Five Places to Eat in Portland, Maine

In the last couple of years, Portland, Maine has been getting a lot of attention for its food scene. It’s a very cute coastal town in southern Maine with a lot to do and eat. I took a solo trip for Memorial Day weekend to check it out, mostly involving walking from seafood to fries to doughnuts. I would do it again in a second: here are my favorite five spots for your next trip north!

 

1. Duck Fat

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Duck Fat is a very popular quick lunch and dinner spot in the heart of the food strip in Portland. They specialize in Belgian fries, of course fried in duck fat, sandwiches, shakes and homemade sodas. There was a crowd outside the modestly sized café, and people were waiting half hours to get in, at 2:30pm. I even had to wait 15 minutes just to get seated at the bar. But it was well worth it, as the poutine I ordered came to me in a flash, and was steaming and delicious. Straightforward, nothing fancy: Belgian fries covered in duck gravy, cheese curds, and chives. I also ordered a ginger zinger soda (in a mason jar. Portland’s there). It was extremely refreshing.

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2. Dutch’s

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While dining at a seafood restaurant by the piers, a couple next to me at the bar told me I had to go to Dutch’s for breakfast. This was great news, as it was already on my list. Dutch’s is known for their biscuits-and-gravy-fried-chicken hybrid sandwich. They call it the crispy chicken biscuit, and it’s a piece of fried chicken thigh covered in sausage gravy sandwiched between slices of their flaky, yet substantial house made biscuits. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat this because the gravy was made from sausage, and I don’t eat pork. Luckily, they had a second choice: the spicy chicken biscuit. Same thing as the first sandwich, with smashed avocado instead of gravy, and spicy chicken instead of regular chicken: win-win. I imagine the gravy would have been nice to break up the dryness, but it was still great. Dutch’s is also known for the (truly) crispy hash browns. The couple from the bar insisted I get a side of these. They were right out of they fryer when I got them, and very satisfying. I also got an Earl Grey doughnut for the road, which turned out to be one of the best pastries of the trip. The cream in the middle was perfectly mild – not too sweet, and just enough flavor.

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3. Tandem Coffee + Bakery

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So here is Portland’s quintessential hip into-my-coffee-and-chill-time café. It’s even more Brooklyn than Brooklyn: it’s an old gas station! Do you see that slightly askew ceiling? If not for this place, that Earl Grey doughnut would have won best pastry. I can’t get down with the bitterness of coffee, so their great roasts were wasted on me, but their pie and pastries were not. It was extremely difficult to decide on one pastry to try. I could have had a “loaded biscuit” with what you might guess is brie, but is actually a generous glob of butter, and strawberry jam. I could have had a cherry and chocolate scone, or a large chocolate chip cookie. But I went with their massive sticky bun. It looked so inviting from behind the glass display, and somehow more manageable than a dense scone (false). The icing was pooling in the folds of the dough which caught orange zest as a last addition. The top was crunchy and the middle was pillowy soft. I was not disappointed. On my way out of town, I stopped by again for a slice of strawberry hibiscus pie. Good choice.

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With Mast Brothers’ Hot Chocolate

 

 

4. Honey Paw

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I’m generally wary of restaurants with the vague term “Asian fusion” anywhere in a description. It just sounds suspect…what Asian cuisines are you fusing? Are they Asian? Is there also American food? Why? Asian fusion is exactly how Honey Paw labels their food. Well, almost: “regional American cuisine with an Asian sensibility”. I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and see what the hype was about. The interior decoration is super cool; honey comb lanterns everywhere. My favorite part of the inside was the seating: one large community table, and a bar along the window. I ordered the smoked lamb khao soi with coconut curry, fermented mustard greens, and topped with crispy fried noodles. It was as amazing as it sounds, though I could barely finish my bowl; the rich flavor combination was a lot for my stomach to handle. That said, I’d eat it again, maybe with a friend.

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5. Eventide Oyster Co.

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If you’re into oysters, this is the place for you.Eventide is right next to Honey Paw, and owned by the same folks. Their original Portland restaurant has ten Maine varieties and more “away” varieties, nestled on ice in the stone trench in front of the bar. I’m not a slimy-raw-seafood person myself, but I wanted to see what else they had going on. This place also had a hefty mass of customers waiting to get in, which I bypassed once more by waiting 10 minutes to get to the bar. I ordered one of the specials: deep-fried soft shell crab, which was not as filling as I’d hoped for the price I paid for it. So I ordered a fried oyster steamed bun as reinforcement. Both were delicious, but a tad overpriced. In any case, a good place to spend money on good, local seafood.

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Bonus Round

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A $20 Maine lobster roll drenched in butter is worth it if you’re looking for a good lobster roll in a fancy restaurant by the water. You can find it at the new restaurant, Scales, that wants to overlook the Casco Bay, but really just overlooks a couple other seafood spots on the pier (this is where I met that couple on the bar). Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the butter: this guy’s bun is griddled in butter, and the four ounces of lobster meat are reheated…in butter. It took me nearly an hour just to get through it all without upsetting my stomach.

It’s worth a trip to Holy Donut to see what a potato doughnut tastes like. Luckily, not much like potatoes. I tried a lemon doughnut and was pleasantly surprised. Pro tip: go in the morning so you have more flavor choices that I did.

Any other Portland recommendations? Leave them below!

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Portland Part 5: Milk Glass Mrkt

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Our last breakfast stop in Portland was at a spot I’d seen in last year’s “Best New Restaurants” list from Bon Appétit . On the east side of the river, Milk Glass Mrkt is tucked away in the a corner of the Overlook neighborhood. They serve breakfast and lunch throughout the week in a counter-service format in a bright dining room. When we arrived on a Tuesday morning, it was quiet, with two indoor tables occupied and two other guests enjoying their coffee at the tables outside.

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After considering the menu, I ordered greens with smoked trout, rainbow chard, pickled red onions, walnuts, radish sprouts, and a fried egg. My mom got the cheddar biscuit with herbed egg and smoked salmon. To split, we ordered a warm brown butter almond cake with berry jam and crème fraîche.

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And everything was delicious. My breakfast salad had everything it needed – refreshment, warmth, nutrients, texture. The biscuit was flaky and the cheese melty. The almond cake was in fact warm and dense, yet somehow still moist.

This hidden gem is absolutely worth the $10 Uber ride, or leisurely bike ride from city center. Enjoy a quiet morning among the trees and houses, with a lovely staff and large seasonal menu. This was easily a food highlight of the trip!

Make sure to add Milk Glass Mrkt, Blue Star Donuts, Voodoo Doughnuts, and a food cart crawl to your itinerary for your next Portland trip. If you have any, leave your own recommendations in the comments!

Portland Part 4: Voodoo Doughnuts

You can’t go to Portland without stopping at Voodoo Doughnuts right outside of Chinatown. Your friends will have told you about the crazy flavors, and you will have smelled a distinct doughnuty aroma from the Waterfront Park by the river. As a doughnut enthusiast, Voodoo naturally made it to my list of things to eat in Portland. But it wasn’t until towards the end of the trip that we made it over.

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An idea that came to mind when I entered Voodoo was that it had a “cult following”…lots of interesting clothing and posters decorated the pink walls under bright fluorescent lighting. The antithesis of Blue Star Donuts was a treasure trove of “keep Portland weird” and ridonkulous doughnut flavors – check out this *rotating* display case:

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This plus the chalkboard menu of flavors made for quite overwhelming decision-making. Luckily, we had some time to mull over the choices and take a look at the options, since we did not arrive to a line hugging the side of the building, like you’d typically see on a weekend afternoon.

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We walked away with the iconic large pink box, and three doughnuts: Caramel Delight (West coast’s version of a Samoa), maple-glazed old fashion, and a mango tango filled doughnut.

Voodoo does not claim artisanally made doughnuts, and neither do their prices. We left with only $5 less than we entered with. I’m glad we did eventually make the trip over. We didn’t exactly go crazy with the flavors, as we could have opted for “Arnold Palmer”, “dirty snowball”, or “butterfingering”. This is likely in part because we couldn’t decipher many of the flavors from the names alone. The doughnuts we did try were very sweet, too much for even my sweet tooth. But my favorite was the Caramel Delight with its crunchy coconut exterior and soft cake interior.

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Visiting Voodoo is definitely an experience, and one worth having. But the doughnuts, however famous and wacky, are not on my top 5 list.

Stay tuned for a few more Portland spots you’ll want to check out on your next trip over!

Portland Part 3: Street Food

Portland is known for its extensive street food scene. The food carts in Portland line blocks of downtown and the Pearl district, and pop up in clusters throughout the east side of the city. When there are over 20 carts within a 5 minute walk of each other, it’s difficult to choose one to eat from. Luckily, we were able to go a couple times.

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One thing to keep in mind when planning a meal here is the hours that the carts keep. While they’re not all open at the same time, most of them will be open for lunch throughout the week, and a handful open for dinner. But we found that by 3pm, a lot are closed for business.

Our successful trip for lunch was by SW Alder St and SW 9th Ave. There are so many cuisines and foods to choose from – Egyptian, Korean, Ethiopian, Mexican, Japanese, mac and cheese, and more. No matter your mood, you’ll probably find something good to eat. At the craft market we visited over the weekend, we got a recommendation to go to a Scottish man’s food cart for fish & chips. In an effort to try different things, my mom and I shared fish & chips and Korean BBQ.

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The Frying Scotsman had a variety of fish to choose from for frying. We took the road less traveled with red snapper – more fishy than classic cod/haddock (#nigerian). For Korean BBQ, we chose their Bulgogi-Chicken combo with rice, noodles, chicken, beef, kimchi, and what looked like iceberg lettuce.

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Not pictured: salt + vinegar additions (no ketchup, that’s so American)

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The chicken was more flavorful than the beef but it was all good.

 

If you’re in Portland, check out this food cart Google map of the city to guide you. There’s most likely a hub of carts in a couple areas you’re planning to check out anyway.

Have a favorite food cart corner? Share below! And stay tuned for next week’s review on VOODOO doughnuts!

Portland Part 2: Blue Star Donuts

Read on for a thorough examination of the coolest, cleanest doughnut joint I’ve ever stepped foot in.

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Upon our arrival in Portland, my mom and I knew we had to locate a Blue Star Donuts. There are a handful of locations around the city, one in LA and one in Tokyo. The one we went to near the Pearl district had warm sunlight flooding in from the tall windows covering half the shop, and the steady drumming of the XL stand mixer kneading away.

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When we arrived around 10am, the line was not quite out the door yet, but we still had some time to decide on the doughnut varieties displayed behind glass next to the register before we had to order.

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We ultimately went with this half dozen:

Hard Apple Cider Fritter
Valrhona Chocolate Crunch
Blueberry Bourbon & Basil
Almond & Chocolate Ganache
Meyer Lemon & Key Lime CurdCointreau Crème Brûlée

While we waited for our box to be assembled, I wandered the modestly sized operation, and I noticed a baker prepping a fresh mound of dough next to the coffee corner. When I asked him if I could take his picture, he said yes, and was very appreciative of my asking (I guessed he’s ended up on lots of people’s instagram feeds without consent).

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Less than three minutes after ordering, our box was ready.

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First up: Cointreau Crème Brûlée

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Torched top, vanilla bean cream center, and orange liqueur poking out, ready for incorporation via pinching.

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It was quite fun to bite into the crusty sweet top and land in a pillow of cream, all transported by soft and fresh brioche dough. This one’s a winner!

Next: Hard Apple Cider Fritter

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Fritters are usually more dense than doughnuts since they’re typically made of the doughnut scraps and packed together once the rising in the dough has already occurred. These fritters are combined with an apple compote-looking mix, as shown in the second photo, further up.

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The outside was sweet and crispy, and the inside was very moist and apple-y. However, I think the density was too much for my mom’s and my stomach. We also couldn’t taste the hard cider (perhaps it got completely cooked off). Not bad, but not their best.

 

Following: Blueberry Bourbon & Basil (BBB)

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This doughnut was actually featured on one of the three covers of Bon Appétit’s May Travel Issue – for good reason.

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This doughnut didn’t need any filling with the icing it came with. One bite and I got one big mouthful of summertime markets with the basil notes heading this train of flavor. The arresting blueberry burst came quickly after, and the combination was delightfully refreshing (but again, no alcohol). Plus, the crack of the icing when closing in is a great textural addition.

The rest:

The Valrhona Chocolate Crunch was super fun to eat. It had the same filling as the crème brûlée doughnut, and the top was covered in fancy deep dark chocolate and pearls of chocolate covered rice crispies.

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The chocolate ganache and almond doughnut was similar to the chocolate crunch doughnut, but without the filling, and with the crunch coming form the crushed almonds. Not too shabby.

When we got around to the Meyer Lemon & Key Lime Curd doughnut, it seemed a little ordinary in comparison to all the others, but I’m always happy with lemon in my sweets, and it was enjoyable.

 

Overall, our experience at Blue Star was one to remember, and probably to return to. I highly recommend making a stop if you’re ever in the area (including LA and Tokyo!). I’ll leave you with this accurate dough-piction of today in the social media world:

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Portland Part 1: Touchdown in PDX

Greetings from Portland, OR, AKA Rip City AKA Stumptown AKA City of Roses AKA 🚴🚴🚴🚴! A much anticipated cross-country vacation has finally arrived and I am here with my mom where the weather is fine and the biking is fierce. Here is a sneak peak of our first stop of the trip (surprise, surprise…)

  
Blue Star Donuts is yet another TV-bucket-wish-list location that my mom and I spotted when watching an episode of Unique Sweets. Though our list of things to do is not bare, and includes beautiful things that Portland has to offer besides food, this place just happened to make it to the top of our list today – and for good reason. I think we made some excellent choices at the shop, where they were friendly and fast, and one of the dough-pros let me take his photo with a huge mound of delicious brioche-ness (more on that to come).

  
In the meantime, here’s a sample of the city from the largest independently owned bookstore in the country:

  

Stay tuned for a full account of the trip. Any recos? Feel free to share them below!