Maine Restaurant Week, which begins March 1, is the perfect time to visit all those places you’ve been meaning to get to, but haven’t had the chance.

And there are a lot of them, right? Sometimes it seems as if we hear about a new restaurant opening up every day in Portland. It’s hard to keep up.

Chefs can empathize. They’d like to see what other restaurants are feeding their customers, or just have a nice evening out, but they are busy in the kitchen several nights a week, or – like the rest of us – have other obligations that keep them from dining around town.

Take Niko Regas, the chef at his family’s Greek restaurant, Emilitsa. Before taking over kitchen duties and having a family, he used to eat out every night of the week. Now, with a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old at home, dining out is a real luxury.

Places he’s eager to try? Drifter’s Wife and Scales in Portland, and the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk.

“I haven’t been to Back Bay Grill in forever,” Regas said. “I’m dying to go back there.”


When chefs do switch roles and actually sit down to eat, it’s a special treat – and if they sample something especially terrific, they remember it. Who better to go to for advice on what to order?

So with Maine Restaurant Week just a week away, we revisit a favorite topic, asking local chefs about their most memorable meals over the past year. Chefs, like the rest of us, often flock to the buzzy new places, which may be why many of them are talking about Tipo, Chris Gould’s latest – it opened six weeks ago. And perhaps it was inevitable that at least one chef would mention the beef salad from Thanh Thanh 2 on Forest Avenue in Portland. If one dish could be proclaimed Portland chefs’ favorite, this would probably be it. As Josh Berry, executive chef at Union put it, “Nothing fancy about this salad. It’s just awesome!”

Here are the favorite dishes other Maine chefs singled out, served up by both phone and email:

REBECCA AMBROSI AND FRANK ANDERSON, chefs, Rhum Food & Grog and Big J’s Chicken Shack, Portland:

Ambrosi and Anderson are huge fans of The Honey Paw in Portland.

“Everything we have ever enjoyed there has always been on point,” Ambrosi said. “The way they develop flavors shows true skill and passion.”



Standouts? The house citrus-cured gravlax platter, the mushroom udon, and the wonton soup.

“Always enjoyed with a Strong Paw… or two…” Ambrosi said, referring to a cocktail made with tequila, mezcal, honey, lime and chile.

The couple also gave a shout out to the crab club sandwich (Maine crab meat, mayo, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes on Texas toast) at DiMillo’s on the Water, “always simple and delicious,” Ambrosi said. “We love sitting at the bar, enjoying a good martini and the view.”

STEVE CORRY, executive chef/co-owner, Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline, Portland:


“My son Seamus and I have been taking our new puppy to dog-training classes at Planet Dog every Monday evening and grab a casual bite to eat beforehand. I have to say that tops on our list is the BBQ selection at Terlingua. Whether it’s the brisket, pork shoulder or whatever they have that night, both of us really enjoy sharing this option with a few smaller plates to round things out.”

FREDERIC ELIOT, head chef, Scales, Portland:


Eliot fondly recalls a foie gras parfait he had at Central Provisions.

“I was expecting something very heavy and to be too much (even for someone like me who loves foie gras), but it was light and unctuous and had the consistency of a well-executed pot de crème. And the lemon gelée on top brought a touch of acidity to the dish that was very welcome. I ate the whole thing! Very well balanced and delicious.”

MICHAEL MacDONNELL, executive chef, Tempo Dulu, Portland:

MacDonnell moved to Portland to work at Tempo Dulu, but his wife and children stayed in the family home in the midcoast. The family sees one another one or two days a week.

“What I miss the most on the days we are apart is eating the meals my wife prepares together with my family,” MacDonnell said. “When I have free time and I’m looking for a meal in Portland, I tend to gravitate toward small family restaurants. I love Huong’s Vietnamese Restaurant on St. John Street. When I visit Huong’s, I have a mother and grandmother cooking for me. The children are there helping mom run the dining room. The food at Huong’s is as I remember it when their family was running their restaurant on Cumberland Avenue in the late 1990s. Their space is larger now, and the children are grown, but when I have a bowl of special combination beef noodle soup, I’m comforted. I feel closer to home.”

CHRIS GOULD, chef/owner, Central Provisions and Tipo, Portland:


Gould is another family man who goes out less now that daughters Lucy, nearly 2, and Jocelyn Paige – born just two weeks ago – are in the picture.


Gould likes to stop at Maple’s in Yarmouth on his way to work for a coffee and bagel. Maple’s bagels, he says, are “the best bagels I’ve had since I was in New York City.”

“My favorite bagel right now is the salt bagel with honey-rosemary cream cheese,” he said. “The combo of sweet and salty with the crunchy-chewy bagel is terrific.”

JOSH BERRY, executive chef, Union Restaurant, Portland:

Berry says that when Union was being built, “I think I ate at the Corner Room every day.” (The Corner Room is across the street from the hotel, and the hotel’s office was above the restaurant.) The restaurant’s mushroom pappardelle quickly became his favorite. It’s also the favorite of the hotel’s general manager, Berry said.

“It’s just so full of mushrooms, all different types,” Berry said. “It’s not heavy. They’re so consistent with it. Some chefs try to go crazy with food, or try to make things different just because they can. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”


KARL DEUBEN AND BILL LEAVY, chefs/co-owners, East Ender, Portland:

“We recently had the pleasure of attending Tipo’s soft launch. (The restaurant opened on Jan. 11.) Standout dishes were the beef carpaccio and hand-pulled mozzarella. Both simple and delicious. Also very nice to see some familiar faces from back in our Hugo’s days.”


PAOLO LABOA, executive chef, Solo Italiano, Portland

Laboa, still relatively new to Portland, has discovered three restaurants near Solo Italiano that he loves to visit: Fore Street, Eventide Oyster Co., and Central Provisions. He’s also paid a visit to Chris Gould’s new restaurant, Tipo.

“I don’t have much time to go outside, unfortunately,” he said. “I’m always working. Fortunately, that means we’re still busy, even though it’s winter.”

At Fore Street, he enjoyed cod nestled in a broth that was “very warm and inviting. Very nice.”


At Tipo, he was happy to find the corzetti dish – made with pork sausage, squash, ricotta salata, pistachio and vincotto – because it reminded him of home. Corzetti is a pasta typical of Ligurian cuisine.

“For me, it’s nice and fun to see real Genovese on the menu,” Laboa said.

On Laboa’s wish list: Lolita, Drifters Wife, and Street & Co.

SHELBY STEVENS, executive chef, Natalie’s, Camden:

Stevens and her husband, Chris Long, are co-executive chefs at Natalie’s, which is located in the Camden Harbour Inn.

“Chris and I really enjoy Chase’s Daily in Belfast, a vegetarian breakfast spot with a really great menu and morning program that includes some of the best coffee in town,” Stevens said. “I always get their fun pastries, and the staff is so warm and welcoming.”


Chase’s Daily is a semifinalist for a 2017 James Beard Award in the Outstanding Restaurant category.


MATT GINN, chef, Evo Kitchen & Bar, Portland:

When Ginn gets a chance to go out to eat, he goes for pasta.

“As long as I can remember, a big, flavorful, satisfying pasta dish has been my favorite food,” he said. “Anything from ramen at Miyake to carbonara at Piccolo, I love them all. I recently had a very memorable rye cavatelli with pork ragu, mascarpone, and Calabrian chili sauce at Tipo, which was absolutely delicious. I will be going back for more. But the dish that I have ordered the most has to be the braised rabbit garganelli at Isa.” Isa is a bistro on Portland Street.

“Every time I get it, it is very well executed and consistent,” Ginn said.

NIKO REGAS, chef, Emilitsa, Portland:


Regas is still thinking about the short ribs he ordered at a restaurant down the street from Emilitsa, Union in the Press Hotel.

“I’m a sucker for short ribs,” he said. “I still can taste it right now. (It was) a raisin glaze over potato cream emulsion. There was crispy garlic sprinkled on top with roasted shallots and a rosemary ash. It really stuck out with me. The glaze was what hit home for me. It was perfectly cooked. The portions were great.”

Regas says the dish reminded him of Greek cooking, which sometimes uses raisin marmalade.

BRIAN ANDERSON, executive chef, Congress Squared, Portland:

“I recently went back to Fore Street after not going in for a while and had an amazing meal. There was an apple pie dessert with cheddar cheese, and freshly spun, custard-style ice cream that was unreal. A real nod to the old school, but done perfectly and probably the best thing I have had in a restaurant in some time.”


SAM HAYWARD, founding chef, Fore Street, Portland:

Hayward’s choice for best plate is a dish of wide ribbon pasta he enjoyed at Solo Italiano in December.

“I can’t recall the name of the pasta shape, probably a regional name I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. “It was served with a delicate pink tomato ragu with pieces of roasted mushrooms throughout. I loved the smoky-meaty sauce, of course, but the standout attribute was the pasta itself – very thin, expertly rolled and cooked. In fact, I remarked to the server that I thought it was perfect, a word that doesn’t fall from my lips very often. It was a complete knockout, not for tweaky innovation or flight of fancy, but because of the authoritative perfection of the cooking. Best pasta I’ve had in Maine in some time.”

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