In 1857, the mayor of Portland, William Willis, decided he was tired of eating lobster three times a day and that the city needed more restaurants. He decreed, from that day forth Portland must have excellent options for things like a group dinner before a show at Port City Music Hall, impressing a date near Casco Bay, or ordering ice cream by the kilo. OK, none of that is true, but we really like the name William Willis and have no better explanation for why there are so many great places to eat in a city as small as Portland, Maine.
So whether you’re here to buy a mug that says Vacationland and eat enough seafood to get mistaken for an aquarium worker with an agenda, or you finally realized that it’s time to branch out from your go-to place in the Old Port, our guide has all the restaurants and bars you’ll need.
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Portland, ME City Guide is presented by the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Click here to learn more about the benefits you get from paying with a Premier Rewards Gold Card while dining out.
THE NEW-ISH SPOTS EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
When you’re in Portland, there are two things you have to do: theorize about what Stephen King’s childhood was like and attempt to eat your body weight in lobster and oysters. For the latter, head to Eventide Oyster Company, which serves some of the best seafood in the city. This small oyster bar near the East End carries 20 different types of bivalves, along with one of the most popular lobster rolls in town, which is served with brown butter in a steamed bun rather than the typical hot dog bun. Other dishes have twists with a similar spirit: the lobster stew involves green curry and fried oysters come with Korean BBQ sauce. This should be your first stop in town and while there’s always a wait, it’ll be worth it once you’re sitting outside with some oysters and a cocktail in front of you.
Central Provisions is the small plates restaurant your brother wanted to open during the years he was “finding himself,” but then decided it’d be too much work and just grew a handlebar mustache instead. He missed out, because this spot in the Old Port is excellent and extremely popular with both out-of-towners and the people who visited Portland once and never left. They serve a wide range of shared plates, like surf clam ceviche, suckling pig, and a bunch of charcuterie, which makes it a great spot to come with a group and order as much as you can. Since this place is so popular, it’s best to get here early and then head to the bar downstairs, where you can grab a drink and some snacks in the meantime, or just order from the full menu and forget about waiting another hour for lunch or dinner.
If you walked past The Honey Paw by chance, you’d probably think it was just another brightly-colored bar. And then you’d walk inside, hear the music, and see that they also play great vinyl. And once the door closed behind you, you’d notice that everyone inside is actually eating bowls and plates of papaya salad, noodles, and fried chicken. This sister restaurant to Eventide serves a mix of dishes from across Asia, like Vietnamese crepes and smoked lamb khao soi, along with great cocktails. Even if you don’t make it here for dinner or brunch, come by for a drink and make sure to get the caramelized honey soft serve for dessert.
The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club is somewhere between a restaurant with great drinks and a cocktail bar with excellent food, and as a result, it works great as either. This Scandinavian spot near the Old Port serves small plates and snack boards, which include things like gravlax, Swedish meatballs, and parmesan and green chili popcorn, the latter of which is reason enough to come here. Cocktail-wise, they take their drinks very seriously and the bartenders will happily walk you through their extensive cocktail list, or make something custom for you. If that’s not enough, there are more than 60 different whiskeys you can try too.
Going to Portland in the summer is kind of like taking a trip to the Louvre: it’s always packed, there are lines for all the good stuff, and you’re bound to come across a rude tourist (or eight). But if you want to avoid all of that, just go hang on the patio at Isa Bistro. This Bayside restaurant is just a few blocks away from the congestion of the Old Port, but even that short distance makes this place feel like it’s on a different planet. Their seasonal menu changes regularly, but includes a wide variety of small plates and mains, with everything from tagliatelle bolognese to a lobster tostada. Stop by for brunch or lunch and make an afternoon out of snacking and drinking while you hide from the crowds.
There are almost as many breweries in Portland as there are Subarus, and once you’ve spent the afternoon visiting a few of them, head to Izakaya Minato to recharge with some Japanese food. This spot on Washington Ave. covers a lot of ground with their menu, which includes things like sashimi, fried chicken, and udon, along with a wide variety of sake. It’s a great place to split a lot of food with a group, but make sure everyone gets their own uni spoon, which comes with sea urchin and a raw quail egg and might be the best single bite in town.
20 years ago, Portland wasn’t the eating destination that it is today, but then Fore Street opened and that all changed. This was one of the first places in town to really focus on using local everything and today it’s still one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Eating here feels like you’re at a dinner party in a house you could never afford, with a large open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant and plenty of exposed wood to constantly remind you that you’re in Maine. All of the food here is roasted or grilled over the large hearth that’s impossible to miss and will more than likely make you want to go camping afterwards.
Back Bay Grill opened in the late 1980s, which in Portland restaurant terms makes it pretty ancient. There’s nothing hip or cool happening at this local staple, but when you need a spot to celebrate an anniversary, your last night in town, or if you just want to dress up a little, this is the place to go. The menu includes classics like beef tartare and seared foie gras, along with plenty of fresh seafood and hand-rolled pasta. They also have one of the largest wine selections in town, so if you’re with someone who likes to ask their server 10 questions about a bottle before they try it, make sure to come here.
If you only have brunch once in Portland, make sure it’s at Artemisia Cafe. This neighborhood spot in the Arts District serves all of the classics, like eggs Benedict, scrambles, and breakfast sandwiches, and feels like you’re eating at a friend’s place, without the required volunteering to do dishes afterward. Whether you’re with people who only want to go somewhere that’s photogenic, or your in-laws who just want to find a place that opens before 11am, Artemisia Cafe is great for both.
When you’re stuck at a painful group dinner with your friend’s brother who’s telling you all about his can’t-fail bitcoin strategy, Empire is where you’ll wish you were instead. Not only do they make some of the best dim sum north of Boston, but they also pull off the balance of being somewhere that’s perfect for a lively group and intimate enough for a date. Also, between their great cocktails, attached music venue, and multiple table options (which you can reserve in advance for groups of four or more), you can basically have a whole night out here without having to switch locations. In terms of food, there’s everything from soup dumplings and pork buns to lobster rangoon and bacon fried rice, all of which are meant to be shared.
Every city needs a go-to pizzeria. Somewhere that you can split a few pies with your friends, or just grab a slice on the nights when one drink turns into four. In Portland, that’s Otto Pizza, which make some of the best and most interesting pies in the area and is slowly taking over New England. Here you’ll find pizzas topped with everything from cheese tortellini to chicken, pear, and fontina, but make sure to try The Masher, with mashed potato, scallion, and bacon. There are five Otto locations in Portland, but if you want a break from downtown, check out the Cottage Road location in South Portland, which is located inside a converted gas station and will be a little less crowded than the original Congress Street shop.
Duckfat could do really well in places like Brooklyn, Austin, or the other Portland - it’s small, casual, and constantly full of people named Winona or Elias. But Portland, Maine is the one that’s lucky enough to actually have it. They serve very good and very not-light food like poutine with duck gravy, brisket sandwiches, and milkshakes for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Come right when they open for brunch and prepare yourself to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger who is talking loudly about seeing his ex at a Patriots game. By the time your food comes, you won’t even notice.
Maybe you’ve been bar hopping, or maybe wherever you went for dinner was disappointing. Either way, some nights require a fourth meal, and when that happens, head to Boda near the West End for some Thai food and cocktails. This place stays open until 1am serving a wide variety of small plates, salads, and grilled skewers. However, if you’re craving pad thai or panang curry, they have that too. They don’t take reservations, but if there’s a wait, you can look through the menu over a drink at LFK across the street in the meantime. It’s hard to go wrong, but make sure you don’t forget the spicy wings and grilled quail eggs.
Blue Spoon is the neighborhood restaurant that you’ll wish was around the corner from where you lived. This all-day spot in Munjoy Hill serves a long list of dishes that always sound good, some of which are Italian, like the duck risotto and ragu, and others that aren’t, like their burger, which is one of our favorites in Portland. They also have a great brunch, where breakfast people can get things like pancakes and pork belly hash, and non-breakfast people can get cacio e pepe. If you want to come later in the day, they do a Happy Hour from 4:30-6pm most nights, which includes deals on wine and snacks, in case you ate here last night, but still want to stop by again for a drink before dinner elsewhere.
Bite Into Maine serves six types of lobster rolls, including a Connecticut-style roll with hot butter, and others tossed with chipotle or wasabi mayo, and they’re some of the best in Portland. Regardless of when you go, both of their locations will be slammed (there’s a second trailer located at the Allagash Brewery), and each roll will cost you just under $20. But if you’re truly on a quest for the most Maine experience possible, a visit to this food truck parked next to a lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth is a must.
This place has two locations in Portland and both of them serve excellent potato donuts, which are just a slightly denser version of the donuts you’re probably used to. Their flavors are all over the place and they usually have 20-30 options available, like pomegranate, maple bacon, and our personal favorite, chocolate sea salt. Stop by either of The Holy Donut shops for breakfast, or when you need a midday snack. There’ll be a line regardless of when you go, but it’s always worth it. And if you need some caffeine while you wait, Bard Coffee is located just a block up from the Old Port location.
Look, barbecue isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Portland, but if it’s possible to get burnt out on lobster, Salvage BBQ is where you should go for a break. They serve all of the barbecue greatest hits and a variety of sides, like mac and cheese and hush puppies, along with great homemade pies. Besides the food, Salvage is also a great place to go just to have a few drinks and catch some live music, which happens every Friday and Saturday, or to play trivia on Wednesdays.
There’s no wrong place to eat pizza, except for maybe in your bed or an empty bathtub. But you won’t find a more ideal spot to have a few slices in Portland than at Flatbread Company, which overlooks the Casco Bay. The Portland location of this Northeast chain has a huge dining room that’s good for groups and families with screaming children, but you’ll want to try to get a table on their dock when it’s nice enough to be outside (which, by Portland standards, is anytime there’s not snow falling from the sky). Bring a group, get a few beers from their outside bar counter, and discuss the name of your future boat over a few flatbread pizzas.
Besides lobster, ice cream is the most popular food in Maine, to the point where it’s hard to walk, ride, or drive anywhere in the state without coming across an ice cream shop or dairy farm. While there’s plenty of great ice cream to choose from, Gelato Fiasco on Fore Street is the first place you should try when you get to Portland. This place always has 30 or so flavors available, each of which is made fresh daily, with options like navel orange and mint chocolate chunk as fixtures on the seasonal menu. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but we like the caramel sea salt more than we like most people we know.
Imagine where your grandpa would have hung out if he’d been a Maine fisherman. Now add in your dad’s vinyl collection, along with some antiques and vintage furniture, and you have Maps. This basement bar on Market Street is the perfect place to go when the Portland weather takes a turn for the worse, or for when you just want a spot where you can drink a few beers, listen to good music, and eat a grilled cheese or some cake.
It’s easy to miss this cocktail bar on Congress Street because there’s essentially no signage outside. Once you find it though, the Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box is one of the more interesting places to have a drink in Portland. There are candlesticks everywhere, an elaborate cocktail list on a silver framed menu, and white chiffon hanging from the ceilings, all of which make this place look like a Marie Antoinette-themed surrealist playground. But the best part of coming here is how helpful and knowledgeable the staff is, because if you’re going to drink something with hellfire habanero shrub bitters in a dark, loud room, you’re better off with a friendly bartender to guide you.