As the cost of running restaurants has become increasingly prohibitive in New York, culinary talent has continued to migrate elsewhere. Which has led to the emergence of fledgling food hubs such as the increasingly awesome dining destination that is Portland; and we’re not even talking about Oregon, long characterized as the Brooklyn of the Pacific Northwest. Nope. We’re referring, believe it or not, to the bucolic port city of Maine, population 66,000, where a young, cosmopolitan crowd and an abundance of natural resources (it’s actually a peninsula on seafood-rich Casco Bay) has given rise to an impressive slew of critically acclaimed eateries. So if you’re looking for a summertime reprieve from the bustle of the Big Apple, consider seeking gastronomic refuge, at the following Portland hot spots.
Fore Street: Essentially the restaurant that put Portland’s dining scene on the map, this James Beard Award winner and frequent nominee honors Maine’s farms, foragers, day-boat fishers and verdant pastures, with chilled, grilled, or oven-seared seafood (such as mussels with garlic almond butter), housemade charcuterie (including sausages, confits, terrines, pates and rillettes), as well as dry-rubbed and turnspit roasted organic chicken, paired with black cumin butter-slathered cornbread rusk.
288 Fore St, (207) 775-2717
Eventide Oyster Co. Situated on the southern edge of pristine Casco Bay, Portland is the ideal spot to enjoy straight from the water oysters. And while you’ll find a few far-flung options (such as Beau Soleils and Kumamotos) at respected mainstay, Eventide, the lion’s share of the list duly celebrates Maine’s incredible bounty of bivalves; from tangy Norumbegas to hand-tumbled Ebenecooks and feathery Flying Points.
86 Middle St, (207) 774-8538
Vinland: “Local” and “seasonal” are far more than lazy catchphrases at this New Nordic, small plates spot, which — quite literally — uses exclusively Maine-sourced products (which means no olive oil, sugar, lemons or black pepper) in their legitimately sustainable dishes. Obeying a 19-point manifesto outlined on their website, each ethical creation contributes to the betterment of the community, all while remaining entirely scrumptious as well as aesthetically pleasing; think Cured Egg with garlic scapes, Green Coriander Mussels, Raw Beef with cranberries and Pork Capocollo with fiddleheads, followed by Parsnip Ginger Custard, Four Cheeses with flatbread, or Sea Salted Blueberry Semifreddo for dessert.
593 Congress St, (207) 653-8617
Duckfat: They may serve milkshakes and french fries, but this is a far cry from a cheap and greasy fast food joint. Named “Best Chef Northeast” by the James Beard Foundation back in 2009, chef Rob Evans sizzles his hand cut Maine potatoes in — you guessed it — pure duck fat, before serving them with an array of dipping sauces, or piling them into poutine; drowned in thick duck gravy and local, bouncy cheese curds. The rich drippings are also used to make sea salted caramel, drizzled into a Tahitian vanilla gelato and crème anglaise shake, and you’ll find the firm flesh incorporated in Duck and Kale Salads and Overnight Duck Confit Panini, slathered with kimchi and cilantro lime mayo.
43 Middle St, (207) 774-8080
Miyake: Maine is practically synonymous with all-American lobster boils. But think of all that potential when it comes to sushi; the ultimate ode to pristine, raw fish! Helmed by James Beard Award nominated master, Masa Miyake, this omakase spot more than takes advantage of its access to coveted underwater delicacies, offering Bangs Island Mussels Sakamushi, Oysters anointed with sake, and Lobster topped with tobiko and truffle, wrapped in black sesame soy paper.
468 Fore St, (207) 871-9170
Central Provisions: Located inside of a historic, painstakingly restored Old Port Building, this year-old establishment received a James Beard “Best New Restaurant” nod right out of the gate. So if you’re passing through Portland, go ahead and bide your time on the reliably formidable line; as Otter Cove Oysters with Thai Ice, Smoked Carrots with cinnamon and housemade goat cheese, and Gulf of Maine Halibut teamed with buttered cabbage and potatoes are well worth the wait.
414 Fore St, (207) 805-1085