When people ask me where to go for dinner in Maine, I usually respond with a question: “Well, what restaurants do you already know you like?” Often, that’s all it takes to give me a window into the person’s tastes – just enough to clue me in to what they’re likely to enjoy.

It probably won’t be long before artificial intelligence is able to tackle this kind of question successfully, mining your personal roster of favorite restaurants to recommend new dining spots. But we’re not quite there yet. Even as AI algorithms and language models improve by the month, they remain stupefyingly dumb when it comes to understanding what humans like and don’t.

Case in point: I prompted Microsoft Copilot by telling it my favorite restaurant in Portland is celebrated farm-to-table stalwart Fore Street, and asked for recommendations in Rockland. It immediately spat back an unfiltered list of five of TripAdvisor’s top-rated Rockland dining spots. I tried again, using casual, Levantine-inspired Nura as my local go-to, and got … the very same list (minus my top contender, Sammy’s Deluxe, for some strange reason).

Until the technology catches up, I can do better.

To help you make your Vacationland summer dining plans, I’ve put together a list of a dozen new-ish or recently updated restaurants across the state that are worth the drive from wherever you are. And to help you figure out if these picks might be right for you, I’ve linked each of my recommendations to a few Maine culinary touchstones that you might already enjoy.

Jolie Rogers Raw Bar. Photo by Michala Rueter, MJR Media

If you like Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland or King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta, try Jolie Rogers Raw Bar (Wiscasset).


Owner-operators Ryan Jolie and Andy Rogers met, naturally enough, while shucking oysters. The pair were both employed at an upscale Portsmouth raw bar when they made the decision to strike out on their own. At their new, minimalistic, white-clapboard space overlooking the Sheepscot River in Wiscasset, you’ll find a tiny yet mighty menu of raw, local shellfish served with the duo’s homemade mignonettes and sauces. If you get a chance, watch Rogers show off his knife skills – according to the judges at the 2022 U.S. National Oyster Shucking Competition, there are only five shuckers in the entire country better than he is.

Jolie Rogers Raw Bar, 8 Railroad Ave., Wiscasset, 207-687-8357, jolierogersrawbar.com

A selection of dishes from the Causeway Restaurant at the Craignair. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger/Lauryn Sophia Photography

If you like Gather in Yarmouth or David’s in Portland, try Causeway Restaurant (at the Craignair in Spruce Head).

Call its menu whatever you like: New American, Modern American or American Bistro. What matters here is new chef Gil Plaster’s skill at taking local ingredients (especially seafood and greens) and turning them into appealing, globally inspired dishes like grilled hanger steak rubbed with Rockland’s Rock City coffee, macaroni and cheese upgraded with Boursin and Maine lobster, and perhaps most exciting of all, creative vegan dishes like heart-of-palm “crab” cakes and a “lobster” roll filled with aioli-drenched chunks of king oyster mushroom.

Causeway Restaurant, 5 Third St., Spruce Head, 207-910-6622, craignair.com

Fried halloumi and bitter-greens salad at The Alna Store. Photo by Jasper Ludwig

If you like Elda in Biddeford (and soon, Portland) and Central Provisions in Portland, try The Alna Store (Alna).


So good, I picked it as my best restaurant of 2023, The Alna Store deserves your attention at least once this summer. If you can get there twice, even better – the owner/chef trio of Jasper Ludwig, Brian Haskins and Devin Dearden reconstruct their sustainable, seasonal menu at the beginning of each month. Where last year, the team used to trade off menus every few weeks, swapping between themed, regionally inspired menus (Korean, Mexican, etc.) and their default Modern American menu, they’ve now started integrating their inspirations into a single, well-balanced and eclectic list featuring dishes like lemon-meringue pavlova with chamomile mousse, shiitake and morel arancini, and lamb-beef kibbeh with English peas and za’atar flatbread.

The Alna Store, 2 Dock Road, Alna, 207-586-5515, thealnastore.com

The enviable glassware at In a Silent Way. The food is spectacular, too. Photo by Chandler Sowden

If you liked Drifters Wife in Portland or Magnus on Water in Biddeford, try In a Silent Way (Wiscasset).

At first glance, this side-street wine bar appears almost austere, decorated sparsely to force your gaze toward second-story windows that frame a magnificent, 180-degree view of Wiscasset’s Sheepscot River. But settle in with a glass of flinty, negociant-sourced Athletes du Vin Cabernet Franc served in perhaps the ritziest stems in the state, and you won’t be able to prevent yourself from falling in love with sommelier Chandler Sowden and chef Zack Goodwin’s stripped-down hospitality. And whatever you do, don’t miss Goodwin’s cooking. His simple, ultraseasonal dishes are, to a plate, extraordinary.

In a silent way, 51 Water St., Wiscasset, inasilentwaymaine.com

Secundo’s hamachi crudo with kumquats, hakurei turnips and Calabrian chili oil. Photo by Sam Ostrow

If you liked Piccolo in Portland or Festina Lente in Kittery, try Secundo (South Berwick).


OK, so maybe this is a little bit of a cheat, considering that chef Sam Ostrow also owns Italian pocket-rocket Festina Lente, but the overlap between the two restaurants is undeniable. In his semicasual, exposed-brick South Berwick restaurant, however, Ostrow can seat twice as many diners as in his cozy Kittery space. That’s good news to lovers of homemade pastas, including orecchiette with sausage and asparagus, and local produce like broccolini, lettuces and carrots interpreted on the plate in a northern Italian vernacular.

Secundo, 279 Main St., South Berwick, 207-704-0624, secundomaine.com

Mason’s Brewing Co.’s Sharp-Dressed Man, a double smash patty with cheddar, mayo, matchstick fries, tomato and pickled onion. Photo courtesy of Mason Brewing Co.

If you like Nosh or The Great Lost Bear in Portland, try Mason’s Downeast (Machias).

I’m still not sure how Mason’s Brewing Co. owner Chris Morley managed to transform the uninspiring, low-slung former Bluebird Ranch Restaurant into a gastropub with dark, rough-hewn beams and a bar that looks like it’s been in Machias for decades. Open just a few months now, Mason’s Downeast is the sister business to a similar, riverfront restaurant in Brewer, where fittingly, Morley and his team brew and package their ciders, IPAs and stouts. Burgers, hand-cut fries and sandwiches dominate the brewpub menu Down East, but pizzas (like pepperoni with tart peppadews) are the true star.

Mason’s Downeast, 78 Main St., Machias, 207- 259-6156, masonsbrewingcompany.com

The seasonal grilled Asparagus & Sea Rocket at Tallulah’s, with green garlic ferment and harissa. Photo by Kember Vanderblue

If you like The Lost Kitchen in Freedom or Turner Farm barn suppers on North Haven, try Tallulah’s (at the Waterford Inne in Waterford).


One recipe for a quintessential summer meal in Maine goes like this: string lights suspended from unpainted barn rafters, narrow communal dining tables, mismatched vintage chairs and unruly arrangements of flowers picked from patches on the premises. Add a prix-fixe menu built from ingredients picked in-house or locally, and you’ve got a transportative experience worth booking months in advance. You can find a few such suppers across the state, but hold out for the best – and that includes Tallulah’s, where chef Brandon Montes brings the skills and techniques he learned at Biddeford’s Elda to the bucolic grounds (and bountiful gardens) of the Waterford Inne.

Tallulah’s, 258 Chadbourne Road, Waterford, 207-583-4037,  thewaterfordinne.com

A selection of dishes at Linden + Front. Photo by Jamie Mercurio

If you like Dara Bistro in Cumberland or Bistro Leluco in South Portland, try Linden + Front (Bath).

Just as the dining room stitches together tradition and transgression, presided over by outsized floral prints inspired by dark-hued Dutch Golden Age masterpieces, this Bath newcomer strives to redefine the boundaries between new and old. European bistro classics get a tweak, a spin and sometimes a total overhaul here, but chef Zac Leeman’s menu always retains its connection to the original dishes that inspired him. Stop in for plates like grilled local trout with olive tapenade, and the Quack Monsieur, a sandwich of funky Gruyère layered with house-smoked duck ham: a great match for the citrusy Sundrenched cocktail, named after Leeman’s sister’s restaurant on nearby Bailey Island.

Linden + Front, 244 Front St., Bath, 207-389-4143, lindenandfront.com

Photo by Isaiah Pottle

If you like Harmon’s Lunch in Falmouth or Noble BBQ in Portland, try Pottle’s (Liberty).


Chef/co-owner Isaiah Pottle is a one-person back-of-house machine at this quaint, no-frills Midcoast pub. Flying solo doesn’t seem to bother him much, since the recipes he prepares – items like shepherd’s pie, pulled pork, broccoli salad, corn chowder and stewed chicken with biscuits – come from his family, particularly his grandparents, who used to operate a Camden restaurant called Yorkie’s. And Pottle cooks like he knows these homey recipes implicitly, rarely missing a step. If you feel like imbibing, Pottle’s also offers exactly four cocktails, including the summery Herbert’s Punch Buggy, a fruity vodka punch served with a scoop of lemon sorbet.

Pottle’s, 51 Main St., Liberty, 207-589-3333, Facebook

The patio at Bissell Brothers’ Three Rivers Taproom in Milo. Photo courtesy of Bissell Brothers

If you liked Vinland in Portland or Bandaloop in Arundel, try Bissell Brothers Three Rivers Taproom (Milo).

While other chefs spend years chasing trends, Joe Robbins takes inspiration from history and centuries-old foodways. Robbins, who grew up in Old Town, is a member of the Penobscot Nation, and anchors his culinary exploration in traditions and recipes from Indigenous peoples across the country: bison chili with corn, pinto and black beans; peas and carrots with wild rice; and tacos served Navajo-style on fried dough in place of tortillas. There’s also something rebellious and puckish about the rest of Robbins’ menu, which plays fast and loose with other cultural references. What do you call a menu with pastrami salmon nigiri, barbecued brisket, crunch-wrapped kielbasa-sausage jambalaya and classic Indigenous three-sisters succotash? American, of course.

Three Rivers Taproom, 157 Elm St., Milo, 207-943-9190, bissellbrothers.com

If you like 50 Local in Kennebunk or Evo in Portland, try Front & Main (Waterville).


The Lockwood Hotel anchors the recent downtown redevelopment of Waterville just as its upscale restaurant, Front & Main, anchors the building itself. Boundaries between restaurant, lounge, bar, lobby and dining room seem to be porous by design, sometimes even seeming to imply that you could take chef Jesse Souza’s tandoori cauliflower with crispy chickpeas or fried chicken with miso-maple honey and cornbread anywhere where there’s a plate-glass window and a captivating view of Main Street. As posh and prosperous as the space feels, Souza’s menu never strays far from its homey, comfort-food roots – an amalgam that feels just right for Waterville.

Front & Main, 9 Main St., Waterville, 207-660-0130, frontandmainwaterville

Chef/owner Marilou Ranta chats with customers at The Quarry in Monson. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

If you like Isa in Portland or The Black Point Inn in Scarborough, try The Quarry (Monson).

By the time you read this, chef/owner Marilou “Lulu” Ranta will be rounding the final turn in her well-deserved victory lap, a celebration of her 2023 James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Hospitality. Most importantly, almost exactly a year after collecting her prize in Chicago, the logjam might have loosened, finally allowing you to score a reservation for one of The Quarry’s $105 prix-fixe dinners. Ranta’s fine-dining menu is classic, French-gastronomy-inspired and highly technique-driven (sugar work on desserts, anyone?), but perhaps an even bigger contributor to The Quarry’s success is her eagerness to engage with diners. To have time to kibbitz with all her customers, Ranta keeps numbers small in the white-tablecloth dining rooms, so book early.

The Quarry, 15 Tenney Hill Road, Monson, 207-997-3486, Facebook

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