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The 18 Essential Maine Restaurants, January 2015

"Can you recommend a restaurant?" Yes.

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Presenting Maine's updated Eater 18, your answer to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group (note: elite doesn't necessarily mean expensive or high-end) covers the entire state, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every few months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game. The list is ordered geographically.

New to this update: El Corazon and 50 Local

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The Black Birch

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Elevated comfort food is served in a cool, casual, and welcoming atmosphere. The food gets rave reviews and the draft beer list is one of the best around.

The White Barn Inn & Spa

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A former barn with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows is the setting for Maine food that is 180 degrees from the lobster shack. Chef Jonathan Cartwright presides over a first-class dining experience for which jackets for gentlemen - with deep pockets - are required.

Fore Street

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Sam Hayward’s spacious restaurant, with its wide-open kitchen and wood-fired hearth, helped put Portland’s dining scene on the national map. The James Beard Award-winning chef was the first in Portland to incorporate ingredients from local farmers, fishermen, and foragers. His rustic, seasonal menu changes daily. [Photo: Jen Dean Photography]

Eventide Oyster Co.

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The cool blue raw bar was an instant success from the get go, making its mark with a great granite trough of pristine oysters, inventive cocktails, and a menu that ranges from crudo and charcuterie to baked beans and biscuits - as well as what may be the state's most innovative lobster roll.

Duckfat

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Chef/owner Rob Evans won a James Beard Award and "Chopped," but left high-end Hugo's to concentrate on his palace of poutine and duck confit panini. The wait, almost guaranteed, will be well worth it.

Chase's Daily

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Run by the Chase family and supplied primarily by the family farm, this vegetarian diner and farmer's market is worth the trek up the mid-coast. Savor the seasonal menu and expect a wait in the summer.
The remodeled standby - made famous by former owner Rob Evans and made modern by current co-owners Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley, and Arlin Smith - provides a fine dining experience rivaled by few in the city. [Photo: Axelrod Photography]

Piccolo

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Damian Sansonetti puts his spin on country Italian food while his wife, Ilma Lopez, elevates traditional desserts with advanced techniques in an intimate setting befitting of the name. There's an interesting and reasonably priced wine list, too.
A hushed temple of superb sushi from a master of the craft, Miyake serves only fish plucked from Maine waters or flown in from Japan. Chef Masa Miyake’s tasting menus paired with sake offer a world-class experience.

Five Fifty-Five

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Now ten years in, the award-winning restaurant from Steve and Michelle Corry is still going strong, providing a complete dining experience that isn't hip or trendy, just excellent.

Salvage BBQ

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Spacious and casual, Jay Villani's latest place raises the bar for Maine barbecue. Order at the counter from the menu of meat and sides that's scrawled on a chalkboard, get a local beer from the extensive draft list at the bar, and grab a seat at the communal picnic tables.

Tao Yuan Restaurant

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In this tiny, mid-coast bistro, Eater Award-winner Cara Stadler and her mother Cecile create some of the state's most exciting Asian-inspired food using seasonal and largely local ingredients.

Long Grain

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A local favorite that has received high praise from the New York Times and others, Long Grain uses the freshest local ingredients to prepare inspired Asian dishes.

Suzuki's Sushi Bar

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With a crew of female chefs, focus on Maine seafood, and reasonable prices, chef/owner Keiko Suzuki Steinberger breaks the mold on sushi expectations at this humble little spot that locals insist has the best sushi in the state.

Francine Bistro

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Chef Brian Hill's romantic, yet energy-charged, 25-seat bistro has a menu that changes daily, featuring four appetizers, a salad, and four entrees. On a side street above busy Camden Harbor, it offers a respite from the crowds.

The Back Bay Grill

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It's been a Portland fine-dining institution for a quarter century and chef/owner Larry Matthews has been a part of it for most of those years. Great food and an award-winning wine list.

50 Local

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Chef David Ross and business/life partner Merrilee Paul's first of three area restaurants is focused on local food. Just as importantly, it's local food done well. Ross is a quick improviser and an avid fermenter, crucial to preserving and jazzing up Maine's limited local harvest. The menu changes daily to reflect the available produce and meats, which sometimes show up with farmers unannounced—Ross rolls with it, and you should too.

El Corazon Food Truck

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It's fun to see food trucks roving the streets of Portland in summer. Then winter hits, and most fold or hibernate. Not El Corazon, which for the past couple of years has continued making some of the best Mexican food in Maine year-round. The team, including chef Joe Urtuzuastegui, can usually be found courting the business crowd on Spring and Temple or sometimes at Rising Tide Brewing Company, serving specialties like tamales, fish tacos, and the legendary Sonoran hot dog, one of the best deals in town.

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The Black Birch

Elevated comfort food is served in a cool, casual, and welcoming atmosphere. The food gets rave reviews and the draft beer list is one of the best around.

The White Barn Inn & Spa

A former barn with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows is the setting for Maine food that is 180 degrees from the lobster shack. Chef Jonathan Cartwright presides over a first-class dining experience for which jackets for gentlemen - with deep pockets - are required.

Fore Street

Sam Hayward’s spacious restaurant, with its wide-open kitchen and wood-fired hearth, helped put Portland’s dining scene on the national map. The James Beard Award-winning chef was the first in Portland to incorporate ingredients from local farmers, fishermen, and foragers. His rustic, seasonal menu changes daily. [Photo: Jen Dean Photography]

Eventide Oyster Co.

The cool blue raw bar was an instant success from the get go, making its mark with a great granite trough of pristine oysters, inventive cocktails, and a menu that ranges from crudo and charcuterie to baked beans and biscuits - as well as what may be the state's most innovative lobster roll.

Duckfat

Chef/owner Rob Evans won a James Beard Award and "Chopped," but left high-end Hugo's to concentrate on his palace of poutine and duck confit panini. The wait, almost guaranteed, will be well worth it.

Chase's Daily

Run by the Chase family and supplied primarily by the family farm, this vegetarian diner and farmer's market is worth the trek up the mid-coast. Savor the seasonal menu and expect a wait in the summer.

Hugo's

The remodeled standby - made famous by former owner Rob Evans and made modern by current co-owners Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley, and Arlin Smith - provides a fine dining experience rivaled by few in the city. [Photo: Axelrod Photography]

Piccolo

Damian Sansonetti puts his spin on country Italian food while his wife, Ilma Lopez, elevates traditional desserts with advanced techniques in an intimate setting befitting of the name. There's an interesting and reasonably priced wine list, too.

Miyake

A hushed temple of superb sushi from a master of the craft, Miyake serves only fish plucked from Maine waters or flown in from Japan. Chef Masa Miyake’s tasting menus paired with sake offer a world-class experience.

Five Fifty-Five

Now ten years in, the award-winning restaurant from Steve and Michelle Corry is still going strong, providing a complete dining experience that isn't hip or trendy, just excellent.

Salvage BBQ

Spacious and casual, Jay Villani's latest place raises the bar for Maine barbecue. Order at the counter from the menu of meat and sides that's scrawled on a chalkboard, get a local beer from the extensive draft list at the bar, and grab a seat at the communal picnic tables.

Tao Yuan Restaurant

In this tiny, mid-coast bistro, Eater Award-winner Cara Stadler and her mother Cecile create some of the state's most exciting Asian-inspired food using seasonal and largely local ingredients.

Long Grain

A local favorite that has received high praise from the New York Times and others, Long Grain uses the freshest local ingredients to prepare inspired Asian dishes.

Suzuki's Sushi Bar

With a crew of female chefs, focus on Maine seafood, and reasonable prices, chef/owner Keiko Suzuki Steinberger breaks the mold on sushi expectations at this humble little spot that locals insist has the best sushi in the state.

Francine Bistro

Chef Brian Hill's romantic, yet energy-charged, 25-seat bistro has a menu that changes daily, featuring four appetizers, a salad, and four entrees. On a side street above busy Camden Harbor, it offers a respite from the crowds.

The Back Bay Grill

It's been a Portland fine-dining institution for a quarter century and chef/owner Larry Matthews has been a part of it for most of those years. Great food and an award-winning wine list.

50 Local

Chef David Ross and business/life partner Merrilee Paul's first of three area restaurants is focused on local food. Just as importantly, it's local food done well. Ross is a quick improviser and an avid fermenter, crucial to preserving and jazzing up Maine's limited local harvest. The menu changes daily to reflect the available produce and meats, which sometimes show up with farmers unannounced—Ross rolls with it, and you should too.

El Corazon Food Truck

It's fun to see food trucks roving the streets of Portland in summer. Then winter hits, and most fold or hibernate. Not El Corazon, which for the past couple of years has continued making some of the best Mexican food in Maine year-round. The team, including chef Joe Urtuzuastegui, can usually be found courting the business crowd on Spring and Temple or sometimes at Rising Tide Brewing Company, serving specialties like tamales, fish tacos, and the legendary Sonoran hot dog, one of the best deals in town.