Unique, creative and tasty food, plus superb service, made these 12 restaurants our favorites for 2014. You’ll want to dine here in 2015 — and so will we!

Fuel

Linda: Lewiston’s Lisbon Street has a new look and energy with great restaurants and shops up and down the street. Eric Agren, owner of Fuel restaurant, was the spark that lit the way seven years ago. He had a vision for downtown Lewiston, taking a leap of faith in buying an old building constructed in 1871.

Fuel has met with wide acclaim, and rightly so. The urban decor is stunning, with a modern bar area at the front of the restaurant and white linens topping the remaining tables that fill the open room. The food here has been described as French comfort food.

Prior to our most recent visit, we had dined here twice. I ordered the Steak au Poivre both times. (Yes, it was that delicious.) So when Eric offered us a tasting menu for our travel column visit, it opened up all kinds of new foods for me to try. And everything was fantastic!

Coplin Dinner House

George: You would expect elegance, very creative food, exceptional wine, an extensive menu and superb service at many Portland restaurants. But in Stratton? Well, yes.

Heidi Donovan and Tony Rossi have turned an old farmhouse into an amazing restaurant. Heidi and Tony are very personable, enthusiastic and welcoming, and have put a great deal of thought into every detail of their restaurant, from the silverware to the layout of tables.

Tony’s food is very creative. My entree, Shrimp Putanesca, was tasty with capers, kalamata olives, aged parmesan and a red sauce, over perfectly cooked fettuccini. Adding taste and crunch were lightly cooked snow peas and a carrot. When Lin tried it, she figured it out immediately, exclaiming, “It tastes like Italy. All the flavors of Italy.”

And then she looked up at me and said, “I think you have a piece of food on your cheek. It looks like a mole and I know you don’t have a mole there.” It’s helpful to have a wife who knows what you look like. And yes, the food was so delicious I was wearing it.

Grace

Linda: What do you get when you combine a beautiful and historic Methodist church with delicious creative food and superb service? Amazing Grace!

I found myself gazing around the restaurant the entire evening just trying to take in all the beauty, from the high arched supports to the spectacular stained glass windows. One definition of grace is “simple elegance,” and that certainly defines this place.

But, of course, Grace has earned its reputation as a great restaurant because of its food. Chef Pete Sueltonfuss searches out local and sustainable products to create an outstanding dining experience. And that is certainly what we experienced.

11 Central

George: Gather * Eat * Be Merry: The slogan on our take-home bag from 11 Central, tells you all you need to know about this wonderful Bangor restaurant. From the seasonal art on the walls to the dishes to the speakers in the ceiling playing soft background music, everything is thoughtfully planned and presented for the customers’ pleasure. And we were pleased!

Co-owner and manager Ann Marie Orr has had a popular catering business for 10 years, loves to cook and really loves to guide the cooking of her young kitchen chefs. She also prepares all the desserts. As you would expect, the food was creatively exceptional. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. and, when Linda pointed out that it was 10 p.m. and the restaurant was closing, I couldn’t believe it!

Pickup Cafe

George: We’ve enjoyed, and written about, dinners and lunches at Skowhegan’s Pickup Cafe, located in the old jail and associated with the local farmers’ CSA. We’ve sent many people to the cafe, and every single person has loved it. Adam and Rosa Rosario have created a welcoming, informal, comfortable place to linger, but its Rosa’s talent in the kitchen that makes this place special.

On our visit last summer, I decided to step out of my comfort zone with the Greek Hummus Wrap, described as, “Garlic scape hummus, Mediterranean feta spread, olive tapenade, red onion, tomato and spinach.” Wow! The serving came in two wraps and was incredibly tasty. Linda said it was probably due to the black olive tapenade. This wrap will be my go-to sandwich at the Pickup from now on.

Olde Post Office Cafe

George: Our hometown cafe in Mount Vernon draws people from a wide area and is a friendly community gathering place. I’ve been known to have a business breakfast at the cafe and still be there at lunchtime!

Chef Sarah Chiasson offers great breakfasts and lunches (the pulled-pork sandwich is to-die-for), and now she is whipping up wonderful and very creative menus for dinners every Friday and Saturday, the first time the cafe has stayed open for dinner in the winter. And I can tell you, we local folks are some old excited! You should be too. See you there soon.

Calzolaio

George: Calzolaio Pasta Company, in Wilton, was our favorite out-of-town restaurant before we began writing travel columns four years ago. It still is. Tom and Rocell Marcellino offer the very best of our Italian favorites, very reasonable prices, great specials and friendly service in a beautiful setting.

Five years ago we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary there with a memorable meal, great bottle of wine and new diamond for Linda’s finger. This has now become a tradition – well, without the new diamond.

On June 16 this year, we returned to Calzolaio for our anniversary dinner. We began with glasses of the house Chianti for Linda and Montepulciano for me. Salads here are huge so we shared a Caesar.

Admittedly, we almost always have Roc’s Eggplant Parmigiana, described as “a favorite of both families, the recipe spans three generations with some compromises for keeping the peace.” The battered and fried fresh eggplant, layered with sauce and 5 cheeses, then baked, for just $15.95, is fantastic. It’s our anniversary dish. And we both had it!

Salt Water Farm Cafe

Linda: The Salt Water Farm Cafe is a lively, beautiful and cozy place to enjoy amazing food. I love that they focus on serving local food that is very fresh. That point was well made this time when I quickly noticed three types of wild mushrooms featured on the menu. We also search for, and indulge in, chanterelles and black trumpet mushrooms during the summer and fall. My preparations of these pale in comparison to theirs for sure. George has been asking me to replicate their incredible appetizer of black trumpet gravy over biscuits at home. Oh, that I could!

Annemarie Ahearn, the cafe’s owner, who teaches cooking at her parents’ farm in Lincolnville and was once a food writer for Maine Magazine, is young and engaging. We’d been hoping to get back here for dinner since we enjoyed an awesome Sunday brunch during a snowstorm last January, and we finally made it in mid-August. Believe me, it was worth the wait.

Geaghan’s Pub

George: While Portland grabs the headlines for foodies nationwide, Bangor’s our kind of place, with savvy civic leaders, a great waterfront on the Penobscot River, awesome events like the American Folk Festival and the Harvest Festival, a new convention center — and the fabulous Geaghan’s Pub.

We rarely drive by Geaghan’s, no matter where we are headed in northern and eastern Maine. Their Boneless Buffalo Wings have become famous. They actually aren’t wings at all. They’re chicken tenders served with a choice of sauces (honey BBQ, honey mustard, or three heat levels of buffalo wing sauce). These boneless wings make up 60 to 70 percent of Geaghan’s takeout orders. And they sold 50,000 pounds of them last year!

Richard’s

Linda: It was more than 35 years ago that we visited the beautiful country of Germany on our honeymoon. It was our first trip abroad and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know German food. All those memories came back in gusto with our visit to Richard’s in Brunswick.

Richard Gnauck came to cook at the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant in Ogunquit in 1968. His plan was to make a lot of money and return to Germany. But he fell in love with a girl from Brunswick and he’s still here. Lucky for us or Richard’s might never have come to be! Richard’s is now our go-to restaurant for great German food, and we are so glad we discovered it.

El El Frijoles

Linda: With a weekend planned in Deer Isle, we were searching for a Friday night dinner in that area when we discovered El El Frijoles in Jillian and Malcolm Bedell’s Eating in Maine book. The Bedell’s were effusive in their praise. Jillian reported, “The crab quesadilla, a menu item I would not ordinarily think to order, was incredible, and it got better with every bite.” Yes. We wanted to eat there!

And it was a great choice. In an old barn, Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney have created a popular and fun place to eat their impressive array of Mexican cuisine.

Sea Dog Tavern

George: We’ve probably written more about this Sea Dog in Topsham than any restaurant in Maine — partly because we eat here a lot — even when we’re not writing travel columns. Favorite brews here are Old East India Pale Ale for me and Owls Head Light Ale for Linda.

The Sea Dog’s menu is unusually long and creative for a tavern. They include suggested pairings of beer and list the farms where they got the ingredients. There are lots of seafood dishes, steaks, salads, burgers, of course and an entire section of Italian choices. And, surprisingly, this Sea Dog offers one of the best Sunday brunches in the state.

Best of Maine

No matter where you are traveling in Maine, before you go, check out the Best of Maine section at www.georgesmithmaine.com. Select your destination town or city, hit apply, and you will see all the columns we’ve written about the inns, restaurants, events and activities there.

After you go, let us know how you liked these places. We also welcome recommendations for new places for us to visit and write about in 2015. Thanks! Enjoy the winter!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.