When I visited Portland, ME for the first time this March, I was instantly charmed by the way the city seemed the perfect marriage of old school and new. On one hand, it was quintessentially New England with its stunning seascapes, cobblestone streets and everyone-knows-everyone warmth. On the other hand, the city’s rich cultural offerings, eco-friendliness and diverse community lent Portland a distinctly modern feel.
And the food.
The food I had in Portland was bold and imaginative without trying too hard. My friend and gracious host, Anna Stoessinger—a writer, lifelong food lover and native Manhattanite—showed me her favorite bites in the city, With her help, I compiled a list of Portland must-eats with our favorite restaurants and bakeries.
For “the sharpest seafood money can buy,” look no further than Old Port’s Eventide Oyster Co. It’s easy to see why Chefs Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor have been nominated multiple times for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Chef: Northeast award.
With its creative, constantly-changing menu, Eventide elevates traditional New England comfort food with fresh ingredients and surprising flavors. For me, no visit to Portland would be complete without a taste of Eventide’s brown butter lobster roll served on a fragrant Asian-style bun. Other menu highlights include their seasonal ceviches and crudos (the fluke ceviche is a standout); coconut and green curry lobster stew with maitake mushrooms; and an impressive New England clam bake with lobster, clams, mussels, butter, bacon and a hard-boiled egg.
Part of Eventide’s charm is its laid-back ambiance and communal picnic tables. Though lines can get absurdly long and reservations are only accepted for parties larger than six, Eventide maintains a no-big-hurry spirit.
Unlike many fusion restaurants that seem insecure in their wishy-washy cuisine, The Honey Paw delights in bringing cultures together. And it shows.
Playful, offbeat flavor combinations give their Asian-ish items an improvisational quality. The menu skews Southeast Asian, but the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and American influences shine in spontaneous and cheeky ways. Think fried bread with uni butter and Korean fried chicken with coconut cornbread.
Like Eventide, which is also co-owned by Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, The Honey Paw features a seasonal menu starring local seafood. Go for the daily specials, appetizers and their phenomenal house-made noodles. This summer’s curry lobster laksa with fermented rice noodle, clam and coconut remains remains one of the best bowls of noodles I have ever eaten.