Boston is the ideal jumping off point for your adventures, before heading north.
East Coast Grill. I discovered this restaurant twenty years ago, and it’s still fills up every night. The ambiance may be kitchy Caribbean, but the food is seriously good, pairing bold flavors with fresh fish and seafood. Owner and author Chris Schlesinger is also a BBQ aficionado, so expect to see ribs and brisket on the menu alongside grilled swordfish and tuna.
La Verdad. Ken Olinger (of Clio fame) has taken the lowly taco and elevated it to a stature higher than mere finger food. Meats and salsas are expertly prepared, and provide a perfect foil for the outstanding margaritas. Locate in Fenway Park’s shadow, don’t expect to get in the door on game days.
Prezza. Not the typical red sauce North End Italian eatery, this chic and loud, upscale restaurant serves contemporary northern Italian cuisine. Gigantic prawns, scallops and veal chops, as well as creamy risottos and homemade pastas are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Portland, Maine is a real up-and-comer on the dining front, and has been the subject of numerous articles in national publications, surprising given its relatively small size.
Five-fifty five. After a meal here, you won’t be surprised to learn that the mastermind in the kitchen was named a Food and Wine Best Chef in 2007. Yet this is not a high-powered, white tablecloth experience. Rather, you’ll enjoy a creative and fun evening, hopefully topped off with their scrumptious and deconstructed version of carrot cake. Ice cream is layered between thin sheets of carrot cake, with caramel sauce drizzled around the tower, making this my favorite version of a classic dessert.
Great Lost Bear. This 30 year-old institution isn’t in the Old Port district where the more upscale restaurants can be found, but make the drive to check it out. All About Beer Magazine named Lost Bear one of the top 125 places to have a beer before you die (there are 52 taps). The burgers perfectly complement all the microbrews.
Fore St. A gorgeous wood-burning oven and an open kitchen are the focal point of this beautifully rehabbed warehouse. The restaurant is so popular you need to plan well in advance if you hope to enjoy the outstanding cuisine here. The dishes are simple and use the freshest ingredients, whether from the sea or the garden, and the bread is exceptional. Excellent and knowledgeable service.
Duck Fat. A casual eatery by James Beard award winner Rob Evans, also owner of Hugo, a fine dining eatery. The tiny spot focuses on paninis and French fries, the latter being the genesis of the restaurant’s name, as they are cooked in duckfat and served with a choice of dipping sauces. I’ve consumed a lot of French fries in my years, and I’ve never tasted any better than these.
Mid-coast Maine’s scenery is breathtaking anytime of year, but it will be regal in the fall.
Primo. Located in out-of-the-way Rockport, the kitchen in this converted Victorian house is manned (or, in this case, “womaned”) by a James Beard award winning chef. She takes full advantage of the vast garden of produce in the backyard to serve beautiful and delicious American cuisine. The bread and desserts are baked on the premises as well.
Francine Bistro. The brainchild of another Food and Wine Best Chef, and also away from the tourist’s path, this converted Victorian house serves the most flavorful, silky, corn soup I have ever tasted, with fresh peas and chanterelles floating on top, and the swordfish with basil sauce is equally memorable. (The service is so attentive that one of the waiters had a cloth at the ready to clean my husband’s glasses before he could use his napkin to do so—without being obsequious.)
Inn at Ocean’s Edge. Try to time your visit for Sunday evening’s “Pizza Night”. A waiter stops at every table in the dining room, offering a slice of each masterpiece as it comes out of the wood burning oven. Nine or ten types of pizza are created, ranging from pesto, brie and apple, to ricotta and grape. If you haven’t had your fill after the first go-around, you are welcome to stay for the waiter’s second pass. The setting is gorgeous, overlooking the ocean through floor to ceiling windows in the restaurant, or outside on a balcony.
Previously published in the Independent Magazine.