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The Hottest Restaurants in Portland, Maine

Go way beyond lobster rolls and fried clams
July 8, 2016
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by Zagat Staff

In the last few years, the coastal city of Portland, Maine has emerged as one of the country's finest dining scenes. With easy access to New England's bountiful harvest and an influx of big city chefs (including a Daniel Boulud protégé), the culinary offerings are more diverse than ever, ranging from elegant farm-to-table dining to creative sandwich shops. There's far more to this town than lobster rolls. -Patty Lee and Priya Krishna

Duckfat

Why it’s hot: This neighborhood sandwich shop has fine-dining finesse thanks to its James Beard Award-winning chef Rob Evans, who once worked at The French Laundry and The Inn at Little Washington. The food is more sophisticated than your average sammie joint — think craft sodas and artisanal bread — making it a local lunch favorite, especially on weekends.

Must-order: True to the restaurant's name, the must-try items are all duck-related. Order a cone of the Belgium fries — cooked twice in duck fat and paired with housemade dipping sauces like truffle ketchup and toasted curry mayo — and the duck confit panini, pressed thin and crisp with pickled tomatillos and seasonal jam. Citrus-scented donut holes are also fried in — you guessed it —  duck fat, then tossed in powdered or cinnamon sugar.

Insider tip: The hand-cut fries, which are all made from Maine potatoes, also come in poutine form. Also, be on the lookout — you just might spot Tina Fey, one of Duck Fat's biggest fans. 

43 Middle St.; 207-774-8080

Eventide Oyster Co.

Why it’s hot: Anchored by a concrete oyster bar, this bivalve-slinging restaurant shines a spotlight on nearly 20 varieties a night, listed as "From Maine" or "From Away" on the chalkboard menu. The cheery, blue-walled space is small, with mostly counter seating and a few larger tables in the back, so don't be surprised to see standing-room-only crowds.

Must-order: Oysters are the stars, served with your choice of creative accoutrements such as a horseradish ice or mimosa mignonette. Lobster does make an appearance on the menu, in the form of a pint-size steamed bun stuffed with meat doused in an addictive brown butter vinaigrette. Another popular dish is the New England Clam Bake, a steamer basket of shellfish, salt pork and potatoes nestled in seaweed.

Insider tip: In addition to cocktails and beers, Eventide also boasts an extensive wine list, which it shares with sister restaurant, Hugo's.

86 Middle St.; 207-774–8538

Vinland

Why it’s hot: From the open kitchen of his seven-month-old locavore mecca, chef David Levi is taking the concept of eating local to its ultimate extreme. Working off a 19-point manifesto, which diners can read on the Vinland website, Levi builds his dishes with only Maine-grown ingredients, even forgoing kitchen staples that aren't indigenous to the state such as olive oil and lemons.

Must-order: Depending on what's in season, you'll find similar ingredients popping up on the beautifully crafted plates, like horseradish, paired with both chuck tender steak and raw beef, or blueberries, used in savory form with pork belly and sweet on a dessert custard. You can order individually, or better yet, opt for the tasting-menu option, which features close to 20 of the small plates for $90.

Insider tip: On Friday, Saturday and Sunday between noon and 5 PM, Vinland sells housemade ice cream and gluten-free waffle cones out of its back door.

593 Congress St.; 207-653-8617

Lolita Vinoteca + Asador

Why it’s hot: After shuttering their wildly popular Bar Lola, Guy and Stella Hernandez teamed up with business partner Neil Reiter to open this wine bar and grill on Munjoy Hill, showcasing modern American fare with Mediterranean influences. Unlike the multicourse format of Bar Lola, the snack-focused menu at Lolita — decorated to resemble an old-world bodega — is meant to attract a crowd looking for a more casual night out. 

Must-order: Anything cooked in the custom grill, like the wood-roasted clams or bone marrow, and the charcuterie cut in a hand-cranked slicer.

Insider tip: All the cheeses are sourced from New England diaries.

90 Congress St.; 207-775–5652

Central Provisions

Why it’s hot: The small-plates trend is holding strong at chef Christopher Gould's rustic Fore Street spot, which pairs locally sourced ingredients with global flavors. The owners enlisted local craftsmen to help build and furnish the two-story restaurant, adding to its rustic New England charm. 

Must-order: Seemingly played-out dishes like crudo and vegetables are given new life here. Gould dresses yellowfin tuna with radishes and a zingy mustard-soy vinaigrette, and pairs smoked carrots with cinnamon, goat cheese and pistachios. Even the chilled beet salad is exciting, laced with avocados and green peppercorns. And don't skip out on the spicy beef tartare. 

Insider tip: Cocktail guru Patrick McDonald is behind the bar, pouring pre-Prohibition sips and house punches.

414 Fore St.; 207-805-1085

Piccolo

Why it’s hot: Drawing from the cooking of his mom and grandmother, Damian Sansonetti — the former Bar Boulud chef behind another Portland hot spot, Blue Rooster Food Co. — returned to his Italian roots with help from wife and co-owner Ilma Lopez, another Boulud alum. The intimate restaurant has just 20 seats, creating a homey and romantic vibe. 

Must-order: Don't expect red-sauce fare. Sansonetti hones in on the specialties of Southern Italy, namely the regions of Abruzzi and Calabria, sending out dishes like cavatelli topped with lamb neck ragout and slow-baked sturgeon with red peppers, spring peas and pine nuts.

Insider tip: From time to time, Sansonetti will host Sunday Suppers, a $55 five-course tasting, at the chef's counter.

111 Middle St.; 207-747-5307

Timber Steakhouse & Rotisserie

Why it’s hot: As a follow-up to their tiny wine bar The North Point, brothers Dan and Noah Talmatch took on a far larger project: a 70-seat steakhouse inspired by New York City spots like Peter Luger and Morton'sDecor is decidedly more modern here than at its Big Apple counterparts — the space is furnished with wood accents, cushy tan banquettes and industrial metal chandeliers.

Must-order: The menu is filled with classic steakhouse fare, including a 2-lb. porterhouse and a filet mignon and lobster tail combo. There's also a rotisserie turning out slow-roasted chickens available half or whole with a choice of two dipping sauces (honey mustard, bourbon peppercorn, mushroom Marsala​).  

Insider tip: Timber has one of the city's largest collections of brown spirits, a selection of 90 bourbons, scotches, ryes and whiskeys.

106 Exchange St.; 207-805-1469

Fore Street

Why it’s hot: Opened in 1996, this Old Port restaurant put Portland on the map as a true dining destination. Chef and owner Sam Hayward is considered by most as the city's locavore pioneer, and nearly a decade in, his rustic eatery continues to be a showcase for the farmers, fishmongers and wineries of Maine.

Must-order: The menu changes frequently, but anything that comes out of the wood-burning soapstone hearth is sure to be a winner, including year-round signature dishes like roasted Maine mussels with garlic-almond butter and grilled hanger steak topped with a tomato-and-horseradish vinaigrette.

Insider tip: Reservations are recommended, but the restaurant famously holds a third of its seats for walk-ins.

288 Fore St.; 207-775–2717

Slab Sicilian Street Food

Why it’s hot: Fans of Stephen Lanzalotta's Sicilian slices — once only available at Italian store Micucci Grocery — have been flocking to his sit-down joint since it opened two months ago. The new digs are far more upscale, boasting large booths inside and a sprawling patio out back with long picnic tables and a stage for performances.

Must-order: The "Hand Slab" — topped with tomato, mozzarella and provolone and weighing a whopping one pound — is Lanzalotta's signature slice.

Insider tip: The pizzeria also doubles as a beer garden, with an impressive list of 20 local brews on tap, including Urban Farm Fermentory’s dry cider and a pale ale from Oxbow Farmhouse.

25 Preble St.; 207-245-3088

Blue Rooster Food Co.

Why it’s hot: After moving from to Portland from New York City, Bar Boulud alum Damian Sansonetti went from fine-dining to upscale comfort food, cranking out creative sandwiches (fried chicken with blue cheese mayo) and sides (Caesar salad Brussels sprouts) at this eccentric Old Port shop.

Must-order: One of the six hot dogs, in combos like the Dirty Dog (beef chili and cheese) and Seoul Dog (spicy kimchi, toasted peanuts and roasted garlic mayo), as well as the over-the-top tater tots.

Insider tip: Blue Rooster is currently hosting a summer chef series, featuring hot dog specials created by local toques.

5 Dana St.; 207-747-4157

Outliers Eatery

Why it's hot: Outliers Eatery not only serves up an amazing array of simple, farm-to-table classics, but also offers one of the most stunning views — guests can enjoy their meal alongside a perfect vista of South Portland and Casco Bay. 

Must-order: Everyone raves about Outliers' lobster gnocchi, which comes with generous hunks of lobster, and a light, black garlic and basil-based cream sauce. 

Insider tip: Outliers serves a pretty epic brunch, with dishes like duck hash, lobster eggs Benedict, and eggs and linguica sausage. 

231 York Street; 207-747-4166

The Holy Donut

Why it's hot: You've never had donuts like this before. Years ago, owner Leigh Kellis stumbled across a recipe for donuts made with potatoes (one of Maine's top crops) that achieved the moistness of a cake donut and the fluffiness of a yeast donut. Now, the Holy Donut is one of the most popular sweet spots in town. 

Must-order: A few of the Holy Donut's varieties are made with sweet potatoes, which add a richer edge to the end product — the ginger and chocolate are both highly recommended. 

Insider tip: Donuts often sell out before lunchtime, so get there early! 

7 Exchange Street; 207-775-7776

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