stay
Find a hotel that’s centrally located in Old Port. Driving and parking around here aren’t easy and the hub of the town is best walked. I stayed at the Hyatt Place, which was perfectly positioned in the middle of all of the action. I never even had to use a car or call an Uber, the shuttle picks up and drops off at the airport (that’s also not that far away.) The staff was always quick to help, including sharing an umbrella when it was raining and the free tea in the lobby was a nice addition for when the temperature dips.
A night at the property can be booked for only 12,000 Hyatt Points a night. Hyatt points are some of our favorites and they can be earned with the Chase World of Hyatt credit card and both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred credit cards.
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Bard Coffee: Decidedly the best cup of coffee in Old Port with all the hipster affectation and Instagram baiting wallpaper. Grab a pound of beans to bring home for $17.
LB Kitchen: I might have become a bit dependent on this little shop’s golden milk almond milk latte. It’s a health-focused, neighborhoody cafe and the sunshiney zing of turmeric and ginger can forgive any sins that might have been incurred the night before.
Standard Baking Company: Stunning pastries and breads are the draw to this charming bakery that faces the water. A little suitcase space for a treat to bring home with the coffee wouldn’t be a bad idea.
High Roller Lobster Co: This slick poppy spot is all white tile with red accents and is deliciously deviant from the norm lobster roll menu. Have some fun with the sauces like a charred pineapple mayor or curried ketchup.
The Porthole Restaurant & Pub: Go full tourist at this rustic spot right on a pier. This is where I met my gull friend from the beginning of this post. It’s open year round and the drink specials are a nice bonus on a vacation midday.
Central Provisions: Okay, fine, you don’t have to get a lobster roll for lunch. How about some brandade croquettes and a foie gras parfait instead? This is fancier food, but not so much so that jeans would be out of place and it doesn’t cost too much. Croquettes are $6 and the foie parfait is $10. This is also a fantastic spot for craft cocktails.
Scales: A beautiful room, where the crushed ice forms above a giant bin where it drops into a vat before the kitchen. It’s a fun dinner spectacle to watch, and this classic destination serves the single best seafood stew I have ever had. An astounding, rich broth engulfs huge hunks of fish, shellfish and a wedge of Standard Baking Co. bread.
Drifter’s Wife: This critically beloved little restaurant has a small menu with season dishes created with a deft hand. Begin with the bread with dulce butter and finish with a wholly comforting roast chicken. (There are exactly zero lobster rolls here, folks.)
Little Giant: Order tastes from little to giant, like spicy little crab-topped deviled eggs or the mother-of-all-seafood towers, Vacationland. The $72 mix includes lobsters, oysters, fried cod, grilled bread and basically everything a soul from a land-locked state in the middle of the country like me desires.
Portland Hunt and Alpine Club: Cocktails to swoon over and easily sorted on the menu depending on your taste for adventure. They have everything from a seriously classic Four Roses Old Fashioned to a campfire in a glass with Irish whiskey, mezcal, pineapple gomme.
The Glass Lounge: Another fantastic spot for craft cocktails just happened to be attached to the hotel I was staying in. Take the bartenders through their paces, these folks know what they are doing with all the polish of pros who have seen it all and still have a passion for making a drink just the way you like. A word to the wise, a Bookers Manhattan is a nice nightcap to a long, lovely day.
Portland, Maine is a little gem in the northeast corner of the United States. Use our guide the next time you are in town to navigate all of the culinary hot spots the city has to offer.
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