Best Restaurants in Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine’s culinary reputation continues to grow nationwide. The vibrant city is teeming with incredible restaurants, and those folks who travel to dine there are rarely disappointed. Here’s our list of the best restaurants in Portland, Maine.
The plates that come from chef Sam Hayward’s kitchen carry strong Mediterranean influences, but the ingredients and simplicity are undeniably coastal Maine. Fore Street’s many-windowed dining room is rustic and minimally decorated, but like the food, it’s a well-thought-out operation: comfortable and natural with exposed brick, rich wooden tables, and an open kitchen centered around a wood-burning oven that reaches 800 degrees and a grill that glows from the live flames beneath its grates.
Among the cooks here there’s a precisely choreographed hustle Â— one that comes from experience, yet, centered around that fiery gleam, somehow evokes a primal dance. It’s all part and parcel of dining at Fore Street.
288 Fore St.
Hugo’s chef Rob Evans has developed a style and a philosophy that he calls “new American.”" His use of French, Italian, and Japanese cooking techniques on “foods within the region that work together, while being creative and fun about it. I think about the ingredients, then build from there.”
Beyond what Rob calls his “responsibility to support the local guys,” using indigenous foods is important to him “because it’s all part of being in the place you are. If people travel to Portland, I want them to have a Portland experience Â— not to try to re-create something from the Napa Valley or Paris or Miami. This is Maine.”
88 Middle St.
The menu at Cinque Terre reveals a commitment to local foods. “We support as many local guys as we can, from rabbits to chickens to lamb, because we can, and because it’s a better product,” chef Lee Skawinski explains. “Part of being a cook in our restaurants is to come to the farm and pick. It makes the connection to what we cook more profound.”
Lee puts the food, not his ego, at the center of the plate. During the off season, he travels to Europe to underscore “the importance of quality ingredients, taste wine, and pick up a few ideas.” At Cinque Terre the menu offerings are refined Italian classics; at Vignola, dishes hail from the great Mediterranean wine countries of Italy, Spain, and France.
36 Wharf St.
“We [the kitchen staff] poke around at the farmers’ markets and snag what inspires us, what looks good; then we bring it back to the kitchen,” says Steve Corry, chef and co-owner (with his wife, Michelle) of 555. “We talk the menu through, and everyone has an opinion. Some are more vocal than others, but the cooks are all passionate and intense. Sometimes it goes through a few renditions before we’re all satisfied. Then it makes it to the menu.”
Before opening the doors, Steve was clear about his cooking style and what his operation would be, “but mostly I wanted to make sure that this would be a place for people who live here in Portland Â— not just for out-of-towners. We love seeing new faces for certain, but we’re also open seven nights a week, no matter the weather.”
555 Congress St.
The setting is intimate and the menu focuses on dishes made from locally sourced and foraged ingredients. “It’s like I’m hosting a small dinner party every night,” says chef Krista Kern Desjarlais. “I don’t want to be a big operator right now. I just want to take care of this little space and the people who come here.”
Krista spent the 1990s cooking and baking her way through New York, France, and Las Vegas, coming home to Maine to do her own thing. With five tables and 20 seats, “it makes sense for me to go to the farmers’ markets and local grocers to buy. I could never meet the minimum orders of the large companies, and that’s fine Â— I’d rather have a relationship with a local producer than an 800 number.”
111 Middle St.
Those are our picks for the best restaurants in Portland, Maine. Did your favorite make the list?