Fishing guide

A Philadelphia Guide to Vacationing in Portland, Maine

Farm-to-table gems, craft beer, lobster rolls galore – this Portland is much closer to my home.

Steamed lobster dinner at Luke’s Lobster on Portland Pier / Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

If your first thought when you hear “Portland” is the West Coast version, you’re missing one much closer to home. The coastal city about a six-hour drive from Philadelphia is home to a surprisingly vibrant foodie scene. With thriving local farms and seafood purveyors, an influx of talented chefs from cities like Boston and DC, and a supportive, year-round hungry community, the city is proving that Maine cuisine is more only blueberry pie and lobster rolls (although you can get those too!).

In the morning, line up at Tandem Coffee and Bakery for a latte and homemade cinnamon roll. For a great sit-down breakfast, head to Hot Suppa for southern-inspired dishes like shrimp and grits and fried chicken with buttermilk waffles. At Holy Donut, pick up a few potato-based treats, which add a pleasantly dense texture to flavors like Honey Lavender and Sweet Potato Glazed Ginger.

In the afternoon, get busy sampling seafood, starting with Luke’s Lobster for lobsters, steamed or stuffed in buns, outdoors on Portland Pier. For outdoor local oysters, head to Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room or Eventide Oyster Co. Nearby, the Shop by Island Creek Oyster wholesales to restaurants, but there’s also a curated menu of local oysters with canned fish, caviar and small plates (scallop crudo with spicy seaweed) to nibble on the tables outside (along with a chilled bottle of white).

The Tasting Room at Oxbow Blending & Bottling / Photograph by Bret LaBelle

On the town’s East Boardwalk – a 78-acre park with stunning views of Casco Bay – you’ll find a playground, community garden, boat launch and food trucks that cover it all, from the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck, to artisanal black bean burgers with smoked vegan gouda, to Maine Maple Creemee Co., an essentially soft New England delicacy infused with maple syrup. Grab a lunch and feast at one of the park’s many picnic tables overlooking the water.

For dinner, make a reservation at Fore Street, where the city’s culinary renaissance began 25 years ago. These days, the restaurant is more popular than ever, locally sourcing wood-grilled squid and steaks, fresh breads and craft cocktails. Izakaya Minato serves classic Japanese dishes as well as bites like bacon-wrapped mochi and grilled motoyaki oysters with miso cream and ponzu. Or pair a bottle of sake with the $40 omakase. At Scales, it’s hard to save room for dessert with the robust fish and shellfish menu, but do your best for treats like baked Alaska, butterscotch sundae with whisk maple syrup and homemade ice cream. Don’t miss Twelve, the highly anticipated waterfront restaurant created by Chef Colin Wyatt and Daniel Gorlas, of New York’s Eleven Madison and Per Se respectively.

For a slightly more casual meal, head to Baharat, a brick-and-mortar food truck that specializes in Middle Eastern dishes like mezes and lamb kofta plates. Duckfat is an all-day cafe with salads, small plates and poutine smothered in duck fat sauce.

Portland is also brimming with top-notch breweries, so make time to visit a few, including Bissell Brothers Brewing, to drink flagship The Substance IPA in a century-old railroad building; Oxbow Blending & Bottling, for sours aged in barrels and with spontaneous fermentation; and, just outside of town, Allagash Brewing Company, for a taste of Maine’s original craft beers.

And while you’re at it…explore the great outdoors

You can’t go to Maine without swimming in nature.

Under Canvas Acadia glamping resort in Maine / Photo courtesy of Under Canvas Acadia

The great state of Maine has nearly 3,500 miles of coastline (more than California!), so finding your own piece of paradise is easy. Off the coast, three hours north of Portland, Mount Desert Island is home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Also on the island is Northeast Harbor, a town that once welcomed so many summer visitors to Philadelphia that it was called “Philadelphia on the Rocks.”

Set up camp on the mainland at Under Canvas Acadia (rates from $459), a 100-acre waterfront oasis where private safari-inspired tents come with en-suite bathrooms and Western furnishings. Elm, while the fun includes morning yoga, live music and nightly s’mores. Stock up on coffee, Belgian waffles, cookies and homemade gravy at Sylvia’s Cafe.

Acadia pro tip: Buy a $30 pass online before you arrive and display it on your dashboard; it’s good for seven days and covers everyone in your car. Once inside, take the 27-mile Park Loop Road to explore the east side of the island. Sand Beach is a rare sandy cove (most Maine beaches are rocky) perfect for a quick swim. Also on the loop, Maine’s landmark Thunder Hole shows up with every wave, all spray, foam and roar.

Break for lunch before heading out on some of Acadia’s 150 miles of trails. Reserve a waterside table at the historic Jordan Pond House, where hikers can order homemade popovers with butter and local strawberry jam, as well as salads and sandwiches.

In the afternoon, visit Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, atop a rocky cliff in western Acadia. (It’s also a popular place to watch the sunset, but there aren’t many parking spaces, so get there early.)

Spend the early evening strolling Bar Harbor; the quaint coastal community is home to restaurants, cafes and shops. Havana specializes in local seafood with a Latin twist and has an award-winning wine list. At Fogtown Brewing Company, find wood-fired pizzas and craft beers. A second location in Ellsworth, near Under Canvas, has a beer garden. Also nearby, Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar serves Maine wild blueberry swirls.

Take the time to get out on the water. Under Canvas offers adventures that include a private oyster aquaculture boat tour highlighting Maine’s fastest growing marine industry, as well as freshly shucked oysters. Or bring binoculars on an excursion with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., for the chance to see whales, dolphins and other marine life in the open sea.

>> Click here for more summer vacations from Philadelphia.

Published as “If you missed exploring another city’s food scene…” in the June 2022 issue of philadelphia cream magazine.