By Joe Riccio
I’m often at my most content while hunkered down on one of Local 188’s comfortable bar stools, drinking a bottle of Riesling and wolfing down a plate of chicken livers with shallots. One of Portland’s most interesting and well-thought-out drink lists, not to mention an excellent staff, complement Jay Villani’s Spanish-influenced cuisine that most people in this town have come to know and love.
685 Congress St. | 207.761.7909
Downeast Beverage Co.
The many years I’ve spent off and on behind the counter here are definitely to blame for my staggeringly high tolerance of alcohol. I was truly a kid in a candy shop, surrounded by an extensive selection of wines, beers, cigars, and liquor—not to mention a little cooler filled with Rumple Minze airplane bottles.
79 Commercial St. | 207.828.2337
There are few things in life that I can relate to my grandmother about, but Micucci’s is one of them. For sixty years, people have been shopping here for the best in imported Italian food. The addition of baker Stephen Lanzalotta and his legendary Sicilian slab pizza will keep them coming for many more.
45 India St. | 207.775.1854
People are often thrown off by the “Brit-Indi” label, but let me set the record straight: if you love Indian food, you will love Haggarty’s. Highlights are the chicken tikka with either the Ceylonese korma or chasne (mango curry) sauce. The fact that they deliver just puts me over the edge, to the point where I just can’t stop clapping and smiling.
849 Forest Ave. | 207.761.8222
One of the best meals in Portland is their enchiladas Salvadorenas with tongue, a cheese pupusa, and a Pacifico. Great Salvadoran fare and consistently friendly service have made me a die-hard regular for years. They also offer menudo, a tripe stew that’s custom designed to cure hangovers, but on Sundays only.
70 Washington Ave. | 207.828.4971
I’m obsessed with pho, as I believe it’s one of the most comforting and restorative foods in existence. They make the best, with a rich broth, pronounced aromatics, and plenty of sawtooth herbs. There is also an appreciation for those, such as myself, who have a passion for the “nasty bits” (tripe, pig’s feet, blood cakes, etc.).
795 Forest Ave. | 207.874.6666
Thanh Thanh 2
Of the things at Thanh Thanh 2 that keep me coming back, foremost is the caramelized pork entrée and the rare beef salad. And almost every time I come here I’m treated to the Muzak version of Whitney Houston’s theme song from “The Bodyguard,” which I’ve now grown to love.
782 Forest Ave. | 207.828.1114
Mike Heathers, a longtime member of the Portland food scene, returns and wins me over once again by wrapping his signature Baja Dog in bacon and covering it with Latin crema. Also not to be missed is the mixta, a beef hot dog nestled in a tortilla with guacamole, jalapenos, and more wonderfully delicious crema.
Otto Pizza / Enzo Wine Bar
Not only is their thin-crust pizza delicious and made with quality ingredients, it’s also available late at night—and, unlike other local options available at that hour, it won’t make you feel like hell the next day. You can also enjoy several Morettis on draft at Enzo, their new wine bar located next door, but I can’t make the same guarantee on how you’ll feel the morning after.
576 Congress St. | 207.773.7099
Since opening in 2005, Caiola’s has become a true West End staple, with a menu covering a broad range of food styles, from classic comfort food to more modern fare. Their Sunday brunch has developed a cult-like following and is generally referred to as the “best in Portland.” If you go, I insist that you try the “Lost Bread.”
58 Pine St. | 207.772.1110
Of all the places I’ve worked in my life, more people have told me after eating here that they had the best food they’ve ever had. There are a lot of options for Japanese cuisine and sushi in town, but you need to experience Miyake to appreciate the difference. The fact that it’s BYOB gives you much more flexibility than a wine list and is a much better value.
129 Spring St. | 207.871.9170
A great dive bar that serves the coldest bottled beer around and delicious pizza in one size only. It has become many things to me over the years—a place for late-night eats, a hideaway in the middle of the day, and the perfect spot to celebrate getting out of jail.
940 Congress St. | 207.774.1777
On those days when I simply don’t want to take the risk of being disappointed, this is where I go. The food always makes me feel good here, whether I’m out with friends for lunch or flying solo while having a morning so rough that I look like I slept in a ditch the night before.
703 Congress St. | 207.692.2145
It amazes me that there are so many options for Thai food in the city, and yet nothing stands out as being exceptional—except for Boda. The inspired street-vendor-style menu makes it a great place to sample a little bit of everything, accompanied by several bottles of cold vinho verde. It’s open late, making it perfect for restaurant workers who in the past have had to settle on Dominoes for post-shift sustenance.
671 Congress St. | 207.347.7557
If you’re looking for a cheesy Irish Disneyland kind of experience, this is not the bar for you. If you’re ready to accept things the way they are and hunker down for some drinking, this is the place you’re looking for. Colorful regulars, great bartenders, and wine served up in juice glasses are among several features that make this a great bar.
223 Congress St. | 207.772.6839
Po’ Boys & Pickles
There are certain places that, if I weren’t careful, I might end up going to every day, and this is one of them—even those from New Orleans can agree that the attention to detail here is spot-on. The fried shrimp po’ boy with a bowl of gumbo, followed by a key-lime milkshake and macaroon for dessert make me very happy that I live so close so I can easily take a nap after consumption.
1124 Forest Ave. | 207.518.9735
Novare Res Bier Café
Bars don’t have to compromise the integrity of their beer list by filling it with generic, mediocre selections to “please the masses,” and no one executes this more beautifully than Novare Res. The enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff make navigating their extensive selection a fun learning experience. Maybe you’ll even discover that you don’t “only drink Miller Light” after all?
4 Canal Plz. | 207.761.2437