The Best Food and Drink in Maine for 2019
December 20, 2018
The state that’s the farthest east has some of the best eats
The Best Food and Drink in Maine
Maine is undeniably the perfect spot to enjoy fresh seafood, juicy lobster, and bursting blueberries. However, the easternmost state in the U.S. is also home to many restaurants and bars specializing in far more than just stereotypical Maine fare. Prepare to be amazed by all that Maine has to offer with our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Maine is home to one of the best beers in the entire world, some of the freshest and most authentic Italian pasta and pizza dishes, and of course really great seafood. If you live there, you likely already know this; if you don’t it’s pretty hard not to scroll through this gallery and decide to make “spend a summer eating in Maine” one of your New Year’s resolutions.
Wondering how we collected all this info on the Pine Tree State? Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled definitive galleries celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Maine gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: The Shipyard Brewpub (Portland International Jetport)
anthony r./ Yelp
Located at Gate 4 of Maine’s busiest airport, The Shipyard Brewpub has the traditional offerings of soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wings. Particularly of note, however, is their menu of draft beers, wines, and spirits to go along with a delicious Maine lobster roll, Buffalo chicken salad, and whoopie pie.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Harraseeket Inn (Freeport)
The luxurious, 93-room Harraseeket Inn is a Maine institution, and it’s home to two restaurants, the Broad Arrow Tavern and the Maine Harvest Dining Room. Both offer spectacular buffets: On every day but Sunday the tavern offers a $17.95 lunchtime spread of housemade soups, salads, porcini rubbed hanger steak, tandoori chicken, crab cakes, fried haddock, brick oven pizza, Maine blueberry pie, and a variety of other dishes; and on Sundays the big guns come out in the dining room for its $39.95 Sunday Brunch, which includes steamed and chilled half-lobsters, local organic prime rib with port wine demi-glace, oven-roasted Mexican-style chicken, ceviche, St. Louis ribs, Mexican seafood stew, brunch burritos, and a variety of desserts.
Best Bar: Ebenezer’s Pub (Lovell)
While Portland is one of the cities with the most bars and restaurants in the country, we ended up selecting a Maine spot that’s basically in the middle of nowhere. However, many say it’s worth the trip. Ebenezer’s Pub has 35 Belgian beers on tap in addition to 700 bottles of different vintages. Its signature beverage is the Black Albert, an award-winning, filthy-rich royal imperial stout that was brewed specifically for the bar by craft brewers De Struise. The pub also serves lambic and gueuze, Belgian beer styles seldom seen outside their native country. There is a wide variety of cuisines on offer, too, from local favorite lobster rolls to modern gastropub fare.
Best Beach Bar: Thurston’s Lobster Pound (Bernard)
Thurston’s sits on a dock overlooking Bass Bay on scenic Mount Desert Island, which is home to Acadia National Park. This popular local spot has been a family business since 1946, and over the years has expanded to accommodate the growing business. Dig in to lobster, crab, clams, and chowder, and wash it all down with a local beer while watching the lobster boats bring in the daily catch.
Best Beer: Maine Beer Company’s Dinner
There are a lot of breweries in Maine making hazy, New England-style IPAs. But no matter how hard they may try, newcomers cannot top Maine Brewing Company’s Dinner. With more than six pounds of hops per barrel, this double IPA has a hazy golden color and a dry, refreshing character that is pure perfection in a bottle.
Best Brunch: Bayside American Café (Portland)
Bayside (which was known as Bintliff’s from 1990 until new owners took it over) is open daily from 7 to 2, and during that window it’s serving some of the finest breakfast, lunch, and brunch dishes you’ll find anywhere. In the breakfast department, you’ll find homemade corned beef hash, Gulf shrimp scampi scramble, custom omelettes, a house-smoked salmon platter, Maine blueberry and cinnamon bun pancakes (or one filled with bacon and Cheddar), lemon blueberry French toast, and house-made Belgian waffles with chocolate or pecans and caramel. For lunch, there’s a stellar butter-poached lobster roll, a house-braised corned beef Reuben in phyllo, salads, vegetarian specials, burgers, and a killer BLT (which you should definitely add lobster to). And for brunch, there’s fresh crab cakes, huevos rancheros, and seven different Benedicts (including one with Maine lobster and spinach and another with steak and sun-dried tomato and roasted garlic cream sauce. You really can’t go wrong, especially when it’s all washed down with a cup of coffee from local roaster Coffee by Design or a bottle of Maine Root blueberry soda.
Best Burger: BRGR Bar (Portland)
This relative newcomer in the Old Port neighborhood has already staked a claim as serving the best burgers in town thanks to its owners’ meticulous ingredient sourcing. The beef burgers are an aged custom primal blend from Maine Family Farms, and the bison is from a farm in Berwick, Maine; both are grass-fed. Six-ounce burgers on offer include The Mac Daddy (topped with house-made mac and cheese and barbecue short rib) and the Up in Smoke (a bison patty with smoked gouda, bacon, grilled red onion, avocado, bourbon barbecue sauce, and lettuce and tomato), but the one to order is the OO-Mommy, which is topped with gorzonzola, beer-battered onion rings, and bacon and onion jam, and it’s an absolute umami bomb (get it?).
Best Chinese Restaurant: Empire Chinese Kitchen (Portland)
Portland is a food lover’s paradise, and locals know that Empire is the place to go for the best Chinese food in town. Packed every night of the week, the restaurant occupies the space that was previously home to Portland’s first high-end Chinese restaurant (The Empire, which was in business from 1916 to 1953), and it serves its memory well.
Along with a wide variety of expertly prepared dim sum, it also offers traditional Chinese soul food made with locally sourced ingredients, including Peking duck buns, boneless barbecue pork, wonton soup with duck broth, bacon fried rice, and whole wok-fried lobster with house-made broad rice noodles. To start, don’t miss the lobster Rangoon.
Best Chocolate Shop: Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections (Freeport)
Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections/Yelp
Best Coffee Shop: Bard Coffee (Portland)
One of the coffee roasters we love most, Bard Coffee has a cute, minimalistic shop in Portland that's the perfect place to sit for a quick catch-up, study session, or even just to unwind with a cup of joe. The coffee here is known to be prepared with care, and the pour-over coffee in particular is quite popular.
Best Craft Brewery: Maine Beer Company (Freeport)
Maine Beer Company loves beer and the planet, and is committed to both. The tasting area of this brewery is a great place to go with a group, as it is filled with community tables big enough for all of your friends to enjoy the sample flights on offer — and to enjoy views of the brewing operation through huge glass windows. Sample Dinner, a dry-hopped double IPA that Craft Beer & Brewing magazine gives a perfect score of 100.
Best Cupcakes: Let Them Eat Cake (Kennebunk)
Specializing in event cupcakes, Let Them Eat Cake artfully combines personalized creations with signature flavors for truly beautiful cupcakes. They come in a variety of flavors, beginning with almond white cake and ranging all the way to ginger peach as well as pumpkin and peanut butter.
Best Dive Bar: Bubba’s Sulky Lounge (Portland)
Bubba's Sulky Lounge in Portland has antiques seemingly everywhere — hanging from the ceilings, sitting on the bar, and bolted to the walls. If that isn’t character enough for you, you’ll find plenty of cheap drinks and locals during the day. At night, the dance floor lights up and ‘80s music pumps through the speakers for a dance party that is not to be missed.
Best Donuts: Holy Donut (Portland)
Holy Donut is right; the potato doughnuts here are so light, so fluffy, and so warm that they totally just melt in your mouth. The dark chocolate sea salt, triple berry, and maple bacon are favorites. Just be sure to get here early; the line gets long, even at 8 a.m.
Best Food Truck: Bite Into Maine (Cape Elizabeth)
Enjoy six styles of lobster rolls at Bite Into Maine, using the freshest locally sourced Maine lobsters, bread, and butter for each. Styles include Connecticut, Maine, curry, wasabi, chipotle, and their “signature picnic style” — which comes with coleslaw as the lobster’s base, celery salt, and hot butter. From the truck’s location you’ll have an oceanside view of the Portland Headlight. Although Bite Into Maine’s two food trucks close for the winter, they reopen every spring for lobster lovers to flock to, and a brick-and-mortar location in Scarborough operates all year round. When you visit, be sure to get one of their seasonal desserts and a Moxie soda to wash it all down.
Best French Fries: Duckfat (Portland)
When a restaurant is called Duckfat, you can get a hunch right off the bat that its fries are going to be pretty good. And at this 12-year-old Portland sandwich shop, the fries are hand-cut throughout the day from local Maine potatoes and fried in — yes — duck fat. Tossed in seasoning salt and served in a cone with your choice of eight homemade dipping sauces, these fries are what dreams are made of. If you’re wondering what sort of sorcery created these fries, it’s worth knowing that Duckfat is actually an offshoot of Portland’s legendary Hugo’s, and chef-owner Rob Evans has won the Food & Wine Award for Best New Chef and the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast.
Best Fried Chicken: Hot Suppa (Portland)
There’s no shortage of great restaurants in Portland, but for traditional Southern food, it’s Hot Suppa all the way. Founded by two brothers in 2004, the restaurant turns locally-sourced ingredients into addictively good pan-Southern fare ranging from Carolina-style shrimp and grits to Nashville-style hot chicken to New Orleans-style charbroiled oysters (the decidedly non-Southern poutine also makes an appearance, but we’ll allow it). The hot chicken is delicious but “painfully spicy,” according to the menu, so if you’d rather take it easy, opt for the equally tasty buttermilk fried local chicken, moist and coated with a crunchy, craggy crust, served with a buttermilk waffle or your choice of a side.
Best Fish and Chips: Susan’s Fish-n-Chips (Portland)
The team behind the venerable Susan’s, a local favorite in Portland since 1989, has the art of frying seafood down to a science. Whole belly clams, lobster tails on a stick, and even ice cream is fried at this no-frills clam shack, and the free coffee, $2.50 fish sandwich special, and hugely portioned $11 lobster rolls have some wondering whether owner Susan Ecklund is insane or just very generous (she’s just generous). But as the name implies, the fish and chips are the must-try: huge fillets of fresh cod are coated in their signature batter and deep-fried until golden brown, then served with a heaping pile of fries. If you’re looking for even more evidence about how wacky this place is, you can even BYOF (bring your own fish) and Ecklund will fry it for you for $5.
Best Hot Dogs: Simone’s Hot Dog Stand (Lewiston)
This is a vivid, dark red pork dog, on the small side, steamed and served on a warmed bun (grilled dogs are available on request). Cheese, sauerkraut, and chili are available at Simone's, but the traditional condiments are relish, onion, and ketchup. One unusual touch: A shaker of celery salt is offered along with the salt and pepper. Simone's has been selling dogs and other simple fare since 1908, and judging from the photos on the wall, every politician in or from New England has been here at one point or another.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Earth at Hidden Pond (Kennebunkport)
This legendary Maine restaurant is located at Hidden Pond, a luxury resort nestled amid 60 acres of pristine birch forest. Its restaurant, Earth, focuses on “farm to fork” dining, with locally-sourced meats and seafood, fruits and vegetables picked from two on-site gardens, handmade pastas, house-made charcuterie, wood-oven pizzas, and a spectacular wine list. Earth is Maine dining at its finest.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Toots Ice Cream (North Yarmouth)
Toots Ice Cream is on a Maine dairy farm filled with cute cows that you can watch while you munch on deliciously creamy ice cream flavors such as Pig Peg (coffee and Oreos) or grapefruit sorbet. “Toots is a destination ice cream experience. And you most always find friends there and have fun chatting with a stranger in their fast-moving line as you try to decide which flavor you're gonna get. We anxiously await their opening in May and breathe a sad sigh when they close in the fall,” wrote one reviewer.
Best Italian Restaurant: Paciarino (Portland)
At this pasta-centric Portland favorite, pastas and sauces are made fresh daily, meat is all-natural and locally sourced when possible, and ingredients are of the highest quality available. All of this translates to some spectacular dishes, including a perfect and simple spaghetti pomodoro, ravioli bolognese, lasagna, and spaghetti aglio e olio. It’s very difficult to make these classic pasta dishes in a way that stands out, and Paciarino hits the nail on the head.
Best Lobster Roll: Five Islands (Georgetown)
One of the most picturesque spots in all of Maine also happens to be home to a little shack that’s serving the state’s best lobster roll. Lobsters are pulled right out of the water throughout the day and go directly into boiling water; the lobster you’re eating was most likely in the sea an hour beforehand. From there it’s de-shelled, coated with a tiny bit of mayo, and tucked into a toasted bun with a little lettuce. It’s the lobster that really shines here, and it’s good enough to eat without the bun, dunked into some butter. But as a complete lobster roll, the nearly 10-ounce Big Boy, eaten outdoors with a stunningly picturesque view, isn’t just the perfect lobster roll; it’s the perfect lobster roll-eating experience.
Most Expensive Restaurant: The White Barn Restaurant (Kennebunk)
Going strong for 45 years, The White Barn is the fine dining restaurant of the elegant and inviting Grace White Barn Inn & Spa, and the beneficiary of AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star endorsements. Chef Matthew Padilla and his team use local, seasonal ingredients to craft menus that change weekly. The resulting four-course prix-fixe costs $125 per person, and $75 for wine pairings.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Federal Deficit, Governor's Restaurant (Multiple Locations)
You can never go wrong with a totally over-the-top ice cream sundae, but the Federal Deficit at Governor's Restaurant is so much more. The awe-inspiring dessert combines all of their specialty desserts into one big bowl. Their Brownie Delight and Real Strawberry Shortcake are combined with a banana split and six other large sundaes; the dessert starts with a vanilla ice cream base and has marshmallows, a banana, biscuit, and brownie, and is topped with blueberries, cherries, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, nuts, caramel, peanut butter, hot fudge, and sprinkles.
Most Romantic Restaurant: White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport)
The White Barn Inn Restaurant/Yelp
The White Barn Inn is an upscale New England retreat with a AAA Five Diamond rating; its restaurant is housed in a restored 1820s barn with a huge picture window looking into nature. The four-course prix fixe menu, new each week, is meticulously presented. Given the coastal Maine location, the spotlight is on seafood, with recent selections including paupiette of Maine sole with lobster raviolo, as well as almond-crusted halibut. However, other choices such as quail or beef tenderloin can also be had; all are good following inventive appetizers like the pomegranate martini sorbet.
Best Pasta Dish: Lobster Diavolo, Street & Co. (Portland)
Portland has no shortage of stellar dining options, but there’s one lobster dish that the locals will tell you is a must-try: the Lobster Diavolo for Two at Street & Co., quite possibly the best seafood pasta on the Eastern Seaboard. Garlicky, buttery linguine is topped with mussels, clams, calamari, and a whole grilled lobster. Scoop out the tomalley and mix it into the pasta sauce, and spend the next 20 minutes in seafood pasta bliss.
Best Pizza: Micucci Grocery Store (Portland)
Micucci Grocery was opened in 1951 by Leo and Iris Micucci, and has been family-operated ever since. The best reason to visit this Portland icon is in back, up the stairs to the left, where “slabs” of American-interpreted Sicilian-style pizza are baked and set on shelves.
The word “slabs” doesn’t do these slices justice — a curious hybrid for sure, they’re nowhere as heavy as the gut-bombs most descriptions convey. Half-again bigger than the conventional Sicilian, and just as thick (if wetter and more doughy), Micucci’s slabs may not be authentic Italian, but they feel like an idealized iteration of the focaccia style you’ve always sought but never experienced.
Imagine a fluffy, light focaccia that’s doughy and a bit wetter than most with layers of bubbles. There’s a scattering of Italian herbs with cheese rivulets and sauce undercurrents around raised puffy sections of dough. There’s no undercrust to speak of, but crispy cheese in places, especially the edges.
It’s not pizza in any other traditional regional American sense, nor can you say it’s precisely Italian. But there’s something intensely right and satisfying about it.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Becky’s Diner (Portland)
In Portland, Becky’s Diner is nothing short of legendary, opening bright and early at 4 a.m. daily and serving a menu of flawlessly executed breakfast dishes from a comfortable dining room with a long counter. Omelettes with home fries and toast (try the lobster and Swiss), homemade corned beef hash, pancakes, French toast, fruit bowls, and the usual breakfast breads are on offer; there are no major surprises here, just stellar, hearty breakfasts from one of Maine’s most renowned restaurants. Breakfast is served until 4 p.m., so if you get there after 11 you can accompany yours with one of their famed lobster rolls.
Best Restaurant: Fore Street (Portland)
Fore Street's wood-roasted menu has been bringing diners in steadily since 1996. Locally harvested mussels, diver scallops, turnspit-roasted chicken and pork loin, marinated hanger steak, and other basics, accompanied by vegetables grown or foraged from nearby farms and fields, are the staples of the seasonally changing menu here. Fore Street is all about hearth, rustic charm, and a lack of artifice. The open kitchen center stage fascinates, its chefs behind a vast butcher block working the brick oven as open flames lick the meat that turns on a rotisserie, embers flying. Co-owner and chef Sam Hayward was a pioneer in locally derived, simply cooked restaurant fare at Fore Street.
Best Soup: Lobster Stew at J’s Oyster (Portland)
Ask a handful of Portland locals where the best place in the city is for a lobster roll and some fried belly clams, and they’ll point you toward this low-key institution on Portland Pier that’s been going strong since 1977. Everyone gets the lobster roll, fried clams, or steamers, but regulars know to also order the lobster stew, which is made with a heaping pile of fresh lobster, and is creamy (but not overly so) and brightened with a hit of sherry.
Best Steakhouse: Timber Steakhouse & Rotisserie (Portland)
Portland is a food-lover’s paradise, and if you’re in the mood for steak there, Timber is the place to go. Steaks are sourced from local Maine ranches and are grass-fed, all-natural, and Black Angus. Filet mignon, marinated steak tips, New York strip, and a 40-ounce bone-in rib-eye will definitely satisfy your meat tooth, and their burger, made with dry-aged sirloin, is one of the city’s best. The restaurant’s slow-roasted rotisserie chicken is also a definite standout.
Best Sushi Bar: Miyake (Portland)
Portland may be about as far away from Japan is you can get, but in this city of restaurants (with more per capita than anywhere else in America), we’re not surprised to find a sushi spot that can compete with any of America’s best. Open since 2011, Miyake is the playplace of chef-owner Masa Miyake, who sources the highest-quality ingredients from around the world and even runs his own farm in town. Omakase starts at just $38 (10-piece nigiri) and tops out at $70, a steal for what you receive: Don’t be surprised if you’re handed a whole sea urchin with the uni still attached, lightly grilled Freymont oyster with mirin, grilled cod, and generously portioned nigiri with high-quality fish.
Best Taco: Bisteck Crispy Taco, Taco Escobarr (Portland)
Taco Escobarr’s tacos are available in three varieties: soft corn tortillas, crispy griddle-fried tortillas, or deep-fried San Antonio-style puffy tacos. The crispy taco is the winner of the bunch; fill yours with smoky slow-braised poblano-kicked shredded beef, melted Chihuahua cheese, cilantro, and pico de gallo. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.