Portland, Maine is your quintessential New England coastal town. While Maine may be best known for lobster rolls and lighthouses, Portland has proven itself to be so much more than that. It has a burgeoning arts community, an award-winning culinary scene, and some incredible independent shops.
Portland strikes the perfect balance between laid-back and classy. You can find an upscale cocktail bar just as easily as you can find a hole-in-the-wall bar full of friendly faces. It’s Boston, without the roughness, and with a more small-town feel.
Cobblestone streets round out the coastal vibe, making it a city of both beauty and depth. It is home to an intimate community of conscious establishments, which includes locally-sourcing restaurants, vintage shops, and independent boutiques.
So, without further ado, here is the city guide to the lesser known of the Portlands (though certainly not the lesser).
Eat & Drink
What began as a popular food truck in 2013 has now grown into a fast-casual brick & mortar restaurant. Their Middle Eastern inspired food menu, cocktail focused full bar, and cozy interior make it a favorite among both locals and visitors.
If your body is craving a super-dose of nutrients, Blake Orchard is there to hook you up with cold-pressed juices and the most deliciously satisfying smoothie bowls. Juices are organic, glass-bottled, and made in-house. For something a little more stimulating, their superfood coffee is made with nitro cold brew coffee, homemade chocolate almond mylk. maca, cacao, and raw honey.
One of Portland’s most reputable restaurants, Eventide is especially known for their oysters and their brown butter lobster rolls, which quite literally melt in your mouth. Eventide has an ambiance to match their James Beard Award winning food. The menu changes daily to reflect what’s in season
This coffee shop is tucked away on a cobblestone street just a block from the main drag of downtown Portland. Enjoy an organic coffee and local pastry on one of their rustic wooden tables, and take home an herbal tincture from their apothecary featuring local Maine companies.
Executive Chef Matt Ginn takes local food from Maine and inspiration from the flavors of the Mediterranean, and creates a seasonally changing menu of dishes that are meant to be shared. You’ll be able to try traditional Mediterranean dishes like shakshouka, tabbouleh, and falafel, plus innovative cocktails made from fresh, local ingredients. They offer a vegan and vegetarian tasting menu for $55 per person, with the option to add wine pairing for an extra $35.
Traditional Japanese cuisine sourced straight from the owner’s farm. While the menu focuses on a combination of local vegetables, fresh seafood, and naturally raised meats, vegetarians can enjoy a vegetarian tasting menu for $21 or $35 during lunch and dinner, respectively.
This East Bayside brewery’s tasting room is the perfect place to hang out with friends and enjoy locally crafted beer. Play a round of cornhole on their seasonal patio, or grab a bite to eat from one of their food trucks. And if beer isn’t your thing, they’ve also got a selection of wine, cider, and non-alcoholic beverages.
As a socially and environmentally conscious brewery, Rising Tide’s zero waste initiatives include recycling, community composting, and donating all spent grain and yeast to a local sheep farm. They support a variety of local non-profits and community organizations addressing initiatives such as community economic development, stewardship of Maine’s oceans and rivers, LGBTQ+ issues, and local land trusts.
This community-minded cafe + bakery company has some of the best coffee in town, plus incredible fresh baked goods and an atmosphere that encourages you to linger. You can pick up a KeepCup and a stainless steel straw, which they sell in house in an effort to fight against plastic waste. They have two locations; their original East Bayside location, and their newer West End location which is housed inside an old gas station-turned laundromat.
These potato-based donuts are probably the best donuts I’ve ever tasted in my life. Both fluffy and moist, these sweet treats melt in your mouth. The owner tries to incorporate as many local flavors as possible, and there is always a selection of both seasonal and vegan donuts.
A self-proclaimed “experimental urban farm, fermentation factory, and community engagement hub,” Urban Farm Fermentory brews a variety of fermented products including kombucha, cider, gruit (a type of beer that’s made using a variety of botanicals), and mead- an alcoholic beverage that’s made by fermenting honey with water and fruits. Visit their tasting room to see what seasonal creations they have on tap.
Vinland is the first American restaurant to serve 100% local, organic food. They are also gluten-free and paleo-friendly, and offer a list of natural, biodynamic wines. Vinland’s mission lies in changing the food system in America, from how our food is grown, to how it is transported and how it is disposed of. They argue that the food system should be a closed loop- that is, there should be no waste as a result.
It’s hard to find a restaurant with Vinland’s level of commitment to preserving the integrity of the food system in America. They are inspired by indigenous cultures who live in a natural equilibrium with their land, and this guides Vinland through every business element.
Other restaurants should be taking notes.
What might you find at Find? A carefully selected assortment of second-hand clothing for both men and women, plus re-purposed denim wear by local designer TAKEKO.
This upscale women's boutique and concept shop is a Portland staple, showcasing dozens of independent and eco-conscious brands including Ace & Jig, Lauren Manoogian, Land of Women, and many more.
This bohemian-inspired vintage shop knows just how to feed your hippie soul. Used clothing from the 60's, 70's, and 80's and a huge selection of used vinyls are what draws locals and visitors into this groovy little shop.
This small, whimsical shop stocks a carefully curated assortment of ceramics, candles, local food items, and more. They believe that our everyday items should bring beauty and joy into our homes and lives, and this is immediately evident the second you step foot into their space.
They used to be located in downtown Portland but have moved locations up north to Yarmouth, Maine. I didn't want to take them off the Portland guide, because they're definitely worth the attention. If you are able to, I encourage you to take the short drive up the coast and give them a visit.
Voted Best Vintage & Antiques in Portland for several years in a row, Portland Flea-For-All has everything from vintage clothing to furniture, vinyl, handmade jewelry, and more. It's the best kind of treasure hunt you could hope for.
Head here to stock up on groceries, local specialty food items, craft beer, organic wine, and a nice selection of bulk food items. They also have bulk beauty and household products, like Dr. Bronner's soap and laundry detergent, and bulk cooking oils and vinegars. You can grab a quick lunch, coffee, or kombucha and sit in their cafe.
Portland Trading Co. calls itself a "general store for modern times," stocking a curated assortment of men's and women's clothing and accessories, apothecary, and home goods by New England makers, plus a selection of vintage home goods, books, and other unique items.
Ramblers Way is a family business of three generations, responsibly manufacturing USA-made men's and women's clothing using sustainable textiles like organic wool and pima cotton. Their product line perfectly suits a minimalist's wardrobe, with a focus on high-quality and versatile basics. They purposefully create timeless essentials as a result of their commitment to "encourage customers to lead a lifestyle that consumes less."
Giving back is a major component of their company credo, so they donate 10% of profits to charities dealing with local environmental conservation, human needs, arts, and education.
Empowering the Home Cook is their tagline, and Skordo does just that with their handcrafted, small-batch spice blends, premium ingredients, and curated collection of kitchen accessories and cookbooks. This family-owned business of cooking enthusiasts proclaims "our best memories, most fun times, and dearest moments have occurred while preparing meals in the kitchen or enjoying them around the table."
Oh, sweet disarray. Yes Books is the ultimate book lover's treasure hunt. Uses books are stacked from floor to ceiling in what seem to be no apparent order. But that's what makes this place so much fun!
Things to Do
On the first Friday of every month from 5-8 PM, the arts community opens up their doors to the approximately 3,000 people who head downtown to shop for art from street vendors, visit live performances, and interact with the local community.
Kundalini Yoga, the "yoga of awareness" is less about Lululemon and tricky arm balances, and more about meditation, breathing exercises, and chanting. This beautiful studio has a boutique selling locally-made and eco-friendly products, and also hosts frequent workshops focused on "intelligent living."
Portland Yoga Project is a studio with something for everyone. Classes that include Vinyasa, Yin, Prenatal, Hip Hop, Yoga For Healthy Aging, and even Kids Yoga.
Take a walk, run, or bike ride on Portland's 70 miles of urban trails. The Portland Trails website has an interactive map including all the trails and green spaces at your disposal in the Portland area. You can rent a bike from Gorham Bikes for $35 for the day.