PORTLAND – Before going to Niagara Falls for the first time, I remember thinking, “This place can’t possibly live up to the hype.”

But it did.

Becky’s Diner on Portland’s waterfront may be in the same boat in some people’s minds. It seems like every TV food show, every visiting celebrity and every travel writer who comes to town finds their way to Becky’s.

So the place gets a lot of hype.

But on a recent visit to Becky’s, I was reminded why the hype started building in the first place — it’s a genuine local institution, a great diner with a very local vibe.

My first reminder came when I went in for breakfast on a Saturday, and was seated right next to the lobster tank. There can’t be that many places where you can eat hash and eggs and watch lobsters that were probably in the ocean a day earlier.

The second big reminder came when my hash arrived. It was the day’s homemade corned beef hash special, which included the hash, two eggs, home fries and toast for $8.25.

The hash had big shreds of tender corned beef, onions, potatoes and tiny flecks of carrots. On top was a wonderful dark-brown crust, keeping all the hash’s moisture and flavor sealed in.

One thing to remember about ordering the hash, though, is that the homemade hash is a special item. If you order hash off the regular menu as a side dish, it will likely be canned, a server told me.

My sunny-side eggs were perfect — with whites that weren’t runny and yokes that were still plenty fluid. This is a big deal with me. If I can’t get my sunny-side eggs perfect, I’d rather just scramble them.

To me, a diner is all about breakfast, and Becky’s does breakfast all day long. After 4 p.m. you can’t get home fries, oatmeal or fruit bowls, but most of the extensive breakfast menu is available.

I sampled a buttermilk pancake ($2.25 for one), which was light and fluffy. I saw the very cute Mickey Mouse Fruity Face pancake ($4.25), which is a favorite with kids. It was one big round pancake with two smaller pancakes attached to form Mickey’s ears. Strawberries, blueberries and other fruit formed his facial features.

We also had at our table a Commercial Street Sandwich ($3.75), which is a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin featuring egg, cheese and choice of ham, bacon, sausage or tomato. It was good, but everyone in my party kept asking for a bite of my hash, which was the clear star of the morning.

Becky’s is a lively, bustling place on the waterfront, so you see different kinds of folks, from lobstermen and waterfront workers to tourists, teens and entire families. (Speaking of families, Becky’s was started in 1991 by Becky Rand, a mother of six. And at some point, all her kids have worked there with her.)

It’s a big, comfortable place, thanks to a 2007 renovation, with stools and a counter that meanders in a circular fashion through the diner, and lots of big booths on both sides.

The menu is big too. Breakfast features egg and meat dishes — including at least 12 kinds of omelettes — pancakes, French toast, fruit bowls and all sorts of side orders.

The biggest dishes I spied were the Titanic Omelette ($10.75) — with four eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, cheese, onions and peppers — and the Hobson’s Wharf Special ($8.75), which includes a choice of bacon or sausage, two pancakes or French toast, two eggs any style, home fries and toast.

I’ve had it before, and it’s the kind of thing where you won’t need to eat again until the next day.

The most exotic thing on the breakfast menu was a lobster and swiss cheese omelette, at market price.

The menu also has a ton of lunch offerings — all manner of hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, lobster rolls, etc. Plus, there are lots of fried seafood dishes, pasta dinners, comfort foods like meatloaf, and whole steamed lobsters.

The dinners are mostly out of the price range for this feature, but on the lunch menu, I’d love to try the fried haddock sandwich some time.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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