When Beth and Peter Richardson are in the mood for mussels and fries, they take a 10-minute walk from their home on Coyle Street in Portland to Woodford Food & Beverage at Woodfords Corner.

The Richardsons have become regulars at the Forest Avenue restaurant, which opened a year and a half ago and looks like a modernized, midcentury diner inside with comfortable leather booths and banquettes and plenty of counter seating. When the couple makes a reservation, the staff knows to save them a booth, and they are served by the same waiter at each visit.

“He says, ‘Beth, cosmo tonight?’ because he knows I love the cosmos that their regular bartender makes,” Beth Richardson said. “There’s that kind of familiarity. They don’t really know us well, but they know we’re regulars, and they engage in a conversation like we’re friends. A lovely sense of community comes out of that.”

Neighborhood restaurants run by well-regarded chefs are opening in some residential areas off the Portland peninsula, which has been the epicenter of the hottest restaurant real estate in the city ever since the food scene started to heat up about 12 years ago. The peninsula is now crowded with more than 70 restaurants of all sizes, not including chains, smaller sandwich shops, pizzerias and pubs.

Five chefs/restaurateurs have opened, or are planning to open, new restaurants in Portland neighborhoods off the peninsula, while others are opting to move out of the city completely.

The drivers of this off-peninsula shift are both practical and cultural.

“You can save $10 a square foot by going a mile away from downtown,” said Nate Stevens, an associate broker with The Boulos Co. who works with a lot of restaurant owners.

OFF PENINSULA, OR OUTSIDE CITY

Available restaurant space in the Old Port is much harder to come by than it was just a couple of years ago. Good locations that do open up can charge a premium on rent if they are restaurant-ready.

While Old Port rents are heading north of $20-$30 per square foot, rents in the Forest Avenue corridor are more like $12-$18 per square foot, said Justin Lamontagne, a broker with The Dunham Group. Lamontagne said there’s “no doubt we’re seeing a new trend of restaurateurs getting rather frustrated” with the Old Port. And they’re not just looking for other restaurant spaces in the city.

“We’re seeing some great restaurants open up in Yarmouth now, and Scarborough’s been really busy,” he said. “So we’ve got no shortage of options off-peninsula now, and I think that’s in everybody’s best interests. As a consumer, I like that.”

From the diner’s perspective, trying to have a nice meal in the Old Port these days can feel more like dodging obstacles on an American Ninja Warrior course than a pleasant evening out. Street parking, especially on a Saturday night in the summer, is practically nonexistent, so cars circle blocks, then circle them again, weaving around bustling pedestrians. Parking rates in some Old Port parking garages have reached $5 per hour, adding a significant surcharge to an already expensive meal.

In summer, at restaurants that don’t take reservations, locals who got in easily over the winter must stand in long lines with tourists to wait for a table.

“My husband works in town, not far from the Old Port,” Beth Richardson said, “and the last thing we want to do is wrestle with the crowds and wait in line.”

Chris and Paige Gould, who opened Tipo in the Back Cove neighborhood in January, have heard similar gripes from their regulars at Central Provisions, a wildly popular restaurant in the heart of the Old Port.

“Our biggest complaint from Maine residents was that they could never get in because there are so many tourists,” Paige Gould said. “They didn’t want to deal with the parking in the Old Port. We heard these complaints time and time again, from a lot of our regulars. So we listened to what they said and decided to do something off the peninsula.”

In addition to Tipo and Woodford F&B, Abilene, a small New American restaurant owned by chefs Travis Colgan and Anna Connolly, opened two years ago at Woodfords Corner. A new local, artisanal bagel shop and cafe called Rose Foods is scheduled to open on Forest Avenue, in the old Brea Lu Café space, in August. At the other end of Forest Avenue, Noble Barbecue, which caterer Ryan Carey expects to open in July in the old Taco Trio spot, will be serving “proper” barbecue sandwiches plated with pickled vegetables, eight local brews, and sides like jalapeño mac-and-cheese and citrus apple slaw.

THREE AREAS WITH BIG POTENTIAL

These new restaurants are not the only food-related businesses moving into the Forest Avenue corridor of the city to take advantage of residents’ appetite for good local food and drink. Juiced, a Maine-based juice and smoothie cafe coming to 561 Forest Ave., will serve kombucha and prosecco on tap, as well as a selection of local beers. Two local entrepreneurs have announced plans to open a new coffee shop called Little Woodfords at 643 Forest Ave., where they plan on “serving up coffee and community.”

And the real estate-and-restaurateur rumor mill says that Bow Street Market in Freeport may be planning a wine bar/restaurant in the 400 block of Forest Avenue. Although owner Adam Nappi would not confirm the rumor, he didn’t deny it either.

“We are always searching for opportunities where we can have a positive impact in Greater Portland,” he said in an email. “Any announcements we make to our current customers or future customers will come through the company’s Facebook page.”

Stevens has identified three Portland neighborhoods he considers up-and-coming hot spots for new restaurants. Two – the St. John Street area and West Bayside – are on the Portland peninsula, but the third one is the Forest Avenue corridor stretching from the peninsula to Woodfords Corner.

“I think it is really going to take off in the next few years,” he said.

Just as Woodford F&B has served as a kind of anchor in that neighborhood, Stevens said, he expects the development outlined in the University of Southern Maine’s master plan proposal, which includes an athletic center and performing arts center, to be a long-term draw for amenities such as restaurants.

But there’s also a new hunger in off-peninsula neighborhoods for quality food served at family-friendly restaurants that are within walking distance – especially as these neighborhoods transition to homeowners of a younger generation. Millennials love to dine out, and expect more from the restaurants they frequent than their parents may have.

“Tipo is a very sophisticated restaurant,” Stevens noted, “but at the same time you feel fine bringing your kids there.”

Unlike restaurants in the Old Port, Tipo has ample parking – eight spots of its own, plus lots of street parking – and some customers even arrive on their bicycles. Chris Gould said that although they do get people driving up from Boston to try the restaurant, many of their customers live right in the neighborhood.

ADOPTING A MIX OF IDENTITIES

At Central Provisions, the customer base is 30 percent locals during summer; at Tipo, locals have made up 75 percent of the business so far. The restaurant has easily been seating 100 people a night, Gould said.

Chad Conley – the owner of Rose Foods, a co-owner of the Palace Diner in Biddeford and a veteran of some of Portland’s better restaurants – said Tipo and Woodford F&B are both good examples of places that serve high-quality food and have “flexible identities”: You can go there later in the evening to linger over a romantic dinner for two, or go right at 5 p.m. with a passel of hungry kids and get served quickly.

Chad Conley plans to open Rose Foods, an artisanal bagel shop and cafe, in August on Forest Avenue. “I want a good neighborhood spot that people can trust is going to be quality-oriented … where I can have regular customers that I can get to know,” Conley said. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

That’s the kind of place he wants Rose Foods to be, too, although it will serve only breakfast and lunch.

“I want to create places that aren’t crazy conceptual and fancy,” he said. “I want a good neighborhood spot that people can trust is going to be quality-oriented, and a place where I can have regular customers that I can get to know.”

Before settling on his location, Conley called Birch Shambaugh and Fayth Preyer, the owners of Woodford F&B, to hear about their experience and to bounce his deli idea off of them.

“I really enjoy going to their restaurant,” Conley said. “I was inspired that they took a chance with the neighborhood, and every time I went there it was busy, so I knew it was going well for them.”

For their part, Shambaugh and Preyer say they are looking forward to being customers at Conley’s place – they live just a couple of blocks away.

Shambaugh and Preyer, fans of midcentury architecture, had their eye on the Woodford F&B building for years before they opened the restaurant.

“It’s got that multipeaked roof line that speaks in a vernacular of midcentury roadside dining – HoJo’s and things like that,” Shambaugh said.

The corner, once home to a pharmacy, movie theater and bank, suffered from what the couple described as “commuter-based policy blight.” But they also saw potential in the area, which is actually the intersection of four neighborhoods: Back Cove, Oakdale, Deering Center and Rosemont.

“We could see through the trash that had piled up and the crosswalks that didn’t work, that this could be a place where all the people in this neighborhood could walk,” Preyer said. “It just needed to be taken care of.”

GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD PLACES

Once a Valle’s Steak House, the building had housed a mortgage company for 20 years. When the space finally became available, they brought their friend and locally well-known chef Courtney Loreg back from California to run the kitchen. Loreg had previously worked as sous chef at Bresca and at Fore Street in Portland.

Their goal has always been to be “a great neighborhood place,” and they delight in being many things to their customers – the place to go for a birthday burger, date night, a family meal, or to enjoy a cocktail sitting alone at the bar. They were “thrilled” when Tipo opened on Ocean Avenue.

“We always believed that if we did our job right that other folks would realize there was a market out here,” Shambaugh said.

When the Richardsons moved to the neighborhood about seven years ago, the Great Lost Bear was the neighborhood’s favorite place to go for a burger or a quick beer, Beth Richardson said. Now she and her husband eat at Woodford F&B as often as once or twice a week during winter – or, if they’re in the mood for pasta, they walk around the corner to Abilene.

“Now we’ve got more choices,” Richardson said, “and it’s great.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad