The food scene in Portland outdid itself once again last year with plenty of new openings and the continued excellence of many of the city’s existing establishments. And while we tried our best to continue eating our way through town, keeping up proved to be a very tough undertaking. It’d be almost impossible to list all of our favorites, but from our meals of the past year, here are a few of the memorable ones that stood out to the two of us.
Michael & Meredith: There’s no question that our favorite place for drinks this year was Hunt & Alpine. Between Meredith’s standby, the White Noise, and mine, the Chilton County and the Toronto, I don’t know that you could find many better drinks – anywhere.
Michael: More than one person insisted we try the melanzane – roasted eggplant, sicilian oregano, and smoked ricotta – at Piccolo. If you are one of those people, thank you, it was every bit as good as you promised.
Meredith: Whitney, a reader who commented on our Portland in 10 Bites post, became our new favorite person this summer when she suggested we try the hamayaki from Pai Men Miyake. The decadent crab & scallop dish quickly became a favorite of ours, too!
Michael: The salmon I ordered early this year at Bar Lola was hands-down the best dish I had all year. It’s easy to mess salmon up by trying to get fancy and forgetting the basics, but this fillet was simple, fresh, and seared to perfection.
Meredith: The pan-seared hake on black rice with carrots in a lemon butter sauce at The Well takes the cake for me!
Michael: If you’ve talked to me at all about desserts in the past few months, you already know my answer to this one. The Wine & Cheese from Piccolo was one of the more creative and delicious sweets I’ve ever enjoyed, and I just can’t stop raving about it.
Meredith: One should always make room for a Duckfat milkshake! On a recent visit, the couple we were dining with started with one, and I think I might make that my own tradition.
Michael: When I want to start my day with an indulgence, I head over to Little Bigs, where I can’t stop myself from ordering half a dozen more donuts than I should be able to eat – and then I prove myself wrong, eating every last one.
Meredith: We count ourselves among the lucky Willard Beach residents who can smell the sweetness of Scratch Baking Co. right from our home. The croissants, bagels, almond cookies, scones, muffins – when you live across the street from a bakery, there’s not much you haven’t tried – are all on our regular rotation of morning treats.
Michael: This one is a fun selection because of how unusual it is (especially for a brunch traditionalist like myself). The Okono Miyake at Pai Men Miyake is a pancake on savory steroids – pork, cabbage, scallions, and fried egg come together to make any buttermilk fan rethink their stance.
Meredith: We were so totally committed to the Southern-inspired brunch that Small Axe served one Saturday morning, that we happily sat right out in the rain while cleaning our plates. The succotash grits made me feel as though I was back down South!
Dining with Orvis
Michael & Meredith: There are few things that make us happier than enjoying a good meal with our buddy, and sitting outside with him at The Well is possibly one of the best examples of this. Not only is there plenty of space for him to settle down, the staff loves to see him, and as I’m sure you’ll read elsewhere in this post, the meals are fantastic.
Michael: Salvage BBQ serves heaping portions of delicious Carolina pulled pork, brisket, collard greens, hushpuppies, and Cheerwine. I’ll leave it at that.
Meredith: During our first visit to Empire the kitchen unfortunately ran out of the spinach dumplings, but we had it on good authority that they were the best of the dim sum dumplings, so we were determined to try them on our next outing. As predicted, the spinach dumplings moved to the tip top of my list of Empire favorites the moment I took my first bite.
Michael & Meredith: When you’re looking for a late night bite, it’s hard to pass-up on a gourmet hot dog, tater tots, and brussels sprouts from Blue Rooster Food Co. In fact, the only part of that equation that isn’t a must is the late night – Blue Rooster is always delicious.
Food Truck Meal
Michael: Meredith and I built a Saturday morning tradition around Small Axe Truck bowls and Tandem Coffee, but in my book, no matter the meal, Small Axe can do no wrong.
Meredith: Applewood smoked bacon, maple mayo, green apples, and cheddar. Really, what more is there to say about the amazing Mainah Burger from Mainely Burgers?
Michael: The open space, natural light, and details like the hanging succulents make Empire Chinese Kitchen one of the more interesting new spaces in town. As soon as I walk through the door, I feel at ease in a place where I could stay awhile.
Meredith: Andrew & Briana Volk have done an outstanding job designing the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club. A clean, modern interior with dark wood accents, Eames furnishings, and details like the stamped leather drink menus and the map-printed house menus & coasters make their space on Market Street one of the best looking spots in Portland.
Michael: For my birthday this year, Meredith took me to Eventide for cocktails and oysters. The evening was an unforgettable one, filled with great food, drinks, and laughs.
Meredith: Having a meal at The Well is a special experience. You’re eating exceptional food in a unpretentious setting at a picnic table on a farm. While drinking a favorite bottle of wine (from your own collection), you can watch the colors change in the dusk sky, and have a delightful conversation with other friendly patrons. There’s nothing else like it.
Michael: This is a bittersweet category, because when I think of my favorite meal, start to finish, from this past year, our dinner at the now-closed Bar Lola immediately comes to mind. Each course, from the pimiento cheese, to the seared salmon, to the almond tart was simply unbelievable.
Meredith: I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but until you’ve tried a meal at The Well, you’re missing out. We’ve never had a dish we didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and for not being a bakery, their bread is easily some of the best in town.
Sometimes with Portland food, it feels like a list like this can only begin scratch the surface. If you’re looking for more of our Portland favorites, we still stand by last year’s Best of 2012, and of course don’t hesitate to check out our favorite 10 dishes in Portland, Maine or our top 10 Portland brunches!
Also, a big thanks to our readers that made suggestions on posts, twitter, and facebook this year – a number of those restaurants and dishes (both in and out of Portland) found their way onto our radar, and quite a few became our favorites! If you have any suggestions for places we should visit or dishes we should try for this coming year, please leave a comment for us below!