Who would have ever guessed that a sleepy seaside town in Maine would rival San Francisco for the most restaurants per capita?
Portland, a modest community of 66,600 that more than triples during the summer, is becoming known as one of the most restaurant-dense cities in America. This culinary boom is shifting conventional thinking that it only has lobster and a good-looking shoreline.
Twenty years ago, James Beard award-winning chef Sam Hayward and Dana Street opened Fore Street in the Old Port District, laying the groundwork for the local and sustainable food movements. The partners have since doubled down, opening two more concepts: Standard Baking Company and Street and Co.
With over 500 restaurants in 21 square miles, Portland is drawing chefs with major street cred. Standouts include Chef Chris Gould who left Boston’s Uni Sashimi Bar at Clio to open Central Provisions and became a James Beard award finalist for his locally sourced menu after his inaugural year. Twenty-seven-year-old Cara Stadler of Bao Bao Dumpling House has taken what she learned from her mom in Shanghai to turn out authentic soup dumplings. You’d do anything for those dumplings. And I mean anything.
The arrival of creative chefs comes with new takes on our local classics. At Eventide Oyster Co., lobster meat is tossed in warm browned butter and served on a housemade bao bun. Hake is battered, fried and slathered in housemade tartar sauce for a fish sandwich. You can’t eat another bite, but you do anyway because the housemade whoopie pie will knock your socks off. It’s the perfect ratio of vanilla buttercream to devil’s food cake.
With so many options, you might as well own up to the fact that you’ll eat several meals a day—more than once.
A reincarnation of the famous Empire Chop Suey, which stood in the same location from 1916 to 1953, serves up authentic versions of Chinese dishes. Go for dim sum, and don’t miss the wok-tossed fried rice and lobster stir-fried Hong Kong style.
Sam Hayward and Dana Street’s casual concept features a Mediterranean-centric menu showcasing local ingredients, pasta and simple, yet well-prepared fish..
Batali may have called these guys “d-bags and thieves” for allegedly copying his restaurant by the same name, but with 10 storefronts in metro Boston and Maine, the local pizza chain turns out some serious pie. Meatballs are a hit, too.
Don’t get the name? You will when you meet husband and wife Milanese transplants, Donato Giovine and Mariagrazia Zanardi. Try traditional Italian flavors like bacio and zabaione, as well as Americanized favorites.
Craig Peck, a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods, says think Maine instead of Oregon when you hear Portland.
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