With its proximity to the ocean's bounty, local farms and dairies, Portland, Maine has emerged as one of the United States' newest epicurean darlings. And, its ever-growing number of James Beard-award winning chefs makes it a spot you need to put on your culinary radar. Grab a fork and napkin and pull up for a jaunt through the city's most celebrated restaurants.
This eclectic restaurant is housed in an historic building that was once a blacksmith and wine and bitters shop with both aspects of its history used in the current design. Its ever-changing menu serves up seasonal small plates that brought it to the attention of the James Beard Awards; it was a finalist for the country's best restaurant in 2015. Reservations are a must.
Must-order Dish: "KIMCHEEZ-ITS" (from the "Rations" menu) and anything from the raw bar
A three-time Food Network "Chopped" champion restaurant, Duckfat is still in its small Old Port neighborhood space turning out paninis, salads, charcuterie, milkshakes and—its pride and joy—local Maine potatoes fried in duck fat. In 2009, the James Beard Awards named chef Rob Evans the best chef in the Northeast.
Must-order Dish: Belgian fries, cooked in duck fat with eight dipping sauces
Dutch's Breakfast & Lunch
Lucy and Ian Dutch are making Portland's breakfast scene uncommonly good. Three years ago, the couple identified a need for a casual breakfast and lunch concept and have created scratch-made pastries, breakfast staples, sandwiches and soups ever since. Their chops? Stints with Todd English and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Must-order Dish: For breakfast, the spicy chicken biscuit; for lunch, the tuna melt
Eventide Oyster Co.
While in Cape Cod having oysters is inevitable. For standout bivalves, Eventide is the destination. The restaurant's Maine granite raw bar beckons with numerous varieties of fresh catches plucked from the Gulf of Maine and the wine list is hand-chosen to complement shellfish.
Must-order Dish: Order oysters on the half shell as there are a dozen varieties from Maine alone. Those with hearty appetites should opt for the New England Clam Bake.
Fore Street and James Beard are this close. It's been nominated as one of America's best restaurants three times and in 2004, chef-partner Sam Hayward was named the best chef in the Northeast. The restaurant's brick hearth with hardwood and apple give a distinctive taste to its seafood, meats and vegetables. New England butter and Maine cream give Fore Street's desserts their rich texture.
Must-order Dish: Wood oven-roasted Maine mussels alongside turnspit-roasted and dry-rubbed pork loin
The Holy Donut
The Holy Donut makes 20 different flavors of its Maine-potato infused temptations fresh daily. The hot cakes move fast, so pastry lovers are encouraged to stop by before noon; the store closes when the last doughnut is sold.
Must-order Doughnut: Pomegranate
As one of the oldest restaurants in New England, the Palace Diner was built in a barrel-roofed Pollard car in 1927 and is one of two such cars left in the United States. Current owners Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley reopened the historic dining experience in 2014 with a focus on simple, quality comfort food. It's a worthy 30-minute ride from Portland.
Must-order Dish: The corned beef hash and brown butter banana bread, both Palace Diner classics
Feel like you're back in your grandmother's kitchen at this casual Italian restaurant that highlights Southern and Central Italy cuisine. Classic dishes are updated with care and imported ingredients such as ricotta, fresh olive oil, Sicilian oregano and Mediterranean sardines. Pasta and bread are made on-site.
Must-try Dish: Pasta fatta in casa, cavatelli pasta with lamb-neck ragu, eggplant, orange and abruzzi pecorino
A passion for cooking and locally sourced ingredients is at the heart of Timber Steakhouse. All cuts of beef come from grass-fed cows and the menu of sides include vegetables native to Maine. Cocktails are crafted with top-shelf spirits and syrups concocted in house.
Must-order Dish: Chef Bassett's marinated steak tips, with grilled mushrooms
Drawing from the food traditions of the Vinlanders—indigenous peoples of the North Atlantic—this restaurant uses local, organic ingredients and is also gluten-free and paleo-friendly. Its menu of small plates and tasting menu are broken into four areas: plants, seafood, meats and sweets/cheese.
Must-order Dish: Black trumpet lobster