Portland, Maine

Photo: Eventide Oyster Co.
Photo: Eventide Oyster Co.

Lobsters, steamers, crabs, clams, corn on the cob, and, don’t forget, blueberry pie. As you’re plotting your next trip to Maine, food—along with a flight, a hotel, and a rental car—is undoubtedly part of the plan. But Portland’s culinary scene has stretched far beyond the ingredients that make up a clam bake. So you might want to add restaurant reservations to your list, as well.

Maine’s largest city—one third of the state’s population lives here—sits at the mouth of the Fore River along Casco Bay. It’s long been visited for its historic harbor, which is filled with old fishing piers, cobblestone streets, and 19th-century brick buildings. But within New England, the city has also long been known for its delicious food. The Portland Farmers Market, held Wednesday morning in Monument Square, has been operating since 1768. Sea cucumbers are harvested and shipped as far away as Asia. Breweries fill the Old Port. While the city has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the entire country.

When you arrive in Portland, head to Eventide Oyster Co. for lunch. About 20—yes, 20!— types of oysters sit in ice atop the granite bar. Half of the oysters, including seaweedy Norumbegas and briny Pemaquids, come from Maine. The other half arrive from as far away as Washington State and the west coast of Canada. They’re served with traditional accoutrements, like cocktail sauce and red wine mignonette, or more inventive ones, such as kimchi and pickled ginger. Eat them with a cocktail that pairs well with their salty flavor. The Bubbly Mary, made with cava, works quite nicely.

Photo: Jen Dean, Fore Street Restaurant
Photo: Jen Dean, Fore Street Restaurant

After stuffing yourself with oysters—to compare as many as possible, of course—it’s a good thing you have a late dinner reservation. Fore Street is just a few blocks from Eventide. The open restaurant features a wood-burning oven, a soapstone hearth, and a James Beard award-winning chef. The menu changes daily, though it’s always locally sourced. Appetizers might include roasted Maine mussels with garlic almond butter and a charcuterie with stone ground mustard. Oven-roasted hake and turnspit-roasted rabbit might be included on the list of entrées. While handmade chocolates shouldn’t be overlooked for dessert.

Spend the next day wandering through the art galleries and the museums along Congress Street in the Arts District. Your dinner reservation tonight, at Vinland, is right in this area near the Portland Museum of Art and Congress Square Park. Vinland is known for its local, organic food and well-priced, eight-course tasting menu. Bites of beet chips with herbed chèvre and griddled corn bread with honey butter arrive first. They’re followed by a rich turnip soup. The seafood dishes feature black bass and monkfish, while the meat ones include raw beef, crispy skin chicken, and pork belly. Though once again completely full, you can’t put down the buckwheat sandwich cookie at the end of the meal.

Before your departure the next day, you drive south along the rocky coast. Despite a sea breeze that cuts right through your jacket, it’s still a beautiful day with bright sunshine, circling seagulls, and the sound of crashing waves. When you see the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, you decide to stop for lunch. You can’t leave Maine without eating any lobster. And the lobster options are endless here. A lobster roll, a lobster salad, and lobster stew all sound amazing. Or you could just go for the full lobster dinner. Regardless of what you select, it will be delicious, just like the rest of the food on this trip.

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