Papi partner and beverage director LyAnna Sanabria and chef Ronnie Medlock with the 2023 Spirit Quest People’s Choice Award. Papi is expected to open this month. Courtesy of Maine Restaurant Week

Off to a strong start even before it officially opens, Papi, the Puerto Rican bar and restaurant on Exchange Street, won the People’s Choice Award at Maine Restaurant Week’s Spirit Quest competition this past weekend.

This year’s Spirit Quest – a self-guided walking tour of bars and restaurants in Old Port and the Congress Street Arts District – featured 11 competing venues, each serving a cocktail and paired bite of food. Papi’s winning entry was a cocktail called The Bad Bunny, featuring rum, amaretto, house-made coconut ice cream, Puerto Rican winter squash and pineapple gomme syrup, paired with an empanadilla stuffed with cheese and picadillo and topped with “Papi sauce.”

Blyth and Burrows won the Spirit Quest Judge’s Choice award this year for its tequila, raspberry and zucca amaro-based cocktail, The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle, paired with chocolate and cherry braised pork with yogurt crema.

Although Papi ran into some permitting snags – like being required to replace the vintage mahogany doors they’d imported from Old San Juan with something more in keeping with Old Port aesthetics – the venue received its certificate of occupancy this month. Partner and beverage director LyAnna Sanabria said she expects Papi will open its doors in the second half of March.

In the meantime, Papi staff will get warmed up with a couple of private soft-opening events. Sanabria said she and her team are taking care not to overburden themselves in the days leading up to the opening.

“We don’t want to open with our kitchen feeling stressed,” she said. “Because you can taste stress.”



The owners of the former Bonobo Pizza on Pine Street aim to open a new Mexican restaurant at the same location by May.

Cantina Calafia will serve Baja California-style Mexican food, according to co-owner Dominique Gonzalez, who grew up in the San Diego area and is of Mexican descent. She and her husband, Justin Grey, took over Bonobo in 2018, though they’d long hoped to convert the restaurant into a Mexican-themed eatery.

Gonzalez said that by last May, it became apparent at Bonobo that “the business had outgrown the setup,” and the pizza oven couldn’t keep pace with the volume. At the same time, Gonzalez and Grey were having difficulty finding staff for the summer.

“So we figured it’d be a great time to just close down and start the remodel,” Gonzalez said.

Cantina Calafia will have 49 seats, about the same size as Bonobo, but with 16 bar seats, twice as many as the previous configuration. Natalie DiBenedetto, former owner of Figgy’s Takeout, will serve as the opening consulting chef at the Cantina, Gonzalez said, helping develop a menu featuring tacos on house-made tortillas, ceviche, sopes and smoked fish.


“Maine has the perfect bounty for this type of cuisine with all the fresh fish from Casco Bay, and we’ve always worked with local farmers,” Gonzalez said. “I’m hoping we have the best fish taco in town.”


The Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street will hold a “Freshman Orientation” event Wednesday to showcase beers from seven Maine breweries that opened for business in 2022.

The evening begins at 5 p.m. and will feature beer from Two Knights Brewing in Sangerville, Sidereal Farm Brewery in Vassalboro, Sacred Profane Brewing in Biddeford, Knife Edge Brewing in Millinocket, Rusty Bus Brewing Co. in Lewiston, Riverstone Brewing Co. in Sanford and Portland’s Hi-Fidelity Brewing.

Thirsty Pig owner Allison Stevens said the event is timed to lead into Thursday’s New England Craft Beer Summit in Portland, and that owners from the seven new breweries will be on hand to answer questions. This is the 12th year the Freshman Orientation tasting has been held, Stevens said, and because it was modified during the pandemic years, it will also be the first full gathering for the event since 2019.

Sponsored by the Maine Brewers’ Guild, the Freshman Orientation is open to the public, and no tickets are required. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Maine Brewers’ Guild.



The 2023 New England Craft Brew Summit is set for Thursday, featuring the theme “Focusing on What You Can Control.”

The one-day event – part trade show, part educational conference – will be held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. The featured speakers for the summit, both from the Brewers Association, are Chief Economist Bart Watson and HR Partner Holly Haslam.

Watson will address the gathering at an 8:30 a.m. talk titled “Craft’s Changing and Maturing Market,” and Haslam will lead a workshop on self-care for brewery professionals. Breakout sessions have been organized into two categories: Technical Brewing, for brewers and production staff, and The Business of Beer, for owners, operators, managers and front-of-house staff.

Registration for the event is available online.



Another gathering for hospitality professionals is set for March 20 with the Seafood Innovation and Quality Summit in Portland.

The day-long event aimed at New England chefs takes place at O’Maine Studios on 54 Danforth St. The Seafood Summit has been organized by researchers from The University of Maine, Oregon State University and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Maine-based seafood expert Barton Seaver will deliver the keynote presentation. The event will also feature culinary demonstrations, seafood tastings and a discussion panel made up of seafood academics and chefs.

Summit-goers can register online for the free event.


Thai restaurant Esaan announced Tuesday that it will move to the former site of Back Bay Grill at 65 Portland St.

“After over 17 months and assessing our situation, we have decided to relocate closer to town,” Esaan said in a Facebook post. Its owners are working to secure a permit to serve beer and wine, and they expect to open at the end of the month with a dining area and bar.

Esaan had been closed about a year and a half following an electrical fire.


Comments are no longer available on this story