Mainers can prove just how hardy they are this winter, with some restaurants keeping their outdoor dining areas open to customers willing to bundle up in order to eat out. If there were any city where residents and visitors would risk freezing temperatures and snowfall – but not COVID-19 – in order to go to a restaurant, Portland would be it.

We’re highlighting a few of the spots with the best setups, including patios and parking lots decked out with tents and heaters, to try make winter outdoor dining as bearable as it can be – which, for some, will always be better than not eating out at all.

Outdoor dining at The Blue Spoon. Photo by Liz Koenigsberg

BLUE SPOON

WHERE: 89 Congress St., Portland, (207) 773-1116. bluespoonme.com
HOURS: 4-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
DETAILS: Near the top of Munjoy Hill is where you’ll find Blue Spoon and its sidewalk tables. BYOB (bring your own blanket, that is) for extra coziness. Or you can park yourself in the side patio area. Either way, you’ll be out in the elements, but the heaters will take the chill off, as will a little something from the warm drink menu.
HOT TIP: The coriander rubbed pork belly with braised cabbage and golden raisin mostarda will stick to your ribs as will the Blue Spoon burger. Kick it off with some charred carrots or angus beef tartare, but leave room for dessert because a recent special was an epic-looking pear tart, and you never know what chef/owners Will Lavey and his wife, Liz Koenigsberg, will whip up.

Outdoor dining tents at Bruno’s. Photo courtesy of Bruno’s

BRUNO’S 

WHERE: 33 Allen Ave., Portland, (207) 878-9511. brunosportland.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. No reservations.
DETAILS: Bruno’s has an outdoor seating tent with heaters and eight tables placed six feet apart. Some of the sides are open for ventilation and means of egress. The restaurant plans to keep the tent up as long as possible.
HOT TIP: Try the lobster ravioli with sherry cream sauce or one of your old-school Italian comfort food favorites and be sure to leave room for dessert because they’ve got cannoli, strawberry ricotta cake and several other tasty treats.

People dine in the private greenhouses at Chaval on a cold evening in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

CHAVAL

WHERE: 58 Pine St., Portland, (207) 772-1110. chavalmaine.com
HOURS: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
DETAILS: If Spanish- and French-inspired cuisine is your thing, while international travel is on hold, make your way to Chaval where outdoor dining options are aplenty. If there’s no precipitation in the forecast, enjoy the heated, but uncovered patio. Or, for extra comfort – and an extra $25 – reserve a private greenhouse.
HOT TIP: It makes perfect seasonal sense to try the Arctic Char made with roasted golden beats, spinach-brown butter puree, winter citrus and shallots. For something that will really stick to your ribs, maybe the Maine shortrib tempts you. It’s slow braised and glazed local beef shortrib with Maine potato and parsnip gratin, wild mushroom friccase and red wine jus.

The deck at El Rayo Taqueria in Portland has two heated greenhouses and two picnic tables with heaters. Photo courtesy of El Rayo Taqueria

EL RAYO TAQUERIA

WHERE: 26 Free St., Portland, (207) 780-8226. elrayotaqueria.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
DETAILS: Out on the back deck of El Rayo Taqueria’s downtown Portland location, you’ll find two picnic tables with heaters and a pair of heated greenhouses. All are first come, first served.
HOT TIP: Anytime is the right time for authentic Mexican food and a freshly-made margarita, but if you hit El Rayo during the week, you can take advantage of some special deals. On Mondays, classic burritos are $6.95; on Taco Tuesday, tacos are $3; classic rice and bean bowls are $6.95 on Wednesdays; and on Thursdays, daily enchiladas are $8.95. We also suggest an appetizer of Mexico City-style corn on the cob that’s basted with chipotle mayo and dusted with cojita cheese for $4.95, and from the dessert menu, grab a divine coconut cupcake for $4.95. It’s big enough to share, though you’re under no obligation to do so.

A private chalet at EVO Kitchen + Bar. Photo courtesy of EVO

EVO KITCHEN + BAR

WHERE: 443 Fore St., Portland, (207) 358-7830. evoportland.com
HOURS: 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
DETAILS: At Evo, you can reserve your very own private, heated dining chalet for parties of two to five people for a two-hour time slot. It’s like your own personal culinary snow globe sanctuary where you’ll enjoy a delicious meal prepared by the Evo team, led by executive chef Matt Ginn.
HOT TIP: Evo shines with its Mediterranean cuisine and they source produce, meat and fish from local farms and fish mongers. From chickpea fries and falafel starters to entrees like duck, beef short rib and gnocchi, there’s something for every palate at Evo, including vegetarians and vegans.

The covered courtyard at Little Giant. Photo by Chris and Alice Ross

LITTLE GIANT 

WHERE: 211 Danforth St., Portland, (207) 747-5045. littlegiantmaine.com
HOURS: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch
DETAILS: Little Giant is open six nights a week for outdoor dining and brunch on weekend mornings and has recently completed work on a fabulous covered courtyard.
HOT TIP: Favorite menu items include the lobster roll, burger and black rice.

The outdoor seating area at Luke’s Lobster on the Portland Pier. Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

LUKE’S LOBSTER

WHERE: 60 Portland Pier, Portland, (207) 274-6097. lukeslobster.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
DETAILS: Luke’s Lobster’s outdoor seating is spread out on multiple levels and includes a waterfront deck. The lower deck has benches and small tables that can be moved around to fit different sized parties. As for lobster, they’ve got plenty, not to mention just about every other classic Maine seafood you can think of as well as burgers and popcorn chicken for non-pescatarians.
HOT TIP: From Thursday to Sunday (weather permitting), outdoor diners can take advantage of a special called Pier Pressure. Two fire pits are lit, and you can get fish chowder for $3 and $8 hot beverages.

Colorful shacks at Maine Craft Distilling. Photo by Kari Herer

MAINE CRAFT DISTILLING 

WHERE: 123 Washington Ave., Portland, (207) 613-9068. mainecraftdistilling.com
HOURS: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
DETAILS: Maine Craft Distilling has an expansive area for outdoor seating and has built heated, individual structures similar to ice houses. For food, the distillery’s menu ranges from fried arancini (Arborio rice balls stuffed with charred vegetables and mozzarella) to a beef, pork and black bean chili served with a corn muffin.
HOT TIP: Warm your bones up with a hot, boozy drinks like Hot Butter Rum, Hot Wassail and the Hot Toddy, or the adult versions of hot chocolate, hot cider and coffee.

There are several outdoor seating options available at Terlingua. Photo by Pliny Reynolds

TERLINGUA

WHERE: 40 Washington Ave., Portland, (207) 956-7573. terlingua.me
HOURS: Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
DETAILS: On the always-hopping stretch of Washington Avenue, Terlingua is the place to go for a menu of barbecue deliciousness that fuses Southwestern cuisine with house-smoked meats. They’ve got a sweet two-tier back deck that’s heated and covered for outdoor dining. There’s also an open-air margarita garden with a fire pit, Adirondack chairs and four picnic tables with heaters. But that’s not all, Terlingua also has a pair of heated and covered fish shacks that can each hold six people. Walk-ins are welcome, but it’s a good idea to make a reservation for any of the covered spots because they fill up fast.
HOT TIP: Along with mouth-watering menu items like ceviche, the super popular Baja fish tacos, green chili with pork shoulder and plantain fritters, you can also snag grab-and-go meals with things like smoked meats, taco kits and dry goods from the adjacent market. On the cocktail front, it should come as no surprise that the signature drink at Terlingua is the margarita.

Outdoor seating at TIQA. Courtesy of Tiqa

TIQA

WHERE: 327 Commercial St., Portland, (207) 808-8840. tiqa.net
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
DETAILS: We may be on the Atlantic Ocean here in Maine, but you can get a taste of the Mediterranean at Tiqa, which plans to keep its patio open for the foreseeable future. Sit around the fire pit or at a table by a heater. Tiqa also has seven sidewalk tables that can seat up to six guests, and they’ll remain open well into spring.
HOT TIP: The entire menu bursts with Mediterranean marvels, including baba ghanoush, lamb gyros, falafel, chicken shawarma, lemon lentil soup and several kabobs. On the cocktail front, there’s a potion called the Granada made with tequila, chili liqueur, triple sec, pomegranate and lime juice that looks mighty tasty.

The patio at Tomaso’s Canteen. Photo courtesy of Tomaso’s Canteen

TOMASO’S CANTEEN

WHERE: 18 Hampshire St., Portland, (207) 536-1285. tomasoscanteen.com.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
DETAILS: For the winter, Tomaso’s Canteen transitioned its outdoor seating into a heated, covered patio, expanding its capacity, which is limited inside the small bar.
HOT TIP: Tomaso’s is a place to eat and drink with abandonment, and its comfort foods are many. You can’t go wrong with a chicken bomb, mac and cheese, fried pickles and, gasp, a three-pound bucket of chicken wings. Wash it all down with, well, just about anything you can think of, including plenty of local brews.

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