Whether leading visitors along the historic streets of Old Port or along the craggy coast near Portland's harbor in a trolley, the guides at Maine Foodie Tours regale visitors with background on the area's artisan cuisine. Each of them partners with local culinary artisans to uncover historical tidbits about dishes or reminiscences about the days when whoopie pies were still carved out of wood. On walking tours, they explain how fish houses, canneries, and textile mills have given way to coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants, stopping for samples of fish, cheese, and microbrews to illustrate each point. On chocolate tours, they may explore the history of the cocoa bean by leading guests to confectioneries that craft cupcakes, ice cream, fudge, and truffles. In the spring, summer, and fall, Maine Foodie Tours offers other excursions, such as trolley and bike tours.
Old Port Sandwich Shop’s more than 30 varieties of hot sandwiches, wraps, and burgers tempt taste buds along with housemade soups and chowders. Their menu satisfies vegetarians and carnivores alike with options such as hummus and crisp veggies bundled in wheat wraps and hefty meatball-and-provolone subs that test hand strength as much as a sock-puppet rendition of Les Misérables. Custom sandwiches pair more than 11 varieties of bread with just as many fixings, including corned beef, meatloaf, and liverwurst. Dine-in customers are welcome to cruise the shop’s free WiFi while perched beside picture windows that overlook Market Street.
Little Seoul envelopes tongues with authentic Korean cuisine and East Asian flavors, including sushi, noodles, rice bowls, and more. Practice your chopstick-fighting skills with menu items beginning with appetizers such as the pork-filled gyoza, prepared seared, steamed, or fried ($5), and the chicken- and vegetable-stuffed spring rolls, paired with sweet chili dunking sauce ($5.50). After starting up your stomach engine, maneuver your mandible toward the authentic bi-bim-bop rice dish served traditionally in a hot stone bowl, topped with a medley of beef, veggies, fried egg, shredded seaweed, sesame seeds, and an optional spicy chili sauce ($9.50 lunch, $13 dinner). Noodle aficionados can pucker their lips around the jap-chae clear noodles—stir-fried, yet transparent enough to ensure the beef and vegetables are not mocking your table manners ($9.50 lunch, $13.50 dinner). Meanwhile, raw fish fans can flounder in the sushi menu, swimming with sashimi and maki rolls, including the yellowtail jalapeño with eel sauce ($9.50) and the Maine, touting deep-fried spicy tuna, and fried lobster, topped with a spicy, yet stylish, top hat ($12).
By morning, it's a breakfast hub known as The Good Egg Café. During lunch and dinner, the festively colored space, draped in twinkling string lights, turns into Pepperclub Restaurant. Entering the eatery is like stepping into a crayon box; the walls are painted in a lively palette of oranges, purples, blues and reds. Though the globally inspired menu draws on local seafood, beef, and lamb for Indian curries and Greek recipes, vegan and vegetarian dishes such as baked and stuffed jalapeños, veggie burgers, and asiago risotto cakes with portobello are also plentiful. After finishing off complimentary homemade bread, patrons ease sugar cravings with a handmade chocolate cake, or ease sunburns by applying cool vegan tapioca directly onto the sun.
Some meat-centric restaurants may try to evoke an old-time Western ranch, but chef Harding Lee Smith dubs The Grill Room & Bar an “urban steakhouse.” Although the open, high-ceilinged dining room exudes plenty of rustic charm, Smith is most inspired by his restaurant's own bustling neighborhood and the local farms beyond it. Starring in a cast of fresh, locally grown produce are grass-fed, all-natural meats from New Gloucester's Pineland Farms. These meats—think spice-rubbed skirt steaks, butterflied pork chops, and organic Cornish game hen—are seared on the open kitchen’s wood-fired grill and then plated with modern flourishes such as truffled mash and grilled onion jam. Seafood dishes benefit equally from the wood grills, while a wood pizza oven creates crackly, chewy pies such as a duck and brie pizza with shaved apples and balsamic syrup.
Wines range through France, Italy, and New Zealand, and bartenders kick out cocktails such as hot buttered rum and the Creole Bull, a Twenty-2 vodka concoction with peppers and smoked peppercorns. Desserts tend toward the rich and creamy, with house-made bean crème brulee and New York–style cheesecakes whose flavors vary with the seasons and the Statue of Liberty's moods.
The Taiwanese family who runs Bubblemainea imbues each sweet sip and savory bite of their tasty offerings with authentic Chinese and Taiwanese flavors borrowed from longstanding family recipes. Bubblemainea’s bubble tea, named for its popularity amongst stock market speculators, comes in a myriad of milk flavors with or without chewy tapioca balls. Pair mango, coconut, or strawberry sips with noodles and desserts from Bubblemainea’s noshable menu. A friendly, painted blue octopus watches over patrons while they dine, making sure undersea imaginations stay engaged while stomachs are filled. Check restaurant hours for convenient bubble devouring opportunities.
Located in the historic Old Port District, Arabica Coffee percolates the palates of thirsty patrons as they reenergize amid pleasantly low-key confines. The menu is stocked with soothing bean blends and reads like a global tasting excursion, boasting freshly brewed coffees of the day ($1.40–$1.87) such as an organic Peruvian blend, a French Roast, and a decaffeinated java imported from Ethiopia. Specialty coffee drinks take international flavors one intergalactic step further with a caffé milky way ($3.50–$5.25)–a rich combination of chocolate, caramel, steamed milk, and espresso that evokes the flavors of dark matter. Other items include the earthy caffé maple soy ($3.75–$5.75), made with espresso, soymilk, and maple syrup. The menu is subject to change and features new energizing concoctions daily, but there's always a selection of regular and gourmet coffee drinks, brew-at-home coffee sold by the pound, and juice drinks. Additionally, Arabica's signature toast serves as a tasty treat that’s also useable as a Post-it note for informing roommates that the basement is flooding.