Portland–Maine’s former capital, Portland is the vibrant hub of Southern Maine. Portland wins in a lot of regards. It’s often ranked in indexes of best cities for foodies or best places to raise a family, and all of this is deserved. Having a car on campus this past semester, I’ve taken advantage of what the city has to offer and moved beyond Duckfat and Flatbread to better places.
1.) Bao Bao– Run by James Beard Award winning chef Cara Stadler (who also does Tao in Brunswick), Bao Bao serves up a flavorful selection of dumplings in an intimate atmosphere. I met a friend who lives in Portland here one night for dinner and we split the Beef and Yellow Curry, Shao Mai, and Lamb, Black Bean Chili and Peanut dumplings. Though I don’t know much about Chinese food, I can say that these dumplings are made well and are the kind of food that make you feel full and nourished. Plus, the food is really cheap and one of the best restaurants for value in the city.
2.) Arabica–Arabica’s Free Street location ranks as one of my top five coffee shops ever, alongside Red Barn, Coastal, Cicileo, and Small World. Big, open windows, jazzy music, and great coffee mean that one hour reading a book here can turn into four. Their espresso is bold and blends well with milk, or chocolate syrup if you’re more inclined to sweet drinks.
For some of the best coffee beans in Maine, I head to Tandem. I’ve only been to their Anderson Street location where they roast, though they have another on Congress. Their menu is limited to a few espresso drinks and their malt iced coffee, which I recommend, but they make everything well. Sometimes I feel like it’s too hip for me, so I prefer Arabica for the atmosphere, but the beans and drinks still merit a visit.
3.) Allagash–Though a bit of a hike outside Portland’s downtown, Allagash is one of the city’s many craft breweries and one of the best. Tastings and tours are free, and when I went back in September there was a large crowd and lots of energy: people drinking their flights of beer at the bar, others playing cornhole outside, and people being generally loud and ebullient.
4.) Fore Street–For more upscale dining in this foodie city, head to Fore Street. Inside, this restaurant is warm and homey, evocative of my aunt and uncle’s New Hampshire kitchen which also aways has great food inside. Though it’s been a while since I’ve eaten there, Fore Street stands out for its variety of Maine flavors and cozy, rustic vibe.
5.) First Friday–One of my first introductions to Portland was during a visit on First Friday, and I still think this is one of the best ways to get to know the city. The first Friday of every month, art galleries open their doors, the Portland Museum of Art has free admission, and students exhibit their work at the Maine College of Art. The streets are busy with people milling about, and it’s a good excuse to get out into the city.
Here are some of my other picks:
- Flatbread –sit on the porch in the summer to be out on the water
- Duckfat–good sandwiches and fries, milkshakes hyped up but not that special
- Nosh Kitchen Bar–a great restaurant with a good environment. Their burgers and fries are very flavorful. Not to be missed. Near the Museum of Art and MECA
- The Green Elephant–a vegetarian restaurant, lighter fare and more reasonably priced
- Local Sprouts–organic cafe, sort of offbeat, but cheap and simple food, near the PMA
- Gelato Fiasco Old Port–I’m partial to the store in Brunswick, but this location is just as good. The board games are fun if you’re looking for something to do once everything is closed in the city at night (except for bars)
- Gorgeous Gelato–This place has more authentic Italian gelato according to my Italian professors, and I definitely see why. It’s not quite as sugary and overwhelming but still sweet and refreshing.
- Omi’s Coffee Shop–Try the iced beekeeper latte! It’s located to a nice, grassy lawn if you want to take your coffee outside
- Vena’s Fizz House–a cool soda fountain on Fore Street and a fun place to duck inside for a hot chocolate when it’s cold outside.
- Salvage BBQ–Open restaurant with laid-back vibe, incredible hush puppies, and a great brisket sandwich
- The Holy Donut–Popular doughnut shop near the Old Port serving (expensive) potato doughnuts
- CN Shawarma Arabian BBQ–Food truck with good shawarma. I tried it when they were parked at the Eastern Prom in the summer
- Yosaku–good sushi not far from the Old Port
- Hilltop Coffee–a good coffee shop outside of the main part of the city but with good mocha lattes
- 555–incredible food! A splurge, but a great atmosphere and wonderful Maine dishes
- Slab–good thick crust pizza for a decent price
- Bard–another really great coffee shop
- Sapporo–sushi happy hour!
- Portland Museum of Art–free on Friday evenings which is a great deal for this incredible museum
- State Theatre–great concert venue
- Pinecone & Chickadee–cool Portland souvenirs
- Find–thrift store next to Pinceone & Chickadee
- Old Port–a nice area to walk around with lots of restaurants and shops, great in the summer
- International Cryptozoology Museum–This museum has artifacts and info pertaining to the likes of Bigfoot and mermaids. I was personally disappointed by the lack of information explaining what we were looking at, but if it’s your thing maybe give it a whirl.
- Portland Head Light–The classic lighthouse plastered on so many postcards and articles about Maine, this lighthouse has also been on my to-do list.
- Eastern Prom–outdoor concerts and food during the summer with views of the bay
- Longfellow Books–nice local bookstore with array of used and new books
- Space Gallery–good place to visit during First Friday
- Pearl Lounge–grimy club but popular
- Gritty McDuff’s (Gritty’s)–fun tavern
- Bull Feeney’s–another tavern in the Old Port