South of the Portland metro, the Maine coast is a separate psychographic entity from the rest of the state…or maybe four of five of them. From the proletarian flavor of the throwback boardwalk at Old Orchard Beach (jokingly known as the French Canadian Riviera for its popularity with Québécois tourists) to the creative-class vibe around the one-time artists’ colony of Ogunquit, and from the patrician atmosphere of the Kennebunks to the outlet shopping bonanza that is Kittery, southern Maine tourism is its own fun, gonzo potpourri. Tucked into that shifting cultural landscape are a few of the best restaurants in the state. Fishing and lobstering isn’t the economic mainstay down here that it is elsewhere on the coast, so while there’s plenty of seafood on dinner menus, there’s variety too, and arguably more sophistication than you’ll find anywhere else in the state outside of Portland. Here are a few not to miss.
MC Perkins Cove
James Beard Award-winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier opened this raw bar and upscale casual dining room as a relaxed alternative to their (since-closed) fine-dining restaurant up the road. The ocean views are excellent (there’s a beach right out the back door), and the kitchen turns out memorable pasta and seafood.
The Black Birch
A former post office with family-style seating and specials on chalkboards, the humble set-up at the Black Birch belies the quality of the gastropubby plates (some small and shareable, some entrée-sized). There are shrimp and grits, deep-fried short ribs, and an artisan grilled cheese, all made with such care as not to feel precious. Suds seekers will dig the twenty-four craft beers on tap.
White Barn Inn
There’s a poetic juxtaposition to the white tablecloths and candlelight inside of two barns from the 1820s, and that intersection of rustic and elegant plays out on the menu as well. Chef Jonathan Cartwright does wonders with game meat and local seafood on creative, weekly prix-fixe menus. Fellas, wear a jacket.
This 1925 dining car in the former mill town of Biddeford seats 15 for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunches. The stools and formica countertop and glistening stainless appliances all say “old-school diner,” but the menu is contemporary and adventurous, with dishes like slow-roasted pork belly BLTs, challah French toast, and short-ribs corned beef hash. Plus, locally roasted coffee and good brunch cocktails.
A local institution in the Kennebunkport village of Cape Porpoise, the Wayfarer looks and feels like a New England general store, but chef Brendan Levin, a southern transplant, serves up surprises like chicken and waffles alongside more commonplace seafood dishes—plus deliciously unclassifiable experiments like whole fried lobster. Classic, meet fun. Oh, and BYOB.