It’s easy to find an article along the lines of “The 10 Best Restaurants in Portland, Maine.” But unless you’ve eaten at every single establishment, is it really fair to create a best of list?
Not only that, I had it on good authority that a restaurant that had received negative reviews had a new chef and a new menu. So even places that don’t make it onto those “best” lists might deserve a shot anyway.
What I am an authority on is where I ate and exactly what I thought of those places. And I’ll preface that with my food preferences and budget so you know if my recommendations might be in line with exactly what you’re looking for on your next trip to Portland, Maine.
Breakfast in Portland
When I’m traveling, I usually like to take advantage of three meals a day. Not that I need it. But it’s a reason to explore more food in my destination!
The Holy Donut
For breakfast in Portland, I had my sights set on one location only… The Holy Donut!
What makes these donuts so special is that they are made with POTATOES! They’re like cake donuts but with a lighter, creamier texture.
Some people try to tell themselves that they’re “healthy donuts” since they must not contain the dreaded, evil wheat. While they do offer gluten-free donuts and vegan donuts, their claim to fame is that they have all natural ingredients. And the business to prove it!
They open every morning at 7am and close when the donuts run out. Most people advise arriving before noon and be sure to try a blueberry donut if you can get it in season!
The Holy Donut
7 Exchange Street
Lunch in Portland
If you’re looking for the Maine experience, you’re going to want to have a lobster roll at some point. Asking where the best lobster roll in Portland is not an easy question with an easy answer. Everybody has their favorite.
The Highroller Lobster Co.
I personally don’t love lobster. I like it but I was searching for something that might change my mind. And the restaurant of the moment for a lobster roll is The Highroller Lobster Co.
You’re greeted at the door by a cashier who will take your order, assign you a number, and allow you to find a seat of your choosing. But the biggest role the cashier played was helping me figure out how to order a lobster roll I would love.
“I don’t like cold seafood,” I told him. So he told me to order it hot! “I don’t think I like the mayonnaise on it,” I said. So get it with butter! I took his recommendations and learned that you can (and should) order lobster however you want it. And the fries go very nicely with the roll as well.
The Highroller Lobster Co.
104 Exchange Street
If lobster isn’t your thing or you just want something different, ask a local. They’ll definitely tell you the best places and it’s how I ended up at Taco Escobarr for lunch.
Fresh, amazing, flavorful, colorful – all words I’d use to describe the food and the atmosphere. But it’s small and busy so be prepared to wait (or snag a seat at the bar like I did).
My friend and I took our cues from someone sitting at the bar devouring a plate of nachos, which we thought as as good a place as any to start. We followed our appetizer of El Ninos nachos with… TACOS, of course!
Tacos are served on corn tortillas, either soft, crispy or puffy with your choice of fillings. I chose the carne asada and pollo chipotle with not one ounce of regret.
And if you have the time and the gumption, you must order one of their infused margaritas. I ordered the toasted coconut with would definitely declare it the best margarita I’ve ever had. (They also serve traditional margaritas as well).
548 Congress Street
Dinner in Portland
Although I love fine dining, I usually reserve the fancier restaurants for special occasions. I’d rather find an upscale casual place with smaller crowds and smaller prices. And it was easy to find those places in downtown Portland!
Empire Chinese Kitchen
If I’m being honest, I was hungry one night, did a quick Google search, and found a nearby Chinese place open. I was expecting a local takeout place and was pleasantly surprised by Empire Chinese Kitchen, a hipster hangout with creative Chinese food.
I happened to pick an evening where the crowds were light (not so when I tried to go back a few days later). It’s technically considered a dim sum restaurant but you’ll find dumplings and more on the menu.
In fact, we ordered Shanghai Soup Dumplings (the soup is in the dumplings) and Spinach Dumplings but the star of the meal was the Bacon Fried Rice with local bacon, sweet corn, scallion, onion, and egg. It was a huge portion and there was none left at the end of the meal. None. Left.
Empire Chinese Kitchen
575 Congress Street
I never set out to eat pizza in Maine. It just didn’t seem like a thing. But I was with a large group that wanted good food without much of a wait and we found all of that at the Portland location of this regional pizza chain.
Here’s what I remember from that night: cheap pitchers of delicious sangria, delicious caesar salad, and enough gourmet pizza varieties to keep everyone satisfied.
Where else can you find traditional pizzas as well as unique combinations like butternut squash, cranberry, and ricotta (that’s a total ladies pizza!).
For a last minute dinner decision, we were thrilled with how good the food was.
576 Congress Street
Where Else We Ate in Portland
I honestly didn’t have a bad meal anywhere in Portland. But sometimes I was too busy enjoying the company to stop and capture my food before it was quickly shoved in my mouth! If you’re looking for something different, here are a few other places to check out:
Pom’s Thai Taste
571 Congress Street
Simple, traditional decor but light on the crowds. Delicious food with amazing service!
182 Ocean Avenue
If you’re willing to drive a little bit out of downtown, you’ll love this neighborhood Italian place. Tough spot for large groups but the food was good!
Cabot Farmers’ Annex
163 Commercial Street
This little shop sells all the Cabot cheeses! And you’ll get a chance to sample almost every single one of them!
If you’ve been to Portland, Maine, we’d love to hear about your culinary experiences and what you think are the best restaurants in Portland!
As a local, I agree with your suggestions. I would add a few standouts to your list: Eventide, for oysters and creative small plates; sister-restaurant Hugo’s for five star dining; Evo, for the best Mediterranean tasting menu on the East Coast; and Cheevitdee, perhaps the most unique and beautiful Thai food you’ve ever seen.
Reads like a tourist list.
Otto, for example, is a mediocre pizza chain based in Boston.
“I went to an authentic and interesting Chinese restaurant, I liked the plain fried rice!”
The exhaustive review of a (seemingly randomly selected Mexican restaurant): “Tacos are served on corn tortillas, either soft, crispy or puffy with your choice of fillings. I chose the carne asada and pollo chipotle with not one ounce of regret.”
Thanks for stopping by to leave your thoughtful comment. I was a tourist, not a food critic. And my goal was to share places I ate that I thought had some excellent food. Nowhere did I mention an “authentic Chinese restaurant” nor did I get plain fried rice. Nor did I eschew the fact that Otto was a regional chain. Nor was the taco place randomly selected. It was actually recommend by locals as a place locals like to eat. If you’re looking for an exhaustive review, you came to the wrong place.
Gee, you must be a lot of fun at parties.