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Eat Like a Local: Portland, Maine

Alex Van Buren

For Yahoo Food’s summer travel series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

Eat Like a Local: Portland, Maine

Does it get more Maine than this? Photo credit: Kiley Hill, BiteintoMaine, Facebook

As is true of its northwesterly counterpart in Oregon, few places are more livable than Portland, Maine in August. At once craggy and breezy, beachy and sunny, it’s a knockout little town with great beer, fantastic seafood, sweetly churlish New Englanders (hey, takes one to know one), and sprawling sunsets. We wrangled favorite eating and drinking spots from two writers for the Portland Phoenix, restaurant critic Brian Duff and food columnist Kate McCarty.

Best Maine-Style (Obviously) Lobster Roll: Bite Into Maine

A short cab ride or drive out of the city’s center, you’ll find Fort Williams and its pretty little lobster roll truck. Park yourself at a nearby picnic table, gaze out at the roiling waters, drink blueberry beer, and get your Maine on. Although you could get the “Connecticut”-style with buttered, hot lobster meat, McCarty would pick “of course, the Maine-style: cold, lightly dressed with mayo, on a buttered, griddled bun.” (1000 Shore Rd., Cape Elizabeth, ME; 916-443-3772)

Best Coffee for Snobs: Tandem Coffee

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Photo credit: Tandem Coffee

Serious coffee lovers should head to East Bayside for this small cafe and roastery run by several Blue Bottle Coffee alums. It’s “tiny, no wifi, only a pour-over bar and an espresso machine,” McCarty warns, but the upside is that there’s also “no one on laptops, and the owners are there all the time,” so you can mix and mingle with locals. The décor is “stark and modern in a bright way,” so if you’re into that sort of thing, this is a smart stopoff before wandering the town. (122 Anderson St.; Portland, ME; 207-899-0235)

Best Cinnamon Rolls on Steroids: Standard Baking Co.

You’ve got coffee, now you need pastry, and good ones are only a brisk 15-minute walk away from Tandem. This “very friendly” European-style bakery sells morning buns that are so aromatic, plush, and delicious that McCarty describes them as “cinnamon rolls on steroids.” Uh, yum. (75 Commercial St.; Portland, ME; 207-773-2112)

Best “Fancy” Meal Out: Central Provisions

It’s the “deceptively simple” bread-and-butter course you don’t want to miss at this upscale eatery (“upscale” for Maine.. so Tevas are still totally fine). That bread costs $7 and comes with tempered whipped duck egg yolk and nasturtium butter. McCarty laughs that Mainers initially complained, “we’re not paying $7 for bread and butter,” but have since had a change of heart. (It’s just that good.) Expect a seasonal, eclectic menu and a trendy “kind of industrial meets rustic” vibe thanks to a historic building, exposed brick, lot of wood, and burlap bags covering stools. The place to sit? The bar, so you can see the cooks at work. (414 Fore St.; Portland, ME; 207-805-1085)

Best… BBQ?! Salvage BBQ

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Matthew Robbins Photography for Salvage BBQ. 

Yes, Maine has good BBQ, too. Carnivores—including those with kids, as it’s super-kid-friendly—should check out Salvage BBQ. The joint has ginormous, delicious pork ribs (you want to douse them in the ketchup-based, sweet Kansas City sauce, says McCarty), and the mac ‘n cheese is good ‘n creamy. Expect live music on Saturday nights and plenty of local brews on tap. (19 Congress St.; 207-553-2100) 

Best Way to Drink All the Local Brewskies: East Bayside

“A fun afternoon activity is to tour the breweries and wineries in East Bayside,” says McCarty, starting at Maine Mead Works on Washington Avenue (where the sample seasonal meads include strawberry and blueberry), then rolling over to Rising Tide Brewing to sample the citrusy, malty Maine Island Trail , eventually ending at Urban Farm Fermentory, where they make, laughs McCarty, “dry ‘cidahs,’ meads, and kombuchas.” Either do your own walk or hop on the brew bus—really; the Maine Brew Bus exist. (www.themainbrewbus.com207-200-9111 ) 

Best Meal on the Farm: The Well at Jordan’s Farm

A 15-minute drive outside the city is a cash-only “restaurant” that’s really a picnic table situated in a garden. Dine surrounded by herbs and vegetables on dishes such as a “seared hake with crispy skin over local in-season veggies,” says McCarty. The menu changes daily, depending on what the chef plucks from the garden. Yep, the one you’re sitting in! (21 Wells Rd.; Cape Elizabeth, ME; 207-831-9350) 

Best Weird Food Truck Burger: Small Axe Truck

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Photo credit: Small Axe Truck

You’re in Portland, Maine, and it’s summer. Eat outside! This food truck comes replete with two chefs—Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy—who have worked at some of the best restaurants in town, says McCarty. The burgers are pleasantly weird: try the cold-smoked beef burger with blistered shishito peppers on a brioche roll. (smallaxetruck.com)

Best Tourist Traps Worth the Wait: Duckfat and Eventide Oyster Co.

Of these two casual haunts, both of which have garnered national press, you need to hit… well, both, insists McCarty. Duckfat is run by a James Beard Award-winning chef Rob Evans and is known for its Belgian-style fries crisped up in (what else?) duck fat. Eventide, on the other hand, is seafood-centric to the max. Order “raw oysters (over 20 varieties), lobster or fried oysters on steamed buns, and any of the special cold seafood plates.” (Duckfat43 Middle St., Portland, ME; 207-774-8080; Eventide Oyster Co.: 86 Middle St.; Portland, ME; 207-774-8538) 

At both, pro tip: Beat the crowds by going “early for lunch or early at happy hour.” Gotta trust a gal with so much faith in her town she wrote a book about it. So go forth, and eat like a Mainer