If you're hungry and you are in Portland, Maine, you are lucky indeed. Second only to Boston when it comes to New England's food scene, Maine's largest city delivers the sort of variety and creativity that pleases everyone from fussy eaters to gourmands. Want a burger or barbecue here? You'll be satisfied beyond expectations. Seafood? Prepare to be wowed. And there are meals and dining experiences that are distinctly Maine and unlike anything you'll find elsewhere.
Here are 13 Portland restaurants that should be on your radar, including top chef-owned standouts, neighborhood spots, and donut shops locals love.
Imagine every coastal Maine dish you crave, then taken to the next level: raw local oysters meticulously selected and exuberantly fresh; a brown-butter lobster roll featuring rich meat inside a bao-style steamed bun; a full-on New England clam bake with mussels, steamers, potatoes, salt pork, hard-boiled egg, and a lobster tail. At Eventide, you'll feel a lively sense of place, and even though the restaurant is pricey, it's definitely no ordinary oyster bar.
The craft cocktails, the inventive small plates, the vibe—oh, and Sunday and Monday brunch, too: Everything at Central Provisions is done in a way that makes those who really know food swoon. It's a fancy date-night favorite for locals and a destination that visitors "from away" consider a must. When it debuted in 2014, Central Provisions made such a splash it was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as one of the best new restaurants in the country. Much of the interior was handcrafted by Mainers; Chef Chris Gould's raw materials are sourced locally, too. You're going to want to try everything—from the tuna crudo to the chocolate pot du creme—so be sure to bring friends who are good at sharing.
Food Network addicts may recognize Chef Matt Ginn from "Chopped" as they watch him and his team at work in Evo's open kitchen. Seats at the bar are the best in the house. Sit back with a Maine-brewed beer or a cocktail mixed with local ingredients and watch the live action unfold. Named Maine Lobster Chef of the Year in 2015, Ginn is a wiz with the local harvest and delights diners with his unabashed flavors and unexpected combinations. The Chef's Tasting option is the way to go if you're an adventurous foodie.
At Portland's best Japanese restaurant, you can order à la carte or embrace the omakase experience by leaving your multi-course meal in the hands of talented chefs. Chef-owner Masa Miyake even raises vegetables and heritage-breed animals on his own farm to supply the restaurant with fresh, top-quality ingredients. The sake sommelier will help you pair each course with sake (or beer, if you prefer). For the best value, visit at lunchtime, when you can enjoy a variety of small tastes for a fraction of the multi-course dinner price.
Belgian fries are the first item listed on the menu at this petite, casual sandwich shop, where there is often a line out the door. Served piping hot in a paper cone, the thick, skin-on fries are all tender potato goodness on the inside yet remarkably sturdy and crisp on the outside. The secret? They're deep fried in oil that is 25 percent—you guessed it—duck fat. Ordering the poutine here is a no-brainer if you like your fries slathered in duck gravy and cheese curds. Salads, panini sandwiches, and duck-fat-fried doughnut holes round out the menu.
If a primary goal of your visit to Portland is to eat incredible seafood, you'll know you found the right place from the moment you step inside Scales and see the artful display of fresh fish on ice. The restaurant's focus makes it one of the city's most reliable choices for beautifully prepared local seafood, including Maine monkfish, pan-roasted lobster, and seafood stew. And dining right on the water allows you to feel connected to the harbor and to the source of your dinner.
Climb aboard Maine's only floating restaurant. The DiMillo family has owned restaurants in Portland since 1954, and the car ferry Tony DiMillo purchased in 1982 continues to be a unique venue for memorable meals. Here, anchored in Portland Harbor, you'll find something for everyone on a diverse menu of pasta, seafood, chicken, and steaks. Yes, it's a restaurant designed to appeal to tourists, but the food and service are solid, and the unique experience is the sort of thing you'll want to seek out while vacationing in Maine.
At Emilitsa, in an arts district space that is both contemporary and cozy, traditional Greek cuisine is honored and reinterpreted. Greek wines complement dishes like souvlaki and grilled lamp chops that will transport you to Mediterranean shores. There's a warmth to the hospitality that speaks of the old world, and with tables cramped together, there's a conviviality to the shared dining experience that feels authentically Greek, too.
Diners are such a New England thing, and this cute-as-a-button 1949 Worcester Lunch Car Company dining car has been restored to its original beauty. You'll find comfort food favorites on the breakfast and lunch menus, as well as diner standbys like milkshakes, sundaes, and pies. This is Maine, so you can fill your belly with clam chowder, fresh-from-the-Atlantic scallops, and whoopie pies, too.
This modern spin on the ubiquitous Maine lobster shack is a fun, casual choice when you're craving just-out-of-the-ocean crustacean on a locally baked brioche bun. As if lobster rolls could ever get boring, the menu here also tucks lobster in grilled cheese, rangoons, and cheese-crisp taco shells. Kids go gaga for the trademarked Lobby Pops: buttered or fried lobster on a stick. And here's the real game changer: You can top your selection with any of 10 house sauces and add-ons like bacon, avocado, or even more lobster.
If you didn't think you could fulfill your barbecue wishes this far north, just go to Salvage BBQ in the old Portland Architectural Salvage building. Brisket is king here, but you won't go wrong with St. Louis ribs or North Carolina-style chopped pork. The sides, like collards and hush puppies, are authentic and filling, too. Communal tables and the rustic setting make a night here feel like a backyard party, especially on Saturdays when live bands play.
As Cheers is to Boston, so this neighborhood restaurant and bar is to Portland. If you want to rub shoulders with locals, this is your spot. Stop in for an exotic cocktail or a craft draft from one of Maine's breweries. The house-smoked hamburgers are delish, and the thrice-cooked fries give next door neighbor Duckfat a run for the money given that there's typically no waiting in line here.
Aroostook County-harvested potatoes are the surprise ingredient that makes Portlanders' favorite donuts so tender and tasty. Now with three Greater Portland locations and an output north of two million donuts annually, The Holy Donut is a phenomenon—yet these delicious treats are still made with handcrafted care. You'll have to arrive early in the day if you hope to find much of a selection available. Spend time waiting in line to contemplate which flavors you'll sample: triple berry glaze is almost too pretty to eat; apple is a fall favorite; dark chocolate sea salt is gluten-free; and maple bacon is the perfect mix of sweet and salty.