With every year seemingly bringing more media attention and industry awards than the year before, Portland, Maine’s culinary star has been on the rise for well over a decade. Among the scores of downtown Portland restaurants, you can find standout Italian, pan-Asian, tapas, Texas barbecue, pub grub, farm-to-table eateries, and more. But even as its palate diversifies, Portland — ranked as Maine’s busiest commercial fishing port — is and always will be a seafood town. So if you’re looking for the freshest catch prepared by the savviest chefs, check out our five picks for some of the best seafood in Portland, Maine.
Though they had modest expectations for their “little local spot” when they opened Eventide in 2012, chef-owners Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor, along with co-owner and GM Arlin Smith, had an almost-instant hit on their hands. Business has been booming, and accolades have included James Beard Award nominations three years running — but most impressive may be the fact that in 2017, Eventide exported its sophisticated take on seafood-shack cooking to Boston when it opened Eventide Fenway. The showstopper at its Portland home base is the old-fashioned raw bar, packed with pristine oysters on the half shell (many pulled from Maine waters) and presented on a massive slab of Maine granite; however, we recommend leaving room for Eventide’s famous brown butter lobster roll, served on a house-made steamed bun.
In one of the most anticipated openings on the Portland dining scene, Scales debuted on the refurbished Maine Wharf in 2016. Part of the reason for the buzz? This update on the traditional American seafood house is a sister restaurant to the award-winning Portland dining destinations Fore Street and Street & Co. With seating for about 140, it’s among Portland’s largest restaurants, yet it doesn’t feel cramped, thanks to its bright and airy layout and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer scene-setting views of the working waterfront. As for the seasonally changing menu, expect a lot of New England classics with a twist: fish and chips with smoked jalapeno aioli, for instance, and a fish and shellfish stew sprinkled with orange zest and fennel fronds. Scales earns bonus points for indulgent desserts that receive rave reviews all on their own.
With its large, old-fashioned sign by the front door proclaiming “Seafood chowder in a bread bowl — it’s a meal!” Gilbert’s is clearly high on its signature dish, and rightfully so: The chowder at this Commercial Street hole-in-the-wall is fragrant and rich without being fancy, and packed with succulent meat. Traditionalists can choose from clam, fish, seafood, or “super seafood” (double the portion of meat); for a spicier twist, there’s a lobster chili on offer, too. All are available in cups or, yes, that touted bread bowl. Gilbert’s also has the other basics covered, with fried fish sandwiches, crabmeat and lobster rolls, and a variety of fried seafood platters.
Though not technically a seafood restaurant, sushi specialist Miyake endears itself to fish and shellfish lovers with its expertly prepared dishes highlighting the bounty of the ocean. Under the guidance of acclaimed founding chef Masa Miyake (who also oversees a top-notch ramen eatery, Pai Men Miyake), the team of chefs here turns out some of the best sushi in Portland, including jewel-like sashimi and nigiri made of everything from salmon and tuna to lobster and yellowtail. If raw just isn’t your thing, Miyake can turn up the heat without missing a step: Cooked dishes here may include seared Maine scallops with kinome miso, Bangs Island mussels steamed in sake and dashi, and tempura-fried flounder wrapped in nori. If you come for dinner, you can order à la carte or make menu selections for a four-course meal; however, we recommend splurging on the omakase, or chef’s tasting menu, at least once.
The fact that J’s Oyster celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017 is proof that it’s got the recipe for success. Loved by locals and sought out by tourists, this seafood joint located in a no-frills building on Portland Pier has a true neighborhood vibe — one that immediately impressed food celeb Anthony Bourdain on a 2011 visit (“It’s a place that I loved within two seconds of walking in the door”). J’s is the place to go to gorge on buckets of steamed clams and platters of fresh oysters, although it also serves a mean chowder (both clam and haddock), steamed dinners, a number of filling pasta-based seafood entrées such as shrimp marinara and lobster scampi, and more.
What are your picks for the best seafood in Portland, Maine? Let us know in the comments!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.