When I visited Portland, Maine, for the first time this March, I was instantly charmed by the way the city seemed the perfect marriage of old school and new. On one hand, it was quintessentially New England with its stunning seascapes, cobblestone streets and everyone-knows-everyone warmth. On the other hand, the city’s rich cultural offerings, eco-friendliness and diverse community lent Portland a distinctly modern feel.
And the food.
The food I had in Portland was bold and imaginative without trying too hard. My friend and gracious host, Anna Stoessinger—a writer, lifelong food lover and native Manhattanite—showed me her favorite bites in the city. With her help, I compiled a list of Portland must-eats with our favorite restaurants and bakeries.
For “the sharpest seafood money can buy,” look no further than Old Port’s Eventide Oyster Co. It’s easy to see why chefs Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor have been nominated multiple times for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Chef: Northeast award.
With its creative, constantly changing menu, Eventide elevates traditional New England comfort food with fresh ingredients and surprising flavors. For me, no visit to Portland would be complete without a taste of Eventide’s brown butter lobster roll served on a fragrant Asian-style bun. Other menu highlights include the restaurant’s seasonal ceviches and crudos (the fluke ceviche is a standout); coconut and green curry lobster stew with maitake mushrooms; and an impressive New England clam bake with lobster, clams, mussels, butter, bacon and a hard-boiled egg.
Part of Eventide’s charm is its laid-back ambience and communal picnic tables. Though lines can get absurdly long and reservations are only accepted for parties larger than six, Eventide maintains a no-big-hurry spirit.
Unlike many fusion restaurants that seem insecure in their hodgepodge cuisine, the Honey Paw delights in bringing cultures together. And it shows.
Playful, offbeat flavor combinations give their Asian-ish items an improvisational quality. The menu skews Southeast Asian, but the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and American influences shine in spontaneous and cheeky ways. Think fried bread with uni butter and Korean fried chicken with coconut corn bread.
Like Eventide, which is also co-owned by Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, the Honey Paw features a seasonal menu starring local seafood. Go for the daily specials, appetizers and their phenomenal housemade noodles. This summer’s curry lobster laksa with fermented rice noodle, clam and coconut remains one of the best bowls of noodles I have ever eaten.
Since its launch in 2011, Miyake has made a name for itself as one of the finest Japanese restaurants in New England. With the goals of providing patrons with “a true farm-to-table experience,” chef Masa Miyake established a farm of his own on which he raises produce, including heirloom vegetables and heritage breed pigs.
Miyake’s menu includes standard à la carte sashimi and nigiri items. But Anna writes: “It would be a crime not to choose the four-course option (for $50, no less) and dig into perfectly seared duck breast, made just fiery enough by the yuzukosho on the side. Or the sweet Tai snapper head, marinated and braised in sake, soy, dashi and ginger. There are typically three desserts on the menu, but my favorite is the yuzu citrus crème brulée, one of the best versions of this dessert I’ve had.”
Paciarino, another one of Anna’s picks, serves up Italian classics like Caprese salad and lasagne alla bolognese made with high-quality ingredients imported from Italy. Anna describes Paciarino’s as “serene, cozy and romantic Italian that feels like home. Here, pastas are made fresh every day and ingredients are unadorned and delicious. Think Ligurian olives, creamy taleggio, vidalias and fresh sage. The ravioli is simple but divine, delicate but full of character, leaving you fully satiated but never uncomfortably full.”
Standard Baking Co. has been a Portland mainstay for over two decades. With its emphasis on sustainable ingredients and artisanal techniques, the bakery features a simple rotating menu of breads, rolls, pastries, breakfast pastries and weekly specials.
A family-owned and -operated business, the bakery prides itself in using homegrown and organic products including unbleached 100 percent organic wheat flour, certified 100 percent organic whole grains and organic bread starter that eliminates the need for commercial yeast. Standard’s rich, never-too-sweet brownies are irresistible, and customers rave about the bakery’s chocolate rye cookies.
The Holy Donut was born in 2011 in Leigh Kellis’s kitchen. By using potatoes and sweet potatoes instead of flour, she was able to create a healthful, flavorful and moist doughnut using local ingredients like buttermilk from Casco Bay Butter and potatoes from Aroostook County. The Holy Donut expanded quickly and now turns out one million handmade donuts a year. The most popular flavor, dark chocolate with sea salt, is made with dark cocoa powder and 60 percent dark chocolate chips. Other specialty items include a perfectly zesty lemon donut made from freshly squeezed lemons, ginger glazed sweet potato donut and a vegan potato donut featuring of-the-moment Maine berry glazes.