As the leaves turn to brown, crimson, and orange, misty mornings and crisp days call for bundling up in chunky sweaters and sipping steamy mugs of hot cider. With the advent of autumn comes a craving for warm comfort food that nourishes the body and soul. If you plan on heading out of the city to experience the best of New England’s foliage and fall festivities, I recommend a quick trip to Portland, Maine. A coastal hub that embodies quintessential New England—from historic lighthouses to nautical-themed seaside restaurants—Portland has come to be known for its bustling food scene. On a recent overnight trip to Maine’s largest city, a quick survey of Yelp revealed dozens of top-rated restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. With only 24 hours to explore the city’s winding cobblestone streets, I certainly did not leave every stone unturned in Portland. I can, however, confidently attest that nowhere else does fall comfort food like this town.
Breakfast: Local 188
A visit to Local 188 feels like weekend brunch at your neighbor’s house—if your neighbor is a talented Spanish chef. The atmosphere is undeniably cozy: a couch and chairs welcome those waiting to be seated, while tables lining the walls are made extra-comfortable with colorful throw pillows. Coffee is served in mismatched mugs just like those you would find in your grandma’s kitchen, and live plants line the windows. The weekend brunch offerings feature something for everyone; classic eggs with homefries, seasonal scrambles, breakfast paella, huevos rancheros, and breakfast sandwiches, to name just a few. Though the menu consists of staple breakfast foods, Local 188 crafts them to perfection and pays attention to presentation. You may feel as though you could be in your own living room, and yet the food is far from amateur.
Lunch: The Highroller Lobster Co
No trip to Maine would be complete without indulging in some lobster. At first glance, Highroller looks like a retro diner: a red and white color palette, a simple menu in a tidy font, and a striped awning all combine to create a timeless look. Graffiti on the back patio and trendy neon signs add a contemporary twist. As a lobster novice, I opted for the lobster roll and shared “Lobby Pops”—think corn dog, but with lobster—as an appetizer. I wouldn’t call this meal a win for my health, but it certainly did not disappoint my taste buds.
Afternoon Snack: Tandem Coffee + Bakery
Don’t let the line down the block for Tandem Coffee on Congress Street intimidate you—it’s well worth the wait. A converted old-school gas station, Tandem is the mid-century modern coffeehouse of my dreams. The minimalist design allows the coffee and baked goods to truly shine, while providing ample indoor and outdoor space to catch up with friends. The best part of Tandem, however, has to be the friendly staff who go above and beyond to serve their customers. Even amidst the Sunday morning rush, the server asked the family behind me which colored plate their three-year-old daughter would like for her muffin. My heart melted.
Dinner: East Ender
By the time dinner rolled around, I had caught on to a common theme among Portland’s restaurants. They all possess an intimate ambience that makes you want to curl up in a blanket right in the middle of the main course. This quaint and warm environment certainly extends to East Ender, a new American restaurant that capitalizes on Portland’s historic charm. The two-floor restaurant features unimposing wooden tables and tufted booths, with antique curios and photos adorning the walls. A dark wooden bar and scattered chandeliers complete the homey look. I opted for the classic fish and chips as my main course, and I would do so again in a heartbeat.
Dessert: Bar of Chocolate
I wrapped up my whirlwind Portland food tour at a dessert bar tucked away on Wharf Street. Unlike the famed Chocolate Bar of BC (as my friends and I accidentally referred to it), Bar of Chocolate serves up specialty martinis, ports, and dessert wines alongside sweet indulgences like cheesecake and chocolate torte. The dark mood lighting and soft music made for the perfect setting to end the trip and fill up on some truly decadent drinks and desserts. I might even venture to say that we saved the best spot for last.
Photo: Visit Portland