In late spring, I sat at a table at 11 Central in Bangor and dug into a pile of tender gnocchi. Over the summer, John Holyoke and I ate sandwiches from a Millinocket deli while looking for moose (spoiler: we didn’t find any). When fall rolled around, I gathered with friends in Portland for piles of comfort food from restaurants all over the city. And now that winter is here, I recently sipped hot cocoa all over downtown Bangor.
As the senior features editor of the Bangor Daily News, my job includes overseeing our food coverage here in Maine. From home cooking to farmers markets to the restaurant scene, we cover as much as we can. And, given my interest in good food, I also eat out a lot. That lets me keep tabs on the food happenings around the state.
What you might not know is that I only set foot in Maine for the first time in April. So this year has been a year of Maine food discovery for me. From Portland to Orono, the county to the lakes region, I have eaten at countless restaurants, cafes, delis, corner stores and shacks. Not only do I like trying new things, but it also helps me keep a pulse on the food scene here.
When I look back at my time in Maine this year, a few dishes really stand out. Here are the 8 best things I ate in Maine this year, in no particular order.
Linguine with Red Clam Sauce at Street and Company in Portland
Good company. An intimate setting. Robust wine. Dinner at Street and Company with friends old and new in September was set up for success before we even ordered. During our lively pre-meal discussion, Ron Botting, a Portland actor and director who most recently played Scrooge in Portland Stage Company’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” suggest several dishes, including the red clam sauce, which he said was particularly well-done. It’s a dish that I rarely order out anymore — I’ve eaten so much of it, and it’s rarely exciting enough. But that night I decided to give it a try — and it didn’t disappoint. With an abundance of garlic, basil and tomatoes mingling with perfectly al dente linguine and littleneck clams, this dish was packed with flavor. Though the Lobster Diavolo, a dish intended to be shared, is often mentioned as a must-try, the red clam sauce is worth a spot in the limelight too.
Donair at Friar’s Bakehouse in Bangor
When Emily Burnham first told me about the Donair at Friar’s Bakehouse in Bangor, I wasn’t sure about it. But I am always up for trying new things. Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying to order one (Friar’s changes its menu daily, but typically serves these on Thursdays and Fridays — and they often sell out early), I finally had one. The monstrous sandwich is served on the fluffiest, spongiest bread. Inside are layers of seasoned, thinly sliced meat (think somewhere between meatloaf and a gyro), lettuce, tomato and a creamy, garlicky sauce. One bite, and I knew why these babies are so popular: It’s heavenly.
Lobster BLT at McLaughlin’s at the Marina in Hampden
On a trip north, just weeks before moving to Maine in late June, I met a few BDN staffers for lunch at McLaughlin’s at the Marina in Hampden. The day was chilly, rainy and overcast, but the restaurant made a bright impression with its good food. I ordered the towering Lobster BLT sandwich, a delicious combination of sweet lobster, salty bacon, peppery arugula, sweet tomato and creamy avocado, which is served only at lunchtime. The resulting sandwich was fresh and succulent — a savory treat. And on a clear day, the setting — this restaurant is located on the banks of the Penobscot River — is amazing too.
Chili at Seasons in Bangor
Oh, how I love a good bowl of chili on a crisp day. That’s what led Emily Burnham and I to set out to find the best chili in Bangor. What I didn’t expect was to find a chili so good that more than a month later, I am still thinking about it. From the tender, shredded beef to the crispy fried jalapeños on top, this chili was a symphony of flavors and textures. Well worth a stop in.
X-Hot Wings at Cancun in Waterville
When it comes to wings, I like ’em hot and saucy. But they can’t be hot for the sake of being hot — the sauce has to have a depth of flavor that makes the spice-factor a bonus. That said, I wasn’t expecting to love spicy wings from a Mexican restaurant in Waterville. I mean — wings? Not exactly a south of the border specialty, right? But these, ordered crispy with extra sauce, were memorably delicious. Meaty wings, a robust, spicy sauce and a crisp crust … what more could you ask for? And while you are there, order one of their frozen margaritas too. Yum.
Doughnut Holes at Duckfat in Portland
Before I moved to Maine, I had already heard of Portland’s Duckfat. The eatery’s signature fries were on my must-try list. So when I stopped in with friends one September afternoon, that’s what we planned on eating. And those fries? They were delicious — perfectly crispy with a slight richness. But on a whim, I also ordered the Doughnut Holes, which are fried in duck fat and served with a duck fat caramel dipping sauce. I am so glad I did. Warm doughnuts with a crispy outside and soft, spongy inside, were a revelation when dipped in the decadent sauce. Once we’d stuffed ourselves silly, neighboring customers who’d just arrived asked how the doughnuts were … and we had to share the last one — because they are just too good not to taste.
Breakfast Pizza at Giacomo’s in Bangor
One morning whilst rushing to basketball games, my kids and I needed a quick breakfast. The bagel store was closed, so we headed up the street to Giacomo’s, where I figured we’d grab a muffin or something. But when I spied the loaded breakfast pizza slices on the counter, we decided to try that instead. Topped with scrambled eggs, cheese, a tangy tomato sauce, ham and more, it was a vibrant, filling start to our day. And the crust? Awesome.
Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion Pizza at Otto in Portland
There’s just something about the Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion pie at Otto in Portland that captivates. Perhaps it’s that creamy layer of perfectly mashed potatoes or those bits of salty bacon, cheese and zippy scallions. Or maybe it’s the marriage of all of this served on a well-seasoned crust. Whatever it is, this is something to behold.
Even as I finish this list, I am remembering so many other memorable meals that were delicious too. Humble Comfort in Brewer, Unami in Bangor and Harvest Moon in Orono and Bangor all come to mind. It’s been a delicious year — and I can’t wait to try more next year.
So, how about you? What’s the best dishes you’ve eaten in Maine this year? Share in the comments!