When it comes to summer dining, locals already get the short end of the breadstick. But with at least a dozen new restaurants opening this season, the city will likely be busier than ever.

Come July, Exchange and Market streets could start to feel like the streets of Mumbai. Good luck finding a place to park without running over a tourist in a moose T-shirt. Did you notice last summer that businesses charged $5 per vehicle to park cars in every free square inch of Commercial Street? Or that even the on-street parking spots waaaaay down by the bridge are getting harder to come by, especially on weekends?

Once you find parking, you have to worry about actually getting into the restaurant. How long will it take? Will the kind of seating you like be available so you can actually look your companion in the eye and have a meaningful conversation over your meal? Will the only table left be one of those two-tops crammed so close together that your knees touch the knees of the stranger sitting next to you, and you blush as he eavesdrops on all the details of your friend’s last sexual encounter? (That actually happened to me …)

All too often, the act of simply making it to a restaurant table in Maine during the summer months sucks so much of the joy out of dining that we slink away until the leaves of autumn start to fall and it feels safe to return. So, before the Fourth of July hordes descend upon our fair city, here are our suggestions for places we suggest you visit during the next two months, before it’s too late. Take a deep breath – or two – and actually enjoy yourself.

M.C. Union restaurant at the Press Hotel is in the final stages of construction.

M.C. Union restaurant at the Press Hotel is in the final stages of construction. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


390 Congress St., 808-8702

A lot of the city’s new restaurants won’t open until July or August, when – we predict– they will be promptly swamped. M.C. Union, located in The Press Hotel, is scheduled to open in May. The fact that it’s new, and that it’s run by two James Beard award winners, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, practically guarantees that it will be busy from the get-go. They’re taking reservations beginning May 13, so better to visit in May or June than fight over a table in July and August. There’s no published menu yet, but maybe it will include the cedar-planked salmon Frasier recently made as his signature dish on “Beat Bobby Flay.” (He didn’t. Flay won, but I’d still like to taste the dish.)

Crudo at Central Provisions.

Crudo at Central Provisions. Courtesy photo


414 Fore St., 805-1085

Like Eventide Oyster Co. before it, Central Provisions is leading a charmed life right now, with accolades from diners and attention from national magazines. It’s got a James Beard Foundation Award nomination to boot, in the Best New Restaurant category (stay tuned: we’ll learn if it won next week). On top of all these, the space is relatively small, and they don’t take reservations. (There’s also bar seating overlooking the open kitchen.) Go before the curious out-of-towners show up, and be sure to try the crudo. It’s as fresh as you’ll get, and it’s beautifully plated.

Roasted Maine mussels at Fore Street.

Roasted Maine mussels at Fore Street.


288 Fore St., 775-2717

When the rest of the world thinks of the food and dining scene in Portland, they think of Fore Street, the restaurant that 11 years ago put us on the country’s culinary map when chef/owner Sam Hayward won a James Beard award. Coming to Portland and not eating wood-oven roasted Maine mussels at Fore Street is like going to New Orleans and skipping the beignets at Cafe du Monde. This is a great time of year to get in, especially if there’s spring lamb on the menu. (Take THAT, tourists!) With a chill still in the air, a table overlooking the wood-fired oven is extra cozy. If you have your heart set on dining at Fore Street on a summer evening, you can take your chances on getting a table – the restaurant saves a third of its tables for walk-ins – or do what I do: Make July reservations in May. Fore Street accepts reservations a full two months in advance, so as long as you don’t procrastinate, you should be just fine.

Hot Suppa meal, with hash.

Hot Suppa meal, with hash.


Hot Suppa, 703 Congress St., 871-5005

Bintliff’s, 98 Portland St., 774-0005

Even in the middle of winter, the line for brunch at Hot Suppa can snake out the door. (Yes, we get the irony. Maybe the place should be called Blazing Breakfast.) If you’ve ever tried their corned beef hash, made with shredded corned beef from Kinnealey in Boston, you understand why. Go for breakfast now and fight smaller crowds, or try dinner instead and savor the shrimp and grits with country ham and redeye gravy. Lawd have mercy.

Bintliff’s opened in 1990, when the eggs in your omelette cost $1 a dozen, and it’s had a line for Sunday brunch ever since. The owners will be changing the restaurant’s name soon – the menu will remain the same, but the business will now be known as Bayside American Cafe – so we can only hope that will confuse the tourists and we get the place to ourselves.

In summer, tourists are determined to try the fries.

In summer, tourists are determined to try the fries.


43 Middle St., 774-8080

There’s lots to love here – the doughnut holes, the duck confit panini, the poutine – but it’s the fries that make tourists flock like hungry seagulls. Duckfat’s summer clientele are often big-city folk who read about the fries online or in national food magazines, and they’re willing to wait for what they want. The restaurant is relatively small, and does not take reservations, so that wait can be long. Owner Rob Evans has told me the trick for locals is to come during off hours – in other words, if you’re willing to eat at 2:30 or 3 p.m., you might even get a table. Or you can do what I do, and order take-out. A big bonus: My car smells like Duckfat fries for the next couple of days.

Kate McCarty, who writes The Blueberry Files food blog, says she tries to go to Duckfat once a year, always during a shoulder season. “Even the fall is getting busier and busier,” she said.

She’s seen people wait as much as two hours for a table at the restaurant.

“Good for them, but I cannot wait two hours for a table. I have a hangry problem,” she said, alluding to the Tina Fey ad for American Express.

At Flatbread, both the pizza and the waterfront location entice.

At Flatbread, both the pizza and the waterfront location entice.


72 Commercial St., 772-8777

Maybe it’s the waterfront location next door to the Casco Bay Ferry Lines, or maybe it’s the eclectic menu that caters to vegetarians and to kids who like watching the wood-fired oven. Or maybe it’s the outdoor summer seating with the view of ferries coming and going. All I know is, every time I take my mother, the 83-year-old hipster (it’s one of her favorite places in Portland), the wait is at least a half-hour, especially on weekends. That can double during the summertime. Go now; it’s too cool to sit outside, but hey, at least you’ll get fed faster.

Pork buns at Pai Men Miyake.

Pork buns at Pai Men Miyake.


188 State St., 541-9204

Get your fill of tender pork buns and steaming bowls of ramen at this perennially packed favorite now, then splurge this summer on a trip to its sister restaurant Miyake. The casual atmosphere/pricing at Pai Men means it’s always popular, but it will only be more crowded this summer – and the restaurant does not take reservations.

Lolita fills up quickly, even in the off-season.

Lolita fills up quickly, even in the off-season.


90 Congress St., 775-5652

It’s the hottest new(ish) restaurant in a rapidly gentrifying Portland neighborhood. It’s small, but it does take limited reservations – so there is hope. Still, even in the off-season, Lolita usually fills up quickly, as a friend and I discovered one night in late October when we arrived at 6:30 p.m. and were told we’d have to wait at least two hours for a table. We ended up eating outside, warding off the late-autumn chill with cocktails; a bunch of people we knew passed by, including an editorial writer from the Portland Press Herald, some old friends and the pastry chef from Fore Street. It was a fun evening, despite the chill. But you don’t want to walk up Munjoy Hill, dreaming of Guy Hernandez’s sophisticated small plates, only to be told “fully booked.” To avoid disappointment, my advice is to make a reservation no matter what the time of year.

Sweetbreads at the East Ender.

Sweetbreads at the East Ender. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


47 Middle St., 879-7669

This was a good restaurant even before it changed hands, giving us yet another reason to saunter down Middle Street’s little restaurant row, also home to Ribollita, Duckfat, Hugo’s, Eventide and the new Honey Paw – all of which are likely to be packed with customers this summer. Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy, who ran the awesome SmallAxe food truck for the past couple of years, are now producing such creative dishes as chicken fried sweetbreads with General Tso’s sauce at their new brick-and-mortar location. After tourists discover it this summer, forget about it. Get in while you still can.

Eventide patrons eating outside in summer.

Eventide patrons eating outside in summer.


86 Middle St., 774-8538

The national media gushed over Eventide almost from the moment it opened its doors. But it’s a small place. The result? It’s packed in summer, with hourlong waits. Go now for your brown butter lobster roll – succulent lobster meat nestled into an Asian-style bun and topped with a brown butter vinaigrette – and fried oyster bun for when you get tired of slurping

Then, in August, you can just drive by and snicker, feeling self-satisfied for planning ahead.

The Honey Paw joins “restaurant row.”

The Honey Paw joins “restaurant row.”


78 Middle St., Portland; 774-8538

This new “non-denominational noodle bar” may take some of the pressure off Eventide next door, even though they are two very different restaurants from the same restaurant team. It’s new, it’s hot, it’s going to be a zoo this summer.

Judy Paolini, who lives on Long Island and eats a lot of lunches in Portland restaurants, recently tried the wok fried wide rice noodles with mussels, squid, Chinese sausage and scallion and proclaimed it “delicious” and “flavorful.”

A lots of things on the menu interest Paolini, and she intends to try them before summer arrives.

“The thing is, they’re on restaurant row,” she said, referring to a stretch of Middle Street that is packed with restaurants. “Every time I’ve tried to go to a restaurant on that street in the summer, unless you’re there at 11:30 you just don’t get in.”

Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room

Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room


86 Commercial St., 774-5725

The outdoor seating is a big attraction at Boone’s, which means getting a table on the deck at noon in July and August is as realistic as a Maine February without snow. It can happen, but only once every couple of decades. If you don’t mind sitting inside, you can enjoy Boone’s huge, seafood-heavy menu just as much in May as you can in August. If you must go in summer, go late for lunch or early for dinner and you might even score a coveted outdoor table. Order the scallop BLT for lunch if it’s on special, and don’t forget the sides: The potato salad and coleslaw are homemade and unexpectedly delicious.

Try the lobster stew at J’s Oyster.

Try the lobster stew at J’s Oyster.


5 Portland Pier, 772-4828

Tourists are always asking for directions to J’s because they’ve heard, just like Becky’s Diner, that it’s a place all sorts of locals hang out, no matter their pedigree. And it’s true. All year round, you’ll find lawyers in expensive suits sitting next to lobstermen at the bar. There are occasional celebrity sightings, too. (Anthony Bourdain visited in 2011 and raved about the steamers.) In the summer, it’s darned near impossible to get in, and even if you somehow manage to, you’ll probably feel rushed. For a more relaxed experience – and some surprisingly decadent, lobster-in-every-spoonful lobster stew – hit it before July 4.

Briana Volk and her husband Andrew, owners of the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, go to J’s for the garlic bread, clam chowder and tuna melt. “We generally avoid going in the summer, though, when we know it’s going to be busy,” she said. “So we try to hit J’s as much as possible between November and May.”

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