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Portland's best dishes right now!

We're spending a few days in Portland and would love to hear your opinions on the best dishes right now at your favorite spots.

We plan to dine at Fore Street, Hugos, Duck Fat and Bar Lola. But, we could change that or sit at the bar and try more than one place in an evening if there are outstanding items on someone's favorite menu.

We heard there is an Italian place near Duck Fat that we should try-- can anyone give more details-- like a name?

How about favorite bakery items at area shops?

If we were your favorite foodie friends from Boston and you were guiding our tasting for four days, what would you have us eat.

Naturally, we have searched the boards to consider restaurants, but when you don't eat in a city that often, it nice to have some specific menu guidance. I hope it will also help the locals discover the new dishes.

We do have a car so we could go out of the city for something wonderful-- especially for lunch.

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  1. I would guess the name of the Italian place near Duck Fat is Ribollita. We have eaten there on a couple of occasions and enjoyed it, but we haven't been there recently. Here's the link: http://www.ribollitamaine.com/

    1. Most of the restaurants you mention change their menus every day. No way to recommend a specific dish.

      That said, you can't go to Duckfat without having the fries.

      1. When my foodie friends from Boston come, we graze our way through a number of places in order to experience them all: apps at one, entrees or more apps at the next, dessert at another (usually Bresca if we can get in without rez, her desserts are amazing).

        Must-adds to your list: 555 (Chef Steve Corry--Food & Wine award winner, Beard nominee), Bresca (Mediterranean influenced, tiny, must-have reservations), Evangeline (French).

        Drive to the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth for lunch one day--but only if the weather is perfect. The setting is spectacular, on the ledges with crashing surf. Lobster, lobster rolls, etc. Nothing that really rocks, just seafood staples with a to-die-for view.

        Bakeries: Standard (breakfast pastries--grab and go to the waterfront or take on ferry to Peaks) and Two Cats (cookies and pies), both related to Fore Street, also pop into the back of Miccuci's to see what baker Stephen Lanzalotta is preparing. Lavendar shortbread from Home Grown Teas, an Ayurvedic tea shop on Congress, near the Observatory on Munjoy Hill--also the area's best teas. And don't skip Dean's Sweets for truffles--it's on Middle Street, across from Duckfat and adjacent to Rabelais, the cookbook/food book store.

        Ribolitta is the place near Duck Fat--country Italian, and one of my faves; doesn't get the hype of other places.

        Also lots of new places, either just opened or about to--check PortlandFoodMap.com.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Mainegal

          Thank you all for the great info. This is exactly what I was hoping to learn. It's the little details that let you map out a great dining course thought a wonderful food town like Portland.

          We try to make it to Portland at least once a year for a private dining festival.

          Ribolitta is the place a friend mentioned a few weeks ago. I failed to write it down but remembered that it was near Duck Fat. ( where we adore the fries.)

          We also love Twin Lights - we sometimes stay at the Inn by The Sea and make regular runs over for more lobster! Plus we can bring our pup with us and still enjoy a good lunch.

          We've missed trying 555 but will add it by grazing as suggested. I love to eat that way anyway.

          The bakery exploration is more for a friend who is our pastry maven. She also makes regular Portland trips. I'm more a bread person than pastry but your suggestions have me interested.

          And, I almost forgot to put Rabelais on my check list. I hope I would have remembered but it is there now.

          We will keep reading and report back.

        2. One final dish rec: the cold appetizer plate at Caiola's. The single best dish I have had in years.

          3 Replies
          1. re: StevensAve

            StevensAve - Is the cold appie plate at Cailoa's the "Nightly Antipasto Plate with Vegetables and Cured Meats"? Also, do they have a nice patio? Thanks!

            1. re: hungryinaz

              They don't have a patio exactly, but there is an outdoor eating area, very pleasant, that's covered against rain. Of course, it's been in the high 30's and 40's the last few nights here in Portland, so you may want to wait a few weeks for things to warm up!

              1. re: mainemal

                Wow, that's chilly! Thanks for the weather heads up - hopefully it's a bit warmer when I'm in Maine later this month!

          2. Given your willingness to get out of the city a little, consider The Frog and Turtle gastro-pub in Westbrook, 15 minutes from downtown. At this time of the year, their commitment to foraged food is particularly evident, so you're likely to find superb things made with ramps, wild mushrooms, etc. http://www.thefrogandturtle.com/ And while I know this is a particularly debateable dish for "best," I think their fried calamari with lime aioli is one of the best things one can eat in greater Portland

            1. Not a "dish" suggestion. We don't get out much these days (new babe), but a few weeks ago had an impromptu visit to Hugo's. We sat at the bar and enjoyed the bar snacks menu and a couple of apps. Really tasty and creative. Also, tried the ice cream sunday which was fantastic! It was a surprise in flavor and truly fun. Anyway, it was a real treat and even with a couple of drinks each, very reasonable we thought. I highly recommend it

              2 Replies
              1. re: foodquest

                We may try the bar at Hugos as soon as they open tonight. Yesterday for lunch we had our tradtional lobster roll at Bob's Clam Shack in Kittery on the way here.

                Last night I had my favorite oven roasted mussels with garlic and almonds at Fore street. I followed those with the soft shell crab with asparagus. It was offered with a lobster roe mayo but I can't have mayo. My husband had the halibut with mushrooms and a mushroom cream sauce. The sauce was outstanding.

                We finished with a nectarine and rubharb cobbler with vanilla ice cream and some excellent espresso.

                Our bartender, Gregg told us the coffee is their own blend that is roasted for them as needed by Coffee by Design here in Portland. We've added a visit to them to our list of food places to see while here.


                This morning I slipped next door to our hotel fto Standard Bakery for croissant and scones to have with our morning coffee.

                Thanks to all-- keep the ideas coming!

                1. re: BostonZest

                  Yesterday we did a Rob Evans double-header. We had lunch at DuckFat and dinner at Hugo's.

                  Lunch was the Duck Fat fries with duck gravy and a Ratatouille pannini.

                  Dinner was fabulous. We arrived at 5:30, and snagged two seats at the bar- (now expanded to about 10 seats.) We ordered from the a la carte menu. My favorite was the Asparagus with pickled fiddleheads, dried olive, wild lettuce and chopped egg. We also had the Maine Whelk and Clam Rissoto and the a poached halibut with a bearnaise sauce.

                  Dessert was a taste spectacular- Wild blueberry and ginger sorbet with lemon thyme soda.

                  One thing I liked that haven't read as much about is the very nice selection of wines including some excellent half bottles.

                  I did take some photos and will add links to those when I get back to Boston.

              2. I would try Rachels on Woodford Street, I concur with dessert at Bresca and if you can't get in get it to go and go eat it on a bench a couple of blocks down the road cuz it is worth it. Pat's cafe on stevens ave is delicious and Blue spoon on Congress shouldn't be missed, but one of my favorites is SeaGrass Bistro in Yarmouth. That lady cooks some seriously great food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: halffull

                  I would also like to put in good word for Blue Spoon. I was with my 'rents - Front Room was too noisy/crowded, Bar Lola was too trendy...Blue Spoon filled the bill beautifully. Excerpt from my previous CH post:

                  We settled on Blue Spoon. What a happy accident! Lovely, small, intimate room. Lovely service to match. Nothing ground-shaking here, but preparations were perfect. Had a crisp viognier for me and a cab-shiraz for DC. Bread basket had wonderfully crusty bread served with a high quality dish of olive oil. We started with the Maine shrimp cakes - wow! No filler, all shrimp served with aioli. I will be on look-out for Maine shrimp on Boston menus/in Whole Foods. I had the salmon, skin on (crispy and the flesh was cooked to perfection), served on top of haricot vert and a white wine sauce. My parents both had the mussels and chorizo stew. While my salmon was delicious, they out-ordered me. Filled with mussels and more of that Maine shrimp. The server knew to bring out more bread to sop up the broth. We were stuffed and content. I had a glass of their delightful French rose. The bill came to a very reasonable $100.

                2. I love it when I can repay kindness.

                  Today for lunch we had a picnic from the Cheese Iron on Route 1 in Scarborough. Our favorite wine merchant in Boston suggested that this was worth a side trip for us and he was right.

                  Wonderful, memorable, delicious sandwich-- Bella Mortadella. Meat, cheese , a sweet touch with a fruit spread on a great focaccia bread. There were a bunch of sandwiches we would have tried. We also picked up a lovely salad with goat cheese a tomato vinaigrette and dried fruit. It had a little container of olives with it.

                  And, the cheese selection was wonderful. We picked a Japser Hill clothbound cheddar. It's one of our favorites but this one was presented to us in perfect condition.

                  I hope some of you who took the time to suggest great food for us will enjoy this place. If you are already fans, I salute your great taste.


                  1. I love Ribollita, so much. I've been there so many times, and every time the service has been absolute perfection. The pan-fried gnocchi with proscuitto and snap peas is just so good. Simple, good, food. I can't say enough good things about this place. The waitstaff are so friendly and accommodating, and they know everything about the menu and wine list. Their rapport is just as great with new patrons as it is with regulars. I would go here just for them, even if the food wasn't stellar. Which it is.

                    If you're looking for something fancier, you can't go wrong with 555 or the Back Bay Grill. I haven't had a bad dish from either restaurant. Again, service was fantastic. Cocktail list at 555 is creative and delicious. Back Bay has my favorite scotch. I've been known to giggle a lot when food is divine, and both of these places have had me in fits.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tattooedportlander

                      If there's ONE dish, I'm a sucker for the lobster fra diavlo at Street @ Co. It's for 2 so you have to talk someone else into it.

                    2. The duck breast (however Krista chooses to prepare it) and panna cotta at Bresca kick serious tail.

                      1. Sorry to chime in so late here, but whatever you do, esp. if you are seeking fine bakeries, you MUST got to Scratch Bakery at Willard Square in South Portland (over the bridge). This is a superior bakery by any standards--they do everything well, from their superb bagels to creme brulee, to deep south coconut cream cake to home made "ring ding a lings" to perfect shortbread, on and on and on. Too much to even say here, plus the place has such a nice "vibe"--great people/owners. They even have a lovely selection of cheeses (mostly local/NE) and wines. Willard beach is just a janut down the hill behind them and a nice place to picnic. If you are a bakery hound and you are in Portland, while Standard Baking is definitely a necessary stop, Scratch should also be at the top of your list. While you're in that neighborhood, there is a great little Italian deli/grocery called Terra Cotta Pasta Co.--best homemade pasta I have had since traveling to Italy. As for dining out, I'd ditto many thinhgs already said: definitely Fore St. and Bresca, top choices in my judgement. Dishes to order in these places? At Fore St., don't miss the muscles and spit roasted meats--great salads, too. At Bresca, the polenta dishes are always delicious as is the shaved brussels sprouts salad--desserts are scrumptous, too--really anything there will be delicious. Bresca is tiny (only 20 seats or so) so you must book in advance. Blue Spoon is also pleasant--like going there for lunch. Have fun!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: liveforfood

                          My wife and I just returned from Portland. Managed to have lunch at Duckfat (great fries!!) and dinner at Evangeline. Expertly prepared French comfort food in a beautiful space with friendly service--we can't wait to return to Portland and try some of the other places we've heard about (Bresca,555, Ribolitta) but also to eat at Evangeline's AGAIN. One thing we really liked, since my wife enjoys wine but can't drink much of it, is that the wines on their list are offered as half-bottles as well as bottles. We had two main courses, a cheese course, two desserts, coffee and a half-bottle of great White Burgundy--total with tax and tip was $110.
                          We didn't make it to the Scratch Bakery at Willard Square, but we did hit the ice cream shop that's recently opened near it...really good ice cream from a small Bar Harbor company (Mount Desert, I think it was). The "sherry catalana" ice cream was particularly good...

                        2. One more thing--DO head for the Cheese Iron, as someone already suggested. Really, really fine selection of cheeses, salami, olives, and other delicious items, including wine--very nice shop and owners who know a lot about cheese and food. GREAT sandwiches there, too. One of Portland's gems (but in Scarborough on Rt. 1).